Today I am reposting a guest post that I wrote for The Domain for Truth. This version contains the links that should have been on the original Guest Post for The Domain for Truth. I highly recommend Pastor Jimmy’s (aka SlimJim) blog.
ASV, CEB, KJV, CSB, ESV, NASB, Legacy, NIV, NKJV, RSV, etc. are not alphabet soup or new flavors of ice cream from Baskin-Robbins but rather various translations of the bible. In the not-too-distant past, it was not uncommon to have all members within a congregation utilizing the same bible translation. Churches, when purchasing bibles for their congregations, typically would select a single translation (e.g., KJV) for all their members and visitors to use in the church. In our modern era, however, a pastor definitely can’t count on having all his church members utilizing the same bible translation.
Bible translations (see Dr. Jason Lisle’s article: Origin of the Bible: Part 2 – Translations that goes more in depth on that process) are based on the original languages and for the New Testament (NT) that is Koine Greek. This is not classical Greek but Greek of the common people, as FF Bruce stated:
It is recorded, for example, that Bishop Lightfoot, lecturing in 1863, referred to a Greek word occurring in the New Testament but not found in classical literature outside the fifth century b.c. writer, Herodotus, and said,
You are not to suppose that the word had fallen out of use in the interval, only that it had not been used in the books which remain to us; probably it had been part of the common speech all along. I will go further, and say that if we could only recover letters that ordinary people wrote to each other without any thought of being literary, we should have the greatest possible help for the understanding of the language of the New Testament generally91.
It was not long before this remarkable prophecy was put to the test. From the 1880’s onwards large numbers of the very sort of thing that Lightfoot desired—letters and other documents written by ordinary people, from the centuries immediately preceding and following the time of Christ—have come to light after two millennia of burial in the sands of Egypt. Many of these are written on scraps of papyrus, and others on pieces of pottery (ostraca). These vernacular documents, recovered from ancient rubbish dumps, proved to be written in a kind of Greek strikingly similar to the Greek of the New [p. 55] Testament.
When a NT epistle like 1 Peter for example was written for the first time…it was an original. The first document or autograph contained the original text. As Dr. Kruger stated in his article “The Difference Between Original Autographs and Original Texts:”
Ehrman’s focus on the autographs (or the absence of them) is not unusual in modern critiques of biblical authority. However, this sort of argument often creates the impression (even if it is unintentional) that the autographs are the original text—almost as if the original text were a physical object that has been lost.
But the original text is not a physical object. The autographs contain the original text, but the original text can exist without them. A text can be preserved in other ways. One such way is that the original text can be preserved in a multiplicity of manuscripts. In other words, even though a single surviving manuscript might not contain (all of) the original text, the original text could be accessible to us across a wide range of manuscripts.
Preserving the original text across multiple manuscripts, however, could only happen if there were enough of these manuscripts to give us assurance that the original text was preserved (somewhere) in them. Providentially, when it comes to the quantity of manuscripts, the New Testament is in a class all its own. Although the exact count is always changing, currently we possess more than 5,500 manuscripts of the New Testament in Greek alone. No other document of antiquity even comes close.
With the proliferation of the manuscript tradition of the NT from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth, the original text is still with us. There are also various readings or variants. For further information, please view the G3 Ministries video of Dr. James White’s lecture on: How We Got Our Bible. Click on this article to learn more about the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) and actually view them.
All of these manuscripts and evidence were utilized to prepare the Greek New Testament. Peter Gurry writes:
Today, the two most popular [editions of the Greek New Testament] are the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (NA) and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (UBS). These are now in their twenty-eighth and fifth editions, respectively…The NA is typically preferred by scholars because the number of variants it provides is more extensive. The UBS is typically more popular with students and translators because it presents only those variants thought to most affect translation and sets out the evidence for the variants more comprehensively and in an apparatus that is easier to read. The UBS also provides a rating system that tells the reader how confident the editors were in their textual decisions.
Despite these and other differences between the two editions, they share the same reconstructed text and have done so since the 1970s.
In spite of the constant attacks by skeptics, Holy Scripture is the most attested, pure work of antiquity. Biblical archaeology shows time and time again the amazing accuracy of the Word of God. Research conducted by Craig Evans regarding the gap between the autographs and the earliest copies of the NT just increases the confidence in and reliance on the GNT we possess today:
[Bart] Ehrman makes a similar case. Since we don’t have the originals, and only copies of copies of copies, then who knows what the text was really like before our extant copies were made.
But is it really true that we only possess copies of copies of copies? Is there really an enormous gap, as Koester and Ehrman maintain, between the autographs and our earliest copies?
A recent article by Craig Evans of Acadia University suggests otherwise. In the most recent issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, Evans explores the question of how long manuscripts would have lasted in the ancient world, and whether that might provide some guidance of how long the autographs might have lasted–and therefore how long they would have been copied.
Evans culls together an insightful and intriguing amount of evidence to suggest that literary manuscripts in the ancient world would last hundreds of years, on average. Appealing to the recent study of G.W. Houston, he argues that manuscripts could last anywhere from 75 to 500 years, with the average being about 150 years.
