Bible Version

Most quotations on this website are from the New King James version. Why, when we are assured that the New Testament in this translation is based on a "faulty Greek text"? (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 209)?:

Less is More

It seems to me that the New Testament text upon which is the NKJV is based is superior to the text upon which most modern translations are based. Sound attestation for the NKJV readings, some of which are doctrinally significant, can be found in the writings of early church authors and are indeed found in the majority of manuscripts. So why are these verses disappearing? One reason:

  • “The shorter reading (unless it lacks entirely the authority of the ancient and weighty witnesses) is to be preferred to the more verbose, for scribes were much more prone to add than to omit. They scarcely ever deliberately omitted anything, but they added many things; certainly they omitted some things by accident, but likewise not a few things have been added to the text by scribes through errors of the eye, ear, memory, imagination, and judgment.”
  • (First Canon of Griesbach, quoted p. 120, The Text of the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger).

"One of the axioms of classical textual criticism is brevior lectio potior, that is, the shorter of two readings is probably original...The only comment which needs to be made here is that a comparison of the trends in the textual criticism of the Iliad and the Mahabharata, two great national epics the transmission of which reveals certain parallels to the transmission of the Gospels, is instructive for the New Testament scholar. Textual critics of both these corpora of quasi-religious literature are convinced that they are growing texts, and that no scribe deliberately excised any considerable portion of either poem." (The Text of the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger, pp. 161-163).

Is the New Testament a 'growing text,' or has any portion of it ever been 'deliberately excised'? Tertullian reports that Marcion deliberately excised those portions of Luke which recorded that Jesus was born of a Jewish mother: "Marcion must even expunge from the Gospel, 'I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel;' and, 'It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs,' — in order, forsooth, that Christ may not appear to be an Israelite.” (Tertullian, Five Books Against Marcion, Book Four, Chapter 7). (An anonymous Latin treatise 'Against All Heresies' accuses Cerdo, Marcion's teacher, of doing the hack job.) Marcion, a daring heretic who denied that Jehovah revealed in the Old Testament is the same God as is revealed in the New, did not venture to tailor the scriptures to his cause by adding anything at all; rather, he eliminated. He tossed out everything but Paul's letters and Luke's gospel, and performed radical surgery on what remained. He justified his cutting by claiming that he was cleansing the text of interpolations. It cannot seriously be maintained that Luke's gospel, in its original, was devoid of any mention of Jesus' Jewish origin. Marcion's vision of his new religion did not lack boldness. Why was he obliged to proceed in this fashion: to prepare scripture for his new religion by excising, not by adding to Luke's 'growing text'?

From the time the texts of the New Testament were written they were received as inspired by God. Readers did not expect improvement upon the apostolic doctrine, which was delivered once for all to the saints: "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3). Though partisans of the bishop of Rome would later describe the apostolic office as a continuing one, the early church understood the role of the apostles and their immediate followers to have been unique. Peter sought to replace Judas with a candidate who had also been a personal witness of the Lord's ministry and resurrection: "Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." (Acts 1:21-22). The New Testament was understood by the early Christians as the record of the apostles and of those immediate followers of the apostles who wrote under the umbrella of apostolic authority (Mark of Peter, Luke of Paul).

So Marcion did not contribute to a purportedly 'growing text' by adding his own observations because he could not; his own followers would not have accepted it. What he did, because it was what he could do, was to excise material. If you can succeed in convincing people that a given passage is an interpolation, then all of their righteous indignation is focused like a destroying laser against the now criminal passage. As the lynch mob thunders past, one cries, 'I'm not tampering with scripture, that guy over there, he tampered with scripture -- go get him!' There is no way to add to scripture without risk of one's own followers turning into a Frankenstein mob because no theoretical basis for so doing is laid in the New Testament. It is not a 'growing text' to those who hear in it the voice of God.

Even those modern movements who have ventured to improve upon perfection have not ventured to add a new passage for which no ancient exemplar can be found. The Jehovah's Witnesses have 'restored' the Divine Name to the New Testament, their evidence that what is 'restored' was lost being a medieval translation of Matthew's gospel into Hebrew which contains, not the Divine Name, but an 'h' emblematic of 'ha shem,' 'the name.' (The Jehovah's Witnesses do not, however, care to use 'ha shem' any more than the Christians' preferred substitute for the Divine Name, 'kyrios.') Their boldness in dealing with the text cannot be questioned; yet even this group has not ventured to add new material to the text. It can't be done.

Some evidence of a 'growing text' can be found in the manuscript tradition. However in some of these cases, where explanatory material giving geographic or biographical detail has found its way into the text, it may be that the scribe who first contributed the material did not intend it to enter the text, but wrote it in the margin, where notes and comments were written as well as corrections. 'Pious forgery' of the New Testament text itself does not fall within the scope of what readers are willing to accept. In those cases of 'pious forgery' even of extra-biblical texts where the author was uncovered, as was the writer of the 'Acts of Paul and Thecla,' infamy was the reward for his troubles.

Advocates of modern translations speak like those with an alcoholic family member. Much is not mentioned. There is an elephant in the living room, but no one sees him. Comparing the newer translations with the KJV, readers are struck by the abundance of explicit references to the deity of Jesus Christ in the latter, their scarcity in the former. Either these references were added at some time by over-zealous advocates of the deity of Jesus Christ, or they have been subtracted by detractors. The systematic character of the divergence does not allow the possibility that these are accidental or undirected mutations.

