TRANSMISSION OF SCRIPTURE
 
The Bible; The Koran; The Book of Mormon

"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him.
Add thou not unto His words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." (The Bible: Proverbs 30:5-6)
 
Anonymous

(Investigator 107, 2006 March)
 
 

TRANSMISSION DEBATE RELEVANCE


A debate on whether modern Bible translations accurately reflect the ancient original documents appeared in Investigator 96 to 101.

Determining how reliable the copying and transmission of the original has been is important because:
1. The Bible implies that its text will be available forever and this claim needs to be tested. For example, Jesus said, "…not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:18)

2. Investigations into the accuracy of what the Bible says need to base their conclusions on whether the original statements, not later additions, are accurate.

3. Mormons, Muslims and Bahais explain disagreements between the Bible and their own holy books by claiming, "The Bible has been corrupted, today's Bibles differ from the original."
  We need to know, therefore, when comparing Bible statements with modern science or with other "holy books" whether or not the text of the Bible (or of the other holy books) was "corrupted".

The Book of Mormon of the Mormon religion teaches that a group of ancient Israelites sailed to America in 589 BC. (1 Nephi 18) They grew into two nations and Jesus went to America after his death and resurrection to preach to them.

The Bible in contrast teaches that Jesus "appeared once" and then stays out of sight until his "return" when "every eye will see him."

Mormons answer such disagreements by claiming modern Bibles are translated from inaccurate manuscripts. They quote their founder Joseph Smith (1805-1844) who declared, "the bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." The Book of Mormon (BOM) claims that the Bible has, "plain and precious things taken away". (I Nephi 13:28)

Similarly with Islam. The Glorious Koran has numerous allusions to the Bible and mentions many Bible characters such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Solomon, Jonah, Mary, Jesus, etc.

The Koran says that it came or originated from Allah (God) and that the "Scriptures", i.e. the Old and New Testaments, are from Allah also. And Allah is "all knowing" and truthful. Yet there are many discrepancies between the Bible and The Koran. Muslims explain this by claiming the original Scriptures were correct but re-copying led to errors.

The Bahai religion is a 19th century offshoot from Islam. It claims its founder, Baha'ullah, is the return of Christ. The Bahais claim the holy Scriptures of all major religions were inspired by one God. This position is particularly difficult because it requires not only for the Bible and The Koran to agree – when they don't – but other holy books as well!

The Bahai argument is the same as the Muslims and Mormons – the Bible Scriptures were tampered with.

The Investigator debate on the accuracy of transmission revealed that 5,400 ancient Bible manuscripts are known and have about 200,000 differences. The variations are mainly word spellings but include hundreds of variations in words, some entire verses, and large parts of several chapters.

In the Investigator debate I summarized the work of "textual critics" who compare all variations in the ancient manuscripts to work out what the original was.

It's generally concluded that:
"Textual criticism" is a scientific discipline and has established the original Greek and Hebrew text with high certainty.

Claims that the Bible text is corrupt whenever it differs to other holy books are dogma, whereas the work of textual critics is science that can be checked, redone, and falsified where false.
 

TESTING ALLEGED CORRUPTION

The Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament (9th edition 1903) includes a "Concordance of Various Readings". New Testament words and verses in which ancient manuscripts vary are listed and the conclusions by eight textual critics indicated.

People, therefore, can check for themselves the evidence on whether any particular New Testament verse is "corrupt" or not.

Evidence on whether the Old Testament was accurately transmitted is less precise. However, we have the Dead Sea Scrolls (now available in English), the Septuagint Version (the ancient translation of the Hebrew into Greek), the books of Josephus (a 1st century Jewish historian) and various other ancient versions and parchments – and all these can be compared.

Therefore, if disagreements between the Bible and other holy books are explained with "The Bible was transmitted inaccurately", we can often test this claim by consulting appropriate references.

