Have the Original the Bible
Manuscripts Been Edited?
Q. Is it true that you believe that the Bible has been 'edited'? And if so, what impact does this have on the claim that the Bible is infallibly inerrant in the original manuscripts? How can I know it is true if it has been changed?
A. The Enemy has long sought to discredit and destroy the Bible. Unfortunately, his task has been made considerably easier because of uninformed and counter-productive doctrines invented by well-meaning but deceived men about the way the Bible was revealed and preserved. By way of illustration, the story of the King James-Only Controversy, in which the ridiculous and unsubstantiatable claim is still being made that of all other versions - including the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts from which they were translated - only the 1611 English King James Version (KJV) is word for word infallibly true. I recommend you study my most recent article on this subject, King James-Only: Revisiting a Biblical Version Issue, before continuing as it covers many of the issues I would wish to raise in response to your questions.
To your question, 'has the Bible been edited?', the answer is , beyond controvesy, 'yes'. More importantly, though, is the question: 'Is this editing consistent with the Bible being inspired and reliable?'
Let's take some examples. It is claimed (and I do not dispute it) that Moses wrote the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Tanakh (Old Testament). But did he write or compose every word? Clearly not. For one, most of what is written in Genesis was passed down to him, since he was not an eyewitness of the historical events before his own time. Whether this was transmitted in written or oral form, or how much was given to him by direct revelation, is impossible to know. We we can, and do, know is that is both very old (in some parts, centuries or millennia older than Moses himself) and reliable history. Since the authenticity of Genesis is key to a proper Besorah (Gospel) witness, then I highly recommend the book by Dr. Bill Cooper, The Authenticity of the Book of Genesis (Creation Science Movement: 2011) though there are many other worthy titles I could mention which also do this subject credit. Genesis is authentic - from the creation account in the first chapter to the death of Joseph in the last.
Clearly, though, Moses could not have written all of the Pentateuch, as no man has yet, to my knowledge, ever been able to write a description of his death and burial. The last chapter of Deuteronomy (Dt.34) was clearly written by Aaron, Joshua or an unknown scribe who was contemporary with the events described. Does it have to have been written by Moses to be authentic? It's historical, as a good portion of the Bible is, rather than doctrinal so to be valid as Scripture it simply has to be accurate. That the Ruach (Spirit) guided its writing is assumed though can't, of course, be proven. What's important is that Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) testified to, and therefore validated, the whole Torah (e.g. Mt.5:18), whether that be just the Pentateuch or the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) is not so important.
More germaine to your first question is whether anything Moses wrote in the Penteteuch was altered or changed later, and whether such changes in any way destroy the claim of the Pentateuch to still be uncorrupted and inspired. I cite three example of where clearly an editor has been at work without malice:
To give a New Testament example, some talmidim (disciples) of the Apostle John have tagged on a footnote to his Gospel in John 21:24-25 by way of testimony of the authenticity of what John had written before. Again, no malice or deception involved.
- 1. Genesis 14:14 - here the northern city of "Dan" is cited which did not exist by that name until long after the settlement of Canaan by the Israelite tribes and Dan's subsequent relocation from his original settlement area (because of Philistine pressure) to the extreme north of the land. The original name of the town, by which it was exclusively known in Moses' day, was "Laish" (Judg.18:29). Presumably a later editor changed 'Laish' to the better known 'Dan', by which it was known, so that when the Torah was read out, the people would know which the town was. Modern English translations do much the same thing when we change Biblical units of measurement into our own imperial or metric systems so that we can relate to them better. Not everybody agrees with this practice, and many versions still use the biblical measures and give conversion tables or insert footnotes converting to modern units. However you look at it, no malicious attempt has been made to deceive or corrupt. The purpose is to more accurately communicate to a modern audience or readership;
- 2. Genesis 36:31 - here an editor has added "before any Israelite king reigned" (NIV). Now unless Moses was given a revelation in which Yahweh told him that many centuries down the line Israel would abandon the Tribal Confederacy and start installing monarchs instead (contrary to Yahweh's clear instruction) - and it has to be said that this might be the explanation for these words - then for some reason a Scribe, from a period from King Saul onwards, decided to make an insert explaining that this was a pre-monarchical era. I am not sure why he would do that but there is no reason why this could not have taken place. If so, then this is an example of expansion for the purpose of clarity;
- 3. Genesis 47:11 - here is a clear-cut case of the name of an Egyptian monarch (Rameses II) being inserted long after the time period of the text recorded by Moses (see Ex.1:11; 12:34; Num.33:3,5). Again, this is an example of editorial updating and there is no malice aforethought.
