2 Tim. 3:16
While the Bible is generally accepted by Christian people as of Divine authority, comparatively few are able to clearly state just why they so esteem it. The internal evidence of its truthfulness, and its grandeur of doctrine, are the principal evidences on which its testimony is, and should be, generally received; and truly these are strong and convincing of its Divine authorship and authority; yet the man of God who would be thoroughly furnished with the Truth, and armed against every attack of skepticism, should endeavor to know all he can of the time, manner, circumstances, etc., under which it was written; whether it has been preserved free from corruption; and whether in its present condition it is worthy of full confidence. Let us, therefore, briefly consider what testimony we have to the credibility of the Sacred Writings.
From numerous expressions, references and quotations in the New Testament by our Lord and the apostles it is evident that a certain body of writings was at that time considered to be of Divine authority. The Sacred Scriptures then in existence are now characterized as the Old Testament Scriptures (the Scriptures of the Old or Law Covenant), while that which was added by our Lord and the apostles is termed the New Testament (the New Covenant) Scriptures.
No other book which the world has ever known has such a history as the Bible. Its origin and authorship, its antiquity, its wonderful preservation in the midst of the unparalleled and continuous opposition which sought to destroy it, as well as its diversity and teaching, make the Bible the most wonderful book in existence.
It is a collection composed of sixty‑six separate books, written by about forty different writers, living centuries apart, speaking different languages, subjects of different governments, and brought up under different civilizations. Over 1500 years elapsed between the writings of Moses and of John.
As no other reliable history dates so far back as the Bible, we are obliged to look mainly to its own internal evidence, as to its origin, authorship, and the reason for its existence, and indeed for its credibility in every respect; and further, we should look for such corroboration of its statements as reason, its own harmony with itself, and with other known facts, and subsequent developments furnish. And indeed this is the evidence of reliability on which all history must rest. To such evidence we are indebted for all our knowledge of past events and of all present events as well, except such as come under our own immediate observation. He who would cast away Bible history as unworthy of credence, must on the same ground reject all history; and to be entirely consistent, must believe nothing which does not come under his own personal observation.
If its statements thoroughly understood, are contradictory, or are colored by prejudice, or are proven untrue by a positive scientific knowledge, or if subsequent developments prove its predictions untrue, and thereby show the ignorance or dishonesty of the authors of the Bible, then we may reasonably conclude that the entire book is unworthy of confidence, and should reject it. But if, on the contrary, we find that a thorough understanding of the Bible, according to its own rules of interpretation, shows its statements to be in harmony with each other; if it bears no evidence of prejudicial coloring; if many of its prophecies have actually come true, and others admit of future fulfillment; if the integrity of its writers is manifested by unvarnished records, then we have reason to believe the book. Its entire testimony, historic, prophetic, and doctrinal, stands or falls together. Science is yet in its infancy, yet in so far as positive scientific knowledge has been obtained, it should and does corroborate the Bible testimony.
Those who will make a study of the Bible plan will be fully convinced of the conclusive evidence of the credibility of the Sacred Scriptures, which is furnished in the purity, harmony and grandeur of its teachings. Outside of the Scriptures we have nowhere to look for an account of the circumstances and motives of the earliest writers :but they furnish these items of information themselves, and their integrity and evident truthfulness in other matters is a guarantee in these.
Our first definite information with reference to the Sacred Writings is afforded by the direction given to Moses to write the law and history in a book, and put it in the side of the Ark for preservation. (See Exod. 17:14; 34:27; Deut. 31:9-26.) This book was left for the guidance of the people. Additions were made to it from time to time by subsequent writers, and in the days of the kings, scribes appear to have been appointed whose business it was to keep a careful record of the important events occurring in Jewish history, which records – Samuel, Kings, Chronicles – were preserved and subsequently incorporated with the Law. The prophets also did not confine themselves to oral teachings, but wrote and in some cases had scribes to record their teachings. (See Josh. 1:8; 24:26, 1 Sam. 10:25; 1 Chr. 27:32; 29:29, 30; 2 Chr. 33:18, 19; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 36:2; 45:1; 51:60.) As a result we have the Old Testament Scriptures, composed of history, prophecy and law, written by Divine direction, as these citations and also Paul’s testimony (2 Tim. 3:15, 16) prove. These writings collectively were termed “The Law and The Prophets,” and the Hebrews were taught of God to esteem them of Divine authority and authorship, the writers being merely the agents through whom they received them. They were so taught to esteem them by the miraculous dealings of God with them as a people, in confirmation of His words to them through the prophets, thus endorsing them as His agents (See Exod. 14:30, 31; 19:9; 1 Kings 18:21, 27, 30, 36, 39.); and further by the establishment and enforcement of the Mosaic law.
