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Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

This post is to let my readers know that the nature of this blog may change in ways that cannot be predicted at this time. On April 15, 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Further tests are being run to determine the best course of treatment, but the oncologist made it clear that the goal of treatment is not to cure the disease, but to prolong my life.

I have never been a smoker, and we have no history of lung cancer (actually of much cancer at all) in our family. The oncologist agrees that if there is a single cause, it is most likely due to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. In the next day or two I will be contacting the Veterans Administration to apply for service related disability.

Obviously, this development will impact what happens to this blog going forward. Right now I intend to continue making posts, although they may be shorter and more infrequent. How that changes in the future is in God’s hands.

If anyone is interested, I have set up a CaringBridge site, which you can visit to get updates on my condition. You can also sign up there to be notified of new entries as I or my wife make them. The web address is:

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/garycottrell

Since this is a Christian blog, I feel open about requesting prayers from believers who feel inclined to do so. I am most concerned about how this will impact my family, especially with a mentally disabled son living with us.

This is all I intend to say about this on my blog unless conditions change to the point that further information needs to be given.

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The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review contains an article, which discusses how many characters mentioned in the Bible have been confirmed. The article lists 50 people, although the author says that list is conservative. This includes not just people we normally think of as “Bible characters,” but also ancient kings and Pharaohs which are referred to in the Bible. Actually the list is limited to people mentioned in the Old Testament; the article makes no reference to New Testament characters. Attempting to compile a complete list would be difficult, because that would involve dealing with some characters for whom the archaeological evidence is uncertain, and about which there is disagreement.  Even so, I would love to see a more complete list.

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A large number of the posts in this blog have dealt with textual variations in one form or another, especially in the text of the New Testament. I have concentrated so much on this topic, because opponents of the Bible frequently charge that the variations among the manuscripts demonstrates that the text of the Bible has become so hopelessly corrupted that we cannot know whether it reflects the documents as originally written. I have attempted to face the issues as honestly as possible.

Most recently I concluded a series of posts, concentrating on the most serious textual problems we find in the New Testament. I thought about doing one or two more, but I feel the point has been made. Some of my readers questioned my interpretation of the evidence for some of these passages, and with good reason. While a huge proportion of the variations can be determined with virtual certainty, there are passages for which the evidence is more subjective and which do make a real difference in how we read certain books. That is precisely why I chose these passages to examine. I wanted to bring out into the open the most serious textual problems we find.

I have attempted to demonstrate that the most significant textual problems we find have more to do with favorite stories than with real doctrinal or theological issues. Let me mention three that reflect what I have been trying to say.

The story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8 has no doctrinal or theological significance. Removing this story from the text may take away a favorite story (and it is one of my favorites), but it does no damage to anything taught in the New Testament.

The baptismal confession in Acts 8 describes a doctrinal practice within the heritage in which I was raised, but once again, only reflects a simple ritual that very few people would see as significant in any real sense.

Finally, the heavenly witnesses found in 1 John 5 provides a specific reference to what came to be known as the Trinity. At the same time, there are a number of other passages that teach essentially the same thing about which there is no question textually. So, once again, no theological teaching is in question.

And these passages are truly representative of the most serious kinds of textual problems we find in the New Testament. Those who suggest that the text of the Bible has become so corrupted that we cannot have any confidence in what it teaches have the burden of proof to back up such assertions. From my study there is simply no substantial evidence to support such charges. On the contrary, with over 5,800 Greek manuscripts dating back to the second and third centuries, we have a wealth of evidence that should cause us to feel confident that when we read the Bible, we are reading what the authors originally wrote. I remain convinced that is where the evidence should lead us.

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I have said that there are no textual variants that affect doctrine or theology. Actually, the one I wish to discuss today does have doctrinal implications, but primarily in the religious tradition of which I am a part. My heritage practices adult baptism by immersion and almost exclusively asks the person being baptized, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Most people today would be hard pressed to state where that confession comes from. The reality is that it comes from Acts 8:37 which is routinely footnoted in most translations except the King James. The question today is why do most modern translations not include verse 37 in the body of the text?

The simplest answer to that question is that the most ancient Greek manuscripts do not include it. The manuscripts that do not have verse 37 include—p45 (3rd century), and the big three codices, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (4th century),and  Alexandrinus (5th century), along with other manuscripts.

Verse 37 is included in Codex E which dates from the 6th century and in many of the later cursive manuscripts. It is also included in the Old Latin. Irenaeus quotes part of it, which shows that the passage was in existence at least in the latter part of the second century, perhaps earlier. Bruce Metzger provides an interesting perspective when he writes in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, “Although the passage does not appear in the late medieval manuscript on which Erasmus chiefly depended for his edition (ms. 2), it stands in the margin of another (ms. 4), from which he inserted it into his text because he ‘judged that it had been omitted by the carelessness of scribes.’”

