Slightly Imperfect Bibles?

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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Slightly Imperfect Bibles?

I recently received a catalogue from a book distributor that included a discount section titled “slightly imperfect” and, yes, there were several Bibles listed.

Obviously, the phrase “slightly imperfect” was intended a reference to cosmetic defects, but it got me thinking about more substantive imperfections that no publishers dare acknowledge while advertising their Bibles.

Would you purchase a Bible that was missing an entire page? Not many would, I suppose, but when compared to the Bibles published in Reformation times, most modern versions are actually missing about that much content.

Twelve verses from the end Mark’s Gospel are missing. An additional twelve verses from John’s Gospel are missing. Sixteen other verses are usually found missing and several more words and verses have either been deleted or noted as questionable.

Many seek to minimize these discrepancies by speaking only in terms of the percentage of material missing. The forty verses referenced above constitute less than one-quarter percent of the whole. However, if you compare the amount of missing material to the length of some books in Scripture, the discrepancy appears as more significant.

The forty missing verses contain eight hundred and fifty-four words. That’s more than the prophecy of Obadiah. That’s more than the Epistle of Jude. That’s more than Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. That’s more than the second and third Epistles of John combined. Would you buy a Bible that was advertised with this disclaimer: Slightly imperfect, missing only one or two epistles?

Modern scholars will undoubtedly take some umbrage with such argumentation, but that is only because they believe the missing verses never belonged there in the first place. It is their position that the otherwise pious scribes in ancient times intentionally corrupted the Bible by adding words to it.

This view, however, is out of accord with what the Reformed have confessed for centuries; namely that God not only inspired the scriptures, but also kept them pure in all ages by his singular care and providence (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.8).

These are two very different views of the transmission of Holy Scripture. One assumes early corruption and the other presupposes providential preservation. Slightly imperfect Bibles seem to betray a slightly imperfect confidence in the promise of Christ, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Christian McShaffrey is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Pastor of Five Solas Church (Reedsburg, WI). He also serves as the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest (OPC), and executive director of the Kept Pure in All Ages conference.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Amen.

"...immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical..."
 

Smeagol

Puritan Board Graduate
Is “kept pure in al ages” to be understood from man’s perspective or God’s? I have often wondered this when pondering these debates. It seems in the context of Westminster, it is from God’s vantage point. I am still unsettled on this matter and enjoy the wrestling.

Thanks for sharing Pastor Barnes!
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
What do you folks think of bibles like the ESV that list manuscript variants and such in the margins?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
The way it is phrased assumes a particular starting point, the very point which is under dispute. Christian is a fantastic brother in Christ, and I love him dearly. But we do differ on this issue. If one assumes the correct nature of the TR or MT in the NT, then text is "missing" in the eclectic text. But that way of phrasing prejudges the question on a given variant. When looking at a given manuscript situation, the evidence could indicate an original that is larger, or an original that is smaller. That is why most text critics now use the words "plus" and "minus" rather than "omission" or "addition," since the latter set of words prejudges what the original must have said. On balance, it is just as likely to add as to omit. Omission can happen due to homoioteleuton, whether words, phrases, or lines. Addition can happen due to dittography, or thinking a commentary in the margin was meant to be a correction to the manuscript. Either one can be an accident. Proving intent is incredibly difficult, far more difficult than some people seem to think.

As to the view of providence, it is far too small a view of providence. In the TR/MT viewpoint, providence only applies to what can be seen in the church. It does not seem to apply to manuscripts that God might have kept hidden for years, centuries even, to use once certain parties could no longer have a lock on them.

