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THE

INSPIRATION-TRANSMISSION-TRANSLATION

OF THE

WORD OF GOD

 

Copying the Word of God (2)

Lesson #6

Victor M. Eskew

 

INTRODUCTION

 

A.    In our last lesson, we found that it was necessary for the Word of God to be copied if it were going to last.

 

B.      The process of copying the Scriptures carries several risks

 

C.     However, God has promised that His Word would endure forever (Isa. 40:8; Matt. 24:35; I Pet. 1:25).

 

D.    Let’s continue our lesson by looking at the scribes, the copying process, and the copies of the Scriptures that we presently possess.

 

I.                   THE SCRIBES

 

A.    We read about scribes in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (II Chron. 34:13; Matt. 2:4).

 

B.      In the Old Testament, there were two classes of scribes.

1.      Scribes of the king (II Kings 12:10; Esth. 3:12; 8:9).

2.      The scribes of the law of God.  Four times Ezra is described as a scribe of the law of God (Ezra 7:6, 11, 12, 21).

 

Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel.

 

C.     In the New Testament, the scribes were part of both the political life and religious life of Israel.

1.      They were closely aligned with the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20; 12:38; 15:1; 23:2).

 

Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.

 

2.      Religiously, they were called “lawyers” because they were skilled in the Law of Moses (Compare Mark 12:28 with Matthew 22:35-36).

a.      They copied the law.

b.      They interpreted the law.

c.       They taught the law.

d.      They judged the law.

 

II.                THE METICULOUS COPYING PROCESS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

 

A.    The Old Testament process:

1.      The copy had to be written on the skins of a clean animal.

2.      The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines.

3.      The ink must be black, and of a special recipe.

4.      The scribe must verbalize every word aloud while copying the text.

5.      No word was allowed to be copied from memory.

6.      Between every consonant the space of a hair or a thread must intervene.

7.      The document was invalid if two letters touched.

8.      The letters, words, and paragraphs had to be counted.  The middle paragraph, word and letter must correspond to those of the original document.

9.      There was a review of the copy within thirty days.  If as many as three pages required corrections, the entire copy had to be redone.

10.  The scribe must sit in full Jewish dress, having washed his whole body before starting.

11.  The scribe must wipe the pen and wash his entire body before writing the word “Jehovah,” every time he wrote it.

B.      How accurate were the Old Testament Scribes?

1.      Prior to finding the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscript of the Old Testament dated back to around 900 A.D.

2.      In 1948, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament manuscripts were found that dated back to 300 B.C.  Too, numerous copies were found (for example, 25 copies of Deuteronomy).  NOTE:  These OT manuscripts were written 1000+ years before the text that existed before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

3.      The two texts were almost identical.  The variants, involving about 5% of the text, were slips of the pen or variations in spelling.

4.      Example

 

TABLE 1. QUMRAN VS. THE MASORETES
______________________________________
Of the 166 Hebrew words in Isaiah 53, only
seventeen letters in Dead Sea Scroll 1QIs
b
differ from the Masoretic Text (Geisler and
Nix, 1986, p. 382).

10 letters = spelling differences

4 letters = stylistic changes

3 letters = added word for “light” (vs. 11)
______________________________________
17 letters = no affect on biblical teaching

 

(http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=357

 

5.      “Despite the thousand year gap, scholars found the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls to be nearly identical.  The Dead Sea Scrolls provide valuable evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved” (www.probe.org/the-dead-sea-scrolls/).

 

III.             THE NEW TESTAMENT’S RELIABLITY

 

A.    First, there are over 5,586 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament. 

1.      All of these are compared and contrasted in order to determine the true text.  (See Aunt Sally’s Letter).

 

Reconstructing Aunt Sally’s Letter. Here’s a little story you can use to illustrate how such a test works. Pretend your Aunt Sally learns in a dream the recipe for an elixir that preserves youth. When she wakes up, she scribbles the directions on a scrap of paper, then runs to the kitchen to make her first glass of the potion. In a few days Aunt Sally is transformed into a picture of radiant youth because of her daily dose of “Sally’s Secret Sauce.”

Aunt Sally is so excited that she sends detailed, handwritten instructions on how to make the sauce to her three bridge partners. They, in turn, make copies for 10 of their own friends.

All goes well until Aunt Sally’s dog eats the scrap of paper on which she first wrote the recipe. In a panic she contacts her three friends who have suffered similar mishaps, so the alarm goes out to the others in an attempt to recover the original wording.

Sally rounds up all the surviving handwritten copies, 26 in all. When she spreads them out on the kitchen table, she immediately notices some differences. Twenty-three of the copies are exactly the same. Of the remaining three, however, one has misspelled words, another has an inverted phrase (“mix then chop” instead of “chop then mix”), and one includes an ingredient that is not listed on any of the others.

