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Chapter 1

A Brief History of Bible Manuscripts and Translations

 

The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written in the second half of the first century after Christ. Not one of the original writings is preserved. However, early Christians carefully preserved copies of these sacred writings, taking the greatest care to eliminate copyist errors. Syria became the center of such copying endeavors.

Nevertheless, within a century of the writing of the New Testament canon, serious alterations were made, especially by scribes in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. These men were motivated by a desire to support their Gnostic errors, which included the view that Christ was not a member of the Godhead. Once scribes tampered with Scripture they became increasingly careless in their copying techniques, introducing numerous mistakes. However, the scribes of Syria did not deviate from their meticulous copying methods.

From these two copyist perspectives, two quite different streams of Greek manuscripts emerged. The Eastern stream, which became centered on Syria and Constantinople, remained true to the original writings of the apostles, while the Western stream, centered on Alexandria and Rome, was markedly flawed by both deliberate and careless alterations.

Early in the fourth century, Emperor Constantine commissioned Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, to prepare fifty copies of the New Testament. Eusebius chose to copy the flawed Western manuscripts. His decision was influenced by his admiration of Origen, who himself was a corrupter of Holy Writ.

It is thought that two of Eusebiusí copies survive in the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. These copies contain many errors, and during the sixth and the seventh centuries at least ten different scribes attempted to make corrections to bring them somewhat closer to the valid Eastern manuscripts. Despite this effort, deliberate and careless errors remained in great numbers.

Knowledge of the errors did not prevent Jerome from using these faulty manuscripts as a basis for his Latin version of the Bible. His translation became the official Scripture of the Roman Catholic Church and is known as the Latin Vulgate. Disregarding all evidence to the contrary, the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century proclaimed the Latin Vulgate to be free from error.

But despite the great influence of the Papacy, true Christians were not deceived. Believers such as the Waldenses and the Gallic church of France and the Celtic church of Britain refused such perversion of Godís Word and used only those translations arising from the Eastern stream. This practice was also true of Godís churches in Ethiopia, Persia, India, and China.

When the Turks conquered Constantinople and destroyed the Byzantine Empire in 1453, men escaped to the West bringing priceless biblical and secular manuscripts with them. These manuscripts enlightened the dense darkness of the Middle Ages, a darkness directly attributable to Roman Catholic domination. The revelations of these manuscripts opened minds to learning and also to the pure, precious Word of God. The Renaissance spread throughout Europe like a wildfire, and shortly the Reformation arose.

Godís servants perceived that it was the Word of God in the language of the common people which opened minds to truth and dispelled the errors of the Papacy. As nation after nation threw off the shackles of Catholicism and embraced a pure faith based upon the inerrant Word of God, great fear gripped the leadership in Rome. The Council of Trent was called in 1545 to find a means to stem the advance of Protestantism.

Perceptively, the bishops gathered at the Council acknowledged that the free distribution of the Bible to all men would prove the death knell of the Roman Catholic Church. Wherever men and women read this precious Book, the errors of Catholicism were forsaken.

Gladly would these wily bishops have cast every Bible into a sea of flames as they had done in previous generations, but their coercive power had disappeared from much of Europe. Thus more subtle means were required to reverse the great advance of scriptural truth. Some less farsighted bishops even suggested that the Roman Catholic Church, too, endorse the Bible as the sole source of faith. They reasoned that they might be able to wean men and women from Protestantism if they proclaimed such a view. But the Jesuits saw that such a stand, rather than serving to rescue the Catholic faith, would seal its doom. With the Archbishop of Reggio as their spokesman, the Jesuits totally overthrew this faulted tactic by pointing out that there was no scriptural basis for Sundaykeeping, and unless the church was prepared to return to Sabbathkeeping, they must uphold the authority of the tradition of the church above that of the Scriptures.

The Archbishop of Reggioís successful argument won a continued place for church tradition as the major source of Catholic doctrine, but it did not provide a solution to the advance of Protestantism and the supremacy of Scripture in the hearts of Protestants. The Jesuits thus devised a new strategy. While having little regard for the Bible, they nevertheless went to Douay and Rheims in France and translated the Bible into the English language using the Latin Vulgate as its basis, although resorting to the original languages in some areas.

The Jesuits were not bothered by the faultiness of their new translation; it furthered their aims. Their faith depended not upon Godís Word, but rather upon church tradition. Accuracy was not vital to their undertaking, and inaccuracies would assist them in their aim to weaken Protestant faith in Godís Word. It is the corruption of Godís Word which turns men and women to the authority of men and the church in place of the Bible.

For three centuries the design of the Jesuits met with scant success. Protestants were acutely aware of the perversions of the Western manuscripts and eschewed them. Men such as William Tyndale died at the stake rather than submit to a perverted Scripture. The Reformers of Europe united to bring before Godís flock the precious truths of the pure Word of God. It was in this commitment of fidelity to Godís Word that the King James Version of the Bible was undertaken by godly men.

But in the nineteenth century the Jesuits penetrated the Anglican Church in force. This infiltration led to the formation of what became known as the Oxford movement early in that century. This movement among young Anglican clerics upheld the re-introduction of Catholic practices such as the confession, the adoration of Mary, and the celebration of the Mass, into the Anglican Church.

When in the 1870s the archbishopric of Canterbury undertook a revision of the King James Version of the Bible, the revision committeeís two most influential figures, Doctors Westcott and Hort, were greatly under the influence of the Oxford movement. They encouraged the translators to discard the pure Eastern manuscripts upon which the Protestant Reformation and its Bible were based and to revert to the perverted Western manuscripts, ever the ally of Catholicism.

Thus the Revised Version of 1881 transformed the nature of the English-language Scripture. This version, and the American Revised Version which followed twenty years later and which was equally faulted, did not initially have a profound influence in Protestantism, for the King James Version remained the standard Bible of these churches.

But the appearance of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible in the second half of the twentieth century, followed by a plethora of new translations, saw the scheme of the Jesuits finally implemented. Today most Protestants have discarded the trusted King James Version and now cheerfully use Bibles which are based upon Catholic manuscripts. All the best-known modern translations with the exception of the New King James Version (also known as the new Authorized Version) distort Scripture. These translations include the New International Version, the New English Bible, Todayís English Version, Phillipsí translation, and a host of others.

Is it any wonder that the Catholics openly rejoiced at the appearance of the Revised Version, proclaiming that its use would be the death knell of Protestantism? The use of these translations has seriously weakened the Protestant perception of the errors of Rome. Already the effects of the use of these translations, initially sponsored by theologians, are plain to see.

 


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