As to the argument of purity, it is a question of degree. There are variants among ALL the TR/MT manuscripts, as many as Christian alleges are between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. I have a larger definition of "pure" than the TR/MT guys have. There are degrees of purity, yes, but the Scripture has been kept pure in all ages, in some ages very pure, and in some ages, a bit less pure, but still with integrity. Some eclectic guys think that the TR is completely corrupt. Reformed eclectic guys like myself do not go there. TR guys tend to throw "kept pure in all ages" at eclectic guys as if it is some kind of smoking gun, and we are heretics if we don't believe in the TR. Not so.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
Some eclectic guys think that the TR is completely corrupt. Reformed eclectic guys like myself do not go there. TR guys tend to throw "kept pure in all ages" at eclectic guys as if it is some kind of smoking gun, and we are heretics if we don't believe in the TR. Not so.
The ecclesiastical text of the Greek and other canonical Eastern Orthodox Churches differs very little from the TR.
Prior to the Reformation , the ecclesiastical text of the Western Church was the Vulgate. The manuscripts that St. Jerome used when he translated the Greek into Latin are lost. But many of the places where the Vulgate seems to have omissions seem to be supported by some of the texts used in modern eclectic translations.
What should we think about those places where the critical eclectic text departs from both the Eastern Ecclesiastical text and from the Vulgate? If the Bible was kept pure in all ages, why do our pro-eclectic texts friends view those deviations, and the translations that use them?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Thomas, the only real answer that can be given is that specific text-critical readings really need to be the focus in a discussion like that. Each variant has its own set of readings according to the manuscripts. Only the autographs have zero errors. Therefore, neither the Eastern Ecclesiastical text nor the Vulgate can function as "the" standard, to which all other manuscripts fall short. They are valuable textual witnesses that must be weighed alongside all the Greek manuscripts.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The way it is phrased assumes a particular starting point, the very point which is under dispute. Christian is a fantastic brother in Christ, and I love him dearly. But we do differ on this issue. If one assumes the correct nature of the TR or MT in the NT, then text is "missing" in the eclectic text. But that way of phrasing prejudges the question on a given variant. When looking at a given manuscript situation, the evidence could indicate an original that is larger, or an original that is smaller. That is why most text critics now use the words "plus" and "minus" rather than "omission" or "addition," since the latter set of words prejudges what the original must have said. On balance, it is just as likely to add as to omit. Omission can happen due to homoioteleuton, whether words, phrases, or lines. Addition can happen due to dittography, or thinking a commentary in the margin was meant to be a correction to the manuscript. Either one can be an accident. Proving intent is incredibly difficult, far more difficult than some people seem to think.

As to the view of providence, it is far too small a view of providence. In the TR/MT viewpoint, providence only applies to what can be seen in the church. It does not seem to apply to manuscripts that God might have kept hidden for years, centuries even, to use once certain parties could no longer have a lock on them.

As to the argument of purity, it is a question of degree. There are variants among ALL the TR/MT manuscripts, as many as Christian alleges are between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. I have a larger definition of "pure" than the TR/MT guys have. There are degrees of purity, yes, but the Scripture has been kept pure in all ages, in some ages very pure, and in some ages, a bit less pure, but still with integrity. Some eclectic guys think that the TR is completely corrupt. Reformed eclectic guys like myself do not go there. TR guys tend to throw "kept pure in all ages" at eclectic guys as if it is some kind of smoking gun, and we are heretics if we don't believe in the TR. Not so.
"Kept somewhat pure...more or less.... through the ages"

Nobody would say you are a heretic. But how can your position be said to be confessional?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
"Kept somewhat pure...more or less.... through the ages"

Nobody would say you are a heretic. But how can your position be said to be confessional?
Perg, my view is that the original is in the manuscripts, and we can almost always find out what that is, and that the differences between TR and CT do not amount to a "depurifying." There was no deliberate attempt (contra Muslims, Dan Brown, etc.) to mess with the text of Scripture. It is my opinion that "kept pure in all ages" is not an absolute statement such that there can be no textual criticism allowed. All manuscripts have differences with any other manuscript! That means that NO single manuscript is absolutely 100% without copying errors. If "kept pure in all ages" means that we must have a 100% pure manuscript, then we have been put in an impossible position, since no such single manuscript or tradition exists. The manuscripts underlying the TR all have differences with each other. The same is far more true of the MT. It seems to me that the way "kept pure in all ages" is being read by TR/MT guys refuses to acknowledge the textual differences even within the TR/MT manuscripts. I get crickets every time I bring this up.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Perg, my view is that the original is in the manuscripts, and we can almost always find out what that is, and that the differences between TR and CT do not amount to a "depurifying." There was no deliberate attempt (contra Muslims, Dan Brown, etc.) to mess with the text of Scripture. It is my opinion that "kept pure in all ages" is not an absolute statement such that there can be no textual criticism allowed. All manuscripts have differences with any other manuscript! That means that NO single manuscript is absolutely 100% without copying errors. If "kept pure in all ages" means that we must have a 100% pure manuscript, then we have been put in an impossible position, since no such single manuscript or tradition exists. The manuscripts underlying the TR all have differences with each other. The same is far more true of the MT. It seems to me that the way "kept pure in all ages" is being read by TR/MT guys refuses to acknowledge the textual differences even within the TR/MT manuscripts. I get crickets every time I bring this up.
"almost always find out what that is..." Almost?

