The Bible: Today’s translations in light of the Early Manuscripts by Rudolph P. Boshoff

Recently an article was written by Laurie Goodstein that shed some light behind the “Mary Papyri” that was supposedly written early depicting Mary as the “wife” of Jesus? here is the article:

 “A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'” The faded papyrusfragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “She will be able to be my disciple.” The finding is being made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nations oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.” She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.”

Here are a few common skeptical ideas on the reliability of the Gospels:

John W. Loftus
 writes; “The bible is history? So a snake really talked? And god turned a woman into a pillar of salt? And appeared as a burning bush? And carved commandments on breakable stones? And sent “she-bears” to maul 42 kids for calling a guy bald? (defying the laws of the physical universe) And this god magically impregnated a-quick-read-through-the-gospel-of-matthew1a virgin to become his own son? And temporarily died? And then became a sort of zombie? And then whisked off to heaven? And now sits in judgement of everyone in trinity fashion (whatever that means)? Really? Who knew? Or is just some of that historical? How do you know which magic is the “true woo”? If you don’t believe that the bible is history does the god of the bible punish you for all eternity?”

Bart D Ehrman writes “we don’t actually have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have are copies of these writings, made years later—in most cases, many years later. Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places.”

Dan Barker writes “The problem is the bible itself. People who are free of theological bias notice that the bible contains hundreds of discrepancies. Should it surprise us when such a literary and moral mish-mash, taken seriously, causes so much discord?”

Ahmed Deedat “In his life-time Jesus never wrote a single word, nor did he instruct anyone to do so. What passes off as the “GOSPELS” today are the works of anonymous hands?”

Dan Brown wrote in his fictional book “the Da Vinci Code”; and one of his characters Sir Leigh Teabing’s pontificates; “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”

The basic premise of the book is that it is a “fact” that what we know about Jesus and the Bible as a Holy book has been corrupted and is totally unreliable. Further, the “powers to be” or Holy Catholic Church keeps everything under wraps even though they know the full “truth”.

Daniel B WallaceDr Daniel Wallace noted textual scholar warns us against two extreme views and says these  two attitudes we need to avoid at all cost: The first he calls the total skeptical view. Like the above authors I have quoted we should know that all extremes demand extreme evidence (which non clearly provides) ; Secondly Dr Wallace warns against what he calls a view of total arrogant certainty. This is the danger for us as Bible believing Christians; when we are ignorant we fail to search and ask meaningful questions. Now this does not mean that we doubt the very tenets of our believes? NO! We simply amply a didactic that relates to and gives an account to the overall idea of the very text. Let me say the greatest assurance for the Christian is not the 1611 KJV Bible but rather Jesus Himself. We do not in any way or form “Worship” the Bible nor scrutinize it with an lax attitude treating it as a normal book of oracles. I would encourage every Christian to scrutinize and wrestle with these manuscripts and ask questions like “how we got the Bible?” Now in itself this is not a question of doubt but rather an affirmation of a fecund curiosity. We need to understand when we come to the Manuscripts that from the many manuscripts we have many variants. A variant could be described as a difference between two Greek manuscripts that would then be translated into another language like Zulu, English ect. We need to understand that no two Greek manuscripts agree completely and Dr Wallace estimates an average disagreement between 6-10 times per chapter. In other words we have about 2000 differences over the length of the 260 New Testament chapters.That is a lot of differences to consider and therefore we need to determine three things:

1) How many textual differences or variants are there? (Quantity) 

We need to assess different words and simple word order as well as the spelling and early etymology of these very words to determine it’s original or coherent meaning.

2) What is the quality of these variants found within these manuscripts? (Quality)         

We need to look at what these manuscripts are saying and what is contained within them and surmise a coherent understanding to it’s overall meaning.

3)  Are the foundational doctrines dependent on textually suspicious passages? (Orthodoxy)

What is the Oldest Manuscript evidence for these passages and can we confidently reconstruct these passages to what was originally stated and believed?

