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Preservation of Scripture
This is one of the most hotly debated discussions, this new doctrine Preservation of Scripture. Some have equated this doctrine with the Inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy of Scripture is simply that the original authors were inspired and that they were moved along by the Holy Spirit so that the end product was, in essence, literally God’s Word, with no mistakes, errors, and contradictions. Preservation of Scripture is best argued by John Burgon (1813–1888):
There exists no reason for supposing that the Divine Agent, who in the first instance thus gave to mankind the Scriptures of Truth, straightway abdicated His office; took no further care of His work; abandoned those precious writings to their fate. That a perpetual miracle was wrought for their preservation—that copyists were protected against the risk of error, or evil men prevented from adulterating shamefully copies of the Deposit—no one, it is presumed, is so weak as to suppose. But it is quite a different thing to claim that all down the ages the sacred writings must needs have been God’s peculiar care; that the Church under Him has watched over them with intelligence and skill; has recognized which copies exhibit a fabricated, which an honestly transcribed text; has generally sanctioned the one, and generally disallowed the other. – John W. Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Gospels, ed. Edward Miller (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896), pp. 11–12.
When we look at those pushing this Preservation of Scripture, it is predominantly the King James Onlyist (KJVO), Textus Receptus Onlyist (TRO), and Majority Text Onlyist (MTO), it soon becomes apparent that the doctrine of the Preservation of Scripture is really no doctrine at all. We should note that there is no translation based on the Majority Text.
King James Onlyist (KJVO): Of course, the New Testament of the King James Version is based on the Textus Receptus. Both the King James Onlyist (KJVO) and the Textus Receptus Onlyist (TRO) are of the same mind, the same way of thinking. The King James Onlyist is that the King James Version is the only English Bible that should be viewed as God’s Word.
Textus Receptus Onlyist (TRO): These scholars and their followers believe that the critical Text of Erasmus of 1516, the 1550 Stephanus New Testament, and all the critical New Testament Texts up until 1633 better preserve the original. While the Textus Receptus is based on the Byzantine text, it is only based on about seven manuscripts out of thousands. Daniel B. Wallace has counted 1,838 differences between the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text of Hodges and Farstad. — “Some Second Thoughts on the Majority Text,” Bibliotheca Sacra 146 (July–September 1989): 276.)
Majority Text Onlyist (MTO): These scholars and their followers believe that the words penned by the original authors are better preserved in the thousands of Byzantine texts.
We do not have time to delve deeply into these scholars and those who hold their beliefs. Please consider THE PRESERVATION OF SCRIPTURE. Let us just say that we cannot have both 400,000+ textual variants (errors) in the 5,898 Greek New Testament manuscripts and the Preservation of scripture too as the King James Onlyist (KJVO), Textus Receptus Onlyist (TRO), and the Majority Text Onlyist (MTO) would contend.
If the Word of God is preserved (Preservation of Scripture), why does every single manuscript read differently in the Greek NT manuscripts, with hundreds of thousands of textual variants? You cannot have preservation alone, it needs to be qualified. PRESERVATION BY RESTORATION. Following the corruption period of 1,400 years of copying by hand is a period of 500 years of restoration by hundreds of textual scholars who gave their lives so that we now have a mirror-like image of what the original authors penned.
Isaiah 40:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
God had promised that he would preserve his Word, the Bible. The apostle Peter quoted Isaiah 40:6, 8. For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you as good news.” (1 Peter 1:24-25.) However, we must consider Satan, the enemy of God, who has likely played a significant role in attempting to corrupt it and destroy it. (Matthew 13:39) Nevertheless, what we have today is a mirror-like reflection of what was penned and published by the original authors. So, yes what we have a Preservation of Scripture by Restoration.
It should be stated that some Bible copyists were careless, even deceitful. Paleographers have set out four basic levels of handwriting. First, there was the common hand of a person who was untrained in making copies. Second, there was the documentary hand of an individual who was trained in preparing documents. The third level was the reformed documentary hand of a copyist who was experienced in the preparation of documents and copying literature; and fourth was the professional hand, the scribe experienced in producing literature.
