A Former Mormon's View of The Bible – Part 1

 The 8th Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints states “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God”.  Notice the caveat for the Bible of “so far as it is translated correctly”.  I remember many times as a Mormon I would tell people about this article of faith and explain to them how many “plain and precious truths” have been removed from the Bible… how the Bible has been mistranslated throughout history, does not contain the fullness of the Gospel, and cannot be trusted.  I would tell them how we need The Book Of Mormon and modern day prophecy to clear up the confusion caused by the mistranslations in the Bible.  However, when I started questioning the truthfulness of the LDS church, I began to research the history of the Bible, how we got it and how it has been transmitted to us throughout history.  I wanted to find out for myself whether or not the Mormon claim that the Bible is “mistranslated” is true. What I found out amazed me. 

Historiography is the the study of ancient documents.  It is used to determine the authenticity and validity of documents of antiquity.  One of the tests used in Historiography is called the Bibliographical test.  One principle of the Bibliographical test is to look at the number of surviving manuscripts of any document of antiquity.  Obviously, the more copies we have the easier it is to determine errors in copying and determine what the original text said.  So, the question is, how many copies do we have of the New Testament?

For the New Testament alone we currently have 24,970 surviving manuscripts!  This makes The New Testament the #1 document in all of antiquity in manuscript authority!  Despite being Number 1 in manuscript authority it’s accuracy is questioned more than any other document of antiquity.  You don’t hear many college professors questioning the reliability of Caesar’s Gallic Wars… yet we only have 10 surviving manuscripts for it!!

What is really amazing is the gap between The New Testament and the #2 document in manuscript authority, Homer’s Iliad.  There are only 643 surviving manuscripts for it!!.  The New Testament has 24,970 and # 2 HAS ONLY 643. What a gap!!  God is good!!   

In part 2 I will discuss the 2nd principle used in the Bibliographical Test and how these principles lead one to a reasoned conclusion that the New Testament we hold in our hands today is an accurate transmission of what was originally written down.

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  • TT

    I appreciate your attempts to deal with this topic, but I should correct you on a few issues.
    First, historiography is actually the study of how histories are constructed, not to “determine the authenticity and validity of documents of antiquity.” For instance, a historiographical analysis of your post would examine your version of historical events and how you tell the story. Perhaps you mean historicity, the claim to authenticity of historical events?
    Second, strictly speaking, papyrology is the study of the antiquity and authenticity of ancient manuscripts to determine their date. Of course, the authentic antiquity of a particular document says nothing about the authenticity of its content.
    Third, there is no such thing as the “bibliographic test” to determine the “authenticity and validity” of an ancient text. Obviously, Homer’s Iliad is not an accurate history, despite being #2 on your list of having the most manuscripts dating from antiquity. This “test” is simply made up since no professional historian or text critic of the Bible uses it.
    Fourth, the number of manuscripts that you mention for the New Testament are not all “ancient”. The vast majority come from the middle ages. The earliest fragments that we have do date to the 100’s, but the first complete manuscripts we have come from the 400’s. Before 400, we have very, very, little.
    Fifth, while I agree that Mormon claims to the corruption of scripture are often overstated, the opposite position which you hold that “the New Testament we hold in our hands today is an accurate transmission of what was originally written down” is just as much of an overstatement. For a simple, accessible introduction to the problem, I recommend Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus from a few years ago.

  • Bill Pratt

    TT,

    You raise some useful correctives about definitions of terms, but I respectfully disagree with your conclusion. This post is pointing out the fact that we have far more manuscript copies of the NT than any other ancient document. A manuscript is generally understood as anything hand-written before the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400’s. It is true that many of the complete manuscripts of the NT come from the 300’s and later, but that does not weaken the case. We are doing a comparative analysis and the truth is that other ancient documents pale in comparison. Relatively speaking, there is not another ancient document written in the time period of the NT that even comes close to having the number of manuscript copies as the NT. So, the textual critic must admit that the Greek NT we have today is well attested in terms of manuscript copies.

    There are certainly differences among the 24,000 manuscripts, and those differences are what allow textual critics to reconstruct the text. These differences, however, constitute only a handful of verses in the NT, such as John 7:53 – 8:11. These differences are what Ehrman likes to point out, but every Bible translation acknowledges these differences in footnotes and Bible scholars continue to try and determine the best reading. Relatively speaking, we can say that the NT has been accurately transmitted.

