Tag Archives: new testament

A Variant of One Letter

Can one letter make a difference?

Over the years I have demonstrated various textual issues with the New Testament. One of the more common questions I am frequently asked is to what extent a variant of one letter can impact the reliability or lack thereof, of the New Testament. Today I’d like to answer this question with a simple example.

The letter η (eta) is a defining article.

Consider the case of saying “the boy” and “a boy”, in the case of the letter η (eta) it means “the”, which specifies a noun. The car, the boy, the house all refer to something specific and not something general. Thus, we read from John 5:1 (NIV) –

“Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.”

Some translations render the section in bold as “a feast”, however there is a variant in Codex Sinaiticus which renders the text as “the feast”, thus specifying this feast as not a general feast but as a specific feast. By inserting the letter η (eta) before the noun “feast” (ἑορτὴ), the context of this passages changes entirely. The NET Bible’s commentary explains:

“The textual variants ἑορτή or ἡ ἑορτή (Jeorth or Jh Jeorth, “a feast” or “the feast”) may not appear significant at first, but to read ἑορτή with the article would almost certainly demand a reference to the Jewish Passover.”

In other words, while at first it may not appear significant, by referring to the feast as “the feast”, it therefore indicates that this was the feast of Passover. This presents several problems. The initial problem is that if this feast refers to the Passover it would mean that Jesus preached for 4 years and not 2 1/2 years. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states:

“He gives us three Passovers; to make this a fourth would be to put an extra year into our Lord’s ministry for which scarcely any events can be found, and of which there is no trace elsewhere.”

Thus, it would either mean that the timeline presented for Jesus’s ministry according to the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke exclude one year of Jesus’s ministry or that the Gospel attributed to John has created an additional 4th year (more than 3 years) which would stand against the testimony of the other Gospels. If the former is true it would mean that the authors of the synoptic Gospels chose to exclude and ignore an entire year’s worth of teaching by Jesus, thereby bringing into question the reliability of their collective testimony. Why would his followers want to exclude an entire year of his public ministry? Surely if he chose to preach at that time it must have been for a reason, therefore on what grounds can an author ignore or prevent other Christians from reading and learning from 25% of Jesus’s ministry?

However, if the latter is true, it would mean that the authors of the Gospel attributed to John created and attributed an additional year of preaching to Jesus’s ministry. This would then indicate that the Gospel attributed to John lies about Jesus and thus brings into question its authenticity, reliability and accuracy. The Pulpit Commentary expands on this issue a bit more:

“Now, “the feast” of the Jews could hardly be any other than the second Passover, while John 6:4 would indicate a third. “The feast” referred to in John 4:45 undoubtedly means the first Passover. “A feast” would leave the question open, though by no means excluding positively the second Passover, as the anarthrousness of the word might be chosen with a view to call special attention to it. However, the indefinite ἑορτη has been identified by commentators with every feast in the calendar, so there can be no final settlement of the problem.”

So far, commentators on this verse describe it as being “significant” and a “problem”, yet we need to keep in mind that this is the consequence of one letter being present in one manuscript. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary explains to what extent this variant affects the harmony of the Gospels:

“1. a feast of the Jews—What feast? No question has more divided the Harmonists of the Gospels, and the duration of our Lord’s ministry may be said to hinge on it. For if, as the majority have thought (until of late years) it was a Passover, His ministry lasted three and a half years; if not, probably a year less. Those who are dissatisfied with the Passover-view all differ among themselves what other feast it was, and some of the most acute think there are no grounds for deciding. In our judgment the evidence is in favor of its being a Passover, but the reasons cannot be stated here.”

Addendum:

It should be noted that commentators have not randomly decided that the phrase “the feast” refers to the Passover, this is a conclusion drawn from the Church Father Irenaeus from the 2nd century who writes in Against Heresies (Book II, Chapter 22) the following:

But it is greatly to be wondered at, how it has come to pass that, while affirming that they have found out the mysteries of God, they have not examined the Gospels to ascertain how often after His baptism the Lord went up, at the time of the passover, to Jerusalem, in accordance with what was the practice of the Jews from every land, and every year, that they should assemble at this period in Jerusalem, and there celebrate the feast of the passover.

