Summer Academic Series - The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts
[Chip Bennett]: Well, good evening everybody. How are you? Good to see everybody. I want to welcome everyone this evening to another one of our academic series'. My name is Chip Bennett and I am the pastor of Grace Community Church; the church that is hosting this event. I'm also a professor at Southeastern University, an adjunct professor for Knox Theological Seminary, and I'm joined on stage tonight by Dr. Sam Lamerson, the president of Knox Theological Seminary, a New Testament scholar, a Greek scholar, he just came back from Athens where he worked with original New Testament manuscripts himself, he's a successful author and a respect professor. So, could we give him a big hand?
Now, on behalf of both of us and Grace Community Church, to those who watch via online and the internet, we are so glad that you all came out to join us tonight and I think we should start with a word of prayer. So, would you bow with me and let's pray?
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for the opportunity tonight to look at a very real issue; an issue that is becoming more and more prominent and pervasive in the world today, and it's whether or not we can really trust the manuscript tradition that our Scriptures that we read are based on. Lord, I pray tonight that You would help illuminate all of our ears and hearts. I pray, Lord, that You'd bless this evening. Lord, I pray that You would be with Dr. Lamerson as he shares a lot of his wisdom and insight to us. And I pray, Lord, that You would really just lead, guide and direct this evening tonight as we try to wed the academy with the local church for Your glory. Thank You for everything in advance. In Christ's name, and everybody said, "amen."
The academic series here at Grace has become a hugely successful deal that we've done over the summers here for many of you all that are a part of Grace. And I just want to thank every one of you all for being here supporting education in the local church. This is the first of three evenings that we're going to do this summer, and I promise you that each one of these will be worth coming out for. The original vision behind the academic series was to bring academic scholarship of the highest level to the local church. So, we're doing that and we plan to continue to do this.
So, these evenings are informative and they're educational in nature. We want people of faith and we also want people in the community to be able to interact with real academic issues, and we do hope that you will all continue to support these evenings by your attendance. So, with that in mind, let's get to learning.
At the outset, the goal of tonight is sort of twofold if I break it down to two things. One: I want everybody to be able to have a great, genuine learning experience. At the same time, I want us to be able to wrestle with one of the perennial issues in scholarships, and that is can we trust the Bible? Can we trust Scripture?
The Bible, as you may or may not know, is translated largely from Hebrew and Greek texts in the Old Testament and Greek text in the New Testament. The text that Scriptures are translated from are called manuscripts. The Greek text that we use for the New Testament number about 5,800. The manuscripts vary in their material. Some are small fragments and others contain large portions of the entire New Testament. So, the question that gets asked in the academic world is this: Weren't there all kinds of errors over the years as these manuscripts were copied? Since the Bible translations we have are based on manuscripts that were copied over hundreds and hundreds of years, aren't there a lot of errors in that tradition?
That's a good question. It's one that we hope to answer this evening. That's why we've entitled tonight "The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts." Most people who consider Christianity at some point have to wrestle with this question. What do we do with the Bible? Many have concluded that it's a book, like another other book, written by people. Therefore, it's just full of errors, cultural and religious ideas from a day gone by, and a book just like any other book that you might find on a shelf.
Some conclude that it was an amalgamation of selected pieces of manuscripts by political leaders to try and control the masses. Some conclude that it has great teachings, but it's by no means inspired. Some conclude that the Church and its powerful elite chose certain books over others to include in the Bible. So, there's books out there that should be in the Bible that are not in the Bible.
So, those who question the manuscript tradition usually are trying to point out at some level that our Bible is not a reliable witness. In other words, what you have and what I have is not a completely accurate manuscript. There are errors in it. They would say that there's too many manuscripts that were copied at many times and many places that compromised the authenticity of what we have now. And by that, what they mean to say is that the Scriptures that we have are sort of a ragtag gathering of translated manuscripts that have so many errors that no real thinking person would accept them as near accurate.
So, the question: In over 2,000 years, has the New Testament manuscript tradition been compromised? Does what we have in our Bibles accurately convey what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, Corinth or Rome? What about what Luke wrote in his Gospel? Is it accurate? Does it convey what really happened? What about Matthew? What about Mark? Does the New Testament manuscript evidence lead itself to rationally concluding that the Bible is chock-full of errors, especially in the transmission over the years, or does it not? Or is it possible to truly have a rational belief that what we have is a tremendously well-preserved manuscript tradition and what we read in our Scriptures are, in fact, very reliable?
Although this may not be at the forefront of your Christian experience in life, this is a real issue in the academic world. And it's starting to bleed into the forefront of Christianity. It's becoming a big deal. The view that we have no reason to believe we have a well-preserved manuscript tradition is well-written about at this point. The books are legion. But, it has reached almost to the popular level these days to a guy named Bart Ehrman. Bart is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a very popular voice against traditional Christianity. In fact, he used to be an evangelical Christian and he no longer is.
These are just a few quotes from Bart Ehrman regarding this particular issue. This is what he says:
"We simply create a little fiction in our minds that we're reading the actual words of Mark, Paul, 1 Peter, and then we just get on with the business of interpretation."
"Our first reasonably complete copies of the New Testament do not appear until two or three centuries after the books were first put in circulation."
That's two or three hundred years of scribes copying and re copying and making mistakes and multiplying mistakes, changing the text in ways big and small before we have these complete copies that now we translate Scriptures from. Is this correct? I think tonight that what we're going to find out is that the New Testament manuscript tradition is incredibly robust. The earliest manuscripts we have compared with the later ones shows a stability in the tradition and that we have every reason to believe that what we have as the manuscript basis for our Bible today is reliable.
To educate us on this, I have brought in someone far more competent than myself to instruct us. Dr. Sam Lamerson, as I mentioned before, is a New Testament scholar, a Greek scholar, and he just came back from Athens working with original manuscripts himself. In fact, that was just in the last week or so that he got back. He's not only educated, but he's competent to discuss this with us. I knew of Sam before I ever met him because he has a very popular book that you may be familiar with if you've ever studied New Testament Greek. It's called "English Grammar to Ace New Testament Greek." This book is very popular at the collegiate and seminary levels and it's a really well done book to help us understand Greek.
After meeting Sam and getting to know his level of scholarship and how adept he is at the New Testament, I felt it would be good for us to listen to what he has to say about the reliability of the New Testament manuscript tradition. So, I'm going to turn it over to Sam and he's going to give us a presentation and I would just ask everybody to lend your ears and get ready to learn. I can promise you this will be at least college level and you will walk out of here with a great amount of information. So, Sam, we're just so happy to have you here. We're turning it over to you and we just can't wait to learn.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Thanks so much. Thank you. I speak a fair amount and at a variety of places, and never have I been treated better than by Chip and the church. I thank you so much for the wonderful way that you have treated my wife and I.
[Chip Bennett]: Thirty-fifth wedding anniversary for Cindy and Sam. How about that, huh?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: She mainly deserves the applause. I can tell you that. One other thing that I can mention to you is that we have, in the hub, a list where you can put your name, mail and email address if you want to know about Knox Seminary. If you don't want to come to Knox Seminary, that's okay. You might want to know what's going on. One of the things that we do every couple of months is have something called "Lunch and Learn."