  • TT

    the textual critic must admit that the Greek NT we have today is well attested in terms of manuscript copies.

    Yes, this we can all agree on. The question is, what is the significance of this fact?

    These differences, however, constitute only a handful of verses in the NT

    It depends on what you mean by “differences.” In terms of major differences like the one you cite, you’re right that there are few that are that big. However, there are dozens of “significant” differences that have theological implications. In terms of minor differences, nearly every single verse in the NT has a variant.

    “every Bible translation acknowledges these differences in footnotes and Bible scholars continue to try and determine the best reading.”

    Not all of these are noted in the footnotes of modern translations. You will need to look at a copy of the Nestle Aland Greek critical edition for a relatively complete list. The debate about several texts is on going, and you will find scholars who disagree about many verses even today. By no means is there consensus.

    Much of the reason that there is as much agreement as there is is that scholars have reconstructed text “types” that explain the similarities among a number of different texts. Basically, there are two (sometimes three) strands of Bibles that tend to follow similar patterns. The broad agreement is that one of these strands is more authoritative than the others, which allows them to exclude many of the ancient manuscripts altogether. What this shows, however, is that in antiquity there were competing versions of the same Bible (the most significant differences in Luke/Acts in the Western vs. Alexandrian text types).

    Relatively speaking, we can say that the NT has been accurately transmitted.

    I guess it depends on what you mean by “relatively” and “accurately.” I think that both of these terms warrant large caveats.

  • The Bible is more than just the New Testament too!

  • Timothy Berman

    I would highly suggest that you look at Mark 16:1-8 and Mark 16:9-20.

    I say this because Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition and tells a different account of Christ’s Resurrection within the last chapter of Mark. This variant of Mark 16 is known as the “long ending” of Mark.

    This is not a false presumption and actually well known among conservative and liberal scholars, especially those familiar with lower and higher Textual criticism.

    Thus, your post here is in error in stating that what the Bible we have, specifically the New Testament, is very accurate.

    Now, I agree that the New Testament is accurate to a degree, but when you study subjects like the Long Ending of Mark, you begin to see how such major changes to the New Testament Text occurred in later manuscripts as they are compared to earlier manuscripts.

    Meaning, regarding the earlier manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, these manuscripts contain only Mark 16:1-9. These manuscripts are Codex Sinaticus, Codex Alexandria.

    Also, I would suggest that you further your study to include Bruce Metzger and his work: The New Testament – Its Transmission, corruption and restoration. He also oversaw the Greek New Testament and the Textual Variants of the Greek New Testament.

  • Bill Pratt

    TT,
    I am familiar with everything you speak of, but I don’t feel qualified to comment on the fine details of textual criticism. I have, however, read some of the people who are experts in this field and who have given summaries of the work they’ve done or seen from others in the field.

    Bruce Metzger, one of the most respected Greek scholars of the 20th century, has often been quoted saying that he believes that the Greek New Testament we have today is about 99.5% the same as what was originally written. I would call that accurate transmission.

    According to Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, “To be skeptical of the resultant text of the NT books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the NT.”

    In other words, if you deny that we have an accurate transmission (let’s assume accurate means >95%) of the original 27 books of the NT, then you effectively throw out all of ancient history. Plato should be dropped, Alexander the Great’s conquests have to be dismissed, and the military victories of Julius Caesar have to be denied.

    All of these have on the order of <1% of the manuscript copies of the NT and are separated from the original documents by many hundreds of years, sometimes more than 1,000 years. Yet, every day these books are taught in our universities as historical fact.

    With respect to Ehrman’s work, check out responses to Ehrman from Thomas Howe, Craig Blomberg, and Daniel Wallace. These can all be found in the footnotes of the Wikipedia article on Bart Ehrman.

  • Darrell

    TT,

    Thank you for your comments. I think Bill has done a great job of addressing most of your thoughts. I will simply add some of my own insights.

    You are correct in addressing the broad definition of Historiography. However, one of the specific areas of historiography is the “selection of authentic source materials and composition of these materials into a narrative subject to scholarly methods of criticism.” It is this specific area that my post is addressing.

    In addition, I think you are over reaching to state that The Bibliographical Test is “made up”. For further information regarding this test, I would recommend Josh McDowell’s recent book The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Chapter 3 deals with the historical reliability of the New Testament. He sites several scholars who address The Bibliographical Test in detail.

