A Bible Chart -- Sources of
Our Modern Bible -- The Original Manuscripts and Early Translations
-- The Latin Vulgate -- Anglo-Saxon Translations -- John Wycliffe
-- William Tyndale -- The Authorised Version -- A Flood of New
Material Used In The Revised Version -- Fresh Evidences Still
Accumulate Papyri "Finds" In Egypt -- The Testimony
Of The Manuscripts Is Final -- Our Modern Bible is The Word of
Word is truth." -- Jesus .
The historical reliability
and minute accuracy of the Bible has been amply demonstrated
in Chapter Two, by archaeological "finds." The nature of
Bible prophecy, dealt with in Chapter
Three, has also proved
the Bible to be divine beyond all successful contradiction.
Our illustrations in both of these chapters, it is true, have
been only selected from Scripture, and therefore much
of the Bible has been left untouched. But the examples which
we have selected are so diverse, widespread, and representative
that we feel confident that the intelligent reader will accept
them as guarantees of the whole.
Very few of us, however, are as well informed about the origin
of our English Bible as we should be. So we purpose making a
review of the transmission of the early Hebrew manuscripts of
the Old Testament, and the transmission of the early Greek manuscripts
of the New Testament, until, at last, they became embodied in
our modern English Bible -- The Revised Version of 1881-5.
This plan will serve to shew the reader why and how these selected
illustrations guarantee the truth of the whole Bible, and why
it is impossible to separate them from the general record, within
which they are contained. This present chapter will serve to
round off our introductory section, which deals with outside
evidences of the Bible's truth, and, we hope, prepare the reader
to listen with added interest and respect to the unfolding of
its true doctrinal teaching.
BIBLE CHART (58K) (PDF of Bible Chart) (36k)
A look at our Bible chart will enable the reader to get an outline,
at a glance, of our plan of approach. The two middle lines are
headed, "Greek New Testament Manuscripts" and, "Old
Testament Hebrew Manuscripts," respectively. They represent
the long period of time from the writing of the early manuscripts
until the present time. Branching off to the left of the New
Testament line are shown the translations of the Greek New Testament
into other tongues. These are known as versions. Branching off
to the right of the Old Testament line are shewn translations,
or versions, of the Hebrew Old Testament.
The space between the two middle lines contains the pedigree
of our English Bible. First, a translation into Latin from the
original Greek manuscripts, and then into Anglo-Saxon from the
Latin, and at last into modern English.
You will notice that the latest version, the Revised Version
of 1881-5, drew on sources outside the middle lines; sources
which were inaccessible at the time when the Authorised Version
was made in 1611. Thus, these outside lines are shewn running
down, and at last converging in the Revised Version at a later
date. How all these things came about, it is now our duty to
explain in more detail.
Here it would be opportune to remark that we cannot go into minute
particulars in the compass of a chapter; therefore we are going
to confine ourselves to a bare out line both for the purpose
of brevity and for the purpose for which we write -- to convey
a clear impression to the reader.
To explain all the minor exceptions to our broad statements would
only serve to confuse the issue, and this is the very last thing
we wish to do. Therefore, when we speak of a particular translation
of the Scriptures being made in another tongue we are not staying
to tell you that a few books were omitted in this, or included
in that, version. Neither shall we stay to explain in detail
that this, or that, translator was helped by someone else; or
that there are two or more opinions about certain matters of
detail. Therefore you must take all our facts and figures as
statements of general, and not of particular, truths.
We mention this in order to anticipate criticism on a subject
which, in details, is extremely involved, and in parts controversial;
a subject which, in itself, is capable of supplying matter for
a volume. Where there is doubt, or two opinions, we have always
been satisfied with the modest one. Extravagant claims and exaggeration
are no more necessary here than they were in our archaeological
and prophetic sections.
THE SIMPLE UNDISPUTED FACTS OF THE TRANSMISSION OF THE ANCIENT
MANUSCRIPTS HAVE SATISFIED THE MOST COMPETENT AND EXACTING CRITICS
THAT WE POSSESS TODAY, IN OUR MODERN BIBLE, THE UNCORRUPTED WORD
OF THE LIVING GOD.
Having cleared the way by these preliminary explanations of our
intentions we can now proceed to our subject proper -- the ancient
sources of our modern Bible.
