How We Got Our Bible -- Part 8: The "Scandal" of the New Testament

Review:

Last week we discussed how the first century authors used shorthand, abbreviations and notebooks -- tools we probably did not realize that they had.   Then we learned that all of the New Testament texts were written within a few years of the events, if not contemporaneously, and that all were written in a short time span of perhaps 50 years or less, and were circulated while there were plenty of eyewitnesses to refute them if what they said had not really happened, and that we have over 6000 copies or portions of the early Greek manuscripts.

We finished with a brief discussion of three renowned copies of the Greek New Testament, called

All three were written in Alexandria, Egypt. They are the earliest known texts.  They have been dated from 325 AD to 400 A.D.   Because these are the oldest copies that we have today, they have for some time been considered the most important, the most authentic.

Today's Lesson: Authenticity Revisited:

But while copies of the New Testament were being made down in Alexandria, in Egypt, the Greek copies of the various books were being circulated in Palestine and along the northeast side of the Mediterranean, in Asia Minor (Turkey) and in Greece.   The history of these eastern and northern copies rests mainly in the Eastern Church: in Constantinople, the center of the Byzantine world.

At the end of the third century A.D., Lucian of Antioch, an Eastern Bishop, compiled a Greek text set of the books which became the standard throughout the Byzantine world.   It was the one that Constantine authorized as the government’s Official Bible.

Remember that Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome in 380 A.D. to compile the Latin Bible which we call the Vulgate.  We talked a lot about it with regard to the source documents he used for the Old Testament, and we discounted it because he used the Masoretic Texts instead of the Septuagint, and I concluded that the Septuagint is the better source.

Well, for the Vulgate New Testament translation, he used the Byzantine Greek N.T. texts, not the Alexandrian texts.   From the 6th century until the 14th century, most of the New Testament texts were produced from these Eastern Greek texts, and/or the Vulgate.   But it turns out that they were significantly different from the Alexandrian texts: the Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Alexandrinus.   We will come back to the differences.

In 1525, Erasmus, a Dutch theologian and humanist, using five or six of these Eastern Greek texts compiled a volume named the Textus Receptus, which means the received texts, or the accepted texts. Although it turns out not to matter, the Textus Receptus was actually a set of several hundred of the then most accepted texts.   Looking backward, the Textus Receptus is considered to be the most accepted of the accepted texts that were printed.   I say printed because the real significance of the Textus Receptus is that it was the first time that the New Testament had been printed on a printing press.  And it was in Greek. Because it was printed, it was widely circulated, and with many copies.

The King James Bible:

It was the Textus Receptus which was the primary source document for the New Testament when in 1607 more than 50 scholars were commissioned by King James VI of Scotland, who had become King James I of England, to compile the first printed and widely circulated English language bible.   At its completion and publication in 1611, it was heralded as the “Noblest monument of English prose”.

So here we are with the King James Bible. The Old Testament is based on the Masoretic text which we say is the weaker of the source documents, And the New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus, which is not the oldest of the New Testament documents.   Remember, it was not based on the Codices from Alexandria, which predate the Vulgate, whose source document was the Textus Receptus.

So do we discount the King James New Testament also?   The starting premise is yes, we should use the oldest documents that we can, just like we did for the Septuagint over the Masoretic text.   Remember, though, that in that decision we also compared the two to documents found at Qumran, and to the Samaritan texts which supported the Septuagint and conflicted with the Masoretic texts. We said that they differed in ways that can be explained by the need to make the Old Testament more Jewish, a goal that is pretty clear in the history of the council at Jamnia and in the study of the Masoretes later in Tiberias.   So we can understand the differences, and came to the conclusion that the Septuagint is the better source document.

Enter Gnosticism:

To judge our opinion of the King James New Testament, we have to understand what was going on in Alexandria at the time of the Alexandrian Codices.   At this time, Alexandria was the center for a faction of Christianity called the Gnostics.   To understand this you have to keep in mind the spiritual battle that has been going on since Genesis Chapter 3 between Satan and God.  Remember we have discussed the fact that since the fall of Adam, Satan has been attempting to disrupt God’s plan of redemption for mankind via the Messiah.    At the time we’re talking about in Alexandria, there was a heresy that had been raised.   Even John's first Epistle was written because of the strange ideas that many of the thinkers were spreading, which was to mix Christian doctrine with Greek philosophy.   These teachers were called Gnostics.  They tried to put themselves in the position that only they knew the real truth, and they kept it a secret.   But one of the things they did was to disparage the existing writings.  They tried to mix philosophy and the teachings of Jesus.

One of their beliefs was that all matter was evil.  They had some pretty wild ideas.   If you were to study the teachings of the Gnostics, it would sound a lot like New Age today.   There is nothing new about the New Age.

Because they considered all matter as evil, God therefore in the form of Jesus could not be God in the flesh.   They believed that when Jesus walked on the sand, he did not leave footprints.  He was not really a material person, but a spiritual phantom.   Those kinds of ideas were being circulated.  That's why John's says, "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world." --I John 4:2.

He is specifically rebutting the teaching of the Gnostics.  The point is, these teachings were already getting started before John died.

One of the things that they were doing, according to the early church fathers, was mutilating the Scriptures. They would cut out of the Bible those things that were an embarrassment to them.

Irenaeus:

In 56 A.D., Irenaeus, an early Church writer, wrote a text entitled "Against Heresies", where he talks about the Gnostics and how they mutilated the Scriptures which they had shortened.

