Archive for the ‘Textual Criticism’ Category

Chris Pinto vs. James White – Debate Summarized

December 17, 2013

The Chris Pinto vs. James White debate on whether Codex Sinaiticus is a modern forgery can be boiled down to a few considerations.

1) Constantine Simonides claimed that he wrote the document based on collating pre-existing manuscripts, and that his uncle corrected the document.

Both sides agree that he so claimed. Dr. White demonstrated that these claims are essentially impossible, as explained below.

2) The most sympathetic source for Simonides says that Simonides was not a truthful person.

Dr. White raised this point, and Pinto did not dispute it except to say that this source was not the only supportive source and that the source himself says Simonides did not always lie.

3) There are no known examplars that could have been the source for Codex Sinaiticus.

Dr. White raised this point, Pinto’s response was to point out that the source(s) could be as-yet-unknown manuscripts on Mt. Athos.

4) Codex Sinaiticus was written by several different, distinguishable scribes (as evidenced by different handwriting, different style of abbreviations, and different accuracy of work).

Dr. White raised this point, Pinto did not respond to it.

5) Codex Sinaiticus has corrections by multiple different correctors.

Dr. White raised this point, Pinto did not respond to it except to say that two other men (a monk and a scribe) may have been involved in the corrections.

6) The amount of time necessary for collating multiple manuscripts of the entire Bible (plus some apocrypha) would have been prohibitive in the timeline proposed by Simonides.

Dr. White raised this point, and Pinto responded that possibly his uncle started on the project years before Simonides began.

Additional notes:

1. Regarding the Mt. Athos manuscripts, there is an on-going digitization project (link). At one point, Mr. Pinto alleges that the one way to resolve the mystery was to explore the Mt. Athos library for manuscripts corresponding to Simonides’ claims. He won’t be able to stand behind that argument from ignorance forever.

2. Simonides himself states that the collation began after Simonides himself joined the project, as demonstrated by Dr. White. So, although the uncle allegedly had corrected the other manuscripts in advance, the collation project had not been done in advance, according to the primary source for Mr. Pinto’s theory.


The fact that the manuscript was written by several different scribes and was corrected by numerous additional hands makes it impossible for Simonides’ story to be true. The necessary hypothesis would be that Simonides deliberately altered his handwriting several different times during the writing of the manuscript to give the impression of different scribes. Such a hypothesis is simply implausible – there is no reason for Simonides to do this for the purpose of creating a text for the Tsar (as he claimed).

The fact that collation of documents takes an enormous amount of time, especially when one of the documents is not in the base language (allegedly one of the manuscripts was a Syriac manuscript), also weighs against Simonides claim. While it might be conceivable that such a collation could take place, the necessary time and training for such a collation to be undertaken are simply not there.

The fact that the supposed exemplars of Sinaiticus do not produce the unique readings of Sinaiticus and the fact that some of these unique readings are found in later discovered papyri also weighs against Simonides’ claim.

In view of these facts, it’s hard to see how anyone could come to any other conclusion than that Simonides was not the scribe of Sinaiticus, whether or not Simonides actually did create a manuscript intended for the Tsar.


The Age of the World, a Quick Historical Note

August 28, 2013

The British Cyclopaedia (1838), Volume 3, Literature, Geography, and History, in the epoch entry, includes the following among other things:

The Creation has been adopted as an epoch by Christian and Jewish writers, and would have been found very convenient, by doing away with the difficulty and ambiguity of counting before and after any particular date, as is necessary when the era begins at a later period. But, unfortunately, writers are not agreed as to the precise time of commencing. We consider the creation as taking place 4004 years B.C.; but there are about 140 different variations in this respect. The following are those that have been most generally used :—

The Era of Constantinople. In this era the creation is placed 5508 years B.C. It was used by the Russians until the time of Peter the Great, and is still used in the Greek church. The civil year begins the 1st of September, and the ecclesiastical towards the end of March; the day is not exactly determined. To reduce it to our era, subtract 5508 years from January to August, and 5509 from September to the end.
Era of Antioch, and Era of Alexandria. We place these together, because, although they differed at their formation by ten years, they afterwards coincided. They were both much in use by the early Christian writers attached to the churches of Antioch and Alexandria. In the computation of Alexandria, the creation was considered to be 5502 years before Christ, and, in consequence, the year 1 A.D. was equal to 5503. This computation continued to the year 284 A.D., which was called 5786. In the next year (285 A.D.), which should have been 5787, ten years were discarded, and the date became 5777. This is still used by the Abyssinians. The era of Antioch considered the creation to be 5492 years before Christ, and, therefore, the year 285 A.D. was 5777. As this was equal to the date of Alexandria, the two eras, from this time, were considered as one. Dates of the Alexandrian era are reduced to the Christian era by subtracting 5502 until the year 5786, and after that time by subtracting 5492. In the era of Antioch, 5492 are always subtracted.