THE SAMARITAN VERSION
The Jewish Old Testament was written in Hebrew by hand; for printing
was then unknown. All such documents are known as manuscripts
-- Manu-Scriptus, i.e., written by hand. These early Hebrew
manuscripts were written on animal skins, made into rolls for
easy reading, and were in existence B.C. 500.
Soon after this, maybe about B.C. 400, the Samaritans made a
copy of the first five books of the Old Testament -- The Pentateuch.
Although this copy is now known as The Samaritan Version or translation
it was really more in the nature of a revision owing to a similarity
of language which, at that time, almost amounted to identity.
The Jews and the Samaritans were inveterate enemies. Their animosity
was well illustrated 400 years later in a conversation that the
Jewish Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well.
Jesus said to her: "Give
me to drink."
The woman replied: "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest
drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no
dealings with the Samaritans."
No dealings with the Samaritans!
Why? Well, a few centuries earlier the Assyrian conqueror of
Israel, Esarhaddon by name, had transported thousands of Jews
to Assyria, and replaced them by other conquered peoples from
far off lands. His object, of course, was to weaken his foes.
It can well be imagined what sort of reception these people,
who were afterwards known as Samaritans, would receive at the
hands of the Jews who remained in the land.
Remarkably enough, these Samaritans, in spite of rebuffs, claimed
the right to worship the God of the Jews and to have their sacred
Scriptures. But here is the point of our narrative. THE JEWISH
SCRIPTURES WERE, VERY EARLY, IN THE HANDS OF A PEOPLE WHO HATED
THE JEWS. They would see to it that no Jew ever interfered with
their version; while the Jew would likewise zealously guard against
such a happening.
This Samaritan Version was destined later to become lost to the
Western world, but in still later times to come again within
the ken of modern scholars and thus provide an independent means
of testing other translations and the Hebrew text itself.
The need and value of such helps will be appreciated if we keep
in mind the fact that all early copies of the Scriptures were
transcribed by hand. However careful the scribes might be they
would make errors which would be repeated by later copyists who
would also add mistakes of their own.
Such mistakes should cause us no surprise; rather should we be
surprised that there were not more. No two independent scribes
working on separate manuscripts were likely to commit exactly the same errors, however, and this fact
later provided a wonderful means of comparison and classification
which has accomplished miracles of literary reconstruction.
The next translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, after the
Samaritan, was a very important one which has had a profound
effect on the whole civilised world. It was a Greek translation
of the Jewish Scriptures known as the Septuagint, and was made
about B.C. 250.
The Greek language was very widely spoken at this time even in
non-Greek lands. The reason is not far to seek. Greece was the
dominant world empire at this time. Many Jews in Egypt spoke
Greek. This, coupled, it is said, with a desire of Ptolemy, the
Greek king of Egypt, to have a copy of the Jewish Scriptures
in Greek for his library, resulted in the production of this
Greek version of which we speak. There are several extravagant
stories of how this was done, but they all lack reliable evidence,
so we will leave it at that. The fact, however, of the appearance
of a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures about B.C. 250 is
a well established historical event, and, therefore, not open
The widespread circulation of the Septuagint among non Jewish
nations prepared the way among the Gentiles for the advent of
the Jewish Messiah.
An illustration of this here occurs to us. There was a eunuch
in the house of Candace Queen of Ethiopia, who occupied an important
position, being over all the Queen's treasure. He had travelled
to Jerusalem to worship, and returning to his native land in
his chariot was reading from the Old Testament Scriptures. It
so happened that he was reading a prophecy of the Jewish Messiah,
from the Greek version, the Septuagint. He read:
"He was led as a sheep
to the slaughter;"
A certain Christian named
Philip enquired if he understood what he was reading. He admitted
his inability to do so without help, and thereupon invited Philip
to sit by his side in his carriage and explain matters to him. Then, referring
to the book in his lap, he asked Philip,
"Of whom speaketh the
prophet this? Of himself, or of some other man?"
The record then informs us
that Philip "began at the same scripture, and preached unto
Here then is an important sidelight upon the extended use of
the Greek version at this time. It was this same version which
was used by Jesus and his disciples, almost to the exclusion
of the Hebrew, because Hebrew had fallen into general disuse
by now, and the Septuagint had become the Bible of the people.
