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Agnostic New Testament textual and early Christianity scholar Dr. Bart D. Ehrman states, “For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.” Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 211.
A Lack of Preservation Does Not Mean a Lack of Inspiration
- The Bible was miraculously inspired as men were moved along by the Holy Spirit (Absolute Inerrancy)
- The Bible was not miraculously preserved as men’s human imperfection gave us corruption (Limited Inerrancy)
- The Bible was restored through tens of millions of hours by many hundreds of (men) textual scholars from the 16th to the 21st centuries. (Absolute Inerrancy Restored)
The men who restored the text are no more perfect than the men who intentionally and unintentionally corrupted the text. However, even hundreds of imperfect men through dozens of lifetimes of sweat and toil can arrive at a perfect text that was lost but now is found. With the copyists, you have tens of thousands of men focusing on their work as an individual in reproducing a copy, with the textual scholars it is teams of hundreds of men focusing on all of the manuscripts with the intention of ascertaining the original words of the original texts.
The KJVOist and TROist Providential Preservation of the Scriptures
The KJVO/TRO argues, “Because the Scriptures are forever relevant, they have been preserved down through the ages by God’s special providence. The Lord Himself proclaimed the reality of the providential preservation of the Scriptures of both Testaments during His life on earth: “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17). He declared that the Old Testament text in common use among the Jews during His earthly ministry was an absolutely trustworthy reproduction of the original text. Nothing had been lost from that text, and nothing ever would be lost. It would be easier for heaven and earth to pass than for such a loss to take place.” – by Gary La More
KJVO and TRO Questions
(1) If God’s Word is only found in the 1611 KJV, where was God’s Word from 100 A.D.—1610 A.D.?
(2) How many textual errors (differences) are in the Byzantine manuscripts used to make the Textus Receptus, which is behind the KJV?
(3) How many textual errors (differences) are in the handful of Byzantine manuscripts used to make the Textus Receptus, which is behind the KJV?
(4) If there are no textual differences in the 4,000 Byzantine texts (which there are), what was the Word of God before the fifth-century Byzantine text of Codex Alexandrinus (400-440 A.D.)? Only the Western and the Alexandrian family texts existed in the third and fourth centuries, and only the Alexandrian in the second century. So, God allowed errors by the copyists of the Alexandrian and Western manuscripts but miraculously inspired the thousands of Byzantine copyists from 400 to 1455 A.D.?
(5) The Byzantine Advocates (the text behind the TR) acknowledge there are differences between the Byzantine text and the Textus Receptus and Textus Receptus Advocates believe there are differences between the TR and the Byzantine text. So, where is the miraculous preservation of Scripture?
(6) The TROST and the KJVOIST argue that the New Testament original is found in the majority of the manuscripts, which is the Byzantine. However, there is a problem, there was no Byzantine text for the first four centuries, and the Byzantine text did not become the majority of the manuscripts until the 9th century. So, what was the New Testament Text before the 9th century when the Byzantine came to be the majority, and up until that time the Alexandrian was the majority?
(7) Which is inerrant, the Latin Vulgate Erasmus used to make some of the Textus Receptus or the Byzantine texts?
 What was the inerrant word of God in the second and third centuries AD before the development of the Byzantine text?
(9) You say scribes/copyists do not make changes to the text intentionally and unintentionally, so how do you explain the copyists who write in the margins that a previous copyist made changes? How do you explain the differences in the manuscripts?
(10) Speaking of the Textus Receptus, which of the four editions by Desiderius Erasmus do you prefer (1519, 1522, 1527, 1535), or the four editions of Robert Estienne (Stephanus) (1503– 1559), or the nine editions by Théodore Beza (1519– 1605)? How did the term Textus Receptus come about? How did the Greek text develop from Desiderius Erasmus to Robert Estienne to Théodore Beza, and did any of the editions have a critical apparatus with variants, and did any of these men consult any Alexandrian manuscripts?
(11) If the KJVOist advocates are correct and the copyists for the Byzantine text DID NOT make all of the additions to the Greek text but rather the Alexandrian copyists removed them, why do the 100+ papyri manuscripts discovered in the 1930s – the 1950s date with decades of the originals, 200 years before the 4th-century Alexandrian Vaticanus and Sinaiticus and 350 years before the earliest 5th-century Byzantine text looks just like the Alexandrian of manuscripts?