    All of this aside, the main point of my post remains valid. There is absolutely no comparison IN ALL OF ANTIQUITY to the New Testament. It is by far NUMBER ONE in manuscript authority. To be skeptical of the resultant text requires one to set aside every classical text of antiquity as unreliable.

    Darrell

  • Darrell

    Yellow Dart,

    This post is simply “Part 1” (see the title). I will be addressing The Old Testament in a future post. Thank you for your observation.

    Darrell

  • Bill Pratt

    Timothy,
    You claim the NT is not accurate and then ask Darrell to read Bruce Metzger. If you read one of my comments to this post, you will see that Metzger himself has written that he estimates that the Greek NT we have today is about 99.5% accurate. Other textual critics come in around the same numbers with all of them greater than 98% for the Greek NT.

    I don’t understand why you would say that the NT is inaccurate. According to Metzger, only about 40 lines (roughly 400 words) out of the 20,000 lines in the NT are in doubt, which equates to 0.2%. I guess the other 0.3% is him being conservative in his estimate.

    Whether the number is 98% or 99.8%, what number would it take for you to say that it has been accurately transmitted?

  • Darrell

    Timothy,

    Thank you for your comments. One correction to your post is that it is actually Mark 16:9-20 that is not contained in some of the earlier manuscripts. You stated Mark 16:8-20.

    There are actually many scholars that address this issue. One in particular is Gary Habermas. He is an expert on the proof for the resurrection of Christ and does not have any issues with the missing verses in some of the earlier texts. I would recommend some of his work to you.

    As far as Bruce Metzger goes, as Bill pointed out above, HE HIMSELF is quoted as saying that The New Testament has surived in “a form that is 99.5% percent pure”. (see The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel Page 65). 99.5% is pretty accurate.

    Darrell

  • Timothy Berman

    LOL, I stand corrected on my response. Thank you for that correction. Yes, the NT is accurate to an extent (as stated) however that is not to say that the NT is completely and 100% perfect and without error, because even the slightest of errors will disprove the “inerrency” position on a technical aspect.

    Yet, as a Latter-day Saint and accepting the Eighth Article of Faith does not mean that I believe the Bible to be devoid of truth.

    A perfect analogy is this:

    As a writer, I am working on a manuscript. This manuscript goes through various revisions from the main manuscript until a final and complete draft is set up. Between these revisions and final draft, there are 20 complete drafts, 10 partial drafts and 5 fragmented drafts.

    Now, let us say that the Final draft to be sent off to the publisher is lost. The Final draft is saved on my computer and the hard drive crashes and I lose all my data. The previous drafts are backed up on discs and therefore are not destroyed.

    Now, because I don’t have this original final draft, does not mean I don’t have the original complete story. What do I do? I take all the drafts that I have, the fragmented, the partials and the complete ones and I redraft the final draft from those copies that I already have in existence.

    Will I come to the complete authentic final draft of the manuscript that I had originally completed? No, but I will be within close proximity of that final draft as much as I possibly can.

    Another way of looking at this: A teacher writes a 5 page short story and gives 20 students the original copy, making 20 original copies available. The object of the assignment is the students are to read the story and then copy the story verbatim.

    Once the assignment is completed, the Teacher takes the twenty original copies and then destroys them by putting them through the shredder. This creates 20 copies of the original. He then takes the twenty copies and hands them out to the students, ensuring that each student does not receive their copied story but someone elses. He, again, instructs them to write verbatim the story.

    Again, this assignment is completed and he retains the first copies. Taking the second copies, he then removes certain pages, change the order of the pages and then hands these out to the students, requesting that they not only copy verbatim the story, but recall from memory the order of events that occured in the previous two assignments.

    Eventually, the teacher has the students produce 2000 copies from 20 copies.

    Now, he convenes all the students, hands out the 2000 copies of the story that they produced and asked them to deliberate and come up with one copy of what the original story was about, the plot, the characters, dialogue, style, premise etc.

    How close would these students come in creating one copy that is 100% of the original? They can’t.