The political interests and the religious veneration of the Israelites, under God’s immediate overruling and protection, combined to preserve and protect these writings from contamination. Religiously, they were rightfully regarded with the deepest veneration, while politically they were the only guarantee which the people possessed against despotism. The Jewish copyists regarded these documents with great veneration. A very slight error in copying often led them to destroy it and begin anew. Josephus says that through all the Ages that had passed none had ventured to add to, take away from, or transpose ought of the Sacred Writings.
In the degeneracy of the Jewish nation, under the idolatrous administration of the successors of Rehoboam these Sacred Writings fell into disuse and were almost forgotten, though they seem never to have been taken from their place. In the reformation conducted by Josiah they were again brought to light. Again, in the Babylonish captivity this book was lost sight of by the Israelites, though it appears that they were accustomed to meet together in little companies in Babylon to be instructed by the scribes, who either taught the Law from memory or from copies in their possession. On the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem, the Scriptures were again brought out, and Ezra and his companions read the law to the people, commenting upon and explaining it. (Neh. 8:1‑8) This public reading of the Scriptures was the only means of keeping them before the people, as printing was yet unknown and the cost of a manuscript copy was beyond the reach of the people, very few of whom could read. At the time of our Lord’s First Advent, these Old Testament Scriptures existed substantially as we have them today, as to matter and arrangement.
One of the strongest evidences of the authenticity of the Old Testament Scriptures is found in the fact that the law and the prophets were continually referred to by our Lord and the apostles as authority, and that while the Lord denounced the corruption of the Jewish Church, and their traditions, by which they made void the Word of God, he did not even intimate any corruption in these Sacred Writings, but commends them, and refers to and quotes them in proof of His claims.
In fact, the various parts of the entire book are bound together by the mutual endorsement of the various writers, so that to reject one is to mar the completeness of the whole. Each book bears its own witness and stands on its own evidence of credibility, and yet each book is linked with all the rest, both by their common spirit and harmony and by their mutual endorsement. Mark, for instance, the endorsement of the account of creation in the commandment of the law concerning the Sabbath Day. (Exod. 20:11) Also compare Deut. 23:4, 5; Joshua 24:9; Micah 6:5; 2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11‑13; Isa. 28:21; Hab. 3:11; Matt. 12:40)
THE NEW TESTAMENT
The earliest copy of the New Testament known is written in the Syriac language. Its date is estimated to be about the year AD 100. And even at that early date it contained the same books as at present with the exception of the Second Epistle of Peter, the Third Epistle of John, Jude and the Book of Revelation. And these omitted books we know were written about the close of the first century, and probably had not been widely circulated among the Christian congregations at that time. All the books of the Old and New Testaments as we now have them appear, however, in the Greek, in the Sinaitic Manuscript, the oldest known Greek MS., whose date is about AD 350.
The first five books of the New Testament are historical, and present a clear and connected account of the life, character, circumstances, teachings and doings of Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures, and who fully substantiated His claim. The four accounts of the Evangelists, though they differ in phraseology, are in harmony in their statements, some important items being recorded by each which seem to have been overlooked by the others. These Evangelists testified to that of which they had positive knowledge. The Apostle John says: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you – “that which was from the beginning [the beginning of the Lord’s ministry], which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness.” (1 John 1:1‑3) They testify also that they saw Christ after His resurrection. The fifth book presents a valuable account of the doings of the Apostles after their anointing with the Holy Spirit, of the establishment of the Christian Church and of the first preaching of the good news to the Gentiles.