All of this is probably more detail than most of my readers care about. The bottom line is that we should be able to see that the passage is certainly questionable. Possibly it was inserted as a possible answer to the Eunuch’s question in verse 36, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (ESV). Certainly the passage retains perhaps the most ancient baptismal confessional handed down to us. I like it because of its simplicity and its emphasis on the primacy of faith in Jesus as the Christ. I can think of nothing with which I would want to replace it.

At the same time, it probably was not originally part of the text of Acts. As I said earlier, this may disturb some people within my religious heritage, but I am first of all interested in truth, not in preserving what I was taught to believe. This is the lesson I would like for my readers to get from this post. We should not come to the Bible seeking to validate what we already believe. Nor should we bring our preconceptions to it. I have always attempted simply to accept what I find there, and I feel comfortable doing so.

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In some respects the story of the woman taken in Adultery found in John 7:53—8:11 may be the most significant textual problem in the New Testament. While this passage does not contain any doctrinal issues that should concern us, the message of forgiveness is significant

I want to avoid going into too much textual detail, recognizing that most of my readers do not have the background or probably the interest in pursuing that. At the same time, some details are necessary to understand the evidence.

Virtually all of the textual variants we will consider require examining first the most ancient Greek manuscripts to see how they read. Other versions (translations) may also be considered, but obviously Greek manuscripts are critical, because the New Testament books were originally written in Greek.

So what is the evidence for including this passage in John? The first manuscript to contain it is Codex D (5th century). After that, we do not find it in any other Greek manuscript until the 9th century, although it is included in a large number of later medieval manuscripts. It is also included in the Latin Vulgate (late 4th century).  The passage is also included in several Old Latin manuscripts which would take its origin back to at least the 2nd century.

Arguing against the authenticity of the passage, we find that it is not included in virtually any of the earliest manuscripts, including p66 and p75 (@ AD 200) or codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (4th century). At the same time, we should recognize that p66, p75, as well as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus all have what are referred to as diacritical marks at this location, which may well be an indication that the scribes were aware of this passage. Codices A and C (5th century) are missing at this point, but apparently scholars have measured the amount of space and determined that there would not have been enough room to have included the passage in these manuscripts.

This passage has another serious problem. While most manuscripts that include it place it in its traditional location after John 7, some manuscripts have it elsewhere. Different manuscripts place this passage after: Luke 21:38; Luke 24:53; John 7:36; or at the end of John. This indicates that while the passage was recognized, scribes were uncertain as to where it should go.

All of this makes it difficult to see this passage as original. At the same time, possible references to it in other writings tend to take the passage back at least to the second century.

It is not my place to tell you what to do with this story, but I would like to close with what amounts to nothing more than my opinion. While the story of the woman taken in adultery almost certainly was not originally part of the gospel of John, it does go back to ancient times. It also has the ring of truth to it. By that I mean that Jesus’ response is in keeping with how He is described throughout the gospels, especially taking up for the underdog in most situations. Is it possible that this passage reflects what was originally a part of oral tradition that was later written down? If so, it may well constitute an example of an authentic story of Jesus preserved outside of the New Testament. I certainly cannot say that this is what happened. At the same time, I see nothing in the story that contradicts what we know Jesus taught, and over the centuries millions have been inspired by its message of forgiveness. I will not say it was originally part of John’s gospel, but I agree with its message. This is where I leave it to my readers to judge for yourselves what to do with the passage.

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The ending of Mark is perhaps the most significant textual question in the New Testament. It is important for two reasons. First, there is real doubt as to how the gospel originally ended. Also, it is a significant message. This is the type of issue that troubles people. Let’s look at it.

Most modern translations raise some kind of question about Mark 16:9-20. They may also include what is referred to as the shorter ending, which reads in the NAS Revised Edition, “And they promptly reported all these instructions to Peter and his companions. And after that, Jesus Himself sent out through them from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

So, there are four possibilities:

  1. Mark originally ended with the shorter ending.
  2. Mark originally ended with the longer ending (vv. 9-20).
  3. Mark originally contained another ending which was lost before it could be copied.
  4. Mark originally ended after verse 8.

Let’s eliminate the first possibility immediately. It isn’t natural. It even sounds like something tacked on, because a scribe did not find the ending satisfactory. Greek manuscripts that contain it date from the 7th to the 9th centuries or later, although an Old Latin and other less significant versions (translations) include it. But, overall, this shorter ending has very little to support it.

