Do textual variants give us confidence?

Discussion in 'Translations and Manuscripts' started by KMK, Jun 6, 2007.

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  1. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    This is from Bryan Chapell in "Christ Centered Preaching" which has been a good read. But I don't understand his paradigm here:

    Do textual variants give us confidence in the Spirit's inspiration of Scripture? If so, how? To my simple brain it would seem the other way around.

    Earlier in the paragraph he wrote:

    Is he saying that if there were no variants that it would tear down at the authority of the Bible? How so?

  2. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior

    For what little it is worth, I agree with you.

    I think variant texts and translations actually make the bible less authoritative. Even if they are inevitable, I think they ought not to be celebrated.

  3. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    Ken - I suppose a good study bible can help, but I believe a working knowledge of the orginal languages is best. But I can't help but wonder how textual variants present a real problem. None of them put into question any doctrines. They don't negatively effect christology or soterigoloy. I suppose in that sense a good case can be made the variants are insignificant.

    :um: yes? no?

    P.S. And just to make sure I am on the right page with the OP, by textual variants do you mean questionable texts like Mark 16:9-20?
  4. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    I have definitely heard that argument before. But the author seems to be saying that the existence of textual variants amplifies the authority of the Bible. In other words,, they are *significant* in that they boost our confidence in the inspired nature of the scriptures.

    That seems to be the author's definition as well.
  5. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    On pages 45, 82, and 107-8 the text Chapell uses is the NIV. This need not detract in the slightest from the excellence of his book (my favorite commentator, Wm. Hendriksen, uses the Critical Text).

    No doubt in Chapell's view he considers the CT the reliable text and the marginal notes give him warning concerning "spurious texts." He feels secure in the judgment of the editors who introduced those notes, which originally were Westcott and Hort. This is what he means when he says,

    Personally, I like the margin notes in the NKJV so as to give me a heads-up on the variants other textforms use.

    A minister should educate the flock as to the basics of text criticism and what, in his view, are the reliable Scriptures.

    In fact, variants from the TR 1894 (i.e., disagreeing with it) are the spurious. Though, as Bill says, they are "insignificant" in the main. Clearly we should agreeably disagree on which textform has "the Spirit's imprimatur."

    In preaching, His 'imprimatur" on our hearts and minds is the crux of the matter.

    Last edited: Sep 8, 2007
  6. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks, Mr. Rafalsky.

    So some scholars see the existence of textual variants as support for the Holy Spirit's inspiration and providence of Scripture because they are relatively few and 'insignificant'. Their assumption would be, I assume, that if it were just any old book there would be many variants and they would be 'significant'. Does this fairly capture the essence of their assumption?

    My only question would be, if there were no variants at all, would that undermine the Spirit's inspiration and providence?
  7. Herald

    Herald Moderator Staff Member

    No. We have exactly what God intended. Whether the redactors made changes or whether there were fragments of text that were not part of the C.T., the point was made (and seconded) that they do not effect the veracity of the bible.
  8. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Variants convince us of the historicity of the Scriptures. They did not drop down from the heavens like The Book of Mormon or The Koran but were given to men as they were moved by the Holy Spirit to address the issues of the day. The variants thus demonstrate that our Bible is grounded in history and fact.

    (argument stolen from Dr. Peter Jones of WSCAL).
  9. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    So... variants were providentially brought about by the HS to convince us of and give us confidence in the inspiration and preservation of Scripture. And if there were no variants that would actually cast doubt on the authority of the Bible in the same way it does the Books of other religions. Am I summarizing correctly?
  10. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    I am not 100% up to speed on the variants issue, but I believe that the cornerstone of the Bible's veracity is that the Scriptures are so consistent over the span of thousands of years and multiple authors, testifying to the inspiration of the HS.

    My summization on the variants is that, while variants exist with differing degrees of "variation", they still do not detract from overall orthodoxy, thus the HS inspired message is not impacted by them and this fact substantiates the infallibility of the words from the HS.

