The Scriptures - A Delightful Mystery and Revelation: Part 1

 


I have been studying the issue of Bible source text issues and translations since I became a believer in 1998. There is a debate among scholars, laymen, and Christians, and it has to do with what was originally written. Books have been written, are being written, and I'm sure more will be written on the subject. Debates, videos, conferences, and discussions fill You Tube, Facebook, and many other platforms. The battle rages on. 

I understand the obsession for Protestants and other Evangelical denominations concerning the Bible, since such a high premium is placed on the reliability of Scripture, and I think it should. The Westminster Divines along with the Baptists in 1689 wrote:

1.4 Holy Scripture demands belief, yet its authority does not depend on the testimony of any person or church,1 but entirely on God its author, who is truth itself. Therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.2

(1) Luk 16:27-31; Gal 1:8-9; Eph 2:20
(2) 2Ti 3:15; Rom 1:2; 3:2; Act 2:16; 4:25; Mat 13:35; Rom 9:17; Gal 3:8; Rom 15:4; 1Co 10:11; Mat 22:32; Luk 16:17; Mat 22:41ff; Joh 10:35; Gal 3:16; Act 1:16; 2:24ff; 13:34-35; Joh 19:34-36; 19:24; Luk 22:37; Mat 26:54; Joh 13:18; 2Ti 3:16; 2Pe 1:19-21; Mat 5:17-18; 4:1-11

 The problem is that we don't have the original documents, don't claim to have them, and even the Apostles didn't have original source documents for the Old Testament. Yet, they regarded what they did have as Scripture (That'll make the perfectionists head spin!). In fact, they considered the Hebrew Old Testament as Scripture, and a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, The Greek Septuagint as Scripture. Now there is some debate over what the Apostles and other writers of the New Testament had in their possession exactly. Most scholars will clearly note that they did have a form of the Septuagint (Not sure if it is exactly the same as we have today), which is a Greek Translation of the Old Testament along with the Hebrew Old Testament. We know this because the quotes in the New Testament vary in how they read when dealing with the Old Testament texts. Sometimes these quotes in the New Testament match the Septuagint (That we have), sometimes they match the Hebrew (That we have), and occasionally a hybrid was created that is similar but does not match either text exactly. I am pretty sure Paul the Apostle was the culprit. I do that kind of thing all the time when I quote Scripture. 

This usually brings up the manner in which Christians understand inspiration. I don't know if I can say it any better than Wayne Grudem:

"Since the Old and New Testament writings are both considered Scripture, it is right to say they are both, in the words of 2 Timothy 3:16, “breathed out by God.” This makes sense when we consider Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would “bring to” the disciples’ “remembrance” all that Jesus said to them (John 14:26). It was as the disciples wrote the Spirit-enabled words, that books such as Matthew, John, and 1 and 2 Peter were written. The Bible says there are “many ways” (Heb. 1:1) in which the actual words of the Bible were written. Sometimes God spoke directly to the author, who simply recorded what he heard (Rev. 2:1, 8, 12). At other times the author based much of his writings on interviews and research (Luke 1:1 – 3). And at other times, the Holy Spirit brought to mind things that Jesus taught (John 14:26). Regardless of the way the words came to the authors, the words they put down were an extension of them — their personalities, skills, backgrounds, and training. But they were also exactly the words God wanted them to write — the very words that God claims as his own. If God claims that the words of Scripture are his own, then there is ultimately no higher authority one can appeal to for proof of this claim than Scripture itself. For what authority could be higher than God? So, Scripture ultimately gains its authority from itself. But the claims of Scripture only become our personal convictions through the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s heart. The Holy Spirit doesn’t change the words of Scripture in any way; he doesn’t supernaturally make them become the words of God (for they always have been). He does, however, change the reader of Scripture. The Holy Spirit makes readers realize the Bible is unlike any book they have ever read. Through reading, they believe that the words of Scripture are the very words of God himself. It is as Jesus said in John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” Other kinds of arguments (such as historical reliability, internal consistency, fulfilled prophecies, influence on others, and the majestic beauty and wisdom of the content) can be useful in helping us see the reasonableness of the claims of the Bible. As God’s very words, the words of Scripture are more than simply true; they are truth itself (John 17:17). They are the final measure by which all supposed truth is to be gauged. Therefore, that which conforms to Scripture is true; that which doesn’t conform to Scripture is not true. New scientific or historical facts may cause us to reexamine our interpretation of Scripture, but they will never directly contradict Scripture. The truth of the Scriptures does not demand that the Bible report events with exact, scientific detail (though all the details it does report are true). Nor does it demand that the Bible tell us everything we need to know or ever could know about a subject. It never makes either of these claims. In addition, because it was written by ordinary men in an ordinary language with an ordinary style, it does contain loose or free quotations and some uncommon and unusual forms of grammar or spelling. But these are not matters of truthfulness. The Bible does not, in its original form, affirm anything contrary to fact."