Which is likelier: addition or subtraction? To answer, let's examine the behavior of partisans of the other side. Arianism had the patronage of emperors like Constantius; Bibles were prepared under the guidance of Arian bishops. Where are all the Arian interpolations, the texts reading, 'By the way Jesus is a creature; there was a time He was not'? They are absent. As are the texts explicitly stating His deity in Bibles prepared under Arian auspices, some of which, it would seem, survive. This is the corner into which Christian heretics are backed: they can remove verses they find troublesome, but they cannot add new ones.

Did contemporary witnesses testify that the heretics prepared their own Bible versions, with biased and tendentious emendations, just as they do today? Oh, yes! "But if any one disputes because of the variations of the Latin codices, some of which heretics have falsified, let him look at the Greek codices, and observe that it is there written." (Ambrose, quoted Kindle location 1148 from Schaff, God's Word in Our Hands, edited by James B. Williams). Of the ancient manuscripts we possess, which are these? Which were produced under Arian auspices, promoted by the powerful political backing this heresy received? Can anyone believe the answer is 'none'? Is there any reason for the orthodox to leave a seat at the table for the Arians? Must we edit our Bibles to reflect the discoveries of the New World Translation?

To give an example of a verse the Arians deleted, see John 4:24, which some of the orthodox had evidently used to show the deity of the Holy Spirit. So out it goes: "Which passage you, Arians, so expressly testify to be said concerning the Spirit, that you remove it from your copies, and would that it were from yours and not also from those of the Church!. . . And you have indeed been able to blot out the letters, but could not remove the faith. That erasure betrayed you more, that erasure condemned you more; and you were not able to obliterate the truth, but that erasure blotted out your names from the book of life." (Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, Book 3, Chapter 10, Sections 59-60). Now the favored proof-texts of the Arians, like Proverbs 8:22, are not absent from our Bibles. They did not prepare their own custom copies by adding verses no one had ever seen before,— indeed, how could they have gotten away with doing that?,— rather, they subtracted 'problem' verses. And they will triumph posthumously, from the grave, if the rule of preferring the shorter reading is followed mechanically.

Marcion subtracted because that is what he could do. Was he sincere? If you have never stood close enough to a Jehovah's Witness to feel the heat of their indignation against those who tampered with the New Testament by removing the Divine Name, you might wonder how they can justify tampering with the New Testament by adding the Divine Name, when no manuscript evidence exists in their favor. Marcion concluded from his study of the Old Testament that the God of the Jews was an evil genie and not the same God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament ordered the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan down to the last innocent babe, while the God of the New ordered His followers to turn the other cheek. Convinced on a priori theological grounds that Jesus could not be the predicted Messiah of the Jews, he saw himself restoring the integrity of the gospel as he hacked away. By contrast, a heretic who proposes to add to scripture a paragraph he wrote five minutes ago cannot possibly perceive himself as anything but a common forger. This is the beauty of tailoring a text by excision; those who take this tack can sincerely believe they hold the high ground. For this reason, the possibility that the shorter text results from a theologically motivated excision cannot be overlooked.

While Homer begins the Iliad by invoking the Muse's assistance, there is no suggestion of his unique calling or commission by these ladies. Nor does he claim to have been an eye-witness to the events he reports. It is difficult to see a clear barrier to adding to his work comparable to, "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19). So the proffered analogy between the New Testament and the Iliad does not seem compelling.

Let us hope no mutilated Marcionic text surfaces in these latter days, because if one were to do so, it would have to be accepted as the legitimate text of the New Testament. The methodology leaves no room for deletions from the text except it be a 'typo' that happens when the scribe loses his place. This scary thought should be enough to drive people away from the newer Bible versions. Is it not apparent that the methodology is defective, when it blows up in its handlers' faces when tried out against known historical circumstances?

Is it not self-evident that the first question the modern reader must ask in the face of an ancient New Testament is, whose is it? Modern skeptics like Bart Ehrman, who are perfectly aware in their writings on church history that the church was riven into hostile camps, nevertheless assume in their study of the Bible text that there is one unitary organization cherishing one unitary text, undergoing one unitary process of evolution resulting, as a final state, in the majority orthodox text, orthodoxy assumed, for no reason other than tendentiousness, to be late. A realistic appraisal first sorts the surviving texts in accordance with their likely sponsors. An Arian text can have no authority for the orthodox.

Let us speculate,— and of course it can be nothing but speculation, though highly probably,— that the Arians produced New Testament texts congenial to their viewpoint, through subtraction of 'problem' texts:

"Let us add to these considerations, these further circumstances, that the pious emperor who had employed him [Eusebius] to revise the text had been at considerable pains and expense to multiply copies of the scripture, and that the edition thus dispersed, as altered by Eusebius, was peculiarly accommodated to the opinions of the Arians, who from the reign of Constantine to that of Theodosius held an unlimited sway over the church; and there will arise something more than presumptive proof in favor of the opinion which I have advanced; that at this period an alteration was made in the sacred text, of which it still retains a melancholy evidence, particularly in the translations made from the edition of Eusebius." (Frederick Nolan, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate or Received Text of the New Testament, Kindle location 233).

There mere possibility that this is the case should give pause to those who want to trade the majority text for versions whose provenance no one knows, for whose orthodoxy and authenticity no one can attest.

Window of Opportunity

The search for the original text of the New Testament has preoccupied Christians for millennia. The difference between the early church scholars who embarked upon this quest and modern seekers is that the former possessed evidence, the latter do not.

Suppose a murder case decided many years ago. The jury has spoken. All the DNA evidence has deteriorated past use, all the witnesses have died. Yet nagging questions remain. Should the case be reopened? What are the odds a jury unable to examine the evidence will decide the case more fairly than the jury which did examine the evidence?