At the next Lunch and Learn, I'll be speaking about the Bible and the paranormal. What does the Bible say about ghosts and alien abductions? So, if you want to know about that -- who doesn't? -- just sign up and I'll make sure that you get an MP3 of that. So, I'd love to have you drive over there, but it's a long way just to find out about aliens.
[Chip Bennett]: You might get abducted along the way.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Yeah. That's right. And we don't want that to happen. So, I'll be glad to send that out to you and be glad to let you know about what's going on at Knox. It's just a wonderful privilege for me to be here and to speak to you. You might find that I get really excited about ancient manuscripts, so just buckle your seatbelt because this is really incredible. Ancient manuscripts. What could be more exciting than that?
You might not realize it, but the books that we have and the way that we look at books didn't always exist. I mean, somebody had to think of a way to put a book together because, before there were books, there scrolls. And if you wanted to find a place in the scroll, you had to unroll the scroll and roll it up. And finally, one day, someone – whoever it was, we don’t know – thought, “How about if we sew all the pages together on one side and then you can look through it more easily?”
That was called the codex. Somebody said, “That’s a great idea,” and it was as gigantic a change as the internet is for us. It made a huge change, because now you could look for particular passages in a book and it wasn’t rolling and unrolling a scroll. You could carry around all the four gospels with you and it wasn’t that big of a deal. So, shortly after the New Testament was all written – probably in about 100-125 – the codex became very, very popular and sort of began to take over the world. So, what I want us to do tonight is to answer a very simple question, and that is: Is what we have now in the New Testament what they wrote then in the New Testament?
I’m not going to go into the details of whether or not it’s true. Dr. Mike Licona – a great scholar – will do that the next time. But today, I want us to walk out of here knowing for sure that the evidence is overwhelming that what we have now is what was written by Matthew, Mark or Luke. So, as we look through this, I want to give a special thanks to this organization: CSNTM. If you’d like to see actual pictures of New Testament manuscripts, you can go to this organization – CSNTM – and you can look at thousands of pictures.
CSNTM’s desire is to take as many pictures of New Testament manuscripts in high-definition as possible. Because, we realized that these manuscripts won’t last forever. Muslims want to destroy them. Fire destroys them bugs destroy them. Radical Muslims, I should say, want to destroy them. So, as a result, taking high-definition photographs and having those photographs in a variety of places is just not good.
[Chip Bennett]: Check. One. Two. I won’t accost you anymore with your mic pack.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Check. Check. Okay. Yeah. I’m a professional.
[Chip Bennett]: Don’t try this at home.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: So, today, we’re going to think about does the fact that we have a New Testament today that’s translated from Koine Greek, which is a different Greek than the Greek that they speak in Greece today. It was the common Greek of the New Testament. What we want to think is is the translation that we have really the same one?
CSNTM is headed up by a good, dear friend of mine, Dan Wallace. He’s a wonderful guy. I would encourage you to check out CSNTM.org. Not now, but at some point. If you have trouble remembering it, just remember this: C-S. You can think about C.S. Lewis. And N-T-M you can think about Auntie M from The Wizard of Oz and you’ve got it. So, CSNTM. If at any point somebody asks you, “Where can I find Greek manuscripts on the web?” you’ve got that.
So, let’s look at a couple of things here. First, this is from The Da Vinci Code:
“The Bible has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”
This is made up out of whole cloth. It is absolutely just not true. Now, I know that Dan Brown is a novelist, but many people take these kinds of things and they think, “Well, that must be true. It’s written down, after all. If it wasn’t true, he probably wouldn’t have taken the time to write it down.”
But, it’s not true and it’s the sort of thing that really, really bothers Christianity. There are others. Atheists are joining the chorus. Here’s from a book called “Jesus lied:”
“We do not have any of the original manuscripts of the Bible. The originals are lost. Of course they are. We don’t know when and we don’t know by whom. What we have are copies of copies. In some instances, these copies we have are the 20th generation copies.”
And you see, it’s a false argument. Simply because we don’t have the exact manuscript that was written by the Apostle Paul doesn’t mean that we don’t have what he actually wrote.
Next: “Some Muslims are joining this chorus. The Orthodox Church, being the sect which eventually established supremacy over all the others, stood in fervent opposition to various ideas...” – also known as heresies – “...which were in circulation. These included Adoptionism, Docetism, God and Separatism.”
All of these kinds of things that did indeed exist and the Church stood against. But, the stood against it because the New Testament stood against it.
“In each case, this sect, the one that would rise to become the Orthodox Church, deliberately corrupted the Scriptures.”
Now, that’s significant. What he’s saying is that the scribes deliberately corrupted the Scriptures. And that, my brothers and sisters, is simply not true. They didn’t do that. Bart Ehrman – you’ve heard of Bart Ehrman. Dr. Chip has just mentioned Bart Ehrman misquoting Jesus. This is an amazing book. The reason that it’s an amazing book is it’s a book about textual criticism that was on the New York Time’s Best Seller’s list. Amazing. Who would’ve thought a book about textual criticism would be on the New York Time’s Best Seller’s list? And it stayed there for quite a while.
This is what Ehrman says. Now, just so you can get a sense of who Ehrman is, Ehrman graduated from Moody Bible Institute. He graduated from Wheaton and studied textual criticism under sort of the dean of evangelical textual critics, and then sort of gave his Christianity all up. And this is what he says:
“Not only do we not have the originals, but we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have the copies of the copies of the originals or the copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.”
As if to say that simply because we don’t have the original copies that we simply can’t trust. So, the simplest argument that’s being put forth here is that the New Testament has been corrupted. And that’s the question. Has the New Testament text been corrupted?
Now, I want to tell you there have been changes – inadvertent changes. But, the real question that we want to ask is how badly have these changes effected the text and has it really, really been corrupted or are these changes such that we can get back to the original text. Now, there are two things that you want to avoid here. One is the radical skepticism of Bart Ehrman. Bart Ehrman says, “Well, there have been changes and therefore we can’t trust anything. Let’s throw the New Testament out.”
Ehrman used to call himself a happy agnostic. He’s now moved to an atheist. He doesn’t put happy in front of it, so I don’t know if he’s sad. But, he’s an atheist now. And I pray for Dr. Ehrman. He’s a good, friendly guy. But, he’s just, for whatever reason, something in the church has hurt him and it manifested itself in this way. So, you don’t want to be a radical skeptic. But, on the other hand, you don’t want to have absolute certainty. You cannot say that we know every single letter that exists in the Greek New Testament. That’s the kind of argument that is made by people who are, for example, King James only advocates. They will say that the only thing you can trust is the King James Bible and if the Greek differs from the King James, then you need to change the Greek.
That’s the kind of argument that you get. And you laugh, but I’m not really kidding about that. So, we want to avoid both of those ends of the spectrum because we want to deal fairly with evidence. One of the things that I always tell my students is that Christianity should never, ever, ever be afraid of the truth. We are a historically based religion. We are a historically based group of people. If God is the God of truth, then we – all of us, every single one of us – needs to realize that we should not ever fear the truth. And that’s critically important.