    This is how the New Testament came about. From Copies of Copies of Copies. Not to say that because of this, the NT is not authoritative, but that because of this, certain nuances, styles, voice, meanings etc. have been done away with. Not only that, but how much influence did the prevailing doctrinal belief of the time of the canonincity of the NT and then translation of the NT from Greek to English embellish itself into the text? We may never know the exact nature, but what we do know is that the Bible holds substantial evidence of doctrinal belief and influence in regards to how certain passages were translated. After all, look at the way the Masoretic Text had changed some key old testament passages due to prevailing doctrinal beliefs. Such passages as that of Dueteronomy 32:8-9 as compared to earlier manuscripts, Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Septuagint manuscripts (LXX).

    But, yes 99.5% is still accurate, but that also means the NT is .5% in error.

  • Brad

    Thus, your post here is in error in stating that what the Bible we have, specifically the New Testament, is very accurate.

    Now, I agree that the New Testament is accurate to a degree, but when you study subjects like the Long Ending of Mark, you begin to see how such major changes to the New Testament Text occurred in later manuscripts as they are compared to earlier manuscripts.

    Tim, what else, besides Mark 16:9-20 and the various theories that come with it, do you have to corroborate your inherent claim that the Bible, specifically the NT, is not very accurate? You state that Darrell’s post is in error when it says that our Bible, specifically the NT, is very accurate, so inherently you are implying that it is not.

    Yes, all of us on here know the Mark 16:9-20 and the fact that it is a variant text – and? How does that change the overall story of the Bible, or even the NT, at all? It doesn’t. The source you refer us to, Metzger, speaks of 99.5% accuracy, so the 12 verses you mention in Mark, when taken in relation to the Bible as a whole, or even just the NT, are a minute percentage.

    I would venture to say that we’re all willing to discuss it, Tim, but there has to be more, much more, to your argument than just Mark 16:9-20 for us to have any basis to discuss anything. What else do you have that would show us the Bible, or the NT, is not very accurate?

    Thanks.

  • IMHO, the view of the Bible in the CoJCoLDS is not a clear one—it varies among the GAs, as well as the individual members. This LINK contains numerous quotes from GAs and LDS scholars who maintained a “high” view of the Bible.

    However, it has been my experience of late, that the current generation of LDS scholars has gone down a much different path when it comes to the integrity of the Bible—no doubt due much in part to the liberal institutions where they are getting their advanced degrees.

    Grace and peace,

    David

  • Darrell

    Timothy,

    Thank you for your analogy. Unfortunately, I think you have over simplified how The Bible came about and failed to take into account several key points. First and foremost is how meticulous the scribes where when copying the text. Scripture was considered highly sacred in their culture. The manner in which they copied it made almost certain that the copy was accurate.

    Let me give an example… the time in which The Old and New Testament came about is so foreign to us that it is hard to conceptualize. There were no computers and scrolls were relatively rare. Therefore, it was not uncommon for Rabbis to become famous for having THE ENTIRE OLD TESTAMENT MEMORIZED. I remember studying this fact and reading that a Rabbi was not allowed to read a verse of scripture outloud until he had memorized it perfectly.

    As you can see they did not take accuracy lightly… and when copying the text, they did not just slap it down. It was done with the utmost care… care that we cannot fathom in our modern times.

    I will be discussing this point in more detail in a future post. Nevertheless, to compare a copying assignment given to elementary school students to how scribes transmitted scripture to us through the ages is a poor caricature.

    Darrell

  • Darrell

    David,

    Perhaps you are right that the modern LDS leadership has been influenced by liberal education. I am not sure.

    However, keep in mind that by and large the LDS Church has maintained a poor view of The Bible from the very beginning. One early GA is quoted as saying that The Bible is so corrupted that we cannot be sure that not one verse has escaped corruption.

    Spreading the lie that the Bible is riddled with error was one way Joseph Smith awoke within people a desire for an “uncorrupted scripture” in The Book of Mormon.

    Darrell

  • D. Charles Pyle

    “For the New Testament alone we currently have 24,970 surviving manuscripts!”

    I hear this claim a lot but never see the evidence. Just over a year ago I heard a couple people state that there were 25,000 manuscripts of the New Testament. They were quite surprised to hear from me that there were considerably less than that number. They even went so far as to accuse me of lying when I stated that there were considerably less.

    Even Bruce M. Metzger in his third edition of “The Text of the New Testament: It’s Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration” said that the number was approximately 5,000. See pages 36 and 262 of the third edition, the latter of which pages contains a precise count of Greek New Testament manuscripts at 5,488.

