Category Archives: Bible

The Changes to the First Words in the New Testament

Last month I published a paper on how the very first words in the New Testament evolved over time. It was entitled, “The Inscriptio of the Gospel Attributed to Matthew.” Today we have produced a 2 minute video that simplifies and summarizes the research from that research paper:

Alternative YouTube Link: Click Here.

For more information, you can see a quick 15 minute talk on how the Old Testament was corrupted (including the Shema Yisrael!). To view or download the presentation slides from the 15 minute video, please click here.

To download or read the paper mentioned in this post, please click here.

and God knows best.

The Inscriptio of the Gospel Attributed to Matthew

For many Christians the authorial identity behind the first Gospel (as per the Augustinian order), commonly attributed to Matthew usually appears to be a matter of little or no concern. This is in part due to the inscriptio of the Gospel itself as is found in most modern translations of the New Testament. Without this inscriptio, the first mention of the name Matthew appears in Matthew 9:9. While at first this may not seem like an issue of note, a critical examination of the inscriptio with respect to its inception, and eventual adoption and evolution can give us deep insight into the perception of this document by those contemporaneous to its creation and development.

Who was authorship ascribed to, if anyone at all in the manuscript tradition? Was it considered to be scripture from inception? How has the use of the inscriptio in today’s modern translations affected the belief that an individual identified as Matthew did indeed write the first Gospel?

For those who would prefer to download the document or access it through other means, here are some alternative options:

This is the first article in a series of articles that will cover the New Testament and the Qur’an in light of textual criticism.

and Allah knows best.

 

The Translational History of the Qur’an and the New Testament

Does the translational history of a scripture matter? Most people don’t often consider this question, but it is very consequential with emphasis being on the transmission and understanding of scripture. While most people would consider translations to be a tool and aid for understanding scripture, the impact of a translation is often ignored. In this article, I wanted to point out some of the benefits and problems that the Qur’an and New Testament would face on this topic.

As Muslims, we believe that God revealed the Qur’an in Arabic:

Indeed, We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand. – Qur’an 12:2.

We need to consider that when God reveals scripture, that He has chosen a language that would best suit His message, and that when He has chosen a message to send in a specific language, that language and its language devices need to be studied to understand all of scripture. Not all languages are equal, there are language devices that exist in one language that may not exist in another, and so to translate between these languages would raise issues. For example, let’s say you’re trying to translate a metaphor from one language to another. It’s raining cats and dogs. For an English speaker they would know that this refers to heavy rainfall, but if we translate it word for word, literally from English into Spanish, would a Spanish speaker grasp the meaning intended by the phrase? If we translate it contextually to say that it means rainfall (excluding the mention of cats and dogs), is this faithfully representing the text as it was written? Confusion can occur for example, if a Spanish reader in looking at the Spanish text sees rainfall, but when comparing with the English, they see cats and dogs. They may assume the translator made an error and omitted words thus leading to confusion. Translators often have to walk a very fine line, if they translate a phrase word for word it can lead to the loss of intended meaning (context) and if they translate contextually they can be accused of not faithfully representing the original words as they were written.

Therefore, the language of scripture matters.

Throughout Islam’s history, the Qur’an as revealed in the Arabic language has always been regarded as scripture. Translations have however been understood as interpretations of scripture and not necessarily scripture in and of itself. Translators by profession are interpreters, it’s their very job title. This distinction is very important because the Islamic tradition has always definitively defined what scripture is and what it isn’t. The Islamic tradition has always emphasized that Muslims should learn how to read the Arabic Qur’an, how to recite the Arabic Qur’an (tajweed), it is fard al ‘ayn (personally obligatory) to learn the Arabic language such that we can understand the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah. I previously spoke about language devices existing in one language and not in another, an example of this is the dual noun in the Arabic language. In the English language we know of singular and plural nouns, the Arabic language has an intermediate category of nouns, dual nouns, this is not found in the English language. Muslims are taught to perform salaah (prayer) in the Arabic language and to perform the remembrance of God in the Arabic language (dhikr). Suffice it to say, one of the reasons the Qur’an has been preserved, not just merely the text itself but also the recitation and the meaning is because of the commands of God to use the Arabic language when it comes to scripture and worship, it preserves the sources of Islam as they were received by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions (may God be pleased with them all).

This is not the case with the New Testament. While the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are written in Koine Greek, for 1000 years the New Testament was only considered to be scripture in the Latin language. This would mean that for 1000 years (until the Erasmian text) Christians were not reading scripture in its original language with its original language devices but that they were reading an interpretation of the New Testament altogether. Even when the Greek reconstructions of the New Testament came into favour, Christians still relied primarily on translations. This presents many problems for the transmission and preservation of the New Testament itself. We need to ask ourselves, why would God reveal a scripture in Koine Greek, only for it to be abandoned and a translation used in its place? The fact remains that the go-to language for the New Testament, from its inception has statistically been a language other than the Koine Greek it originated in, whether that be Latin or today’s English. The problem is compounded by the fact that the Christian tradition itself has no internal mechanisms for which Christians need to rely on the language the scripture was allegedly revealed in. Consider that translations are not merely considered translations but equal with the original Koine Greek in and of itself, also consider that there is no onus on a Christian to have to learn to read Koine Greek, to have to study Koine Greek, or to have to use it in any religious practises. This is in stark contrast with Islam, God not only revealed an Arabic scripture but also placed internal mechanisms (religious practises) that encouraged and ensured that the scripture as it was revealed would be preserved and studied, as it was meant to be understood. The same cannot be said for the New Testament and so it brings into question the validity of the New Testament as scripture to begin with.