We have the 27 books of the New Testament that were penned individually in the second half of the first century. Each of these would have been copied and recopied throughout the first century. Copies of these copies would, of course, be made as well. Some of the earliest manuscripts that we now have indicate that a professional scribe copied them. Many of the other papyri provide evidence that a semi-professional hand copied them, while most of these early papyri give evidence of being made by a copyist who was literate and experienced at making documents. Therefore, either literate or semi-professional copyists produced the vast majority of our early papyri, with some being made by professionals.
The Masoretic Text
Do older manuscripts show that the Bible’s message has been preserved? Many Christians who favor the King James Version today love to say, “older does not mean better” (more accurate; i.e., containing the original). The Masoretes (Mas·o·retes \ ˈma-sə-ˌrētes) scribe-scholars (‘preservers of tradition’) who worked between the sixth and tenth centuries C.E., based primarily in early medieval Palestine in the cities of Tiberias and Jerusalem. The Masoretes have not been adequately appreciated for their accomplishments. These nameless scribes copied the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures with meticulous and loving care.
Between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E., the Masoretes set up a vowel point and accent mark system. (e.g., אִשָּׁה ishshah woman, wife, female) In the image of the Aleppo Codex above, all of the vowels appear below the line except Cholam ( ֹ), which is placed above, and Shuruk (וּ), which appears in the bosom of Waw (וּ = u). This would help the reader to pronounce the vowel sounds properly, meaning that there would be a standard, and no need to have the pronunciation handed down by oral tradition. Because the Masoretes saw the text as sacred, they made no changes to the text itself but chose to record notes within the margins of the text. Unlike the Sopherim before them, they did not take any textual liberties. Moreover, they drew attention to any suspected textual issues (errors), correcting them within the margins. The Masoretes according to sources counted the words and the letters, in an effort to make certain that no mistakes crept in.
The Masoretes were very much concerned with the accurate transmission of each word, even each letter, of the text they were copying. Accuracy was of supreme importance; therefore, the Masoretes use the side margins of each page to inform others of deliberate or inadvertent changes in the text by past copyists. The Masoretes also use these marginal notes for other reasons as well, such as unusual word forms and combinations. They even marked how frequent they occurred within a book or even the whole Hebrew Old Testament. Of course, marginal spaces were very limited, so they used an abbreviated code. They formed a cross-checking tool as well, where they would mark the middle word and letter of certain books. Their push for accuracy moved them to go so far as to count every letter of the Hebrew Old Testament.
The meticulous care of the Masoretes in their copying of the Hebrew text was made evident in 1947 when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the Qumran caves. In the spring of 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a cave, marking an event that would be heard around the world, making the name “Dead Sea Scrolls” more known than any other associated with archaeology. As he released one of his rocks into the cave, the sound of a breaking earthenware jar came back at him. Upon further examination, he discovered the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, scholars could compare the Dead Sea scrolls that dated to the second and first centuries B.C.E. to The Leningrad Codex, which is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, using the Masoretic Text, which is dated 1008 C.E. according to its colophon, more than a thousand-year difference. A member of the international team of editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Professor Julio Trebolle Barrera, states: “The Isaiah Scroll [from Qumran] provides irrefutable proof that the transmission of the biblical text through a period of more than one thousand years by the hands of Jewish copyists has been extremely faithful and careful.” (F. Garcia Martinez, Martinez and Barrera 1995, p. 99)
120 years ago in evaluating the accuracy of the Old Testament, W. H. Green concluded, “It may be safely said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted. – General Introduction: Text (New York; Scribner, 1899, 176) If this were true then, it is a thousandfold truer today.