  11. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    I understand that argument. What I am trying to understand is the argument that the existance of variants actually strengthens our confidence in the authority of scripture.
  12. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    I guess maybe that is my point - even the determined efforts of the variants authors did not succeed, so that fact strengthens the case (and our confidence) for the immutability of the HS's message.
  13. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    OK. I think I see what you are saying. The fact that the HS was able to preserve the scriptures 90% intact in spite of man's negligence or abuse strenghtens our confidence. The assumption being that if preservation was left to man alone, there would be a great deal more variants and they would be of a more significant nature.

    And if there were no variants, that would actually make us suspicious of the Spirit's 'imprimatur'.
  14. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

  15. JohnOwen007

    JohnOwen007 Puritan Board Sophomore

    No, I take his statement as saying that we have greater confidence when we know where the variants occur because we'll know which parts of Bible are not in question, and can have confidence in these sections (not in the sections where variants exist).

    I might be reading it wrongly because I don't have the full text, but that's what it seems to me. :2cents:
  16. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    After further reflection - I would modify your statement:

    The fact that the HS was able to preserve the Scripture 99% (?) intact in spite of man's negligence or abuse strengthens our confidence. The assumption being without the HS acting to preserve the Scripture, there would be a great deal more variants and they would be of a more significant nature.
  17. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    No. Variants simply remind us about and support the historical, organic view of inspiration. I would not be so bold to say that the HS did this for that particular reason. Reason and logic, however, simply lead us to this conclusion.
  18. panta dokimazete

    panta dokimazete Panting Donkey Machete

    I believe the loss of the original manuscripts and the textual variants proof this:

    That is - everything associated with this creation - paper, scrolls, original texts and documents, etc... will fall and fade away, but the word of the Lord remains forever...
  19. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    I have never heard of inspiration as being 'organic'. (But there are a great deal of things of which I have not heard) Do you believe there was anything organic in the original manuscripts, or just those that have been preserved? I mean, was it hit or miss with the originals? Is that why we only have two letters to the Corinthians, because Paul screwed up on the others? Or is it organic in the sense that the writers may have written more than one manuscript with slight variations in each?

    I have heard it argued that the fact that all four gospels (or three if you discount Mark because of the variants) describe the resurrection in different ways actually strengthens their veracity. If all the gospels told the story in the exact same way it would actually diminish the testimony of the resurrection. Is this the same kind of argument?
  20. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    No, it is not.

    The perfect accord from four different witnesses (and upon close examination – not cursory – there are no discrepancies between them) does “strengthen their veracity.” The same argument does not apply to the manuscripts and the variants (definition: “having or showing a difference from the norm”).

    There are those – the CT adherents – who feel the variants represent a true copy. This is the hand-to-hand combat in the trenches: examining each one (or each significant one) and evaluating the evidence for its authenticity. If, after a multitude of evaluations, a particular text-type shows itself to have superior attestation for its readings, even to the minutiae, then that text-type is deemed to be the best, i.e., the truest to the autographs.

    There are other factors to be considered, such as a plausible account for that text-form’s existence – a reconstructed history of its origins and transmission – which would be buttressed by the evidences for its readings.

    Variants are those readings which differ from the normative or “true” text-form – the standard. Starting with the Reformation, in its defense against the assaults of Rome, the Standard Scriptures have been the Byzantine text with a few readings brought into it from the Latin and other sources, deemed by some to have been so brought in by the Providence of God in His final step in preserving His word, according to promise.

    By definition, the variants are those readings which differ from this Reformation text. Rome consciously used the existence of variants to try to overthrow the Reformers’ claim that they had a sure word of God per se, which did not need either interpretation or validation by Roman authority. Rome denied this. The Reformers were able to make their defense. The Reformation succeeded. The Presbyterian and Reformed churches prospered.

    Liberalism, a child of the Enlightenment, crept into the camp – initially in the form of rationalistic (unbelieving) German text critics and philosophers, as well as Papal scholars – and continued the deconstructing assault on the Reformation Standard text, as well as the Reformation faith.

    Even believing text critics and scholars (Tregelles) joined the unbelieving (Semler, Griesbach, Lachmann, etc.) in this “enlightened” approach to text criticism, which simply continued Rome’s agenda but under a different banner. As can be seen, they succeeded. Through allies, Rome’s assault against the despised “Protestant Pope” took the field. Multitudes today do not realize what has happened. They rationalize the “variant weapons” that have penetrated the hull of the Protestant Flagship and exploded within, and do their best to accommodate to and minimize the damage, as can be seen in the explanations of the variants given above.