We can see the variant by comparing the same passage from Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus. In the image below, we see folio 249 (recto) from Codex Sinaiticus:

1

The variant can be seen here, it reads as “Η ΕΟΡΤΗ” (the letter Η is the capital letter equivalent of η) :

The image below is from Codex Alexandrinus, we see folio 69 (recto):

3

The variant can be seen here, it reads as “ΕΟΡΤΗ” (the letter Η is the capital letter equivalent of η) :

4

6

What therefore, can we conclude from this difference?

If the Gospel attributed to John (from Codex Sinaiticus) is correct, it would mean that the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark and Luke excluded more than 25% of Jesus’s ministry from those Gospels, and thus brings their reliability into question.

If the Gospel attributed to John (from Codex Sinaiticus) is wrong, it would mean that the authors of this Gospel invented an additional year of Jesus’s ministry, thus bringing into question the reliability, authenticity and accuracy of the Gospel itself.

If the authors of the New Testament’s Gospels cannot be reliable enough to determine whether Jesus preached for 3 years or 4 years, how could we trust them otherwise? One letter can make a very big difference and this is but one example of such a case.

and God knows best.

Is to Question, to Err?

One of the ways we learn is by asking questions. I don’t believe that someone should be condemned or shunned for asking a question, especially when it is a request for someone to clarify and expound upon what they are saying. This post will highlight the need for meaningful interactions between Muslim and Christian apologists. Forgoing my disagreements with my friend and colleague Jonathan McLatchie, he recently posted in a group of mines regarding a seminar he recently held.

Screenshot_20170612-082938_1

Given my history with Jonathan, one may think I would comment on his post in an antagonistic manner, but as will be seen, this is not and will not be the case. Though I may disagree with Jonathan’s arguments, I prefer to have meaningful interaction with him, rather than argue without reason. Thus, when he posted his link, I left the following respectful comment:

Screenshot_20170612-082943_1

The aim of my respectful comment was to ask my friend Jonathan to explain his reasoning. To break down his argument(s) and to give me an example to qualify his claim. This is the usual way we approach arguments, by firstly asking for the person to explain their argument, and secondly by giving our response as to why we either agree or disagree with what they have presented. As follows, this was my friend Jonathan’s response:

Screenshot_20170612-082955_1

I would like to thank Jonathan for his respectful reply, though I may disagree with the conclusions he had reached. In writing this article, I hope to express to Jonathan that Muslims are willing to engage with him, despite past disagreements. With respect to his comment, I am quite uncertain as to how I failed to interact with his presentation, when I asked for him to give us an example from his presentation, an argument which demonstrated his claim of “undesigned coincidences”. I can’t interact with a video seminar, but I can certainly interact by asking the person presenting the argument to illustrate and explicate their claim. Secondly, I am also uncertain as to how simply asking a question would lead one to believe that I had failed to understand the subject. I had yet to respond to an argument he had presented, therefore I’m not sure how I could fail to interact with or to misunderstand something that was not given to me.

The question for us is, is to question, to err?

I don’t believe so. In respectful and meaningful dialogue, we hope that our questions can lead to elucidation as opposed to remonstration. Should Jonathan be willing to engage with Muslims on the subject of his video, I wish him to know that Blogging Theology, Calling Christians, along with my numerous Facebook groups and pages, of which he is a member of a number of them, that they are all available for him to engage in meaningful dialogue about his arguments.

Should there be any Christian willing to take up his cause and argue on his behalf, we would most certainly be welcomed to such a proposition. I firmly do not believe in “undesigned coincidences”, primarily because of the intertextuality of the Gospels, especially in regard to their archetypes, harmonizations and literary borrowing by their authors and scribes. I have discussed this topic previously in other posts, but I am looking for new, well taught out arguments on this topic to challenge the conclusions I already hold. Thus far, I have yet to see such an argument, but then again, this is why I’m posting about it publicly. Perhaps by some undesigned coincidence, I may perhaps find someone willing to provide such an argument.

and God 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.

 

Evangelical Textual Critic Debunks Common New Testament Reliability Myths

James E. Snapp Jr. makes some quite candid points with respect to the reliability, preservation and transmission of the New Testament in a response to some of these misconceptions being part and parcel of the recent movie, “The Case for Christ” based on the book sharing the same name by Lee Strobel. Here are some of those points:

He starts off with pointing out the obvious, having a single early partial manuscript of one book of the New Testament does not mean we can misjudge all of the New Testament’s book as being equally as early as that one fragment. Rather, it is judged book by book:

For example, the earliest New Testament manuscript is probably either Papyrus 52 or Papyrus 104 – but they are both small fragments.  They tell us nothing about the accuracy of the transmission of the books of the New Testament that they do not represent.  So, comparisons between “the New Testament” collectively, and single compositions from the ancient world, are sort of unfair; it would be better to separate the individual New Testament books, and go from there when making  comparisons.