    The new fourth edition, edited by Bart Ehrman and published in 2004, Ehrman being also a student of Metzger, gives a precise count of 5,735 on page 50 of this revised and enlarged edition.

    As of 2006, as reported by “Kurzgefaßte Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments”, 2nd edition, and an older edition of the continuation of the list at http://www.uni-muenster.de/INTF/KgLSGII08_02_27.pdf combined, a precise accounting of Greek New Testament Manuscripts was placed at 5,746.

    Today, according to the same sources in newer editions, the number is a bit higher by a few manuscripts, including some few new Papyri.

    The number of manuscripts still is somewhat high but nowhere near the number 24,970 or 25,000 so often published and bandied about on the Internet and apologetics books on the subject. In addition to that, most of the so called New Testament manuscripts are mere scraps containing a handful of words, larger fragments, and partial codices. There are only a total of 60 or so manuscripts that contain the entire New Testament. (See the same aforementioned books by Metzger and Metzger/Ehrman).

    Worse still, I have yet to see an actual reference in Metger’s works that maintain the so-called 95% or better claim. The ones I have seen thus are forgeries created by Geisler and repeatedly quoted in evangelical apologetic literature as though it came from Metzger himself. A comparison of two among the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of John (B and P66) revealed a discrepancy rate of roughly 20% between the both of them at places in the text, according to another source I read on the subject last year.

    The later the manuscript the more the agreement between Greek New Testament manuscripts; the older the manuscript the lesser the agreement between the manuscripts. In addition, a line by line comparison of critical editions of the Greek New Testament revealed approximately a 60% to 80% agreement between them depending upon which editions are compared. That is a discrepancy rate of between 20% and 40% in the printed editions alone!

    Another myth I often have heard is that none of the variants in the manuscripts contains a single word or phrase affecting theology. That mythical bubble recently was burst by Reuben Swanson in his recent volumes on 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians as part of his ongoing “New Testament Greek Manuscripts” series. After examining the extensive manuscript evidence in preparation for the publication of this series the author was forced to admit what he had found by a careful study of the manuscripts of the New Testament. He found that quite a few variants do indeed affect theology in the various manuscripts, no two of which agree in every particular. This was similar to what Ehrman reported in his “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.”

    On the other hand, compare the above information with claims published a few years ago giving the Book of Mormon a 99.9% accuracy rate.

  • D. Charles Pyle

    I wrote above: “A comparison of two among the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of John (B and P66) revealed a discrepancy rate of roughly 20% between the both of them at places in the text, according to another source I read on the subject last year.”

    I mistyped the latter manuscript number and the sentence should read as follows: “A comparison of two among the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of John (B and P75), in the same text family, revealed a discrepancy rate of roughly 20% between the both of them at places in the text, according to another source I read on the subject last year.”

  • D. Charles Pyle

    I found my source for the percentages and found need to correct part of what I wrote above, due to a lapse of memory while typing while at first unable to find my source for the information.

    My source for the statistical information regarding B and P75 was: Comfort and Barrett, “The Text of the Earliest New Greek Testament Manuscripts” (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2001), 506.

    The textual information alluded to above should have been as follows, in correction of my above memory failure:

    1. 87% agreement between Vaticanus and Bodmer XV

    2. 92% agreement in most of John, except for chapter 12.

    3. 96% agreement in chapter 12 of John between the two manuscripts.

    4. P75 appears to have been written by a professional scribe

    Notwithstanding my lapses in memory due to carbon monoxide poisoning, with the exception of the Gospel of John, 87% agreement between the two manuscripts still leaves at least a 13% rate of discrepancy overall, and this from two manuscripts that appear to descend from a common exemplar. There are a number of similar readings common to only these two manuscripts, lending evidence that they both have a common exemplar text somewhere along the way. How many copies between the two of them there may be is uncertain.

  • Charles,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I think I can address your question as to the number of manuscripts fairly easily. The approximate 5000 number that you refer to is about right for the NUMBER OF GREEK MANUSCRIPTS. The latest number I have is 5686. The 24,970 number is inclusive of the Greek Manuscripts as well as manuscripts in other languages. Here is how it breaks down…

    Greek 5686
    Latin Vulgate 10,000+
    Ethiopic 2000+
    Slavic 4101
    Armenian 2587
    Syriac Pashetta 350+
    Bohairic 100
    Arabic 75
    Old Latin 50
    Anglo Saxon 7
    Gothic 6
    Sogdian 3
    Old Syriac 2
    Persian 2
    Frankish 1

    All Total: 24,970

    Very impressive number no matter how you slice it. The Greek manuscripts are considered textually better than the manuscripts from other languages. However, even using the 5686 number still makes the manuscript authority for the Illiad (#2 in manuscript authority) pale in comparison with only 643 copies.

