Saturday, June 28, 2014

Session 3: Transmission of Scripture Part 1

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength  ~Mark 12:30
Writing about Session 3 Transmission of Scripture, Anna Lee shares her thoughts on having confidence in the Bible.

As Christians, it is imperative that we are confident in the Word of God we have in our hands. But few of us understand how the Bible has been transmitted from when it was originally written to the copy that exists in 2014. Transmission is defined as "to send something, pass something on, or cause something to spread, from one person thing or place to another."

When referring to Scripture specifically, it is the process of the original author writing it down, copies made over time, and leaving us with the Bible we have today. This begs the question: How do we know if we have the right words?

The Bible was inspired by God over a 1,500 year period. He used at least 40 men to put it in writing; ranging from priests and prophets to shepherds and tax collectors. To me, the transmission of Scripture seems like the perfect point of attack for an unbeliever. It stands to reason that considering the time span during which it was written and the number of authors from vastly different professions, that it would deem Scripture to be an unreliable source.

However, leave it to our great God to take something that would seem to shake the very foundation of our faith and instead use it to prove its authenticity. Not even the most hard-core atheists or liberals will touch this one because the evidence is overwhelming.

While we do not have any of the original manuscripts of the Old or New Testament, it is acknowledged that the closer a copy is made to the date of the original document, the more it is reliable. That being said, in the Theology Course curriculum (Session 3, page 74), a table compares the Bible with other reliable ancient manuscripts.

The New Testament was written between 50-90 A.D. with the earliest known copy made only 25 years later, and the number of copies made exceeding 25,000. The next closest is Homer's Iliad which was written in 900 B.C. with the earliest copy made 1,500 years later, and the number of copies made totaling 643. When you put it side-by-side, 25 years versus 1,500 years from first writing, and 25,000 copies versus 643, the evidence speaks for itself. God likes to go big!

How did we come to have Scripture in front of us today? God inspired the Word, men wrote it down, and copies were made. But as we all know, human error is inevitable. How then can we know that the copies of Scripture we have are not rampant with errors? While scribes were meticulously copying the Old and New Testament, many mistakes were made. In fact, in the New Testament alone there are more than 300,000 copyist errors.

When I learned about the large number of variants in the manuscripts it made me uneasy. But upon further discussion, it turns out that 99% of these make no theological difference at all. Some are merely grammatical or differ only in order of wording (an example being "Jesus Christ" versus "Christ Jesus"). But what about the other 1%?

An example is the classic Sunday School story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. In many Bible translations, this story in John 7:53-8:11 is in brackets because some of the early manuscripts do not include it. Should it be included? In these instances, whether you leave it in or take it out, it does not affect any major doctrine. The inclusion or absence of it does not alter the character of God or change how we come to salvation.

Before studying transmission, I assumed that the Bible was completely perfect in every way. After studying this, I am confident that it is perfectly the way God intended it to be. He was the One who created us. He knew that we are imperfect and would make mistakes. But He is also in complete control. Now, more than ever before, I trust the divine Author of the Word I hold in my hands.

Anna Lee

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