The Isaiah scrolls identified as “IQisaa” and “IQIsab” are complete copies of the book of Isaiah, but the latter is the earliest known copy of a complete Bible book. Both are from cave 1. Gleason Archer had this to say about the two Isaiah scrolls that “proved to be word for word identical with the standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95% of the text. The 5% of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.” (Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction 1994, p. 19) Up to now, over 200 Biblical manuscripts have come out of the Qumran caves; representing portions of every Old Testament book except Esther. The Isaiah scrolls of Cave 1 are an exception to the rule, as most of the others are mere fragments, containing less than 10% of any given book. The books that are the most often quoted in the New Testament are, in fact, the most popular among the Qumran community: Psalms (36 copies), Deuteronomy (29 copies), and Isaiah (21 copies). The Dead Sea scrolls established that the Hebrew Old Testament had not undergone some radical changes over the 1,400 years of copying.
The earliest sources for the Greek New Testament are the papyri in codex (book-like) form. Of course, this designation came from the medium on which they were inscribed. At present, there have been over one hundred of these discovered, with sixty-two of these manuscripts dating between 100 – 300 C.E. These biblical papyri range from a very small fragment to codices, which may be incomplete, but still, contain large portions of several New Testament books. They are noted in literature with the Black letter character also known as Gothic script 𝔓, or by an upper- or lowercase “P” followed by a superscript Arabic number. (e.g., 𝔓52, 𝔓66, and 𝔓75).
The Diocletian persecution (303-313 C.E.) was, in the end, unsuccessful. Many Christian libraries escaped the persecution of Diocletian. Two of the best collections today, the Beatty and Bodmer papyri, survived the fires. Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), at the age of 32, had amassed a fortune. As a collector of books, he had over 50 papyrus codices, both religious and secular, which are dated earlier than the fourth century C.E. There are seven consisting of portions of Old Testament books, and three consisting of portions of the New Testament (P45 c. 250, P46 c. 175–225, and P47 c. 250-300). Martin Bodmer (1899-1971) was also a wealthy collector, who discovered twenty-two papyri in Egypt in 1952 which contained parts of the Old and New Testaments, as well as other early Christian literature. Particularly noteworthy are the New Testament Bodmer papyri, which consists of P66 dating to c. 200 C.E. and P75 dating to c. 175 C.E. Many in rural Egypt would have heard of the persecution in Alexandria, likely making great efforts to remove their manuscripts from their congregations, hiding them until the persecution was lifted. These early manuscripts and many others (such as Codex Vaticanus c. 300–325 C.E. and Codex Sinaiticus c. 330–360 C.E.) demonstrate extraordinary stability in the transmission history of the Greek New Testament text in the first 300 years.
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Unlike the denial of the King James Onlyist (KJVO), Textus Receptus Onlyist (TRO), and Majority Text Onlyist (MTO), we accept the fact of 1,400 years of 400,000 copyist errors. Bible copyists made mistakes. However, none of those mistakes end up corrupting the Bible. Because we also accept the lifetime work of hundreds of New Testament textual scholars, who have restored the Greek New Testament to a mirror image of the original. We also accept the meticulous care of the Masoretes in their copying of the Hebrew text, which has given us the inspired Word of God, as they preserved textual integrity. Rather than having corrupted translations today, the tens of thousands of Old Testament and New Testament manuscripts have given us the Word of God in our language within the literal translations that are accurate in their rendering of the original language words.
“The uniquely large number of New Testament manuscripts and their comparative proximity to the time of writing establish the textual reliability of the New Testament, including a 99%-plus fidelity to the divinely inspired New Testament as originally written. If you placed the manuscript copies of the average ancient author it would form a pile four feet high. However, the NT manuscripts and translations would reach a mile high.” – Dr. Daniel Wallace is an American professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is also the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.
The sheer volume of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament manuscripts today actually helps Bible scholars to weed out the textual variants (errors). While Preservation of Scripture should never be equated with the inerrancy of Scripture, we can appreciate Preservation of Scripture by Restoration as getting us a reliable, accurate, and trustworthy text and a translation that has the equivalent of the original language words.