Saturday, February 15, 2014
From the book "Heresy of a Curious Mind"
From the very beginning of the faith, when letters and books were being copied by hand and passed from one person to the next, there were glaring errors. As letters were collected and compared, it became obvious that there were major problems.
Origen (185 – 254) wrote in his thesis, Contra Celsum, “We must say that an attempt to substantiate almost any story as historical fact, even if it is true, and to produce complete certainty about it, is one of the most difficult tasks and in some cases is impossible.” To Origen, there were obvious discrepancies, such as the difference in chronology and geography concerning the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. Yet, since the Scriptures are inspired by the Spirit, they cannot contain errors, and at three different times in his commentaries Origen explicitly states, “inspiration implies freedom from error.”
But how can the Scriptures be free from error, even if inspired by the Holy Spirit, when they contain such obvious problems? For Origen, the apparent distortion of historical information is not necessarily the result of some scribal or other literary error, but purposefully put into the text by the Holy Spirit as a reminder that we must not depend on the purely historical reading. Origen writes:
“The differences among manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.”
“The divine wisdom has arranged for certain stumbling-blocks and interruptions of the historical sense to be found therein, by inserting in the midst a number of impossibilities and incongruities, in order that the very interruption of the narrative might as it were, present a barrier to the reader and lead him to refuse to proceed along the pathway of the ordinary meaning: and so, by shutting us out and debarring us from that, might recall us to the beginning of another way, and might thereby bring us, through the entrance of a narrow footpath, to a higher and loftier road and lay open the immense breadth of the divine wisdom.”
He continued by saying, what may appear as errors to us are intended by the Holy Spirit, to call the reader’s attention to “the impossibility of the literal sense”, and therefore signal the need for “an examination of the inner meaning.”
Origen believed, in his own words, that scripture “...contains three levels of meaning, corresponding to the threefold Pauline (and Platonic) division of a person into body, soul and spirit. The bodily level of Scripture, the bare letter, is normally helpful as it stands to meet the needs of the more simple. The psychic level, corresponding to the soul, is for making progress in perfection.… The spiritual interpretation deals with 'unspeakable mysteries' so as to make humanity a "partaker of all the doctrines of the Spirit's counsel.”
Origen actually believed that it was impossible for the scriptures to have errors so the errors found in scripture must have been placed there by God to provoke us to look at some deeper meaning.
A pagan opponent of Origen, named Celsus was not so kind when he wrote, ”Some believers, as though from a bout of drinking, go so far as to oppose themselves and change the texts of the gospels three or four or several times over, as to change its character to enable them to deny difficulties in the face of criticism.”
There were variations between books, and that was bad enough, but after manuscripts of various books were combined into the codices to make the Bible, the errors or differences between the various Bibles translated from them would become all too apparent. One might assume that the older versions would be less corrupt, but that would not necessarily be true. Look at copies in terms of genetics and lineage. If the original epistle was copied two times in 80 A.D. and the second copy had an error, we have only one copy left that was not a corrupt version. Now assume the flawed copy made it to a library and was preserved but the faithful version is copied and the copies were copied through ten generations of copies. If one of these copies of the faithful version lands in a church in 600 A.D. it would have a much longer lineage. It would be natural to assume the 80 A.D. version was less corrupt, but in fact if the 600 A.D. version did not pick up errors along the way it would be the one that is true to the original text.
Now assume that through time we collect fragments here and there and at times we are fortunate enough to find the occasional complete books. We can compare versions and maybe even track the lineage or “text family” of the fragments and books. If we compare fragments or books which have various “text families” we may see that books from pedigree “A, B, and C” say one thing but “D” says something different. If they started out with different copyists we can assume that one made a mistake. It becomes especially obvious if the word is one that looks or sounds like the rest but does not make as much sense.
These explanations are, to say the least, simplistic but they give a glimpse into the issues at hand. Those are which manuscripts are the least corrupt and which ones should be used to translate into some other tongue, such as English, in order to produce a Bible? It is not like we do not have several manuscripts to choose from. We have hundreds of fragments. Men have been searching through churches, archives, libraries, sand dunes, caves, and hardened soil for a thousand years to find traces of ancient Christian books.
To prove a point, here is a list of the first 20 out of over 100 as they are categorized.
The list contains:
Papyrus numbers and collection, dates, contents, text family,
owner or place.