(12) The translators’ PREFACE to the 1611 KJV says the KJV was a revision of the 16t century translations of Coverdale, Tyndale, the Great Bibles, and others. The translators said that they expect new revisions of their KJV translation when more manuscripts come to light and a better understanding of Hebrew and Greek, there should be revisions. Were those translators wrong?
(13) What do you do with the fact that the KJV has 1,000 different words that do not mean today what they meant in 1611, even having the opposite meaning? The understanding of Hebrew and Greek has astronomically improved since 1611, and the 1611 KJV translators said in the 1611 PREFACE that a new revision should be made upon such circumstances. So, why reject efforts to do so with the 1881 English Revised Version (ERV), the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV), the 1952 Revised Standard Version (RSV), the 1995 New American Standard Bible (NASB), the 2001 English Standard Version (ESV), and the forthcoming Updated American Standard Version (UASV)? Are not these revisions simply following the instructions of the 1611 KJV translators?
(14) Why is the earlier Byzantine text more similar to the Alexandrian text in that it differs from the later Byzantine text in roughly 3000 places?
“The manuscript evidence, as found in the major majuscule codexes [Vaticanus and Sinaiticus], and then confirmed by early papyri [esp. P66 (150 C.E.) and P75 (175-225 C.E.)], points to the Alexandrian text-type as the earliest (and a very stable) textual witness.” Stanley E. Porter. How We Got the New Testament (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) (p. 64). Baker Publishing Group.
NOTE to KJVO/TRO and Ehrman. Before you suggest, I am saying the NA28 is 100% perfect; I am not. I am saying the culmination of hundreds of textual scholars giving their lives from the 16th century C.E. up to 1881 gave us essentially a restored NT. How can I say a restored Greek New Testament text essentially? The 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek NT critical text, after 131 years and the discovery of hundreds of more manuscripts, is 99.5% the same as the Westcott and Hort 1881 Greek New Testament. I would argue that we have a 99.99% mirror-like reflection of the original text between the two of these texts.
Distribution of Papyri First 300 Centuries by Type
|110-200||P52 P32 P46 P66 P75 P77/103 P87 P90 P104 P137||0||0||0|
|200-250||P4/64/67 P13 P23 P29 P30 P39 P45 P66 0189||P29 P38||0||0|
|250-300||P1 P5 P9 P12 P15 P16 P18 P20 P22 P27 P28 P37 P40 P47 P49/65 P53 P65 P70 P72 P78 P80 P101 P102 P104 P106 P107 P108 P109 P111 P113 P114 P115 P118 P119 P121 P125 P129 P130 P131 P132 P133 0220||P48 P69 0171||0||0|
|300-400||P6 P7 P8 P10 P17 P19 P21 P24 P25 P38 P50 P57 P62 P71 P81 P82 P85 P86 P88 P110 P117 P120 P122 P123 P126||P21 P88||0||0|
Looking at the OT and the NT See How We Got Here
Between 3,500 years ago and 2,460 years ago, some 32+ authors penned 39 books in the Middle East, compiling a history of the world from its creation to the flood of Noah, the confusing of the languages at Babylon, Abraham entering Canaan, to the formation of the Israelite nation, to the rise and fall of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian Empires. These 39 books became the most important collection of literature that the world has ever known. They would soon be joined by another 27 books, the second most important collection that was written some 2,000 years ago, covering the birth of the Roman Empire and the birth of the Son of God, as well as the birth and foundation of Christianity.
There was something different about this library of sixty-six books that had been penned over a 1600-year period. The authors came from every walk of life from lowly fishermen and shepherds to a military general, a physician, a tax collector, kings, and the like. These 40+ men were moved along by the Holy Spirit so that what they produced was not theirs alone but belong to one author, the Creator of all things, God himself. This means that these sixty-six books possessed perfect content (fully inerrant/infallible) with no errors, mistakes, contradictions. We still have translations of these writings today that can be read by almost everyone on earth. However, a question arises because the copyists who were making copies for thousands of years were not moved along by the Holy Spirit. We do not have the original manuscripts. We know that the thousands upon thousands of original language manuscripts (Hebrew OT/Greek NT) and the versions all read differently, as there are hundreds of thousands of scribal errors. How can we be certain that what we have in our Bible translations is really an accurate translation of what the authors originally wrote?