 On the reliability of the New Testament: 

We need to understand that there are very little or non original manuscripts left of these New Testament documents yet, we also need to be fair and realize there are NON of the early documents in antiquity left nor anything that we presumably know of Greek History. How can we be sure that what we have is what was originally penned? We know for a fact that the 27 books of the New Testament got copied over and over and there are NO evidence that the Bible has “evolved” over many centuries and we have sufficient evidence to suggest that nothing has changed. What was originally penned down by the original authors we can validate in all certainty with today’s available texts?

To suggest the contrary would place the burden of proof on the person making the claim for corruption and change of these autographs. Please note there is absolute silence in history to the actual corruption of them. When we determine reliability of any ancient manuscript we take in consideration the following: Antiquity; Volume or multiplicity; quantity; quality and lastly trustworthy scholarly methodology in researching these texts.

It’s important to realize that if we look at the antiquity as well as the quantity of the manuscripts added with the quality of these ancient texts we can be assured of its validity and be assured of what was originally written down. We have 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence for just the N.T. & if we contrast the quantity of N.T. manuscripts with other writings from antiquity, we find the N.T. manuscripts far outweigh the others in quantity & quality!download

Also realize there are over 19 thousand copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, & Aramaic and over a million quotations from just the church fathers. Again; there are NON that is seemingly different from these texts nor any “non-corrupted” sources.

Bart Ehrman and Bruce Metzger write: “Besides textual evidence derived from New Testament Greek manuscripts and from early versions, the textual critic has available the numerous scriptural quotations included in the commentaries, sermons, and other treatises written by early Church Fathers. Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.” (Metzger & Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. Oxford, 2005. p.126.)

The total summation of the N.T. manuscript is well over 24,000. Furthermore, we have a fragment of the gospel of John (P52) that dates back to around 34 years (c. 125) after the original writing. If we date John’s gospel to c. 95 A.D., which is widely recognized as the latest gospel, then it means all the gospels were written between the early 50’s (Matthew, c. 60; Mark, c. 50; Luke, c. 60) and mid 90’s (John, c. 85-95) of the 1st Century.

This verifies that the four gospels along with the rest of the New Testament was written 20 to 70 years after the life of Jesus, which is within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (re: 1 Cor. 15:6; 1 John 1:1-3).

So, when you claim that what we have is not what was written there is simply NO evidence in all of antiquity as evidence for this. Also noteworthy is the actual accounts of these autographs that is mentioned by the early church fathers. Do the current Bible translations misquote what was written…NO… Is it saying what the original autographs said…overwhelmingly YES…that is simply where the evidence points.    

  •      The Facts of the early manuscripts:

Now we have over 2.6 million Greek manuscripts and you can view some of them on the internet at the Center for New Testament Manuscripts but the essential question still remains, how do we get back to the original text? Let me go back to some earlier points we have made and then address the question. First we need to:

  1.  Consider the quantity of the variant:
    Now the Greek N.T. has approximately 140 000 words in it and it sure sounds horrific when we say there are more variants within the Greek manuscripts than words within the NT. This would mean that there are almost 2 and a half times as many variants in the NT as words in the NT which is extremely numerous. The simple reason for a lot of variants is because we have an abundance of manuscripts! So in other words due to the volume of manuscripts we have an abundance of variants. If we had only one manuscript there would be no variants? There would be only one manuscript. This is what Muslims have with the Quran? In Uthman’s reign he ordered all the variant copies of the quran to be destroyed and subsequently there are only one narration579468_2769387572471_339703169_n  (Even though there are suspicions and other variants). For the Christian this should not be disheartening at all because the more manuscripts we have, the closer we can get to the original message of the New Testament. We have 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence (and more are discovered every day) for just the N.T.  if we contrast the quantity of N.T. manuscripts with other writings from antiquity, we find the N.T. manuscripts far outweigh the others in quantity & quality as seen in this little bar below:
  • Another interesting point of contention is that the New Testament was also translated very early on into:

Latin and we have about 10 000 NT manuscripts just in Latin with another 9000 copies in the Syriac, Coptic, Aramaic, Gothic & Old Church Slavonic. Now when you put this all together we have about 20 thousand copies of the NT. Before the time of the printing press. That’s pretty impressive isn’t it? Now what if someone had a magic wand and in one clean swoop made all these manuscripts disappear? We will still be able to reconstruct the entire NT. How will we do that? Well,we also have over a million quotations of the NT from commentaries and sermons written just from the church fathers: Origen, Ambrose, Irenaeus, and Augustine.  In Boimond Germany they have a center that studies these writings for centuries now and they have over a million quotations of the NT from these Church Fathers. This declares the New Testament to be highly probable and clearly affirmed by outside sources. If someone says the manuscripts have been corrupted and we don’t know what has been foretold or said, we can just as well kiss goodbye all of the ancient Roman History and knowledge of antiquity which will put us right into a historical dark age. Everything we know then of antiquity would come from coins and pot fragments and amulets. Nobody is that skeptical. And surely no one dare to be so uninformed? It is not only the number of manuscripts we have but the date of the manuscripts we have. To date we have over 1 million papyri scraps with writing on them and less than 1% has been published. We can therefore conclusively affirm that we can be sure what we have is what was written.

Here are a few interesting Papyri:

P52enPapyrus 52: Generally dated to the second century. Collin. H. Roberts, who first observed the manuscript, dated it before 150 C.E.. More recent observers have tended to date it in the range of 110 to 125 C.E. The story of the manuscript is well-known. Acquired by Grenfell in Egypt in 1920, it went unnoticed among many other manuscript fragments until 1934, when C. H. Roberts recognized that it contained part of the Gospel of John (John 18:31-33; 18:37-38). Impressed with the antiquity of the writing, he hastily published a booklet, An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library. Despite some caution among scholars about his early and precise dating, three papyrologists’s agreed that it cannot be dated later than 90-150 A.D. — simultaneously proving that the codex form and the Gospel of John were in use by that date.

By A.D. 500 80% off all Christian literature was written on a codex and only 20% of the secular sources was written on Codex’s. This was the first time the church was ahead in technology. Why is this important? There was a German school at this stage that believed John’s Gospel was not written before 160-180 A.D. Well common sense dictate that copies are not written before original documents and it send 2 tons of scholarly works to the flames.

Let me give you some quick points on the number of copies we have in each century of the NT?

In the 2nd Century we have 10-12 NT manuscripts. In the 3rd century about 50 manuscripts & in the 4th century about 100 copies off the New Testament as well as the whole New Testament  being duplicated numerous times over and over. In retrospect we can ask; “how many copies do we have of any of the classical authors?” NONE! Yet no sane person will call to disrepute the validity of Antiquity nor the validity of it’s described Historicity. So we can see that we have 100 copies of the Greek New Testament in the first 300 years of the church alone!

Another important question we can reflect on is; “Has the Bible been translated and re-translated so many times that we cannot really know what it said?” Well, when the 1611 the King James Bible came out it was based on 7 manuscripts the earliest which was from the 10th century. 400 years later we have over 5600 manuscripts the earliest which is from the second century. Scholars don’t translate manuscripts and then throw away the documents and we need to realize that the translations go back to the original Greek and Hebrew. Dr Wallace exclaims A time goes on, we are not getting farther and farther away from the original text, we are in fact getting closer and closer to the original text.” How incredible!

Here are some more papyri:

250px-Papyrus_90_(John_19_1-7)Papyrus 90 (in the Gregory-Aland numbering), designated by 90, is a small fragment from the Gospel of John 18:36-19:7 dating to the late 2nd century.