P1 -P.Oxy. 2 - 3rd cent. - Matt 1- Alexandrian
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania- Univ. of Penn. Museum
P2 - 6th cent.- John 12 - Mixed
Florence, Italy -Museo Archeologico
P3 -6th–7th cent. -Luke 7, 10 - Alexandrian
Vienna, Austria – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
P4 -3rd cent. - Luke 1-6 - Alexandrian
Paris, France - Bibliothèque Nationale
P5 -P.Oxy. 208 - 3rd cent. - John 1, 16, 20
Western London, England - British Museum
Pap. 782 + Pap. 2484
P6 -4th cent. - John 10-11 agrees with B & Q
Strasbourg, France - Bibliothèque de la Université
Pap. copt. 351r, 335v, 379, 381, 383, 384
P7 - 5th cent. - Luke 4 (This item has been LOST. It was formerly in Kiev, Ukraine: Library of the Ukranian Academy of Sciences)
P8 - 4th cent.- Acts 4-6 - mixed: Alexandrian & Western
(Item LOST, formerly in Berlin, Germany: Staatliche Museen_
P9 - P.Oxy. 402 - 3rd cent. - I John 4
Cambridge, Massachusetts -Harvard Semitic Mus.
P10 - P.Oxy. 209 - 4th cent. - Rom 1 - Alexandrian
Cambridge, Massachusetts - Harvard Semitic Mus.
P11 - 7th cent. -I Cor 1-7 - Alexandrian
Leningrad, Russia - State Public Library
P12 - P.Amh. 3b – late 3rd cent. - Heb 1
New York, New York - Pierpont Morgan Library
P13 - P.Oxy. 657 - 3rd–4th cent. - Heb 2-5, 10-12 - Alexandrian
London, England - British Museum
P14 - 5th cent. - I Cor 1-3 – Alexandrian
Mt. Sinai -St. Catherine's Monastery Library
P15- P.Oxy. 1008 - 3rd cent.- I Cor 7-8 - Alexandrian
Cairo, Egypt - Egyptian Museum
P16 - P.Oxy.1009 - 3rd–4th cent. - Phil3-4 -Alexandrian
Cairo, Egypt – Museum of Antiquities
P17 - P.Oxy.1078 - 4th cent. - Heb9 - mixed
Cambridge, England – University Library
P18 - P.Oxy.1079 - 3rd–4th cent. -Rev1 – agrees with: A, B, and C
London,England –British Museum
P19 - P.Oxy.1170 -4th–5th cent. - Matt10-11 - mixed
Oxford, England – Bodleian Library
P20 - P.Oxy.1171 - 3rd cent. - Jas2-3 - Alexandrian
Princeton, New Jersey – University Library
(These are but a few. There are over a hundred more.)
This brings us to the next pertinent problem, which is that of translation. We should question the source text or codices used. Some sources are better and more faithful than others. For example, if we know that the Vulgate was corrupted we should not use that source. We should go back to a Greek source. The source of the Latin Vulgate was the codex Vaticanus, named for the fact it was housed in the Vatican library.
But some Greek sources have errors also. An example within the Vaticanus codex is found in Hebrew 1:3. In his book, Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman describes how scribes battle over words within this chapter and verse, as with the entire Bible. According to most manuscripts the word Pheron is used and the verse is translated, “Christ bears all things through the word of His power.” But in the Vaticanus the word Phaneron is used and the verse is rendered, “Christ manifests all things through the word of His power.” Then a second scribe read it and decided that “manifests” is an uncommon word so he changes it back to “bears.” A century later a third scribe notices the alteration done by the second scribe and assumes the second scribe had exercised too much freedom, presuming to alter the original text. He changed the word back to “manifests” and added a note of indignation to the margin that read, “Fool and knave, leave the old reading. Don’t change it.” Sermons and entire theologies turn on a single word. In some manuscripts the word may not even be there.
Experts compare texts and render a version they believe is as close to the original uncorrupted text as possible. Out of this practice a manuscript is built that will be used to render an English translation. Some manuscripts will be better than others. Some will have the latest discoveries incorporated into the manuscripts. Thus, first we must question the sources used. Since we had been hand-copying manuscripts for fifteen hundred years, errors that occurred early, or errors occurring in manuscripts that were being copied and passed around more than others become entrenched. In fact, they become an accepted part of our bible.
One such example is the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. This is a wonderful story. It shows the grace and kindness of Jesus. It is also absent certain details like, where was the man who was also caught? Was he also forgiven? Was the law of punishment simply forgotten by the priests as the story was told in the town? As it turns out, we do not have to speculate. The story is missing from the older manuscripts. A scribe, who had an apparent mind toward drama more than truth, added it.
The above example is used every Sunday to teach the mercy and forgiveness of Christ, but it is not likely that denominations were founded upon its existence. Not so with the next example.
In the closing verses on Mark, the story is building rapidly to a crescendo. Jesus has been resurrected. Mary has discovered his body is missing. She runs to tell the disciples. Jesus is on his way to them. They do not believe Mary, but then, there he is! Jesus appears! Then the disciples are told to go out into all the world, preach, make converts, and if you are a true believer there are signs that will follow you. You will be able to pick up snakes, drink poison, heal the sick, drive out demons, and speak in tongues.
The following section of Mark does not appear in the older or more reliable manuscripts.