So, there are four questions that we want to answer. These are the four questions that I hope to answer in the next few minutes together.
First: How many textual variants are there? Second: What kind of textual variations are there? Thirdly: What theological beliefs depend upon textual suspect passages. Lastly: Is what we have now what they wrote then?
That’s the critical question that we’re trying to get at. Can we really trust that the English translation that we have is translated from a Greek text that is really what they said? So, preliminarily, let’s just grant the fact that we don’t have the original New Testament. Nobody today has the letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Nobody today has the original Gospel of Matthew. Nobody has that. Probably it’s a good thing because it would be venerated.
I was at a monastery – The Monastery of the Great Cave – about a week and a half ago. What happens is you go to the monastery, you put some coins in and you light a candle. Then you look at the icons. Then you sit down for a while – 45 minutes or so – and then they bring you out a treat. Part of it was liquor of some sort. I didn’t really care for that. It was like these cookies that were pre-World War I or something. Then you eat that stuff and you sit there for a while. Then they say, “What manuscript do you want to see?” Then you tell them and they finally bring it out. It’s all part of sort of letting the monastery get to know you and get to know that you’re going to treat the manuscripts well. So, this monk brings out some manuscripts for us. He sits the manuscripts down on the table so that we can look at them. Then he reaches into the pocket of his robe and takes out a fidget spinner, amazingly enough. It was like a culture clash. A monk at a monastery that’s been continuously inhabited for the last 1,500 years, but he has a fidget spinner. But, the point that I wanted to tell you is that they brought out this one manuscript which hasn’t been catalogued. So, it’s sort of a new discovery. It was torn off – I’ll show you a picture of it later on in the slideshow.
The corners were torn off of it. He said, “Yeah. The legend is that this manuscript was actually written by Luke.”
Well, it was written in the 10th century, so highly unlikely that it was written by Luke. But, the people believed that, so they would tear off corners to sort of get a blessing for themselves in the Orthodox Church. They’re highly into that. So, the truth of the matter is it wasn’t written by Luke. We don’t have any of the manuscripts that were written by Luke, Mark or Matthew. But, that doesn’t mean that we can’t get back to the original. That’s what’s significant.
So, first of all, let’s think quickly about the number of variants that exist. This is what we mean – and let me preface this by making sure that you’re with me. Think about the fact that before the printing press, if you wanted a book, you had to pay a person to hand copy it for you. There weren’t any Barnes and Nobles. You went to a guy who was a scribe and you paid him a certain amount of money and he would then make the surface to write on. Usually it was like parchment. Parchment is made out of animal skins and they scrape the skin very, very thin and then they cut it into the right place and they write it with handmade ink.
So, it was a laborious process. So to get, for example, a copy of the Gospel of Matthew would take a long time. A professional scribe wrote very, very carefully. I’ll show you one in a few minutes that’s written and you’ll get a sense of what’s going on. As a result of the fact that these things were being hand-copied by scribes, unfortunately errors creep in. So, here’s a textual variant. Any place among the manuscripts in which there’s a variation in wording, including word order, omission or addition of words, or even spelling differences. Those are textual variants. That’s what we mean when we talk about textual variants.
So, there’s no doubt that in the over 5,800 – climbing in on 5,900 – handwritten Greek manuscripts that we have today, there are variations between them because of the fact that they’re handwritten. If I were to write something on a piece of paper and then pass it to someone and have them copy it and they passed it to someone and then had another person copy it, you can imagine there would be some errors that would creep in. And if I impressed on you how significant and important it was, there would be fewer errors because you would take your time. And if I got professional copiers to do it, there would be even fewer errors. But, nonetheless, errors would creep in.
So, let me show you an example. In the Greek New Testament, there are about 140,000 words. And I don’t mean to come off like I’m some kind of great Greek scholar here. I’m really not. I’m just redneck, born in South Florida, still shopping at Wal-Mart. So, you know, I feel like I’ve come up a little because my family shopped at K-Mart. So now, you know, I’m up to Wal-Mart. I’m not Target, you know? I’m not old money. I’m still there.
But, there are really about 138,000 words and so we say 140,000. The variants you see are far more than the words of the New Testament. So that if all you saw was this graph, you would think to yourself, “Well, there’s many more variants than there are words. As a result of that, I don’t know if I can trust anything. This is the place where most of the skeptics stop. And now it’s updated. There are more than 400,000 variants. But, this is the place where they stop. So, this is the place where Bart Ehrman would say to us, “Look. You’ve got 140,000 words in the New Testament. You’ve got 450,000 variants. You tell me. Do the math.”
The problem is that they take us here and they drop us off without explaining exactly what those variants are. So, there are some important things that we have to sort of deal with in terms of those variants and in terms of whether or not they really make any difference; in terms of whether they are really a significant part of the New Testament or not. So, what we’ll do is understand that the reason that we have a lot of variants is because we have a lot of manuscripts. If there weren’t a lot of manuscripts, then there wouldn’t be a lot of variants. If all we had were seven manuscripts of the New Testament, there would be many, many fewer variants. But, we would have a much less secure text.
If you’re familiar with Islam, you will know that they don’t have textual variants – they say. And the reason is that if you copy the Quran incorrectly, you get killed. So, they destroy the Quran if there’s any change whatsoever. So, they don’t have this long history of textual variants like that. I won’t go into it, but there are a lot of issues that come along with it. So, it’s important for us to think about the fact that we have more variants in the New Testament than we do for any other ancient book. And the reason for that is that we have more copies of the New Testament than we do for any other ancient book.
So, this is what Richard Bentley said in 1733, long before the thousands of manuscripts that we have now were discovered. He said, “If there had been but one manuscript of the Greek New Testament at the restoration of learning about two centuries ago, then we would’ve had no variations at all and with the text being in better condition than now that we have 30,000.”
Of course, this was back in the 1700s. He said, “It’s good, therefore, to have more anchors than one and another manuscript to join the first would give more authority as well as more security.”
So, there are people who spend their lives looking at Ancient Greek manuscripts, carefully comparing them and deciding what the variants are and whether or not they really make any difference. Because, essentially what we have, really, is an embarrassment of riches. We have Greek manuscripts. 5,824. It’s more up to like 5,863 or around there at this point. We have Latin manuscripts. Over 10,000. When we say “manuscripts,” we mean handwritten. We have other ancient versions like Coptic and Bohairic. 5,000 to 10,000. We have quotations from the New Testament by church fathers. Over 1,000,000. We also have lectionaries. Lectionary, of course, was a book of Bible readings for each day of the week. So, the text in the New Testament was taken out and placed into it.
One day you would read from this text, the next day you would read from another text. All of those are very, very significant and very important. And what I want to do to sort of help you and put your mind at ease is to compare the New Testament to other Ancient Greek works. The average Classical Greek writer has less than 20 copies of his work still in existence. So, think about that. We have nearly 6,000 and we have the average Classical Greek work at about 20 copies. So, if we stack them up, they’re about that high. And that’s about how high the New Testament would be.