The Apostolic Epistles were written to the various local congregations or churches, and were directed to be publicly read and to be exchanged among the churches; and the same authority was claimed for them by their writers as that which was accorded to the Old Testament Scriptures. (1 Thes. 5:27; Col. 4:16; 2 Pet. 3:2, 15, 16; Heb. 1:1, 2 and 2:1‑4) These letters and the five historical books were carefully preserved and were appealed to as authority in matters of doctrine.
The letters of the apostles, claiming as they did, Divine authority equal to that of the Old Testament Scriptures, were treasured and guarded with special care by the various congregations of the early church. The New Testament was completed by the Book of The Revelation, about the close of the first century AD after which, these epistles, etc., began to be collected for more permanent preservation.
The original copies of both the Old and New Testaments have, of course, long since disappeared, and the oldest manuscript (the Sinaitic) is reckoned to have been written about three centuries after the death of Christ. Those of earlier date were either destroyed in the persecutions under which the Church suffered, or were worn out by use. These oldest manuscripts are preserved with great care in the Museums and Libraries of Europe. During the Middle Ages, when ignorance and corruption prevailed and the Bible was hidden in monasteries away from the people, God was still carrying on His work, preserving the Scriptures from destruction even in the midst of Satan’s stronghold, the apostate Church of Rome. A favorite occupation of the monks during the Middle Ages was the copying of the manuscripts of the New Testament, which were esteemed as relics more than as God’s living authoritative Word – just as you will find in the parlor of very many worldly people handsome Bibles, which are seldom opened. Of these manuscripts there are said to be now more than two thousand, of various dates from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. The quiet seclusion of those monks gave them special opportunities for careful copying, and years were sometimes spent in the copying of a single manuscript.
RELIABILITY OF PRESENT TRANSLATIONS
The idea exists in some minds that during the lapse of centuries the Scriptures have become largely corrupted, and therefore a very uncertain foundation for faith. They reason that this is surely to be expected of a book which has survived many centuries, and which has been claimed as Divine authority by so many different factions, and which can be read by the majority only from translations made by somewhat biased translators. And the late revisions of the book are supposed to be an acknowledgment of the supposed fact.
Those, however, who are acquainted with the manner in which the ancient manuscripts of the Scriptures have been preserved for centuries, carefully copied, diligently compared and translated by pious and learned linguists, whose work was thereafter subjected to the most learned and scrutinizing criticism of an age in which scholars are by no means few, are prepared to see that such an idea is by no means a correct or reasonable one, though to the uninformed it may appear so.
It is a fact that the Scriptures, as we find them today, bear internal evidence of their original purity; and ample means, both internal and external, are now furnished so that the careful student may detect any error which might have crept in either by fraud or accident. While there are some errors in translation and a few interpolations in our common English translation, on the whole it is acknowledged by scholars to be a remarkably good transcript of the Sacred Word.
Before the invention of printing, the copying of the Scriptures, being very slow and tedious, involved considerable liability to error in transcribing, such as the accidental omission of a word or paragraph, the substitution of one word for another, or the misunderstanding of a word where the copyist wrote from the dictation of another person. And again, sometimes a marginal note might be mistaken for a part of the text and copied in as such. But while a very few errors have crept in, in such ways, and a few others seem to have been designedly inserted, various circumstances have been at work, both to preserve the integrity of the Sacred Writings, and also to make manifest any errors which have crept into them.
Very early in the Christian Era translations of the New Testament Scriptures were made into several languages, and the different factions that early developed and continued to exist, though they might have been desirous of adding to or taking from the original text in order to give their claims a show of Scriptural support, were watched by each other to see that they did not do so, and had they succeeded in corrupting the text in one language, another translation would make it manifest.
