Evaluation of Dr Sayyed’s presentation, “Is the Bible God’s Word?” (Part 3) by Pastor Rudolph Boshoff.

5 minute read:

In my previous article, I have shown that the central didactic of Dr. Sayyed is seemingly lacking in both fairness and objective scholarship. Dr. Sayyed seems to ask questions around inspiration and infallibility of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that seem to conflict with his own presumed worldview. Here is part 3 looking at his suggested claims:

Dr. Sayyed mentions, “Scribes changed as they pleased.” He then quotes Dr. Bruce Metzger, quoting Church Father Origen of Alexandria saying:

“The difference among the manuscripts have been great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others, they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or in the process of checking, they make additions and deletions as they please.” (Commentary on Matthew 15-14.)

I want to remind the reader that in Part 1 I have clearly shown that the central claim of preservation of the original text is not that those who have copies the Scriptures did so without any errors, but these errors, in all fairness, include a varied spectrum of difficulties. I have written on the nature of these variants here: New Testament variants. Allow me also to repeat the point I made the Agnostic and Biblical Scholar Bart D. Ehrman:

“To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.” [1]

The critical fact to consider is the multiple manuscripts available that is seemingly in favor of showing any alleged discrepancies. Because we have a plethora of manuscripts and not only a singular source, we can compare and with certainty be assured of the validity of the text and the preservation of its core message. Even with Bruce Metzger quoting about the issues Origen faced collecting some manuscripts, he describes his faith in the Bible as “Very well placed.“[2]

“When pressed about the assurance of the New Testament text as a whole in light of variants in manuscripts, Metzger answered that he doesn’t “know of any doctrine that is in jeopardy.”[3]

The point Dr. Sayyed tries to make vanish when you look at all the claims Metzger makes. Bruce Metzger goes even further and clearly announces the human frailty concerning the manuscripts tradition but never denounce its authority and clear significance. Metzger also never denounce the reasonable fact that we can know for sure what was written by the first Christian community:

“if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, [the patristic quotations] would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.” [4]

This perspective undermines Dr. Sayyed’s claims for divine preservation and denotes an inability to understand the nature of the Biblical claims for itself. Beyond Metzger’s understanding of the reliability of the text, we have the patristic evidence, the divine promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) as well as the multiple attestations of all the earliest manuscripts.

Mirror

We remember Ibn Masud and his accusation that the first copy of the Quran was merely in error. He said,

“The people have been guilty of deceit in the reading of the Qur’an. I like it better to read according to the recitation of him [i.e., Muhammad] whom I love more than that of Zayd Ibn Thabit” [5]

Even when the companion of Muhammad Ibn Umar heard that some people say that they memorized the entire Qur’an, he said to them:

“Let none of you say, ‘I have learned the whole of the Qur’an,’ for how does he know what the whole of it is when much of it has disappeared? Let him rather say, ‘I have learned what remains thereof'” [6]

There were even disputes concerning the right recitation of the Quran which differed and then evidence of passages simply gone missing Surah 33:6 and Surah 2:238.

Abd Al-Rahman Ibn Abd al-Qari narrated: “Umar Ibn al-Khattab said before me: I heard Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam reading Surat Al-Furqan in a different way from the one I used to read it, and the Prophet himself had read out this surah to me. Consequently, as soon as I heard him, I wanted to get hold of him. However, I gave him respite until he had finished the prayer. Then I got hold of his cloak and dragged him to the Prophet. I said to him: “I have heard this person [Hisham Ibn Hakim Ibn Hizam] reading Surah Al Furqan in a different way from the one you had read it out to me.” The Prophet said: “Leave him alone [O ‘Umar].” Then he said to Hisham: “Read [it].” [Umar said:] “He read it out in the same way as he had done before me.” [At this,] the Prophet said: “It was revealed thus.” Then the Prophet asked me to read it out. So I read it out. [At this], he said: “It was revealed thus; this Quran has been revealed in Seven Ahruf. You can read it in any of them you find easy from among them.[7]

It is well known that there are more differences in the Textual History of the Quran that critical Muslim polemicists will not reveal.[8] One cannot but wonder as to why there is a lack of objectivity and openness about these facts and the dilemmas they create. There were also apparent differences and variant readings that were disputed.

“And when we would meet Ibn Shihab, there would arise a difference of opinion in many issues. When any one of us would ask him in writing about some issue, he, in spite of being so learned, would give three very different answers, and he would not even be aware of what he had already said. It is because of this that I have left him – something which you did not like.” [9]

Dr. Sayyed mentions, “Copyist wrote what they wanted.” He then quotes Professor J.R. Dummelow of Cambridge in his famous commentary of the Holy Bible (Pg.16).