For instance, on one occasion, Jesus, as was his custom, went
into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and there was handed to
him a roll of the prophet Isaiah. And finding a certain place
we are told that he read out loud:
"The Spirit of the Lord
is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel
to the poor."
Here again we can tell by
the rendering of the passage that Jesus was reading from the
Greek translation -- the Septuagint.
The wide use made of this early version has proved invaluable
to scholars, past and present, and has contributed in many ways
to the excellence of our present English translations.
THE SYRIAC VERSION
We have now arrived at New Testament, or Christian times. It
was about 250 years after the Septuagint was made that Jesus
came, as Moses and the Prophets in the Jewish Scriptures of the
Old Testament had foretold. His life and teaching are recorded
by four biographers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; while the
Acts of the Apostles records the early missionary journeys of
the disciples of Jesus after his death, and also of their preaching
to the Gentiles, and of the wide-spread success of their labours,
which one contemporary pagan said had "turned the world
upside down." The rest of the New Testament Scripture is
made up of letters to bodies of believers in Corinth, Galatia
and elsewhere, and ends with the book of Revelation.
These early writings were quickly multiplied, and were in wide-spread
and general use by 150 A.D. Not only so, but translations were
made very early into other tongues Egyptian, Ethiopian, Armenian,
Latin and Syrian, to mention a few.
The Syrian translation appears to have been made as early as
about 150 A.D. Both Old and New Testaments were translated out
of their original languages into the Syrian, which translation,
known as the Syriac Version, became the Bible of the Syrian Christians.
Some time later a very serious dispute arose among them. The
breach grew wider, and was never subsequently healed. Both went
their separate ways, and both held on to their Bible. This Syriac
Bible subsequently became lost to the Western world like the
Samaritan Version. But in the 16th century a Syrian priest was
sent to Europe by Ignatius, Patriarch of Antioch, to acknowledge
the papal supremacy; and with him, it is said, he brought a copy
of the Syriac Version. This reminds us very much of the covered
glories of lost cities so recently brought to light -- yes, and
of God's precious truth itself lost for many a long year but
found again in these last days.
By this time Greece had lost her place as a world empire, and
Rome had now assumed the lead. Even in Christ's day Rome had
annexed Palestine, and when the Roman soldiery crucified Jesus
the charge against him was written over his cross in Hebrew,
Greek and Latin; because Latin was the language of Rome.
Just as there had been a natural demand for the Jewish Scriptures
in Greek, so there was now a need for the Bible in Latin. Thus
we find that very early in the third century Latin copies had
become greatly multiplied. The source of these Latin translations
is clearly marked on our chart. They were translations into Latin
from the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and from
the Septuagint Greek Version of the Hebrew Old Testament.
So many variations and mistakes
were occurring in these copies, for reasons which we cannot stay
to explain, that a revision became necessary. This revision was
undertaken by Jerome, a scholar of the third century A.D. His
revision became known as the Latin Vulgate, and has been appropriately
styled the "Revised Bible" of the Western Church.
Jerome translated the Old Testament this time direct from the
Hebrew, as shown on our chart. He is said to have also used the
Septuagint and the Old Testament Syriac. For the New Testament
he only revised the earlier Latin copies, although there is reason
to believe that he consulted the early Greek and Syriac manuscripts
of the New Testament which were then extant.
THE BIBLE'S JAILERS
This Latin translation of Jerome became the standard version
of Western Europe for the next thousand years. It is from this
Latin Vulgate that our Anglo-Saxon and early English Bibles directly
sprang. Before we pass on to shew how this happened we would
have something to say about Jerome and his times.
The Christian Church by now was rapidly growing corrupt. Haughty
bishops were striving for power over the flocks and over one
another. The Bible, read and understood by the common people,
is the biggest stumbling block in the way of men seeking power.
Therefore the bishops, instead of welcoming Jerome's very necessary
revision, attacked him for a "schismatic" and "heretic"
as they have since done to so many others.
Later, when the hue and cry of bigotry and ignorance died down,
we find that the Latin Vulgate was no longer regarded as dangerous.