How Our Bible Manuscripts Survived the Elements
One may wonder why more Old and New Testament manuscripts have not survived. Really, the better question would be: How come so many of our Bible manuscripts survived in comparison to ancient secular manuscripts? In ancient times, perishable papyrus and parchment were the primary materials used to receive writing. It must be remembered that the Christians suffered intense persecution during intervals in the first 300 years from Pentecost 33 C.E. With this persecution from the Roman Empire came many orders to destroy Christian texts. In addition, these texts were not stored in such a way as to secure their preservation; the Christians actively used them in the congregation and were subject to wear and tear. Furthermore, moisture is the enemy of papyrus, and it causes them to disintegrate over time. As we will discover, this is why the papyrus manuscripts that have survived have come from the dry sands of Egypt. Moreover, it seems not to have entered the minds of the early Christians to preserve their documents because their solution to the loss of manuscripts was to make more copies. Fortunately, the process of making copies transitioned to the more durable animal skins, which would last much longer. Those that have survived, especially from the fourth century C.E. and earlier, are the path to restoring the original Greek New Testament.
Both papyrus and parchment jeopardized the survival of the Bible because they were perishable materials. Papyrus, the weakest of the two, can tear and discolor. Because of moist climates, a sheet of papyrus can decay to the point where it is nothing more than a handful of dust. We must remember papyrus is a plant, and when the scroll has been stored, it can grow mold and it can rot from dampness. It can even be eaten by starving rodents or insects, especially white ants (i.e., termites), when buried. When some of the manuscripts were first discovered early on, they were exposed to excessive light and humidity, which hastened their deterioration.
While parchment is far more durable than papyrus, it will also perish in time if mishandled or exposed to the elements (temperature, humidity, and light) over time Parchment is made from animal skin, so it too is also a victim of insects. Hence, when it comes to ancient records, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East states, “survival is the exception rather than the rule.” (R. S. Bagnall 2009, 140) Think about it for a moment; the Bible and its special revelation could have died from decay in the elements.
The Mosaic Law commanded every future king, “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.” (Deuteronomy 17:18) Moreover, the professional copyist of the Hebrew Old Testament made so many manuscripts, by the time of Jesus and the apostles, throughout all of Israel and even into distant Macedonia, there were many copies of the Scriptures in the synagogues (Luke 4:16, 17; Acts 17:11) How did our Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament survive the elements to the point where there are far more of them than any other ancient document. For example, 5,898 New Testament manuscripts are in the original Greek alone.
New Testament scholar Philip W. Comfort writes, “Jews were known to put scrolls containing Scripture in pitchers or jars in order to preserve them. The Dead Sea scrolls found in jars in the Qumran caves are a celebrated example of this. The Beatty Papyri were very likely a part of a Christian library, which was hidden in jars to be preserved from confiscation during the Diocletian persecution.” Christianity were initially made up Jewish Christians only for the first seven years (29-36 C.E.), with Cornelius being the first Gentile baptized in 36 C.E. Much of early Christianity (33-350 C.E.) was made up of Jewish Christians, who evidently carried over the tradition of putting “scrolls containing Scripture in pitchers or jars in order to preserve them.” For this reason, some of our earliest Bible manuscripts have been discovered in unusually dry regions, in clay jars and even dark closets and caves.
Manuscripts Saved from Egyptian Garbage Heaps
Beginning in 1778 and continuing to the end of the 19th century, many papyrus texts were accidentally discovered in Egypt that dated from 300 B.C.E. to 500 C.E., almost 500 thousand documents in all. About 130 years ago, there began a systematic search. At that time, a continuous flow of ancient texts was being found by the native fellahin, and the Egypt Exploration Society, a British non-profit organization founded in 1882, realized that they needed to send out an expedition team before it was too late. They sent two Oxford scholars, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, who received permission to search the area south of the farming region in the Faiyūm district. Grenfell chose a site called Behnesa because of its ancient Greek name, Oxyrhynchus. A search of the graveyards and the ruined houses produced nothing. The only place left to search was the town’s garbage dumps, which were some 30 feet [9 m] high. It seems to Grenfell and Hunt that all was lost, but they decided to try.
In January 1897, a trial trench (excavation or depression in the ground) was dug, and it only took a few hours before ancient papyrus materials were found. These included letters, contracts, and official documents. The sand had blown over them, covering them, and for nearly 2,000 years, the dry climate had protected them.
It took only a mere three months to pull out and recover almost two tons of papyri from Oxyrhynchus. They shipped twenty-five large cases back to England. Over the next ten years, these two courageous scholars returned each and every winter to grow their collection. They discovered ancient classical writing, along with royal ordinances and contracts mixed in with business accounts, private letters, shipping lists, as well as fragments of many New Testament manuscripts.