Since the headquarters for Gnosticism was in Alexandria, why should it then surprise us that in the codices that have their roots in Alexandria, portions of Scripture have been removed?   The party line which has been sold in modern academia is that since the Alexandrian codices are the oldest and therefore the most reliable, they use these Codices to show that some of these passages that show up in our Bibles were added later by well-meaning scribes.   That's the common wisdom today, and you'll find footnotes in most Bibles saying that certain phrases or verses were not in the earliest texts. The study Bibles will usually say that these verses were added later.  These footnotes are generally the result of modern scholars deciding that the Alexandrian Codices were really better, and that Jerome should have used them. Example: look at the notes that refer to Mark 16:9-20.  Most notes say that they are not in the earliest texts, leading us to believe that perhaps we should not pay attention to them.

The New Testament "Scandal":

Hold your judgment as to which came first.  It seems logical that the Alexandrian codices are older and therefore came first.   This whole issue is what I call the New Testament Scandal.

These Alexandrian documents have been a primary influence on many of the modern translations of the New Testament -- the New American Standard, the NIV and others.    Today there are serious scholastic questions being raised about the validity of depending on the Alexandrian texts, and therefore questions about the validity upon which most of the modern translations are built.

There were two guys by the name of Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, who were Anglican churchmen who had contempt for the Textus Receptus.  They began work in 1853 which in 1880 resulted in a Greek New Testament based on what are now believed to be the Alexandrian codices, corrupted by the Gnostic revisions and edits.   Both of these guys were influenced by some of the early church leaders who challenged the deity of Jesus.

Origen, one of the early church fathers who lived from 182 to 251 did not believe that Jesus could be God.  He was the first to decide that Scripture should not be considered literal, that it is just symbolic -- that the Bible should be taken as an allegory.  He endorsed the Gnostic teachings.   This led to the whole a-millennial concept.

In those early Alexandrian codices, there are over 3000 conflicts in the texts of the Gospels alone, with the Textus Receptus.  Some are very small and subtle, but nevertheless they are contradictions.   Wescott and Hort changed the Greek in 8,413 different places.   To judge Westcott and Hort, it helps to know that in 1845 they founded the Hermes Club, which is a club dealing with spiritualism.  They considered the club members to be messengers of God, and guides for departed souls.   In 1851 they started a guild at Cambridge “to conduct serious and earnest inquiry into the nature of the supernatural phenomena“.   Westcott's son says that his father's faith could best be called spiritualism.   In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Wescott wrote, “no one now I suppose holds that the first three chapters of Genesis could be literal history. I could never understand how anyone reading them with open eyes could think they did.”   This is where Wescott was coming from.

Hort wrote, “the book which engaged me the most is Darwin.  It is a book one is proud to be a contemporary with and I find that his theories are unanswerable.”    He's entitled his opinion.  It was popular in those days.  The good news is that it has been discredited scientifically, even though our schools won't admit it.

Wescott did make one good statement.  He said, “how true it is that I should have been considered a heretic”.

Having that quick cursory glance at who these two really were, would you trust either one of those guys, to teach this Sunday School class?   Then why are we trusting them to pontificate on what our Bible is all about?

Alterations to Scripture:

Let's take a look at the King James, and some of the parts of it that Wescott & Hort took out, many of which are important.

Are you ready for this?  Buckle your seat belts.

One of the things that Wescott and Hort argue is that the last 12 verses of Mark don't belong there.  According to Wescott and Hort, Mark ends with 16:8.   Here is the way Mark would end: And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.  "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'" They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  The book ends with “they were afraid.”    Does that strike you as a rather strange place to end the gospel?  They left frightened.

Look at what they left out: - Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. After that, He appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. They went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.  Afterward, He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.  "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."  So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.

Look in your Bible and see if there's a footnote that indicates these 12 verses were added later.

In Refutation:

Is this an addition or not?  In 158 A.D., Irenaeus quotes these verses in his commentary on Mark.  It is really impressive how clairvoyant he was to have known what was going to be added several hundred years later.  He predicted that some scribes would add these words.

It is clear that these were in the early manuscripts.  Other second century scribes quote from some of these verses that have been left out of the texts from Alexandria.

If you realize what the Alexandrian texts actually removed, and you understand why they took them out, it is easier to understand how those modern footnotes were added.

Conclusion:

There is strong evidence that the Vulgate New Testament and the descendant Textus Receptus were the best documents, and that the Alexandrian Codices, although older than the copies of the Vulgate and Textus Receptus, had been edited to support the Gnostic teachings.

Therefore, we should depend on modern translations that are derived from the Vulgate and the Textus Receptus, and ignore the notes that really came from the Alexandrian Codices as passed to us by Wescott and Hort, whom many modern scholars follow blindly.

The latest research and scholarship is recognizing the fraud of the Wescott & Hort work, but only recently. Virtually all of the modern versions include the Textus Receptus verses, but include the footnotes which I think are erroneous.  So any word for word translation is valid for study so long as you remember to ignore the “not in earlier texts” footnotes.

Best Versions:

So remember that a couple of weeks ago I found that the best modern versions for word by word translations for the OT were

Both of these have New Testament translations from the Textus Receptus, and so they are valid for New Testament study also.

__________

Next week:

I will take you through an analysis of most of the modern translations.  We will see which are literal, word for word translations, and which are concept, thought for thought translations, and which are paraphrased versions.   We will also see which Old Testaments are from the Septuagint, and which are from the Masoretic Texts.   We will see which are best for study, and which are best for quiet time reading.