The Word of God

A friend of mine on Facebook posted the image at right. Now I’m the first to say that I understand anger at the Church, and have a fair bit of it myself. As an earthly institution, she has been victimized by many of those who claim to represent God. Whenever I see fellow Christians abusing the power they have through their position, I feel it is important to comment and correct their error. Similarly, though, if someone is slamming the Church (or, more accurately, the Bible) incorrectly, it is necessary toalso comment. This would be one such occasion.

Much though I get frustrated when non-gay (str8) people use use deceptive statistics and out-of-date rhetoric to argue that homosexuals are “unloving perverts”, so I similarly get frustrated when non-Christian (atheist) people distort the facts and misrepresent reality to argue that Christianity is “not faith… insanity”. Come on people. If you’re going to expect our enemies to be honest and straightforward when they talk about us, the least we can do is to give them the same courtesy. Just because we’re an oppressed minority does not mean we can distort the truth. Lying is still wrong. This is why no-one trusts each other these days: and why Fox News is so popular.

I have no problem with atheists telling me why they don’t believe. I’ve had some great conversations about that subject. But as soon as they start telling me why I shouldn’t believe, they cross a line. Especially when they’re inventing facts, or calling my perspective “insanity”. It’s like homophobes telling me why I shouldn’t marry my husband. The more you have to “invent” arguments, the more you should realize you’re wrong.

It should be stated from the outset: I am a Christian, although I prefer to use the New American Standard (NAS) version of the Bible in daily study. I use the King James Version (KJV) when necessary, but there are flaws with it. I took my classes in “bibliology” some years ago: but it was good to review. I am particularly critical of churches who use only the KJV. (“If KJV was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me.”: Baptistlink.com). However, that is not under discussion. This post went beyond criticism of a version. It is therefore necessary to correct its many errors.

The King James version of the New Testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the church of England.

In actuality, King James I of England commissioned a new translation in 1604, and completed it in 1611. The original New Testament was written in Koine (Common) Greek of the first century: a dialect that has since ceased to exist in spoken form. It thus had to be translated by historians and scholars. “This work was assigned to a committee of 54 translators from Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge universities, but only 47 did the work.” (Bibleviews.com) There were several versions that had already been produced at that time (Tyndale, Bishops) but this was an attempt to create an “Authorized” version to more unify the Church. King James was not involved directly; he simply commissioned the word to the scholars of the day.

There were (and still are) no original texts to translate.

True. But is this a bad thing? In fact, this should not be considered unusual. It is very rare for original texts to survive from this time. (As in: I could not find a single example of an important document that has survived. All historical documentation is based on copies.) For the New Testament, the “original texts” were mostly just letters written by apostles, which were only fully recognized later (and after much debate) of being worthy of the term “holy Scripture”. However, transcription and copying were common. Men lived their lives doing nothing but copying texts, and were trained to do so verbatim.

The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died.

Also true (for the 17th century… less so now): and also not recognized as generally a problem. If we consider other historical manuscripts, our efforts to reproduce the original texts are based on copies that were made hundreds to a thousand years after the original. For the New Testament, modern research has dropped this (for fragments, at least) to decades or a few centuries (The Bible’s Manuscript Evidence). Although the oldest complete manuscripts still date from hundreds of years after their writing, this is considered very good for the time. It should also be noted that when new fragments have been discovered, they agree almost completely with the copies that have been used as the base for translation since the day of the KJV. Differences are only minor: a word or sentence added here, a tense change there. “The vast majority of these are accidental errors made by scribes, and are easily identified as such: an omitted word, a duplicate line, a misspelling, a rearrangement of words.” (Wikipedia)

There are over 8000 of these old manuscripts, with no two alike.

Not entirely true: and worded very carefully. In fact, all the manuscripts are very much alike. No two are identical. More copies are found almost every year. I’m not sure where they got the 8000 , but current numbers follow: “There are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament…In addition there are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.” (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) This is thousands of times more copies than most literature of the time, and they agree in almost every major aspect. They are, in fact, considered 99.5% accurate (Ibid), which is excellent for the time and surpasses any other document from so far back in history. As mentioned above, most of the differences are accidents in copying.

Note also that although this is expressed as a criticism, having thousands of old copies means there are more copies to compare and to analyze to determine the original text. The only other documents that have more than a hundred copies for such analysis are Sophocles and Homer’s Iliad (193 and 643, respectively). The number available for the New Testament is uniquely enormous.


The King James translators used none of these anyway. Instead, they edited previous translations to create a version their king and Parliament would approve.