9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. 14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Now, we have a problem, because entire denominations are based on the existence of this text.
At times the error is compounded.
Matthew 17:21 is a duplicate of Mark 9:29. It was apparently added by a copyist in order to harmonize the gospels, however, Mark 9:29 was not in the oldest manuscripts either.
At times there are even variations within the additions. In Mark 9:29 Jesus comments that a certain type of indwelling demon can only be exorcised through "prayer and fasting" (KJV). This is also found in the Rheims New Testament. But the word "fasting" did not appear in the oldest manuscripts. New English translations have dropped the word.
Slight alterations can have ripple effects that produce entire doctrines.
Luke 3:22 is a passage that describes Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. According to Justin Martyr, the original version has God proclaiming, "You are my son, today have I begotten thee." Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and other ancient Christian authorities agree on this version. The implication is that Jesus was first recognized by God as his son at the time of baptism. This would agree with certain Gnostic teachings. To distance the passage from the Gnostic viewpoint the words were altered to read, "You are my son, whom I love." This would come to be one of the passages on which the doctrine of the Trinity was based. Christian belief became set that Jesus was the son of God at his birth, (as described in Luke and Matthew) or before the beginning of creation (as in John), and not at his baptism.
Some additions are for theatrical effect and matter little to the overall message.
In John 5:3-4 "a great multitude" of disabled people waited by the water for an angel to come and “trouble the water,” at which time it had healing properties for the first person who stepped in. A blind man was there. But the blind man could not see the water or the angel and those that were crippled stood little chance of being first. The passage seems out of place and makes little sense. Part of Verse 3 and all of Verse 4 are missing from the oldest manuscripts of John.
Scribes get carried away and begin writing instead of copying.
In John 21 the apostles are fishing and catching nothing. Jesus appears and tells them to throw the net on the other side of the boat. By doing so they haul in as many fish as the boat can hold. Jesus eats with them and then begins the famous dialogue with Peter about loving Jesus and feeding His sheep. There is general agreement among liberal and mainline Biblical scholars that the original version of the Gospel of John ended at the end of John 20. Scholars do not agree if John 21 was an afterthought or an addition, although most hold with the latter view.
Then, there are errors that reflect values and prejudices of the time.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 appears to prohibit all talking by women during services. But it contradicts verse 11:5, in which St. Paul states that women can actively pray and prophesy during services. The question has been, ”was this opinion for that one church or was this behavior to be held by all churches?”
It is obvious to some theologians that verses 14:33b to 36 are a later addition. Bible scholar, Hans Conzelmann, comments on these three and a half verses: "Moreover, there are peculiarities of linguistic usage, and of thought. [within them]." If they are removed, then Verse 33a merges well with Verse 37 in a seamless transition. If he is correct, many churches will have to re-think their sexist views.
In Revelation 1:11, the phrase "Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last…" (KJV) which is found in the King James Version was not in the original Greek texts. It is also found in the New King James Version (NKJV) and in the 21st Century King James Version (KJ21) The latter are basically re-writes of the original KJV. The Alpha Omega phrase is not found in virtually any ancient texts, nor is it mentioned, even as a footnote, in any modern translation or in Bruce Metzger's definitive 'A Textual Commentary' on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition.
Many sources, including United Bible Societies and Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance were used for the previous section and speak well to this issue.
Before we accept the version of the Bible we are reading we must be sure of its source. We must know if it was the most reliable source available. We must know how the manuscript was translated.
There are several ways to translate. The large number of translations are usually grouped into three main categories. A literal translation attempts to translate word for word and is a type of interlinear approach. They are usually the most accurate but also the most difficult to read. This is because English differs from Greek in the order of subject, verb, and predicate. The sentence structure becomes tangled and confusing. Then, there is that looming problem when words do not have an exact match and a phrase is used to render a word or two.
A dynamic translation attempts to keep the literal approach but restructures the sentences and grammar to make the Bible more readable. This opens the translation up to some degree of subjectivity and error.
Contemporary English translations are the easiest to read because they attempt to capture the meaning of the text and place the thought into modern English. The result is easy to read, but the text is highly subjective and should be approached with great care.
One should always question the purpose of a new translation. Was the translation commissioned for the purpose of expanding a particular denomination? In such cases it is quite possible that the wording and flavor of the text was bent to conform to the beliefs of the church body underwriting the translation. It would seem to be pure foolishness for a church to bend the scriptures to their will instead of re-examining and reforming their doctrine, but the former is done far too often.
One such obvious tact used in a modern church was that of the “New World Bible.” The denomination using this version is adamantly opposed to the doctrine of the trinity. By altering their Bible by a single word, nay – a single letter, they manage to negate the existence of the trinity. They simply inserted the letter “a.”
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures
1 In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.
Compare to the NIV, which echoes most other Bibles.