Grudem, Wayne. Christian Beliefs (pp. 10-12). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition. 

Thankfully I am not prone to ulcers, but if I were, I would have had several concerning this issue. Over the years, the study of Bibliology has become a hobby of mine, but it has also become a nuisance due to the amount of stress and anxiety I had not knowing what to believe concerning the Scriptures. Textual variants, opinions of scholars, theologians, skeptics, and others were filling my mind and causing a great deal of confusion and anxiety. This hindered my family life. My struggle was on how to logically put together God's mode of preservation. Christians all through history believed in the preservation of the written text of God. It has only been in recent years that the shift in scholarship has gone to the "original writings," which don't help us a whole lot today, but it does take the stress off of the manuscripts being perfectly preserved without variation, which is not the case when one examines the evidence. However, the variations that are significant are few and far between. But, perfectionists will protest and presume their own standard upon God rather than letting Him speak for Himself. The Scriptures themselves show us that God is not accustomed to doing things the way we would. He always picked the "underdog," and used men and women who were not "impressive" to do His will. So, it stands to reason that God would also not preserve Scripture the way you or I would. If it were me, the process would be more miraculous. However, God usually chooses to use "Ordinary" means of grace to preserve His written revelation. Just because God uses "supernatural" means to accomplish His will sometimes does not mean that these methods are constant and frequent. In fact, the miracle of the mundane is often overlooked, and the fact that we live in a world of mingled opposites is enough to stress a man or woman out into mental anguish and delirium. If you focus on the context of the New Testament, the writers are more concerned with the Bible's "usefulness" than perfect preservation. Church History bears this out, and there are many ways to say the same thing. 

Not long after my conversion, I became a KJV Onlyist, then was pulled out of that by a gentle and humble seminary professor. He helped me see and understand the other side of things, and that reasoned eclectics (Those who promote new translations based on a different collation of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts) weren't evil men and women who were committed to subverting the Scriptures. When I thought about it, I realized that I was raised in a local church that used the NIV, and was led to Christ by someone using the NIV, which is not a literal translation of the Bible!  

Our obsession with exactness and our presuming that God shares this obsession when preserving the Scriptures has been a bit of a problem for Christians over the years. Now I am not saying we don't need to aim for precision when we can, because most of the textual variants in the New and Old Testament are insignificant. However, most who focus on this issue are prone to extremes. It's "all or nothing!" they say. The problem with this idea is that it strains logic to an illogical conclusion. Just because God has chosen to use ordinary men and means to preserve His written revelation, and has allowed them to vary in their copying, does not mean we should throw it out, nor should we craft some kind of conspiracy to prefer one text and demonize another. Dr. David Alan Black who is a scholar and a textual critic states that he thinks all manuscripts should get an equal vote. This is my thoughts exactly. 

What the variations do show us is that there is no collusion or human conspiracy to artfully deceive the masses on the content of the Bible. A perfectly preserved text causes me to be more suspicious than if there is one with textual variants. The various manuscripts spread out over thousands of years, found in various regions without modern means or communication displays to us their authenticity. What I mean is that there are few differences among them, and the fact that what differences they do have are minor, we have a consistent and useful record of the overall message of the New and Old Testaments. Even skeptics know that we can understand the content of the Old and New Testaments from what we have in our possession. Therefore, when we fight, debate, stress, and worry over this, we do it to our own injury, and to the injury of others. Paul wrote to Titus:

"But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain." Titus 3:9

So first, I think we need to avoid much of the strife we consume concerning the Scriptures, because in that we are no different than the world, who loves and feeds off of controversy. Secondly, we should not be so anal retentive concerning the Bible. Yes I have my opinions, but I am not married to them. What I am married to is the message of the Bible, the content we are certain of, and the love of God and neighbor. With all of the textual variants out there, we shouldn't despair, and we can be certain of the main message and content.

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