The Church seemed to forget that it was only a translation from
the original languages of Hebrew and Greek; they began to regard
it as Scripture itself. "'It is the version of the Church';
they said, 'and in her own language.' 'Why should it yield to
Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, which have been for all these hundreds
of years in the hands of Jewish unbelievers and Greek schismatics?'"
These were early days in the Church's history, but already she
was shewing her teeth: a foretaste of things to come for those
who should afterwards aim at making the Bible available in the
common tongue. From now on, as her power grew, so did her inveterate
hatred of the Bible. Yet today Romanists will tell you that they
have been the Bible's custodians!
Jailers are custodians, and they have certainly been that. A
Bible manuscript in a library under lock and key does not disturb
their equanimity, but a Bible in the hands of the common multitude
provokes them to frenzy. A helpless frenzy now, thank God, but
they were not always so impotent, as we shall see.
-- UREN FADER
Now to return to the Latin Vulgate. It became the standard version
of all Western European translations, and its influence can be
clearly traced in them. Our own English Bible, with which we
are immediately concerned, also came direct from the Latin Vulgate,
as a glance at the chart will shew.
In the ninth century and onward, Bede, King Alfred, and others
are said to have translated some of the Latin Bible into Anglo-Saxon.
The copies, of course, were few and were confined to religious
houses and a few wealthy people.
These translations, like all others, became out-of-date with
the passage of time and the change in our language which is always
going on. At this period of history this normal change was accelerated
by the introduction of Norman-French brought over by William
the Conqueror. There was thus a need for continual modernisation
of Bible translations.
This has provided shallow critics with one of their objections
to the Bible. "It is," they say, "always being
translated, revised and altered." By which they imply that,
it either must be very defective to need such continual alteration,
or else it must suffer corruption by such continual copying,
revising, and re-copying. Shallow criticism!
How would this sticking to one final translation work out in
practice? Take first our Authorised Version which seems still
to refuse to give place to the more correct Revised Version.
In the Authorised Version are many words which, although perfectly
intelligible to our forebears in Shakespeare's day, have now
wholly changed their meaning.
The word "let" used to mean "hinder." Now
it means "allow," an exactly opposite meaning. "Conversation"
then meant "behaviour"; now it means "speech."
"Prevent" meant "go before," now it means
"to stop." "Quick," which we associate with
speed, then meant "living." These are a few among hundreds
of words which have either become obsolete or obsolescent in
the three hundred odd years since the Authorised Version in 1611.
Thus we see that apart from fresh discovery of manuscripts and
improvements in the knowledge of the ancient languages, revisions
are necessary on the grounds of change in the English language
alone. If an objector still feels inclined to demur let him try
his hand at this from King Alfred's day:
Uren Fader dhic art in heofnas, Sic gehalged dhin noma, To Cymedh
dhin ric, Sic dhin uuilla sue is in heofnas and in eardho, Vren
h1af ofer uuirthe sel us to daeg, And forgef us scy1da urna,
Sue une forgefan sculdgun vrum. (The beginning of the Lord's
This surely shews the imperative need for a new translation into
more modern English better than any argument of ours.
JOHN WYCLIFFE AND OUR
The next important step in the pedigree of our English Bible
is the translation from the Latin Vulgate by John Wycliffe. Wycliffe
was born in Yorkshire in 1324, and later became the parish priest
of Lutterworth. He was a servant of the Church, yet he was moved
with noble sentiments to which the Church herself has never aspired.
He was not a product of his profession, but rather a green shoot
out of a dry ground.
"He laboured on at the great work of his life, till the
whole Bible was translated into the 'Modir tonge,' and England
received for the first time in her history a complete version
of the Scriptures in the language of the people."
This aroused the hatred of his brethren in "Holy Orders"
as is seen in the complaint of Bishop Arundel to the Pope. He
spoke of "That pestilent wretch, John Wycliffe, the son
of the old serpent, the forerunner of anti-Christ, who had completed
his iniquity by inventing a new translation of the Scriptures."
