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Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

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 suspect most of you have seen pictures of beautifully illuminated manuscripts. Certainly that added to the cost of producing ancient books, including the Bible; however, that is only part of the story. Sometimes the illustrations were added, because the cost of just the book itself was so great that anyone who could afford that cost could also afford the extra cost of illuminations.

Below is a link to a video showing how parchment is made and how that was used to create a book in the ancient world. We take so much for granted in our technological world. Take a few minutes and appreciate how much we owe to scribes in ancient times who spent their lives preserving the Bible, as well as other books, for us to enjoy today.

Here is the link.

http://biblemanuscripts.org/how-manuscripts-were-made.html

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You can hardly escape watching programs or seeing in books (such as The DaVinci Code) which imply that certain books were banned from being included in the New Testament. The whole question of the formation of the canon of the New Testament is very complex and needs to be addressed carefully and methodically. With that warning I am sharing a link below to an article that discusses this question.

http://www.timothypauljones.com/2012/12/31/why-some-books-made-it-into-the-new-testament-and-others-didnt/

Actually, I found the main value in the article not in what it said about the canon, but in how it described what books churches from the second century on might have had available to them. This is found in the first half of the article, and I would encourage you to read it. It provides some good information about what early Christians may have read at a time when the canon was still being decided upon. Christians today often have difficulty understanding how different churches were in the first three centuries before Christianity became a legal religion. This article paints a word picture that simplifies that understanding.

At some point, I wish to add my own thoughts on the canon of both the Old and New Testaments, but for now I would encourage you to read this article. It has some good information.

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A previous post contained information regarding a few of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. As I said then, the few discussed were selected because they were in some ways the most significant of the earliest manuscripts. Of course, all of them contained only portions of the New Testament. A couple of the earliest were mere scraps of papyrus with a few verses, all that remained from what were originally larger manuscripts. Others, were longer, but even these did not contain the entire Bible or even the entire New Testament, partially because they come from a time when the New Testament canon was not yet finalized.

Today I want us to come forward in time to look at the earliest essentially complete Bibles. We shall see that even at this stage, nothing is cut and dry. And once again, I shall only talk about three manuscripts out of several we could consider. I have selected for consideration the three manuscripts which most scholars agree are the most important of what were originally essentially complete Bibles. There are a number of others. Books are available should you wish to do further study.

All three of these manuscripts share some characteristics in common. All of them are written on vellum or parchment, which made them much more expensive to produce. They would likely have been commissioned by either a government or a wealthy church. These manuscripts come from a time not long after Christianity became the official religion of Rome, so it is possible the Roman government paid for them. All three manuscripts are written in Greek (which means the Old Testament is the Septuagint, the Greek translation discussed in an earlier post). All three are written with Greek letters called uncials. That means they are written in all capital letters, and there is no spacing between words, and they do not employ any punctuation. They do make use of something called “Nomina Sacra” which we may discuss at a later date. Finally, all three manuscripts include (or originally included) the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Apocrypha.

Codex Vaticanus — This manuscript dates from @ AD 325-350, and it gets its name because it has been in the Vatican library since at least the 1400s. The wallpaper for this blog is in fact derived from a photograph of one page of the Codex Vaticanus. Some portions are missing, so it is impossible to be certain as to what the Vaticanus originally included. Missing from the Apocrypha are the Prayer of Manasseh and the Books of Maccabees. From the New Testament, the manuscript lacks the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus), Philemon, and the book of Revelation. Because the ending is missing we cannot be certain whether these books were originally included or if others were included which are now lost.

A previous post mentioned a manuscript designated as p75 which was copied @ AD 200 and contains the earliest copy of the Gospel of Luke and portions of the Gospel of John. The text of these books in the Codex Vaticanus is so similar to p75 that some scholars believe that p75 was actually the manuscript the scribe used to copy these books to the Codex Vaticanus. If so, it is also possible that p75 originally contained all four gospels and that the Vaticanus represents the text of these gospels from AD 200 as well. This would place our text of the gospels back to around 100-150 years of the originals. Of course this is only supposition, but it is intriguing to consider.

Codex Sinaiticus — This manuscript gets its name, because it was discovered in 1859 at the Monastery of Saint Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai. There is a marvelous story behind that discovery, but time does not permit. Here is a picture of the Sinaiticus.

Codex Sinaiticus
@ AD 350-375

You can see how similar it is to the Vaticanus. This is because it was written about the same time (@ AD 350-375). Apparently it originally contained all of the Old Testament, but much of it is missing. It contains the entire New Testament as well as two books that are not in our New Testament — The Epistle of Barnabas and a portion of The Shepherd of Hermas. The Sinaiticus is in the British Museum in London.

Codex Alexandrinus — Although this manuscript dates somewhat later (AD 400-450), it is still an important witness to the early text of the New Testament. It is also kept in the British Museum, and the writing is very similar to the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus. Only 10 leaves are missing from the Old Testament, but more are missing from the New Testament.

These three manuscripts are important, because they are the earliest examples of what Christians today would call “the Bible.” The manuscripts are also important for New Testament studies, because they share textual similarities. In other words, the three oldest Bibles we have agree in many areas about which there are textual questions. This is so significant, that whenever these three manuscripts agree about a reading, scholars quite often accept their reading even if a majority of other manuscripts have different readings. That may appear strange, but when we study textual variations, I hope to demonstrate why that is an appropriate position to take.

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Daniel B. Wallace

Executive Director of CSNTM & Senior Research Professor of NT Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

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