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Archive for December, 2012

Some of you will receive this message twice, because I am posting it on both of my blogs. Last year at this time I posted a link to a video, and I am repeating that again. It may become a tradition.

The two blogs I have perhaps reveal something of my dual personality, which I suspect some of you have difficulty figuring out. On the one hand, I have a strong analytical, even intellectual side, and that is seen in my blog that deals with the history of the Bible. At the same time, I feel a need to develop and share faith and inspiration in a world that needs it so desperately. That led to my trying to keep up with a second blog. Today’s message is somewhat different, and I wanted to share it more widely.

We need to engage God with our minds, because only if we understand what is true, can our faith be genuine. At the same time, intellectual facts can never satisfy our soul’s hunger for more. After we have sifted all the facts, separated myth from history, and understood all that science and study can teach us, there must be a place for the supernatural, that which cannot be explained, but which our faith tells us is real.

Last night at our church’s candlelight service, we sang so many of the traditional Christmas carols that I grew up with. As difficult as it was for me to do, I let my intellectual side go, and almost immediately I felt the reality of the supernatural. I felt the presence of a transcendent God who was as real as the chair in which I was sitting.

At some point, we must put aside the books that keep us at arm’s length from the supernatural presence of God. I am convinced that is the heart of the Christmas message. God becomes a part of struggling humanity, so that He can then draw us into His divine nature. That is the real meaning of the Christmas story. Other things are important, but occasionally we all need to step back, acknowledge that reality, and let God into our everyday lives.

I let Linus say it last year, and I am allowing him to do it again this year. I wish you a merry Christmas, a holy Christmas, and a transcendent Christmas. May God bless each one who reads this.

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Actually, there is good evidence that sometimes scribes making copies of the Bible did deliberately change some words or passages when they were making copies from an older manuscript. This sounds like a dark conspiracy in the DaVinci Code tradition, and you may see some television documentaries suggesting just that. The truth is far less exciting, and we can fairly easily detect textual variants that are the result of deliberate alteration.

The most frequent instances of such deliberate changes are found in the gospels, and they are the result of what textual scholars refer to as “harmonization.” This involves attempts by scribes to make Jesus’s words recorded in one gospel identical to how they are recorded in another gospel.

Let’s look at just one example of how this happens. In the NIV the last part of Matthew 11:19 reads, “But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Compare that reading with Luke 7:35 which the NIV translates as “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

First, let’s notice that the meaning is not changed with either reading. Both “deeds” and “children” are metaphors to say that wisdom can be tested by the results that it produces. That is the real message no matter which way the passages read (deeds or children).

There are manuscripts of both Matthew and Luke which support both “deeds” and “children.” But when we look at the weight of the manuscripts supporting either reading, we find that the manuscript evidence is better for translating Matthew as “deeds,” and Luke as “children.” Most of the modern translations will show that difference.

So, why do some of the manuscript differ? We cannot say with certainty, but most scholars feel it is likely that Matthew originally wrote the Greek word for “deeds,” and Luke originally wrote the word for “children.” At some point in the copying process, one or more pious scribes may have assumed that both Matthew and Luke should have recorded Jesus’s words identically. Since the manuscript from which he was copying used a word that was different, one of them must have made an error in quoting Jesus. In all good conscience, he may have changed the word in the copy he was making, believing that he was correcting an error in the older manuscript. Then any copies made from his altered copy would perpetuate that change. Over hundreds of years, both manuscripts may have continued to be used to make more copies, so the process continued.

Fortunately, the science of textual criticism described in my last post allows scholars to evaluate each reading on its own. Also, there is the recognition that preserving the two separate readings is more likely to be correct. We can see the logic a copyist may have used to change Jesus’s words in one gospel to agree with His words in another gospel. But there would be no good reason for someone to change a verse to have a different reading for another gospel.

We have looked at just two verses today, but I hope you can see how the process works. And this explains a number of the variants we have in the manuscripts. There is no evidence of a conspiracy to change the message of the gospel; just the normal kinds of changes that we would expect to find in an age when every copy had to be made by hand.

Did the ancient copyists deliberately change some verses? Yes.

Does that indicate some kind of conspiracy to change the original message of the New Testament? No.

Do these variant readings change what Jesus taught? Absolutely not.

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