John 1:1 (New International Version)
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
With such translations freely circulating, how can one claim the Bible is inerrant?
Most translations have the general error induced by starting with their own personal beliefs, and thus the subconscious prejudice of how the verse should be rendered.
Having covered the three main approaches to translations, it needs to be restated that every translation requires interpretation. At times this can be rather subjective. Why? Because languages do not translate word for word. Not every word has a unique word to match it in the other language. There are idioms, expressions, and metaphors that become meaningless in other tongues. Some languages even have different verb tenses and there is no direct single verb that fits the translation. Greek has verbs that indicate an action happening in the past with continuing effects back in time. There are also verbs that indicate an event in the present with consequences continuing far into the future. English has no such equal. Some languages are richer in expression than English (such as Greek) or smaller in vocabulary (such as Hebrew). A translator must interpret the original meaning and find an equivalent wording. This is why at times a phrase will end up replacing a word or two. It is also why this makes the result subject to the biases of the translator. The translator must also attempt to put aside his personal beliefs so as not to bend a translation to mean something more or less than what it actually says.
This is a human process of choices and biases. Interpretations will differ and errors will occur.
To complicate things, all ancient manuscripts do not support a number of verses. Some verses only occur in latter versions, sometimes within only a set text family. Translators have to decide which verses to leave out of the text. Most translators will mark any verse left out of the majority of manuscripts with a note in the margin or a footnote with the omitted verse.
It is extremely ironic that one of the most well known and foundational sections of the Bible demonstrates both of the above points of translation and omission. It is the Lord’s Prayer.
First, let us examine the The King James' version of The Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13: “After this manner therefore pray ye: ‘Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.’”
Now let us read the Lord’s prayer in the NIV.
Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Ignoring the difference between the Elizabethan English and modern English, there are two glaring differences in the last verse between the King James' Lord’s prayer.
The KJV asks for deliverance from “evil” while the NIV asks to deliver us from “the evil one.” There is a huge theological difference between the two. The Greek text actually uses an adjective with an article, making “the evil one” the only correct translation. We pray to be delivered from the evil one, not from any danger, disaster, or from the general ugliness of the world.
Look at the last line. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.” This verse does not occur in older manuscripts. It only occurs as an addition to manuscripts of a certain “lineage” past a certain date. The doxology of the prayer is not contained in Luke's version. It is also missing from the earliest manuscripts of Matthew, representative of the Alexandrian text. It is present, however, in the manuscripts representative of the Byzantine text. To help date these two periods one should know that the Byzantine Empire began around 1557, and the Codex Alexandrinus is a 5th century Greek Bible, so we are talking about a period of almost one-thousand years.
Therefore the differences between the various English translations, such as the KJV and the NIV can come down to choices in interpretations as well as a choice of which ancient manuscripts to use as a source. Sometimes errors occur.
When errors do happen from the copyists’ standpoint they can usually be attributed to a hand full of reasons. Errors in translations come from several directions. There are errors of the eye, where the copyist or scribe may read the text incorrectly, and transposing letters to make a new word and then write or interpret accordingly.
Errors of speech occur when a reader is dictating to a copyist and the scribe hears the word but confuses it with a word, which is pronounced in a similar manner but is incorrect.
Errors of the mind occur when the scribe reads a line and simply forgets the exact wording, producing an inexact copy, such as a substitute of the word “out” for “from” or the word “karpos (fruit) instead of “karphos” (speck). Other tricks the mind can play are to include explanatory notes found in the margins of many manuscripts within the main body of the text.
Intentional changes occur when a well-meaning scribe attempts to correct what he assumes to be an error in linguistics, which is not an error at all. Other intentional errors occur when attempting to align the Bible with biblical history, as it is understood at the time of copying.
A very obvious and specific error occurs when the scribe attempts to “harmonize” various passages in the Bible in order to make them less divergent or contradictory.
There are errors that can be introduced due to doctrine. These occur when one group decides to alter the manuscript to more closely reflect their own biases. Several of these may be found in the 16th century and include certain changes of an anti-Semitic view.
There are subtle changes that may occur in what is called “liturgical errors.” These tend to be minor changes in word or flow to make the liturgy flow easier or make it easier to remember or follow.
In the more recent past, the errors of eye and mind were compounded when the printing press was invented. Errors usually assigned to one or two books could now be propagated through hundreds of Bibles at once.
King Charles I ordered 1,000 Bibles from an English printer named Robert Barker in 1631. It was an edition of the King James Bible. Only after the Bibles were delivered did anyone notice a serious mistake. In one of the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:14], a very small word was forgotten by the printers. The word "not" was left out. This changed the 7th commandment to say “Thou shalt commit adultery!” Most of the copies were recalled immediately and destroyed on the orders of Charles I. But there are 11 copies still remaining. They are known as the "Wicked Bible." (The Bible museum in Branson - Missouri has one on display.) The printer was fined the equivalent of $400, a lifetime’s wages at the time.