The Abyssinian Era. The Abyssinians reckon their years from the creation, which they place in the 5493rd year before our era, on the 29th of August, old style; and their dates will consequently exceed ours by 5492 years, and 125 days; they have 12 months of 30 days each, and 5 days added to the end, called pagomen,from the Greek word παγωμενα(added). Another day is added at the end of every fourth year. To know which year is leap year, divide the date by 4, and if 3 remain, the year will be leap year. It always precedes the Julian leap year by 1 year and 4 months. To reduce Abyssinian time to the Julian year, subtract 5492 years and 125 days. The Abyssinians also use the era of Martyrs, or Diocletian, with the same months as in the above.

The Jewish Era. The Jews usually employed the era of the Seleucides, until the fifteenth century, when a new mode of computing was adopted by them. Some insist strongly on the antiquity of their present era; but it is generally believed not to be more ancient than the century above named. They date from the creation, which they consider to have been 3760 years and 3 months before the commencement of our era. Their year is luni-solari consisting either of 12 or 18 months each, and each month of 29 or 30 days. The civil year commences with or immediately after the new moon following the equinox of autumn. The average length of the year of 12 months is 354 days; but, by varying the length of the months Marchesvan and Chisleu, it may consist of 353 or 355 days also. In the same manner, the year of 13 months may contain 883, 384, or 885 days. In 19 years, 12 years have 12 months each, and 7 years 18 months.

One reason that this dating system is important to fans of textual criticism is that numerous medieval manuscripts can be dated by the above-described technique (see p. xiv here, for example).

That was long before Ken Ham (1951 – present) or Archbishop James Ussher (1581 – 1656) were ever a twinkle in their fathers’ eyes. For those hopelessly stupid, deluded, or deceived (is there some other option?) people who insist that assigning a young age to the Earth was an invention of the Seventh Day Adventists, keep in mind that these manuscripts go back well before the SDA movement started in 1863 or Ellen G. White (1827 – 1915).


Textual "Corruption" of the Quran

January 28, 2013

A very impressive presentation on the corruption of Quran may be found at this link (link to beginning of relevant section). This was much more detailed than any similar presentation I had seen before. The following is a brief outline:

1. Preservation of the Bible

[I will omit these points, which were things I already knew, but which are important.]

2. Preservation of the Qur’an
a. Hadith Demonstrates variation (Bukhari, v. 6, b. 60, n. 468; see also 6.60.467 and Muslim 4.1799-1802).
b. al-NAdim’s catalog of books (4th Islamic century) included early literature on the discrepencies among Quranic manuscripts (the presentation lists 7 books from the catalog).
c. Uthman’s destruction of the other Qurans (Bukhari, 6.61.510) and Abdullah ibn Masud’s resistance.
d. Four common versions of the Qur’an: The Qur’an According to Imam Hafs, The Qur’an According to Imam Warsh, The Qur’an According to Imam Qulan, and The Qur’an According to Imam al-Duri.
e. Example of difference between Warsh and Hafs at 21:4 (“Say …” vs. “He said …”)
f. Example of difference between Warsh and Hafs at 3:146 (“fought” vs. “was killed”)
g. Quran showing the differences among the ten major versions in the margin.
h. Between two versions of the Quran (he didn’t specify which two), there are 1354 differences.
i. The Bismallah – Hafs says it is a verse of the Quran, but Warsh says it is just part of the title (appears 113 times, and has 4 words, for a total of 452 words difference).
j. Analysis of the Chain of Narration (Isnad) for the Hafs Quran, but that chain is not historically possible, because Abdullah ibn Masud rejected the Uthman Qur’an.

3. The Qur’an’s testimony to the Bible

[Some good points that I had heard before about how the Qur’an testifies to the reliability of the Bible.]

If anyone has Samuel Green’s written version of his presentation and his permission to post it on-line, I would love to be able to repost it here. Unfortunately, I do not know how to contact Mr. Green.


The Story of Codex 61 aka Codex Montfortianus

February 11, 2011

The following is taken from “The Story of the Manuscripts,” by George Edmonds Merrill (link to book).