The real character of this "pestilent wretch" comes
out in the preface to his translation where he beautifully defines
our duty in quaint old English:
"To ken and to kepe well
Holie Writ, and to suffer joiefulli some paine for it at the
John Wycliffe had good reason
to believe that he himself would have to suffer at the hands
of a vicious priest hood. But even while they were preparing
to strike, Wycliffe died December, 1384, and his enemies could
now only vent their spleen by malicious words. One monkish fulmination
"On the feast of the
passion of St. Thomas of Canterbury, John Wycliffe, the organ
of the Devil, the enemy of the Church, the idol of heretics,
the restorer of schism, the store house of lies, the sink of
flattery, being struck by the horrible judgement of God . . ."
The frustrated fury thus expressed
by those who realised that they had been cheated of their prey
is thus manifest. Their curious mixture of vicious vindictiveness
and utter childishness later found occasion for satisfaction
when "forty years later by a decree of the Council of Constance,
the old Reformer's bones were dug up, burnt, and thrown into
Thus was satisfied the honour of the "custodians of the
Bible," whose conduct was fitting for wilful and nasty children
but unworthy of grown men.
-- " KEN AND KEPE WELL"
The followers of Wycliffe, however, were not so fortunate. Their
living flesh, not their unconscious dust, had to suffer the "paine"
which Wycliffe knew was sure to come upon those whose only crime
was a desire to "ken and kepe well Holie Writ." And
as one writer observes, commenting on an extract from the preface
of Wycliffe's Bible -- "to suffer joiefulli some paine for
it at the laste":
"What a meaning that
prayer must have gained when the readers of the book were burned
with copies round their necks, when men and women were executed
for teaching their children the Lord's Prayer and the ten commandments
in English, when husbands were made to witness against their
wives, and children forced to light the death-fires of their
parents, and possessors of the banned Wycliff Bible were hunted
down as if they were wild beasts."
Thus acted these "custodians
of the Bible" without whose good offices we should never
have had the Bible! The puerile absurdity and wicked impudence
of such a claim will be evident to anyone who will take the trouble
to read an outline of church history through the ages.
But by now Wycliffe and other bold spirits in England and other
lands had kindled the torch of religious reform which all the
machinations of Rome were unable to extinguish.
Wycliffe's Bible was the last to be handwritten, for soon after
this, printing was invented, and this was to prove too great
a mountain to be moved by the efforts of Bible-burning bishops.
There was also at this time a revival in learning of the Hebrew
and Greek languages which had been neglected for centuries owing
to the domination of the Latin church in Western Europe. Here
then were three things: a widespread desire for church reform
-- a renaissance of learning, and -- the printing press!
WILLIAM TYNDALE, MARTYR,
Into this propitious period was born noble William Tyndale, to
whom, under the hand of God, we owe so much. The secret of Tyndale's
superhuman achievements was a deep and burning determination
to see the English people instructed in God's precious word.
To this end he devoted all his energies and great scholarship.
"With consistent and
unswerving purpose, he devoted his whole life to this one work;
and through dangers and difficulties, amid enemies and treacherous
friends, in exile and loneliness, he accomplished it."
When Tyndale's intention became
known he soon found that England was an unsafe place for him.
Determined not to be turned aside from his self-imposed and sacred mission, he chose the life of an exile by seeking asylum in Germany.
Here, in the comparative, but not actual, safety of a country
which was ahead of England in religious reform, Tyndale settled
down to his labour of love. After many vicissitudes Tyndale produced
a printed copy of the New Testament, directly translated from
the original Greek manuscripts available to him.
Tyndale had thousands of copies printed and sent to his beloved
England which he had so reluctantly left, and which he was destined
never to see again. In order to escape detection these testaments
had to be smuggled into the country hidden in bales of cloth
and sacks of flour. Not all thus escaped discovery, for:
"Thousands of copies
were thus seized in these various disguises and were burned with
solemn ceremony at the old cross of St. Paul's as 'a burnt offering
most pleasing to Almighty God'."
The printing press, however, was to prove the undoing of the
Church. The money paid by the Bishop of London in buying copies
of Tyndale's Bible to burn was finding its way back, through
agents, to Tyndale who, thus enriched, turned out more copies
than ever and was also enabled to proceed to the translation
of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew. (See chart)
Thus frustrated they could only resort to preaching sermons against
Tyndale's work -- and what sermons! A sample of the ignorance
of the fanatical friars at this time is the following "exposure"
of Tyndale's work:
"There was a new language
discovered called Greek, of which people should beware, since
it was that which produced all the heresies; that in this language
was come forth the New Testament, which was full of thorns and
briars: that there was another new language, too, called Hebrew,
and they who learned it were turned into Hebrews."