The word "not" was also left out in the 1653 edition. In 1 Corinthians 6 verse 9 it was printed: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God" - instead of ""Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Again it was recalled immediately. It is known as the "Unrighteous Bible."
The Murderer's Bible - printed in 1801 - declared: "these are murderers" (instead of murmurers) and continued - "let the children first be killed" (instead of "filled.")
Perhaps the error in Psalm 119 verse 161 in a 1702 version summed it all up: instead of "princes" it read - "printers have persecuted me." It is known as the Printer's Bible.
These are but a few of the more noteworthy mistakes, but these mistakes must bring into question the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. Most fundamental denominations hold to the fact that the Bible is complete and without error. It may be neither.
The history of the English Bible is a fascinating story. It serves to prove a point or two about how the church intentionally changed the Bible and then protected the alterations on penalty of death. Our starting point in this history is the production of Wycliff’s hand-written English Bible, which was the result of the “Morning Star Reformation” led by John Wycliffe.
The first hand-written English language Bible manuscripts were produced in the 1380's A.D. by John Wycliffe, an Oxford professor. Wycliffe was a well-known theologian in Europe who stood in opposition to the teaching of the organized Church, which he believed to be contrary to the Bible. He enlisted his followers, called the Lollards, and his assistant Purvey, along with others to act as scribes to produce dozens of English manuscripts. They were translated out of the Latin Vulgate, which was known to be somewhat corrupt, but was the only source text available to Wycliffe. The Pope was so infuriated by his rebellion, his actions, his teachings and his translation of the Bible into English, that 44 years after Wycliffe had died, the Pope ordered the bones of Wycliffe to be dug-up, crushed, and the dust of his bones were thrown in the wind to be carried out over the river.
John Hus was one of Wycliffe’s followers. Hus actively campaigned for Wycliffe’s work and ideas. Both men firmly believed that people should be permitted to read the Bible. They believed Bibles should be available in native tongues and all men should have the right to read it in their own language. Hus and Wycliffe openly opposed the tyranny of the Roman church. The edicts issued from the Pope threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. The edict was carried out when Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire. The last words of John Hus were that, “in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention (a list of 95 issues of heretical theology and crimes of the Roman Catholic Church) to the church door at Wittenberg. The prophecy of Hus had come true.
Sometime in the 1450’s Johann Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press. The result was amazing and immediate. Copies of books could now be mass-produced in a short time. Distribution for illegal books happened in an underground network. The first book to ever be printed was a Latin language Bible, printed in Mainz, Germany. This was essential to the success of the Reformation.
Thomas Linacre was a self-styled Greek scholar active in the 1490’s. He was an Oxford professor, and the personal physician to Kings Henry the 7th and 8th. Thomas Linacre, a very bright man, decided to learn Greek in order to read the Bible for himself. After reading the Gospels and comparing the same texts to those in the Latin Vulgate, he wrote in his diary, “Either this is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.” The Latin had become so corrupt that it misrepresented and mangled the message of the Gospel. The church knew this but worked to keep a strangle hold on power instead of putting forth the effort to correct the Vulgate. Throughout all of this the Church threatened to kill anyone who read the scripture in any language other than Latin from any other source but the Vulgate. This was because many of the Vulgate’s corruptions were intentionally placed to support church doctrine. Instead of building doctrine around the Bible, the church bent the Bible to support doctrine. This was not that difficult since Latin was not an original language of the scriptures and the conversion between Greek and Latin could be worded as the church wished.
John Colet, another Oxford professor was the son of the Mayor of London. In 1496 he began reading the New Testament in Greek. Soon after he decided to translate it into English for his students at Oxford. Later he provided texts for the public at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. The people were so excited to actually read and understand the Bible, that within six months it was reported that each Sunday there were 20,000 people attempting to get into the church and an equal number surrounding the church to listen and possibly obtain a document. Fortunately for Colet, his political connections spared him from execution.
Erasmus was considered one of the greatest biblical scholars of all time. In 1516 he picked up the challenge of Linacre and Colet to correct the corrupt Latin Vulgate. He did this with the help of a printer named John Froben. Together, they published a Greek-Latin Parallel New Testament. He used the Greek, which he had managed to collate from a half-dozen partial old Greek New Testament manuscripts he had acquired. This produced the first non-Latin (Vulgate) text of the scripture to be produced in a millennium. The Greek-Latin Parallel New Testament focused attention on just how corrupt and inaccurate the Latin Vulgate used by the church was. Now people began to see how important it was to go back and use the original Greek and Hebrew texts. To translate the Bible into any native tongue more faithfully one must begin with the most accurate texts. Translations rendered from corrupt translations simply compounded error. The driving force keeping the act of translating illegal became obvious when Pope Leo X himself declared, "The fable of Christ has been quite profitable to me." The Pope feared loss of control and loss of revenue.