No manuscripts now exist close in age to the autographs. The quantity of manuscripts which survive from a later epoch is too meager to count as a representative sample even for that age:

  • “A special kind of information supplied by Church Fathers is the presence of explicit references they occasionally make concerning variant readings among the manuscripts known to them in their own day...In any case, however, it is of considerable significance when the Father mentions that in his day such and such a reading was current in a 'few' or 'many' or 'most' manuscripts. This information may -- or, more likely, may not --- be matched by the survival today of copies containing the reading in question.”
  • (The Text of the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger, p. 279).

The manuscript evidence examined by the earliest editors no longer exists, yet the verdict reached upon examination of that evidence remains in the form of the majority text. What is the advantage of overturning a verdict founded on evidence in favor of one which is not?

Let us post two men, one crouching behind the wall, one perched on a ladder from which he can see the plain spread out before him. If the observer stationed on the ladder reports that he sees the enemy hordes approaching, should the man crouched on the ground believe him, or reopen the question for himself, by studying what he can see from his station, the movements of birds in the sky? The man on the ladder, after all, might be lying. But the most rational procedure for the man on the ground is to believe his testimony. After the text began to be stabilized in antiquity, no one again can ever see what the man on the ladder can see.

To make an assumption of bad faith on his part, as do the modern textual scholars, is arbitrary and unfounded. The early Christians did passionately care who had written the texts they read and revered. They accepted certain texts on the conviction they had originated in apostolic circles:

"For in the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them, [it is recorded] that His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying, and saying, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass:’" (Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew, Chapter 103).
"And the Elder used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ." (Fragments of Papias, p. 316, 'The Apostolic Fathers,' J. B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer)

When an author provides, within the text itself, an authentication mechanism:

"The salutation with my own hand—Paul’s." (1 Corinthians 16:21).

Then is it not apparent persons familiar with Paul's hand-writing were able to authenticate his autograph copies? No one beyond the early centuries has any ability to do this, nor ever will again. Thus reopening the question substitutes worthless evidence, or no evidence at all, for usable evidence.

Our entire legal system depends on testimony; if we adopt the rubric, 'most testimony is false,' we could never convict anyone of anything. Looking at the New Testament canon from the perspective of the easy cases rather than the hard,-- the four gospels and the letters of Paul,-- one realizes these works were accepted as scripture by the second century. Within this time frame, it was still possible to authenticate them, though it never will be again. Why assume bad faith?-- other than the sheer bigotry of modern critics' impression of first century people as children who told stories because they liked to tell stories.

Bart Ehrman says we should do just like the man on the ladder does: we should look out at the field and report what we see. Jerome, for example, is a man on a ladder, albeit a late-comer, and a translator at that. For all the beautiful musicality of the Latin Vulgate, it is a quirky, personal translation filled with odd translation decisions that populated the medieval cathedrals with statuettes of the horned Moses and the leprous Christ. Nevertheless, Jerome had what no modern textual critic will ever have: a library of early Bible manuscripts to study and compare. He did not look at two fourth century manuscripts and a handful of papyrus fragments and then pronounce upon the state of the original text. He had real evidence, not no statistically meaningful evidence such as survives today. So when Bart Ehrman suggests we do as Jerome did:

"On what grounds, though, did Jerome revise his text? On the grounds of earlier manuscripts. Even he trusted the earlier record of the text. For us not to do likewise would be a giant step backward -- even given the diversity of the textual tradition in the early centuries." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 103).

How are we doing "likewise" as Jerome did when he is looking at evidence, and we are looking at none?

Court TV

One is hard pressed to imagine criminal defendants willing to stand trial under the standards of evidence proposed by modern textual criticism:

  • “The next step involves the examination of the relationship of the several witnesses to one another. Manuscripts may be grouped and considered from the standpoint of their genealogy. If, for example, of ten manuscripts nine agree against one, but the nine have a common original, the numerical preponderance counts for nothing.”
  • (The Text of the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger, p. 130).

What, incidentally, is the evidence that manuscripts descend from a common original? They are not, of course, date stamped! Why, the fact that they agree: "The validity of inferences based on this procedure depends on the genealogical principle that 'community of reading implies community of origin.'" (The Text of the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger, p. 131).

So a parade of witnesses take the stand and testify that I was not in the bank on the day in question. Their testimony is discarded, because they agree. Aleph and Beta then rise to testify. No one knows these ladies' shadowy past, but the fact that they agree with each other is given great weight...though, recall, it was their disagreement with everybody else that brought their testimony into prominence to begin with! They report that I robbed the bank.

In my request for a mistrial, I note that this procedure inverts the normal standards of evidence upon which all legal systems rest. Normally if many witnesses agree, that to which they testify is thought likelier to be true, not less likely. This principle was carried to its greatest extent by the rabbis, who required witnesses to agree about even peripheral matters like the time of day: "For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree." (Mark 14:56).

"For it is a fundamental principle in the law of Evidence that the very few are rather to be suspected than the many." (John W. Burgon, p. 55, Causes of Corruption of the New Testament Text, excerpted from The Traditional Text of the Gospels).

It is difficult to accept these principles, because they defy normal epistemology. In addition, it can hardly be a matter of chance that some manuscripts produce offspring and others do not. 'Survival of the fittest' must ensue when readers look for the best manuscripts to copy, not the worst. A manuscript held in such low esteem that no one copies it is not likely to be a better copy but a worse. The system as set forth assigns a negative value to majority agreement, which no plausible system for discovery of truth can do. Oddly enough it also assigns a negative value to internal consistency and good grammar, which are diagnosed as symptoms of editing, considered a form of contamination. It seems tailor-made to award a few wild copies an authority they could not otherwise claim.