Well, it’d be a little higher than that. It’d be a little higher than that, maybe. A little, tiny bit higher than that. And you can see from that that there’s so many other New Testament copies than there are virtually any other book. The Greco-Roman authors, whom we all trust and whom we believe we have what they actually wrote – Pliny the Elder, we don’t have anything from the time he wrote until 700 years later. That’s the nearest we get to what he wrote. Plutarch: We have 800 years. Josephus: We have 800 years.
So, think about the fact that if you’re going to say that you can’t trust the New Testament because we don’t have the exact copy that was written, you become, then, almost a historical agnostic. You can’t trust any historical document, because the New Testament is by far the largest, without question. There are more copies of the New Testament and there are earlier copies of the New Testament then there are in virtually any other – not virtually, but any other document in the world. So, we come to realize that all of those people who want to quote from Plato but say that we can’t trust the New Testament, it’s a case of special pleading. Because, even though we have some copies of Plato, we don’t have them anywhere near as close as we have them to the New Testament. And we don’t have anywhere near as many as we do in the New Testament. And you can see here that we have Herodotus is 1,500 years. And yet, if you went to a class in Greek history, Herodotus would be a textbook that you would absolutely need to read. And your professor would say to you, “This is critical and we have to understand what Herodotus has to say.”
Well, if you can trust Herodotus 1,500 years later, then certainly you ought to be able to trust the New Testament 50 years or 100 years later. That’s what’s critically important. Now, for a while there was this argument put forward by a scholar named Bower. Bower argued that the Gospel of John couldn’t have been written before 200 A.D. His argument was that clearly the Gospel of John lies about having known Jesus. It was written about 200 A.D. if not later. And, as a result of that, we can’t really trust it.
This is the older piece of manuscript that we have of the New Testament. It dates to 150 A.D. if not earlier and it’s a part of the Gospel of John. So, all of a sudden, all that work that bower did arguing that John was from 200 A.D. or later is put to rest by a credit card sized piece of papyri. Now, I’ll tell you quickly. Papyri are the earliest manuscripts, but they also don’t last as long. The parchment that I told you about is made out of animal skins. So, when you hold that, you can turn the pages and there’s no sense of tearing a page or anything like that. One of the pages was torn in one of the manuscripts I saw a couple weeks ago. And of course they didn’t have scotch tape, so they had this really thin thread that they sewed the tear in the manuscript back together. And that held it for a long time because this is, essentially, a very thin piece of letter.
Papyri, on the other hand, is made out of a papyrus plant and it’s sort of smashed down all the water out of it and it can be written on. One side is written on more easily than the other. But, because of the fact that it’s sort of like paper, it doesn’t last as long. So, when we find a piece of papyrus manuscript, it’s really, really significant and incredibly important. And that’s one of the earliest ones. That’s from about 150, if not earlier. There’s another piece of papyri. This is P52 from the John Ryland’s Library, as if you care. And then there’s another one called P46 that is the earliest manuscript that we have of the Apostle Paul, and it’s from about 200 A.D.
So, you realize that while we have 1,500 years between Herodotus and the earliest copy, we have maybe 100 years. For John, maybe even 60 years between the time it is written and the time that we have a piece of that manuscript. So, it’s very significantly important and it’s very important that we realize that these manuscripts exist. You can go and see them. You can go and see this John Ryland’s papyri. You can go and see the Sinaiticus, which is the whole New Testament put together at the museum in London. If you were ever in London and you say to them, “I want to see the Sinaiticus,” which came from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, you will find it in the room with another really important artifact. It’s The Beatles’ White Album. Both of those are in the same room. Because, you know, you kind of need security for both of them.
But, that just gives you an example. When people say, “Well, listen. The earliest piece of manuscript that we have from the New Testament is thousands of years later,” that’s just not true. They just don’t know what they’re talking about. An ounce of evidence is worth a pound of prevention. Looking carefully at these manuscripts and the realization that we do have these manuscripts and that we can compare the later manuscripts to the earlier manuscripts is critically, critically important.
One of the questions that’s often asked is, “Has the Bible been translated and retranslated so many times that we don’t know what it originally said?”
If you have Atheistic friends, someone has probably said that to you. Here’s the truth: The King James Version is translated in 1611, not too long after the printing press was invented. I gave a talk a few weeks ago about the reformation and how there were two critical things that helped the reformation. One of them was the printing press and the other was the Black Plague. I brought my plague doctor doll and showed it to them all.
In 1611, the King James Version is printed on the printing press. They had, at that time, Erasmus, who was in charge of putting the manuscripts together and putting the Greek New Testament together. They had about seven manuscripts. He just didn’t have that many manuscripts. He had maybe seven. Maybe eight. And they were all ninth century or later. They were not real early. Today – and this is in 2013, so the numbers have changed slightly. But, today, we have 5,800+ manuscripts and the earliest manuscripts that we have go back to the second century. So, you see that’s what’s happening is as time goes on, we’re getting closer and closer and closer to the original text. We’re getting closer and closer to knowing for certain exactly what was being said there.
So, what I want to do very quickly, because I don’t want to bore you any more than I already am, is I want us to think about what the significant questions are. So, within 125 years of the completion of the New Testament, over 43% of all verses are found in the papyri. That’s incredibly significant that we have nearly half of the New Testament already in our possession within 125 years of its writing. That is just incredibly, incredibly significant for us to think about. Within 125 years of the completion of almost all classical manuscripts or literature, 0% of the document is found in any manuscripts.
So, what that gets us to is the fact that we all – if you’re not going to trust the New Testament, then to be consistent you should give up every other ancient document that you trust. You can’t trust Plato. You can’t trust Aristotle. You can’t trust Herodotus. You can’t trust any of that because of that fact that if you’re going to be consistent, the New Testament is far, far, far more complete and early than any of those manuscripts.
Here’s the Greek New Testament through about 900. I meant to change that. I picked this up and it should say “A.D.” I don’t like “C.E.” “C.E.” is sort of a scholar’s way of saying, “I don’t want to mention Jesus so I’ll just put C.E.”
But, they still date history from His life, so I don’t know that it matters. But, here’s the number of manuscripts. You can see that as time goes on the manuscripts get bigger and bigger and bigger. We get more and more and more numbers of manuscripts. The realization is that today we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of the manuscripts. Now, getting to the variants, I think that we ought to ask the question, “What kind of variants are there?”
It’s important to realize that even though we have those, remember I showed you the number of words and the number of variants and it looked like there were a lot of variants? 95-98% make virtually no difference at all. For example, there are differences in spelling. You remember in Mark when the demons get cast out, the demonic man comes from “Gaderene,” right? If you look at that in the Greek New Testament with a critical apparatus, you will find about nine different ways of spelling “Gaderene.” Those are nine different variants, and yet they don’t make a nickel’s worth of difference. It’s just the fact that they didn’t have a dictionary or a map to look that up on. So, they spelled it as best as they could.