Codex 61, or Montfortianus, derives its name from one of its former possessors, Rev. Thomas Montfort, D. D., of Cambridge. It is now at Trinity College, Dublin. This manuscript is of special interest among the cursives from the part it has played in the discussion of the interpolated verse in the First Epistle of St. John (v. 7), the verse of the ” Three Heavenly Witnesses.” It contains the whole New Testament, written apparently by three or four different hands, and is composed of four hundred and fifty-five paper leaves, only one of which is glazed. This single glazed leaf is the one containing the verse mentioned. A witty Irish prelate, quoted by Scrivener, [Plain Introduction, p. 173, Note.] said of this coincidence :—

We often hear that the text of the Three Heavenly Witnesses is a gloss, and anyone that will go into the College Library may see as much for himself.

When Erasmus published his two earliest editions of the New Testament he did not insert this verse, and was severely blamed for the omission. His defence was that it was not found in the manuscripts used by him, and he pledged himself to insert it in his revisions if any Greek copy could be found containing it. In his third edition he printed the verse (in 1552), saying that he found it in a Codex Britannicus discovered in England. The verse, as printed by Erasmus, is in exact verbal agreement with the text upon this glazed leaf of Montfortianus, and it is wholly agreed that the Codex Britannicus must have been the one now known by this name. The earliest owner of the manuscript whose name we know was Froy, a Franciscan friar, from whom it passed to Thomas Clement; next it was owned by William Chark; then by Montfort; then by Archbishop Usher; from whose hands it came into possession of the college in Dublin. It will be noticed that the name of the third owner was William Chark, and when we come to speak of the next cursive it will be found that he was also at one time the possessor of the Codex No. 69. In 61 the Revelation has been thought to have been copied from 69, when both were in the hands of Chark. Certainly the margins of both copies bear many notes in his handwriting, and it would have been a strong temptation to have had the opportunity of completing 61 by adding the Revelation from so good a source. As it stands, the text of this added Scripture is found to be of higher critical value than any other part of the volume.

By way of appendix, I would like to point the reader to a work that collated this codex. In the introduction, at page 61, the collator suggests that the portion of the manuscript that includes the Johanine Comma is a copy of Codex Lincolniensis, and that the Comma is an unauthorized interpolation to that copy (link to page).

Textual Critical Resource – Old Testament Variants

December 15, 2009

De Rossi’s remarkable Variae Lectiones Veteris Testamenti (various reading of the Old Testament) is now available in full on Google Books including both the original four volumes (1784-88) and the Supplement (1798):

Volume 1: Prologue, Index of Manuscripts, Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus
Volume 2: Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1st Book of Samuel/Kings
Volume 3: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 12 Minor Prophets, Song of Solomen, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther
Volume 4: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Kings, Chronicles, and Appendix
Volume 5: Supplement



Jerome Regarding the Septuagint

September 26, 2009

I recently happened to stumble across this interesting translation of Jerome’s Prologue to Chronicles (link). Jerome makes a number of interesting comments about the Septuagint:

1) Jerome begins by noting that the Septuagint is not a pure translation:

If the version of the Seventy translators is pure and has remained as it was rendered by them into Greek … Now, in fact, when different versions are held by a variety of regions, and this genuine and ancient translation is corrupted and violated, you have considered our opinion, either to judge which of the many is the true one, or to put together new work with old work, and shutting off to the Jews, as it is said, “a horn to pierce the eyes.”

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

2) Jerome continues by noting that in his day it was famous that there were three regional varieties of the Septuagint:

The region of Alexandria and Egypt praises in their Seventy the authority of Hesychius; the region from Constantinople to Antioch approves the version of Lucian the Martyr; in the middle, between these provinces, the people of Palestine read the books which, having been labored over by Origen, Eusebius and Pamphilius published.

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

3) Jerome argues that although Jesus knew the Septuagint translation, he used the Hebrew, arguing from various passages:

I have recently written a book, “On the best kind of translating,” showing these things in the Gospel, and others similar to these, to be found in the books of the Hebrews: “Out of Egypt I called my son,” and “For he will be called a Nazarene,” and “They will look on him whom they have pierced,” and that of the Apostle, “Things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and had not arisen in the heart of man, which God has prepared for those loving Him.” The Apostles and Evangelists were certainly acquainted with (the version of) the Seventy interpreters, but from where (were) they (supposed) to say these things which are not in the Seventy?

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

4) Jerome notes that the church of his day did not accept the apocrypha, but only the Hebrew books, as can be seen from the middle of Jerome’s punchline for his argument about the Septuagint:

Certainly, whatever is witnessed by the Savior to be written, is written. Where is it written? The Seventy don’t have it; the Church ignores the apocrypha; thus the turning back to the Hebrew (books), from which the Lord spoke and and the disciples took forth texts.