The textural critics are ever solemnly warning against crediting majority testimony, even though that is a normal way to verify truth-claims:

"It would be a grave mistake, though, to think that because later manuscripts agree so extensively with one another, they are therefore our superior witnesses to the 'original' text of the New Testament. For one must always ask: where did these medieval scribes get the texts they copies in so professional a manner? They got them from earlier texts, which were copies of yet earlier texts, which were themselves copies of still earlier texts." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 74).

Thus the fact that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are dead-end avenues: no one wanted to copy these texts -- is not a problem for adherents of the minority text, but the very badge of authenticity for their preferred text. But why did no one want to copy them, if they were the very living, breathing, original text teleported into the fourth century? It is often demanded of KJV-only advocates that they prove Vaticanus and Sinaiticus to have been prepared under heretical auspices, as they sometimes suggest. Rather, the shoe should be on the other foot: those who propose to rewrite the Bible to conform with these two fourth-century manuscripts should prove that they are faithful to the earlier manuscripts. Surely such a bold and hasty undertaking requires some proof! But since there are no earlier manuscripts, other than fragments, we will wait in vain for any such guarantee.

When scribes make copies of copies of copies, through iteration after iteration, one must expect errors to accumulate and texts to diverge. And so they do -- up to a point. Then the trend reverses, or so it did with the Koran, the New Testament, and even the Iliad. As even Bart Ehrman admits, the later manuscripts show a declining amount of variation, approaching to, but never quite reaching, perfect agreement. What could possibly account for this? At some point, the variation in the text distresses people. They seek out the earliest exemplars to resolve the discrepancies. While there still are early manuscripts in existence to be examined, this can be done with some hope of success. Once there are none, it cannot be done at all. To redo this work with no surviving early manuscripts to go by is to take a wrecking ball to scripture.

Broken Promises

Early in the twentieth century, people heard marvellous news: mental illnesses like schizophrenia could be cured outright, troubled souls set on the right path, and unhappy neurotics see their chains of miserable compulsion broken, all just by talking. The 'talking cure' promoted by the Freudian analysts could work wonders, it was said. But skeptics asked: why is it that, if psychotherapy were a drug, the FDA would not allow you to sell it, because no one has ever demonstrated its efficacy? It may indeed be that these people are sick; but if so, where is the promised cure?

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church bought into this promise, deciding that pedophile priests ought most progressively to be 'treated' with the 'talking cure,' which would no doubt cure them of their affliction. After all, we 'treat' 'sick people,' we don't punish them.

Alas, Freudian analysis turned out to be most useful as a mythology by which some people liked to live. The schizophrenics and other genuinely ill people turned out to be much better served by the drug treatments which the Freudians had found so barbaric and backwards. Those suffering from moral and spiritual ills like pedophilia continued on the same, however much they talked about their childhood. It became apparent that, in moving pedophile priests from one place to another to receive 'therapy,' the Roman Catholic Church was doing no more than moving them about, and how could any church be so indifferent to the suffering of innocent victims as to do no more to their victimizers than to move them from place to place?

In a similar vein, the textual critics once promised that they could 'restore' the original text of the New Testament. Some eager believers 'bit;' after all, wouldn't it be wonderful to hold in one's hands the Bible of the early church? It was a wild ambition from the start; how can one reconstruct the original from two fourth century manuscripts and a pile of fragmented papyrus, when no one knows the provenance of any of these documents, no one knows if they came from the church or outside it? How could anyone establish, by any valid statistical analysis, that these meager and paltry surviving documents are an authentic survival of the original text, when no one has enough early manuscripts to comprise a representative sample?

Turns out it can't be done. If our inherited received text is not the true text of the New Testament, then we would have no way of knowing it, since we don't have the original texts. People in the secular textual critical field, realizing this, are moving away from talking about the 'original text:' "...a number of textual critics have started to claim that we may as well suspend any discussion of the 'original' text, because it is inaccessible to us." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 58). If God did not preserve the Bible, as they claim, then we have no access to it. Those Christians who bought into the promise while it was still being made are like those cattle who gravitate to ever-shrinking islands when the Mississippi is in flood. They should drop their habit of confirming their claims by citing secular textual critics, because the secular textual critics do not confirm their claims.

It is a very plausible conjecture that churches of the early day would have cherished the original of, say, one of Paul's letters, an autograph copy, if they were so fortunate as to have it:

"It is, however, not merely probable that the originals were preserved for this inconsiderable period; but that they were preserved with a degree of religious veneration." (Frederick Nolan, An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate or Received Text of the New Testament, Kindle location 777).

Is it not apparent that editorial decisions made while there was still available the original against which to compare any disputed copy are privileged above any such decisions made once time has done its consuming work and there is no original copy anywhere in the world?

Return to Further Reading...

Out of Breath

God is equally able to inspire a translation as to inspire the original texts. The Holy Spirit doesn't run short of breath in the translator's study. The early church authors claimed the Septuagint to be an inspired translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, others have claimed inspiration for Jerome's Vulgate, and many in the church today claim inspiration for the KJV. Because words in one language do not correspond point-by-point with words in another, no translation, even if inspired, can be an exact duplicate of, or fit substitute for, the original. But almost all the red-letter words of Jesus in the New Testament are translations; He spoke Aramaic, which is transliterated in only a few places. Bible students from Papias to Jerome searched out and found a Hebrew or Aramaic Matthew, of which they thought our Greek version a translation. What is the argument that God can inspire, but not translate?

Those who claim inspiration for the KJV are as right, I think, as are those who claim inspiration for Handel's Messiah. A few caveats remain, though.

