In a previous post I paid attention to some intentional alterations made in some Manuscripts of the Bible. Though many may be deemed trivial and don’t influence our faith or any doctrinal belief, I personally do not want to build on anything that God had not given Himself. Even today I am sometimes influenced by, or my eyes opened by some important aspect, yet if it is not part of God’s own given Word, I would not build my faith upon it.
I prefer that learned scholars of the Bible and its documents, as well as modern translators adhere to what might most probably portray the original autographs. Even so I would like to know the facts and judge for myself!
Let’s look at some other intentional alterations found in New Testament manuscripts.
Another form of deliberate alteration of the text is the addition of what could be expected in a sentence. Sometimes scribes tried to complete or round off what they thought to be incomplete.
Examples: In Mat.9:13, Matthew quotes Jesus’ words as: (NIV): “…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. “ It was elaborated to (MKJV): “…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. “
In the following passages taken from the MKJV, the later additions are printed in bold: Mat.26:3: Then the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, assembled together to the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas. Mat.6:4,6: And your Father who sees in secret Himself shall reward you openly.
Gal.6:17 is another good example of a growing text. The earliest form of the text, preserved in manuscripts p46 ±200, Vaticanus ±350 and Ephraemi ±450, is found in the NIV: “…for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.“ Later some pious scribes could not resist to elaborate on the unadorned “Jesus” and inflated the name as follows: “…the Lord Jesus.” (as in the MKJV) in the manuscripts Sangermanensis ±950, Mosquensis ±950, Angelicus ±850 and several later manuscripts. Also: “…the Lord Jesus Christ.” Written into the Sinaiticus at some late date, and even : “…our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the colorful codex Boernerianus ±850 and quoted this way by several old Church Fathers.
4. To clear up historical or geographical difficulties.
Everybody makes mistakes. Spelling mistakes are evident in all handwritten documents. Sometimes someone is quoted wrongly or people are confused when they have to remember at which place something happened. When something like that happens in the Bible, should we correct the evangelist or writer?
In the early manuscripts the combined quote from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 was indicated in Mark 1:2-3 as (NIV): 2It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ Later the name Isaiah was changed to the Prophets, as it still is rendered in the Modern King James Version.
Origen (who died in 254) encountered what he considered a geographical problem in John 1:28, and changed the name of the town from Bethany(as it is in the NIV) to Bethabara. (MKJV): “These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. “ This is a typical example of how an alteration made by a church father in his personal documents could end up in the Bible. Although no less than fourteen of the eighteen manuscripts we have up to the ninth century have Bethany, Bethabara appeared more frequently in later manuscripts and also in the manuscript Erasmus used as source for his printed version and therefore also in the KJV.
Should we adhere to John’s original version, or accept Origen’s alteration?
5. Conflation of readings.
When a scribe was confronted with two or more possibilities in manuscripts before him, he would rather include all than make a wrong choice and leave out the authentic reading.
According to the oldest Greek manuscript we have of Luke (p75 ±200 A.D.) as well as three other Greek manuscripts, two Syrian translations, two Coptic (old Egyptian) and a Georgian translation, all dating before 500 A.D. Luke ended his gospel with: (NIV): “And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God .“ (4+5)
One Greek manuscript ±550 A.D. and three old Latin translations dating before 500 A.D. say that they “lauded” God. (0+3)
A combination of these two words is found in one Greek manuscript, a Syrian translation, an Armenian translation as well as one manuscript of the Vulgate dating before 500 A.D. (1+3) and from there on in most manuscripts including the MKJV: “And they were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen .”
Someone could ask: “What is the point? Isn’t this trivial?”
In essence this makes no difference at all, but to me it emphasizes a few things: 1. God included man in his plan; humans with all their frailty and mistakes, even you and me! 2. Scribes went to great lengths not to drop one authentic word, and would therefore rather combine and inflate his copy. What God intended to be written, really never got lost. 3. Because we are privileged to have all surviving copies of manuscripts as well as translations and quotes from the church fathers to our avail, we can reconstruct with virtual 100% certainty the original autographs, and thus determine the true word of God. 4. We can honestly trust the work of the Bible Societies when they at present deviate from the absolute meager documents Erasmus had to his disposal when he compiled his first printed edition in 1516. For so many centuries his work, though lacking much, helped our forefathers to have a Bible in their home language, helping to bring down faith and truth even to us. 5. No essential truth had ever been in the balance by any omission or inclusion found in the different manuscripts or versions of the Bible.
According to Mark (13:11) Jesus ordered his disciples: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.“ In Luke’s version of this incident, he used the expression not to premeditate. These two were combined in later copies to the form found in the KJV: “…take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate.” In modern versions this phrase is changed to represent the original (Like NIV. And Good News Bible. )
6. Alterations made due to doctrinal considerations.
Since early years, church fathers warned against those who intentionally corrupted the Scriptures with alterations to eliminate or alter what did not suit their own doctrines, or added “support” for their own favorite theological practices.