Even the Douay translation, in use in the Romish church, is in most respects substantially the same as the King James translation. The fact that during the “Dark Ages” the Scriptures were practically cast aside being supplanted by the decrees of popes and councils, so that its teachings had no influence upon the masses of the people who did not have copies in their possession – nor could they have read them if they had them – doubtless made unnecessary the serious alteration of the text, at a time when bold, bad men had abundant power to do so. For men who would plot treason, incite to wars and commit murders for the advancement of the papal hierarchy, as we know was done, would have been bold enough for anything. Thus the depth of ignorance in the Dark Ages served to protect and keep pure God’s Word, so that its clear light has shone specially at the two ends of the Gospel Age. (1 Cor. 10:11) The few interpolations which were dared, in support of the false claims of Papacy, were made just as the gloom of the “Dark Ages” was closing in upon mankind, and are now made glaringly manifest, from their lack of harmony with the context, their antagonism with other scriptures and from their absence in the oldest and most complete and reliable manuscripts.
RELATIVE VALUES OF ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS
As to the relative values of ancient manuscripts, we quote the following comments from the pen of that eminent German scholar, Constantine Tischendorf, who spent many years of his life in diligently searching out and comparing the various ancient manuscripts and translations of the Scriptures in many languages, and who has furnished to the Church the results of his investigation in a careful exhibit of the various departures of the English Authorized Version of the New Testament from the three oldest and most important MSS.
Mr. Tischendorf says: “As early as the reign of Elizabeth the English nation possessed an authorized translation, executed by the Bishops under the guidance of Archbishop Parker; and this, half a century later, in the year 1611, was revised at the command of James the First by a body of learned divines, and became the present ‘Authorized Version.’ Founded as it was on the Greek text at that time accepted by Protestant theologians, and translated with scholarship and conscientious care, this version of the New Testament has deservedly become an object of great reverence, and a truly national treasure to the English Church. The German Church alone possesses in Luther’s New Testament a treasure of similar value.
“The Authorized Version, like Luther’s, was made from a Greek text which Erasmus in 1516, and Robert Stephens in 1550, had formed from manuscripts of later date than the tenth century. Whether those manuscripts were thoroughly trustworthy – in other words, whether they exhibited the Apostolic original as perfectly as possible – has long been a matter of diligent and learned investigation. Since the sixteenth century Greek manuscripts have been discovered of far greater antiquity than those of Erasmus and Stephens; as well as others in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Gothic, into which languages the sacred text was translated between the second and fourth centuries; while in the works of the Fathers, from the second century downwards, many quotations from the New Testament have been found and compared... One thing is agreed upon by the majority of those who understand the subject, namely, that the oldest copies approach the original text more nearly than the later ones.
“Providence has ordained for the New Testament more sources of the greatest antiquity than are possessed by all the old Greek literature put together. And of these, two manuscripts have for long been especially esteemed by Christian scholars, since, in addition to their great antiquity, they contain very nearly the whole of both the Old and New Testaments. Of these two, one is deposited in the Vatican, and the other in the British Museum. Within the last ten years a third has been added to the number, which was found at Mount Sinai, and is now at St. Petersburg. These three manuscripts undoubtedly stand at the head of all the ancient copies of the New Testament, and it is by their standard that both the early editions of the Greek text and the modern versions are to be compared and corrected.
“The effect of comparing the common English text with the most ancient authorities will be as often to disclose agreement as disagreement. True, the three great manuscripts alluded to differ from each other both in age and authority, and no one of them can be said to stand so high that its sole verdict is sufficient to silence all contradiction. But to treat such ancient authorities with neglect would be either unwarrantable arrogance or culpable negligence; and it would be indeed a misunderstanding of the dealings of Providence, if after these documents had been preserved through all the dangers of fourteen or fifteen centuries, and delivered safe into our hands, we were not to receive them with thankfulness as the most valuable instruments for the elucidation of Truth.