That still strays from the literal wording of the confession. Either the confession errs on this point or you do. Do you take an exception to the confession on this issue? I believe all who affirm your view should. Of course we could argue that the confessions are imperfect and err as being man-made.

Do some of the proof-texts in the Confession use made-up texts?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Perg, there are places where the evidence seems completely evenly divided, no matter what criteria are used. It can be quite difficult to come to a decision about a particular reading. Again, you seem to be requiring a level of certainty that God does not, or He would have preserved the original autographs. I do not believe that is what God meant to happen, nor do I believe that the divines meant to imply that there was absolute certainty on every single reading.
 

SeanPatrickCornell

Puritan Board Junior
"almost always find out what that is..." Almost?

That still strays from the literal wording of the confession. Either the confession errs on this point or you do. Do you take an exception to the confession on this issue? I believe all who affirm your view should. Of course we could argue that the confessions are imperfect and err as being man-made.

Do some of the proof-texts in the Confession use made-up texts?

The men that wrote the Confessions were well aware of the issues that Rev. Keister brings up, so the Confessions must clearly mean something different than you are taking them to mean.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
Perg, my view is that the original is in the manuscripts, and we can almost always find out what that is, and that the differences between TR and CT do not amount to a "depurifying." There was no deliberate attempt (contra Muslims, Dan Brown, etc.) to mess with the text of Scripture. It is my opinion that "kept pure in all ages" is not an absolute statement such that there can be no textual criticism allowed. All manuscripts have differences with any other manuscript! That means that NO single manuscript is absolutely 100% without copying errors. If "kept pure in all ages" means that we must have a 100% pure manuscript, then we have been put in an impossible position, since no such single manuscript or tradition exists. The manuscripts underlying the TR all have differences with each other. The same is far more true of the MT. It seems to me that the way "kept pure in all ages" is being read by TR/MT guys refuses to acknowledge the textual differences even within the TR/MT manuscripts. I get crickets every time I bring this up.

Agreed. The phrase "kept pure in all ages" also has to mean "kept pure in any given age". And at any given time in textual history, there were differences.

Erasmus performed textual criticism when he collated what we now call the TR. Was his text identical with any other manuscript extant? No. So was his text "kept pure"? Yes. Was the manuscripts he collated from "kept pure"? Yes. But how can both be true?

The authors of the confession knew about variants and I know of very few they rejected. Obviously all the variants couldn't have been original yet they still insisted that the Scripture itself had been "kept pure". Therefore, the phrase has to be applied more broadly than current TR advocates like to apply it (whether it encompasses CT methodology is a different question but first one has to recognize that "kept pure" didn't mean what many are claiming it does).
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
The men that wrote the Confessions were well aware of the issues that Rev. Keister brings up, so the Confessions must clearly mean something different than you are taking them to mean.
ok. That is a good response.

So they worded it poorly? Or tried to claim too much? Or did they just mean general preservation instead of perfect preservation?

It appears view of many is as follows: God has preserved His Word somewhere and in some manuscripts in every age if you look hard enough and compare them and then, you can assemble these into a relatively pure text that may need to be corrected periodically and without certainty.

It does, indeed, appear that many believe in slightly imperfect bibles.
 