About 150 A.D. Marcion erased all references to the Jewish background of Jesus in his copies of the gospel according to Luke.
In John 7 we have an interesting problem. Porphyry (234-305) a Greek philosopher made an attack against Christianity, accusing Jesus Christ of being inconsistent, based on John 7:8 where Jesus declared : “I am not going up to this feast…” (Revised Standard Version.), yet two verses later we read: “…But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.” Without doubt there must have been manuscript(s) in circulation at that time with this rendering; otherwise his accusation could just have been set aside as based on a corrupted copy of the gospel. Looking at the evidence of surviving documents up to 500 A.D. this version is supported by two Greek manuscripts, and no less than 10 different translations, spread over the entire known world of that time, viz. 4 old Latin, 1 Vulgate, 2 Syrian, 1 Coptic (Egyptian), 1 Armenian and 1 Georgian. Quite convincing! But there is also another version stating that Jesus said: “…I am not yet going up to this Feast.” (MKJV, NIV). This version is supported the two oldest documents to our avail, one written before Porphyry’s time, the other during his lifetime as well as a Coptic (Egyptian) translation also made in the same period. Yet up to 500 A.D. we have only 3 more Greek manuscripts, a Syrian and a Gothic translation in support of this rendering. Only 8 documents up to 500 A.D. compared with the 12! What indeed did John write in his gospel? Were it not for this attack on our Lord Jesus, the second version could be accepted without much doubt, but a greater possibility is that the text had masterly been altered by some scribes, at that time. Surely the best known texts at that time must have been in accord with the one on which Porphyry based his accusation.
Another statement of Jesus in Mat.24:36 was also unacceptable to some scribes. (RSV): “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” This version corresponds with Mark 13:32. Up to 500 A.D. three Greek manuscripts, as well as four old Latin, a Syrian, a Coptic (ancient Egyptian) and an Armenian translation all agree with Mark. (3+7) It is also supported by six Church fathers including Origen (254) and Chrysostom (407) who both wrote a verse by verse commentary.
Up to the same date, the version rendered in the MKJV and the NIV, simply leaving out: “…nor the Son…” is supported by one Greek manuscript and the Vulgate, two Syrian and two Coptic (ancient Egyptian) translations. (1+5) Five Church fathers also quoted it this way. It is also common in most of the later manuscripts.
Could it be that the divinity of Jesus had been attacked inSyria(where Matthew was commonly used) and not inRome? (Home of the gospel of Mark) This could explain the altering of one gospel and not the other.
Another form of doctrinal alteration is the addition of proof for favorite practices like fasting. It is especially common in connection with prayer. We consider the textual evidence applicable to 1 Cor.7:5: (NIV) “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. “ Looking at the evidence up to the year 500 we find five Greek manuscripts and no less than seven translations supporting prayer only, and only two translations supporting prayer and fasting. Most Greek Church fathers also support the prayer only reading. In conclusion one can see that the requirement also to fast is a later addition on doctrinal considerations. The same is true for Mark 9:29 and Acts 10:30.
7. Addition of miscellaneous detail.
In quite a few manuscripts additional miscellaneous and some trivialities had been added, like the name of the companion of Kleopas on their way to Emmaus; or the supposed names of the robbers being crucified with Jesus. In another is found an interesting description of the resurrection of Jesus. Another tells of what more Jesus supposedly had told Peter concerning the paying of taxes just before He instructed him to catch the fish in whose mouth he found a coin to pay their temple taxes. In yet another manuscript is recorded what Jesus told a man working on the Sabbath.
Most of these additional notes are found in single manuscripts. They have no other value than to let the light fall on the human involvement in carrying forward the word of God. They are handled as peculiarities of that specific document. What is important is the rest of the manuscript in which it was incorporated. What was written down, had been available to the scribe at that particular time. With all trivial matter set aside, and conspicuous mistakes taken care of, we have a document with which to compare with other documents, bringing us nearer to every single word of the original autograph.
For a description and examples of other variations, do consult the excellent book of Bruce M. Metzger, “The Text of the New Testament” (Various editions byOxfordat Clarendon Press.)
Questions every one should ask himself are: “Would I like to have the Bible as near to the original as possible? Would I like to have the additions that well-meaning scribes or printers deliberately added just because I got used to it as being part of my Bible? Are any of the additions or elaborations necessary to understand the text? Are any of them necessary for understanding the truth of the message of salvation of the Bible?”
The answer to these questions will inevitably influence the way we handle the differences between the various versions of the Bible. This is a personal matter, but taking the facts seriously, one should come to the point where the work of translators is appreciated. One should also be lenient towards the choice Christians make concerning the Version they prefer.