“A copyist would sometimes put in not what was in the text, but what he thought to be in it. He would trust a fickle memory, or he would make the text accord with the views of the school to which he belonged.”

The general idea was that it was a free for all and anyone could insert what their given forte was, which is simply the farthest from the truth. But again, even if a scribe changed or altered the text in any way, it would not discount the fact that the earliest dispersion of the manuscripts disallowed wholesale incorporation of error into all the texts. Because multiple manuscripts were flooding the known world, there is no doubt that we can correlate and find the most probable reading for every single text. But again, Dr. Sayyed discounts the ability of God to preserve His word, and misjudge the obvious reality that a multiple attested texts call for a different correlation to find the core or essential truth about the original “vox” of God and the “Verba’ of Christ. Dr. Sayyed then tries to show some proofs of Scribal corruption:

“Example: Wine changed to vinegar Matthew 27:34 (NET) -> wine; (KJV) -> Vinegar so it fulfil the prophecy in Psalm 69:2, Matt.26:29). (NET JW translation?). To create a fulfilled Prophecy.”

The underline accusation is that the scribe changed the word ‘wine’ to ‘vinegar’ to give credibility to the central story, but Psalm 69:2 mentions nothing about wine or vinegar? Further, this is again an example that does not change an essential doctrine that would abdicate belief in Biblical reliability, but It is interesting to note that this verse has a clear Messianic implication about the suffering of the Messiah. This portion of Scripture is quoted by Christ (from the LXX) in John 15:25 as applying to his wrongful treatment at the hands of his foes. So Dr. Sayyed’s claim that the passage is quoted to show its fulfillment undermines the ‘prospological exegesis’ the authors of the Gospels utilized in trying to explain the application and ultimate satisfaction of the work of Jesus Christ. He then shows the next example:

“Scribe changed Christ to God. 1 Timothy 3:16 in codex Alexandrinus “Christ, who was made manifest in the flesh…”
But now in the present Bible: 1 Timothy 3:16 …” God was manifest in the flesh…”

It is important to note that Christians do not make doctrines out of singular passages or vague scriptures. Whatever is deduced to be cardinal comes from the full pericope of Scripture. The Bible, by its very own definition, is not just God’s voice but mans unified testimony to what God revealed about Himself and His essential will. Dr. Charles Ellicott, who was the Chairman of the Revision Committee and Biblical commentator, and strong advocate of the preferred reading ‘Hos‘ rather than ‘Theos‘, noted that:

In the great majority of the [Church] Fathers who cite the passage we certainly find ‘Theos’ as in the received text”… When we come to the “copies” of Paul’s Epistles… out of 254 which contains the passage, all except two, agree in writing “Theos” (God). It must be remembered that these copies were produced in every part of Christendom from older MSS., which must themselves have exhibited the word “Theos” (God) in this passage”.[10]

So here we have an agreement that Dr. Sayyed’s argument of tampering is not as grandiose as he had supposed. There three points (multiple attestations, Manuscript evidence, and the majority reading) seems to nullify the assumption that the text was without assurance. The Earliest Fathers quotes this passage preferring the translation to be ‘Theos‘.
Ignatius (ca 50 – between 98 and 117) wrote in his letter to the Ephesians (chapter 7 and 19).

“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh … God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life.”

Dionysius of Alexandria (ca. 190 – 265 AD) bishop of Alexandria replied to Paul of Samosata that Jesus Christ was:

“θεος γαρ εφανερωθη εν σαρκι”

This is a literal quotation of the traditional reading of 1 Timothy 3:16, except for the addition of the word “γαρ”. There are numerous examples of this, and one of my favorites comes from the “gilded mouth” John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407) who quotes 1 Timothy 3:16 literally in Homilies on the Gospel of John, Book XV, John 1:18:

“And wonder not that Paul saith in another place, “God was manifested in the Flesh”; because the manifestation took place by means of the flesh, not according to (His) Essence. Besides, Paul shows that He is invisible, not only to men but also to the powers above, for after saying, “was manifested in the Flesh,” he adds, “was seen of angels.”

Chrysostom also quotes this passage in his ‘Homilies’ on 1 Timothy:

“Since in his directions to the Priests he had required nothing like what is found in Leviticus he refers the whole matter to Another, saying, “God was manifest in the flesh.” The Creator was seen incarnate.” [11]

With all the additional evidence already apparent we can with great assurance count the preferred reading to be “Theos.” Dr. Sayyed then mentions Mark 1:1 as evidence of Scribal changes:

“Scribe added Son of God, ancient manuscript, Mark 1:1 the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, (New World Translation). Now in present bibles Mark 1:1 the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The New World Translation is a corrupt sectarian paraphrase written by the Jehovah witnesses that do precisely what Dr. Sayyed assumes Christians did throughout the centuries. It should be noted that early Church Fathers like Irenaeus (182-188 A.D.) quotes Mark 1:1 as by Mark.[12] Even though some early manuscripts do not include the words’ Son of God’ there is early evidence that this was included in the most initial reading of this particular text. Dr. Sayyed then accuses the Gospel authors of trying to portray a Jesus that is seemingly less angry. He says:

“Scribes changed angry to compassion, Mark 1:41 Codex Bezea and three Latin manuscripts: And Jesus became angry put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. Now in present Bibles: Mark1:41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.”