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Logan

Puritan Board Senior

Read what Warfield says, but also note that he includes many quotations from men of that period, including some that were part of the Westminster Assembly. I think those footnote citations give a more full and nuanced picture of what "kept pure" means than what many today are anachronistically reading back into it.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
Only the autographs have zero errors. Therefore, neither the Eastern Ecclesiastical text nor the Vulgate can function as "the" standard, to which all other manuscripts fall short
Agreed, only the autographs are free from error. But, not to belabor the point, if a reading was unknown to either the Eastern Church or to the Western Church how are we to understand "kept pure in all ages."?
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Thomas, I seriously doubt that we are going to discover some new cache of manuscripts that is going to upend our entire apparatus of textual criticism. Not even the Dead Sea Scrolls did that. It tweaked some of our understanding of OT textual criticism. It did not impact our NT textual criticism much at all. Most readings that we currently have were known for long ages past. Manuscripts that are currently being discovered are not offering brand new readings that the church has never seen before.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
What do you all think of the idea that any critical work involving making changes to our Bible should be an ecclesiastical undertaking? (i.e., via a called church council). It's such a huge thing to take away portions of the Scripture. I've felt that Westminster was such a council, for instance. They did know that there were other, rejected manuscripts out there.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
What do you all think of the idea that any critical work involving making changes to our Bible should be an ecclesiastical undertaking? (i.e., via a called church council). It's such a huge thing to take away portions of the Scripture. I've felt that Westminster was such a council, for instance. They did know that there were other, rejected manuscripts out there.

I certainly agree with that. I also have critiques of the Critical Text.

However, I would note that the Critical Text isn't exactly like a text that translators then translate straight into another language. It's more of an apparatus that sets forth each variant and the manuscript support for each variant. So one could say that the subjective weight one gives to a manuscript might influence how much relative weight is put on it, but the "CT" does have all the variants and the translators are then welcome to use their judgment as well.

I mention that because if you believe that portions of Scripture have been taken away, then I think part of that (or all) is on the translators themselves who apparently found certain weights of evidence convincing.

As to Westminster, in all my reading I've found that they had the attitude that some of the variants that were out there actually should be in their Bibles. However, they also had the attitude that it had been in use for a while and was worthy to use. Both views can be held simultaneously. But I wouldn't assume that just because they used the KJV that they didn't have critiques of it or its manuscripts: they did, and noted it frequently while still defending its overall trustworthiness.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
he KJV that they didn't have critiques of it or its manuscripts: they did, and noted it frequently while still defending its overall trustworthiness.
It’s been a while since I’ve looked into all this, but wouldn’t any of their critiques have concerned translation choices within the same set of manuscripts that make up the received text? I don’t remember that they believed any of the already rejected manuscripts outside that collection to be worthy of reconsideration.

That’s just my memory from some reading and discussion a good while back.
 

SeanPatrickCornell

Puritan Board Junior
It’s been a while since I’ve looked into all this, but wouldn’t any of their critiques have concerned translation choices within the same set of manuscripts that make up the received text? I don’t remember that they believed any of the already rejected manuscripts outside that collection to be worthy of reconsideration.

That’s just my memory from some reading and discussion a good while back.

What do you mean by "rejected manuscripts"? I'm not aware of there being any such thing as a "rejected manuscript" in the 16th Century.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
What do you mean by "rejected manuscripts"? I'm not aware of there being any such thing as a "rejected manuscript" in the 16th Century.
I probably shouldn’t be trying to converse about it since it has been a long time since I’ve read up on the issues. My thinking is that some manuscripts accepted today for critical text work were known but rejected by the Westminster divines. May well have that wrong.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
I probably shouldn’t be trying to converse about it since it has been a long time since I’ve read up on the issues. My thinking is that some manuscripts accepted today for critical text work were known but rejected by the Westminster divines. May well have that wrong.

I've heard that argument made before, but to my knowledge it's an argument from omission rather than any positive evidence.

This is an age where travel took days and there were no photocopies. If you wanted to do any kind of comparison of manuscripts, you had to physically consult the manuscript. How many were in England? Many were in universities or private collections, how do you find out who has what? It's hard to imagine even the ability to be aware of a tiny fraction of what might have been "available". And if you did hear about a copy in some university in Germany, maybe you could travel there, or send a letter which may or may not reach its destination. You're obviously not going to do that for every passage (or even every manuscript) so for all practical purposes you're limited to what you have close at hand: private collections in London among your friends, a university, but most particularly: printed editions. So rather than assume they didn't use them because they rejected them, I think it's quite reasonable to assume that they didn't use them because they simply weren't available, for all practical purposes.