Another friar, Buckingham
by name, is reported to have preached thus:
"When the simple man
reads the words, 'If thine eye offend thee pluck it out and cast
it from thee,' incontinent he will pluck out his eyes, and so
the whole realm will be full of blind men, to the great decay
of the nation and the manifest loss of the King's grace. And
thus by reading of the Holy Scriptures will the whole realm come
A PATHETIC OLD MAN
Wycliffe had been fortunate enough to escape their clutches,
but this time the Church caught their victim alive. It appears
that a traitorous priest named Phillips wormed his way into unsuspecting
Tyndale's confidence and then betrayed him to papal agents. He
was taken to a castle at Vilvorde near Brussels, and thrown into
a dungeon. During this time this pathetic old man wrote a moving
letter to the Governor. It shews the straits to which he had
been reduced for no other crime than a burning zeal for the word
of the living God. He writes:
"To beg your Lordship,
and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during
the winter, you will request the procureur to be kind enough
to send me from my goods which he has in his possession a warmer
cap, for I suffer extremely from a perpetual catarrh, which is
much increased by this cell. A warmer coat also, for that which
I have is very thin; also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings
-- my shirts too are worn out."
Thus this voluntary exile
was now a prisoner in a foreign land in the hands of men devoid
of compassion, who, after punishing him by a protracted imprisonment,
brought him to the stake where he was strangled and burnt, September,
His great work survived him, however, and today the world benefits
from it. But how few shew their appreciation by treasuring and
prizing this precious volume which we have in our mother tongue,
and for which men like Tyndale have bled and died.
A writer many years ago declared: "The zeal of those Christian
days seems superior to this our day, and to see the travail of
them may well shame our careless times." If that were true
in those relatively zealous days, how much more is such a statement
true of these our modern times?
At the time of Tyndale's death on the continent the reform fever
was spreading throughout England and the bishops were unable
to ignore the popular clamour for a free reading of the Bible
Added to this, King Henry VIII's personal quarrel with the Pope
led to a breakaway from Rome and the establishment of an independent
Church of England. Henry, now willing to offend Rome, supported
the plea for a national Bible, and he found time-serving, servile
bishops, willing to help forward the project.
William Tyndale had already done the work thoroughly and well,
but the odium of his name still attached to his work, and the
possibility of the bishops acknowledging his translation after
all they had said about it and done to it, was out of the question.
But the few Bibles which followed after Tyndale were little more
than editions of Tyndale's work, and they all eventually found
their final expression in our Authorised Version, which was made
at the command of James I in 1611.
Although the Authorised Version is a monumental work which has
profoundly influenced English life and literature as nothing
else has, on account of the dignity and purity of its English
style, we must remember that further study and knowledge has
shewn that still much was left to be desired. Apart from the
inevitable obsolescence of words, after three centuries, there
is also the fact that the same Greek word of frequent repetition
in one chapter is rendered by two or more English synonyms. This,
while contributing to euphony, often detracts from the pointed
meaning of word repetition. Again, there are a variety of Greek
words rendered by only one English word, so that our knowledge
of what an apostle really wrote suffers in consequence.
Another important thing to remember is the paucity of old manuscripts
and versions available to the translators of 1611. The principal
old manuscripts which have since become available for the scholars
who gave us our Revised Version, 1881-5, are shewn on our chart.
They are the VATICAN MANUSCRIPT about 350 A.D. and at present
at the Vatican in Rome; THE SINAITIC MANUSCRIPT about 350 A.D.
and now in the British Museum; and the ALEXANDRIAN MANUSCRIPT
somewhere after 400 A.D. and also in the British Museum.
THE VATICAN, SINAITIC
AND ALEXANDRIAN MANUSCRIPTS
Two of these three manuscripts were probably known to the Authorised
translators, but they were not available for the work. The third,
the Sinaitic, had not then been discovered.