    What is not realized by most is that the ship has taken a lethal hit, and will not stay afloat as it is. In this generation, it most likely will, but in one or two from now, our great grandchildren (should the Lord tarry that long) will have a much harder time explaining away the “debunked Bible texts,” the patch-work crapshoot of the modern versions. Smaller ships will carry much of the passengers en route to the Golden Shore, and they will have a sure text.

    The variants so glowingly spoken of above are lethal “hunter-seeker” missiles sent from the ancient Adversary. One by one they must be stopped, dismantled, and disarmed. Since they are spiritual weapons aimed at the mind some will like their allure and let them pass into themselves.

    Bottom line: a variant is either true or false. If false, ultimately it is from the father of lies. The fighting is in the trenches.

  21. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I'll let Berkhof explain the meaning of 'organic' inspiration. From Summary of Christian Doctrine

    Taken from -
  22. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you for that insightful post, Mr. Rafalsky. I have enjoyed reading many of your posts concerning the defense of the BT.

    Yours is an argument that I am familiar with, as well as the argument that the variants are 'insignificant'. But I had never heard the argument that the variants actually strengthen our confidence in the Bible.
  23. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks for that definition. How do variants support that definition?
  24. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I like that definition too, Daniel.

    The variants weren't in existence when the inspired Scriptures were written; I would say they attempt to detract from the integrity of that definition. Take the (by now) familiar variants of the CT in Matthew 1:7 and 10, Asaph and Amos replacing the genuine Asa and Amon. These variants are in the Greek of all the CT texts, indicating Matthew knew no better than that, and wrote erroneously in the autograph. (The ESV prints them in the English.) The explanation they are "alternative spellings" is lame.

    For Mark 16:9-20 to be disallowed on the testimony of basically two corrupt MSS which disagree against each other in the Gospels alone 3,036 times is a scandal, and again impugns the integrity of an "inspired Scripture" -- the margin notes tell the world the Reformation Bible is not to be trusted. And the Reformation text people tell the world, the CT Bibles & their notes are not to be trusted. Suspicion and uncertainty has entered into the precincts of God's house concerning His word.

    Good men try to make the best of it. But damage has been done.

  25. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    See post #9.
  26. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    I think I understand. The assertion is that 'variants convince us of the historicity of the Scriptures' because it is common knowledge that histories that have been copied over and over for thousands of years would naturally have variants, whether it be the Bible or some secular or apocryphal document. If the Bible had no variants after all these millenia it would be suspect in the same way that the Book of Mormon is suspect.

    I am thankful for everyone's help in understanding this argument.

    However, it sounds to me like a worldly assertion. In other words,, this argument might be useful in proving the Holy Spirit's influence over the Bible to unbelievers, but a believer should not need such reassurance. It seems to me that the believer, who has the truth written on their hearts, would gain more confidence in seeing how the HS led those who have the rule over them, who have spoken unto them the word of God. The testimony of the church should, in my mind, give confidence to the believer rather than variants introduced by academia. :2cents:
  27. Robert Truelove

    Robert Truelove Puritan Board Sophomore

    Let me give an example of a textual error that increases my faith in the integrity of the scriptures...

    1 Samuel 31:1...The ESV accurately translates what is actually in the Hebrew...

    "Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel."

    The the footnotes explain the reason for the omission is that ALL the Hebrew manuscripts and all but a few very late manuscripts of the Septuagint (obvious 'corrections' made by later scribes) have the number ‘dropped out’ of the text.

    What this shows is an ancient scribal error in the text of the Old Testament. Now one may ask, “how on Earth does this increase my faith in the preservation of the text?”.

    It does so because it shows that for hundreds of years scribes copied this verse knowing the number had dropped out but instead of correcting it, they faithfully transcribed what was before them. If the scribes of the Old Testament would so faithfully preserve an obvious omission, don’t you think they were just as tenaciously faithful with the rest of the text?

    This of course applies to the Old Testament. Unfortunately, we gentiles were not so tenacious which is why it is a blessing we have such old manuscripts of the New Testament.

    **puts on hardhat and dives head first into bomb shelter**
  28. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Hello Robert,

    To correct a typo, the verse in question is 1 Sam 13:1.