With that in mind, it's pretty sensible that the KJV translators consulted primarily the printed Greek copies from Beza, and the printed Greek copies from Stephanus. With multiple translators, it's a matter of practicality, if not theology, to have a printed copy, and those were the printed copies available. However, Scrivener, when producing the Greek text underlying the KJV (a new Textus Receptus if you will) found perhaps 200 readings that did not correspond to these printed texts but he could perhaps match them to some other Greek text somewhere, showing that they did consult more than just the printed texts.

Stephanus himself, for his printed edition, consulted just 15 manuscripts, not 15 full copies of the NT, but 15 manuscripts (a few copies of the gospels, a few mostly complete NT, a few copies of the epistles). I am not aware that he specifically rejected any: he made use of all he could get his hands on. There may have been specific readings he rejected, but I can only imagine that was done simply by comparing the copies he had at hand: he couldn't compare to copies he didn't have.

I realize this is mostly about KJV translators, but it's much the same situation for the Westminster Divines.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Well, Erasmus had a friend in the Vatican Library, Paulus Bombasius, who corresponded with him concerning readings in the Vaticanus manuscript, which Erasmus rejected as departing from the mss commonly used. This knowledge would have been familiar to the divines of the Westminster Assembly as well.

What is often missing in these discussions is the overriding providence of God in bringing certain mss to the attention of all the editors of what came to be comprised as the TR, and was eventually published as the AV.

Look at where we are today – there is confusion and doubt concerning the true text of the Bible, and the consequent lack of faith that God has preserved His word for His people, despite His promises to do so. We quibble about the meaning of "kept pure in all ages", and even the Reformation churches cannot agree on the Bible text.

This is the primary attack on the church, and the authority of its standing strong in the word of God. Perhaps the scholars among us here can function with this difficulty, but multitudes in the Faith have had their faith greatly troubled. And the moreso, when they become aware that the standard critical texts underlying the modern Bibles are produced by Rome's supervision of the United Bible Society's two editions, the Nestle Aland and the United Bible Society, abbreviated in the NKJV margins as the NU text.

After the great fire in London destroyed the AV translators' notes recording their discussions, all we have left is the product itself, and the Greek version of the AV "back-translated" by Scrivener in 1894, which is often considered the authoritative version or edition of the Greek TR. Where does my faith in my Bible lie? In the providence of God preserving His word for His people. The egregious errors or omissions of the CT – not to mention the scandalous history of the exemplar critical text of 1881 – disqualifies it as that preserved word.

This is the faith that I have as regards my Bible. That said, I nonetheless value the modern versions built upon the CT as truly adequate Bibles – preserved in the main, if not in some minutiae – and easily used by the Lord to save and to nurture those individuals and churches He has set His electing love upon. I consult those modern versions almost every day to glean nuances and shades of meaning as they variously translate certain passages, to my great benefit. But my authoritative Bible is the KJV.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
What is often missing in these discussions is the overriding providence of God in bringing certain mss to the attention of all the editors of what came to be comprised as the TR, and was eventually published as the AV.
Thank you Steve!

I remember when I first began to really become acquainted with God’s word- I read voraciously and with delight. Also, using the ESV as my primary Bible, I was becoming somewhat of a critical expert due to those footnotes, you know. I have a sad memory of a conversation with a friend when she mentioned, as a passage dear to her, the woman caught in adultery, and I quickly corrected her that this passage was not in the “best manuscripts!” I remember her confusion and honestly, her hurt.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
What is often missing in these discussions is the overriding providence of God in bringing certain mss to the attention of all the editors of what came to be comprised as the TR, and was eventually published as the AV.

I don't know that this is missing, I just think that providence has to be viewed as broader than that.

Why assume providence was imperfect before that time and it culminated in the KJV? Why did the Germans end up using Erasmus' earlier editions which did not contain 1 John 5:7? Do the Germans have any less right to assume that their Bibles providentially left that verse out as we have to assume it was providentially inserted in later editions? To view one branch of TR and the KJV as being the providential preserved is too narrow a view of providence, in my mind and not something you find in the Reformers or Puritans. It is remarkably anglo-centric and I believe God's providence encompasses more than that.

I'd also be curious to see a source on the Erasmus and Bombasius correspondence. Was it an active rejection, or is that another argument from omission?
 
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