How un-get-at-able the Vatican Manuscript must have been in 1611
is well illustrated by the efforts of recent scholars to study
it. Sir Frederick Kenyon tells us:
"In 1843 Tischendorf,
after waiting for several months, was allowed to see it for six
"In 1845 the great English scholar Tregelles was allowed
indeed to see it but not to copy a word. His pockets were searched
before he might open it, and all writing materials were taken
away. Two clerics stood beside him and snatched away the volume
if he looked too long at any passage!"
In 1867, however, Tischendorf,
as a result of spending fourteen days collating difficult readings
or passages, was able to publish the most perfect edition of
the Vatican Manuscript which had yet appeared.
Since then a photographic facsimile copy has made its contents
the common property of the world's scholars (1889-90). Thus we
see that the revisers of 1881 at least had the work of Tregelles
to help them with the Vatican Manuscript.
"WAITING TO BE
Next we have the Sinaitic Manuscript, undiscovered in the days
of the Authorised but made available in time for the Revised
Version. The history of this version, like that of the Vatican,
reflects little credit on the "Bible's custodians."
This time the jailers were so ignorant as not to recognise their
prisoner; the reason being that it was written in the "new
language" which had been "invented" --Greek! Dr.
Tischendorf, a German scholar in search of ancient manuscripts,
visited the monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai. There he saw
some sheets of old vellum filled with Greek characters. He recognised
what they were and, not disguising his surprise, asked what they
were doing in the wastepaper basket! The reply was, "They
are waiting to be burned!"
He managed to obtain possession of about forty sheets. In his
fear lest others should be burned he warned the monks of their
great value. This warning prevented the acquisition of the other
sheets for fifteen years (1859). But eventually, with the good
offices of Tsar Alexander II, some decorations, and 9,000 roubles,
the monks were persuaded to part with their treasure which, apart
from the labours of Tischendorf, would have stoked the fires
in the monastery furnaces!
The third ancient manuscript available for the Revised Version
is the Alexandrian Manuscript. This was in possession of Cyril
Lucar, the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople. Cyril Lucar presented
it to the English king Charles I in 1628, just seventeen years
too late for the Authorised Version.
By this time also the Samaritan Version had come to light. So
effectively had it become lost that men questioned the reliability
of the references made to it by early writers, and began to disbelieve
in its existence. But in 1616 a traveller, Pietro della Valle
by name, found a complete copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch in
Damascus. Since that time many more have been found and now contribute
their share to the testimony of other resurrected witnesses.
Then, in addition to the re-appearance in Europe of the Syriac
Version, of which we have already spoken, there are now the voluminous
writings of the Early Fathers.
"These Early Fathers
quoted Scripture so largely in their controversies that it has
been said, if all the other sources of the Bible were lost, we
could recover the greater part of it from their writings."
Thus, you see, the Revisers
had the ancient manuscripts and the recovered Syriac and Samaritan
Versions, not to mention the Egyptian, Ethiopic, etc., and the
writings of the Fathers also, all of which combined to make our
Revised Version a very reliable document.
There was also something else very important, and that was the
enormous growth in textual criticism. This scientific comparison
and study of various renderings is sometimes known as "Lower
Criticism." Lower Criticism confines itself to the study
and comparison of the text of Scripture, while "Higher Criticism"
is applied to the "substance or contents of a book."
This "Lower Criticism" has done, and is doing, much
good work, which is more than we can say of "Higher Criticism,"
as the reader of our Archaeological chapter will have realised.
This result has been arrived at by allowing full and free debate,
made possible by the religious freedom gained for us by the early
Like all enquiry, Bible criticism has had to suffer at the hands
of extremists. But truth has nothing to fear from investigation;
only time is required for the Bible to emerge triumphantly from
the most penetrating examination.
Sir Frederick Kenyon, speaking from long and wide experience,
"The history of Biblical
criticism, as of all ancient history and literature, is full
of erroneous views confidently proclaimed, eagerly accepted by
those who wish to appear in the vanguard of advance, and then
disproved or allowed to sink into obscurity."
We have seen how this has
been so in our Chapter Two. Then Sir Frederick, summing up the
findings of modern research -- a process which we believe will
go on indefinitely -- says:
"The tendency of modern
research has been, again and again, to CONFIRM THE SUBSTANTIAL
INTEGRITY AND TRUSTWORTHI-NESS OF THE BIBLE RECORD."
