|1 Comments on Biology and the Bible||K Straughen||
|2 Transmission of Scripture||Anonymous||
|3 Comments on The Transmission of Scripture||K Straughen||
|4 Transmission Reliable||Anonymous||
|5 The Transmission of Scriptures – A Final Reply||K Straughen||
|6 Response to Transmission Reliable||D Nicholls||
|7 Reply to Straughen's "Final Reply"||Anonymous||
|8 Addendum – Transmission of Scripture||K Straughen||102|
|9 Reply to Nicholls||Anonymous||101|
|10 "Transmission" Debate Finished||Editor||102|
Comments on Biology and the Bible
(Investigator 96, 2004 May)
I am responding to Anonymous' article in No. 95, page 48: In my opinion the accuracy of certain parts of the Bible appears to hinge on uncertain interpretations.
From conversations with Christians I have formed the impression that many believers consider the Holy Spirit as playing an active role in the production and interpretation of Scripture. This assumption would make sense if the Bible, as some Christians claim, is the most important book ever written – God could not afford errors in translation or other misunderstandings and unauthorised additions to creep in and adulterate allegedly sacred manuscripts.
Consequently, when Anonymous suggests the Hebrew word in Leviticus 11:13-19 be translated as "flying creatures" rather than fowls and so on, we are entitled to ask why the Holy Spirit did not guide the translators in their deliberations so they arrived at this conclusion, and thereby eliminate the appearance of error?
Similar questions arise with the fabulous beasts, such as unicorns, mentioned in the King James Version, and the alleged forgery – Mark 16:9-20 (appearing as a footnote in the Revised Standard Version) – if the translation is wrong or parts of the Bible a forgery, then why did God permit its word to fall into error? (The King James Version is still used by many Christians.)
Finally, Anonymous says: "When investigating the accuracy of the Bible were concerned with the accuracy of the original, not the forged additions." (page 53).
The truth of the matter is that we don't have access to the originals. Many of the most ancient copies are based on other texts and oral traditions that have been lost, perhaps forever, so in some cases it may not be possible to know which parts of Scripture are original and which are later additions:
"We cannot really know whether the men and women who authored and edited the Bible were individuals working alone or members of a "school" or "tradition." Indeed, biblical scholarship has detected layer upon layer of additions and deletions, revisions and redactions, and so it is likely that the biblical text was worked and reworked by countless hands over the centuries." (J. Kirsch: page 321 in The Harlot by the Side of the Road, Rider, UK, 1997.)
Examples of the lost manuscripts mentioned in the Bible are as follows:
The Book of the Wars of
the Lord – mentioned
in Num. 21:14
The Book of Jashar – mentioned in Joshua 10: 13
The Chronicles of Nathan – mentioned in I Chr. 29:29
The Chronicles of Gad – mentioned in I Chr. 29:29
The Acts of Solomon – mentioned in I Kings 11:41
Moreover, the authors of Scripture are long dead, and therefore can't be questioned – what they meant and what we think they meant when they used certain words may be two entirely different things.
The only thing I think we
can be reasonably
sure of is that fallible humans wrote Scripture in a prescientific age,
and that some errors in the Bible are due to the limited and inaccurate
knowledge of the times.
TRANSMISSION OF SCRIPTURE
(Investigator 97, 2004
PRESERVATION OF SCRIPTURE AND EVIL
Kirk Straughen speculates concerning the Bible that, "God could not afford errors in translation and other misunderstandings and unauthorised additions…" (Investigator 96, p28)
Such an idea is not in the
Bible. Nor do
Christians teach it:
God's response to evil – as indicated in the Bible – is not to squash evil immediately but to let all sorts of evil run its course until humans learn that their concepts of right and wrong are mistaken. Meanwhile, as humans go about their harmful ethical and moral decisions – mistakenly supposing them to be right – God has programs underway to undo the consequences. An obvious example is the "good news of salvation" whereby, according to the Bible, unnumbered humans receive forgiveness and eternal life.
This general response to
human evil applies
also to the preservation of the "Word of God" when humans perform the
of altering it. The alterations reach a certain level while all the
the means and procedures exist to identify and correct them.
One procedure to preserve "Holy Scripture" is the preservation of ancient scrolls and parchments which can be checked against each other and against later copies. (Parchment was the skin of goats or sheep, i.e. leather, and was a common writing material. It was more durable than papyrus.)
The Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered 1947 to 1956) included a Hebrew scroll of Isaiah written in the 2nd Century BCE. Geisler & Nix (1968) compared the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah 53 with the Masoretic Text (the Old Testament in Hebrew) transcribed about 1,000 CE. Chapter 53 has 166 words. In 1,100 years only one word, the word "light" was added.