The number of manuscripts rarely matter, as I have duly pointed out before, on more than one occasion. The current reconstruction of the New Testament isn’t based on which manuscripts agree with each other the most. It’s a very common misconception to say the least:

Most English translations of the New Testament are based on minority-texts at points where the Byzantine and Alexandrian text-types disagree with one another.  The New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New Revised Standard Version are all based primarily on editions of the Nestle-Aland compilation, which, despite being compiled via a method called “reasoned eclecticism,” almost always rejects the majority-reading (that is, the Byzantine reading) in favor of the reading in the flagship manuscripts of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts.

My point being that it is inconsistent to argue for the reliability of the New Testament by an appeal to the existence of 5,843 manuscripts, and then turn around and reject 85% of those manuscripts by consistently favoring minority-readings, which is precisely what one does when using the NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.

Furthering his point, he then goes on to critique Lee Strobel’s misuse of the number of manuscripts argument, as well as the argument that the differences are, “as minor as a few typos in a few insignificant words”:

In his book, Strobel states that the differences between New Testament manuscripts are “as minor as a few typos in a few insignificant words in an entire Sunday newspaper.”  That is simply not true.  He also compares the transmission of the New Testament text to a game of telephone in which, at the end of the game, 29 out of 30 telephone-game players say the same thing.  The problem is that the illustration does not hold, as far as the base-text of the NIV is concerned:  in the base-text of the New International Version New Testament that Lee Strobel uses, 29 out of 30 manuscripts are routinely rejected in favor of Alexandrian minority-readings.

He then goes on to debunk the very common misconception, that given we possess early partial manuscripts from the 2nd century that it means they must have been written during the 1st century CE several decades after Jesus, and that the New Testament’s books are the earliest between extant (still surviving) manuscripts and their initial date of composition. He indicates that this is probably not true:

The relatively recent claim that the New Testament’s manuscript-support is closer to its composition-date than any other literary work of ancient times is probably not true.  When Papyrus 52 (also known as John Rylands Greek Papyrus 457) was identified by C. H. Roberts as a fragment of the Gospel of John, some apologists began crowing about how this new discovery confirms that there is only a 40-year gap between the production of the New Testament, and its earliest extant manuscript – a gap far less than there is for any other work of ancient times.  However, this is not all that significant.

Papyrus 52 was assigned a production-date in the first half of the second century due to palaeographical considerations – that is, via a comparison of its script to the scripts used in other manuscripts in various eras.  But if we reckon that a copyist’s handwriting stayed relatively the same, and that we have no means to deduce how old a copyist was when he made a particular manuscript, and if we also reckon that a copyist might live another 50 years after the beginning of his career as a copyist, then there is potentially a 100-year swing, 50 years each way, built into palaeographically assessed estimates of when a manuscript was made.  That is, when other factors are not in the picture, a production-date deduced exclusively from palaeographic evidence could be off by 100 years.  So in the case of Papyrus 52, saying that it was made “in about 125” could mean that it was made 50 years earlier (although that is precluded by the point that the Gospel of John itself is traditionally given a production-date around AD 90), or 50 years later.

With the crux of his argument being one I have previously espoused and argued many times upon:

Thus, while Papyrus 52 might have been made just two or three decades after the Gospel of John was composed, it is also true that Papyrus 52 might have been produced in the 170’s.  To ask for greater precision in the estimate is like asking researchers to tell us the age of the copyist.

Very recently, Br. Yahya Snow shared a very impactful quote regarding the traditional Christian history of the Gospel attributed to Mark and the disparity between that history, our current reconstructions and its earliest manuscript 𝔓45.

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.

Graphic: NT Reliability Comparison to Ancient Documents

Question:

This image has often been used to demonstrate the reliability of the New Testament. What is your response to this?

nt_reliability1

Answer:

This infographic relies on two of the three defective principles that beginners make when it comes to textual criticism, namely the number of witnesses (manuscripts) and the age of the witness (manuscripts). I’ve previously written on these three defective principles as outlined by the textual critical scholar Leon Vaganay. Before we get into the textual critical problems with this infographic, we first need to examine the theological problems with it.

