If you have read our previous posts, you know that there are two different sources for Bible translations: the received text, and Alexandrian manuscripts. We’ve said that the Alexandrian manuscripts are corrupted; that they are different from the received text. But what exactly are those differences?
Actually, there are far, far too many to recount. But in this post we’ll explore a sampling of some of the more important differences, answering the question, “What difference does it really make?”
Missing Words #
What difference can a few words make? Quite a lot of difference, in some cases. A change or omission of a single word can lead to radical differences in meaning. It can even cause the meaning of a sentence to be completely reversed.
One example that we’ve already cited in A Strait Way, is when a single word is left out of John 7:8 in many modern translations, making Jesus into a liar. Rather than Christ telling his brethren that he isn’t going up to the feast “yet“, he simply tells them that he isn’t going. Of course, two verses later he does go up to the feast, and the implications are not lost on many readers. A single missing word has had the startling effect of convincing people to discard the doctrine of Christ’s sinlessness.
Missing Verses #
Did you know that there are also entire verses missing from many modern Bible versions? Try looking up Acts 8:37. Or 1 John 5:7. Are they there? In many cases they are not. And these verses each have doctrinal implications. 1 John 5:7, for example, is the clearest verse in scripture on the trinity:
1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
Removing this effectively obscures the doctrine of the trinity in the rest of scripture. (And it is usually accompanied by changes in other passages that further obscure that doctrine.)
And does the verse really belong? All textual evidence indicates that of course it does! The passage as a whole makes no sense when this verse is removed, either in English or in Greek. Grammatically speaking, this verse is clearly part of the text. And the verse is found in every ancient manuscript, to the tune of hundreds, except for a handful of admittedly corrupted ones from Alexandria.
But how or why would verses as significant as this get removed? Maybe because somebody back in history didn’t like what they said, and so decided to rip them out of scripture. More on who would do that, and why, will be covered in another post.
Missing Passages #
It isn’t just single verses that are missing from the Alexandrian manuscripts, though. It is sometimes whole passages, like Mark 16:9-20, which records the resurrection appearances of Christ. Without the passage, Mark would end like this:
Mark 16:8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.
The women saw an empty tomb and angels, but with the remaining verses removed, there is no account of them seeing the resurrected Lord. The passage just ends, very awkwardly.
Once again, it is clear that these missing verses belong, or the book would not actually have a proper ending. Each of the other gospels ends with “Amen”, as does almost every single New Testament book. And without this passage, we are not even told the reaction of Christ’s disciples to this news. Did they go into Galilee as the angels directed them? Did they find Jesus there? Without the final verses, the story is undeniably incomplete.
And thus, as we might expect, we find these verses in every single manuscript of Mark known to man, except for two: Vaticanus, which was conveniently “discovered” in the library of the Vatican a few hundred years ago, and Sinaiticus, a heavily corrupted manuscript that may actually be a modern fake.
Most modern versions don’t dare to actually remove this passage, but they are sure to include a footnote suggesting that it is not found in “the oldest and best manuscripts,” and that therefore it probably doesn’t belong.
Yes, despite the obvious inspiration of these verses, many scholars entertain the theory that Jesus’s resurrection appearances, if any actually occurred, were much embellished later additions to the gospels. Through these missing verses from Mark, they cast doubt on the record of the other three gospels. And why not? If these verses were added to this gospel, then what might have been added to the others?
Added Books #
In the post about the purity of scripture, I said this:
While most people who reject the Received Text would not go that far, they are forced to reduce the Bible from being the pure words of the LORD to being only the words of men. Because they believe that the Bible is not pure, they are forced to doubt every word—there is no way for them to know whether any particular word, or phrase, or verse, or chapter, or even book, is really supposed to be there.
Some who read that probably thought it a bit of an exaggeration to say that whole books of the Bible might be in doubt. But it is not. The Alexandrian manuscripts often contain apocryphal books, and they are finally working their way into modern Bible versions, like the CEB.
Yet it is clear that books like Tobit, for example, are fundamentally different than the 66 books of scripture. And even the editors of the CEB are forced to admit that Tobit should be considered “historical fiction”, rather than an account of true events. And what part does very poorly constructed, even nonsensical, historical fiction have in the Bible, do you ask? Teaching doctrines like that giving alms cleanses the soul from sin, or that holy angels of God lie to his servants.
But when we no longer believe that God has preserved his pure and perfect words for us, we have no way of knowing what is scripture and what is not, what belongs and what doesn’t.
We’ve only touched the tip of a very large iceberg here, but if you have wondered to yourself, “what difference does it make?”, you can now answer that question. It can make the difference between whether you believe Christ was sinless, or a liar. It can make the difference between whether you believe Christ was resurrected, or not. It can make the difference between whether you only accept God’s words, or also myths concocted by man. In short, it makes the difference between whether you can have faith in the word of God as being wholly pure, or whether you must doubt every word as possibly being only the word of man. That’s the difference.