William Tyndale (1494-1536) holds the distinction of being the first man to ever print the New Testament in the English language. Tyndale was a true scholar and a genius. He was fluent in eight languages to the point that it was said one would think any one of them to be his native tongue. He is frequently referred to as the “Architect of the English Language”, (even more so than William Shakespeare) as so many of the phrases Tyndale coined are still in our language today.
Tyndale was a Biblical translator and martyr; born most probably at North Nibley, about 15 miles south-west of Gloucester, England, in 1494. He died at Vilvoorden, about 6 miles north-east of Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 6, 1536. Tyndale was descended from an ancient Northumbrian family. He went to school at Oxford, and afterward to Magdalen Hall and Cambridge.
Tyndale translated the Bible into an early form of Modern English. He was the first person to take advantage of Gutenberg’s movable-type press for the purpose of printing the scriptures in the English language. Tyndale held and published views considered heretical by the Catholic Church, and the Church of England established by Henry VIII. His Bible translation also included notes and commentary promoting these views. In the house of Walsh he disputed with Roman Catholic dignitaries, exciting much opposition, which led to his removal to London around Oct., 1523. A clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church once infuriated Tyndale by proudly proclaiming, “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s.” Tyndale was enraged by what he viewed as the unreasonable and ungodly Roman Catholic heresies, to which he replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”
Tyndale's translation was banned by the authorities, and
His death would occur a few years thereafter.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that in that same year, 1517, seven people were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church for the crime of teaching their children to say the Lord’s Prayer in English rather than Latin.
In 1517 Martin Luther declared his intolerance for the Roman Church’s corruption on Halloween in 1517, by nailing his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Church door.
Luther, who would be exiled in the months following the Diet of Worms Council in 1521 that was designed to martyr him, would translate the New Testament into German for the first time from the 1516 Greek-Latin New Testament of Erasmus, and publish it in September of 1522. Luther also published a German Pentateuch in 1523, and another edition of the German New Testament in 1529. In the 1530’s he would go on to publish the entire Bible in German.
William Tyndale had wanted to use the same 1516 Erasmus text as a source to translate and print the New Testament in English for the first time in history. Tyndale showed up on Luther's doorstep in Germany in 1525, and by year's end had translated the New Testament into English. Tyndale had been forced to flee England, because of the wide-spread rumor of his project. Inquisitors and bounty hunters were constantly hounding Tyndale to arrest and kill him.
The authorities failed and Tyndale published his Bibles. They were burned as soon as the Bishop could confiscate them, but copies trickled through and actually ended up in the bedroom of King Henry VIII.
The public fascination continued to grow as well as the panic within the Roman Catholic Church. They attempted to counter the outcry by declaring the new translation contained thousands of errors. This became the excuse for burning hundreds of New Testaments. The fact was that they could find no errors in the texts. The church continued to enforce its edicts and anyone caught with a Tyndale Bible risked death by burning.
Having God's Word available to the public in the language of the common man, spelled disaster to the church. The church could not continue doing things that were so completely contrary to the Bible, such as selling indulgences (the forgiveness of sins one was planning to commit) or selling the release of loved ones from Purgatory.
Salvation through faith, not works or donations, was becoming the cry to battle. These were just a few things to come out of the Luther – Tyndale crusade.
Tyndale was betrayed by a fellow Englishman who was supposedly his friend. Tyndale was imprisoned for about 500 days before he was strangled and then burned at the stake in 1536. His last words were, "Oh Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” This prayer would be answered in 1539, when King Henry VIII commanded the printing of an English Bible known as the “Great Bible.”
Myles Coverdale and John Rogers were disciples of Tyndale. They continued the English Bible project after his death. Coverdale finished translating the Old Testament, and in 1535 he printed the first complete Bible in English. He made use of Luther's German text and the Latin as his sources. The first complete English Bible was printed on October 4, 1535, and is known as the Coverdale Bible.
John Rogers went on to print the second complete English Bible in 1537. It was, however, the first English Bible translated from the original Biblical languages of Hebrew & Greek. He printed it under the pseudonym "Thomas Matthew", a pen-name actually used by Tyndale at one time. He could have done this to honor the fact that a considerable part of this Bible was the translation of Tyndale before his murder at the hands of the church. The Bible was a composite made up of Tyndale's Pentateuch, his New Testament 1534-1535 edition, Coverdale's Bible, and some of Roger's own translation of the text. It remains known as the Matthew-Tyndale Bible. A second-edition printing was done in 1549.