Theology

One of the first claims we normally associate with the use of this infographic bases itself on the fallacy of false equivalency. We are told that scholars and historians have no problem trusting and relying on the ancient works ascribed to Homer, Aristotle or Plato, so given that we have so many more manuscripts of the New Testament we should have even more trust and reliance on the New Testament as it compares to the quantity of manuscripts for the previously aforementioned ancient documents. The problem with this argument is that I don’t need the works of Homer, Aristotle or Plato for salvation. Rejecting, not reading, ignoring and discarding the works of those men does not affect my salvation, which is why we can generally rely on and trust them. Since whether or not they actually are reliable or accurate does not affect my life in any meaningful way.

However, when it comes to the New Testament, it’s a different story. We are told it contains the inspired words of God, that we need to rely and trust it for our eternal salvation, that denying and rejecting it would lead to our eternal damnation. The stakes here are quite higher. Rejecting the works of Tacitus does not send me to hell. Waking up one morning to find out that alterations were made to the writings attributed to Plato, has no consequence on me whatsoever. My entire worldview does not change, my salvation does not rest on my accepting or rejecting the works of Tacitus and Plato. Therefore, when it comes to theology, it is an honestly poor argument to make that if we can trust something that has no bearing on our salvation, then we can also trust something that allegedly has significant bearing on our salvation. This is a dishonest comparison by all means.

The Number

There are some 24, 000 manuscripts! That number is practically meaningless and useless for a number of reasons. To begin with, of the 24, 000 that this infographic claims exists, how many of them are within the first 300 years of Christianity? According to the  Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) there are only 67 manuscripts in total existing from this time period. That figure represents 0.27% of the total number of New Testament manuscripts. The vast majority of New Testament manuscripts were written after the 11th century CE, some 1100 years after the Messiah. So while the number is big, it is misleading.

The Date

The number is misleading because it is juxtaposed with the date range of 40-70 years “between the earliest surviving copies”. Seeing 24, 000 juxtaposed with an early date range is extremely misleading, leaving the impression that the number correlates with the date range. In reality, there are only 7 New Testament manuscripts that fall into the first 200 years of Christianity, all of which are extremely fragmentary. That represents a figure of 0.029% of all New Testament manuscripts that can possibly be ascribed to the date range given in the infographic.

Conclusion

While the infographic does provide somewhat accurate information, its use of that information to argue for the reliability of the New Testament is both misleading and dishonest. The arguments derived from the use of this infographic don’t endorse the claim of the reliability of the New Testament, but rather demonstrates that many Christians simply do consider their scripture to be equal in weight to the works of ancient peoples. The very fact that they choose to argue that if we can trust the ancient manuscripts ascribed to Plato and Homer, therefore we can trust the New Testament is to also say that Plato’s and Homer’s work stand on the same credibility level as that of scripture inspired by God. Rather than defend the holiness of scripture, such an argument truthfully undermines it, while falsely comparing what should be the work inspired by a holy and all knowing God, to that of mortal men.

and God knows best.

 

Between Ehrman and Error

Recently on Blogging Theology I posted a video on the tenacity of the proposed ausgangstext which filled the lacuna of John 20:28. The vast majority of Muslims (expectedly) were enthusiastic about discussing the tenacity of Doubting Thomas’ alleged statement. The vast majority of Christians were not, which was also understandable. Then there were those caught in-between, educated enough to know that there had to be, or that there was more evidence behind what I had published, and there were others who were incredulous as to what that evidence could have been. Upon release of my second response video, I took a little more time, some 20 minutes and expanded on the rationale leading to the conclusions I mentioned in my first video on the topic.

Everyone knows about Dr. Ehrman’s famous statement, “copies of copies of copies of copies”. Yet the only two arguments I received in return were quite amusing. The first of which was that some people were curious as to whether Dr. Ehrman had commented on this passage or not. For some reason I have yet to discover, some Muslims’ hold on simple textual criticism of the New Testament is limited to only what Dr. Ehrman says, yet at the same time they are fully willing to simultaneously argue against his famous aforementioned quote. I duly provided a list of scholarship that not only knew of the work I gained the reference from John 20:28 on, I also provided the name of a seminary which uses the work itself, while also foregoing to mention that the scholar in question has been cited by Dr. Ehrman himself – one of the Muslims who opposed me in those comments had perhaps not yet read Dr. Ehrman’s references to this scholar (and his conclusions).