The Old Testament of the KJV is translated from the Masoretic text. That the Masoretic text is not a perfect reflection of God's original is already evident to readers of Josephus. Josephus claimed to have in his possession the temple text, and the statistics he cites are those familiar to readers of the Septuagint, not readers of the Masoretic text. With the rediscovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew exemplars for unusual Septuagint readings have been found. It has become apparent that the Septuagint is not a free translation of our current Hebrew text, but a literal translation of a Hebrew exemplar differing from that obtainable from the synagogue. Which Hebrew text should Christians prefer? That text, I would think, which the apostles quoted.

A problem arising from the KJV's reliance on the Masoretic text is 'stranded' New Testament quotes of Old Testament scriptures. Look for the Old Testament source of a New Testament quote like Hebrews 1:6: “But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: 'Let all the angels of God worship Him.'” (Hebrews 1:6). Where does He say that? It's clearly intended as a quote of the Old Testament, but the unlucky KJV readers flips in vain to find it. Septuagint readers have never known the problem of stranded quotes: "Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him..." (Brenton Septuagint, Deuteronomy 32:43). The rediscovery of the Dead Sea scriptures has at last given translators a tool with which to begin to rectify the problem.

While the KJV is not perfection, it is far, far superior to the maimed, hacked, deficient Bibles in wide circulation today. As the reader may reflect, these defective modern Bibles are premised on circumstances not in evidence: that the New Testament is a 'growing text,' that the orthodox maliciously doctored the text of scripture while the heterodox never did so, etc. It is to be hoped that, when the mainline churches finally give up the ghost, they take their short, wooden Bibles with them.

Some modern readers can't understand the KJV's language. Whether it's Jerome's Latin Vulgate or King James' English, a Bible people can't understand is a closed book. No Bible believer questions the inspiration of the Hebrew and Greek originals; it's the unfamiliarity of these languages that calls forth the need for translation.

Return to Further Reading...

Ancient Literacy

Readers of Rudolph Bultmann and his successors learn that the New Testament authors were primitives clustered around the camp-fire, sharing an 'oral tradition.' Is this really what the first century world was like?

The people of Tusculum, having thought better of revolting against Rome, put on a show of normalcy for the Roman expedition sent out to bring them to heel. Naturally, their boys were at school:

"They filled their fields with men cultivating the soil and tending cattle, as in times of peace; their city gates stood open, and their boys were at school, learning their lessons." (Plutarch, Life of Camillius, 38, Plutarch's Lives)

What could be more normal? Yet modern secular Bible scholars tell us it cannot have happened:

The Obamas as I Knew Them

As this is written, the Obamas are still a popular couple. Should the economy continue to spiral downwards, perhaps they will end up as popular as Herbert and Lou Hoover, another fun couple. However, should they ride the wave, we may expect to see a flood of memoirs, 'The Obamas as I Knew Them.' Writers who cannot themselves produce a marketable manuscript will offer 'As Told To' ghost-written versions. Perhaps a daring forger will surface, like the man who claimed to have in his possession Howard Hughes' memoirs. Perhaps this forger will be clever enough to make shocking allegations, so that when the Obamas deny knowing him, he can reply, 'Do you think they'd admit it?'

But who would give odds, at this stage in the game, that ALL of these books will be forgeries produced by people who never knew the Obamas at all? Surely the chance of this is nil. Would Las Vegas even give odds on such an implausible and inexplicable occurrence? After all the Obamas did not live in a cave; many people must have known them, school-mates, co-workers, neighbors. Once you concede these are real, historical people, and once you observe that the book-market puts an inverse valuation on distance, you have admitted some of these books must be written by insiders.

What is left to deny this? The fallacious claim that, because some of these books are written by forgers (when you think 'forger,' think 'gnostic'), therefore they all must have been. No one doubts, not even the defenders and bowdlerizers of this body of literature, that the vast bulk of gnostic literature was written by folks who never met an apostle, nor even lived in the same century as one. The works themselves testify to this. So if the canonical gospels were early and authentic, they would be different from the gnostic gospels, not the same. Plainly, this is impossible!

It's striking how much authors like Bart Ehrman depend upon tendentious bracketing. They assiduously lump the New Testament writings with gnostic literature, even though they themselves fully understand the gnostics wrote centuries later. It's as if I were to categorize Bart Ehrman with Danielle Steel and Dan Brown. Every time I mentioned one of these contemporary authors, I dragged in the other two. But surely alert and prudently suspicious readers must notice it's one thing to categorize Bart Ehrman with Danielle Steel and Dan Brown, another thing to prove his writings properly belong in the category 'schlock.' No one is bound by my tendentious bracketing of these authors to believe anything other than that I think Bart Ehrman writes schlock.

Bart Ehrman

Red Clothes

If the employees of Goodwill were instructed to stand by the conveyor belt at the bottom of the chute where donors drop off clothing, and separate out the red-colored clothing from the variously colored clothing sliding by, who would be surprised to view a growing pile of red clothing? The rule that produced this pile is, 'separate out the red.' It would be a mistake to report the 'discovery' that all clothing is red, or even that most clothing is red; all that causes the pile of red clothing to grow is the promulgation and operation of a rule.

In a similar vein, the modern Bible translations are sometimes mistaken for a 'discovery,' as if they had dropped from heaven. They, too, are the result of a rule. They are short because their compilers followed the rule, 'the shorter reading is to be preferred.' They are short also on good theology, because their compilers followed the rule that 'bad theology is to be preferred to good theology.' Think I'm joking? This is Bart Ehrman's amplification of the principle that the difficult reading is to be preferred:

"'Proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua' -- the more difficult reading is preferable to the easier one. The logic is this: when scribes changed their texts, they were more likely to try to improve them. If they saw what they took to be a mistake, they corrected it;...if they encountered a text that stood at odds with their own theological opinions, they altered it. In every instance, to know what the oldest (or even 'original') text said, preference should be given not to the reading that has corrected the mistake...or improved its theology, but to just the opposite one, the reading that is 'harder' to explain." (Bart D. Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 111).