Do you think Aunt Sally can accurately reconstruct her original recipe from this evidence? Of course, she can. The misspellings are obvious errors and are easily corrected. The single inverted phrase stands out and can easily be repaired. Sally would then strike the extra ingredient, reasoning that it is more plausible that one person would accidentally add an item than that 25 people would accidentally omit the same one. Even if the variations were more numerous or more diverse, the original could still be reconstructed with a high level of confidence if Sally had enough copies.

This, in simplified form, is how scholars do “textual criticism,” an academic method used to test all documents of antiquity, not just religious texts. It’s not a haphazard effort based on hopes and guesses; it’s a careful linguistic process allowing an alert critic to identify and correct the possible corruption of any work.

 

http://www.equip.org/article/facts-for-skeptics-of-the-new-testament/, Gregory Koukl

 

2.      “…the new Testament documents are better preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings (See chart).

 

 

Author

Date
Written

Earliest Copy

Approximate Time Span between original & copy

Number of Copies

Accuracy of Copies

Lucretius

died 55 or 53 B.C.

 

1100 yrs

2

----

Pliny

A.D. 61-113

A.D. 850

750 yrs

7

----

Plato

427-347 B.C.

A.D. 900

1200 yrs

7

----

Demosthenes

4th Cent. B.C.

A.D. 1100

800 yrs

8

----

Herodotus

480-425 B.C.

A.D. 900

1300 yrs

8

----

Suetonius

A.D. 75-160

A.D. 950

800 yrs

8

----

Thucydides

460-400 B.C.

A.D. 900

1300 yrs

8

----

Euripides

480-406 B.C.

A.D. 1100

1300 yrs

9

----

Aristophanes

450-385 B.C.

A.D. 900

1200

10

----

Caesar

100-44 B.C.

A.D. 900

1000

10

----

Livy

59 BC-AD 17

----

???

20

----

Tacitus

circa A.D. 100

A.D. 1100

1000 yrs

20

----

Aristotle

384-322 B.C.

A.D. 1100

1400

49

----

Sophocles

496-406 B.C.

A.D. 1000

1400 yrs

193

----

Homer (Iliad)

900 B.C.

400 B.C.

500 yrs

643

95%

New
Testament

1st Cent. A.D. (A.D. 50-100)

2nd Cent. A.D.
(c. A.D. 130 f.)

less than 100 years

 

https://carm.org/manuscript-evidence  Matt Slick

 

3.      NOTE:  The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is 99.5%.

 

B.      There are over 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages.

 

C.     WE have some manuscripts that were written within just a few short years of the autographs.

1.      Chart:  https://carm.org/manuscript-evidence  Matt Slick

 

Important
Manuscript
Papyri

Contents

Date
Original Written

MSS
Date

Approx.
Time Span

Location

p52
(John Rylands
Fragment)
3

John 18:31-3337-38

circa
A.D. 96

circa
A.D.
125

29 yrs

John Rylands Library, Manchester, England

P46
(Chester Beatty Papyrus)

Rom. 5:17-6:35-148:15-2527-3510:1-112224-333516:1-2325-27; Heb.; 1 & 2 Cor., Eph., Gal., Phil., Col.; 1 Thess. 1:19-102:1-35:5-923-28

50's-70's

circa
A.D.
200

Approx.
150 yrs

Chester Beatty Museum, Dublin & Ann Arbor, Michigan, University of Michigan library

P66
(Bodmer Papyrus)

John 1:1-6:1135-14:26; fragment of 14:29-21:9

70's

circa
A.D.
200

Approx.
130 yrs

Cologne, Geneva

P67

Matt. 3:9,155:20-2225-28

 

circa
A.D.
200

Approx.
130 yrs

Barcelona, Fundacion San Lucas Evangelista, P. Barc.1

 

2.      The closest copy of Homer’s Iliad to the original is 500 years.

3.      “If the critics of the Bible dismiss the New Testament as reliable information, then they must also dismiss the reliability of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Homer, and the other authors mentioned in the chart at the beginning of the paper. On the other hand, if the critics acknowledge the historicity and writings of those other individuals, then they must also retain the historicity and writings of the New Testament authors; after all, the evidence for the New Testament's reliability is far greater than the others.  The Christian has substantially superior criteria for affirming the New Testament documents than he does for any other ancient writing.  It is good evidence on which to base the trust in the reliability of the New Testament” (https://carm.org/manuscript-evidence  Matt Slick).

 

D.    “In the entire 20,000 lines of text, only 40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words) and none affects any significant doctrine.  This means that the Greek text from which we derive our New Testament translations is 99.5 percent pure” (www.equip.org/article/facts-for-skeptics-of-the-new-testament, Gregory Koukl).

 

CONCLUSION

 

A.    The Old Testament’s accuracy was confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls.

 

B.      The New Testament’s accuracy is confirmed by the number of manuscripts and the early dates of many of the manuscripts that are in existence.

 

C.     We definitely have the Word of God in our possession in the Hebrew and Greek languages.