And so we return to our original question.

If God revealed scripture in a specific language, then surely there was a purpose for that. While we can account for this purpose in Islam, we cannot account for this purpose in Christianity.

Yes it is true that scripture is meant to be understood, so there is no inherent harm in translating scripture into a language so people may understand it, but there is harm in abandoning the original language of scripture altogether. At a very young age Muslims begin the practise of teaching the Arabic language but we do not find this in Christianity when it comes to Koine Greek, this has led to a significant divide in the way that Muslims and Christians understand scripture. Should you ask a Christian if it is important to learn Koine Greek, they’d tell you no. Yet when we look at their commentaries of the New Testament, we find endless translation notes and lexical explanations. If there is no need to learn the language of the New Testament, then why do these translation notes and lexical explanations exist? Seminary graduates have to learn Koine Greek to understand scripture, to be able to exegete scripture, so while the lay Christian is told that they don’t need to learn the language, their scholars and preachers who attend seminaries realise that they do have to learn Koine Greek. This cognitive dissonance when it comes to the attitudes that Christians have towards the New Testament harms the religion of Christianity. A person who relies solely on the understanding of scripture through a translation will either end up with a wrong understanding or a wrong impression of what scripture teaches. Often times we find preachers using word studies to prove doctrines based on English translations! Clearly there is a problem inherent to the Christian understanding and definition of scripture.

To demonstrate the validity of this point, let’s take for example Dr. Michael Licona’s new book, “Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography”. After specifically studying Graeco-Roman bios (biographical) literature for 7-9 years, Dr. Licona, a well-known Christian scholar and apologist, advertises his book with the claim that he has discovered a literary device used by ancient authors in biographies that explains the contradictions in the stories about the life of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This literary device he calls, “literary spotlighting”, a device not ever named by anyone before in the some 2000 years that Graeco-Roman literature has been studied by scholars worldwide. Consider the troubling consequences of such a claim. That for 2000 years, scholars who have dedicated not merely 7-9 years of study on classical ancient works but their entire lives did not know of an important and core literary device used extensively by Graeco-Roman authors. Even worse off, is the claim that this literary device was used in scripture and not known by anyone else. How is such an absurd claim possible? It’s only possible when the language the scripture was allegedly revealed in, was ignored, discarded and abandoned. Literary devices directly affect the way we understand a language, Dr. Licona is effectively saying that for some 2000 years there has been a language device in use in scripture, that had not been identified previously. This fundamentally affects the way we understand the New Testament and at the very least demonstrates the importance of preserving a scripture in the language it was said to have been revealed in.

In the end, when Christians preach to Muslims and those of other faiths, they boldly claim that all you need to be saved is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It’s only when a new Christian (or newly practising) becomes devoted to Bible study, do they find themselves being told that they should probably find a better translation, or compare translations for a better understanding, or that they need to return to the Koine Greek rendition of a passage to wholly grasp its meaning. For some, they quickly realise that the requirements of understanding scripture go beyond reading a translation and that it’s more than just accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It’s a lot like being signed up for a cable subscription only to discover that there are hidden fees. We do not find this problem with Islam, and so we must ask once more, if God revealed a scripture in a specific language then surely that language and learning it must matter, right?

and God knows best.

 

Palm Sunday in the New Testament

Given that today is Palm Sunday, I decided to read the Gospels’ narratives of the day that Jesus allegedly rode into Jerusalem. When one reads the stories as they are presented going from Matthew to Mark to Luke to John, there’s a trend that cannot be ignored.

If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And (he will send – αποστελει) them immediately. – Matthew 21:3 (NRSV).

The text here in Matthew reading that the owner will send the colt immediately.

If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will (send it back – αποστελλει παλιν) here immediately.’ – Mark 11:3 (NRSV).

The text here in Mark reads that the person sending the colt is Jesus, he is sending it back or returning it. The word being used here is παλιν (palin) to differentiate between sending, and sending back or returning. How then does Luke treat this narrative? Who does he decide is the one sending the colt? He fixes this contradiction by omitting the second quote of Jesus in the passage altogether, his version reads:

If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ – Luke 19:31 (NRSV).

That leaves us with the Gospel of John, does this Gospel break the tie between Matthew and Mark to let us know which version is correct? Not exactly, John takes a different approach. Instead of the version presented in Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s version omits the request sending altogether and in its place has Jesus finding a donkey himself:

Jesus (found – ευρον) a young donkey and sat on it; – John 12:14 (NRSV).

