26 The evaluation of variant readings.
Every believer would like to know what God had written in His Word to us. Therefore every believer considers the Bible seriously.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Since Greek is not our home language, we are dependant on a translation to know Gods Word. Every translation is an attempt to render the original as true as possible. Some put the emphasis on the meaning, others on trying to bring forth something of the form or wordplay of the Greek, but no translation can do all. We also do not have any of the original autographs, only copies of copies to our avail. But it was Gods decision to utilize the imperfect man to write down in imperfect words, and to copy and bring forward through the ages His prefect Word to let us know His will. And even now He speaks to each of us anew in our imperfect living environment.
When I personally look at the Bible in my hand, there are certain cases in which I would like a clearer answer from God. There are certain verses I would like to alter a bit. Some people quote assertions or claims that supposedly go around, but that I cannot find in my Bible. There are “quotes” that I would like to add to my Bible, and some verses that I would rather omit from it. The challenge for the devout Christian is to find a text that renders the original as close as possible. A text free from manipulation, inclusion or omission by some priest, copyist or translator of the Bible. Whatever the reason for the alteration, how well it might be meant, if it differs from the original, I do not want it in my Bible! I want the word of God as true as possible to what God originally let have written down, and as understandable in my home language as possible. Even though a verse might be very dear to me personally, if it is proven that this is a creation by someone else and not coming from God, I do not want it in my copy of the word of God. And likewise if some proclamation offends me, and I hate the demand or claim it has against me or my conduct, if it had been part of God’s proclamation, I don’t want anybody to remove or alter it on my behalf! Rather let me deal with it in prayer and supplications to my God and Savior who in a loving relationship with me, will help me deal with it. That is why I would like to know what really God willed be written down in the Bible.
Another question is what should be reckoned as word of God in the Bible. Are only the words uttered by God or Jesus word of God? In some Bibles these words are printed in red. In some cases in the Greek, it is difficult to discern where a quotation ends, and the words of the Evangelist take up again. In these cases the translators have to make their choice. What if some words of Jesus are left out, or words of the Evangelist are put in Jesus’ mouth? The question arises whether the words of the general narrative and the circumstances in which Jesus uttered something is on a lower level, or is it still word of God?
The idea of having certain words in other colors goes back to minuscule codex 16 of the Gospels, dated about 1350 A.D. “The general run of the narrative is in vermilion; the words of Jesus, the genealogy of Jesus, and the words of angels are in crimson; the words quoted from the Old Testament, as well as those of the disciples, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and John the Baptist, are in blue; and the words of the Pharisees, the centurion, Judas Iscariot, and the devil are in black. The words of the shepherds are also in black, but this may well have been an oversight.” (Metzger, p.66)
Equally important is the question concerning the writers of the documents of the New Testament. Are only documents written by known apostles or evangelists to be accepted as word of God with Biblical authority? How then should we judge the epistle to the Hebrews of which we do not know the author? Most certainly we could not reject this document on such grounds! There is almost complete consensus under learned Bible scholars that the incident between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery as reported in John eight was not written by the author of that gospel. The incident and especially the way Jesus handled it, the sinner and her accusers is absolutely typical Jesus’ way. But the manner in which the report was written, the vocabulary and grammar does not correspond with the rest of the gospel. We could also not reject this report only because it was written down by someone else than the Evangelist! The same is true of the long ending of the gospel according to Mark. (Mark 16:9-20) We will look at each pericope in more detail later on.
Another question of importance is whether we should accept or reject words that have somehow been added to Scripture many years later. What date or incident should we accept as the final conclusion of the written word of God? Should we accept the year 100 A.D., or should we conclude with the writings of the original disciples and evangelists? When we now discover that some proclamation by a church father had been included into some manuscripts and had become part of the source edition from which the early printed translations were made, should we canonize and include, or reject and remove it from our Bibles? These represent the more important differences between the KJV and the NIV.
Though there are many differences between the two forms of texts represented by the KJV and NIV, yet when we critically examine every difference, we find that no Biblical truth or doctrinal principle had ever been in the balance by these differences. In most cases, the differences are trivial, or represent logical elaborations that are not crucial to the understanding of the true meaning of that particular verse. No truth in the Bible hangs on one single piece of Scripture or a single statement. Some people feel that the elaboration on 1John 5:7-8 of some late medieval priest in the Vulgate is needed to clarify the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet long before that verse had been elaborated, all serious Christians accepted the doctrine of the Trinity, for it is a golden thread coming from Genesis and continuing right up to Revelation!
With the coming of the first printed New Testament, it was accepted unconditionally at first. Only when it was compared with other manuscripts were the many deviations from the standard text and especially from older more reliable manuscripts acknowledged and discussed. Only then was it seen that it had not been based on reliable texts. During that time, people accepted a manuscript as correct, and all that differed from it were seen as deviations.
Here follows an extract from the Critical Notes given on Acts 8:37, as is published by the text of the United Bible Societies.
We will look into the inclusion or omission of verse 37 at a later date.
At present the Bible Societies do not accept one single manuscript as source for the translation of the New Testament. Instead they weigh all variations found in manuscripts and compile the most likely representation of the original autograph. Even so all the textual evidence is given on all variations and printed at the bottom of each page, enabling the translator or student to verify for himself the evidence. The compilers of the text also evaluate their own choice with a scale of A-D. A means they are absolutely sure of their choice, B, that there is some doubt, C, even more doubt and D means that there choice and the alternative both have even probability to render the original.
The modern translator has a huge responsibility in making a choice, for anyone can ask him to explain his choice.