For much of the Old Testament the error-level in transmission is no greater than Isaiah 53.
Some critics complain of
five "lost manuscripts"
that the Bible mentions such as "The Acts of Solomon". (1 Kings 11:41)
When I quote science journals to prove particular statements in the
no one considers such science journals to be mine, or part of my
work, with an obligation on me to preserve them. Similarly, being
or referred to in the Bible does not make a document part of the
with an obligation on Jews or Christians to preserve it.
NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICS
As regards the New Testament we have about 5,400 ancient Greek manuscripts, pages thereof, or scraps thereof. Between all of them there are thousands of variations in words (omitted or included or spelling changed) and also instances of whole verses included or omitted.
Enter the textual critics. Textual critics are fellows who compare(d) the ancient manuscripts to work out what was in the original i.e. in the "autographs" or first version by the original writers.
The major 19th century textual critics included Griesbach (1745-1812), Lachman (1793-1851), Tischendorf (1815-1874), Wordsworth (1807-1885), Westcott (1825-1901), Hort (1828-1892).
These researchers used different criteria in determining the original wording of the Scriptures. Lachman, for example, relied principally on the oldest manuscripts. Another method relied principally on what the majority of manuscripts contained.
The New Dictionary of
The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament has a section titled A Concordance of Various Readings. Here the layman can easily check "Various readings" for each New Testament Greek verse. He can, for each word, check the evidence whether it occurred in the original Scriptures.
It's been estimated that
of the New Testament wording – i.e. what was in the original Greek – is
still seriously disputed. Since manuscript discoveries have not stopped
the situation can only get better.
RELEVANCE TO BIBLE UNDERSTANDING
The bits of the Bible where the original wording is still in doubt assume importance only in fine points of doctrine.
When I research the
accuracy of the Bible,
by checking its statements against scientific discovery, every English
Bible translation is adequate most of the time. If they are adequate
that, they are also adequate for understanding God, salvation,
of right and wrong, Bible themes, and virtually everything else in the
Bible that most people ponder about.
The oldest known surviving
copies of many
ancient authors were transcribed over 1000 years after the originals.
|Herodotus 485-425 BCE||c.900 CE|
|Sophocles 496-405 BCE||c.1100 CE|
|Thucydides 460-400 BCE||c.900 CE|
|Demosthenes 383-322 BCE||c.1000 CE|
|Aristotle 382-322 BCE||c.1100 CE|
|Julius Caesar 100-44 BCE||c.900 CE|
|Tacitus 55-120 CE||c.1100 CE|
|Pliny 62-113 CE||c.850 CE|
|Seutonius 75-160 CE||c.900 CE|
Sophocles: "He wrote well over 100 items…of which only the Ichneutae survives, as well as seven major plays…" (Magnussen 1990)
Tacitus: "of probably 18 books only eight have come down to us entire, four are fragmentary, and the others lost." (Magnussen 1990)
The oldest surviving
manuscripts of the Bible,
or fragments of manuscripts, are from 120s CE for the New Testament and
about 150 BCE for the Old Testament. (See Investigator 77,
The originals, the autographs, of "Holy Scripture" are not necessarily gone forever.
The Old Testament repeatedly mentions the "Book of the Law" a definite book preserved and added to by various prophets and from which copies were made. (Exodus 17:14; 34:27; Deuteronomy 17:18; 31:9-11, 19, 22, 24; Joshua 1:8; 8:30-35; 23:6; 24:26; 1 Samuel 10:25; etc)
In the New Testament Paul wrote to Titus, "When you come, bring…also the books, and above all the parchments." (4:13)
Great importance was
attached to the originals
transcribed copies. We don't know what became of them. It's possible,
they are hidden and await future discovery.
Some ancient copyists of Scripture made errors accidentally. Some made changes deliberately. Never, however, were significant parts of the message rendered unclear. There were always surviving works of other copyists from which comparisons could be made and most changes identified. Nor has the existence of "various readings" significantly hindered investigation into the accuracy of the Bible.
Comparison of the Bible
with other popular
ancient books shows a degree of preservation often considered
We have reason to agree with Isaiah who wrote:
The grass withers, the
But the word of our God will stand forever. (40:8)
Ferguson, S B et al
(Editors) 1988 New Dictionary
of Theology, Inter-Varsity, England, p 93
Geissler, N L & Nix, W E 1968 A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody, USA
Kerr, W F 1981 Kerr's Handbook of the Bible, Ronald N Haynes Publishers, California
Magnusson, M (General editor) 1990 Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Chambers, England
Wigram, G V Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament, Ninth Edition, Samuel Bagsters & Sons, London
"Transmission of Scripture"
(Investigator 98, 2004
I am unable to agree with Anonymous' Transmission of Scripture (# 97, p. 42). He quotes Kerr (page 42) who, in part says, "the [Biblical] text is essentially today what it was when originally written." However, how do we know this is true when we don't have access to the originals? Although we certainly do have very early documents they are, as his quotation from the New Dictionary of Theology (page 44) admits, only "surviving copies."
