"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Knowing God: Part 5

I was pondering whether or not to launch into Equidistant Letter Sequencing (ELS) codes that prove the Bible is of supernatural origin, but my guest, "tpmoney," brought up the issue about "which version."  This is worth covering here before I move on to ELS codes, because before we had the discovery of those codes -- made possible only with modern computers -- we have always had manuscript evidence.

One of the myths that critics of the Bible like to casually throw around or repeat is the idea that the Bible we have today can't possibly have survived until now without serious redactions, editing, or alteration.  This myth easily gets perpetuated because the vast majority of folks who call themselves Christians are too lazy or don't care to answer the false charge.  That is why in my last post I talked about Josh McDowell and Evidence That Demands A Verdict.  You see, I don't need to re-invent the wheel here.  That volume meticulously demonstrates that the manuscripts of the Old Testament have been faithfully copied down through the centuries with only the minutest of errors that don't even change any of the meaning of the texts. We also have many extant manuscripts that date very close to the first century CE, and the writings of the early disciples of the apostles to testify as to what should be considered Scripture and what is not.  If you are serious about knowing whether or not the Bible is true or not, you can go check out McDowell's work or Stroebel's work.  McDowell's work is heavily footnoted to all of the source material.  Let me deal with each of TPMONEY's points.

"So which version of the Bible contains the truth? While the original scribes may have been intent of preserving the history as it was, we've since had 2000 years of editing and cutting and politics interfering."

Over the years when I have heard someone make the claim of redacting or editing of the Bible, my question is always: "Give me an example."  To which I get nothing.  I keep asking and I keep getting nothing.  The reason is because you would have to have manuscript or archaeological evidence that at some point the text said one thing, and then later it was found to say something else.  Is everybody clear on that?  Upon questioning further, I find out that this is what they heard somebody else say with no evidence to back it up.  Once again, it's all about empirical evidence. Most critics of the Bible haven't got a clue about how the process of copying Holy Scripture is done.  Which is why they just assume that errors must have occurred as their imagination warrants.  So let me explain.

A Torah scroll is considered a very, very sacred object. The standards for how the Hebrew Scriptures must be written was established by Moses and has been carried down ever since. It must be written on kosher animal skin (most likely lamb).  It must be written with a certified kosher quill that meets very demanding standards.  In order to be a scribe who is going to create a faithful, kosher (perfect) copy of a Torah scroll, you not only must have been educated and bar mitzvahed and considered a righteous man, you then must spend five years learning the most intricate details of forming the sacred letters of a scroll. The picture to the right is of the letter "tsade" (pronounced tsah-dee). You can see that this isn't like gouging cuniform into clay tablets. This isn't like taking dictation or mass producing books to sell to the general public.  The act of writing the letters was considered creating holy art.  The characters in a Torah scroll are not like the common Hebrew you see every day or in other writings. There are special quirks all throughout a Torah scroll that seem to have hidden meaning, but that must be faithfully reproduced to look exactly like the original. This is why even the least expensive kosher Torah scrolls can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Strange things like oddly larger than normal or smaller than normal characters in certain spots, some letters that are stretched way out on the page.  Places where gaps of a certain length must be kept.  Some words have special little strokes placed a certain way above each letter.  After each segment is copied by a scribe with the special attention to all of this detail, it must be inspected by at least three and possibly five other more experienced scribes to make sure that each detail has been faithfully executed.  One of the inspectors even counts the characters backward on the scroll to make sure the numbers match.  If a scribe makes an error while writing any regular word on a segment, he may carefully scrape off the layer of ink and make the correction as long as it is not visible to the naked eye, but if he makes any mistake in copying the tetragrammaton, the Holy Name of God (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey) that entire segment becomes unredeemable and must be set aside for burial.  It cannot be used under any circumstances. If a segment is found to contain an error after the whole segment was completed, it also is set aside for burial.  It cannot be used.  There was no editing.  Creating a new scroll of Holy Scripture as a copy is not like copying your friend's history essay in high school.  It's more like creating a forgery of the Mona Lisa that you'd like to sell.

