Lower criticism of the Christian Bible

The Bible has been the most influential text of the western world for nearly
1700 years ever since Christianity was legalized by the Roman Emperor
Constantine in the fourth century. The Christian Bible (the New Testament)
was originally in Greek. The Roman Church had it translated into Latin. The translation was done by Father Jerome in the fourth century and is known as the Latin Vulgate. The Latin Vulgate remained the standard text of the New Testament for a 1000 years. Throughout this period no translation of the Bible into European vernacular tongues was allowed. Only priests who knew Latin could read the Bible. The situation took a turn for the better only after Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in the 16th century. Martin Luther translated the Bible in order to break the monopoly of the Roman Catholic priests. The Protestants wanted to bypass the Roman Church and directly interpret the scripture. Translation of the Bible into modern European languages was resisted by the Roman Church which even killed Tyndale, the first translator of the Bible in English.

Modern critical enquiry of the Bible started about 300 years ago when English
theologian John Mill (1645-1707) examined 100 Greek manuscripts of the New
Testament. The motivation was to present to the Protestant lay people the
original version of the scripture, the version inspired by God. Mill found to
his horror 30,000 variant readings in these 100 manuscripts. Since his time
scholars have found 5700 manuscripts of the Bible and detected nearly 200,000
to 300,000 variant readings. These variant readings pose a very troubling
question to the believers: is it possible to recover the original texts of the
new testament? If the original version is not recoverable, then what does it
mean to say that the Bible is inspired by God?

Why are there so many manuscripts? The reason is that the originals of the
New Testament were written 1400 years before the discovery of printing press.
The only way to have a copy of the Bible was to have the text copied by
scribes. So the integrity of the text depended on the honesty and ability of
the scribes. Most of the 200,000 to 300,000 variants are minor due largely
to mistakes of the scribes. Many changes were, however, due to scribes
deliberately falsifying the text due to theological reasons. I will now
give some examples of such falisifications.

EXAMPLE 1

1: Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.
2: And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people
came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
3: And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery;
and when they had set her in the midst,
4: They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very
act.
5: Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what
sayest thou?
6: This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus
stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them
not.
7: So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto
them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8: And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9: And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out
one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left
alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10: When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto
her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11: She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn
thee: go, and sin no more.

John 8.1-11

The above text of John 8 is a famous example of falsification. The text shows
how Jesus turns around a dicy situation by his wits. It is also filled with a
profound moral courage. There is, however, only one small problem. This story
was not originally in the Bible. How can the scholars know this? They know
this by looking at the oldest and best manuscripts of the New testament where
this story does not occur.

EXAMPLE 2

1: And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of
James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint
him.
2: And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the
sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
3: And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the
door of the sepulchre?
4: And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was
very great.
5: And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right
side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
6: And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which
was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid
him.
7: But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into
Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8: And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled
and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

9: Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first
to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
10: And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and
wept.
11: And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her,
believed not.
12: After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked,
and went into the country.
13: And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14: Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided
them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them
which had seen him after he was risen.
15: And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to
every creature.
16: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth
not shall be damned.
17: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast
out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18: They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall
not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19: So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into
heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20: And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them,
and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

Mark 16.1-20

The above text is another famous example of falsification. The best and oldest
manuscripts of Mark 16 end at 16.8. Mark 16.9-20 was added by later scribes
for theological reasons. They falsified the record in order to bring Mark in
line with the other 3 gospels.

EXAMPLE 3

23: And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath
day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
24: And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day
that which is not lawful?
25: And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had
need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
26: How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest,
and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests,
and gave also to them which were with him?
27: And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
28: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

Mark 2.23-28

This is an example of theologically motivated translation. If you take a look
at Mark 2.27-28 you will see that the sentence, "The sabbath was made for man,
and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the
sabbath." makes no sense. How does the fact that the sabbath was made for man
makes the Son of man (i.e. Jesus Christ) Lord of the sabbath? Scholars
realized what has happened when they translated the Greek into Aramaic, the
language spoken by Jesus Christ. In Aramaic the word bar nascha stands both
for man and Son of man. So originally then the sentence was, "The sabbath was
made for bar nascha and not bar nascha for the sabbath: Therefore bar nascha
is Lord also of the sabbath". Thus the sentence reads, "The sabbath was made
for man and not man for the sabbath: Therefore man is Lord also of the
sabbath". Christian scribes have replaced the third bar nascha by "Son of
man" (i.e. Jesus) for theological reasons!

Till now I have discussed what is called lower criticism of the Bible which
only looks at textual integrity and does not link its criticism with
historical and social reality. That is done by higher Biblical criticism. It
is obvious, however, that even lower criticism has dealt a big blow to the
claim of Biblical inerrancy. This is specially painful to protestants since
protestant Christianity is a pure scripture based system. Roman Catholic
church is not much affected by textual criticism since it says that its
teachings are based on direct Apostolic teachings. Both Catholics and
Protestants are, however, affected by higher criticism which I will discuss
later.

The examples of falsification of scripture have been taken from "Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the Bible and why" and "The New Testament and other early Christian writings: a reader" by Bart Ehrman.

 

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