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

5) In the conclusion of the prologue, Jerome explains the fact that he was coming under a lot of fire for his new translation, since popular opinion was fond of (their own version of) the Septuagint:

In peace I will say these things of the ancients, and I respond only to my detractors, who bite me with dogs’ teeth, slandering me in public, speaking at corners, the same (being) both accusers and defenders, when approving for others what they reprove me for, as though virtue and error were not in conflict, but change with the author. I have recalled another edition of the Seventy translators corrected from the Greek to have been distributed by us, and me not to need to be considered their enemy, which things I always explain in the gatherings of the brothers.

– Jerome, Prologue to Chronicles

Thanks very much to Kevin P. Edgecomb who provided this translation and released it into the public domain.



One Roman Catholic reader (I’m not sure whether he’d want attribution or not, so I’ve not given it to him for now. If he wants it, he knows how to let me know) pointed me to the fact that one can find translations of many of the prologues to the Vulgate books (link). Some have suggested that the later prologues show Jerome softening in his opposition to the apocrypha, though you will note:

Also included is the book of the model of virtue Jesus son of Sirach, and another falsely ascribed work which is titled Wisdom of Solomon. The former of these I have also found in Hebrew, titled not Ecclesiasticus as among the Latins, but Parables, to which were joined Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, as though it made of equal worth the likeness not only of the number of the books of Solomon, but also the kind of subjects. The second was never among the Hebrews, the very style of which 18is redolent of Greek speech. And several of the ancient scribes affirm this one is of Philo Judaeus. Therefore, just as the Church also reads the books of Judith, Tobias, and the Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical Scriptures, so also one may read these two scrolls for the strengthening of the people, (but) not for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.

– Jerome, Prologue to the books of Solomon


This prologue to the Scriptures may be appropriate as a helmeted introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so we may be able to know whatever is outside of these is to be set apart among the apocrypha. Therefore, Wisdom, which is commonly ascribed to Solomon, and the book of Jesus son of Sirach, and Judith and Tobias, and The Shepherd are not in the canon. I have found the First Book of the Maccabees is Hebrew, the Second is Greek, which may also be proven by their styles.

– Jerome, Prologue to the Book of Kings

Yet it was demanded of Jerome that he translate the Apocrypha, to which command he grudgingly complied:

I do not cease to wonder at the constancy of your demanding. For you demand that I bring a book written in the Chaldean language into Latin writing, indeed the book of Tobias, which the Hebrews exclude from the catalogue of Divine Scriptures, being mindful of those things which they have titled Hagiographa. I have done enough for your desire, yet not by my study. For the studies of the Hebrews rebuke us and find fault with us, to translate this for the ears of Latins contrary to their canon. But it is better to be judging the opinion of the Pharisees to displease and to be subject to the commands of bishops. I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words.

– Jerome, Prologue to Tobias


Among the Hebrews the Book of Judith is found among the Hagiographa, the authority of which toward confirming those which have come into contention is judged less appropriate. Yet having been written in Chaldean words, it is counted among the histories. But because this book is found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request, indeed a demand, and works having been set aside from which I was forcibly curtailed, I have given to this (book) one short night’s work translating more sense from sense than word from word. I have removed the extremely faulty variety of the many books; only those which I was able to find in the Chaldean words with understanding intact did I express in Latin ones.

– Jerome, Prologue to Judith (It’s not clear to me whether Jerome was being confused or sarcastic. Nicaea did not decide the canon, and had they done so, one would hardly expect the later councils of Hippo and Carthage to omit reference to this fact.)

Tenacity of the Text – a Response

June 8, 2009


The issue of the tenacity of the text is one of the important points that was raised by Dr. White in his debate with Dr. Ehrman recently (the debate can be obtained here). One of the illustrations of the tenacity of the text is the illustration of a jigsaw puzzle set that includes 1,010 pieces although only 1,000 are the pieces to be included (with 10 pieces that are additional). Ehrman does not admit this principle of the tenacity of the text, insisting instead that there are places (at least one – perhaps many) where the original reading of a text is lost. There may, in Ehrman’s mind, be 1,010 pieces but less than 1,000 of those go with this puzzle.

It’s important to distinguish the issue of tenacity; in its most basic form the tenacity argument simply asserts that we have all the pieces that make up the original text. It does not say that we can easily distinguish between readings. It also does not say whether the majority text has been interpolated (the prevailing view in modern criticism) or whether the older texts are deficient (a view popular among advocates of the majority text).

I came across the following comment on a theological discussion forum:

At best [The 1,010 pieces for a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle illustration] gives an understandable graphic/picture that is helpful in presenting the nature of the situation faced by text critics. However, despite the reality of “tenacity” it would be overly optimistic and wrong to presume that we nevertheless possess all the pieces that are required to perfectly complete the puzzle. Indeed we do have an overabundance of pieces regarding certain aspects of the puzzle picture, but it is not correct to suggest we have no vital pieces yet missing. We do not, and cannot, know that we possess somewhere in the available manuscripts the autographa, however autographa may be defined! We cannot say that if we have three manuscripts of a text that one of them accurately reflects the original.


