The Uniquely, Authentic, and Inspired Word of God - Part III

Nov 2011

Biblical Doctrine is not in anyway endangered by the textual variations.  I’ll quote Sir Fredrick Kenyon, a leading authority in the field of New Testament criticism, “No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. . . .”  He further states, “It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain:  Especially is the case of the N.T., the number of manuscripts of the N.T., of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities.  This can be said of no other book in the world.”

The manuscripts are supported by various versions and early Church Fathers.  It was lawyer, Judge, and Historian, Sir David Dalrymple who questions, “Suppose that the New Testament had been destroyed, and every copy lost by the end of the third century, could it have been collected together again from the writings of the Father’s in the second centuries?”

After great investigation he concluded, “That question aroused my curiosity, and as I possessed all the existing words of the second and third centuries, I commenced my search, and up to this time I have found the entire N.T., except eleven verses.”

“God, Who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, [2] Has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, Whom He has appointed Heir of all things, by Whom also He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1-2).

Rest assured the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, inspired, and authentic Word of God.  It is totally reliable.

“All Scripture is given by Inspiration of God, and is profitable for Doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in Righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16).


The uniqueness of the Bible is expressed through its eyewitness accounts. “This is the Disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things:  and we know that his testimony is true” (Jn. 21:24).

John 21:24 is an example to us that God gave the Gospel writers firsthand exposure to the events of Jesus’ Ministry and understanding of those events which uniquely qualified them for their writing task.

Paul wrote to the churches on practical matters:
“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you” (I Cor. 4:14).

“I wrote unto you in an Epistle not to company with fornicators” (I Cor. 5:9).

Paul knew he was expressing what the Holy Spirit directed him to write.
“If any man think himself to be a Prophet, or Spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the Commandments of the Lord” (I Cor. 14:37).

God used Paul to declare his revealed wisdom:
“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing Spiritual things with Spiritual” (I Cor. 2:13).

What Paul wrote was to be received as Divine Instruction.  Peter said of Paul:
“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is Salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him has written unto you” (II Pet. 3:15).

In John’s Epistle letters he explained he did not write to the churches to reveal any new instructions from God:
“Brethren, I write no new Commandment unto you, but an old Commandment which you had from the beginning.  The old Commandment is the Word which you have heard from the beginning.  [8] Again, a new Commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in Him and in you:  because the darkness is past, and the true Light now shines” (I Jn. 2:7-8).
He did not write because his readers were ignorant of truth that Christ had already revealed.
“I have not written unto you because you know not the Truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the Truth” (I Jn. 2:21).

He wrote to Believer’s who clearly knew truth and encouraged them to obey.  It is clear that New Testament writers worked in perfect harmony with truth that had already been revealed of and by Christ.


In brief, how we received the New Testament gives us wonderful assurance of God’s Word and Truth He expressed to us.  We have many fragments of the New Testament Text that were written in the Second Century A.D.  Some fragments are on Ostraka (scrapes of pottery) and Talismans (pendants, bracelets and other early objects early Christians wore to ward off evil spirits).  These fragments contain only short quotations and give us little information about the original Text.

In the Third and Fourth Century after Christ we find the New Testament written on Papyrus (paper made from papyrus reeds).  The earliest papyrus is stored at John Rylands Library in Manchester, England.  Although the fragment is only 2.5 inches by 3.25 inches it contains a portion of John 18:32-33, 37-38 and dates back to A.D. 125.

Seventy-six leaves of papyrus known as the Chester Beatty Papyri are located in Chester Beatty Museum in Dublin and at the University of Michigan.  Each of the leaves is 6.5 inches by 11 inches and contains approximately 25 lines of writing.  It contains most of the Apostle Paul’s writings.  Experts estimate it to be written around A.D. 200.

The Bodmer Papyrus is another important manuscript written around A.D. 200 and contains Chapters 1 through 14 of the Gospel of John and fragments of the last seven Chapters.  It is located in Cologny, Switzerland in the private library of Martin Bodmer.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered at Qumran, papyrus fragments from cave 7 contain fragments of Mark’s Gospel, according to professor Joe O’Callagham of Barcelona.