    As for your assertion that Geisler, Nix and others are “making up” that Metzger claimed that The New Testament is 99.5% pure… wow, what a bold claim. Reading Lee Strobel’s personal interview with Metzger in The Case For Christ does NOT lead one to that opinion. Metzger was very straightforward in his defense of The New and Old Testament.

    Here are some excerpts from that chapter:

    He quotes Sir Frederic Kenyon as saying “The last foundation for any doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.” (page 63)

    When asked if the copying errors mean we can’t trust our Bibles, he says directly “No sir, it does not…” (page 64)

    Lee Strobel asks him if the variants are minor rather than substantive, he says “Yes, yes, that’s correct…” (page 65)

    Please note that it is on this very page that Strobel himself states that the New Testament is 99.5% pure. Here is where it gets interesting… The Case for Christ was written in 1998 yet Bruce Metzger did not die until Feb 13, 2007. I would imagine that if he were being misquoted in this claim he would have mentioned it sometime within the last 9 years of his life. I am sorry but the facts to not support your assertion.

    Lastly, please substantiate your claim that The Book of Mormon is 99.9 accurate. Accurate to what? To the 1830 copy? To the gold plates? Please provide some additional information and we can discuss this.

    Darrell

  • D. Charles Pyle

    Could you do me a favor and cite which edition you of Strobel you are citing. I looked at the pages you referenced in a copy of the book and not a single page you referenced says what you say it says. I even looked through some other pages before and after what you cited above and did not find such remarks.

    I do not wish to insinuate or to attribute dishonesty so would appreciate the edition and publication date as I am aware that this sometimes makes a huge difference in where information might be found. In this manner, editions may be compared and contrasted to see whether such remarks were removed or modified later. Thanks for your assistance.

    In addition, can you cite for me a standard reference for the number of Latin and other manuscripts besides the Greek manuscripts? The count of the Greek manuscripts (most of which are mere scraps and/or incomplete texts at best) I know, but I have looked in all my reference works and cannot find evidence corroborating your claims regarding them. Even the scholarly publications of the texts do not reference that many or even acknowledge that number for any of them but the Greek manuscripts.

    Also, relative to your claims regarding the manuscripts of the Greek historians and such, are you referencing the Greek texts of these writers or Greek and other texts combined? If only the Greek texts, then adding the numbers of versional manuscripts for the New Testament is like a comparison of Apples and Oranges and may be construed by readers as “padding the numbers.” If so, you should in future only refer to the Greek manuscripts of the sources when making comparisions.

    As to the claim of 99.9% purity for the Book of Mormon, it came from an article written by Stan Larson, who is a critic of the Book of Mormon. The percentage also does not address the gold plates or even the 1830 first edition, but rather refers to a comparison of the manuscripts with the current 1981 edition.

    Here is something of which you might not be aware. Even the 1830 first edition is not true to the manuscripts in quite a few places or in all its parts. In fact, no two copies of the 1830 edition read alike! That, by the way, is one of the reasons why copies of this edition are worth so much money in auction. Nearly every copy is unique in some way, whether small or large, from each of the others.

    The closest text in a printed edition to the manuscripts–with a few points from published editions edited by Joseph Smith himself–ever published is the current 1981 edition. Even it is by no means completely true to the manuscripts but now that we have been able to use modern technology to render readable the portions that became unreadable over the years, a new edition is slated for publication sometime in the near future, which will include words and certain wording contained in the manuscripts, some of which are not yet found in any printed edition of the Book of Mormon to date.

    A comparison of the two manuscripts of the Book of Mormon we have extant to date reveal about three copying errors per page of the Book of Mormon manuscripts.

    There is something else of which may not be aware concerning the Book of Mormon. When Joseph Smith made the claim concerning the accuracy of the Book of Mormon, he did so after the substantial changes were made by Joseph Smith himself for the 1840 edition. His claim was made in 1841. In addition, he does not address grammar and diction in his remarks of that time as being part of the accuracy of the Book of Mormon, but rather concerning the precepts contained in the book.

