Question: What evidence demonstrates that the Bible has been altered?

Table of Contents

Question: What evidence demonstrates that the Bible has been altered?

The current evidence of Biblical manuscripts demonstrates unequivocally that corruption and tampering with Biblical texts is the rule, not the exception

Old Testament

Emmanuel Tov[1], J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, and editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls publication project wrote:

  • "All of [the] textual witnesses [of the OT] differ from each other to a greater or lesser extent."
  • "There does not exist any one edition [of the OT] which agrees in all of its details with another."
  • "Most of the texts—ancient and modern—which have been transmitted from one generation to the next have been corrupted in one way or another." (emphasis in original)
  • "A second phenomenon pertains to corrections and changes inserted in the biblical text. . . . Such tampering with the text is evidenced in all textual witnesses."
  • "Therefore, paradoxically, the soferim [scribes] and Masoretes carefully preserved a text that was already corrupted."
  • "One of the postulates of biblical research is that the text preserved in the various representatives (manuscripts, editions) of what is commonly called the Masoretic Text, does not reflect the 'original text' of the biblical books in many details."
  • "These parallel sources [from Kings, Isaiah, Psalms, Samuel, etc.] are based on ancient texts which already differed from each other before they were incorporated into the biblical books, and which underwent changes after they were transmitted from one generation to the next as part of the biblical books."
  • "S[eptuagint] is a Jewish translation which was made mainly in Alexandria. Its Hebrew source differed greatly from the other textual witnesses (M[asoretic], T[argums], S[amaritan], V[ulgate, and many of the Qumran texts]). . . . Moreover, S[eptuagint] is important as a source for early exegesis, and this translation also forms the basis for many elements in the NT."
  • "The importance of S[eptuagint] is based on the fact that it reflects a greater variety of important variants than all the other translations put together."
  • "Textual recensions bear recognizable textual characteristics, such as an expansionistic, abbreviating, harmonizing, Judaizing, or Christianizing tendency."
  • "The theory of the division of the biblical witnesses into three recensions [Masoretic, Septuagint, and Samaritan] cannot be maintained . . . to such an extent that one can almost speak in terms of an unlimited number of texts."
  • "The question of the original text of the biblical books cannot be resolved unequivocally, since there is no solid evidence to help us to decide in either direction."
  • "We still have no knowledge of copies of biblical books that were written in the first stage of their textual transmission, nor even of texts which are close to that time. . . . Since the centuries preceding the extant evidence presumably were marked by great textual fluidity, everything that is said about the pristine state of the biblical text must necessarily remain hypothetical."
  • "M[asoretic] is but one witness of the biblical text, and its original form was far from identical with the original text of the Bible as a whole."
  • "As a rule they [concepts of the nature of the original biblical text] are formulated as 'beliefs,' that is, a scholar, as it were, believes, or does not believe, in a single original text, and such views are almost always dogmatic."
  • "During the textual transmission many complicated changes occurred, making it now almost impossible for us to reconstruct the original form of the text."
  • "many of the pervasive changes in the biblical text, pertaining to whole sentences, sections and books, should not . . . be ascribed to copyists, but to earlier generations of editors who allowed themselves such massive changes in the formative stage of the biblical literature."
  • "It is not that M[asoretic text] triumphed over the other texts, but rather, that those who fostered it probably constituted the only organized group which survived the destruction of the Second Temple [i.e., the rabbinic schools derived from the Pharisees]."

