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It is written:
1 Peter 1:22-25-Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “ALL FLESH IS AS GRASS, AND ALL THE GLORY OF MAN AS THE FLOWER OF THE GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND ITS FLOWER FALLS AWAY, 25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.
I had been studying with Jim (not his real name) for quite some time about whether or not the Bible is the Word of God. I had presented many evidences to him, which he had eagerly considered and researched. His faith in the Word of God was flourishing, but he still had many objections that needed to be examined.
One of them dealt with whether or not the Bible manuscripts had been reliably preserved. After all, the original manuscripts of the Bible are long since gone, having been used so much that they quickly deteriorated in the land of Palestine. Over twenty thousand manuscript copies of the originals strengthened his faith in the preservation of the Bible; yet he had been told from some Mormons that he had met with that there were hundreds of thousands of differences between all these manuscripts and that this meant that they could not be trusted.
Jim: Mark, how can you believe that these manuscripts are a reliable witness to the original manuscripts?
Mark: Well Jim, there are many of these errors in place in the Bible manuscripts; but there are a few things you have to understand about those errors.
Jim: Like what?
Mark: First, the vast majority of these manuscript errors makes it sound like they are all just a bunch of texts that are completely different. That isn’t the case at all. For example:
“There are over five thousand manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, although only one manuscript contains a whole Testament. This number is far greater than the number of manuscripts supporting the Greek and Latin classics, some of which have a mere handful of ancient manuscripts. The Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were written very soon after the writing of the original texts. The manuscripts are from various parts of the ancient world-Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, and the West. Because so much has been said about textual variants, many people have received the impression that the New Testament is on shaky ground. Not so! Fully eighty-five percent of the text is the same in all types of manuscripts. As for the other fifteen percent, we should point out that much of the material concerns details that do not even show up in an English translation. Such things as word order, spelling, and slightly variant forms of some verbs seldom are reproduced in translation.” (Arthur L. Farstad, The New King James Version: In the Great Tradition, 105 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
Mark: Second, you have to understand Jim, where there are so many disagreements between the manuscripts, most of them are nothing more than spelling mistakes and scribal errors!
“The overwhelming majority of these four hundred thousand supposed variations stem from differences in spelling, word order, or the relationships between nouns and definite articles. In other words, a copyist simply switched a couple of letters, misheard a word, or skipped a line of text. Such variants are readily recognizable and, in most cases, utterly unnoticeable in translations!…In the end, more than 99 percent of the four hundred thousand or so differences fall into this category of variants that can’t even be seen in translations!” (Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies And The Cross, 1531-1540 (Kindle Edition); Lake Mary, Florida; FrontLine)
Jim: I don’t know Mark. I heard about one textual scholar who said that there are more mistakes in the New Testament manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament!
Mark: Yes, I have heard that also my friend. But what he probably didn’t mention is that if you were to use his reasoning, then it shows that his books themselves can’t be trusted.
Jim: Okay, what do you mean?
Mark: Well, Bart Ehrman doesn’t take into account one of the main reasons why there are so many mistakes in the manuscripts. A scribe who received a manuscript of the New Testament to copy would reproduce that mistake in the text. Let’s say that it was a misspelled word in one place, and he made twenty copies of that misspelled word. That would count as twenty “mistakes,” even though it is just one misspelled word that does not change the meaning of the text!
Jim: Okay, how does that relate to Bart Ehrman?
Mark: Let me show you. In Ehrman’s first book, there were sixteen “errors.” There were about 100, 000 copies of his book sold. That means (based on his reasoning) that there were over 1.6 million errors in his first book.
Jim: But those were only sixteen “errors” in his book!
Mark: Exactly! Would anyone say that because there were sixteen “errors” in Ehrman’s first book that got reproduced so many times, that this means we should just toss out everything else he has said on that basis alone?
Jim: No, that wouldn’t be right.
Mark: I agree! Yet that is what many people do with the Bible manuscripts.
Jim: (Quiet for a moment) Can you document this?
“Ironically, the way Ehrman counts “errors” (variants), there were 1.6 million errors in the first printing of his book. For there were 16 errors, and the book printed an alleged 100,000 copies.6 Yet Ehrman would be shocked if someone denied the credibility of his book based on this count. Similarly, no one should deny the credibility of the Bible on Ehrman’s count. Ehrman himself admits the biblical variants do not affect the central message of the Bible. He wrote, “In fact, most of the changes found in early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”. (Norman L. Geisler & William Nix, From God To Us: How We Got Our Bible, 243 (Kindle Edition); Chicago; Moody Publishers)
My conversation continued with Jim, and I was blessed to baptize him into Christ. Our studies on textual criticism have continued (as have conversations I have had with others as well). Recently, I was blessed to find this amazing testimony regarding the preservation of the Word of God:
“But we must remember that the people copying books and verses of the Bible did so with the utmost seriousness, believing these to be sacred texts, even the very Word of God. It’s true, of course, that with so much interest in these texts, not every scribe was professionally trained or thoroughly meticulous. But there’s good news here too, since we have so many thousands of manuscripts to compare, sorting out the least accurate from the most accurate. The more you dig into this, the more amazing it becomes. That’s why when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, scholars were amazed to see that among the Hebrew manuscripts found there, some of them dating back to as early as 150–100 years BC, some were identical to the text found in our Hebrew Bibles today virtually letter for letter. But this should not surprise us. After all, if you look at a Hebrew Bible today, which is based on manuscripts that are roughly one thousand years old, you’ll see a note at the end of the Torah (also known as the Pentateuch, referring to the first five books of the Bible). It lists the total number of verses in the Torah, then the middle verse, then the total number of words in the Torah, then the middle word, then the total number of letters in the Torah—yes, letters. This means that upon finishing his work of copying out the Torah, the scribe would have to go back and count every verse, every word, and every letter. (How many times do you have to count something like that before you’re sure you counted correctly?) And what happens if your total deviates by one single letter? You cannot use the manuscript. It is considered defective. Talk about a painstaking job! And what kind of numbers are we talking about? According to the Hebrew 4 Christians website, there are a total of 5,845 verses in the Hebrew text of the Torah, 79,847 words in the Torah, and 304,805 letters in the Torah. I cannot imagine even trying to count numbers like that accurately, let alone copying out a manuscript to that level of perfection. Little wonder that this same site notes, “There are over 4,000 laws a sofer (scribe) must know before he starts writing the Sefer Torah [Book of the Torah].”” (Michael L. Brown, Why So Many Christians Have Left the Faith: Responding to the Deconstructionist Movement With Unshakable, Timeless Truth, 137-138 (Kindle Edition); Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House)
Thank You Lord for Your amazing Word!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.
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