Thursday, February 08, 2007

Where Is the Bible?

In a New Testament manuscript dating from the fourth century, Codex Vaticanus (so named because it was found in the Vatican library), a scribe copied in Hebrews 1:3, “Christ manifests [Gk: phaneron] all things by the word of his power.” That is a different reading than the one found in most manuscripts available, which say, “Christ bears [Gk: pheron] all things by the word of his power.” Some centuries later, another scribe read Vaticanus and decided to change the unusual word “manifests” to the more common reading “bears”—erasing the one word and writing in the other. A few centuries later a third scribe read the same manuscript, noticed the alteration his predecessor had made, and he erased the word “bears” and rewrote “manifests.” This third scribe wrote this derisive comment in the margin concerning the second scribe: “Fool and knave! Leave the old reading, don’t change it!”

That one difference does alter the interpretation of the text. Saying that Christ reveals all things is different than saying that He bears or keeps all things.

Copyists of the text of the Old and New Testament through the years have changed the words found in the original, so that almost every copy is different. We also don’t have one scrap of the original parchment of one book of the Bible, so we are dependent on copies for our readings of the Scripture. Most Christians agree that there is one perfect copy in heaven (Ps. 119:89). That heavenly edition does not do us much good down here, so if based upon Scriptural promises we believe that God has both perfectly preserved and also made accessible every one of His Words for us on earth, how did that happen?


Story #1

In the late 1830s one young and particularly ardent scholar became convinced that it was his mission to restore the Bible as close as possible to its original condition. He wrote his fiancee, “I am confronted with the . . . struggle to regain the original form of the New Testament.” This young man was named Lobegott (German for “Praise God”) because before he was born, his mother had seen a blind man and surrendered to the superstition that this would cause her child to be born blind. When he was born healthy, she dedicated him to God by calling him Lobegott Friedrich Constantine von Tischendorf. He first made his reputation concerning a fifth-century Greek manuscript, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, which was erased in the twelfth century so its vellum pages could be reused to record some Syriac sermons. The pages had not been thoroughly erased, so Tischendorf used newly discovered chemical reagents to help bring out the handwriting so producing the first successful transcription of this early text. The accomplishment induced people to provide financial support for journeys that led him to the foot of Mt. Sinai and the Convent of St. Catherine in May of 1844.

Visiting that monastery he saw in the middle of the great hall a large and wide basket full of old parchments. He was told by the librarian that two heaps of papers just like these had already been committed to the flames. Amid the remaining pile were many sheets of a copy of the Old Testament in Greek, and the monastery allowed him to take only a third or forty three pages, since his excitement aroused their suspicions as to the value of the parchment. He could take no more.

Nine years later he returned and could find no trace of it. In 1859 under the patronage of Czar Alexander II of Russia, he set out again but with repeated failure until the very last day. Then he was invited to the room of the convent’s steward and discussed with him the Greek Old Testament. The steward told him, “I too have read a Septuagint,” and he pulled from the corner of his room a copy wrapped in red cloth. Tischendorf recounts:
I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those very fragments which, fifteen years before, I had taken out of the basket, but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete, and in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the Pastor of Hermas.
Today Codex Sinaiticus rests in the British Library as a part of its permanent collection, prominently displayed in its manuscript room.

Story #2

In December, 1945, Egyptian fellahin rode their camels out to the Jabal al-Tarif, a huge cliff near the Nile River honeycombed with caves. They came in search of sabakh, a natural fertilizer they used to nourish their crops. Hobbling their camels at the foot of the cliff, the men began to dig in the soft soil around a massive boulder resting against the cliff face. Striking something hard, they swiftly uncovered a red earthenware jar nearly a meter high. Fearing that the jar might contain an angry jinn, or spirit, the men hesitated. Quickly the legends of treasure buried in the caves of the Jabal al-Tarif overcame their fear. Muhammad Ali al-Samman raised his mattock and smashed the jar with a single blow. Golden dust, he swore afterwards, flew out of the jar and vanished into the air. However, among the shards of pottery the men found no gold, only some old books bound in cracked leather. Disappointed, Muhammad Ali carried the books and loose papers home and dumped them on the floor near the oven. For several nights, his mother fed the fire with sheets of the papyrus.

The remaining texts, after a torturous journey through the black market, were eventually identified by scholars as Christian gospels missing for nearly two thousand years. Bound in tooled gazelle leather, the 52 manuscripts were turned over to the Coptic Museum in Cairo, and teams of scholars from Canada, Germany, Scandinavia and the United States have worked together to decipher the poems, prayers and sayings that were translated from the original Greek into Coptic, an African language that transposes hieroglyphics into an alphabetical mode.