This comment was questioned by one of the participants, and the following clarification was provided:

My point is simply that at this juncture we cannot affirm with surety that no vital pieces are yet missing. The problem here is simply that the text witnesses we possess only touch the fringes of the 2nd century. We have, at present, no way of knowing what may have dropped out very very early in manuscript transmission, in first century or early second century. In respect to the New Testament the earliest manuscript witnesses are of varying earliest age. We can presume we have all the vital pieces, and it is indeed possible, perhaps even probable, that we have them. But to suggest that is the case is by no means a certainty.

(same source)

What can we make of this sort of rejoinder? There are several answers to be given.

1. Speculation

From a purely materialistic standpoint (ignoring the supernatural), it is possible to be radically skeptical of anything. The radical skeptic demands proof beyond any doubt, and there are few things that the radical skeptic is willing not to doubt. Such a process, though, is just speculation.

An argument premised on skepticism is fundamentally flawed. It employs what I refer to as the skeptical fallacy. The skeptical fallacy is seen in the following:

1) P should be accepted IFF (i.e. if and only if) it has sufficient warrant.
2) P is susceptible to doubt and consequently P does not have sufficient warrant.
3) Therefore P should be rejected.

I’ve stated it a bit informally to compress it. The fallacy lies in the fact that the reasoning, if it were true, undermines the minor premise. After all the minor premise is itself a proposition that is subject to doubt. That is to say, one can doubt whether susceptibility to doubt is a legitimate attack on warrant.

But I digress. The point is that bare speculation over the merely hypothetical possibility of matter being lost in transmission is not a well-grounded and reasonable objection to the position of tenacity. Thus, to the extent that the rejection is based solely on speculation, it is an unreasonable objection.

2. Confusing the Issues

The issue of whether we can “perfectly complete the puzzle” is not the same as the issue of tenacity. I suppose it is reasonable to mention this concern, because completing a 1,000 piece jigsaw perfectly with extremely high confidence of having obtained the proper result is possible by nature of the way that pieces fit together (or don’t, in the case of the extraneous pieces).

In other words, it is easy to see how the illustration could (through the fact that the analogy is not perfect) lead someone to an incorrect conclusion. It is important to understand that not every textual variant is easy to resolve. Picking at random from my copy of Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, I note that there is a textual variant with respect to the word “γὰρ” (“gar”) in Romans 14:5. The majority text omits the word, but a number of ancient copies of the text, ancient translations of the text, and early Christian and heretical usages of the text include the word. Is the word original? It may be hard to tell, and the fact of tenacity doesn’t make the life of the textual critic much easier for puzzles like this one.

What tenacity does do is suggest that the original text was either with the γὰρ or without the γὰρ, but not with some other word than γὰρ in the place of γὰρ, or with a word or phrase following γὰρ that cannot be found in any manuscript, translation, or ancient quotation. Tenacity of the text suggests merely that we have the original reading, not that we know with 100% in each case what that original reading was.

3. Rapid, Decentralized Transmission

Despite the claims of some modern Roman Catholics, the text of the New Testament was recognized as Scripture while the apostles were still alive and was distributed by the apostles and the other disciples widely. We can see that it was treated as Scripture during the lives of the apostles from Peter’s reference to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.) as well as Paul’s reference to Matthew’s gospel as Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. & Matthew 10:10 Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.) as well as his reference to the gospels generally as Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:).

Indeed, some of Paul’s epistles were intended as circular letters to be distributed to multiple churches. Thus, for example, the Epistle to the Galatians is addressed to “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2) and likewise the Revelation of John is addressed to seven specific churches (John 1:4 and following) in Asia minor. Furthermore, undermining the idea that there was a central papal authority and unity church at Rome, Paul addresses his epistle to the Romans to “all that be in Rome” (Romans 1:7 – see also the litany of salutations in chapter 16).

Paul founded churches over a wide geographic area constantly commended the Scriptures – especially the Old Testament but also the New (Acts 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,). Paul even intentionally did not go places that other Christian missionaries had gone (Romans 15:20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:).

This wide geographic dissemination of churches and emphasis on Scripture naturally lead to a widespread dissemination of Scripture fairly quickly. Especially since ministers were supposed to be preaching not their own ideas or thoughts but the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.)

