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The Problem of Textual Recovery

Updated on December 8, 2019
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Dr. David Thiessen is an educator, writer, pastor, and speaker. He has authored several books on a variety of topics including Archaeology

Scholars are working hard

They say that there are many scholars working very hard on recovering the original text of the New Testament. They may be working hard but that task has already been completed.

At last count 3 English versions can be counted on to being faithful to what God had his New testament authors write. Those 3 versions are the King James, The New American Standard and the early New International Version.

Since those versions were published more versions have come out and made the claim that they have take advantage of new scholarship, new knowledge of ancient languages and their use and so on. These claims are used to support their declaration that their version is the closest thing to the original languages used to write the New Testament.

There are major problems with this goal

First off, not only has God said he would preserve his word until the end, there must always have been no era without God’s o=original words. New scholarship is not going to improve on God’s preservation.

A second more pressing and important problem is found in the form of a question. How can the scholars say they have achieved their goal when according to the same scholars, the originals do not exist.

In other words, there are no original manuscripts available to compare their work with to see how accurate they were. Believing they have a fragment or closest copy to the original works of the New Testament is not the same as having and knowing one has a copy of the originals.

Another problem is found in the assumption many scholars have that all older biblical manuscripts were[produced by saintly people. They do not seem to take into account that people with alternative views may have altered these texts that were fortunate enough to survive.

We know of several people who have done this and their presence leaves open the possibility that there were more anonymous writers with their own view of Christ and his word.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are but one modern group that continues this practice. Unfortunately, this assumption by modern scholars may have true words of god excluded while retaining false ideas. The last chapter of Mark is a good possible example of this.

Scholars and ancient languages

Another influential factor in creating texts that claim to be true to the originals is the attitude of the scholars. Many of them study the ancient languages and draw their conclusions on word use and meanings.

When new information arrives through more recent ancient manuscript discoveries, those conclusions and word meanings, etc., are often changed to meet the newly discovered use of certain terms.

The issue here is these scholars do not have any insight as to how God may have used ancient words. They do not know if he used those new insights or not. Like English, some ancient words come with several different definitions. An example of this is the Old Testament word Yom, meaning day.

That word has a variety of uses and many scholars who reject the creation account use those different definitions to say that creation was not done in a 24 hour 7 day earth week.

This speaking for God factor influences what many English biblical texts say are God’s actual words to his creation. The scholar uses their best judgment in deciding how the word should be used and what it means.

The scribe argument

This has been going on for centuries now. It is the go to argument both Christian and unbelieving scholar use when they find something does not line up between the different manuscripts.

This does happen, most likely when someone is making a copy for personal use or writing a letter to a friend and other situations. Yet cannot God guide those scribes when they are making serious copies to preserve his word?

It would be difficult trying to separate which New testament fragment or book was of the former and which was of the latter. Yet with the Spirit of Truth helping them the scholar or average person should be able to know which is true and which is not.

Jesus promised we would know, his promise did not exclude knowing which were the true manuscripts and which were not. The presence of different people writing scriptures is no different today than it was in the ancient world. People often paraphrase for a variety of reasons.

The ancient people were no different from modern people.

The scholarly attitude

Often gets in the way of finding the truth and the correct manuscript. Ideas, talents and abilities, or a lack thereof are often read into the original New Testament writers and the scribes that followed them.

Scholars make claims that the New Testament writers were following Herodotus’ example when they wrote. This conclusion flies in the face of what the Bible says how God’s word was written

The scholarly attitudes does not stop there though. For some reason they like, for the most part, to remove the divine work and make the Bible out to be just another book. They call it literature when it is not.

It is these types of attitudes that mar many modern English versions of the Bible Neither the Old Testament or the New are literary works. The Bible is a book filled with the truth and provides instructions for people to follow today.

As stated earlier, we have at least 3 good versions that make sure we have God’s word to follow. Contrary to what scholars may think, they are not the last word on what is or isn’t God’s word.

That is because many of them do not believe in Jesus as their Savior. What that means is that the modern believer needs to be more careful about who they listen to. It is not the experience and education that matters. It is if they are true believers or unbelievers that count.

The believer cannot assume that scholar has it right. They have to measure the scholar’s words with God’s word and then take God’s over the scholar if there is a difference. God is never wrong.


© 2019 David Thiessen

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    • david tee profile imageAUTHOR

      David Thiessen 

      5 months ago from Philippines

      Thank you for the good discussion

    • Peopleofthebook profile image

      B A Johnson 

      5 months ago

      Concerning Ehrman I could not agree more!

      And I definitely agree Christians must be discerning about how they choose their translations, and discerning in how they approach modern scholarship - particularly as it concerns the Bible.

      It's been a pleasure talking to you!

    • david tee profile imageAUTHOR

      David Thiessen 

      5 months ago from Philippines

      You have stated my position quite well. My mentioning of the cultic possibilities was just one possibility that could arise in why there are manuscript differences.

      Ehrman is someone who has left the faith and like many others like him, pastors, missionaries, etc., you will find fault with God and his word because they do not meet their new preferences or ideas.

      I have read Ehrman's books, sat in some of his lectures and so on and feel that he i snot trying to present a valid case but instead trying to be an evangelist and turn many people away from the truth. he certainly was brazen about it in a debate with Dr. Evans.