'Difficulty' in theology is relative; a scribe who holds to bad theology may find good theology 'difficult.' Yet notice the rule as Dr. Ehrman states it is: the reading with unimproved, i.e., bad theology, is to be preferred. Of two readings, one of which displays good theology, the other bad, the bad theology is to be preferred. Putting these rules into operation, is it any wonder that we end up with short Bibles with bad theology? The wonder is that the buying public shells out money for them.

Bad Theology

If the textual critics applied their stated rules consistently as indicated above, we would have bad Bibles, but at least they would be predictable. In reality they aren't even that. Ten different textual critics, given the same evidence, will give you ten different Bibles. How does this happen? The textual critics reserve the right to do what they accuse the scribes of doing, that is to harmonize:

  • “When two or more variant readings are preserved among our manuscripts, and one of them uses words or stylistic features otherwise not found in that author's work, or if it represents a point of view that is at variance with what the author otherwise embraces, then it is unlikely that that is what the author wrote...”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 131).

So in other words, we have bad theologians like Dr. Ehrman deciding what "point of view" a given Bible author "embraces," and then selecting a preferred text on that basis. This opens the door to pure subjectivity. Dr. Ehrman, for example, prefers for Hebrews 2:9 to report that Jesus died "without God." Though familiar to hearers of the 'prosperity' teachers, this concept lacks much manuscript support. In fact, the evidence Dr. Ehrman cites for this reading is such as would fully justify the restoration of the Johannine Comma. But it happens to fit with Dr. Ehrman's theology, particularly his interpretation of the ending of Mark's gospel:

"Heb. 2.9 appears originally to have said that Jesus died 'apart from God,' forsaken, much as he is portrayed in the Passion narrative of Mark's Gospel." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 148).

Why does the reading public continue to subsidize this venture? (For readers who didn't know that Mark's Gospel portrays Jesus abandoned on the cross, this is what Dr. Ehrman gets out of Mark's silence respecting the various utterances reported in other gospels, like "I thirst:")

Counting Noses

Let us suppose the original text: the white sphere in the diagram,-- begets six offspring, each of whom beget in their turn six offspring. Some will leave more, some less. To err is human; the scribes make errors in each of these texts, but they make different errors. This happenstance is the Ariadne's thread by which we will find our way back to the original, even centuries later, even after all the early generations have crumbled into dust. How will we do it? By counting noses. A first generation error, marked with the 'x', affects one-sixth of the copies...down through the last generation, other things being equal. It is swamped by the remainder five-sixths of the copies, all of which, to be sure, contain errors, but not that error.

Manuscript Tree

The construction of modern Bibles is not based on counting noses. Adopting that old reliable system would lead to Bibles very different from those you find for sale at Border's. Why don't they count noses? Because it is just barely possible for the minority text to be the correct one:

  • “In thinking about the manuscripts supporting one textual variant over another, one might be tempted simply to count noses, so to speak, in order to see which variant reading is found in the most surviving witnesses. Most scholars today, however, are not at all convinced that the majority of manuscripts necessarily provide the best available text. The reason for this is easy to explain by way of an illustration. Suppose that after the original manuscript of a text was produced, two copies were made of it, which we may call A and B...Now suppose that A was copied by one other scribe, but B was copied by fifty scribes...If a reading found in the fifty manuscripts (from B) differs from a reading found in the one (from A), is the former necessarily more likely to be the original reading? No, not at all -- even though by counting noses, it is found in fifty times as many witnesses.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 128).

Notice how, in his "illustration," Dr. Ehrman piles one implausibility atop another: how likely is it, in treating of any one error in the text, that it originated in the first generation of copies? Very unlikely indeed; the reader will notice the diagram portrays a geometric progression, like a Ponzi scheme. The first generation comprises six copies, the second thirty-six, the third 216, the fourth 1,296, the fifth 7,776. Some lines flourish, some die out. Once the market demand begins to be slaked, this rate of increase will level off. But for any one variant to which we turn our attention, is it likelier to have originated as one of the 7,776, or one of the first six? Dr. Ehrman allows only two copies in his first generation, unlikely in and of itself. Then he must have many more copies made of the errant version than of the sound, though there is no compelling reason why more copies should have been made of one than of the other. All of these unlikelihoods piled atop one another add up to a set of circumstances which is not impossible in any one given case, though not at all likely.

Dr. Ehrman will not leave it there, of course. This set of unlikelihoods must recur time and time again; it must, in fact, be the norm. For Error 1 we surmised a first generation error copied a disproportionately large number of times; for Error 2 we also must surmise a first generation error copied a disproportionately large number of times, for Error 3 the same. And this in a first generation limited to two copies! But if one of the copies is copied disproportionately many times, then the others cannot be also; they cannot all be copied disproportionately often!

When you suppose the same unlikely set of circumstances to recur again and again, you are supposing what is a practical impossibility. For instance, it is possible for the coin toss to yield 'heads' ten times in a row, though it is unlikely. To conclude from the fact that it is possible to throw 'heads' ten times in a row, that it is ever more possible to throw 'head's' all the time, every time, is to propose what is realistically not possible. It is like the little town all of whose pupils were above average. While there may be such a little town, there cannot be a nation all of whose pupils are above average, and there cannot be a first generation of manuscripts all of whose erroneous variants were copied a disproportionately large number of times.