Furthermore, once the Scriptures were widely disseminated, there was no mechanism for central control that could be effective until the time of Constantine when Christianity began to have strong political connections. By then it was too late – there were manuscripts and translations of the New Testament across an enormous geographical region extending at least as far south as Ethiopia, east to Persia, West to what is now France and north to Scotland. There is evidence that some fairly early Christians even evangelized western China (legend – at least – has it that the Apostle Thomas was the early missionary in this direction), although I am not aware of any textual manuscripts that they left behind from the earliest days.

In view of this widespread dissemination of the text, we have an enormous number of witnesses to the ancient text of the New Testament. Some parts of Scripture (for example the Gospels) may have more copies and other parts (for example, John’s epistles) may have fewer copies. Likewise a few books (Hebrews and Revelation, for example) may have more copies in one geographic area than another. Likewise, some manuscripts are more or less highly correlated with other manuscripts, to be sure (for example, there are a significant number of Byzantine manuscripts that are similar to one another from the 10th century to the 16th century). Nevertheless, the widespread dissemination of the text during the times of persecution guarantees (as much as is possible) that we have a text that has been free from any intentional tinkering. Likewise the large number of extant texts confirms (again, as much as is possible) that nothing has been lost inadvertently in the course of transmission. If there were only one or two copies, something could accidentally fall out in transmission. However, when there are hundreds or thousands of copying procedures going on independently over the globe in a variety of languages, the chances of the same thing falling out by accident is fairly remote.

4. Providential Preservation

Although the item (3) above does get us back at least to the state of the text in the late second or early third century with an extremely high level of confidence as to tenacity, there remains the issue of whether there was any significant alteration in the first century or the early second century. On challenge in this area is that the papyrus upon which 1st and 2nd century manuscripts were written is not an especially durable material. Thus, while it is reasonable to expect that there were a vast number of manuscripts of the text of the New Testament at this time, there are only about 12 manuscripts that date back to the second century (one or more of which may possibly date back to the first century).

This is by no means a small feat. It is fair to say that there is no contemporaneous text with any similar level of attestation. As Dr. Ehrman was forced to concede, if one calls the gap between the originals and the copies “enormous” one must call the gap between the originals and copies of other ancient texts “ginormous” by comparison.

But science can take one only so far. Textual criticism as an art cannot absolutely ensure the reliability of transmission of the text back to the very beginning.

There is, however, another reason to believe that no vital part of the text has been lost:

Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33 each state: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Likewise, Isaiah 55:11 states: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

These passages assure us that no important part of Scripture will be lost. Someone may point out that the passages mentioned above in the gospels relate to Jesus’ prophecy in particular and that the Isaiah text (as in Isaiah 45:23) is relating specifically to Isaiah’s prophecy. Nevertheless, these passages inform us as to the character of God and his care for his word.

Likewise we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” This passages shows the value of the word of God and again, when taken with God’s many statements about his care for his people, confirm that no important text of Scripture will be lost.

We additionally see the care of God’s word in the transmission of the book of Jeremiah. There were two forms of the book. The original of the first form was destroyed by an ungodly king, but God ensured that Jeremiah would rewrite the original and add to it many additional words:

Jeremiah 36:23-32
23 And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth. 24 Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words. 25 Nevertheless Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah had made intercession to the king that he would not burn the roll: but he would not hear them. 26 But the king commanded Jerahmeel the son of Hammelech, and Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel, to take Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet: but the LORD hid them. 27 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, after that the king had burned the roll, and the words which Baruch wrote at the mouth of Jeremiah, saying, 28 Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah hath burned. 29 And thou shalt say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, Thus saith the LORD; Thou hast burned this roll, saying, Why hast thou written therein, saying, The king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land, and shall cause to cease from thence man and beast? 30 Therefore thus saith the LORD of Jehoiakim king of Judah; He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David: and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost. 31 And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them; but they hearkened not. 32 Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added besides unto them many like words.

Likewise, when Moses broke the first tables of the law, God gave him a new copy:

Exodus 32:19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.

Deuteronomy 9:17 And I took the two tables, and cast them out of my two hands, and brake them before your eyes.

Exodus 34:1-5
1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest. 2 And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount. 3 And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount. 4 And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone. 5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

Finally, we see further evidence of God’s care for the text of Scripture in the specific admonitions given both to Moses and the Apostle John:

Deuteronomy 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

Deuteronomy 17:18-20
18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: 20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Revelation 22:18-19
18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Even someone will rightly say that the first set of admonitions were specifically for the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), and even if someone will further claim that the last admonition should be limited to the book Revelation, nevertheless all three passages show the care that God has of his word.

This is confirmed by the fact that the Word of God is our spiritual bread:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

And finally by the fact that failure to heed the word of God results in judgment:

2 Chronicles 34:21 Go, enquire of the LORD for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do after all that is written in this book.