If we find that Bible verses accused of being altered are in fact faithfully transmitted this would not prove that the verses are correct in what they state – because accuracy in transmission does not imply accuracy of content. Words may be accurately transmitted but be wrong in what they say.

For example, suppose I send a message far and wide which says "Hitler is alive and lives on Venus". One day the message returns to me in Chinese and translated it says, "Hitler is alive and lives on Venus." The transmission was accurate but the content i.e. the statement or message is false.

Investigating the truth or accuracy of the content is different to investigating the accuracy of the transmission. The content is tested by comparing its testable statements with scientific discoveries in archaeology, astronomy, geology, biology, etc. If, for example, a holy book says the stars are too numerous to count, we'd consult astronomy.
 


MORMONS

The Book of Mormon narrates that an Israelite family fled Jerusalem in 589 BC and sailed to America. The father had a number of sons including Nephi and Laman.

Nephi and Laman started two nations – Nephites and Lamanites.

The Lamanites were miraculously made black and were more primitive. The Nephites were "white … and delightsome":
And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east. (Helaman 3:8)
The BOM names about 40 cities built by Nephites!

In 385 AD the Lamamites exterminated the Nephites and became the Indians. Mormon (a Nephite) wrote the BOM on gold plates in "reformed Egyptian". (Mormon 9:32) His son Moroni completed the Book. In 1823-1827 Moroni – now an angel – visited Joseph Smith and gave him the plates. Smith translated them, producing the English BOM in 1830.

Mormons therefore believe that the Lamanites, and further back the Israelites, are the main ancestors of the American Indians.

The BOM further teaches that Jesus Christ went to America in 34 AD after his resurrection to preach to the Jewish descendants and then ascended to heaven again.

The Bible, however, teaches that Jesus came, appeared and died "once for all":
But as it is, he [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)
Consulting the "Various Readings" section in the Englishman's Greek Concordance as explained above, confirms that these Bible verses were in the original writings and are not "corrupt".

Which book then is correct? Did Jesus preach in America in 34 AD?
 

DNA EVIDENCE

Many non-Mormon researchers conclude that the BOM began as a novel by Solomon Spalding (1761-1816) a minister of the Congregational Church. Sydney Rigdon (1793-1876) an excommunicated Baptist minister obtained the manuscript, remodelled the story, and passed it to Smith who revised it further. (Cowdrey et al 1977)

Another book – which has been called a "ground plan" for the BOM – is View of the Hebrews (1825 Ethan Smith). View of the Hebrews was published in the town where Joseph Smith's cousin, who helped him produce the BOM, lived!

With no proof for the BOM's authenticity Mormons hoped the new science of DNA research would link the Indians to ancient Israelites and prove that the BOM is a translation of an ancient document.

However, the opposite happened. DNA research confirmed what anthropologists concluded long ago – Native Americans originated in East Asia over 10,000 years ago, not in Israel 2,600 years ago.

A videotape and DVD titled DNA Evidence and The Book of Mormon was produced in 2003 by Living Hope Ministries of Utah. Eight scientists including Mormon anthropologist Thomas W Murphy were interviewed. The conclusions are:
Dr Murphy concludes, "It is genetically, archaeologically, historically and linguistically impossible for American Indians as a whole to be descendants of Lamanites who came from Israel."

Molecular biologist with the CSIRO Simon G Southerton authored Losing a Lost Tribe (2005). Therein he presents the genetic data that reconstructs human migrations to America and Oceania.

Christianity Today quotes Southerton saying, "The DNA evidence backs up decades of archaeological, linguistic, cultural, and anthropological research that indicates there is no Israelite influence in the Americas before Columbus arrived."

