God bless the bible!
The New Testament (for those of you who may not be familiar with the history of the bible) was originally written in Greek by more than one person
Matthew (Levi the tax collector) wrote the gospel that bears his name.
John Mark was the apostle Peters right hand man and he is credited with recording the gospel according to Mark.
Luke, a well-educated, gentile physician was a close friend and companion to the apostle Paul. It was he who penned the gospel that bears his name as well as the book of the Acts of the Apostles.
John the son of Zebedee five books of the new testament: Johns gospel, the three general epistles (1, 2, & 3 John) , and the book of Revelation.
Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul) wrote the Pauline epistles (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Titus, and Philemon.
The person who penned the book of Hebrews is unknown
A man named Jacob wrote the book of James (The Greek name is actually Iakoboy - which we would transliterate into Yacob or Jacob. The French language heavily influenced English during the time when the bible was first being translated into English. The Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Jacobin at that time was James - and at the time it didnt seem inappropriate to use one or the other. The Anglo Saxon version was used in the translation, and has been ever since.) Jacob was very likely the brother of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Peter also wrote two epistles.
It should be obvious then that the books of the New Testament were not all penned by the same person, nor were they written in the same place or even at the same time. Yet within the first hundred years of the church, these hand written gospels, epistles etc. were being copied and distributed as far and wide as the church had grown.
As would be expected, the copying process wasnt always perfect. We have this wonderful imagine of the dedicated medieval monk copying one letter at a time, carefully, oh so reverentially and painstakingly copying the word of God. Such images are nice, but they do little justice to the history of the bible. The reality is that many of the early copies were copied as faithfully as could be expected. If a man visiting a church in Syria came to hear the first epistles of Peter being used as scripture there, and wanted to take a copy back to his church in Macedonia - well, he would have to make a copy for himself. How good that copy would be would depend on many things - was the original copy legible - that is, was it easy to make out what was written? What time of day was it being copied (there were no electric lights back then)? How much time did the man have to copy it - was he rushed? Could he afford to buy another paper and try again with new ink (two months salary?) Recall that this was before the exactitude of the printing press - that is, we now have a standard that was unheard of during the first century - an exact copy back then didnt mean you copied it perfectly - it meant that aside from the usual spelling errors, the occasional missed or repeated word or phrase, etc - your copy matched the one you were copying. Sometimes the copy corrects the spelling of its parent - sometimes the grammar, etc. It wasnt considered demonic/evil/corruption to copy a document in this way
Imagine yourself sitting down right now with a hand written copy of the book of Acts. You dont know who wrote it, but from what it says, you know it is scripture, and not having your own copy, you set about making your own personal copy. By the time you are done you are satisfied that you have made a good and accurate copy. Granted, you are English, and prefer to say colour rather than color , and plough rather than plow - you do not consider these changes to be satanic corruptions of the original text - and they are not. Likewise, you correct some spelling errors from the original. You are not aware of it, but it is likely that you have also introduced some of your own spelling errors. You may also have dropped a word here or there, or even doubled up a word. Perhaps in copying the text, you make a note to yourself in the margin, etc.
Now imagine that someone copies your copy. They are hyper-diligent - that is, they want an exact copy. They copy all your changes, and when they come to your superfluous note in the margin - they arent sure whether you accidentally missed a verse and tried to squeeze it in, or if this is a personal note or what - so, because they want to be safe, they copy it into their text, but put a line over it so that they remember later that it was a marginal note and they are not really sure if it is original or not.
Now imagine that someone makes a copy of this last copy. They are copying it for their grandmother who doesnt read English very well. They determine to soften the grammar a bit as they do - simplifying complex phrases, and even going so far as to remove redundant phrases. When they come to the marginal note they have no idea what the line over it is supposed to mean, so they ignore the line and copy your note into the text as though it were part of the original script. Your marginal note becomes scripture in their copy.
I paint these pictures to demonstrate the way in which texts become corrupted over time.
By the time Desiderius Erasmus, in 1515, compiled a complete Greek version of the New Testament (the Textus Receptus) there were many versions of the various manuscripts, all of them differing from one another here and there - but likewise all of them saying more or less the same things. There were no complete copies of the whole New Testament from any one source - rather you had compendiums - say all the Pauline epistles in a bunch. Or all the gospels, etc.
Erasmus had six such compendiums, none of which contained the whole NT, and none of which agreed perfectly with the other five - that is, it wasnt like he had six versions that all said the same thing - each text differed from the others in some minor way.
Whenever the texts disagreed with one another, Erasmus compared them to one another, and determined which part of the texts were most likely original, that is, if He had say, five versions of say a passage from 1 Peter:
In this you are greatly happy, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
You greatly rejoice in this, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been made sad by various trials,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if it has to be, you have been grieved by various trials,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials
From these he would see that in this you greatly rejoice occurs in three versions, while the other two are saying something similar - so he might select that part as being most likely part of the original text. All the texts say though now for a little while - most say If need be most say, you have been grieved and all say, by various trials so Erasmus selects the fifth version as original, but doesnt throw the other four versions in the trash calling them horrible corruptions and the spawn of Satan or some such silliness - rather he understands that these others texts differed because that is how they were copied. The texts that agree with one another he reasons were copied accurately. Not that the version they were copied from is superior to the others - but rather that this part of that copy seems better preserved than the same part in other copies.