Historically we find that before the writing of Codex Bezae (D/05, ca. 375-499 CE), the verb: “σπλαγχνισθεις” appeared in earlier Greek-language codices (Aleph/01 A/02 B/03 W/032) at Mark 1:41. We note though that in Codex Bezae it was developed to reflect a more compassionate heartfelt furiousness against the man’s ailment (not the man). This would mean that the author was concerned with expressing the more urgent meaning of “οργισθεις” in Codex Bezae rather than the earliest reading of “σπλαγχνισθεις” that could be translated as “moved with compassion,” or “moved with pity”. This does not affect the merit of the story or the essence of Christ’s nature, and we should note once more that Dr. Sayyed is grasping at straws. He then adds:

“Christians quote 2 Timothy 3:16. We have seen the word Bible doesn’t exist in the Bible. But Christians do quote a verse from the New Testament. 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul is saying, “All scripture is given by Inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” This is what Paul is saying we want to know what God is saying? Even if Paul is saying, he cannot mean the Bible because the Bible did not exist in the time; the Bible came into existence centuries after him. Moreover, scholars say Timothy is not by Paul; it is a forgery under his name.”

Dr. Sayyed makes three underlying assumptions; first, he assumes that the mode of inspiration is only valid and credible when God auto-directs the transcribed History of men, second, he thinks that all of the text is not inspired because it was not in existence at the time of this books writing. And third, he assumes that the 2 Book of Timothy is simply a forgery. These claims in themselves are pretty audacious and need for explanation as to why he would think so. First, the means of inspiration between Christians and Muslims and their texts are vastly different, different in tone, content, and methods. Secondly, this was a time of new revelation where God was giving and inspiring some Apostles to write down inspired texts, just because it was not in existence yet, does not discount the fact that the writings still to come was not to be deemed authoritative? Lastly, as for the second book of Timothy being a forgery, I will not show the substantial evidence from the Church Fathers affirming Pauline Authorship of this book.

The three objections to Pauline authorship is that the language is different then his other writings, the mention of the leadership structure in the community seems very organized which was not so in the earliest parts of the developing Church, and lastly, the letter seems to deal with Gnostic teachings, and Gnosticism was a 2nd century heresy. The language difference does not account adequately for “Pseudonymity” because Paul uses an amanuensis or secretaries in the dictation of his writings. Secondly, it is simply wrong to assume that the Church only reflected a very structured leadership later when it is already evident in the earliest communities (Acts 6:1-6, 11:30). Lastly, Paul is not dealing with Gnosticism but a Jewish Heresy containing ascetic practices with a Greek influence (1 Tim.1:7; 10, 3:9; 2 Tim.2:18).

Conclusion:

Again, Dr. Sayyed fails to bring an unbiased scholarly perspective to the very central claims that he even raised. And ultimately, we can see that there are alternative considerations that need to be forged whenever we look at the merits of any given history. I can only speculate as to why anyone would rely on a central didactic that would ultimately undermine their position, but clearly, how these questions were answered is not consistent!

Sincerely yours.
Pastor Rudolph Boshoff.

Sources:
[1] Misquoting Jesus, Pg.207.
[2] The case for Christ, Pg.93.
[3] Ibid, Pg.84.
[4] Metzger, Bruce M., The Text of the New Testament (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968),Pg.86.
[5] Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 444.
[6] Abu Ubaid, Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’ an.
[7] Malik Ibn Anas, Muwatta, vol. 1 (Egypt: Dar Ahya al-Turath, n.d.), 201, (no. 473).
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qira%27at#cite_ref-11
[9] Ibn Qayyim, I’lam al-Muwaqqi’in, vol. 3 (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d.), 96.
[10] Bible Problems and answers, W.Hoste & W. Rodgers, Pg.369.
[11] http://www.berenddeboer.net/article/1_timothy_3_16.html?fbclid=IwAR1_kziXbqus_95T-4Ugyx8b-onWAqtxAy9u8LN1R5jkD4PweGEUZiI9oQo
[12] Irenaeus Against Heresies book 3 ch.16.3 p.441

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