Other scribal inserts are problematical such as the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7–8), an insertion made by early Catholics to bolster the Trinity doctrine, and is absent from a large array of early manuscripts. This is a clear case of forgery and dishonesty and is rightly removed in modern English translations or properly annotated in a footnote to indicate that it is a later addition. Most manuscript variants are cases of scribal transcription error and pose no problem. By collating the thousands of manuscripts available to us it is possible to restore the original and to understand the method of scripture preservation Yahweh has used. For an excellent study, see James R. White's, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations? (Bethany House, Mineapolis, Minnesota: 2009) which tackles the issue of manuscript variations in addition to addressing its main theme of KJV-Only claims.
The story of the woman caught in adultery, found in John 8:1-11, is absent in some manuscripts and in others located in a different part of John's Gospel. It is accordingly left out of many modern English translations or relegated to a footnote. Though a much beloved account which rings true to many and may possibly have been added later by a talmid (disiciple), its authenticity is questioned because it apparently violates the proper Torah procedure in dealing with cases of adultery. Nowhere in sight is the male partner-in-crime with whom she was supposedly caught in the act. I remain neutral about this account.
The most controversial, in my opinion, is the Book of Esther which, of all the Tanakh books, was the only one absent from the canon of the Essene community which used what have come to be known by us today as the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). As it stands, it is almost certainly a redaction, coming originally from a much longer story. A much later writing claimed to be the 'missing parts' of this abridged book and these are found in the Apocrypha but are unquestionably a forgery. It has been my opinion for some years now that the 'original' Book of Esther is itself a forgery, with no historical basis, along with the Jewish festival of Purim ('Feast of Lots', nowhere mandated by Yahweh), around which a whole Jewish mythology has grown up. It is undoubtedly the reason why the Essenes excluded it from their Tanakh (Old Testament) canon and a reason it should be excluded from ours. For more on this, see The Babylonian Carnival: Origins of the Purim Festival. Messianic Evangelicals treat the Book of Esther as a piece of speculative history.
Another important example would be the Book of Ezekiel which is, in reality, 13 separate prophetic books. The problem here is that some unknown, and therefore unnamed, scribe has, for some unknown reason, flung them together out of chronological order which has resulted in enormous confusion in the study of eschatology and prophetic events, so much so that it is misleading believers to false conclusions about the State of Israel and the 'Third Temple' that will result in many embracing the Anti-Messiah (Antichrist) when he manifests himself. See, The 13 Scrolls of Ezekiel.
Finally, I will make mention of the scribal insertion at Revelation 20:5, "(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended)", which has caused some confusion, again in eschatology. See Will Only the Tribulation Martyrs Qualify for the First Resurrection?
There are, of course, numerous other questions that could be raised in this short answer but all fall, for the most part, under the various categories already listed - differences between the four Gospels (different audiences, different emphases, etc.), for example - and these are treated elsewhere on this website.
Which brings us to the subject of inerrancy and infallibility, itself a huge subject and perhaps the wrong question to ask. In the light of what we have examined today, I think more useful questions would be:
To which my answer would be a resounding 'yes'. If we were to remove the Book of Esther, the Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery, the Comma Johanneum and the resurrection insertion in the Book of Revelation; and if we were to re-order the Book of Ezekiel, and change the text to the original before those early scribal changes were made in Genesis we would still have the same message and truths needed for salvation and sanctification. The Bible is reliable and may be trusted, with or without the activities of the editors.
- 1. Has the Bible been faithfully preserved?
- 2. Do all the manuscript variants and various scribal additions and modifications in any way alter the essential message of the Gospel of Salvation and of the Torah lifestyle that Yahweh wants us to live?
- 3. Is it reliable in spite of the issues raised?
This page was created on 18 March 2017
Last updated on 18 March 2017
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