The text of the New Testament has been preserved for us in the myriad copies that exist – there are some extra pieces thrown into the jig saw puzzle kit, but all the authentic pieces are there for us. There is excellent scientific evidence in support of this conclusion, in the form of the enormous number and extreme antiquity of the copies that we possess. Although science can only take us so far, only through the fallacy of skepticism can folks doubt that the text we have is substantially the same as the text that was given. Finally, of course, it must be emphasized that the science of textual criticism, as valuable as it may be, is not the ground of our faith.

When we are presented with a copy of the Bible we do not accept it as God’s word simply because its transmission is well-attested. The reliability of its transmission is simply a confirmation to us. In fact, of course, natural science could never provide the answer to the most important question of authorship.

Accepting the Bible as God’s word may be supported by various reasons, but is ultimately a matter of faith through the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.


Response to Ehrman (part I): God Has Preserved His Word

February 4, 2009


In listening to the debate, I think Ehrman provided a very good summary of his position in what he called (in his opening statement), a “very quick conclusion.” Ehrman stated:

Do we have a reliable text of the New Testament? Are there places where the Bible misquotes Jesus? The short answer is, there is no way to tell. We don’t have the originals, or the original copies, or copies of the copies. There are passages that scholars continue to debate: is this the original text or not? and there are some passages where we will never know the answer.

To this conclusion, I direct a few points of criticism.

1) Ill-formed Set / False Dichotomy

Ehrman seems to try to break things down into two possible categories: (1) The Text is Reliable or (2) The Bible’s Text is Uncertain in Some Places. These categories are not mutually exclusive. There is a difference between a “reliable” text and a “perfect text.” The argument is that the text has been substantially preserved, not perfectly preserved. The argument is that the text we have is reliable, substantially unaltered from the original.

On this issue, Erhman and our KJVO brethren agree. They both consider that the text is only reliable if it has been perfectly preserved. The KJVO folks assert that it has been perfectly preserved, whereas Ehrman says it has not. Both groups, however, seem to assert that the only way the text is reliable is if it has zero uncertainties.

This is not a standard that we normally apply to the word “reliable.” If say that so-and-so is a “reliable preacher” we don’t mean that he never makes mistakes. If we say that our car is a “reliable machine” we don’t mean it never breaks down. If we consider rail to be reliable form of transportation, it doesn’t mean that there are never stoppages.

2) “There is no way to tell.”

This is simply a rejection of conventional textual criticism. That is to say, his claim that “there is no way to tell” is basically a rejection of the idea that we can determine with a high degree of confidence the text of an original document from the copies that remain.

Ehrman is not open about the fact that his conclusion that there is no way to tell is a break with almost 300 years of modern textual critical scholarship. Thankfully, later in the debate, Dr. White was able to bring to light the fact that other scholars believe that we can know what the original said, and consequently can know whether a particular manuscript has an original reading or a misquotation at a particular point, in most cases.

This throwing up of one’s hands, is the reason Dr. White refers to Dr. Ehrman’s position as “radical skepticism.” What is interesting is that Dr. Ehrman doesn’t seem afraid of the fact that the conclusion is that we cannot know about anything where we don’t possess the particular artifact in question (or an exact replica of it).

3) “We don’t have the originals, or the original copies, or copies of the copies.”

I bet Ehrman is right about this. I think it is reasonably certain that we don’t have even any fragments of the original, autographs themselves. It seems probable that we also don’t have any copies that were made directly from the autographs. How on earth, though, can Dr. Ehrman assert that he knows we don’t have any second generation copies. Keep in mind that all that would be necessary for a second generation copy to exist is this: (1) an autograph survived for a couple of hundred years, and was copied by a scribe, then (2) the first generation copy survived for about 800 years, and was copied by another scribe. That would put our “third generation” copy in among the large number of manuscripts that exist from 11th or 12th century.

There are two questions though: how can Ehrman be so sure that there are no copies or copies of copies, and why should it matter? After all, why must we insist that we would need the originals, or first or second generation copies in order to know what the original text said? Why should that be the standard?

Ehrman pointed out that there was the possibility of accidental errors in the transmission of the text and of intentional alterations to the text (either to fix errors or for other reasons). These possibilities, however, only reduce our knowledge of the text from 100% regarding 100% of the words, to a standard of the text being merely “reliable.”

4) “There are passages that scholars continue to debate: is this the original text or not? and there are some passages where we will never know the answer.”

This may be true as well, but these are very weak claims compared to the very strong claims that preceded it. There are a few places (a very small fraction of the text) where scholars disagree over what the original says, and sometimes the issues are very hard to resolve (to the point where the scholars may disagree with each other). This, however, undercuts Ehrman’s thesis.