Who has seen the original autographs? Have you seen them, have Biblical scholars seen them, has Anonymous seen them? Some copyists may have had a theological axe to grind and altered scripture from the lost originals in critical places. We need the original manuscripts to make sure this hasn't happened.
Take Genesis for example – most scholars agree it contains two different creation myths that have been joined together. How much was added or deleted in the process? Perhaps these two myths were themselves compiled from even earlier texts that have been lost. Without being able to peruse the original documents I can't see how anyone can be sure.
According to the apologist
(quoted by McKinsey), there are about 5000 ancient New Testament
with over 200,000 variants. How can scholars know which one of
variants is the original, let alone reconstruct the original gospel in
its entirety from them? Consider the following example:
How do we decide which version is correct? Because the gospels of Matthew and Luke agree with that of John should we decide on the basis of a majority? Alternatively, the gospel of Mark is usually considered the oldest, so should we decide that it is closer to the original and therefore more accurate? But to do so is to assume that our version of Mark was based on the original document or at least on an accurate copy, and this may not be so. Indeed, the authors of the other gospels may have had access to more accurate texts than were available to the author of Mark. If this is the case then they may be right and Mark wrong.
Concerning the lost texts – Anonymous says "being quoted or referred to in the Bible does not make a document part of the Scriptures..." Some Christians may argue that if a particular text has not been included in the Bible it's not the Word of God, and we can know this because it's not in the Bible. This, however, is merely circular reasoning. Indeed, if we don't have the text then it's impossible to assess its worth, so how can we know?
Apologists often claim that differences between ancient Biblical texts do not seriously affect basic Christian beliefs.
2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all scripture is inspired by God." This statement is clearly false in view of the many errors the Bible contains, for how can God inspire an error?
Considering all of the
above, I find it exceedingly
strange that although God supposedly made sure the originals were
(and where is the evidence for this apart from someone's say so?), He,
She or It took no further interest in the accurate transmission of the
texts knowing they would be copied by fallible men.
Fox, Robin Lane: The
Penguin Books, London, 1992
McKinsey, C. Dennis The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, Prometheus Books, New York, 1995.
(Investigator 99, 2004 November)
I previously explained the work of "textual critics" who compare thousands of old manuscripts to restore the original Bible text. (Investigator 97)
Kirk Straughen (#98) ignored the explanation and insists we can't be sure of the original text unless we actually inspect the original.
By rejecting the work of "textual critics" Straughen rejects a scientific discipline that's been operating and refined for centuries. He has acted like believers in the paranormal who reject science in order to maintain their belief – like believers in levitation, for example, who have to ignore the science of physics.
When I investigate the Bible I test the accuracy of Bible statements by comparing them with scientific discovery. I've done this in many scientific disciplines such as astronomy and zoology. To test the accuracy of the transmission of the Bible – an important question since the Bible says "the word of our God is forever" – I likewise went to the relevant scientific discipline, in this case "textual criticism". This confirmed that the modern text is over 99% reliable.
We don't need the autographs (the first finished effort by an author) to be sure of the content if we have many copies by different people.
To deny this in the case of the Bible – where we have thousands of old manuscripts or parts thereof – is to cast greater doubt on all ancient authors where the number of copies are few.
I listed some other ancient writers and showed that our oldest copies of Aristotle, Caesar, Pliny, etc, were made 800 to 1300 years after the originals. If we accept Straughen's argument that we need to check the autographs before we accept anything then most written history would have to be ignored or discarded
The 200,000 variants in 5,000 old Bible manuscripts are mostly spelling variations. This huge number adds to, rather than subtracts from, the exactness with which we can reconstruct the originals.
Consider a simple analogy: An office manager hand-writes a note from which his secretaries make copies using typewriters. Under time pressure they make a few mistakes.
Employees who receive a
copy make comparisons
and find the following variants with differences shown in bold:
Joe Smith's retirement is 6pm April 12. All welcome. [10 copies] Joe Smith's party is 6pm April 21. All welcome. [4 copies] Joe Smith's returement party is 6pm April 13. All welcome.  Joe Smith's retirement party is 6pm April 12. All welcome. 