When the first copies were starting to be written, it was still fresh in the minds of the Jews that they were dealing with the One and Only God who wiped out the Egyptians and struck fear in the hearts of every inhabitant of the middle east from as far south as Ethiopia to as far north as what is now Lebanon.  When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave in Qumran, their discovery was monumental because they proved that the modern day copies of the book of Isaiah, the most complete examples found there, were essentially identical, meaning that a thousand years of faithful transmission by copying had preserved the text.

Political interfering?  What would that be?  Israel didn't have a king for the first 400 years of their history after Moses.  If there was to be political interference, where would it come from and why?  Regardless of that, where is there any evidence of that?  Asking me, "What about political interference?" is like asking me, "What about the influence of the Australian Aborigines?"  I made the statement before that the Bible records about the kings of Israel (both kingdoms) just as they are, warts and all.  If someone had political reasons to edit Scripture, who were they, what were their reasons, and what is the evidence for it?

I'm one of those people who get's fairly peeved by that silly bumper sticker saying, "If it ain't King James, it ain't Bible"  The King James Version has some good things going for it, but as a translation from the original language it can't be perfect.  Sorry if this is the first you are hearing this, and it upsets your sensitivities, but that's the way it is.  Some poor, undereducated folks have seen that word "Authorized" in the KJV and thought somehow it got there by the hand of God Himself.  Sorry, not so.  What that "authorized" means is that it was finally authorized by King James of England after centuries of it being illegal, on pain of death, to translate the Scriptures from the Latin into English so the laity could read it for themselves. [UPDATE: see comment below, somebody did some serious research to correct a misperception of mine. Apparently not all of Europe had problems with the Bible being translated into local languages. Congrats to good research.]  Some of the KJVs were so fraught with errors that they had to be recalled.  Gutenberg's invention had made printing so easy in comparison to hand copying that it made it easy to get careless.

The vast majority of "Christians" know little to nothing about their own church's history, let alone the history of translations from the Greek Septuagint to the Latin Vulgate.  Most Christians in America don't know that the KJV wasn't even accepted by most of the puritans who fled to these shores precisely because it was King Jame's Bible.  They were mostly all using something called the Geneva Bible.  Many of the most educated of our founding fathers and others in Europe, such as Sir Isaac Newton, studied Hebrew and Greek in order to study the Bible in it's original language.  Newton spent most of his life trying to discover the hidden codes that he was sure existed in the Bible.  Alas, he was ahead of his time.

I'm still learning Hebrew, but I know enough to read it in the original language and compare it to the interlinear versions and cross reference to the concordances and lexicons.  Some of the greatest difficulty stems from the fact that Hebrew has a very small vocabulary compared to English.  Where we may have twenty different words with various shades or connotations of meaning, there is just one word in Hebrew and the context determines the meaning.  For the most part, it is pretty straight forward, especially in the historical sections.  The only places I run into problems, along with scholars far beyond my ability is when it comes to prophetic passages that have yet to be fulfilled.  I'm still stunned by people who can be shown all the stuff that has been fulfilled and still don't believe, but then I covered that in a previous post.

TPMONEY also said: "what about things like the gnostic gospels?"