Altogether then, for the reasons
we have outlined, our present English Bible, the Revised Version,
is a remarkable and decisive document -- the finding of three
very early manuscripts, the rediscovery of the Samaritan and
Syriac versions, the use of the writings of the Early Fathers,
the growth in knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, and the discovery
of a host of manuscripts of all ages have made it so.
Knowledge has not stood still since 1881. Many years ago Sir
Frederick Kenyon expressed a belief that on account of the dryness
of Egypt's climate we might yet hope to find buried papyrus manuscripts
of an earlier date than our ancient vellum copies of 350 A.D.
His hopes have now been realised in a great flood of literary
riches. PAPYRI DOCUMENTS HAVE BEEN FOUND WHICH TAKE OUR NEW TESTAMENT
TEXT RIGHT BACK TO THE DAYS OF THE APOSTLES OF CHRIST.
Speaking of this new accession of wealth Sir Frederick says:
"In 1895 only one Biblical
text on papyrus was known . . . now the papyri have gone far
to fill the gap between the dates when the New Testament books
were written and the earliest extant vellum copies."
Then Sir Frederick makes a
very telling comparison with the very fragmentary evidence which
we have for the writings of the early classical writers. He notes
that critics accept them as authentic on very few manuscripts.
"Scholars are satisfied
that they possess substantially the true text of the principle
Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of
Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet OUR KNOWLEDGE
OF THEIR WRITINGS DEPENDS ON A MERE HANDFUL OF MANUSCRIPTS, WHEREAS
THE MANUSCRIPTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ARE COUNTED BY HUNDREDS,
AND EVEN THOUSANDS."
Then reverting to the modern
discovery of Egyptian papyri he says:
"The last fifty years
(1941) . . . The discoveries of papyri in Egypt have materially
reduced the gap between the earliest extant manuscripts of the
New Testament and Septuagint and the date at which the original
books were written. They have established with a wealth of evidence
which no other work of ancient literature can even approach,
the substantial authenticity and integrity of the text of the
Bible as we now possess it."
Then in further explanation of the significance of these recent
Egyptian finds of papyri Sir Frederick says:
"The Vatican and Sinaitic
carry us back, as we have just seen, to about the middle of the
Fourth Century -- say A.D. 350 -- and the papyri a century earlier.
But the New Testament was translated into Syriac and into Latin
by about A.D. 150, and into Egyptian somewhere about A.D. 200;
and the copies we now possess of these versions are lineal descendants
of the original translations made at these dates . . . If we
can. ascertain with certainty what were the original words of
the Syriac or Latin translations, we can generally know what
was the Greek text which the translator had before him; we know,
that is, what words were found in a Greek manuscript which was
extant in the first half of the second century, and which cannot
have been written very far off from A.D. 100.
OUR INCOMPARABLE VERSIONS
All things fairly considered, we can confidently affirm that
in our incomparable English Revised Version we have a book which
conveys the exact meaning of the original languages as far as
one language can express another.
To those thoroughly acquainted with Hebrew and Greek and able
to read in these tongues, the gain is doubtless great, especially
when it is remembered that textual criticism is in such a sound
position that men of sober judgement are quite sure that questionable
readings have been reduced to a small minimum.
Sir Frederick Kenyon, formerly Director of the British Museum,
after a long life devoted to these studies, and knowing all the
facts as we can never hope to know them, could sum up his life-long
findings by declaring:
"THE CHRISTIAN CAN TAKE
THE WHOLE BIBLE IN HIS HAND AND SAY WITHOUT FEAR OR HESITATION
THAT HE HOLDS IN IT THE TRUE WORD OF GOD, handed down without
essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries."
That is the keynote of our
chapter -- the authenticity of our English Bible. We have it
in another language, it is true, than those in which it was originally
written, but we have it essentially as God gave it.
Here then, armed with a threefold
assurance, we can proceed with the utmost confidence.
Archaeology has proved Bible history to be true -- Prophecy has
proved the Bible to be divinely inspired The manuscripts prove
that, in our mother tongue, we possess that Bible today.
What more can an intelligent and reasonable reader ask of us
before following with keen interest and anticipation what is
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