    You apparently give a lot of credence to the ESV’s margin notes! I certainly would not. But when you say in your post “ALL the Hebrew manuscripts” it is unscholarly hyperbole (a bad habit probably picked up from CT margin notes!), for the major Hebrew text of the past four centuries – used by the Jewish community as well as the Christian – was the Ben Chayyim text, which does not read as you allege. From Dr. D.A. Waite:

    What about the Hebrew text used by the KJV translators? Here is some background on it. The Daniel Bomberg edition, 1516-17, was called the First Rabbinic Bible. Then in 1524-25, Bomberg published a second edition edited by Abraham Ben Chayyim (or Ben Hayyim) iben Adonijah. This is called the Ben Chayyim edition of the Hebrew text. Daniel Bomberg's edition, on which the KJV is based, was the Ben Chayyim Masoretic Text. This was called the Second Great Rabbinic Bible. This became the standard Masoretic text for the next 400 years.

    The Ben Chayyim Masoretic Text was used even in the first two editions of Biblia Hebraica by Rudolf Kittel. The dates on those first two editions were 1906 and 1912. He used the same Hebrew text as the KJV translators.

    The edition we used when I was a student of Dr. Merrill F. Unger at Dallas Theological Seminary (1948-53), was the 1937 edition of the Biblia Hebraica by Kittel. All of a sudden, in 1937, Kittel changed his Hebrew edition and followed what they called the Ben Asher Masoretic Text instead of the Ben Chayyim. They followed, in that text, the Leningrad manuscript. The date on it was 1008 A.D. This was not the traditional Masoretic Text that was used for 400 years and was the basis of the King James Bible. They changed it and used this Leningrad manuscript. So even the main text used by the NKJV, NASV, and NIV in the Hebrew is different from that used for the King James Bible. The footnotes in Kittel's Biblia Hebraica suggest from 20,000 to 30,000 changes throughout the whole Old Testament.

    The reason that most of the Hebrew departments, in colleges, universities, and seminaries who teach Hebrew, use the Ben Asher Hebrew Text instead of the Ben Chayyim Text is the same reason they use the critical Greek text in the N.T. They believe the "oldest" texts, either in Hebrew or in Greek, must always be the best. Not necessarily. (from, Defending The King James Bible, p.27)​

    To look at the verse in question in the Kittel 1912 or Ben Chayyim 1524-5 Hebrew text, it reads,

    BEN SHANAH SHAUL BeMAHLeCO – “Saul was a son of A YEAR in his reigning.” [Don’t any of you good civilized Reformed folks flip out at my citing flaming Peter Ruckman, as I don’t flip out at your citing liberal Bruce Metzger!] Ruckman points out that,

    This is the exact Hebrew idiom found in 1 Kings 22:42 and 2 Kings 8:26.…Did…the Lockman Foundation (New ASV) have any trouble with the “missing numbers” from the “Hebrew text” when they got to 1 Kings 22:42 and 2 Kings 8:26?....They translated the numbers there exactly as they appear in 1 Samuel 13:1 in the Hebrew idiom. They just pretended that the number was not in 1 Samuel 13:1. It was (Heb.—“Shanah,” meaning “A YEAR”). (from, Problem Texts, pp. 174-5.)​

    Ruckman goes on to point out that in the margin of the 1611 King James Bible, the translators wrote, “Hebr. the sonne of one yeere in his reigning”. They knew what the Hebrew said.

    You allege,

    If you will restrict your remarks to the OT and NT you have, and the words “we gentiles” to the CT camp you are in, and not make either of these statements refer to my camp, then you might come out of your bomb shelter and relax. But if you want to lay these allegations to my OT & NT, and the camp I live in, you might as well remain in the shelter and keep your hardhat on. If there’s a TV and a cot in there, you might even think of calling it home.

    You’ve been talking of inferior texts which lurk in the shadows of the Reformation’s light, and were afraid to come out then, but now have more boldness due to the darkness of the times.

  29. Robert Truelove

    Robert Truelove Puritan Board Sophomore

    So what do you do with the fact that all of the older Greek Septuagint manuscripts follow in faithfully preserving these omissions as found in the older Hebrew manuscripts?