First, because the number of such places is relatively small, the arguments about those few small places normally involve arguing from the “internal” evidence of the context. Of course, one could never argue from the internal evidence, if one doesn’t know what the internal evidence is.

Second, the scholars that are engaged in this activity either do not share Ehrman’s extreme cynicism or they are deceivers. The scholars that are engaged in this activity normally purport to be engaged in this activity in order to determine what the original reading of the text is. Thus, the very fact that they are engaged in the activity (leaving aside the idea that they may just be frauds) demonstrates that they disagree with Ehrman’s view as a practical matter.


I was not impressed by Dr. Ehrman’s glib claims. His presentation emphasized heavily the fact that there were mechanisms for manuscript change in the manuscript tradition. His presentation, however, failed to account for the fact that there are mechanisms (especially the large number of copies made, the geographic distribution of the copies, the large number of translations made, and the relative isolation of the translations and copies especially in the early centuries) that God providentially provided for the preservation of the text.

His presentation failed to provide an adequate reason for departure from the 300 years of textual criticism, and relied on an extreme standard of “perfect preservation” to assert that the Bible is not reliable. If all that Ehrman means is that we are not 100% certain about the precise spelling and word order of 100% of the words of the New Testament, he’s right – but that doesn’t mean we have an unreliable text.

God has preserved his word for us. Does the Bible misquote Jesus? The answer is “no,” which we can know from God’s promise to preserve his Word, and which we can see evidence of in the science of textual criticism. I don’t believe that God has preserved his word because Dr. Bruce Metzger (Ehrman’s former teacher, with whom Ehrman now disagrees) says so, but yet Dr. Metzger’s work confirms the fact that the text we have today is substantially the same as the text that the prophets, apostles, and evangelists wrote.


Textual Variant in 1611 KJV

October 1, 2008

The KJV, 1611 edition, was printed on more than one printing press. While the text printed was generally the same, there was at least one variant. At Ruth 3:15 the text correctly reads (in the current 2/3 majority of extant copies) “she went into the city” instead of “he went into the city”, but the remaining about 1/3 have the variant with the misspelling.

Standard version of the KJV:

Ruth 3:15 Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.

The KJV-1611 in the form provided with e-Sword reflects the variant:

Ruth 3:15 Also he said, Bring the vaile that thou hast vpon thee, and holde it. And when she helde it, he measured sixe measures of barley, and laide it on her: and he went into the citie.

The Schoenberg Center for Electronic Texts also has a copy of the KJV1611 with the “he” variant (link).

Copies of both variants can be purchased (though the price is quite steep: for an example, click to this site that I cannot vouch for).

For those people who believe that the KJV1611 was itself the subject of verbal plenary inspiration, I suppose the solution to the problem of this variant is to assert that one of the two variants (hopefully the “he” variant) was a later corruption. The problem, of course, is that there is no historical basis for this assertion, as it would appear that the two printings were performed at roughly the same time on at least two printing presses.

I should note that I still think that the KJV is the best English translation that is widely available, and it continues to be my preferred translation for study of the Scripture, for that reason.


Dr. White Explains Textual Transmission to Kent Hovind

June 16, 2008

Dr. White has provided a series of three video responses to some rather uninformed comments by Kent Hovind on Bible versions. Hovind’s comments appear to be gleaned from the book he recommends, a book by Gail Riplinger, one of the prominent promoters of KJV-Onlyism.

The problems in Hovind’s presentation are numerous, and even Dr. White’s presentation is unable to snag all of them.

Part I

Ultimately, the video series demonstrates that one has to be careful in who one listens to. Hovind probably sounds like he knows what he is talking about to someone who doesn’t understand the history of the transmission of the text of Scripture. In fact, however, he’s wildly off the mark.

Some of his points may ring true (for example, a manuscript in constant use is less likely to survive for more than a millennium while a manuscript in disuse will last a long time). On the other hand he makes such egregious errors as to identify the Textus Receptus with the Majority Text and to imagine that the Textus Receptus was based on 5,000 or so Greek manuscripts (when, in fact, more realistic estimates are at least a couple of orders of magnitude less), as well as to confuse the manner of transmission of the Hebrew text by the Jews with the manner of transmission of the Greek text by the Christians.

All in all, I found the video series enjoyable and educational. I hope that if the transmission of the text of the New Testament interests you, you’ll also find the series profitable.


P.S. As an aside, I would be very cautious about relying on Hovind’s work. That’s not to say that everything he says is wrong – for example he has many right things to say in other areas than the areas noted in the video series above. The problem is that Hovind doesn’t appear to have a good idea of the limits of his own knowledge, as demonstrated in this video series.

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