In 1539, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, hired Myles Coverdale at the command of King Henry VIII. His task was to publish the "Great Bible.” It became the first English Bible authorized for public use. The Bible was distributed to Anglican Churches. One was chained to the pulpit, and a person to read the Bible was provided so that even the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English. William Tyndale's prayer had been granted three years after his martyrdom. Cranmer's Bible, published by Coverdale, was known as the Great Bible due to its great size: a large pulpit folio measuring over 14 inches tall. Seven editions of this version were printed between April of 1539 and December of 1541.
King Henry VIII had not actually changed his mind regarding publishing the Bible in English for the masses. He did it because he was angry with the Pope for refusing to grant his divorce. King Henry responded by marrying his mistress anyway, and having two of his many wives executed. Henry was the second son in the family and was destined to be a priest. Henry VIII had three siblings, two girls and one boy. His brother was called Arthur. Arthur was Prince of Wales. When Henry VII, his father, was still alive, Arthur died. Which made Henry VIII heir to the throne. Henry knew the church inside and out. In his anger he renounced Roman Catholicism, and removed England from Rome’s religious control. Henry declared himself the new head of the Church. To this day the Kings of England are sworn to be “Defender of the Faith.” His first act was to strike Rome in the heart of the church by funding the printing of the scriptures in English. This gave way to the first legal English Bible.
After King Henry VIII and then King Edward VI died, the reign of Queen “Bloody” Mary began. From 1540's through the 1550's she was possessed in her obsession to return England to the Roman Church. In 1555, she had John "Thomas Matthew" Rogers and Thomas Cranmer burned at the stake. Mary went on to burn hundreds for the "crime" of being a Protestant. This era was known as the Marian Exile. Religious refugees fled from England, but there was no truly safe place anywhere near except for Switzerland.
The Church at Geneva, Switzerland, was sympathetic to religious refugees and was one of only a few safe havens. Myles Coverdale and John Foxe, publisher of “Foxe's Book of Martyrs,” along with Thomas Sampson and William Whittingham met there in the 1550's, with the protection of the great theologian John Calvin and John Knox, the reformer of the Scottish Church. They undertook to produce a Bible that would educate their families while they continued in exile. The New Testament was completed in 1557, and the complete Bible was first published in 1560. It became known as the Geneva Bible. Due to the use of the word "Breeches," which is an antiquated form of "Britches" (pants), some people referred to the Geneva Bible as the Breeches Bible. The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters, so that referencing specific passages would be easier. Every chapter was also accompanied by extensive marginal notes and references so thorough and complete that the Geneva Bible is also considered the first English "Study Bible.”
William Shakespeare quotes hundreds of times in his plays from the Geneva translation of the Bible. The Geneva Bible became the Bible of choice for over 100 years of English speaking Christians. Between 1560 and 1644 at least 144 editions of this Bible were published.
Examination of the 1611 King James Bible shows clearly that its translators were influenced much more by the Geneva Bible, than by any other source. The Geneva Bible itself retains over 90% of William Tyndale's original English translation. The Geneva in fact, remained more popular than the King James Version until decades after its original release in 1611. The Geneva holds the honor of being the first Bible taken to America, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims. It is truly the “Bible of the Protestant Reformation.” The famous Geneva Bible has been out-of-print since 1644, so the only way to obtain one is to either purchase an original printing of the Geneva Bible, or a less costly facsimile reproduction of the original 1560 Geneva Bible.
In 1568, a revision of the Great Bible known as the Bishop's Bible was introduced. Despite 19 editions being printed between 1568 and 1606, this Bible, referred to as the “rough draft of the King James Version”, never gained much of a foothold of popularity among the people. The Geneva may have simply been too much to compete with.
By the 1580's, the Roman Catholic Church saw that it had lost the battle to suppress the Bible and repress the people. In 1582, they ceased their fight for "Latin only" and began an official Roman Catholic English translation. In an attempt to continue control through the corrupt translation of the Latin Vulgate, it was decided that the English translation should use Vulgate as the only source text. Because it was translated at the Roman Catholic College in the city of Rheims, it was known as the Rheims New Testament. The Douay Old Testament was translated by the Church of Rome in 1609 at the College in the city of Douay. The combined product is commonly referred to as the "Doway/Rheims" or “Douay/Rheims” Version.
In 1589, Dr. William Fulke of Cambridge published the "Fulke's Refutation.” Fulke printed in parallel columns the Bishops Version along side the Rheims Version, in an attempt to show the error and distortion of the Douay/Rheims.
With the death of Bloody Mary and then Queen Elizabeth I, Prince James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. The Protestant clergy, feeling less religious tyranny, approached the new King in 1604 with the desire for an updated and less confrontational Bible. The new translation was to replace the Bishop's Bible first printed in 1568. They wished to keep the scholarship and accuracy but do away with the rather acrid marginal notes proclaiming the Pope an Anti-Christ, and such. This suited the king, who many regarded as a closet Catholic. The leaders of the church desired a Bible with word clarification and cross-references, available to the masses.