Nonetheless, the second argument I received was that no other variant of John 20:28 existed post p66, although I did point out that this was the case in Codex Bezae, as minor of a variant as it is, the challenge that not one variant exists has thoroughly been debunked (for those unread, the manuscript was eventually edited by a scribe).

bezae1

Following from this ignorant argument, was the case that since we know what every text post p66 said, then we must know what p66 itself said. This again, coming from those who agree with Dr. Ehrman’s aforementioned statement. We are therefore left with the following problem. Hence the title, Between Ehrman and Error. We have the following from the gracious Dr. Ehrman (emphasis mine own):

My point has always been (for example, in Misquoting Jesus) that we can’t know with absolute complete certainty what was said in each and every passage of the NT. That point – which I think cannot be refuted – is principally directed against fundamentalists who want to claim that every word of the Bible is inspired by God. How can we say the words were inspired if we don’t know in a lot of cases what the words were???Source.

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to these questions.  But they shouldn’t be ignored, as they ALWAYS are (in my experience) by people who want to assure us that we “know the original text in 99% of all cases.”   Really?   Which original?

If it were just up to me, I would say that the “original” is the first form of the text that was placed in circulation.  But since that in fact is not the oldest form of the text, maybe we shouldn’t call it the original. – Source.

One very interesting piece of evidence for this view involves a fact that is not widely known outside the ranks of the professional textual critics.  It is this:  new papyri manuscripts – relatively very old ones – do show up all the time (several in the past few years).  Whenever a new papyrus turns up, it almost NEVER contains a textual variant that is completely new.  The variants are almost always variants that we know about from our later manuscripts.  This shows, the argument goes, that variants were not created later.  Our later manuscripts preserved variants, they didn’t create them.  And this shows, it is argued, that all of the earlier variants are to be found even in the later manuscripts.

This is a terrific argument, and very interesting.  On the surface, it seems pretty convincing.  But in fact, in my view, it does not actually show that we have the original reading or that we can know that we do.  I will explain why in the next post. – Source.

I don’t think our New Testaments are likely ever to change much.  And I don’t think we know in a lot of places what the originals said.  Where’s the contradiction?  I’m not saying that we *know* that we have the original text in 99.9% of the passages of the NT.  I’m saying we *don’t* know – for a wide variety of reasons that I haven’t gotten into very much here.   But I’m emphasizing the word “know.”  We simply don’t know.

Do I *suspect* that most of the time we are pretty close or even there?  Yes, that would be my guess.  But it’s just a guess based on scholarly assumption and suspicion. – Source.

During those 300 years, Mark was being copied, and recopied, and recopied, by scribes.  Until we get our first full copy.  Can we know that this copy from 300 years later was 99% like the version that came directly from the pen of the author?  Of course we can’t know.  How would we know?Source.

Between Ehrman and Error. It’s really as simple as that. Dr. Ehrman used the word “guess”, I used the word “guesswork”. Dr. Ehrman used the word “suspicion”, I used the word “speculation”. Dr. Ehrman repeatedly points out that we cannot know what the original text said. He repeatedly points out that most variant units are decided on guesses and suspicion. So the question begs itself, how far are the conclusions in my video, different from that of Dr. Ehrman’s himself?

The problem presents itself, as he described regarding Mark, we don’t know what version of what copy we received. Given that basic, common sense principle, extend that to John 20:28, given that p66 is our earliest and we have no intermediate text (that is, the text between what the original author(s) wrote and the text of p66 itself), and that it has a lacuna or gap for the famous, “and my God” – then there is no way of certainty of knowing what p66 itself said or what the intermediate text(s) said, what the archetypal text said, or what the autographic text said. To require that we must need a variant before being able to dispute what a missing text says, is essentially self-refuting, the gap itself presents us with a problem, we don’t know what it said and we don’t know if any of the intermediate texts said something variable. We simply cannot know, just as Dr. Ehrman says.

So between Ehrman and Error, I agree with him, we cannot know, it involves guessing and suspicion. Those who disagree, disagree with the very goodly Dr. they appealed to in the first place and are as such, in error.

and Allah knows best.

