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Friday, January 27, 2006

Bible translation and imperfect textual transmission

Mark D. Roberts, one of my favorite bloggers, is about to conclude a lengthy and important series of posts on textual transmission, titled The God of Imperfect Textual Transmission. Mark specifically addresses claims against the trustworthiness of the biblical text made by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, was published at the end of 2005 and is getting more press than it deserves. I commend to you Mark's blog series which is written in his usual scholarly, irenic, and pastoral style.

For those of us concerned about good Bible translation issues, we can rest assured that the differences among the extant Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts of the Bible make no significant difference, overall, in how we translate nor in what we can learn from the Bible itself. A Bible version, such as the NKJV, whose New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus, teaches us the same things about God and his desires for us as do the many other versions which are based on ecclectic Greek texts.


At Fri Jan 27, 10:52:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Thanks for the tip on this post-a subject I've been thinking a lot about. Also thanks for the word, "irenic." You had me reaching for the dictionary on that one. Beautiful word!

At Fri Jan 27, 12:14:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Also thanks for the word, "irenic." You had me reaching for the dictionary on that one. Beautiful word!

A peaceful word, too, eh?!


At Fri Jan 27, 09:52:00 PM, Blogger said...

Thanks, Wayne, for the commendation and the link!

At Sat Jan 28, 05:32:00 AM, Blogger Kenny said...

NKJV uses the Textus Receptus which is different than the (Hodges and Farstead) majority text, although both belong to the Byzantine family. The biggest differences are in the Revelation (which has the most discrepancies of any NT book), where the majority actually sides with the ecclectic Alexandrian texts more often than it sides with TR.

Sorry to nit-pick, but thought it was worthy of comment. I absolutely agree with the point that the choice of text cannot possibly make nearly so much difference as the translation philosophy, and thus is much less important.

At Sat Jan 28, 09:12:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

NKJV uses the Textus Receptus which is different than the (Hodges and Farstead) majority text, although both belong to the Byzantine family.

Thanks, Kenny. That's what I had thought, also, and my first edition of this post had the TR instead of MT. But then I made the mistake of trying to check it on the Internet and read something that made it seem that the NKJV had used the wider textual base of the Majority Text.

Sorry to nit-pick, but thought it was worthy of comment.

It's not nit-picking at all, Kenny. I appreciate your pointing it out.

At Mon Jan 30, 04:22:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

One small point on which I would take issue with Mark Roberts. He wrote:

If you were to remove from the Bible every single passage where there is legitimate uncertainly about the original text, the impact on Christian theology and practice would be minimal at most. (The only folk I know who would be in trouble are the snake-handling Christians of Appalachia...)

One other such practice is the use of fasting in relation to exorcism, which is supported in the NT only from Matthew 17:21 (MT, KJV), omitted in most modern versions, and Mark 9:29 where the word "fasting" is probably a later addition.

Another practice which is in part dependant on a verse omitted in most modern versions is the requirement of a confession of faith before baptism, based on Acts 8:37 (MT, KJV).

At Mon Jan 30, 04:49:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Mark Roberts writes that "his realization that the original text of the New Testament was passed on imperfectly led Ehrman to abandon his belief that the Bible was inspired, and ultimately his belief in God."

I find this very sad, not just that Ehrman has lost his faith, but that this was the route of his logical deduction. It seems that his logic was formerly "the Bible is true, therefore God exists"; and because he is now unsure about the premise he has decided that the conclusion is unsafe and has become agnostic.

However, it seems to me that this logic is entirely backwards. I don't see how anyone can conclude that the Bible is true and the authoritative Word of God without first believing in God. There is no evidence or logical argument for the authority or infallibility of the Bible except through belief in God.

The logical way to come to belief in God is not through belief in the authority of the Bible. People come to believe in God in many ways. For some it is through spiritual experience. For others, like the author of "Who Moved the Stone?", it is because they realise that there is no way to explain the Bible accounts (even if they are not presumed to be authoritative) except by understanding that God raised Jesus from the dead. When people do come to accept that God exists, and that the Christian description of him is basically correct, they can move from there to an understanding that the Bible is inspired and authoritative.

And then of course there are those who believe in God because they have been brought up to do so and told that they should do because the Bible tells them to. ("Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so" - a song I would like to see rejected as heretical.) Perhaps Ehrman was one of these. When these people actually start to think critically, of course they will realise that this is not a firm foundation for their faith. And if they do not have a real personal experience of God, they are then likely to fall away into agnosticism as Ehrman has done.

To bring this back to the original topic of the thread: Muslims believe that the foundation of their faith is the Qur'an. As such they don't accept any questioning of the exact truth of the Qur'an. But Christians understand, or should do, that the foundation of their faith is not the Bible but Jesus Christ. Only a faith built on him can survive and grow.


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