Papyrus 104 (in the Gregory-Aland numbering), designated by the symbol 104, is a fragment that is part of a leaf from a papyrus codex, it measures 2.5 by 3.75 inches (6.35 by 9.5 cm) at its widest. It is conserved at Oxford, UK. The front (recto) contains lines from the Gospel of Matthew 21:34-37, in Greek, the back (verso) contains tentative traces of lines from verses 43 and 45.

Papyrus 98 (in the Gregory-Aland numbering), designated by 98, is an early copy of the New Testament in Greek. It is a papyrus manuscript of the Book of Revelation. The manuscript paleographical had been assigned to the late 2nd century.

Papyrus 45 (45 or P. Chester Beatty I) is an early New Testament manuscript which is a part of the Chester Beatty Papyri. It was probably created around 250 in Egypt.[1] It contains the texts of Matthew 20-21 and 25-26; Mark 4-9 and 11-12; Luke 6-7 and 9-14; John 4-5 and 10-11; and Acts 4-17.


Dr Daniel Wallace revealed seven New Testament papyri that recently was discovered—six of them probably from the second century and one of them probably from the first. These fragments will be published in about a year. These manuscripts now increase our holdings as follows: we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts (all fragmentary, more or less) from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, about 33% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts. But the most interesting thing is the first-century fragment. read further @ First Century Manuscripts.

The oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. 200–250 CE). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years. The papyri have confirmed various readings as authentic in the past 116 years, but have not introduced new authentic readings. Dr Wallace posits A manuscript that is dated within the lifetime of many of the original followers of Jesus! Not only this, but this manuscript would have been written before the New Testament was completed.”


How can fragments affirm overall validity of the text?

First we need to realize that the closer we get to the actual written dates of any document the more reliable the very manuscripts becomes. Secondly, when we find an early fragment which gives a clear rendering of a specific text without any change we can be assured it affirms the authenticity of the overall text. Let me use this analogy  When we where kids,every summer we would built puzzles. Now we had the picture in the front of the puzzle box that was a clear representation of all the fragmented pieces on the inside. Now we could usually tell that the fragments related & corresponded to the picture on the box by identifying the actual puzzles inside the box. Through time,patience and correlation we could but the very fragmented picture back together and find it corresponded completely to the picture on the box! This is exactly what textual scholars do, they put the pieces back together and affirm that the overall picture of the New Testament text correspond perfectly with the manuscript fragments studied. Now here is a rough example:images4

Now it is equally noteworthy to realize that there are no manuscripts discovered that contradicts any mayor doctrine of the scriptures. Not one mayor doctrine is called into disrepute and affirms exactly what was written. The scriptures we have today seems to be clearly coherent with that which was seemingly written. Therefore we can be very sure that the Bible we have today is reliable and exactly what was written!

Side note:Interesting Non Testamental manuscripts:

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are a group of manuscripts discovered by archaeologists at an ancient rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus in Egypt.  The manuscripts date from the 1st to the 6th century AD. The following translation of the words for this hymn comes from M.L. West: Ancient Greek Music:

“.. Let it be silent. Let the Luminous stars. Not shine, Let the winds (?) and all the noisy rivers die down; and as we hymn the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Let all the powers add “Amen Amen” Empire, praise always, and glory to God, The sole giver of good things, Amen Amen”

Huleatt manuscripts: Papyrologist’s date the Magdalen papyrus to the middle of the 1st century (37 to 70 A.D.). The significance is the following words they contain:

“She poured it [the perfume] over his [Jesus’] hair when he sat at the table. But, when the disciples saw it, they were indignant…. God, aware of this, said to them: ‘Why do you trouble this woman? She has done [a beautiful thing for me.]… Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priest and said, ‘What will you give me for my work?'[Matt. 26:7-15]”(Huleatt fragments 1-3).

Based on Dr Daniel B Wallace’s lecture “Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then?”

Rudolph P Boshoff

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