I suppose one lesson we can take away from Palm Sunday as it is written in the New Testament, is that if there’s a contradiction, one easy and quick way to solve it is to just omit the contradiction altogether.

and God knows best.

A Brief Insight into the New Testament’s Prototyping

The New Testament of today is described as follows regarding the NA28 GNT:

“The intention of this edition lies not in reproducing the “oldest text” presented in the oldest manuscript but in reconstructing the text of the hypothetical master copy from which all manuscripts derive, a text the editors refer to as the initial text.”1

We should therefore understand the New Testament not to be the word of God, but the hypothetical reconstruction of the “word of God”, a prototype, a possibility of what the reconstruction of the initial text may have looked like. When one examines the earliest manuscripts, we quickly find a trend that cannot be sidelined or ignored, the earliest witnesses place us in the late 2nd to 4th centuries CE:

New Testament Diagram Final (1)

The graph above concisely breaks down what books of the New Testament have as their earliest surviving (extant) witnesses. It also conveniently breaks down the New Testament into its genres and text types. The vast majority of manuscripts are from the 3rd century CE, meaning that the reconstructed prototypes give us a picture of what these completed texts may have looked like during or beyond the 3rd century CE. What is most notable, is that one of the earliest surviving sources attests to 9 books. That does not bode well for multiple attestation. Other books find their earliest witnesses in the 4th century including 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, 2 John and 3 John. These all indicate an intermediate or initial text projected into the 3rd century, some may say the 2nd century. Scholars have long noticed this trend of a later developed text, with one notable scholar explicitly stating:

Our critical editions do not present us with the text that was current in 150, 120 or 100—much less in 80 CE.2

Regarding new methods and changes in the NA28, a 2016 publication by the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society confirms the following:

The application of the CBGM resulted in 34 changes to the main text of
the Catholic Epistles and a slight increase in the number of passages marked as
uncertain. In most cases the changes are of minor significance for interpretation
or translation, but in several cases the changes should not be ignored. At the
difficult variation in Jude 5, for example, the text now reads that it was “Jesus”
(Ἰησοῦς) who once saved a people from Egypt instead of “the Lord” (ὁ κύριος). In
another important change, 2 Pet 3:10 now prints a reading that is not found in any
known Greek witness. Where the previous edition read that the last days would
mean that the earth and all that is in it “will be found” or perhaps “exposed” (εὑρεθήσεται), the text now reads the opposite: the earth and all that is in it “will not
be found” (οὑχ εὑρεθήσεται). The latter reading sits much easier with the surrounding context, but is only attested in a few Coptic and Syriac manuscripts.3

What the data, methods and current status of New Testament Textual Criticism indicates is that we have a text that is much later than is traditionally espoused. The stemmata indicate we currently have reconstructions of a textual form between the late 2nd to 4th centuries CE. There is now an increase in uncertainty regarding the variant units, in other words confidence has been lost in several cases. In other cases we find texts that affect theology or which textual critics indicate are important changes which are labelled as “difficult”, the consequences of which cannot and “should not be ignored”.

We also see in the aforementioned quote that texts now essentially teach the opposite of what they once said! All exegeses commentating on the previous reading have now been rendered invalid by a text reading in the opposite direction altogether. In one other notable case, we also now find a reading in the text that has no manuscript support whatsoever among any known Greek witnesses. All of these trends do not paint a good picture for the state of the New Testament’s reliability. The text of the New Testament today, is not the text known to those at any other time in the past, which brings into doubt their salvation. If  believing in scripture is a criterion for salvation, and the text believed then is not the text now, can we say those in the past truly believed in and embraced the “living word of God”? If the text that penetrated them for guidance is not the text of today, then does it matter at all what the New Testament says?4

Sources:

1 – Trobisch, David. A User’s Guide to the Nestle-Aland 28 Greek New Testament. 9th ed. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 10.

2 – Petersen, William Lawrence., and Jan Krans. Patristic and Text-Critical Studies: The Collected Essays of William L. Petersen. (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 410.

3 – Gurry, Peter J. How Your Greek NT Is Changing: A Simple Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM). Vol. 59. Series 4. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 2016, 684-685.

The title of this journal’s essay should not be ignored. The text of the New Testament is indeed changing, to say otherwise is to ignore the very existence of the critical editions.

4 – Hebrews 4:12.

Many commentators have said that the Bible is the living word of God, a scripture that penetrates us spiritually and guides us. If that is the case, then if the text changes, we have to ask, what form of the text is actually the living word of God? If an edition previously caused spiritual changes but is now changed, does that invalidate its spiritual guidance or does it indicate that the changes are wrong and the edition is correct? It’s a dilemma either way, which definitely brings into severe doubt the ideas of scripture, salvation and the work of a living word of God among Christian believers.

The New Testament Today

The New Testament Today – What is it? Where did it come from? Can we rely on it?

These questions and more are answered, as our journey into 2017 begins. Let this year, be a year of guidance for our Christian brothers and sisters.

YouTube Mirror if above Facebook video is not available.

Thanks to Dr. Chris Claus for inspiring this video and this series of videos that will be coming out on various pages, YouTube channels and Islamic TV channels shortly.

 

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