Is The Bible Reliable?

William Lane Craig answers this question for us, he states:

“I’m quite willing to say these documents could be erroneous in many respects, could be inconsistencies (sic), contradictions…”

It’s always great to see Christian leaders being honest about the reliability, or lack thereof, of the Bible.

cc-2016-wlc-biblicalinerrancy

HD 1920 x 1080 Meme Download: Click Here.

and Allah knows best.

Comparison: Scribes of The Qur’an vs Scribes of the New Testament (Part 2)

Last week we took a cursory look at the known scribes of the Qur’an, in comparison with the known scribes of the New Testament. This week, we’re going to venture a little deeper into understanding why the identity of the authors and scribes (amanuenses and copyists) is of concern to the modern reader. Unlike the Qur’an, the veracity of the New Testament is based on the claim that it is from eyewitnesses:

For almost seventeen hundred years, Christians regarded the four canonical Gospels as being, among other things, records of what actually happened. Divine inspiration seemed to guarantee historical veracity, as did the belief that the purported authors of those Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were either eyewitnesses or friends of eyewitnesses.[1]

It is therefore touted as a historical work, based on the witness of contemporaneous sources. However, both early sources and later sources agreed throughout Church history that the New Testament was ahistorical in many cases and as one Church Father would put it, based on “material falsehood”:

Even more clear-eyed was Origen, who in the third century anticipated modern criticism by candidly observing that at “many points” the four Gospels “do not agree.” He inferred that their truth cannot reside in “the material letter:” The Evangelists “sometimes altered things which, from the eye of history, occurred otherwise.” They could “speak of something thing that happened in one place as if it had happened in another, or of what happened at a certain time as if it had happened at another time,” and they introduced “into what was spoken in a certain way some changes of their own.” “The spiritual truth was often preserved, one might say, in the material falsehood.”[2]

The issue of scribes altering original works is not alien to the New Testament itself. A warning in Revelation 22, the last book of the Bible was placed there to very specifically warn scribes from altering the work, the author(s) of this work then, at the very least were aware of the fate that had befallen other Christian works of that time and prayed that this would not happen to their own:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”[3]

For those who argue that this book was written early, this quote demonstrates that at the time it was written scribes were altering works at such a scale of worry that the author(s) had to invoke a curse and warn them from altering their own work! Commenting on this passage, Phillip Comfort states:

“Since writers in antiquity were well aware that their books could be changed by scribes in successive copies, they made these warnings. Undoubtedly, they knew that there would be unintentional mistakes, which come through the course of making manuscripts. What they were hoping to protect against was intentional alteration of the writing.”[4]

What kind of intentional changes do we find in the New Testament manuscript tradition?

“Those who study the text and the history of its transmission realize that most of the substantive changes were made in the interest of “improving” the text. Various scribes were motivated to make changes in the text for the sake of harmonizing Gospel accounts, eliminating difficult doctrinal statements, and/or adding accounts from oral tradition.”[5]

“Whereas readers do this gap-filling in their imaginations only, scribes sometimes took the liberty to fill the unwritten gaps with written words. In other words, some scribes went beyond just imagining how the gaps should be filled and actually filled them. The historical evidence shows that each scribe who made a text created a new written text. Although there are many factors that could have contributed to the making of this new text, one major factor is that the text constantly demands the reader to fill in the gaps. During the reading process, the reader must concretize the gaps by using his or her imagination to give substance to textual omission and/or indefiniteness. Since this substantiation is a subjective and creative act, the concretization will assume many variations for different readers.”[6]

“Metzger considered the early Western text to be the work of a reviser “who was obviously a meticulous and well-informed scholar, [who] eliminated seams and gaps and added historical, biographical, and geographical details. Apparently the reviser did his work at an early date, before the text of Acts had come to be generally regarded as a sacred text that must be preserved inviolate.”[7]

“More often than not, the editors of the UBS/NA text considered the Alexandrian text, as the shorter text, to have preserved the original wording in Acts. My view is that in nearly every instance where the D-text stands alone (against other witnesses—especially the Alexandrian), it is a case of the Western scribe functioning as a reviser who enhanced the text with redactional fillers. This reviser must have been a well-informed scholar, who had a penchant for adding historical, biographical, and geographical details (as noted by Metzger). More than anything, he was intent on filling in gaps in the narrative by adding circumstantial details. Furthermore, he shaped the text to favor the Gentiles over the Jews, to promote Paul’s apostolic mission, and to heighten the activity of the Holy Spirit in the work of the apostles.”[8]