There are differences in spelling and there are also differences in the use of the article. So, Greek is different in a variety of ways than English. Obviously. It’s a different language. And one of the things that they use – we have that saying in English, right? “It’s Greek to me.”
In Athens, I said, “Have you heard that saying, ‘It’s Greek to me?’” And they said, “No. We say, ‘It’s Chinese to me.’”
So, we all have, I guess, our own languages that are difficult. But, Greek uses the article often in front of names. So, you will see sometimes Mary and sometimes it will say “the Mary.” Or “Jesus” and sometimes it’ll say “the Jesus.” Obviously that does not make any difference at all in terms of the translation. It’s just that we don’t use that kind of article in front of a name, right? Maybe “the john,” but other than that we don’t say those kind of things.
So, we come to realize that the vast, vast majority of these manuscripts just really don’t make any difference at all. The smallest group of variants are meaningful and viable. And what I mean is this: A variation must be both. There are lots of variations that are not meaningful. That is, it’s clear that the scribe was at the end of the day and he just wasn’t careful in copying things. So, he writes something crazy down. So, that variant wouldn’t be meaningful. And a variant must be viable. That is that it occurs in a variety of manuscripts so that we can see that in the church tradition, this variant had some kind of support. It’s very, very rare. Less than 1% of all the variants fit into this group.
And I’ll give you a couple of examples of how this works. So, here are four kinds of variants. There are variants that are viable. That is, they show up in a variety of manuscripts, but they’re not meaningful. So, it just doesn’t make any difference. There are variants that are meaningful, but they’re not viable. That is, they do change the meaning of the text, but we have no reason to believe because there’s no manuscript evidence that that was really the reading. Then we have manuscripts that are neither meaningful or viable. These are manuscript errors that just seem to show up out of nowhere for one scribe who seemed to be having a bad day at the time. But, down here, meaningful and viable. Those are the most critical kinds of errors and those are the ones that we want to think about. Those are the ones that make a real difference.
So, let’s look at a couple of them. I’m going to just run through these really quickly so that you can see what I’m doing here. But, Greek is a highly inflected language. I tell my students that Yoda speaks English as if English is Greek. That is to Yoda, the word order means nothing. He just says, “Good are you today, yes? Okay.”
And it takes you a minute to try to figure it out. However, in a highly inflected language like Greek, the word order doesn’t make any difference? So, here are some examples of a potential variant of how many ways you can say “John loves Mary” in Greek.
There’s seven. There’s seven more. These are all “John loves Mary.” Here’s seven more “John loves Mary.” Here’s seven more “John loves Mary.”
All these are different and all of these are ways to say the exact same thing, that John loves Mary. And the truth of the matter is that there’s really no difference in the way that you would translate them, but they’re just different ways of saying the same thing. So, they would all be considered variants, but – and then here’s conjunctions that are often not translated. Men or day. There’s just all different ways that we can say “John loves Mary.” We would translate it in English “John loves Mary,” but they would all be counted as a variant. That shows you that many of these variants just really don’t make a nickel’s worth of difference. They just don’t matter whatsoever. They’re just different ways of saying the exact same thing.
So, when someone tells you, “Look at all the different variants that exist in the New Testament,” you can say, “Yeah. Of course there are variants that exist in the New Testament, but the vast, vast, vast majority of them make no difference whatsoever in terms of the translation.”
We’re still going on with John loves Mary. And, finally, I just get tired of it. But, there are other ways that you could say, “John loves Mary.” It seems like that can’t be possible, but it’s because Greek is such a highly inflected language that you can say these things in so many different ways and not have a nickel’s worth of difference between them. So, the word order in Greek doesn’t mean nearly what it does in English. And the particles explode the numbers of the way you can say “John loves Mary” to over 500 different ways.
500 different ways to say “John loves Mary,” and yet there’s not any difference in them whatsoever. Bart Ehrman says this: “We could go on nearly forever talking about specific places in which the text of the New Testament came to be changed, either accidentally or intentionally. The examples are not just in the hundreds, but in the thousands.”
Well, sure they are. But, they just don’t make any difference. The vast majority of them don’t make any difference whatsoever. And Ehrman knows this. If we can say “John loves Mary” over 1,000 times in Greek without substantially changing the meaning, then the number of textual variants of the New Testament is meaningless. What really counts, the real question that we want to get to here, is the nature of those variants. That is, do the variants really make a big difference? And here are some examples. Here are some examples of some real variants. But still, they make no difference in the meaning.
Here’s one: Mark 9:29. What you’ll see in the brackets are the variants.
“This kind of demon...” – because the demon is mentioned earlier on in the text – “...cannot be cast out except by prayer and fasting.”
You lose nothing by allowing the demon to either be there or not be there, because the demon has already been mentioned. And you lose very little by “cast out except by prayer and fasting.” Those are, by far, the kind of transcriptional difficulties that we’re dealing with.
Here’s another one. Revelation 13:18: “Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it’s the number of a man, and his number is 666.”
But, some manuscripts say his number is “616.” Oh my goodness. Seven tons of Christian literature up in flames over a textual variant. Little did they know that 666 was down the street from the beast and it was actually 616. But, you see, the truth of the matter is that these, they really just don’t make any real difference. The question that we want to ask is what theological beliefs depend upon suspect passages. That is, if we took away all the textual variants in all the passages that are suspect, what would happen? What theological differences would change?
And I’m going to give you now a list of all the theology that would change if we took out every suspect passage. And then I’ll give it to you a second time. And that’s it. Nothing. Absolutely nothing is going to change. An ounce of evidence is worth a pound of prevention. It’s just not going to change. So, the smallest group of variants that are meaningful and viable simply don’t change any theological variant.
One of the interesting things – and you can see here – is this, viable and meaningful. This little, tiny red dot there. Those are the variants that both change meaning and have a chance of being correct. None of them – absolutely none of them – make any change in the doctrines of Christianity. This is from Dan Brown:
“‘My dear,’ Teabing declared, ‘until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet; a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless.’”
When he says “until that moment in history,” what he’s talking about is essentially saying that the deity of Christ was invented by Constantine. And that until Constantine, nobody considers Jesus deity. What we find, however, and this is from P66. I mentioned this to you earlier, as I’m sure you remember. P66, interestingly what you’ll find is that this is a piece of parchment and there aren’t space between words. They did that to save paper because paper cost a lot of money. So, they would not put spaces between the words and you have to figure out where the spaces go. And there are very few places where that makes a little bit of difference. But, not many.
But, what we have here – and you can see it – is the Euaggelion Cata-Ionian. This is the Gospel of John. What the Gospel of John says was “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
175 A.D. Long before Constantine had even thought of. It puts the lie to those kind of things that people invent trying to deny that the New Testament actually tells us that Jesus is God. Is what we have now what they wrote then? Sure. We may have some small variations where we don’t know exactly what was written. But, in all the essentials of Christian doctrine, absolutely. The New Testament that we have today is exactly what was written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or any others of them. It’s important for us to be able to say that and to be able to say, “Look. You can go onto the internet and you can look at these Greek manuscripts yourself. They’re not hidden away somewhere. You can look at them. You can go and you can learn to read the Greek text and translate it yourself. This is not some secret that’s gone away.”