From the many copies and variants the employees know an original exists and they can estimate its wording. In this example they'd probably adopt the "d" version. Added evidence would be if each copy included the time it was typed!
If we accept Straughen's complaint that the autographs must be examined before we regard the copies as faithful, and apply this complaint consistently, then we have to reject everything in print.
We rarely use the autograph of any document. Every book in every library is not the original. The original, if it exists, is a typed manuscript in someone's drawer or safe.
Straughen's claim that the Bible has contradictions is a separate complaint, logically distinct from the question of whether modern copies reflect the autographs. So we'll discuss that another time.
The restoration of
original wording from
multiple variants is, I repeat, a scientific discipline:
(Investigator 100, 2005 January)
In his reply (#99, p. 35) Anonymous suggests that I reject the work of textual critics. This is an overstatement of my position. Those Biblical scholars who claim that Scripture varies little from the originals may be correct. I am not rejecting their conclusions, merely suggesting that this position could be over-optimistic (perhaps I should have made this clearer in my earlier articles).
That the Biblical text we have today is different from the earliest versions found (the originals?) in places is undeniable. Matthew 6:28, for example, says m part: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin." (RSV)
The 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, however, contained a variation that had been erased, and was only revealed by ultra-violet light. The scholar T. C. Skeat who analyzed the codex was able to reconstruct (in his opinion) the original text, which runs: "Consider the lilies of the field: they neither card nor spin."
Without this early text we
would not be aware
of the error in our modern Bibles. However, is this the earliest text –
the original, the first one ever written? If it is, then well and good,
but if there is an even earlier version that we do not have, can we be
certain that it, too, does not differ? Another example is as follows:
Clearly, some copyists were not hesitant about putting words into the mouth of Christ. What else may have been added during earlier periods for which we have no history? Once again I ask what I think is a reasonable question – If we don't have the original texts, how can we be absolutely certain that our copies are identical to them?
I apologize to Anonymous
if I seem to be
ignoring his explanations; it's just that I am unable to agree with his
conclusions. Whether I'm being as irrational as other believers I'll
for my readers to judge.
Fox, Robin Lane The
Penguin Books. London, 1992
Response to TRANSMISSION RELIABLE
(Investigator 100, 2005
I feel I must comment about the article 'Transmission Reliable' (Investigator #99).
Linking religious history with natural history and applying the same rules of investigation is a case of telling a big enough lie and it will be believed (by some). Even natural history can suffer from fraud, deception and bias. Australia occupying Terre nullius; the Japanese altering history books by exclusion of war atrocities; the American Declaration of Independence most likely drafted by Thomas Paine and not Jefferson; etc.
It is fraudulent to claim the history we know is a correct and actual version of the past. Some history is evidenced well some is not. Even so, many of the nuances will remain a mystery to us always. We accept that which we know as it is convenient and has no ramifications of importance in most cases.
Religion is a different kettle of fish entirely. Through repetitious and adult authorative indoctrination, mentally defenceless children are brainwashed via their culture believing their particular religion contains absolute truth. They then, because of the hardwiring of the brain and nothing else, are stuck with it for life. The disastrously negative results of this should be obvious to even the most basic thinker.
We have the evidence of 10,000 religions down through history employing mistake, fraud and opportunism as our guide. We can couple this with the human propensity to believe stuff with little evidence and it becomes very obvious it is the unwise and unwary who are willing to be fooled by such shallow 'logic'.
Most religions sprang about when surrounded by scant knowledge of the natural world and when superstition was rampant. Interestingly, the onset of scientific method initiated the destruction of mainstream religions and it is now only those attempting to return to the Dark Ages that hang grimly on by way of evolution denial.
Thousands of copies of Biblical manuscripts is about as relevant as hundreds of thousands of copies of Communion – a book recording people being allegedly abducted by aliens.
The 99% accuracy figure is fanciful. Even if it were 100%, as with Communion copies, it is meaningless. They are both made up of people telling dubious, beyond natural stories. The inclusion of historical names, places and dates are equally meaningless.
I wonder if Anonymous accepts the words of first-hand witnesses in Communion and therefore accepts these people are not experiencing a psychological aberration but were actually abducted and experimented on as they say. After all, Communion fits the criteria he has so far laid out.
The alleged authors of New Testament manuscripts are a mystery. We do not know who they were other than by their first names. We do not know with any certainty when they wrote the alleged manuscripts. Unlike many of the natural historians we know nothing about them.
The greatest damming
evidence (or lack of
it) is the non-recording of alleged miraculous events by natural
and no actual original manuscripts. One would think that if a god/man
to Earth and did wonderful things, that the recording of such events
have been revered and protected like no other. If a god wished that
humanity might benefit from its words and not allow them to collapse
a heap of ambiguity, as is extant, it would have made sure of that.