The Dead Sea Scrolls also indicate that the text differed, and this was not unique to Qumran, where they were discovered:

There is nothing in the biblical texts [found at Qumran] to suggest that they are specific to Qumran or to any particular group within Judaism. In fact, everything we know about the biblical text prior to the end of the first century C.E--for example, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, Rabbinic quotations--indicates that the text was pluriform. The Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and Josephus demonstrate bountifully that there were variant literary editions of the books of Scripture in the late Second Temple period (emphasis added).[2]

New Testament

A similar situations confronts us with the New Testament. Leon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphoux[3] wrote in An Introduction to New Testament Criticism:

  • "They [ancient methods of rhetorical interpretation] are used to reveal a secret code, only accessible to the learned or initiated. If the 'Western' text is seen from this perspective, it becomes less of a product of a certain theology than of a certain system of meaning. . . . But this sophisticated kind of coded writing is not suitable for general circulation. For wider distribution, the text had to be adapted to the mentality of the people who were going to receive it, it had to be revised and changed so as to make it acceptable to an audience who were not expecting to have to look for hidden meaning."
  • "The wide stylistic gap between the two main New Testament text types, the 'Western' on the one hand and all the other types on the other hand, cannot have arisen by chance."
  • "In AD 178 the secular writer Celsus stated in polemic against the Christians: some of the believers . . . have changed the original text of the Gospels three or four times or even more, with the intention of thus being able to destroy the arguments of their critics.' (quoted in Origen, Contra Celsum, SC 132, 2, 27). Origen does not deny the existence of such changes." Indeed, Origen wrote, "It is an obvious fact today [third century A.D.] that there is much diversity among the manuscripts, due either to the carelessness of the scribes, or to the perverse audacity of some people in correcting the text, or again to the fact that there are those who add or delete as they please, setting themselves up as correctors."
  • "It is therefore not possible to reconstitute with certainty the earliest text, even though there is no doubt about its having existed in written form from a very early date, without a preparatory oral stage."
  • "In the period following AD 135, the recensions proliferated with a resultant textual diversity which reached a peak before the year 200."
  • "Thus between the years 150 and 250, the text of the first recensions acquired a host of new readings. They were a mixture of accidental carelessness, deliberate scribal corrections, involuntary mistakes, a translator's conscious departure from literalness, a reviser's more systematic alterations, and, not least, contamination caused by harmonizing to an extent which varied in strength from place to place. All these things contributed to diversification of the text, to giving it, if one may so put it, a little of the local colour of each country."

Who made the changes?

Christian writers often accused heretics (such as Marcion of the second century AD) of altering the Bible text. However, there is another more disturbing finding for those who insist on an inerrant Bible text:

...recent studies have shown that the evidence of our surviving manuscripts points the finger in the opposite direction. Scribes who were associated with the orthodox tradition not infrequently changed their texts, sometimes in order to eliminate the possibility of their "misuse" by Christians affirming heretical beliefs and sometimes to make them more amenable to the doctrines being espoused by Christians of their own persuasion.[4]

Thus, the "orthodox" Christian tradition required the original texts to be reworked to support their views or oppose the views of those with whom they disagreed. It seems strange, then, to now accuse those who do not wholly accept the "orthodox" view of "violating scripture," since that very scripture was originally tampered with by those we now label 'orthodox,' which is merely another way of saying that they won the battle to define their view as the 'proper' one.

As Bruce Metzger observed:

Odd though it may seem, scribes who thought [for themselves] were more dangerous than those who wished merely to be faithful in copying what lay before them. Many of the alterations which may be classified as intentional were no doubt introduced in good faith by copyists who believed that they were correcting an error or infelicity of language which had previously crept into the sacred text and needed to be rectified. A later scribe might even reintroduce an erroneous reading that had been previously corrected. …The manuscripts of the New Testament preserve traces of two kinds of dogmatic alterations: those which involve the elimination or alteration of what was regarded as doctrinally unacceptable or inconvenient; and those which introduce into the Scriptures ‘proof’ for a favorite theological tenet or practice....[5]

Notes

  1. These examples are taken from William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site. References to Tov's original work may be found in footnotes 26–49.
  2. Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Eerdmans, and Leiden 1999) 9–10
  3. These examples are taken from William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site. References to Vaganay and Amphoux's original work may be found in footnotes 52–58.
  4. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 53. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  5. Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (second edition 1979; first edition 1964), 195, 201.