“The Rival to the Bible?” Nice line but shame about the agenda…
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.
OBSERVATIONS OF BIAS?
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.
SOME SCHOLARLY RESPONSES
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?