REPLY TO STRAUGHEN'S "FINAL REPLY"
(Investigator 101, 2005 March)
Mr Straughen (Investigator 100) gives two examples of ancient manuscripts where Bible verses vary in content.
Determining what the original was, if it's currently possible in Straughen's two examples, is the job of the textual critics.
Both examples are also quite innocuous. Whether lilies of the field "neither toil nor spin" or "neither card nor spin" (Matthew 6:28) is irrelevant to the surrounding message of conquering anxiety. Indeed anxiety is a major health problem affecting 20% of people and causes many emotional and physical illnesses – and Jesus shows how to control it.
Straughen also wants to be "absolutely certain" that today's Bibles are identical to copies made prior to the ancient manuscripts that are still available.
The earliest fragments of the New Testament currently known are from the 120s AD. Straughen imagines or fears that even earlier – when some of the original writers or people who knew them were still alive – changes were made that we cannot check. That the original writers and their immediate successors were less concerned with accurate copying than later generations is implausible and is what I just called it – imagination.
Perhaps Straughen should
list the verses
he thinks were tampered with prior to the 120s AD and then future
discoveries may prove him right or wrong. We can also reason
recognise that 18th and 19th century skeptical
of high levels of tampering in the previous 15 centuries are refuted
generalize this result further back to the 1st century AD.
ADDENDUM–TRANSMISSION OF SCRIPTURE
(Investigator 102, 2005
I have found some interesting articles on the Internet that deal with the above subject, whose titles and URLs appear below:
The Textual Reliability
of the New Testament
How we got the New
of its Canonization
The Real Bible: Who's
I have presented this
information for persons
who may wish to pursue the subject further.
REPLY TO NICHOLLS
(Investigator 101, 2005 March)
David Nicholls claims, "mentally defenceless children are brainwashed [into] believing their particular religion".
Firstly, the Bible says the "whole world" is deceived, not just the religious world. We see the truth of this in thousands of conflicting religions, superstitions, self-damaging decisions, political disagreements and in defunct anti-biblical ideologies like racism, eugenics, Nazism and Communism.
Secondly Nicholls has a
model of humans as
being "brainwashed" in childhood and therefore unable to change. This
refuted every time any adult converts to a religion or to atheism or
Numerous helping professions such as counselling, mediation, teaching and psychotherapy presume change is possible – otherwise such professions are a scam. The biblical model too is of changeable humans. Every New Testament advice on life-style and ethics only makes sense if humans are able to change.
Next Mr Nicholls disagrees that today's Bibles reflect the content of the original documents that became the Bible. He says the "99% accuracy figure is fanciful" and compares it to Communion (a book about alien abductions).
Mr Nicholls may have misunderstood that the 99% accuracy refers to the accuracy of transmission, not to the accuracy of content.
For example, suppose I write a silly message as follows: "The witch flew David's soul to purgatory on her broomstick." I send it far and wide via the Internet and it goes into many languages. One day the message returns to me in Russian and, translated, it says: "The witch flew David's soul to purgatory on her broomstick." The transmission has been 100% accurate. But the content has little or no accuracy – the message is false.
To get the 99% accuracy of transmission for the Bible I went to the relevant science, in this case Textual Criticism, as explained in my discussion with Mr Straughen. (Investigator 97-99)
This proved that modern
Bibles reflect the
content of the original documents. It does not, however, prove that the
content is correct in what it states – except for those few Bible
that predict that the Scriptures will survive and go to all humankind.
Whether any other statements in the Bible are correct is a separate issue because, as shown by my "witch" example, it's possible for transmission to be 100% accurate when what is stated is 0% accurate.
My usual procedure is to
Bible statements by going to the relevant scientific discipline – such
as astronomy and physics to evaluate the threat from asteroids, or
science for the dangers of immorality, or Textual Criticism for the
of transmission of Scripture. If science proves a Bible statement
then critics can only reject that Bible point and be consistent about
if they reject science as well.
"TRANSMISSION” DEBATE FINISHED
The article by Anonymous, Transmission of Scripture Reply To Nicholls (#101), received a 1,800-word response from Mr Nicholls.
The response included the
This appears a fitting conclusion to the "Transmission of Scripture” debate.
Therefore although Mr Nicholl's article is published in #102 it will not be tacked onto the "Transmission” debate on Investigator's website.
It will either stand alone
or – if Anonymous
responds – be the start of a separate discussion.
Many debates – Skeptics vs Anon — on this website: