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October 6, 2008


“The Rival to the Bible?” Nice line but shame about the agenda…

by quaesitor

I don’t know if you’ve seen this report on the BBC News page about the Codex Sinaiticus. But i spotted it this afternoon, and I’m afraid i felt the need to respond. Sure it gives the story a bit more oxygen, but then, BBC online gets more readers than I do, so this isn’t really going to make that much difference.


But here are some observations from the article:

  • The title is nice, isn’t it? Has a nice ring and rhythm. It even rhymes, sort of. I bet the bod who thought it up was pretty pleased. I would be. But it’s a bit of an exaggeration, surely?
  • Then look at the statements at the end of the opening paragraph: It is markedly different from its modern equivalent. What’s left out? Well the article only touches on one or two things – nothing justifies use of the word ‘markedly’ in my opinion.
  • But take this: the thrust of the article. Roger Bolton writes: For those who believe the Bible is the inerrant, unaltered word of God, there will be some very uncomfortable questions to answer. It shows there have been thousands of alterations to today’s bible. Well, it’s true that there are many questions to answer about the Bible – i will certainly never exhaust them, and nor will the greatest scholars. And some are perhaps uncomfortable. But so what? It seems to me that the purpose of the article, far more than to inform about an exciting technological and academic development, is to make faithful traditional believers feel uncomfortable.

Now it is a short article – and perhaps on the accompanying Radio4 programme, Bolton will give more evidence and explanation – but let’s take the discrepancies he does pick on. Apart from the inclusion of the apocryphal Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas (don’t get me started on what the article muckrakes with the inflammatory comment about the Jews – yes I KNOW there are issues here about antisemitism but a quick dab in an article is surely not the way to deal with them), about which more in a mo, the main textual observations are these:

  • Missing mentions of the Ascension and Resurrection
  • Jesus was angry at a man’s leprosy, and not filled with compassion as otherwise reported.
  • The story of Jesus rescuing the woman about to be stoned in John 7 is missing

Well, hello! This is not news. In fact the New International Version is quite open about these facts. It mentions that some manuscripts do not include either Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11 – and please note, this point is not tucked away in some footnote – these clarifications are right there, unmissable in the main body of the text.

One reason that i like the NIV is that it has nothing to hide – so WHENEVER there are variants or textual issues, they are always explicitly mentioned in footnotes. As someone who read Classics at university (and had to read the whole of Homer’s Iliad in Greek), it is incredible how FEW footnotes there are for the NT, in huge contrast to other ancient texts. But the task of scholarship is always to hone our understandings of texts and original manuscripts. Which is why the making of the CODEX SINAITICUS online is such GREAT news – and why I’ve had a link from my resources bar on the right for months! I’m not embarrassed or concerned by this. It is a HUGE STORY.

But notice the implication of appealing to one scholar, Prof Bart Ehrman:

Mr Ehrman was a born again Bible-believing Evangelical until he read the original Greek texts and noticed some discrepancies. The Bible we now use can’t be the inerrant word of God, he says, since what we have are the sometimes mistaken words copied by fallible scribes.

Oh well – that’s OK then. Anyone else who is a born-again evangelical will now obviously read this article on BBC online and they will give up their faith too (beause presumably, most people do not have the ability to read ancient Greek texts). You’d have to be an idiot not to. But of course there are some people who are Christians who don’t believe all this ‘Bible is true’ rubbish – because as the last interviewee said, ‘the Bible is a living text’. Whatever that means. So if you have to be a Christian, at least take a more relaxed line.


Now, this is not the place, and nor am I the sort of expert who is able, to go into all the textual stuff here – and I really don’t want to get bogged down in all the talk about inerrancy, infallibility etc etc. I’m just so frustrated by the blatant agenda behind the headline. At least I’ve got a blog to spill it out on.

For those who want a bit more sense and academic integrity in all this, I can at least recommend stuff by FF Bruce. He was Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester for 20 years until 1978. He was no amateur in this field. But he was also an evangelical who read the original Greek texts A LOT, but that certainly didn’t seem to make him his faith.

In fact he was a profoundly gifted interpreter of the Scriptures, and was justly regarded as a leading scholar in this area – which means he simply had to understand all prevailing and opposing views to his own. In one book, The Canon of Scripture, he deals, in passing, with all the different original texts that are available to us and deals with some of the nitty-gritty questions of detail. His explanations of how it all came together are brilliant (including dealing extensively with The Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas).

Another, more approachable book, is his classic ‘The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?’ This is a great place to start and will certainly answer some basic questions with authority, knowledge and openness. I just wish that those who read Roger Bolton’s article had the chance to read some of Bruce’s scholarship for themselves. But that’s of course far too much to ask from an online article. After all, we don’t want anyone actually believing this stuff, do we? Where’s the story in that?

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Emma
    Oct 6 2008

    Thank you Mark!
    I’d spotted this and commented on the BBC form and it’s nice to see my thoughts confirmed. I also emailed the Beeb to complain about the accuracy and tone of the article-but not half as comprehensively or elegantly as you.

  2. Stephen
    Oct 6 2008

    That’s funny – Ehrman himself says the reason he turned to agnosticism was due to his inability to deal with the problem of evil and suffering as it is presented in the bible and not the reliability of the text.

    These sort of sensational articles just increase frustration for me – over state the facts left right and center throwing integrity out the back door.

  3. David
    Oct 6 2008

    A much fuller comment than the ramblings I submitted in response. On one level we should expect no less, but still…the BBC…

  4. Ross
    Oct 7 2008

    I’m attending an event next week hosted by the think tank Theos at which Mark Thompson will be giving a public theology lecture on faith morality and the media – if he takes questions it may be worth asking something about whether he thinks the BBC has an anti-faith institutional bias? Fancy coming with me? I’m sure I can sneak you in if you haven’t already got an invite.

  5. Oct 7 2008

    Also amusing that one of the world’s leading experts on CE is an evangelical Christian (Dirk Jonkind at Tyndale House)…

  6. Michael Dormandy
    Oct 7 2008

    Amen, Mark.
    One of my favorite Bruce quotes (I’m afraid probably not verbatim):
    “Our manuscript evidence for the Bible is such that no editor, however incompetent, could ever obscure its saving power.”
    This puts it brilliantly in my view; there may be problems with the Bible, but in his grace, God has ensured they are so minor that no important doctrine, nothing of the Gospel that is the power of God for salvation could be damaged.
    I also read Classics, I think at the same uni as you, from your Homer comment, and am really encouraged that the course proved a foundation for a ministry like yours.

  7. Oct 8 2008

    Thanks, Mark

    Dirk Jongkind also addressed a number of errors in the BBC’s article in a post at Evangelical Textual Criticism:

    FF Bruce’s books mentioned are excellent. Another good, fairly accessible book on this subject (to which Bruce also contributed) is “The Origin of the Bible”, edited by Philip Comfort (Tyndale 2003).

  8. Hugh
    Oct 13 2008

    Dirk Jonkind (mentioned above) has posted his own response at

  9. Oct 15 2008

    Sorry to Hugh & Marcus, who wrote the last two comments – for some reason they were trapped in the spam filter for a few days. Good to have you both pointing to this really helpful article.

  10. Oct 16 2008

    I’ve got ‘The Making of the New Testment’ by Arthur G Patzia (on Apollos) which seems quite good to me. Do you know this one?

  11. fred badia
    Oct 25 2008

    Strange and sad,
    Mr Ehrman says that the resurrection was not mentioned in the Gospel of Mark
    numbers from 9 to 20 of the last sanitation bible of Mark
    Mark disappearance conclusion of the manuscript Alsinaiip
    Mark disappearance conclusion of the manuscript Vatican
    Is this correct prosecution evidence

    This eventually found in many other manuscripts and scrolls to head the second century, and following is a list of manuscripts found this conclusion, quoting from the world, Bruce Bruce Terry and Terry are as follows
    1-A manuscript Alex
    2-Manuscript Alifraimip C
    3-Pisa manuscript Bnasiha Greek and Latin D
    4-Washington manuscript W
    5-Manuscript K, X manuscript
    6-Delta manuscript
    7-manuscript Theta
    8-manuscript PI
    9-manuscript 28
    10-manuscript 33
    11-manuscript 565
    12-manuscript 700 and more and mores
    And so many other manuscripts and copies of manuscripts Nestl convey the land below and repeat some of the former Vlltotiq:
    A (02) , C (04), D (05), L (019), W (032), Θ (038), Ψ (044), 059, 067, 069, 072, 083, 087, 099, 0107, 0126, 0130, 131, 0132, 0143, 0146, 0167, 0184, 0187, 0188, 0213, 0214, 0269, 0274
    The text of the manuscript in the end, the long-L with comments that in the end, the existence of the oldest and most versions and is Regius manuscript known as No. 019 and with stored in the National Library in Paris under the No. 62 Greek:

    And says Bruce Metzjr also “called by the end of our long Angel Mark, was known to Justinus Darmaatmaja martyr and come in and which put in his book Aldyatsron
    The long end is also in Washington Washingtoniensis manuscript and containing the text of the four returning Bisharat and the fifth century AD.
    And like Frederic Kenyon said: “the number of the last twelve Gospel Mark exist in all Allakeip Coptic manuscripts, but only two of them, put the margin at the end of another short like that found in the manuscript L” and these are the manuscripts Hunt. 17, No. 1315 manuscript British Museum.

    We can summarize what we have in our conclusion of the aspects of the Gospel of Mark in Scrifenr strong following words:
    The evidence of the original numbers 9 – 20 overwhelming majority are preparing manuscripts in the A, C, D and in all capital letters Uncials manuscripts and scrolls in all related characters
    Conclusion proved the existence of the manuscripts in most of the new era and all kinds of languages
    so would you please mr Ehrman do not lie Without the knowledge

  12. shady
    Oct 25 2008

    thanks mr fred for all evidence also
    i would like to add
    The Diatessaron (Section 55)
    [1] Matthew 28:16 But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had [2] appointed them. Matthew 28:17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but there were of [3] them who doubted. Mark 16:14 And while they sat there he appeared to them again, and upbraided them for their lack of faith and the hardness of their hearts, those that saw him when he was risen, and believed not.
    [16] Mark 16:20 And from thence they went forth, and preached in every place; and our Lord helped them, and confirmed their sayings by the signs which they did.
    Mark 16:16 For whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved; but [9] whosoever believes not shall be rejected. Mark 16:17 And the signs which shall attend those that believe in me are these: that they shall cast out devils in my name; and they [10] shall speak with new tongues; Mark 16:18 and they shall take
    no —-comment


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