In Uloom al Hadeeth or the Science of Hadeeth, criticism of a transmitter is necessary for validating or verifying the information they are transmitting. This type of criticism is known as Rijal al Hadeeth, in which the character of the transmitter is examined. One might wonder, how detailed is this science in Islam? The following text should clarify the extent to which our methodology goes in order to validate information on a transmitter:

“A man bore witness in the presence of `Umar ibn al-Khattaab -radiyallaahu `anhu, so `Umar said to him: “I do not know you, and it does not harm you that I do not know you, but bring someone who does know you.”

So a man said: ‘I know him, O Chief of the Believers.’
He said: “What do you know of him.”

He said: ‘Uprightness.’
He said: “Is he your closest neighbour; so that you know about his night and his day, and his comings and goings?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “So have you had (monetary) dealings with him involving dirhams and deenars, which will indicate his piety?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “Then has he been your companion upon a journey which could indicate to you his good character?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “Then you do not know him.”

Then he said to the man: “Bring me someone who knows you.”[9]

Such a detailed criticism of any transmitter (whether orally or textually) in early Christianity has never been done, nor had such a science been developed in the Christian tradition. Rather, the most critical methodology of verifying information in the Christian tradition has been one of assumption. Rather than critically examining the characters of scribes, and transmitters, it is assumed that the earliest witnesses would have corrected misinformation from being shared:

“The primary reason is that the writers (or their immediate successors) were alive at the time and therefore could challenge any significant, unauthorized alterations. As long as eyewitnesses such as John or Peter were alive, who would dare change any of the Gospel accounts in any significant manner? Any one among the Twelve could have testified against any falsification.”[10]

We’ve already seen just how unreliable the early scribes were, and now that we know that there was no methodology to verify early transmitting of information, how can we be certain that if we assume the disciples were around, that they would be able to correct and thus stop misinformation from spreading? We cannot be certain of this, in fact, this assumption is erroneous given that the very Gospels themselves which are alleged to have been written during the time of the 12 disciples can’t even get the origin of Jesus meeting some of his most important disciples correct! In the origin story of the disciple Phillip, Jesus meets Philip in the city of Bethsaida. This is anachronistic, as Bethsaida only became a city after the ministry of Jesus ended. Therefore when Jesus met Philip in Bethsaida, it was considered a village. The Gospel of Mark in 8:23 correctly identifies it as a village (Greek: kome), but John in 1:44 refers to it as a city (Greek: polis). Considering that three disciples, Philip, Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida, then how is it possible that all three of them let such a minor detail in one of the twelve’s origin stories be incorrect?

So that’s a minor detail, what about the origin stories for both Peter and Andrew?

In Matthew 4:18, Jesus meets Peter and Andrew on the seashore while fishing with nets. At that time the poorer fishermen did not have boats and so they would cast nets from the shoreline and catch whatever they could have. Just three verses later in 21 – 22, Jesus meets James and John with their father, who unlike Peter and Andrew, have a boat and are mending their nets. So Jesus in 5 verses, meets four of his most prominent disciples. In Mark 1:16 – 20, he tells us the same story in Matthew, but with a big difference, the third man in the boat when Jesus meets James and John for the first time is a hired servant and not their father, thus showing their wealth in comparison with Peter and Andrew. He makes the distinction between their places in society more noticeable.

In Luke though, it’s a different story. Jesus when he first comes to Capernaum, goes to Peter’s house and cures his mother in law (Luke 4:38). Then later, he stumbles across Peter on the shore of the lake, but they have a boat and he finds Peter mending a net, not using it to fish, a different story from Matthew. Jesus then proceeds to embark on Peter’s boat, perform a miracle in the lake and it is then that James and John notices the miracle and joins Peter. Again, this contradicts both Matthew and Mark’s story in which Peter, Andrew and Jesus while walking on the shoreline, spots James and John, then they leave their boat and follow Jesus on the shore. Have you noticed Luke never mentions Andrew? That’s a problem because in John’s account, Andrew met Jesus when Jesus was at the River Jordan with John the Baptist. Then Andrew finds Peter and takes him to meet Jesus (John 1:39-42). Then they go to Galilee in the region of Bethsaida. No mention of meeting on a boat, by a boat, because of a boat, or because of fishing, a completely different narrative. Definitely no mention of either James or John, the sons of Zebedee.