      Part of what I am saying is that we must be careful about the translations we use. The new ones may not be as good as the older ones even though they have had advancement in information

    • Peopleofthebook profile image

      B A Johnson 

      5 months ago

      We have no disagreement concerning Ehrman! He is a very well educated scholar but strangely inconsistent.

      Nevertheless, the data in manuscripts and patristic citations is too broad to simply say uncertain passages were merely omitted by heretics. They may have been omitted, for self-serving reasons or innocent reasons like accidental omissions or damaged exemplars used by scribes. Or, alternatively, they might have been added, for self-serving reasons or because some scribes were sure they knew of a saying or incident and included it in the text thinking it was supposed to be there. We shouldn't fall into the trap that many (like Ehrman) fall into by assuming we can know the intentions of the early scribes who we owe our scriptural manuscripts to.

      Though I don't agree with your position, you do have some valid concerns. I'm just very thankful that places where there is uncertainty about the original readings are few and do not change our understanding of the faith!

    • david tee profile imageAUTHOR

      David Thiessen 

      5 months ago from Philippines

      I have sat through lectures of both and I enjoy Dr. Wallace immensely and agree with you. Ehrman is another story and he is very unrealistic in his accusations. Dr. Craig Evans has stated in a class that he believes the oriignal autographs lasted through the 3rd and 4th centuries.

      He makes a strong case for that position. In answer to your question, this is where IZ have a hard time with scholars and new translations. There would be numerous reasons why certain passages were excluded and none of them would be spiritual.

      Marcion is one example where personal preference dictated what was included and he was not alone in this behavoir. I will cite the number of false religions that existed at that time.

      We must also be careful not to exclude passages that were included in those altered manuscripts. because they make be correct passages. If we started to exclude passages that appeared in false versions, we wouldn't have a Bible today.

      The only way we can learn what was in the original is by listening to the Spirit of Truth.

    • Peopleofthebook profile image

      B A Johnson 

      5 months ago

      I think that largely depends on which textual critic you refer to. Some, like Dr. James White and Dr. Daniel Wallace are devout believers who truly are seeking to honor God by striving to better understand His word. Others, like Dr. Ehrman, are decidedly not interested in serving Him.

      Nevertheless, their collective goal is to try and determine which variants in biblical manuscripts are original and which are not. What should we do with passages that are still uncertain as to how they originally were written or whether they originally were in the scriptures at all? If we can learn which reading is the original reading, shouldn't we do so?

    • david tee profile imageAUTHOR

      David Thiessen 

      5 months ago from Philippines

      The problem again is that in my studies of textual criticism, I see little of God in their work and words. Since there is no command by God to do this work except that he would preserve his word, scholars should use less science and follow the spirit of truth more

    • Peopleofthebook profile image

      B A Johnson 

      5 months ago

      I understand, I don't agree, but I understand the concern! Thank you for indulging me!

    • david tee profile imageAUTHOR

      David Thiessen 

      5 months ago from Philippines

      I would go along with that. Scholars may be over thinking it and twisting scriptures to fit modern preferences that have sinful influences

    • Peopleofthebook profile image

      B A Johnson 

      5 months ago

      I think I understand, though the textual histories are so different between the KJV and anything relying on a Nestle-Aland text I can't quite understand commending both of them based on a concern over over-emphasizing scholarship.

      Would it be fair to say your stance is that, although investigations into the text has been useful and good, it would be best to set it aside now and accept that what we have is sufficient rather than risk allowing a possible cultural corruption of newer translations?

    • david tee profile imageAUTHOR

      David Thiessen 

      5 months ago from Philippines

      I do use all three not the newer NIVs though I have looked at it. for the NASB https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_American_Standar... as much as I do not like Wikipedia, it does provide the important particulars. I can qualify my remarks to eliminate any updated version after the original came out

      I understand your point but there has to be a God factor here and i think those three versions have the best God factor involved. More modern versions seem to be based on the science of textual criticism not the spiritual aspect

      The NASB does not totally follow the NA26 which was used in 1995. The NA23 was used for the original version. Remember my recommendation is based on my education, experience, spiritual nature and I can be wrong. But right now those are the 3 I would recommend. My point being is that we have to be careful with newer editions because we do not have the originals to make comparisons, the conclusion they are the most accurate is merely human subjectivity at work

    • Peopleofthebook profile image

      B A Johnson 

      5 months ago

      I can understand avoiding the newer NIVs, I've heard there has been some gender-controversy with them, though I don't use the NIV so I wouldn't know.

      But both the NASB and King James versions had to make judgements as to what the translators believed the original text was, particularly in the NASB, since it's choices are largely based on the Nestle-Aland Greek base text, just like most modern translations. If the NASB follows NA26, then isn't it just as reliant on textual studies as other modern translations that do the same?

    • david tee profile imageAUTHOR

      David Thiessen 

      5 months ago from Philippines

      One of the reasons is that there has been the least human interference in those versions. modern gender issues were not influencing their translations. Also, there was less science involved in the making of those versions than there is today and less personal subjectivism.

      I have also observed a different attitude behind their construction which makes them better versions to read.

    • Peopleofthebook profile image

      B A Johnson 

      5 months ago

      While I fully agree God has preserved His word for us, I'm curious why you identified the King James, NASB, and old NIV versions as uniquely true to the original. If these were produced by the same methods of studying texts/manuscripts and making judgments as to what variations were likely original and what weren't, wouldn't your critique of scholars apply to them as well?

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