Of what benefit were all these documents? Foremost, the bulk of these documents were written by ordinary people in Koine (common) Greek of the day. Many of the words that would be used in the marketplace, not by the elites appeared in the Greek New Testament Scriptures, which woke scholars up to the fact that Biblical Greek was not some special Greek, but instead, it was the ordinary language of the common people, the man on the street. Thus, by comparing how the words had been used in these papyri, a clearer understanding of Biblical Greek emerged. As of the time of this writing, less than ten percent of these papyri have been published and studied. Most of the papyri were found in the garbage heap’s top 10 feet, 93 m] because the other 20 feet [6 m] had been ruined by water from a nearby canal. If we look at it, this would mean that the 500 thousand documents found could have been two million in total. Then, we must ponder just how many documents must have come through Oxyrhynchus that were never discarded in the dumps. We have almost a half-million papyrus documents (likely there were millions more that did not survive) in garbage dumps in the dry sands of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.
The result is that the New Testament has been preserved in over 5,898 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, as well as some 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages, including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. Some of these are well over 2,000 years old.
NOTE: While at present, here in 2020, there are 5,898 manuscripts. There are 140 listed Papyrus manuscripts, 323 Majuscule manuscripts, 2,951 Minuscule manuscripts, and 2,484 Lectionary manuscripts, bringing the total cataloged manuscripts to 5,898 manuscripts. However, you cannot simply total the number of cataloged manuscripts because, for example, P11/14 are the same manuscript but with different catalog numbers. The same is true of P33/5, P4/64/67, P49/65 and P77/103. Now this alone would bring our 140 listed papyrus manuscripts down to 134. ‘Then, we turn to one example from our majuscule manuscripts where clear 0110, 0124, 0178, 0179, 0180, 0190, 0191, 0193, 0194, and 0202 are said to be part of 070. A minuscule manuscript was listed with five separate catalog numbers for 2306, which then have the letters a through e. Thus, we have the following GA numbers: 2306 for 2306a, and 2831- 2834 for 2306b-2306e.’ – (Hixon 2019, 53-4) The problem is much worse when we consider that there are 323 Majuscule manuscripts and then far worse still with a listed 2,951 Minuscule and 2,484 Lectionaries. Nevertheless, those who estimate a total of 5,300 (Jacob W. Peterson, Myths and Mistakes, p. 63) 5,500 manuscripts (Dr. Ed Gravely / ehrmanproject.com/), 5,800 manuscripts (Porter 2013, 23), it is still a truckload of evidence far and above the dismal number of ancient secular author books.
The Hebrew Scriptures ended up in the hands of the Masoretes (Mas·o·retes \ ˈma-sə-ˌrētes) scribe-scholars (‘preservers of tradition’) who worked between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E., based primarily in early medieval Palestine in the cities of Tiberius and Jerusalem. The Masoretes have not been adequately appreciated for their accomplishments. These nameless scribes copied the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures meticulously and lovingly. As for the early Christian copyists of the New Testament, either literate or semi-professional copyists did the vast majority of the early papyri, with some being done by professionals.
It is true that the Holy Spirit did not lead move the Jewish copyists and the later Christian copyists, and therefore their manuscripts were not inerrant or infallible. Errors (textual variants) crept into the manuscripts unintentionally and intentionally. However, the vast majority of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament have not been infected with textual errors. For the portions impacted with textual errors, it is the many tens of thousands of copies that we have to help us to weed out the errors. How? Well, not every copyist made the same textual errors. Hence, by comparing the work of different copyists and different manuscripts, textual scholars, we can identify the textual variants (errors), and remove those, which leaves us with the original content.
Yes, it would be the greatest discovery of all time if we found the original five books penned by Moses himself, Genesis through Deuteronomy. However, first, there would be no way of establishing that they were the originals. Second, truth be told, we do not need the originals. We do not need those original documents. What is so important about the documents? Nothing, it is the content on the original documents that we are after. And truly miraculously, we have more copies than needed to do just that. We do not need miraculous preservation because we have miraculous restoration. We now know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament critical texts are a 99% reflection of the content that was in those ancient original manuscripts.
 Cf. J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), 11.
 For example, the official signed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence was written on parchment. Now, less than 250 years later, it has faded to the point of being barely legible.
 Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 158.