The gnostic gospels are called that because they apparently were written by men who had their own mystical ideas about Christ and what it took to be saved.  The term "gnostic" comes from the Greek word "gnosis" meaning knowledge, and in this case, arcane or mystical knowledge that had nothing to do with the historical and factual Jesus.  They are an extreme contrast to the canonical gospels since the gnostic "versions" were not discovered until many centuries later.  Far removed from any eyewitnesses, let alone tertiary or more separation from anybody who knew the apostles.  They are no more important than 17th century novels about Jesus.  The canonical gospels were already circulating within 30 to 70 years of Yeshua's resurrection. Matthew's possibly earlier, having started out in Hebrew.  We know from the impeccable historian Luke that the body of believers was growing rapidly due to the appeal of eyewitness testimony of those who had seen and heard all that had happened with Yeshua. Luke compiled his gospel in a chronological fashion and interviewed many eyewitnesses, friends and family members of the Messiah and His followers. Had there been any significant mistakes in the accounts of the gospels, there would have been plenty of people who could have stepped up and said, "Hey, wait a minute; that's not how it happened at all."  And before I move on, let me make this point: because the apostles and all the initial disciples of the Messiah were Jewish, they would have regarded the recordings of the sayings and actions of the Messiah as on par with Torah.  Therefore, when it came to making copies of those writings for distribution to the congregations throughout Israel and beyond, they would have taken the same great care with the transmission of copies, and this is borne out in the extant manuscripts that scholars know of today.

TPMONEY continued:  "If the included gospels can have such differing interpretations of the same even  [sic](IIRC, of the 4 gospels, only 2 mention that the crucifixion had two other prisoners, and only 1 mentions that one was repentant, while the other say s they were both mocking) how can we be sure whichever version we have is "correct"? Or perhaps a better question is how did you decide which version to accept?

The mistake that my guest makes here would be well known to any law enforcement officer.  If you get just two, let alone four "witnesses" apart for questioning, and each of their stories are identical in every detail, you immediately know that something is wrong.  It's a concocted story.  Don't take my word, go ask a detective or google investigative techniques.

As for the differences, each of the gospel writers had slightly different perspectives on the events.After the arrest of Jesus, the disciples scattered.  Even after the resurrection, there were times when the disciples weren't all together all the time.  The gospel accounts weren't given as testimony in a court where there was a prosecutor cross examining and asking why one writer didn't mention something that another one did.  Missing details don't make a story false.  Conflicting details can.  Some things that were important to one guy weren't important to note for the other.  The important thing is that none of the four gospel accounts disagree with each other on any substantive issues.  One writer didn't say Jesus said one thing, and another writer said he said something just the opposite.  The four writers also had reasons for emphasizing different aspects of Yeshua's ministry, which obviated the need to tell of some things and not others, and finally, the gospels are all incredibly short, considering they spanned three years of the Messiah's life.  But a much more in depth study of the question of the four gospels and their qualities comes from a distinguished professor of law.

Dr. Simon Greenleaf specialized in law and was responsible for writing the standards for documentary evidence and examination of testimony of witnesses.  He was challenged by his students regarding the truth of the four gospel accounts. Dr. Simon Greenleaf, one of the principle founders of the Harvard Law School, originally set out to disprove the biblical testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was certain that a careful examination of the internal witness of the Gospels would dispel all the myths at the heart of Christianity. But this legal scholar came to the conclusion that the witnesses were reliable, and that the resurrection did in fact happen.  The result of his research and his conclusions is in the book, The Testimony of the Four Evangelists.  It completely puts to rest any idea that there is a problem or any conflict between the gospels.

Once again, I'm barely scratching the surface here when it comes to the overwhelming evidence that the Bible of the Hebrews is a book that defies explanation as an invention of mere men.  I can't take 25+ years of just my learning and stuff it all into this blog.  I wish I could take everything I've learned and download it to your brain like a few JPEG files, but it doesn't work that way.  If nobody raises any more questions for me to answer in the next day or so, I'll move on to ELS codes.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings and Happy New Year,

    I was wondering if you might reconsider your comment on it "being illegal, on pain of death, to translate the Scriptures from the Latin into English so the laity could read it for themselves."

    This is one of those myths that never seems to die. The Bible and its many parts were translated into English often and well before the Reformation. See, for example:




    Thanks for your consideration!


Please don't make me disable comments because you couldn't maintain decorum and civil discourse. You can disagree all you want to, just don't get nasty.