  • D. Charles Pyle

    I neglected to include a couple comments in the above. Even if this information you cited from the particular edition from which you referenced the interviews, the information is out of date. New evidence uncovered since Strobel wrote and allegedly interviewed Metzger has outmoded that view among a growing number of textual critics.

    The age of computer technology has shown us a side to the New Testament Manuscripts that no one knew at the time Strobel wrote. Aside from roughly 400,000 variants between all the manuscripts and fragments yet known, most of which admittedly are minor, comparisons of manuscripts reveal theological differences between a number of them as well as more substantial textual differences.

    As I wrote above, differing portions of the manuscripts have differing rates of agreement, such as the 92% for the Gospel of John (96% for one chapter of the Gospel of John only), the remaining portions having only an 87% agreement between them in a comparison of B with P75. I also wrote that the character of the manuscripts is such that the older the manuscripts the more substantial the differences; the later the manuscripts, the more agreement can be seen between the later Greek New Testament manuscripts.

    In fact, Reuben Swanson, in his monumental and ongoing project “New Testament Greek Manuscripts,” particularly the editions for 1 and 2 Corinthians, flatly admits that his research into the manuscripts has revealed that there are substantial differences in places, some of which do involve theology, and that with the current state of the manuscripts the recovery of the original text of the New Testament is presently impossible. Swanson is one of the most careful students of the manuscripts there are. Aside from minor printing errors I have found his work to be impeccably accurate and that he accurately describes the state of the New Testament Manuscripts.

    Now, with reference to your citation of the other language versions of the Greek manuscripts, are you aware of how there are times where these read substantially different from the Greek texts?

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Charles,
    With regard to the Case for Christ, there is an entire chapter of Lee Strobel interviewing Bruce Metzger (chapter 3). The primary conclusion of the chapter is that the NT has been accurately transmitted so that no major doctrine of the Christian church is in doubt. Metzger is quoted frequently in this chapter and he is clearly sympathetic to Strobel’s viewpoint. I don’t think we can get any more mileage out of this issue. Metzger believed the NT was transmitted accurately.

    Best Regards,
    Bill

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Charles,
    Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Having said that, I would like to deal with a few issues you raised in your 12:43 PM post on 12/15/08. First, you claim that the time period of the Strobel interview is so long ago, that Metzger and Strobel’s views are “outmoded.” I find this incredible as Case for Christ was published in 1998. Can the field of textual criticism change so drastically in 10 years? There were computers in 1998, and quite powerful ones.

    Second, let’s assume Metzger didn’t know what he was talking about in 1998. What are scholars today saying? One the most critical scholars today is Bart Ehrman, who is a self-proclaimed agnostic who doesn’t believe in God at all. Some of the opposing comments on this blog have mentioned him as a source for their views. What does he have to say? According to an email response to a curious writer, he said this about the NT manuscripts:

    I do not think that the “corruption” of Scripture means that scribes changed everything in the text, or even most things. The original texts certainly spoke at great length about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The issues involved in the corruption of the text usually entail nuances of interpretation. These are important nuances; but most of the New Testament can be reconstructed by scholars with reasonable certainty — as much certainty as we can reconstruct *any* book of the ancient world.

    This quote can be found at http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nttextcrit.html

    In addition, Bart Ehrman attended a forum this year where he and Dan Wallace faced off over the reliability of the NT. Dan Wallace is still alive, unlike Metzger, and one of the leading textual critics in the world. He runs an entire center (http://www.csntm.org/) for New Testament manuscript studies where they are digitally photographing NT manuscripts. Here is Wallace’s summary of what happened: “Ehrman conceded that no essential belief of the NT was compromised by the textual variants.”

    Third, and perhaps a bit nitpicky, Reuben Swanson only wrote his book on 1 Corinthians (that you cite in your comments) in 2003, 5 years after Strobel’s book. I couldn’t find any book on 2 Corinthians (you mentioned both). You made it sound as if he just recently wrote it, and since your claim seems to be that NT textual criticism has revolutionized in just 1o years, this is important. By the way, Swanson died Oct. 3 of this year.

