A Case for the Bible: Part 6, Manuscript transmission over time
(This blog is part of a series. You can start the series by going back to the September 1, 2014 Introduction called A Case for Christianity: Why do we need one?)
“I was able to identify several chains of custody that give us an idea of what the apostles observed and taught. In fact, I bet we could comfortably reconstruct an accurate image of Jesus from just the letters of the students of the apostles, even if all of Scripture was lost to us.” –J. Warner Wallace on the accurate transmission of the New Testament documents.
One of the toughest questions I sought to answer while I was on my journey to the Christian faith was: ‘How did we get the Bible we have today?’ Over the last few blog posts we have looked at the reliability of the Bible through literary criteria, Jewish history via the strict rules of Scribal transmission, the multitude of early manuscript evidence to compare texts and the over ninety-eight percent consistency in agreement after factoring out errors. We have also seen that both oral and written transmission of historical information over time is very reliable. All of that gave me confidence that what I was reading was historically and literarily reliable. However, I’m a visual person and I like things like timelines, graphs and charts. So could this be put into an easy to view form? I’m going to try to do that:
|Timeline||Events of transmission|
|OLD TESTAMENT||JEWISH TRADITION AND HISTORICAL RECORDS|
|Adam to Moses (approximately 2500 years according to Biblical genealogy)||Oral transmission: The creation story and pre-flood events were passed down orally over time via the community and directly from the line of Adam. These overlaps occur across the generations due to long life spans of these individuals:
From Adam and his son Seth to Methuselah to Noah and his son Shem to Abraham and his son Isaac to Levi to Amran to Moses.
|Moses Circa 1450 B.C. to Ezra and Nehemiah Circa 400 B.C.||Written Word: Abraham was also capable of writing but Scripture (the Torah) was given to Moses directly from God and passed down through the generations of Priests and Scribes in the Tribe of Levi and the line of Aaron. The History books, Wisdom Literature and the Writings of the Prophets were kept by the Kings’ designated Scribes, Priests and/or Prophets. Ezra the Scribe was one of the last to finalize and compile the books of the Old Testament. We must remember that the Scribes through the centuries had commitment, reverence and strict rules for copying, protecting, teaching and preserving these books, e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls.|
|Circa 400 B.C.||Samaritan Pentateuch: The Torah preserved by the Samaritan sect.|
|Circa 280 B.C.||Septuagint: A translation of the Old Testament into Greek.|
|Dead Sea Scrolls Circa 200 B.C. to 100 A.D.||All of the Old Testament scrolls (with the exception of the book of Esther) were found in Qumran. These books match with a 98% agreement to the Masoretic texts of 895 A.D. that are in agreement with our modern day Christian Old Testament.|
|NEW TESTAMENT||CHRISTIAN TRADITION AND HISTORICAL RECORDS|
|Circa 33 A.D.||Christ’s death and resurrection|
|Circa 33 to 50 A.D.||Communication of events spread out in local communities|
|Circa 50 to 95 A.D.||Eyewitness accounts are recorded in the form of the New Testament Gospels and letters|
|TRANSMISSION TIME||CHAIN OF CUSTODY|
|1ST to 3rd Century from the Apostle John||Apostle John (70 AD) to Ignatius (110 AD) and Polycarp (110 AD) to Irenaeus (185 AD) to Hippolytus (220 AD)|
|1st to 3rd Century from the Apostle Peter||Apostle Peter (60 AD) to Anianus (75 AD) and Avilius (95 AD) to Kedron (100 AD) and Primus (115 AD) to Justus (130 AD) to Pantaenus (195 AD) to Clement of Alexandria (210 AD) to Origin (250 AD) to Pamphilus ((300 AD) and Eusebius (335 AD)|
|1st to 3rd Century from the Apostle Paul||Apostle Paul (60 AD) to Linus (70 AD) and Clement of Rome (95 AD) to Evaristus (100 AD) and Alexander (110 AD) to Sixtus (120 AD) and Telesphorus (130 AD) and Hyginus (135 AD) to Pius 1 (150 AD) and Justin Martyr (160 AD) and Tatian (175 AD)|
|1st to 3rd Centuries||Fragments and partial manuscripts of the New Testament are archived that corroborate the codices in the 4th Century and on…|
|4th Century||Codex Sinaiticus at the Council of Laodicea (350-363 AD) Canon of the Christian Scripture first identified and codified|
The dates of the chain of custody represent the approximate time of when they wrote and taught. Their life experiences and teaching overlapped. For example: Ignatius and Polycarp studied under the Apostle John and were alive with some of the others listed in the first and second centuries.