Furthermore no remains of the about 40 American cities named in the BOM have been found. The Old Testament, in contrast, names about 900 geographical locations of which over 300 have been found and another 200 tentatively identified. (Investigator 50)

Of about 180 ancient American people named in the BOM not one has archaeological verification. However, at least 60 Old Testament people have archaeological verification. (Investigator 61)

No event in the BOM has archaeological support. No object mentioned in it has been found – no coins, armour, Egyptian writing, swords, gold plates, chariots, steel or copper, nor remains of domestic animals such as cows, oxen, asses or horses. (1 Nephi 18:25)

Furthermore, we have at least two versions of the BOM. Mormons actually use a revised version with almost 4,000 alterations! The "Reorganized Church" which split off after Joseph Smith died still uses Smith's first version of the BOM.

The BOM furthermore includes about 25,000 words from the 1611 King James Bible (KJB) – which, like other Bibles, can be checked by textual criticism.

III Nephi 11:27, 36, for example, paraphrases 1 John 5:7 of the KJB. In this case textual criticism has shown that 1 John 5:7 was added to an ancient manuscript and wrongly entered the KJB. Because textual criticism has identified the interpolation modern Bible translations omit it.

Similarly, III Nephi 12:27 quotes Matthew 5:27 including the phrase "by them of old" which does not appear in modern Bibles because textual criticism has exposed it as an interpolation.

If the BOM were ancient it would have avoided such errors. It didn't because it's a fabrication of the 1820s.
 
THE GLORIOUS KORAN

The Glorious Koran consists of about 2,600 verses in 114 Surahs (chapters). Muslims believe it was revealed from heaven via angels to Muhammad (570-632). (Surah 16:1-2, 101-102; 26:192-200)

Some of the "revelations" were written on parchment, palm leaves, bone, bark and stone and others memorized by followers.

In his disagreements with Jews and Christians, Muhammad did not offer proof. He merely declared Jews and Christians wrong and asserted that his revelations were from Allah. (Surah 2:109-121)

Within twenty years of Muhammad's death there were many versions of The Koran that differed in words, verses and number of chapters. The major ones were by:
Caliph Uthman – caliph or political leader of Islam from 644 to 656 – set up a committee to prepare an official version and ordered others destroyed. Mas'ud had known Muhammad personally and refused to comply. The official version gained ascendancy although after Uthman's death corrections were made.

Muhammed's cousin Ali became the 4th caliph. Shiites are one of the two main divisions of Muslims and believe Ali's descendants were the legitimate successors to the caliphate. However, the Umayyad succession took over in 661 and are believed legitimate by the Sunni (the other main division of Islam).

Sunni Muslims believe that The Koran is the replica of God's words on tablets in heaven – it's the exact copy of a prototype in heaven. Many Shiite Muslims, however, think The Koran originally had verses supporting Ali's succession and that these were removed.

Due to the purging under Caliph Uthman we cannot check whether The Koran today is what Muhammad "received". Textual critics of The Koran who compare ancient manuscripts to establish the original content, as occurs with the Bible, are lacking. The claims that The Koran is unchanged and identical to words in heaven are faith and assertion – not science.

Furthermore Robinson (2004) says, "There is no copy of the Quran in existence from the period of the first one and a half centuries of the existence of the Muslim communities." (p. 154)

The Koran often contradicts the Bible. A few examples are that it:
  Yet The Koran teaches that it as well as the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians were "revealed"/"confirmed"/"inspired" by Allah:
As for that which We inspire in thee of the Scripture, it is the Truth confirming that which was (revealed) before it. (Surah 35:31. Also 3:81; 9:33; 46:12)

Lo! We inspire thee as we inspired Noah and the prophets after him, as we inspired Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and as we imparted unto David the Psalms…and Allah spake directly unto Moses. (Surah 4:163-164)

And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah… (Surah 5:46. Also 5:44; 2:136)
  Thus both the Bible and The Koran are from Allah and "confirmed". How then do Muslims explain discrepancies between the two books?