“It may be urged that our undertaking is opposed to true reverence; and that by thus exposing the inaccuracies of the English version, we shall bring discredit upon a work which has been for centuries the object of love and veneration both in public and private. But those who would stigmatize the process of scientific criticism and test, which we propose, as irreverent, are greatly mistaken. To us the most reverential course appears to be, to accept nothing as the Word of God which is not proved to be so by the evidence of the oldest, and therefore most certain, witnesses that He has put into our hands. With this in view, and with this intention, the writer has occupied himself for thirty years past, in searching not only the Libraries of Europe, but the obscurest convents of the East, both in Africa and Asia, for the most ancient manuscript of the Bible; and has done all in his power to collect the most important of such documents, to arrange them and to publish them for the benefit both of the present age and of posterity, so as to settle the original text of the sacred writers on the basis of the most careful investigation.
“The first of these great manuscripts already referred to which came into possession of Europe was the Vatican Codex. Whence it was acquired by the Vatican Library is not known; but it appears in the first catalogue of that collection, which dates from the year 1475. The manuscript embraces both the Old and New Testaments. Of the latter it contains the four Gospels, the Acts, the seven Catholic Epistles, nine of the Pauline Epistles, and the Epistle to the Hebrews as far as ix. 14, from which verse to the end of the New Testament it is deficient; so that not only the last chapters of Hebrews, but the Epistle to Timothy, Titus and Philemon as well as the Revelation, are missing. The peculiarities of the writing, the arrangement of the manuscript, and the character of the text – especially certain very remarkable readings – all combine to place the execution of the Codex in the fourth century.
“The Alexandrine Codex was presented to King Charles the First in 1628 by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, who had himself brought it from Alexandria, of which place he was formerly Patriarch, and whence it derives its name. It contains both the Old and New Testaments. Of the New the following passages are wanting: Matt. 1:1 to 25:6; John 6:50 to 8:52; 2 Cor. 4:13 to 12:6... It would appear to have been written about the middle of the fifth century.
“The Sinaitic Codex I was myself so happy as to discover in 1844 and 1859, at the Convent of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, in the later of which years I brought it to Russia to the Emperor Alexander the Second, at whose instance my second journey to the East was undertaken. It contains both Old and New Testaments – the latter perfect without the loss of a single leaf... All the considerations which tend to fix the date of manuscripts lead to the conclusion that the Sinaitic Codex belongs to the middle of the fourth century. Indeed, the evidence is clearer in this case than in that of the Vatican Codex; and it is not improbable (which cannot be the case with the Vatican MS.) that it is one of the fifty copies of which the Emperor Constantine in the year 331 directed to be made for Byzantium, under the care of Eusebius of Caesarea. In this case it is a natural inference that it was sent from Byzantium to the monks of St. Catherine by the Emperor Justinian, the founder of the convent. The entire Codex was published by its discoverer, under the orders of the Emperor of Russia, in 1862, with the most scrupulous exactness, and in a truly magnificent shape, and the New Testament portion was issued in a portable form in 1863 and 1865.
“These considerations seem to show that the first place among the three great manuscripts, both for age and extent, is held by the Sinaitic Codex, the second by the Vatican, and the third by the Alexandrine. And this order is completely confirmed by the text they exhibit, which is not merely that which was accepted in the East at the time they were copied; but, having been written by Alexandrine copyists who knew but little of Greek, and therefore had no temptation to make alterations, they remain in a high degree faithful to the text which was accepted through a large portion of Christendom in the third and second centuries. The proof of this is their agreement with the most ancient translations – namely, the so‑called Italic, made in the second century in proconsul Africa; the Syriac Gospels of the same date, now transferred from the convents of the Nitrian desert to the British Museum; and the Coptic version of the third century. It is confirmed also by their agreement with the oldest of the Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement and Origen.
“These remarks apply to the Sinaitic Codex – which is remarkably close in its agreement to the ‘Italic’ version – more than they do to the Vatican MS., and still more so than the Alexandrine, which, however, is of far more value in the Acts, Epistles and Apocalypse than it is in the Gospels.
“No single work of ancient Greek classical literature can command three such original witnesses as the Sinaitic, Vatican and Alexandrine Manuscripts, to the integrity and accuracy of its text. That they are available in the case of a book which is at once the most sacred and the most important in the world is matter for the deepest thankfulness to God.”
To be continued in No. 467B, August 1995.