In fact, the principle that the majority text preserves the original wording must be true most of the time. Yet the textual critics do not construct their Bible text on the principle that the majority text is right most of the time. They are creating something new in the world; Bibles that never were. They have persuaded themselves that, because it is possible for the minority text to preserve the original if an unlikely set of circumstances obtains, one may proceed under the assumption that the minority text generally or very often preserves the original reading. But a string of unlikely possibilities do not a probability make. It is statistically impossible for the minority Bibles they create to be replicas of the original text; we can rule that out.

Leaving alone the wording found in 100% of the manuscripts is a special case of the majority rule; one wonders when that is going to fall. Bart Ehrman has persuaded himself that he can see into the motives of the Bible authors. Like the sculptor who sees his statue imprisoned within the rough stone, he chips away until he 'liberates' his vision of Mark, who wants to portray Jesus abandoned on the cross. But he is creating something new, not restoring something old.

Theological Doctoring

Some years ago the 'KJV-only' movement attracted attention by accusing the modern Bibles' inventors of bad faith. They pointed out that, where the King James version is rich in direct and unambiguous statements of the deity of Jesus Christ, the modern Bibles are lacking. In response, the defenders of the modern Bibles pointed out that most textual variants have no theological bearing: a non-sequitur. They also pointed out that it is still possible to demonstrate the deity of Jesus Christ from the modern versions, which again is true but beside the point: there are indirect arguments now available as opposed to the many direct statements in the KJV. Who that has debated these points with a Jehovah's Witness has not heard, 'If the Bible means to say that Jesus is God, why doesn't it just say so?' The KJV does say so, over and over again; the modern Bibles do not.

Addressing this situation, the KJV-only advocates accused the inventors of the modern Bibles of theological doctoring. They alleged that these individuals themselves held heterodox views, and substituted minority readings more favorable to their own heretical views in place of the majority, thus likely original, readings of the received text. The response was an astonished and indignant gasp. Surely you can't mean to imply anyone would actually do such a thing!

People disposed to credit this response really ought to read Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus,' which does frankly admit that, in the following situation, heterodoxy receives a positive weight:

If Reading A, a poorly-attested minority variant, seems to be consistent with heresy, while Reading B, the well-attested received text, seems to be consistent with orthodoxy, Reading A is to be preferred.

This is Ehrman's Anti-Orthodoxy Rule. This is how they do it; this is where our modern Bibles come from. Docetism was an early church heresy that doubted Jesus' real, fleshly human nature. This view emphasized Jesus' divine nature at the expense of His real humanity, whereas orthodoxy embraces both. In "one of our oldest Greek manuscripts, as well as in several Latin witnesses," Dr. Ehrman reports ('Misquoting Jesus,' p. 165), [on this evidence, make room for the Johannine Comma], Luke 22:19 reads like so: "This is my body. But behold, the hand of the one who betrays me is with me at the table." This variant omits the customary language found in almost all of the manuscripts, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” and, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”

The transition is abrupt indeed from "This is my body" in the shorter version, but Dr. Ehrman insists this is correct, and the language of institution must be a later addition. Why? Because, according to Dr. Ehrman, the shorter language is consistent with docetism (though it clearly references Jesus' body), while the longer form is not. Therefore, the more expansive language must have been added later, because it is consistent with orthodoxy, which denies docetism.

At this the reader may demand fair play: what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If an anti-docetist scribe is accused of having added words to the text on theological motives, a docetist scribe may as easily be accused of having removed words which caused him difficulty. Yet, according to Dr. Ehrman, this never happens. Only the orthodox doctor scripture; the heterodox never do so. One must wonder what it is about heresy that has such a wonderful effect on human nature, that the heterodox are never tempted to do bad things, only the orthodox.

This claim is no different from 'Black people are shiftless,' or 'Jews are greedy.' This is a family of assertions which says little about the world, and much about the hatred in one human heart, the heart of the speaker. It is nothing but bias to ascribe a willingness to doctor the text only to the orthodox; nor is it anything but arbitrary to limit doctoring strategies always to addition, never to subtraction. Theological doctoring, then as now, and in both or should one say 'all' directions, is a danger to which the careful reader should be alert. At one time the Arian heresy received imperial patronage; if any Bibles prepared under these auspices survive, care must be taken to correct for the natural human tendency to assume any inconvenient wording must be an 'interpolation.' But in most of the cases Dr. Ehrman discusses, there is no reason to go in this direction at all.

It should excite suspicion that in many of the cases Dr. Ehrman advances, the variant is a word that looks or sounds very much like the original. If the scribes felt free to introduce new material based on their theological preferences, why would it have to look and sound like the original? Are the scribes trying to pull a fast one and slip something by without anyone noticing? If so, this is evidence that theological doctoring was not acceptable to the scribes nor to their audience, not that it was. As the police realized when they questioned Lizzie Borden, an effort to deceive shows a guilty conscience.

And how easy is it to think of a word which looks or sounds like another word, but carries a unique theological weight? This is a parlor game at which few people would excel. Subsequent to the invention of the thesaurus, it is at least possible to make the demand: give me a synonym for 'delicious' which looks and sounds like 'toasty:' 'tasty.' But prior to the invention of the thesaurus, this is asking a lot, especially of a scribe who must have wanted to rest from his labors at some foreseeable point in the future. Why not ask him to stand on one foot while he thinks up a word that looks and sounds like the original, but bears a different theological import? Realizing that the scribe may have been copying an original which was abraded, gnawed by mice, discolored by water dripping from the roof, or otherwise rendered illegible in spots, one need only surmise a good-faith effort to read the original. No logical defense can be mounted for the thesis, 'no accidental change can ever have any theological import.'