These key figures in the guarding, care and transmission of the early New Testament documents also have their own books, letters, or lectionaries that contain passages, verses and information from the New Testament. In reality if we did not have any of the New Testament manuscripts we could reconstruct it based on just their writings.
These early Church leaders are often referred to as the “Church Fathers.” It is important to note that there were no denominations such as Catholic or Protestant at this time, nor were they part of any organized group or political movement. In the first three centuries Christians were spreading the Gospel of Jesus, taking care of the poor and sick, and meeting, often in secret, to worship God and read the Bible. They were confident and bold, unafraid of practicing “Classical Christianity,” often being martyred for their faith.
The chain of custody information comes from a highly recommended book called “Cold Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace
How many times has the Bible you are reading today been translated? ONLY ONCE FROM THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGES THAT THEY WERE WRITTEN IN!
Bible translators have a multitude of early manuscripts in original languages (5800 plus in Greek). Here are the major families that translators work with:
Old Testament Manuscript Families:
- The Massoretic Texts: (circa 800-900 A.D.)
- The Massoretes were a group of Hebrew Scholars who worked at preserving the Scriptures.
- These texts have been highly validated upon the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (c. BC 200-150).
- Most of our Bibles’ Old Testaments are from this text.
- The Septuagint Texts: (circa 250 A.D.)
- This text family is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, translated circa 250 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt.
- It has a “Dynamic Equivalent” type of translation (not a word for word translation).
- The Samaritan Pentateuch: (circa 350 B.C.)
- This text family differs from the Massoretic text in about 6000 instances most of which are merely differences in spelling.
- This manuscript contains only the Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls: (circa 200 B.C.)
- The discovery of these scrolls in 1947 has had a profound impact upon the validation of the translation of the Old Testament.
- The DSS provided evidence that the Massoretic Texts were highly accurate in their rendition of the Hebrew Bible.
- Simultaneously, the DSS provided evidence that there were some Hebrew manuscripts that appeared to follow the Septuagint reading. This indicates that some of the differences between the Massoretic text and the Septuagint are not merely translational, but may be the result of copying differences.
- These scrolls are also conformational of the prophecies in the Old Testament in that it proves that they were not written after the time of Christ, but in fact centuries before.
New Testament Manuscript Families:
- The Western Text: (2nd to 13th century)
- This text family includes two early 2nd century manuscripts from the Old Latin and Syriac translations.
- Used mainly in North Africa, and early on in the west.
- Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian used this text.
- The Alexandrian Text: (3rd to 12th century)
- This text family originated in Alexandria, Egypt and was used by the early Alexandrian Church fathers.
- The Caesarean Text: (3rd to 13th century)
- This text family is thought to be a compilation of the Western and Alexandrian texts.
- Origen and Eusebius are associated with this group of texts.
Most of our modern English Bibles today are taken from one of these last two families known as the “Critical text” and the “Majority text.”
- The Proto-Alexandrian Texts/Critical Text: (2nd to 4th Century)
- This text family is known as the “Critical Text” because it has some of the oldest copies available including, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, Papyrus 66 and the Bodmer Papyrus 75.
- The New American Standard Version (NAS[V]B), English Standard Version (ESV), and New International Version (NIV) reflect this family of texts.
- The Byzantine Text/Majority Text: (5th to 10th Century)
- This text family is known as the “Majority Text” because there are more available copies.
- This text was adopted in Constantinople and used as the common text in the Byzantine world.
- Martin Luther translated his German Bible from this family.
- The King James Version (KJV, NKJV) reflects this family of texts.
*The difference between the Critical text family and the Majority text family is about 200 variants or the equivalent a few words.
For no word from God will ever fail. Luke 1:37
Join us next week as we continue to examine the external physical evidence for the reliability of the Bible as we continue our ‘Case for the Bible.’
Let me know what you think: Did you ever hear the comment that we cannot trust the Bible because it has been translated so many times? How can you respond to this?
Over the next several blogs I am going to continue to present logical reasoning and sound scientific evidence not found in the public school textbooks.
Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus as Lord.
1 Peter 3:15