Story #3

When Napoleon seized the Vatican in 1809 he exiled the Pope to Avignon, transported the Vatican library to France in 50 wagons, and carried off a prize to Paris—a fourth century Greek manuscript of the Bible. There it remained until 1815 when it was finally returned to Rome along with its owner. The manuscript was known by scholars to exist in 1475 when it was listed in a catalogue of manuscripts in the Vatican Library. Vatican authorities kept it under lock and key desperately hoping this recently rediscovered treasure would be soon forgotten. The Catholic Church considers the manuscript dangerous because it shows so clearly how corrupt their Vulgate is. But in 1845, a young English scholar, Samuel Tregelles—self taught—applied for permission to investigate this find in the Vatican library. Unable to avoid granting permission, the Vatican put every obstacle in his path. He was not allowed to take pen or paper with him, he was searched going in and coming out, and two clerics stood by him to turn the pages so he could not look too long at any one passage. Before he left, he was only allowed six hours to examine the text.

In 1866 Lobegott Tischendorf was granted permission to once more examine this manuscript. He was also given many restrictions; only 14 days and three hours each day. However, with his photographic memory he was able to publish the most perfect edition of the manuscript which had yet appeared in 1867. This forced the Vatican to finally publish a copy, Codex Vaticanus, in 1881.


The New Testament was completed when John finished Revelation in A.D. 90. We know they were making copies and circulating them. Colossians 4:16 reads, “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the from Laodicea.” Early Christianity spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire, so rapidly that by the end of the second century Christian groups were proliferating everywhere there despite efforts to stop them. Tertullian, living in the port city of Carthage in North Africa 100 years after John’s Revelation was written, boasted to outsiders that “the more we are mown down by you, the more we multiply; the blood of Christians is seed!” Assemblies of them were popping up everywhere; some were taking off, but going the wrong direction, orthodox doctrine eroding. This widespread movement was becoming enormously diverse, so that the leadership faced the problem of how to unify Christianity so that it could survive its enemies. From the breadth of the materials preserved from that period, we know that many other books were written besides the twenty-seven in the New Testament. Several of those books were mentioned and refuted by Irenaeus in his five book treatise, Against Heresies. Irenaeus also made these statements in those writings:

In like manner he also . . . . retains unchangeable in his heart the rule of the truth which he received by means of baptism. . . . [T]his class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith. . . . For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins.
Those statements manifest no true conversion for Irenaeus. He, however, was the man who most scholars see as responsible for the canonization of the New Testament text, also despite the fact that he himself never listed the twenty-seven New Testament books. He is most often given credit for nailing down the four Gospels by writing in Against Heresies:
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel . . . it is fitting that she should have four pillars.
Does that sound like good evidence for the four Gospels to you? The final decisions among all of these varied groups about which books should finally be considered canonical were not automatic or problem free. We are able to pinpoint the first time that any professing Christian of record listed the twenty-seven books of our New Testament as the books of the New Testament. The first surviving instance of anyone affirming our set of books as the New Testament was Athanasius, the powerful bishop of Alexandria, in A.D. 367. Even that did not settle the issue historically—debates continued for decades, even centuries.


Is there any passage in Scripture that lists the twenty-seven books of the New Testament? How can anyone be sure that the original New Testament did have twenty-seven books? Does the Bible even teach canonicity of books? Why did canonization take so long? Do you believe that God used these three discoveries of texts recounted above in order to restore the New Testament back to a condition closer to the original manuscripts? How could we possibly have a perfect Bible when no two hand-written ancient copies are alike? How does anyone know what the Word of God actually is? Is canonization a natural process? Is having errors in the Bible a suitable position for you? Do you believe God preserved Words or the Content of Scripture?


Throwback 13 said...

* Questions:
* 1) Was Codex Sinaiticus "a Septuagint"? I am not a student of the MSS, but I have never heard this. Have I inferred something from your story that isn't so?
* 2) Are you giving authority to Sinaiticus and Vaticanus? I believe these lie outside the TR and have been dismissed as bearing any weight on the text of Scripture.
* 3) Are you saying that our canon of the New Testament is incomplete, or are you saying that our canon is correct, despite the disagreements?
* Thank-you,
* .. Joel

Kent Brandenburg said...

1)Part of it was a Septuagint.
2)I'm using induction.
3)I'm mainly asking questions, and seeing where it heads. For now, I'm not making a point.

I'm fine Joel. You'll see.

Throwback 13 said...

* As to the canonicty of the N.T., we agree that the KJV is perfect. It gives 27 books for the N.T. If there should be more, then the KJV missed them, and if 27 is too many, the KJV erred in its inclusion. Either way, that would make the KJV to be imperfect.
* .. Joel

Kent Brandenburg said...

Are you trying to draw me out, Joel? I'm not biting. :) I will be writing more in the near future and you might get some revelation.

Throwback 13 said...

* Kent Brandenburg said, "Are you trying to draw me out, Joel? I'm not biting. :)"
* Not at all. I just think the question has already been settled.
* .. Joel

Kent Brandenburg said...

If you don't mind me saying, Joel, enjoy the process. I think this is an important line of thinking. I am wanting people to be honest about what they believe. Believe me too though when I say this is not targeting you.

Steven Avery said...

Hi Kent,


Strong evidence has come forth confirming that Sinaiticus is in fact a recent production. Also that it was artificially coloured and we can see the before and after in the 1844 and 1859 section.

Codex Sinaiticus Authenticiy Research

Sinaiticus - authentic antiquity or modern?

Steven Avery
Dutchess County, NY