Anyone can test this for themselves. No essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any Bible variant. None. So, it’s important for all of us to come to realize that this idea that we have about the New Testament being sort of changed along the way is just not true.
I just wanted to show you. This is a document of the New Testament. You can see here these are the writings. A very beautiful script. Up until the tenth century, the words would hang from the line; one of the ways to tell the date. At the tenth century, they begin to sit on the line. So, you can tell them there. There are some spaces here, so it makes it a little easier. Sometimes you will find notes in the side by the scribe. It’s a beautiful piece of manuscript. And this scribe did that so that he and others could have a copy of the Word of God. This is the cover of the book that the monks had made to make sure that it was protected. They care about the Word of God. These scribes cared about the Word of God. They wanted people to be able to have the Word of God. That’s the reason that they did this kind of thing.
Here’s another manuscript. This is the one where the corners had been torn off, you can see there, by those who thought that it was actually written by Luke. But, again, you can see the text there and you can see how clearly it’s written. You can see, also, some corrections that have been made. Sometimes scribes would come along and make corrections for them.
I want to make now, to end, an unnatural segue. A polar bear attacks a man in Canada and bystanders do nothing, and the media did not even report this event. That seems shocking to us – until you see the polar bear. You see, the polar bear is Bart Ehrman. He’s saying to us, “It’s not true. It’s not true. You can’t trust it. You can’t trust it. You can’t trust it.”
He doesn’t know what he’s saying. The truth of the matter is that you can trust it. The truth of the matter is that the New Testament is God’s Word from the time that it was written until today, and every one of us who sits here can be absolutely certain in our faith that we are trusting the truth of God’s Word.
Here’s a poem – and I know it’s cliché to end with a poem, but it’s a marvelous poem. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.
“Last eve I passed before a blacksmith’s door and heard the anvil ring the vesper chime; When looking in, I saw upon the floor, old hammers worn with beating years of time.
“‘How many anvils have you had,’ said I, ‘To wear and batter all these hammers so?’
“‘Just one,’ said he; then with a twinkling eye, ‘The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.’
“And so, I thought, the anvil of God’s Word, for ages, skeptic blows have beat upon; Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard, the anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.”
For the last 2,000 years, people have beat upon the New Testament, saying, “It’s not true. You can’t trust it. It’s not true. You can’t trust it.”
And yet, just like that little, tiny polar bear, God’s people, God’s Church and God’s Word moves on. And you all can go out of here and say, “I know that I can trust the New Testament, not because I have to depend upon an expect, but because I can go and look at pictures of those manuscripts myself.”
And that is an amazing thing. Again, thanks to CSNTM. You can go there. You can look at their manuscripts. If you would like to know more about them, please get on their mailing list. They’re a great, great organization and I think you will be greatly blessed by them. Dan Wallace is a wonderful man who’s handled more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other person alive and who will say to you the same thing that I’m saying to you tonight, and that is that you can trust your New Testament.
With that, I’m going to thank you for listening to me and I hope that it has been some value to you.
[Chip Bennett]: I wrote down here, when Sam was talking – I wanted to make sure that I boiled it down – when you learn about New Testament manuscripts, you need a World War I cookie, some liquor and a fidget spinner. And, beware of polar bears. So, there you go.
No, I’m jokingly completely. What a great – I think that you’ve received some incredible information tonight. And I guess, you know, with what Dr. Lamerson was saying to you and what I would say to you as the pastor here at the church, the amount of variants that are in what we call our “critical apparatus,” although there are many of them, I think you’re seeing that you can spin that information differently depending upon what your bias is when you’re looking at that. I think that’s huge. You know? We always joke about, you know, you can make stats say anything depending upon what you want them to say.
So, I think that you’ve seen here that belief in the New Testament and the reliability of the manuscript tradition is incredibly reliable and incredibly solid. I want to end this part of the evening with a quote from Craig Evans. A good scholar. A great, New Testament guy. And he’s a scholar in the manuscript tradition as well. This is his quote:
“The Bible manuscripts are early, they are numerous, and they’re not available just in Greek (the original language), but in several languages. The manuscripts are accurate. They reflect the work of competent scribes who collected and compared. When we look at these manuscripts and compare them to other, non-Christian manuscripts and traditions – well, maybe I should say there is no comparison. Of 20,000 lines of the Greek New Testament, according to Professor Bruce Metzger, a long time respected textual critic at Princeton Theological Seminary, of the 20,000 lines that make of the Greek New Testament, only 40 lines are in doubt. And not one of those lines contains anything that relates to important New Testament or Christian teaching. The New Testament is well-preserved; the text is stable. The text of the New Testament reflects the original text and, therefore, when we read it and study it, we should have great confidence. This is, indeed, what Jesus originally taught and what His disciples originally wrote.”
And I think you can leave here confident in that. You may, over the years, because this is becoming a real issue – not just in the academic world because it’s been there for years. But, it’s becoming a popular issue because you’re starting to see things like The Da Vinci Code. But, especially with Bart Ehrman and stuff that he’s writing, it’s starting to get into the popular level where people are starting to question things. I want you to know that we’re not up here trying to hoodwink anybody or trying to distort anything. The truth is the truth. There’s just not any reason to doubt the reliability of the New Testament documents, and I hope that you can leave here with that understanding. So, if you get attacked by somebody or someone says something of that nature, you won’t feel like somehow you’ve missed out or you weren’t informed.
That being said, is Jennifer still here? Or Tom or Dan? We didn’t put 3x5 cards out on the chairs, did we? Okay. Do we have 3x5 cards? Okay. If we could pass them out as quickly as possible, what I want to do is if you have any questions – you know what, it’ll take to long to get all those. We’ll just fire it up. If you have questions concerning the New Testament manuscripts – I mean, obviously, if you want to talk about something else, that’s really not what we’re talking about tonight. And I understand sometimes people have questions.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Ask Chip later. If you have any other questions, ask Chip later.
[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. That’s right. Except for UFOs and abduction.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: I’ve got that covered.
[Chip Bennett]: But, if you have New Testament reliability issues or manuscript issues, we would like for you to be able to ask those questions. And, if you would, I think we’re going to get a microphone here. John, do we have one that we can use? Okay. Here’s one that can be used. Here’s one. Dan, can I give you this here? If you have a question, Dan, Barry, Tom or somebody will come and give you a microphone. Please don’t ask the question until you have the microphone so that everybody can hear the question.
Do you have any questions at all? Yes. Over here. We record these and it’s unfair for those that are listening to not be able to hear the question.
[Question]: I was hoping you could explain what a “highly inflective language” is.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: A highly inflected language – essentially, in English, our language is not highly inflected. That is, the subject comes before the verb and the direct object comes after. So, if we say, “John hit the ball,” we know that John is the subject and he hit the ball. If we say, “The ball hit John,” we know that the ball is the subject and it hit John.