Erasmus has only six manuscripts, yet he manages to compile a complete Greek New Testament from them. Not even one of his six manuscripts actually agrees with the finished product (the Textus Receptus), but that isnt to say that these six Byzantine manuscripts are corrupted and vile - rather it just demonstrates that having as few as six manuscripts Erasmus was able to put together a very reasonable facsimile of what the original texts likely looked like.
I personally prefer the Byzantine texts to the Alexandrian texts. I prefer them I say because believe that the Alexandrian texts exhibit more deviance from the original texts than the Byzantine texts do.
That is not to say that I believe the Byzantine texts are pristine and without corruption - they most certainly are corrupted, if less so than the Alexandrian texts.
Yet, even if all the versions were horribly mutilated (most of the deviances are extremely minor), so long as they are copies of the original documents, or copies of copies (and they are), we can very easily, and accurately compare them one to another, and every deviance stands out against the fabric of the whole. The fact is, the texts agree with one another a mind boggling 97% of the time. Even in that 3% where there is deviance - the over whelming reason for the discrepancy is a spelling mistake or a change in grammatical case. There are statistically very few corruptions even within the 5400 manuscripts that exist today.
That is level of accuracy is practically a statistical impossibility. As Christians, this number alone should give us much assurance that God has done an amazing job at keeping the bible pure.
Three percent may seem like a large number, but if you think about it, that means that given one hundred flavors that a particular verse is rendered in - there will only be three variances in the hundred - and nine times out of ten those will just be variant spellings.
Given this level of accuracy - it isnt difficult to deduce what the original manuscripts said, even if we were dealing with exceptionally corrupt manuscripts (which we are not).
Daniel Wallace sometimes takes a church through a wonderful exercise with regards to textual criticism and textual transmission. He takes half the church, and gives them the English rendering of a Greek passage from some first century, but extra-canonical Christian source, and has them copy it out a bunch of times - he instructs some to copy it with a feminist agenda - that is, removing all pronoun gender - some copy it letter for letter, others must have it dictated to them, etc. etc. In this way, much error is introduced into the copies - then they copy the copies, and run through a few such iterations. This is done in the morning. In the afternoon the other half of the church comes in, and are given the copies, which by carry far more corruption that can be found in any of the biblical manuscripts - and these people over the course of a couple of hours - compare the copies to one another - and most of the time are able to produce a perfect copy of the original document.
Consider that for a moment. A group of laymen, having received minimal coaching, were still able to compile the original document even though all they had was a motley collection of horribly (and purposefully) corrupted copies.
Wallaces point is that educated men train for decades in this field, have thousands of manuscripts to compare, and spend decades doing so. The 27 version of Nestle & Alands Greek New Testament is --not-- some slap together document - as though hillbillies sat down one day and selected their favorite Alexandrian texts and used them verbatim to create a new Greek source! The United Bible Society, working from the same texts, independent of the Nestle and Alands group - using the same basic principles, have produced their own Greek version which is identical to NA27. That is enough to convince most people that the modern versions are not being translated from some corrupt and evil source - but rather, are being translated from a Greek compendium that reflects perhaps the most accurate image of the original texts that we will ever have.
A final thought. There is a diminishing return with regards to the number of manuscripts that could cause the NA27/UBS4 to change much further. Consider that the differences between the Textus Receptus and the NA27/UBS four are fairly insignificant even though one is comprised of only six manuscripts, and the other more than 5400. Statistically speaking, even if we had a million more manuscripts - that would significantly change Greek text of the NA27/UBS4. In fact, until we got into trillions of manuscripts it would be a bother looking after the decimal places (this differs from that by 0.000001% etc.)
So what is the bottom line then? Well for me it is that even though I prefer the Byzantine texts to the Alexandrian texts - I wouldnt exalt them as a body above the Alexandrian texts. I dont believe, as some do, that God endorses one family, and the Devil the other. Rather, I take the whole of it and consider it all together. No one text is better than another - rather no matter how the devil has attempted to corrupt the word - and no matter how many partially corrupt versions there are - yet God has given us the ability to produce from these corruptions the original - and I think that is amazing. For that reason I prefer not to call one text corrupt, as though the other were not. They are all corrupt, but their corruption doesnt invalidate them unless we consider them individually - which in my opinion would be the very height of folly.
Erasmus worked with texts that disagreed with one another - and didnt imagine that one was of the Devil, and the other from God. He simply appreciated that man is imperfect, and the work of our hands is imperfect, but Gods word hasnt been lost due to our imperfection.
You can imagine then how pointless it is to discuss whether a text based on six manuscripts is compared to a text based on the same six manuscripts + 5394 others
It wastes my time to engage in such folly, but for the sake of those who know absolutely nothing about the history of the bible, textual criticism, and biblical transmission, I have endeavored to post this hopefully helpful introduction.
For His glory
Daniel van de Laar