The implications of this research on the textual stability of the New Testament are not difficult to see. Evans says:
Autographs and first copies may well have remained in circulation until the end of the second century, even the beginning of the third century…The longevity of these manuscripts in effect forms a bridge linking the first-century autographs and first copies to the great codices, via the early papyrus copies we possess (35).
In other words, it is possible (and perhaps even likely) that some of the earliest copies of the New Testament we possess may have been copied directly from one of the autographs. And, if not the autographs, they may have been copied from a manuscript that was directly copied from the autographs. Either way, this makes the gap between our copies and the autographs shrink down to a rather negligible size.
In the end, we do not possess merely copies of copies of copies (etc.) as some skeptics maintain. The early date of our copies, combined with the likely longevity of the autographs, can give us a high degree of confidence that [we] have access to the New Testament text at the earliest possible stage.
If so, then there are no reasons to think that there were wild, unbridled textual changes taking place in this earliest period. On the contrary, Evans’ study provides good reasons to think the NT text was transmitted with a high degree of accuracy and fidelity.
With the aforementioned background material, we now go to 1 Peter 3:15, a verse with a variant. In the first 16 minutes of the YouTube video below, Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries provides a poignant example of keeping in mind the explanation of variants when preaching to a mixed text congregation (i.e., some members utilizing KJV and others the NASB, Legacy or some other translation).
In the video, you will see why some church members did not understand why Dr. White kept speaking about Christ and the Messiah so much since they did not see it in their KJV. The material below is helpful prior to viewing the video.
In Exhibit 1 below, you can see the NASB (1995) translation on the left with Christ highlighted by a green rectangular box. On the right, you have the NA28 Greek NT with the word Christ in Greek.
In Exhibit 3, you can see the KJV translation on the left with God highlighted by a green rectangular box. On the right, you have the GNT-Textus Receptus with the word God in Greek.
In Exhibit 2, you see the NA28 apparatus. To the right of 15, you can see the Greek word for God, Theon, and the symbols to the right of it are manuscript evidence for it. Further to the right, you will see the word: txt. The symbols to the right of it are the manuscript evidence supporting the reading of Christ in the NA28. Christ is the more highly attested reading and thus appears in the reconstructed text of the GNT.
So, you can now see how those with translations showing Christ were going along with Dr. White’s comments about Christ and the Messiah while those with a KJV…maybe not so much.
Exhibit 1 – NASB and Christ
Exhibit 2 – NA28 Apparatus
Exhibit 3 – KJV and God
How beautifully and providentially preserved is the precious Word of God. How blessed are God’s ministers to proclaim His Holy Word and fortunate are God’s children to receive it.
“The sum of your word is truth…” – Psalm 119:160
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17
Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method
The NA28 GNT has utilized the ECM text of the Catholic Letters [which] was established by means of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (in what follows “coherence method”)
CBGM is impacting the world of textual criticism and seems to be the way of the future. It would be beneficial to understand more about CBGM and how it is impacting our Bibles.
Towards that end, Dr. Peter Gurry of Phoenix Seminary has written a series of articles listed below that are very beneficial to pastors and lay people alike regarding the NT text and textual criticism. Some of the evidence is astounding and excellent for apologetics.
“Just as important for a pastor, however, is the evidence the CBGM provides for how well the New Testament text was copied overall…In the Catholic Letters, for example, there are two manuscripts that agree at 99.1 percent of all places where there is variation in the 123 manuscripts used by the CBGM. They only differ in a total of 27 out of 2,859 places where they were compared. That is quite remarkable. The average textual agreement between all pairs of witnesses reaches 87.6 percent. That too is impressive. Similar numbers occur in Acts.”
There are a number of excellent links for further study in the article series. I do recommend Wasserman and Gurry’s book: “A New Approach to Textual Criticism.”
Dr. Peter Gurry has an article series; here is part 1: “What a pastor should know about developments in NT textual criticism. Part 1: New Editions.”
Dr. Peter Gurry has an article series; here is part 2: “What a pastor should know about developments in NT textual criticism. Part 2: New Method.
Dr. Peter Gurry has an article series; here is part 3: “What a pastor should know about developments in NT textual criticism. Part 3: New Resources.
Here is a Reformed Forum podcast from February 10, 2017 featuring Dr. Gurry before he was a doctor entitled: “The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method.”
Gurry and Wasserman blog at Evangelical Textual Criticism.
F. F. Bruce, The Book and the Parchments, Accordance electronic ed. (Bath: F. F. Bruce Copyright International, Inc., 2018), 54-55.
 Dr. Michael J. Kruger, The Difference Between Original Autographs and Original Texts (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-difference-between-original-autographs-and-original-texts/).
 Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2017) 2.
 Dr. Michael J. Kruger, Is The Original Text of the New Testament Lost? Rethinking Our Access to the Autographs (https://www.michaeljkruger.com/is-the-original-text-of-the-new-testament-lost-rethinking-our-access-to-the-autographs/).
Holger Strutwolf, eds. Novum Testamentum Graece. 28th, Accordance electronic ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 52*.
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