In Greek, we can tell what’s the subject and what’s the direct object and all other things in the sentence by the spelling. The subject is spelled a little differently than the word would be if it were a direct object. As a result of that, word order doesn’t make nearly as much difference. You can always tell what the subject is just by the ending on the word rather than by its place in the sentence. So, that’s why you find Yoda speaking as if word order doesn’t matter. So, he’s speaking a non-inflected language as if it’s highly inflected. So, I hope that helps.
[Chip Bennett]: Well, word order, in Greek, is not as important as it is in English. We read a linear thing in English and we read it this way. In Greek, things can be placed in different parts of the sentence. It’s a morphological language. The function is not linear. It’s depending upon the words themselves to tell you what the object and subject are and things of that nature. So, when we you saw those ways John can love Mary, it’s because the words can be moved around and transposed where, in English, it’s just very linear. Does that make sense? I hope so.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Thanks. Yes, sir?
[Question]: I’d like to know who made the determination of what manuscripts to leave out of the New Testament and what to include in the New Testament?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Yeah. When you say manuscripts, you mean, I think, what books to keep in the New Testament and what books to leave out. Yeah. It’s a question of canonicity, which is different from textual criticism. But, quickly, the truth of the matter is the Church made the decision. No one person made the decision. No council made the decision. The churches accepted some manuscripts, some books, as being from God and the churches didn’t accept some others. So, there are, for example, books that we know were written at least fairly closely to the time of the New Testament, like the Didache. The Didache is “the Teaching.” It was written around the same time. It has a lot of really good things to say. But, the Church never accepted it as the New Testament. So, to think that someone got together and said, “We like these books and, therefore, we’re going to keep them in the New Testament. We don’t like these books.”
That’s not what happened. It was God’s people who came together. And one of the things that I think is a very strong thing to realize is that churches all over the world accept the same 66 books. All over the world. Now, some churches might add some. But, all over the world, whether you’re Greek, Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, whatever, they all believe that these 66 books are God’s Word. And there is very little that you could say that about the Church all over the world. But, that’s one thing and I think it points to the fact that God superintended the collecting of His material and His work.
[Chip Bennett]: I’d like to submit, too, because this will help you out a little bit. The vast majority of the books that are not included in the New Testament that we have extant, if you read them, you can pretty much go, “That just doesn’t sound right.”
I mean, some of them are just crazy. So, you know, a good portion of them you read and you go, “That’s ridiculous.”
The early Church had what we call a criteria for canonicity. It had to be written by an apostle or someone that was close to an apostle. It also had to have an effect on the body. In other words, in the sense that the Church did go, “These are the books that we’re including,” if those books were already informing the Church in a spiritual way, in a way that everybody was sort of reacting to these Scriptures, that they’re just different. So, you know, there was a church part to that. But, I think it’s important to realize that when people come along and say there’s all these books that are not included in the Bible, if you could go read some of the Gnostic Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas and things like that, you would realize that, man, these are crazy stuff. It doesn’t really fit what you would see as the Scriptures.
So, I think that helps too. It wasn’t just thrown together.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Just as an example, the last verse of the Gospel of Thomas says, “All the women who go to heaven will become men.”
So, I’m not all that into that. So, you know, there’s a gospel called the “Gospel of Peter.” In it, there’s this big, giant cross and the cross has a mouth and it speaks to people. They’re just not even on the same level with the New Testament documents.
[Chip Bennett]: And you see that like in the Old Testament where we have what’s called the “Pseudepigrapha” or the “false writings.” When you read some of them, they sort of, at times, read something like the Old Testament, but then they get whacky and you’ve got to move to Colorado and smoke something out there to understand them. You know?
Yes? Down here, Dan.
[Question]: So, if I’m understanding this correctly, the 40 variances that the professor found out of the 20,000 didn’t really effect the New Testament, I think, from what I understand. What exactly were those 40 variances?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: In the New Testament, there are two basic kinds of New Testament. There’s the United Bible Society that has a New Testament with a textual apparatus at the bottom, and there’s the Nestle Aland that has a textual apparatus at the bottom. In the United Bible Society, there are about 1,500 variants. Most of the variants will have something to do – like, for example, there’s a place in Romans where the question has to do with whether the verb is indicative or subjunctive, and they sound almost the same. So, the text would say either “we have this” or “let us have this.”
So, those are the kind of variants that you will see. Without going into the two most famous variants, which I’m afraid might take us way off. The two most famous variants, I’m sure you all know them. So, I won’t. You can, if you want.
[Chip Bennett]: John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20. Those are ones that are bracketed in your text and those are ones that people question. That would be off the subject for tonight. The main thing is that the variants that we have would be like if you saw “hat” in English or you saw “hit” in English. Those would be significant. Okay? But, if it was “she” or “he” and they forgot the “s,” those would be significant. What we’re saying is that the significant amount of variants that we have are very, very few. They don’t really change anything at all that we would understand with out Christianity. And the very few lines that do don’t really do that much question at all because there’s other substantial texts that address it.
The point being that when they say there’s 400,000 variants, when you don’t understand what a variant is, that seems like there is a huge issue with our Scripture. When you understand that with variants there could be 500 different ways to say “John loves Mary,” that would be a variant because it would be changing the way the text reads. But, it doesn’t change the meaning of the text. So, that’s the important thing to get out of here. Next?
[Question]: Hi. Let’s say, for example, I’m not going to go learn Greek and look at these manuscripts. So, I’m going to give you a chance to pretty much offend everybody here by asking, in today’s current translation in Bible reading – everybody has probably one of their favorites – which do you think really best translates from those manuscripts into what would be today’s way of reading the Bible?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: I think you ought to learn Greek. You know, that’s because I teach Greek and we kind of need people. But, people ask me that and it’s like, if I were to read English for my own devotion, I really like the NET Bible, which you can get for free off the net, which is why it’s called the NET Bible. But, I wouldn’t read that out loud because it’s sort of a clunky translation. And the New American Standard can, at times, be a little bit clunky to read out loud.
So, again, it just depends. There’s no one translation that gets everything right. I tell my students that all translation is treason. That is, it’s impossible to translate something without subtly changing. That’s just the way it is. That’s why all of you should learn Greek. Every one of you. No. I certainly don’t want you to go out of here thinking that I’ve got to learn Greek and if I don’t...
No. There are many good English translations today. You know, one of the things that may help you is to go to the beginning of the Bible and read the translator’s preface in which they lay out what their presuppositions are about what kinds of presuppositions they had when they were translating. That will be helpful to you. I like the NET Bible to study from. Other than that, some of you may have heard of Dr. D. James Kennedy. I was in his church for years and worked for him. He always preached from the King James. The problem is – King James is a fine translation, but if you’re 20 years old trying to read the King James, it’s placing an unnecessary blockade in front of somebody trying to read the Scripture. And, in that case, I think reading the NIV or any of those. Today’s English Version can be a good one.
[Chip Bennett]: This is the way I try to explain it: There’s literal, literal, literal translations that try to get – in other words, if there’s four Greek words, they try to get four English words even though that can be a little tough. Then there’s more of what we call a “dynamic equivalence” where it tries to make it seem like you’re understanding it today. And then there’s what we would consider to be paraphrases and things of that nature.
