Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,
Christians are fond of saying that although the Bible has unstable and sketchy textual contradictions, they can analyse the manuscripts and develop (yes, develop), a Bible as close to God’s words as possible. The problem however is that if you don’t know what God’s word was, how can you develop something, into it? That’s like saying you don’t know what an aeroplane looks like, but you’re going to design one.
The problem isn’t that errors can be corrected within the manuscripts, by all means this is not the point. To clarify, I will state what the points of such a dialogue on the Bible’s authenticity should be about:
- Validation of Authorship.
- Validity of Chain of Transmission.
- Comparison with other scriptures.
The authorship of any document, especially those of high esteem must accompany the scribe’s identity.
E.g. I write a document, claim it’s from the President and it doesn’t have his signature. No one would accept it.
Likewise, if I were to claim that I have a scripture from God, written by “unknown”, how much trust would you actually place on me? In stating this, it should be noted the names of the Gospels were based on assumptions and traditions. Although it is common for scribes to leave a manuscript autograph signature, we have no such signature from any of the four (4) synoptic Gospels.
Validation of Authorship:
The validity of the author must be sought.
E.g. I write a document, sign my name and say I am the President. There is no evidence I am the President, who would then believe me?
Likewise if I authored a scripture and claimed to be a scribe of God, then some evidence must be shown, after all would you trust someone based on word of mouth or credentials? Similarly, the Bible has no such form of verification. There is no one from the Patristics (early Church Fathers), the Presbyters (early Church elders) or from the Disciples (Peter, Barnabus) to testify to the identity and works of Mark, Luke, John or Matthew.
Validation of Chain of Transmission:
Again, questionable character comes in here, if the chain of narration contains those persons who are known to lie, shall we trust their words? Surely this is not so. Similarly, what about a man who willingly declares himself to be a fool (2 Corinthians 11) and possessed by a demon (2 Corinthians 12)?
Comparison with Similar/ Linked Scriptures:
If we compare the OT with the NT, it is radically different. You have to apply your own exegesis (therefore eisegesis) to create some form of bond/ relationship between these two “revelations”. Yet, Jews, the majority of which, do not accept the New Testament as scripture, because it does not comply with their mainstream beliefs.
Generally, the problem with 150,000 manuscripts, is not that they have errors which can be corrected, but it is that there is not a single original of which to compare any of these manuscripts with. Of the 24,000 pre-Codex Sinaiticus manuscripts, most are not used.
The Bible is generally a book where errors have to be continuously eliminated as errors keep popping up, such as with Mark 16:9-20. How are we to know, that for almost 2000 years men believed those words to be true, many today, yet the earliest manuscripts never had them.
According to Bruce Metzger:
Variant Readings among the Manuscripts
The first problem facing Bible translators is the differences in wording among manuscripts of the Scriptures. These differences have arisen because, even with the strongest determination to copy a text without error, a scribe copying a text of considerable length will almost inevitably introduce changes in the wording. It is understandable that mistakes can arise from inattentiveness brought on by weariness. For example instead of the correct reading, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a
bed, and not on a stand?” (Mark 4:21, RSV), several important manuscripts read “under the stand.” This is obviously a scribal error in repeating the preposition “under” in the third phrase.
Sometimes a scribe’s error of judgment works havoc with the text. One of the most atrocious blunders of this kind is in the minuscule Greek manuscript no. 109, dated to the 14th century. This manuscript of the four Gospels was transcribed from a copy that must have had Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (3:23–38 ) in two columns of 28 lines in each. Instead of transcribing the text by following the columns in succession, the scribe of MS 109 copied the genealogy by following the lines across the two columns.
In addition to such transcriptional blunders, which can usually be detected and corrected, occasionally a scribe deliberately introduced into the copy a change that seems to clarify the sense or eliminate a difficulty. For example the older manuscripts of Mark 1:2–3 attribute to the Prophet Isaiah the evangelist’s composite quotation from both Malachi and Isaiah, whereas later manuscripts (followed by the King James translators of 1611) read, “As it is written in the prophets,” an obvious amelioration of the earlier text.
wa Allaahu Alam,
and God knows best.
1 – Bruce Metzger, Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators, Bibliotheca Sacra 150: 599 (1993): 273-284.
[Originally published: April 20th, 2010, 21:24 pm]
[Altered and republished: August 12th, 2012, 4:00 pm]