All four Gospels, have contradictions, errors and in some cases, a completely different narrative regarding the origin of Jesus meeting four of his twelve disciples. As we read earlier, according to Christian scholarship, if the disciples were alive they would have corrected any falsification, as we have just seen, either the disciples were complicit in falsifying information or the Gospel stories as we currently possess them were not verified by the disciples themselves. In fact, the reason that we cannot critically assess the character of any of the early transmitters in Christianity, or its disciples is because we know so little about them. Take for example, the rock on which Jesus is alleged to have built his Church, the disciple Peter, the most important disciple. What do we know about Peter?

“It is one of the inscrutable ironies of Christianity’s humble beginnings that we know so little about Jesus of Nazareth’s leading disciple— the one identified in the Gospel of Matthew as the “rock” on whom Jesus would build his church, listed in later Christian tradition as Rome’s first bishop, and one of its two apostolic martyrs at the hands of Emperor Nero. But who was this man, and what happened to him? Any conventional quest for a “historical Peter” runs into the ground rather swiftly.”[11]

“Yet they remain remarkably vague or silent about many of the things we would like to know about this apostle’s origin, character, missionary career, and death. Why would these sources show such a lack of interest in the fate of such a prominent apostle? This can only leave the modern reader frustrated and mystified. The historical Peter himself left virtually nothing in writing, and even less of archaeological interest— whether in his native Galilee, in Jerusalem or Caesarea, in Antioch or Corinth.”[12]

“Among the numerous extant writings in his name, there are of course two short and remarkably different letters of uncertain date and origin in the NT. Beyond that, we have a bewildering range of apocryphal sources, styled as written by or about him, dating from the second through (at least) the sixth century. The authenticity of these documents remains contested among scholars of diverse critical presuppositions. On perusing the scholarly secondary literature, it seems hard to dispel the impression that the vast majority of leading specialists on both sides of the Atlantic now regard neither of the NT’s two Petrine letters as coming from Peter’s own pen.”[13]

It is amazing that Christians would like to tell us what the disciples believed about Jesus, but the reality is that they themselves do not know much, if anything about Peter. Moreso, not only do they know nothing about Peter, they have very little to tell us about the origins, or ends of any of the disciples. Therefore, when Christians claim that the New Testament is based on eyewitness testimony and that the New Testament is historically accurate, on what basis are they making these claims? The early Church had no methodology for verifying and validating information made about Jesus, the one theory Christian scholarship offered about the disciples correcting information did not stand up to scrutiny, historically we know nothing about the earliest witnesses, therefore by every criteria they claim to stand on, the New Testament fails every one of them.

In contrast to the disaster that is the Christian transmission of information, the sciences of Uloom al Hadeeth and Uloom al Qur’an, are far more detailed and critical of transmitters. More critical, than any methodology ever offered by the Christian tradition. It is often claimed that our hadeeth corpus is on par with the New Testament’s authenticity, but as demonstrated last week, this cannot be the case. Pursuant to this, if one of the sub-sciences of Uloom al Hadeeth, Rijal al Hadeeth, is more demanding and critical than any methodology ever used in Christian scholastic history to validate or verify the New Testament, then it stands to reason that our weakest narrations from the hadeeth corpus are more authentic, valid and historically viable than the entire New Testament.

and Allah knows best.

Sources:

  1. Allison, Dale C., Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 32-34). Kindle Edition.
  2. Allison, Dale C., Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 42-46). Kindle Edition.
  3. Unknown. The Book of Revelation, 22:18-19. NIV 2011.
  4. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6833-6835). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  5. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6890-6892). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  6. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8023-8028). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  7. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8691-8694). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  8. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8702-8708). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  9. Reported by al-Bayhaqee and others, and it was declared to be ‘saheeh’ (authentic) by Ibnus-Sakan, and our Shaykh (Muhammad Naasiruddeen al-Albaanee) agreed; and refer to ’al-Irwaa’ no. 2637. As recommended by the blog’s owner, Br. Omar.
  10. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6801-6803). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  11. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 3). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  12. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 3). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  13. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 4). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
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