In Spanish, when you say “como se llama,” literally, if you translate that, it’s “what do you call yourself.” Okay. Would you want to read a Bible that says, “What do you call yourself?” Because, you might go, “Okay, that would be more like the NASB, because the NASB tries to do some of those things.”
If you say, “Well, no. I would like to hear, “What is your name?” Because, that makes sense to me. It doesn’t change – “what do you call yourself” or “what is your name” – the meaning. It’s just how you read it. Or, you might read The Message and it’d be like, “What’s your name, homie?”
You know? So, you’ve got those different types of things. But, they’re all saying very similar things. And I think some translations, Sam and I might have a more particular bent towards just for maybe translation reasons or maybe for just looking at Greek words or whatever or maybe disagreeing with the way somebody translated a word or whatever. But, I don’t think that you can go wrong with any of the English translations that are out there. They’re not terrible. All of them are pretty good. Find one that you can read and understand and I would always say to have another translation that you read sometimes along with it. And I think you’ll probably get the majority of things.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Yeah. Unless you want to read the New World Translation, which is Jehovah’s Witness. I wouldn’t recommend that. But, you know. They all are very, very valuable. We have an embarrassment of translations in the United States.
[Question]: Yeah. It seems, in the circles that I’ve run in – dealing with translation and things like this. But, going back to criticisms, it seems that there is more criticism towards, say, manuscripts dealing with New Testament Greek rather than Hebrew manuscripts. Can you speak to that and why that might be?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: Well, we have many more manuscripts. So, for example, up until the discovery of the Qumran materials, which is the Dead Sea Scrolls, we did not have a pre-B.C. copy of Isaiah. So, because we have far fewer manuscripts in the Hebrew Bible, there are far fewer textual variants. But, I mean there are textual variants. But, part of the reason that the New Testament comes under such attack is because it’s the story of Christ and His resurrection. And the evil one wants to make sure that people don’t believe in that. So, I think there’s a spiritual reason as well.
[Chip Bennett]: It’s awesome, though, when they found the Isaiah scroll in Qumran, the fact that there were just no differences, really, between it and the ones that were later. It was a real hit to the people who are into textually criticizing things. It was like, “Wow. Here’s one that’s ancient and it’s reading the same way as the ones that we’ve got.”
Which, again, shows the stability of the text. We see that in the New Testament though.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: It’s significant that you realize – sometimes you’ll hear critics criticize the scribes, but these were guys who spent their lives copying the Scripture so that we could have it. They have these things called colophons there at the end of the text. They write something down. One of them said, “I have heard something about a desk and I hope some day to get one.”
So, this guy copied all the four Gospels on his lap while he was writing that down. Another famous one that occurs in a lot of Greek manuscripts says, in English, something like, “When this hand lies moldering in the grave, this Word will still go on with all of its power.”
They realize that they were doing God’s work. It’s important that we thank them for that. They did a lot of really important things.
[Question]: Where in Athens did you go to study these and are these Catholic monks, Tibetan monks?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: No, they would be Greek Orthodox. But, in Athens, I didn’t go to the monasteries. In Athens, I went to parliament. Then there’s a town called Kalavryta. Kalavryta is a small town in which, during World War II, the Nazis gathered up all the men over 12 years old and said to them, “We want to take you out to this hill. Nothing will happen. Don’t worry.”
They took them all out to the hill and they shot them all. So, it’s a town that is fraught with that kind of history. But, also, right around Kalavryta, there were three different monasteries that we were able to visit.
[Chip Bennett]: We have time for one more question. Anybody else got one? No? Nobody? Go ahead, Chris.
[Question]: So, I know that these really don’t effect the Gospel, but I know there’s some passages and in Scripture it tells us that in earlier manuscripts, they weren’t found, I think. If I’m not mistaken, a woman caught in adultery is one, maybe at the end of Mark 16:9-20. And I know that, yeah, the woman caught in adultery is the typical passage used in teaching about forgiveness. How should we approach stuff like that and what would be your take on it?
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: The woman taken in adultery is my favorite passage that’s not in the Bible. The reason I think that it’s important that we understand that is that when your children or grandchildren go off to school, some professor’s going to stand up and say, “Did you know that the woman taken in adultery is not even really in the Gospel of John?”
We don’t want to shock them. We want them to be able to say, “Yeah, I knew that. So what? That doesn’t mean anything.”
The evidence is pretty much overwhelming that that was not in the original Gospel of John. I do think that its a real, historical incident about Jesus. I just don’t think that it’s a part of the Gospel of John. I know that people love that story and it troubles them when we say it’s not in the Gospel of John. And I’m sorry. You’ll have to talk to John about that. But, we have an obligation to deal in truth. And the truth is that almost certainly that passage is not there. But, it doesn’t change our doctrine of forgiveness at all. There are plenty of other places were Jesus forgives people for sins that they’ve committed, and that’s the wonderful news of the Gospel.
[Chip Bennett]: My suggestion, from a pastoral side, would be this: Whereas we may be able, from a textual tradition, to say that John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20 may not be found in the earliest manuscripts, the fact, though, that they have been included in church history for the many, many, many years that they have, a lot of people have preached off of those passages and people have been ministered to off of those passages. So, whereas we might be able to say that John didn’t include that particular passage, the fact that it is in Scripture and in our Bibles in the way that it’s been sort of handed down, I do think that there’s something about the tradition that we see in the church. I wouldn’t be going and basing doctrinal issues off of Mark 16:9-20.
[Dr. Sam Lamerson]: You don’t snake handle, I guess? Snake handling is what I liken the Mark 16 passage. That’s what I want to do.
[Chip Bennett]: Alright. Well, I hope everybody has enjoyed this evening. We are going to, at this time – and I hope that all of you all will think about doing this. We are going to take up an offering. What I’m going to do with the offering is I’m going to take the entire offering and we’re going to give it, as a church, to Knox Theological Seminary as a gift to them. So, if you believe in higher education – I mean, I have a doctorate from Knox. You all have met Warren, Jim Belcher’s been here in our church. Jim used to teach at Knox. Sam’s now here. Sam’s the President of Knox. He’s also a professor there. It’s a great institution and I want to bless them as a church.
So, we’re going to take up an offering. I’d like to say a prayer. We’ll take up the offering and then everybody is free to go. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You so much for tonight. Thank You for the opportunity to do what we do and to have a church that not only preaches and teaches from the Word of God, but also is able to do these academic type of evenings that I believe are informative and educational for everyone. Lord, my prayer is that as Sam goes on his way, that You would bless his coming and going as the president of Knox, Lord, as he’s training young men and women to go into the world and preach the Gospel and to do it effectively with the skills and the education that they need to persuasively show Jesus in all of Scripture.
Lord, I pray for Knox, that You would bless that school, that You would continue to increase enrollment, that You would bring even more people there so that more people could be trained to go out and do the right things. Lord, and I just pray, God, that You would bless this offering for Your glory. I pray that You would multiply it and increase it so that Knox can continue to do what they do, which is to train people with the Gospel to go into the world and make a difference. In Christ’s name we pray, and everybody said, “Amen.”