    Fourth, you mention that there are disagreements among the manuscripts, but that has been well known and admitted freely by just about everyone. You seem to be saying that these text differences are new findings that bode ill for the NT, but that is simply not the case. The differences are what allow scholars to reconstruct the originals. Without the differences, we couldn’t hope to reconstruct the text!

    Fifth, there is no disagreement among any scholars that the sheer volume and dates of NT manuscripts mean that no other document of ancient history has been as well preserved. Even Bart Ehrman agrees with that. Charles, if you say that we do not know most of what the NT originally said, then you are thereby saying that nothing of ancient history can be known, which means we should start shutting down all of our Greek and Roman history departments. Do you realize that you are staking out this position?

    Finally, for those that want to read more about NT textual criticism, I will shortly post links to two excellent treaments. Bottom line: the Christian faith and its essential teachings remain intact as captured in the modern New Testament.

    Best Regards,
    Bill

  • Charles,

    I must admit that I am getting a little concerned about having this conversation with you. First, you call into question Geisler’s integrity by accusing him of “making up” the claim that the New Testament is 99.5% accurate. Now you appear to be questioning my integrity as to Lee Strobel’s work. Where are you going with this? Are you trying to use a discredit the messenger not the message type of arguement? If we are going to head down this road there is no need to continue this conversation.

    To answer your question, there is no edition number on The Case For Christ Book that I own. It was published in 1998 and the reference to the 99.5% accuracy rate is listed in Chapter 3, page 65. As Bill has pointed out, Metzger is VERY clear in his position that The New Testament we hold in our hands today is extremely reliable and accurate. The manuscript evidence is unbelievable. It is clearly obvious to me that God’s hand was over the Bible. Do you find disagreements among the various MS, yes. However, when all of the manuscript evidence is taken together, it is possible to reconstruct the autographa to a 99.5% accuracy rate. Can you do this using 2 MS’s… no. However, the magic of what God has done is providing us thousands of manuscripts to compare. For when you take 24,970 of them together you can reconstruct the text to an accurate reading. There is a process that is used to weed out the errors to reconstruct the correct text. Because of this there are only 40 verses that are in question is all of The New Testament. There is nothing like it in history!! It clearly has God’s handprint all over it!!

    Will you find scholars who disagree with this position… of course. It is not my position that all scholars are in agreement on this issue. Obviously, if they did they might all be Christian!! We all know that is not the case. Many scholars are agnostic or atheist. They simply look at the Bible as a historical work… not a divine work. Obviously, I disagree with them.

    Where do I get my information on the MS’s? A number of sources…

    1. Michael Welte of the Institute for New Testament Studies in Munster, Germany
    2. Kurt Aland’s Journal of Biblical Literature
    3. Kurt Aland’s Kurzgefasste Liste der Griechischen Handschriften des Neun Testaments
    4. Kurt Aland’s Neve Nevtestamentliche Papyri III
    5. Bruce Metzger’s The Early Versions of the New Testament
    6. New Testament Manuscript Studies, Merril M Parvis and Allen Wikgren
    7. Eroll F. Rhodes, An Annotated List of Armenian New Testament Manuscripts
    8. The Bible and Modern Scholarship, Phillip Hyatt

    As to your position on the Book Of Mormon. You claim it to be 99.9% accurate to the original manuscript. I own a reprint of the 1830 version and I can tell you for a fact that there are MAJOR differences in it compared to today’s edition of the BOM. As a matter of fact, let’s simplify this even more. If one looks at a copy of the BOM printed just last year and compares it to a copy published recently they will see a major change just in the introduction alone!! All of a sudden the Lamanites are only “among” the ancestors of the American Indians instead of the “principal” ancestors.

    You may look at this and say it is not a big deal… afterall it is only the introduction to the BOM… it is not is the text itself. However, I would clearly disagree with you. First, changing the introduction in this manner is backing away from a KEY CLAIM that the leaders of the church have made for years… now, all of a sudden they quietly make this change! This demonstrates a pattern that the church has used for years of making changes under the radar. Through the years whole verses have been added in, key words have been added and taken out to change the meaning and theology of entire verses and words have been changed to make the book more politically correct.

    There is even a deeper issue as to the reliability of the BOM that I will cover in a future post and that is the historicity (or should I say lack thereof) of it. However, we can discuss that in a future post.

    Have a great night!!

    Darrell

  • johnny

    drkSS2 Thanks for good post

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