Like the Mormons they claim the Bible was corrupted – the text we have today differs from the original. We see the beginning of this argument in The Koran itself, which says "they hide much" and "change words from their context" and "they forgot a part". (Surah 6:92; 5:12-14)

However, as already explained, we can test this accusation by comparing the modern Bible text with ancient manuscripts – the Dead Sea Scrolls, surviving ancient fragments of the Septuagint, and ancient copies of the New Testament. Some still-existing items are 700 years older than Muhammad's "revelations"!

In the four discrepancies with The Koran listed above the ancient manuscripts agree with modern Bibles – the text is not "corrupt". The description of Jesus as "Son of God", for example, occurs in twenty New Testament books including still-existing manuscripts written centuries before The Koran.
 


INCONSISTENT

To seek to persuade people by repeated reference to the Bible, but also declare the Bible wrong, is inconsistent. Joseph Smith in his BOM and Muhammad in The Glorious Koran both did this.

Mormons and Muslims get around this problem by alleging the Bible text was altered – implying that Muhammed and Smith only quoted uncorrupted bits. However, most alleged "corruptions" can nowadays be checked by reference to 5,400 ancient manuscripts (or remains thereof). Textual critics have done this, and the results are available.

While accusing the Bible of "corruption" despite this accusation having been answered, Muslims and Mormons forget that the same accusation thrown at their own holy book is unrefuted!

Mormons claim their BOM is "pure" and "true" (1 Nephi 14:26, 30) but 4,000 alterations, archaeology, DNA evidence, and no "golden plates" prove it impure and false. 
 


PROPHECY

The Koran says Jesus predicted a future messenger – "the Praised One". (Surah 61:6) And the name Muhammad means "the praised"! Similarly Joseph Smith's BOM foretells and even gives the name of a "choice seer" – and the name is Joseph! (2 Nephi 3)

However, these things are not in the Bible, nor in any ancient manuscript. To prove something was predicted requires a copy of the prediction published before the alleged fulfilment!

With many Bible predictions we DO HAVE ancient manuscripts written before the fulfilment. For example the prophecies that:
  The New Testament book of Jude may be the last New Testament document written. Jude 16 & 18 quote 2 Peter 2:18 & 3:3 which was written about 65 AD. And Jude 17 speaks of the Apostles in the past as if all deceased. Now consider verse 3:
I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3)
Textual criticism has shown no reason to consider this verse "corrupt" – it's a genuine part of the Scriptures. And The Koran calls the Scriptures "confirmed" and "revealed" and Joseph Smith called them the "Word of God". Now note the underlined. The underlined implies there would be no more God-inspired messengers or books!


CONCLUSIONS

A "holy book" is not proved accurate in transmission or content merely by its devotees proclaiming that it's accurate.

The book's accuracy of transmission is tested by comparing its present-day text with ancient copies. To do that we actually need ancient copies but for the BOM we have none. As for The Koran, Muslims themselves destroyed the oldest versions.

A book's accuracy of content is a different question. Content is tested by checking the book's testable statements against science, including archaeology, biology, astronomy, etc.
 


REFERENCES

Cowdrey, W L, Davis, H A & Scales D R 1977 Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? Vision House, USA
Englishman's Concordance of the New Testament 9th edition 1903, Samuel Bagster & Sons, London
Guillaume, A 1954 Islam, Penguin Books, Great Britain
Investigator Magazine No. 13 pp 66-68; No. 46 pp 10-17; No. 50 pp 14-21; No. 53 pp 19-24; No. 61 pp 44-52; Nos. 96-101
Pickthall, M M The meaning of the Glorious Koran, Mentor, USA
Robinson, S 2004 Mosques & Miracles, City Harvest, Australia
Southerton, S G 2005 Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, Signature Books
Vogel, D & Metcalfe B L (Editors) 2002 American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, Signature Books

Websites:
http://Scriptures.lds.org/bm/contents
http://signaturebooks.com/reviews/lsoing.html
www.irr.mit/bompage.html
www.irr.org/Southerton-DNA-response-to-Parr.html
 

Hundreds of articles investigating the Bible:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/