    Since the older Hebdrew manuscripts all contian this omission as well as the earlier Greek translation, is it not much more evident that the later manuscripts were 'corrected' by well meaning scribes?

  30. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Robert, you say,

    Again it seems to me you indulge in hyperbole: my copy of the LXX (Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton’s translation; Zondervan, ISBN 0310204208) does not even contain verse 1 – omits it entirely! When you talk about the LXX mss “faithfully preserving” readings lacking in Hebrew manuscripts, I wonder how carefully you have considered the gross irregularities of transmission found in the LXX. I realize it is an axiom of modern text criticism that the Septuagint can do as you assert, but it is a theory as unproven as the one about the older Greek MSS being more reliable than the majority text. The LXX is notoriously corrupt in its readings throughout, often its writers “back-correcting” to either supposedly fit prophecy (as in Daniel 9:24-27 being made to refer to the Maccabean period) or supposedly agree with the NT as in its Psalm 14:3.

    When you say “the older Hebrew manuscripts all contain this omission…” I take it you are referring to the Leningrad codex (mentioned above in post #29). I repeat again, older manuscripts are not necessarily better ones, neither the Hebrew nor the Greek, as we have discussed at length previously.

    Keil and Delitzsch, who are to be respected, do agree with you. I prefer John Gill’s take on the matter (and Gill was an excellent Hebraist himself):

    Gill’s 9 Vol. Exposition:

    [1 Sam 13] Ver. 1. Saul reigned one year,.... "Or the son of a year in his reigning" {s}; various are the senses given of these words: some interpret them, Saul had a son of a year old when he began to reign, Ishbosheth, and who was forty years of age when his father died, (2Sa 2:10), others, who understand the words of Saul himself, think there is an "ellipsis" or defect of the number, and that it may be supplied, that Saul was the son of thirty or forty years, or whatsoever age he may be supposed to be at when he began his reign; others take the words in a figurative sense, that he was like a child of a year old, for purity and innocence; so the Targum,

    "as the son of a year, in whom there are no faults, so was Saul when he reigned;''

    or he was but a year old, reckoning from the time he was turned into another man, and had another heart, which was immediately after he was anointed king at Ramah by Samuel; or he was but a year old with respect to his kingdom: the inauguration of a king is "natalis imperil", the birthday of his kingdom, and therefore the words are well enough rendered by us, "Saul reigned one year"; which is to be reckoned either from his unction at Ramah, or rather from his election at Mizpeh, to the renewal of the kingdom at Gilgal: and when he had reigned two years over Israel; which the Jewish chronologers {t} make to be the whole of his reign, which is not probable, considering the many things done in his reign, the many battles he fought with all his enemies on every side of him, and his long persecution of David; and there were no less than three high priests in his reign; Josephus says {q} he reigned eighteen years in the lifetime of Samuel, and twenty two years after his death, in all forty; which agrees with (Ac 13:21). Some interpret it he reigned two years well, and the rest in a tyrannical way; or that at the end of two years, when David was anointed, the kingdom was not reckoned to him, but to David; and to this purpose Dr. Lightfoot writes, that he had been king one year from his first anointing by Samuel at Ramah, to his second anointing by him at Gibeah (Gilgal I suppose he means); and he reigned after this two years more, before the Lord cast him off, and anointed David; and the time he ruled after that was not a rule, but a tyranny and persecution {r}; but the sense Ben Gersom gives is best of all, that one year had passed from the time of his being anointed, to the time of the renewal of the kingdom at Gilgal; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, then he did what follows, chose 3000 men, &c. In the first year of his reign was done all that is recorded in the preceding chapter; and when he had reigned two years, not two years more, but two years in all, then he did what is related in this chapter.

    {s} wklmb lwav hnv Nb "filius anni Saul in regnando ipsum", Montanus. {t} Seder Olam Rabba, c. 13. p. 35. Juchasin, fol. 11. 1. {q} Antiqu. l. 6. c. 14. sect. 9. {r} Works, vol. 1. p. 55.​

    I have a Bible I trust. Does not yours depend on the acumen of your own wits and the wits of others more or less expert? I trust God’s preserving of it, according to promise, even in the minutiae. I do not see you have this confidence. "But what you get by on, I can't rely on", to loosely quote Johnny Cash.

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