Not true. Although they were instructed to use a previous version as a base, they did go back to the original Greek, which had been compiled during the previous century: “The Greek text was readily available in the Complutensian Polyglot (1514), the five editions of Erasmus (1516-1535), the four editions of Robert Stephanus (1546-1551), and the ten editions of Theodore Beza (1560-1598). They also consulted the editions of Aldus (1518), Colinaeus (1534), and Plantin (1572). There can be no doubt, therefore, that the King James Version translators went back to the primary sources.” (KJV Version of the Bible) As to the point about any “political influence”: this happens continually. Translation fundamentally involves interpretation. However, beyond that, the instructions given to the translators were extremely minor (Answers.com). As for “editing previous translations”, they were instructed that “the ordinary Bible read in the Church… [was] to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit” (Ibid) (Italics mine). The translators were told that when they could, they should keep the wording from a previous translation because that was what people were used to. But if the original language was different, they should use that.

So, 21st Century Christians believe the “Word of God” is a book edited in the 17th Century from 16th Century translations of 8000 contradictory copiesof 4th century scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century.

Not true.

In a world of photocopiers and digital photography and climate controlled vaults that preserve recognized documentation for years beyond its natural lifetime, we “expect” to be able to see original versions of what we deem as important. This is an extremely technocentric viewpoint, and fails to recognize the enormous temporal distance from which we receive this text. It also fails to recognize all the work done in textual criticism to project back to determine what the original text would have been. In every other age in history, copies would suffice for knowing what a document said: thousands of copies was a glut of information. What we have is almost certainly what the original apostles wrote (or a translation thereof); and where uncertainties exist, these are always noted. However, these rarely result in any doctrinal difficulties, and then only on the most esoteric of points.

That’s not faith. That’s insanity.

Obviously this writer needs to review his definitions. In fact, the New Testament is the best known document from two thousand years ago that exists (as is the Old Testament for its age). Although the original documents have not survived, thousands of copies have… thousands of manuscripts, copied by hand, that correspond to each other with amazing accuracy. That in itself is a miracle that should not be ignored: it makes this document unique in a proven, scientific realm. Beyond that, I do not believe the Bible is the Word of God because I can scientifically prove that I have the same individual letters bound in my Bible as Paul wrote to the churches so long ago. That is actually fairly irrelevant, at least to me. I believe it is the World of God because it speaks to me as such, as it has millions of people before me. The very fact that so much that was written for thousands of years has been lost, yet this document survives, shows me that it is worthy of taking a look. That it speaks of a unique love of man and God that transcends time and space… thousands of years and crossing continents… is what tells me it is true. Individuals might have failed to follow its precepts for thousands of years (indeed, it even predicts that they will) but that does not change the perspective that it is unique. For me, it is God’s word and He speaks through it.

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4 Responses to The Word of God

  1. Chad says:

    Actually almost everything you claim to be not true, is true. Here is a critical study done by Duke University.
    http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/papyrus/texts/manuscripts.html

    Christians believe, because they have “faith” or because they want to believe. I would say “there’s nothing wrong with that” except for the fact that they are such elitists thinking they are the only ones having a good afterlife and bully others because they are not Christian.

    • geographer70 says:

      LOL Thanks Chad. I’m not sure exactly which of my points you’re trying to counter: your reference to the Duke study is interesting, but I don’t see how it disproves any of my statements (never mind “almost everything that [I] claim to be not true”).

      Much more interesting to me is the second point of your comment; which has nothing to do with my post, actually. You realize that your attitude is just as “elitist” and potentially “bullying” as the Christians you’re intending to revile when you say that there is “something wrong with that” in referring to their faith? Not all Christians have the same perspective. Just because you believe that other people are “wrong” in their beliefs (no matter what they are) you should not look down on them.

  2. Tom says:

    Jesus is nothing more than a solar deity, like many other religions conceived in historical civilisations periods before. Why don´t you stop wasting your time on this religious fairtytale stuff and all the troubles it is causing all over the world, and spend your energy on doing something useful.

    • geographer70 says:

      Well, I understand that you believe that, and I respect your purpose and capacity to believe whatever you wish. From your tone, though, I would guess that you do not respect my capacity for my beliefs. It is primarily misinterpretations and extremists who have caused “troubles… all over the world”; i am trying to correct those. Wouldn’t it be nice if we left each other to explore the dimensions of each person’s beliefs and not criticized them for things they have not done? Then perhaps those very troubles might cease.

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