The reader will recall that the founding myth of the discipline of textual criticism is that the New Testament is a 'growing text,' and that therefore the shorter variant is likelier to be original. There is no evidence in favor of this assertion, though there is some evidence that works from other times and places, like the Hindu holy books, are 'growing texts,' and if the New Testament were not a 'growing text,' it would be different from these works, not the same. The reader cannot avoiding noticing that this is not much of an argument! Nevertheless Dr. Ehrman reverts to the insistence that, in the absence of homoeoteleuton (a 'typo' where similar endings confuse the scribe and cause him to lose his place), there can be no material omitted, only added:

" is hard to explain why a scribe would have omitted the verses if they were original to Luke (there is no homoeoteleuton, for example, that would explain an omission)..." (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 166)

Even this much defies common sense. No one who has ever typed material from a book onto a blog or a web page has failed to notice, in proof-reading, a word, or several words, or even a whole sentence, has been omitted, even in the absence of homoeoteleuton. To err is human, and it is just as easy to omit material...much easier in fact,-- as to add it.

A naive reader may imagine that these people verified their principles empirically before applying them to the New Testament text. That is, they sat down a roomful of test subjects and instructed them to hand copy a text, and this is how they discovered that no words can be omitted through inattention, except in the case of homoeoteleuton. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if they had ever done this, they would have discovered the contrary. But if we discard the principle that the shorter version is to be preferred, we also discard the modern Bibles as useless junk.

A scribe economizing effort will be tempted to omit rather than to add, because human nature remains the same and it is always sweet to do nothing:

John William Godward, Il Dolce Far Niente
John William Godward, Il Dolce Far Niente

"Yet the experience of copyists would pronounce omission to be the besetting fault of transcribers. It is so easy under the influence of the desire to accomplish a task, or at least of anxiety for making progress, to pass over a word, or a line, or even more lines than one." (John W. Burgon, Causes of Corruption of the New Testament Text, p. 61, excerpted from The Traditional Text of the Gospels).

There is no plausible reason to think the scribes must always lengthen everything, and considerable reason to think they would not want to do that. In addition, the difficulty mentioned earlier, that the base text might be illegible, enters here as well. We have all had the experience, owing to the proliferation of scanned but inadequately proof-read texts on the internet, of reading a scanned text and remarking, 'I seriously doubt the author meant to say 'flbmsxw,' but what did he mean to say?' One approach that can be taken in good conscience is to omit the illegible part, if not enough information remains to attempt a reconstruction. Nowadays we would insert an ellipsis (...), but the ellipsis, like sliced bread and Saran Wrap, is a modern invention. There are doubtless times in ages past when Saran Wrap, though unavailable, was just what was needed, and likewise of the ellipsis.

One need not always think evil of human nature in general, nor of scribal nature in particular, in order to explain what is observed. Some people, however, prefer to think evil of others. If there are ongoing error processes which are undirected,-- and there certainly are, most scribal errors have no theological bearing and thus cannot be ascribed to any theological agenda,-- then these same error processes must, on occasion, produce errors which do have a theological bearing. How could they not? How can some words or kinds of words be sequestered so that no random process can reach beyond the fence to touch them? The same kind of error processes that produce gibberish must also, on occasion, produce theological strike-outs of the sort which appeal to Dr. Ehrman. The reader is not necessarily justified in inferring, from the result, that the scribe was motivated by anything other than the usual attention deficits.

One might think docetism a heresy of the far-distant past. But oddly enough, the docetic view of the crucifixion is very widely believed today. For some reason it made it into the Koran, though most Muslims prefer to offer a naturalistic explanation for an idea which must have originated in docetic circles:

There is no end to the heresies human ingenuity has devised. Some of these heresies have had friends in high places, like the Arian heresy, which received imperial patronage from the Emperor Constantius. If modern Bibles are prepared, as Ehrman's Anti-Orthodoxy Rule requires, by deleting any well-attested passage amenable to an orthodox interpretation in favor of any poorly attested reading not favorable to orthodoxy, then we'll end up with a heretical Bible. If the textual critics filter out orthodoxy, as they say they do, what remains is heresy. That is the product this process is designed to produce. Orthodoxy, or compatibility with orthodoxy, receives a negative weighting, regardless of how many witnesses concur that this was the original text.

The wonder is why Christians of orthodox persuasion go into bookstores and pay money for Bibles prepared with this end in view. If one believes that orthodoxy came from Mars, then such a rule might be defensible. But if one believes that orthodoxy arose in the first place as the result of a good faith effort to read and understand the New Testament text, and to conform the church's beliefs to that text, then orthodoxy and the New Testament text are self-reinforcing. Orthodoxy would not have taken the form that it did if the text originally said something else. If orthodoxy arose from the text, then orthodoxy can have no need to change the text.

One can't help but think that if more Christians read Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus,' and came to understand just what filters the textual critics run the Bible text through, and what these filters are designed to filter out and what in, then sales of the modern Bible versions would fall off a cliff. Sales of the KJV and NKJV would sky-rocket. Let it be so!

Miraculous Preservation

On one point Bart Ehrman and the Bible agree: if God is God, He will miraculously preserve His words. He has promised to do so:

"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." (Psalm 12:6-7).

  • “For the only reason...for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn't preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn't gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”
  • (Bart Ehrman, 'Misquoting Jesus,' p. 211).

Given God's promise to preserve His word, the fact that God has preserved a certain form of the text is a powerful testimony in behalf of the version thus miraculously preserved.

"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever." (Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:24-25).
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Matthew 24:35, Luke 21:33, Mark 13:31).

If you, like Dr. Ehrman, dislike the form of the Bible text which God's wisdom has preserved, perhaps a wiser course would be to learn to like it. And indeed the majority text is lovable, fairer by far than a pair of hacked-over Arian Bibles.