In 1611 the first of the 16-inch tall pulpit addition was printed. It is known as "The 1611 King James Bible.” A typographical error in Ruth 3:15 rendered a pronoun "He" instead of "She" in that verse in some printings. This caused some of the 1611 First Editions to be known by collectors as "He" Bibles, and others as "She" Bibles. Yes, I regret to say that even the sacred KJV had errors.
One year after the pulpit-size King James Bibles were printed and chained to every church pulpit in England, personal copies of the Bible became available.
One of the great ironies of history is that many Protestant Christian churches today declare the King James Bible as the only legitimate English language translation but it is not even a Protestant translation. Remember, the King of England is the “Defender of the Faith” for the Anglican Church, which is considered by most not to be a Protestant faith, but a Catholic sect.
After England broke from Roman Catholicism in the 1500’s, the Church of England, also called “The Anglican Church,” continued to persecute Protestants throughout the 1600’s. One famous example of this is John Bunyan, who while in prison for the crime of preaching the Gospel, wrote one of Christian history’s greatest books, Pilgrim’s Progress. Throughout the 1600’s, as the Puritans and the Pilgrims fled the religious persecution of England to cross the Atlantic and start a new free nation in America, they took with them their precious Geneva Bible, and rejected the King’s Bible. America was founded upon the Geneva Bible, not the King James Bible. However, as time went on and the newer edition of the K.J.V. gained in popularity in America it eclipsed the Geneva Bible.
Until the appearance of the English Revised Version of 1881-1885 the King James Version was the Bible of choice for most. It is a little-known fact that for the past 200 years, all King James Bibles published in America are actually the 1769 Baskerville spelling and wording revision of the 1611. The original “1611” preface is deceivingly included by the publishers, and no mention of the fact that it is really the 1769 version is to be found, because that might hurt sales. The only way to obtain a true, unaltered, 1611 version is to either purchase an original pre-1769 printing of the King James Bible, or a less costly facsimile reproduction of the original 1611 King James Bible.
The differences between the two versions are easy to spot since there are no less than 24,000 differences in words, grammar, and punctuation between the four major revisions of the 1611 KJV between the 1613 and 1769 versions. (Here I must ask my Independent Baptist Brothers who defend the KJV as the only true Bible; “Which of these versions is the perfect word of God?”)
In 1663 John Eliot published the first Bible printed in America. It was a translation in the native Algonquin Indian Language. The first English language Bible to be printed in America by Robert Aitken in 1782 was a King James Version. Robert Aitken’s 1782 Bible was the only Bible ever authorized by the United States Congress. President George Washington commended him for providing Americans with Bibles during the embargo of imported English goods due to the Revolutionary War.
In the 1880’s England planned a replacement for their King James Bible, known as the English Revised Version (E.R.V.). It would become the first English language Bible to gain popular acceptance after the King James Version. The widespread popularity of this modern-English translation was the first bible to eliminate the 14 Apocryphal books. Up until the late 1800’s every Protestant Bible, as well as the Catholic Bibles had 80 books, not 66. The exception was the little known “Robert Aitken’s Bible” of 1782. It was the King James Bible published without the apocrypha.
The inter-testament books written hundreds of years before Christ called “The Apocrypha” were part of virtually every printing of the Tyndale-Matthews Bible, the Great Bible, the Bishops Bible, the Protestant Geneva Bible, and the King James Bible until their removal from the K.J.V. around 1885. The original 1611 King James contained the Apocrypha, and King James threatened anyone who dared to print the Bible without the Apocrypha with heavy fines and a year in jail. Only for the last 120 years has the Protestant Church rejected these books, and removed them from their Bibles. This has left most modern-day Christians believing the popular myth that there is something “Roman Catholic” about the Apocrypha. That was not true, and no consistent reason for the removal of the Apocrypha in the 1880’s has ever been officially issued by mainline Protestant denominations. It is thought that since the Apocrypha had fallen into disuse and was thought of as a historical reference but not on the same spiritual level as the Old or New Testament, the removal made little spiritual difference and saved a little money.
Knowing all of the above… knowing how corrupt the Vulgate and all translations issuing from it are, I ask again, ”Is the Bible inerrant?”
The Bible is a wonderful gift from God. It is a great road map to live by, but it is not God. The Bible has been passed through the hands of men. Scribes, copyists, translators, collectors, and printers have all made their marks. Men make mistakes. Nothing mankind has touched is without error. When we raise the Bible to the Status of God and begin worshiping the book instead of the Spirit who inspired it, we fall into legalism. Legalism breeds judgment, divisions, and hate. It is at this point that Christians begin hurting those of differing beliefs, including other Christians who may have another point of view. We fall into the same category as the extremists we so despise. Christian extremists have damaged more Christians than Islamists have ever hurt.
Sources: University of Texas at Dallas - on line library
Regent University - on line library
American Bible Society