A BOOK WE CAN TRUST PART 5

MANUSCRIPTSVersions and Manuscripts

Throughout our 60 years as a denomination we, in the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, have used exclusively the Authorised Version of the Bible. Our advocacy of the Authorised Version has been one of our core distinctives and must be examined in a study of this nature. Contrary to the opinion of many, however, we do not read the Authorised Version because we are rather fond of the old traditional text. Rather, our love of this particular translation is founded upon a conviction that this is the most accurate version of God’s Word in existence today. Faithfulness to the original manuscripts must be the leading consideration in our choice of translation. The Psalmist wrote “the commandment of the LORD is pure”, teaching us that in the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts God’s Word was without error, infallible. If this is so, then it is vital that a translation of Scripture remains as close as possible to the original text, therefore preserving as far as possible the purity of the word.

We believe that the Authorised Version is superior in this regard because of the family of Greek manuscripts that the New Testament is based upon. There are no manuscripts which contain the entire New Testament. Rather there are fragments of whole books or part books. These manuscripts, however, when collated together have been classified by scholars as falling in one of two families:

Traditional Text

|

Originated in Syria

(early centre of Christianity)

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Thousands of Manuscripts

which support each other

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The Greek Text compiled by Erasmus, the Renaissance Scholar

|

The Received Text, compiled by Robert Stephens in 1550.

|

Luther’s German Bible, Tyndale’s Translation, Geneva Bible, Authorised Version, New King James Version

Alexandrian Text

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Alexandria was the home of an early heresy called Gnosticism

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Very small group of Manuscripts

(about 5 in total)

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The Wescott- Hort Text

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The Revised Version, NIV, ESV and the New NIV

The Traditional Text is superior because it is the family of manuscripts which were used by the early church. We know this because these manuscripts are relatively new in comparison to the Alexandrian Text. Some claim that the Traditional Text is weak because the manuscripts on which this is based are centuries away from the original documents (the autographs). In reality, their time in history is a strength because it proves that the older documents became unreadable through usage, necessitating the need for more copies. The sheer number of manuscripts which belong to the Traditional Text bares this out. Of the 5,338 Greek manuscripts in existence some 80% – 90% of them are from this family. For 1500 years until the invention of printing these works were passed down through the generations by handwritten copies. If the Traditional Text is indeed the text used by the church then it is the text which God has miraculously preserved. God who inspires his word for the good of the church will also preserve that word for the church to use. The church can never at any time be without the Word of God.

The manuscripts which underlie the Alexandrian Text are very old but their age and amazingly good condition reveal an obvious truth, they were rejected by the Church and therefore were disused. The two major manuscripts in this family were not discovered and critically examined until the 19th Century. Codex B (Vaticanus) was discovered in the library of the Vatican while Aleph (Sinaticus) was found in a monastery on Mount Sinai. When Tregelles went to Rome to study Vaticanus he was not allowed ink and paper and he was watched over by two prelates who would take the volume away if he spent too long with a certain passage. Another scholar called Tichendorf went later to the Vatican and received similar treatment at the hands of Rome. Yet those who support the Alexandrian Text would claim these manuscripts are older and by implication are more reliable than the Traditional Text. Would God allow his word to be hidden for centuries in the library of Rome, the great corrupter of the truth? Do we accept the manuscripts used by the church or do we accept those that were hidden from the church? Which family of manuscripts answers to the doctrine of divine preservation?  

The Traditional Text is also highly credible because when its manuscripts are studied they are found to be consistent with one another in the vast majority of readings. The two major manuscripts that constitute the Alexandrian Text, however, (B and Aleph) contradict each other not hundreds but thousands of times. For example in the Gospels alone they read differently on 3,000 occasions. This presented a problem for scholars who attempted to compile a Greek text from these manuscripts. The two 19th Century scholars who attempted this very thing were Wescott and Hort. Dr Alfred Martin, an American scholar, in 1951 described the work of these two English scholars; “The Wescott-Hort method is essentially rationalistic, for it exalts the judgment of the individual critic. They were influenced either consciously or unconsciously by the liberal tendencies of their time. Both…seem to have been theistic evolutionists.” In other words these men decided what should be the Word of God and what shouldn’t. John Burgon who extensively rebutted the Wescott-Hort method in the 19th Century wrote, “The Holy Scriptures are not an arena for the exercise or display of the ingenuity of critics.” If the Bible is God’s inspired word then he will have preserved manuscripts which agree with each other and which enable scholars to produce reliable translations. The Traditional Text and the Authorised Version certainly correspond to these guidelines.

As a consequence the modern versions use footnotes which explain the variant readings in older manuscripts. Two whole passages are inserted into the New Testament NIV with the heading “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20 / John 7:53-8:11”. This instantly produces doubt and uncertainty as to what is the Word of God and what is not. G.W. And D.E. Anderson have catalogued 650 variant readings where the original Greek has been changed, a passage has been bracketed or verses and words and have been left out completely. The words of Revelation 22:28-19 must be taken seriously in studying this subject. For those who are attracted to the New King James Version attention must be drawn to its use of footnotes also which authenticates Codex B and Codex Aleph. This certainly indicates that for all its claims the New King James is not the reliable alternative that it pretends to be.

With confidence we can assert that in the Authorised Version we have a translation which is based upon accurate manuscripts and which contains the pure stream of God’s inspired truth.

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