In the Third and Fourth Centuries New Testament copies were all written in capital letters and run together.  These manuscripts were written on Vellum (parchment) uncials.  The Scribes used uncial style of writing up until the Ninth Century then began to use small, cursive Greek script.  There are 2,700 manuscripts written in this style also called minuscule.

The earliest complete manuscript of the entire Bible that is still intact is the Codex Sinaiticus (www.codexsinaiticus.org).  It was discovered in 1859 by Constantine Von Tischendorf at the foot of traditional Mt. Sinai.

King James I of England received a gift from the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople in 1624 of the entire Bible written in Greek, along with the Apocryphal books and I and II Clememt and the Psalms of Solomon.  The Codex Alexandrinus is an uncial manuscript that dates to around A.D. 400.


There is other evidence to consider such as the early Church Fathers often quoted New Testament Scriptures on their writings; however, they did not always quote accurately and often paraphrased.  These quotations still serve as an important witness to the original Text.

382 A.D. – LATIN VULGATE – In A.D. 200 there were many Latin speaking Christians and the Bible began to be translated to Latin.  There are no Latin manuscripts that survive from that time.

In the Fourth Century Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome to produce a standard text of the Latin Bible using “common language” based on old Latin versions.  This became know as the Latin Vulgate.  Jerome compared Latin manuscripts to Greek manuscripts that were available.

Considered one of the greatest manuscript collectors was Pope Leo X.  Under his recommendation a scholarly edition of the Bible was edited and completed by Cardinal Ximines of Spain.  It became known as the Complutensian Polyglot (means to set forth in many languages).  The editors of this edition claim they used “very ancient and correct” Greek manuscripts that Pope Leo X provided for their work, however, we can’t be sure which manuscripts these were and if any survived the Papal wars of Renaissance Italy.


1516 A.D. TEXTUS RECEPTUS – Swiss printer Froben persuaded Erasmus of Rotterdam, a noted Bible Scholar, to come to Basel Switzerland and prepare a manuscript in Greek.  Manuscripts from Basel University were used and the manuscript was completed in 1516.  Erasmus’ text became the Textus Receptus (received text) of the New Testament and served as a basic guide for the translators of the King James Version (KJV).

Two hundred years later, Scholars began to replace Erasmus’ text with printed texts based on earlier Greek manuscripts, which they assumed were better than the Textus Receptus.  In 1831, Charles Lachmann published such a text.  It was called a “critical text” because it set aside the Textus Receptus and constructed a text from what he considered to be the most ancient witnesses.

Constantine Von Tischendorf, whom I mentioned earlier, collected ancient manuscripts and issued several Greek editions.  He added notations and variant readings in the margins.

Tregelles tried to develop an improved text, seeking the best reading at each point where selected manuscripts diverged.  He evaluated the Greek manuscripts by the age of the variant readings, not the age of the manuscripts themselves.  Westcott and Hort, after classifying the Greek texts according to the age of the variant readings, concluded there were four basic types:  Syrian, Western, Alexandrian, and Neutral.  Their Greek text of the New Testament was entitled “The New Testament in Original Greek.”  Soon after publication it replaced Erasmus’ text as the Textus Receptus of the New Testament.



Textual study has made some notable advances since the days of Westcott and Hort.  Now Scholars agree that early Textual history of the Greek NT was more complicated than they supposed in the Nineteenth Century.  Although many Scholars still follow the findings of Westcott and Hort, today many Scholars believe the assumption that the earliest Text would be the purest, may not be true.  Westcott and Hort knew nothing about the papyri or their readings and were unsuccessful in tracking the text back beyond the Second Century with the approach of Text types.  Many Scholars now believe that the internal evidence (content) should carry more weight than the text in determining which readings are the most reliable.

We can approach the Greek NT with confidence.  Not one word in a thousand is seriously uncertain, and no established doctrine is called in question by any of the continuing doubts about correct reading. 

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