Could the gospel have ended as we have it with verses 9-20? Yes, that is a possibility, although I have to admit I don’t think it likely, even though there are a very large number of manuscripts and versions that support it.  Several 5th century manuscripts include it, along with virtually all the later manuscripts, as well as the earliest manuscript of the Old Latin, Latin Vulgate, one Old Syriac Version, the Syriac Peshitta, and a number of other versions. Irenaeus, one of the church Fathers, refers to the longer ending, which shows that it existed in the 2nd century and that Mark was believed to be the author. That sounds impressive, so what’s the problem?

In an earlier post, we talked about the three most significant manuscripts we have of the New Testament. Two of these, the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus date from AD 325-350). Whenever these manuscripts agree scholars consider that to be significant. And neither of these manuscripts includes verses 9-20. These verses are also absent from the earliest Old Latin manuscripts, about 100 Armenian manuscripts, the two oldest Georgian manuscripts, as well as other versions.

Among the church fathers, Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses. Eusebius and Jerome acknowledge that it was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. Finally, many of the manuscripts that do contain verses 9-20 are marked with notations indicating that it was questionable as to whether the passage should be included.

Finally, we must consider the possibility that the original ending of Mark was lost before it could be copied. While that is a real possibility, it is somewhat unlikely. The original was probably written on a scroll, rather than a codex. While the last leaf of a codex could be torn off, the ending of a scroll is harder to lose.

One quick message of reassurance. If we eliminate verses 9-20, we have not lost what is commonly referred to as “the Great Commission.” It is contained in virtually the same words in Matthew 28, and there are no textual issues relating to Matthew’s version at all.

I tend toward believing that Mark ended his gospel with verse 8. While that may seem to be an unusual ending, it has literary value. The rest of the story would likely have been known by most of Mark’s readers, but by ending it abruptly at verse 8, Mark forces us to ask ourselves the question, “How will I write the ending for myself? How will I respond to the events as described? Will I respond with faith or with doubt and confusion? I can’t say whether Mark deliberately set out to pose these questions, but they are there, nonetheless, and I must admit that I am intrigued by the literary value of this ending. Mark leaves us with an empty tomb, but with the disciples afraid and not sure what to do. I can identify with that. Can’t you?

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Whenever textual problems in the New Testament come up, 1 John 5:7—8 seems to be the one that is discussed first, as if it is the most serious textual problem we have. I am going to discuss it first, although it does not seem to me to be that serious a problem. You be the judge.

Here is the issue. 1 John 5:7—8 reads as follows, first in the King James Version, then in the New American Standard Version, Revised Edition. I have highlighted the phrase in question.

King James — “7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

New American Standard — “7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood: and the three are in agreement.”

Obviously, the verse divisions are arbitrary, since they were added much later, so that’s not the real concern. Virtually all modern translations follow the New American Standard in omitting the reference to the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and that is the real issue. If the King James Version is correct, we have a clear reference to the Trinity (although the word is not used here or anywhere else in the New Testament). If the modern translations are right, this reference is lacking.

Here is a summary of the textual evidence.

The passage may have derived from the Latin in the 4th century, in a homily which symbolically made the original text refer to the Trinity. It then became incorporated into the Latin Vulgate.

The oldest Greek manuscript that actually contains this phrase within the text dates from the 14th century, and it has slightly different wording from the others. There is a manuscript from the 10th century that includes the passage as a marginal note. Actually, this passage is found in only nine very late manuscripts, and four of them have the passage as a marginal note, not actually part of the text. Also, the passage is not found in any of the writings of the Church Fathers. The earliest such reference comes from 1215 in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, which was originally written in Latin.

Also, we can see how the phrase might have been added later to refer to the Trinity. There would have been no reason to delete it if it were originally in the text, since a clear reference to the Trinity would have been received favorably, but we can understand why a scribe might add it to clarify what he believed the passage was teaching.

The question remains, does omitting this passage destroy traditional church teaching about the Trinity? The simple answer is, “No.” There are other passages in the New Testament that clearly teach the divinity of Jesus and the eternal nature of the Holy Spirit, and there are no textual problems with these passages. Here are a few from the ESV.

Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 20:28 “Thomas answered him, ‘My lord and my God!’”

1 Corinthians 12:4—6 “4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”

2 Corinthians 13:14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Philippians 2:6 (referring to Christ in verse 5) “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,”

Other passages could be added.

There are two principles here. One is that the passage was almost certainly not in the original, and modern translations have not removed it out of any attempt to water down traditional Christian theology.

Also, removing this phrase from the text does not destroy the basis on which the doctrine of the Trinity came.

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