Dr Gary Shogren

The Eclectic Text of the New Testament

[You are encouraged to read the original post at Dr Shogren’s blog.]

 

 – a conspiracy against the Word?

 

God’s beloved Word – you bet I study it daily. Yes, as a Bible teacher, since my ministry is teaching the New Testament both in Spanish and in Greek. But more fundamentally I read the Bible simply as a Christian, because it is through the reading, meditation, and obedience of God’s Word that we grow as believers. [1]

Therefore it concerns me when I read about a supposed conspiracy, made up of people who secretly despise God’s Word and are paving the way for antichrist, out to destroy the Bible and leave us in the dark. These charges are leveled against the Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament, the very “critical” edition I and my students read and interpret. [2]

That’s why I am impelled to read up on the so-called Alexandrian Conspiracy to ruin the Bible. If it is a real and present danger, I want to know. If it is a false alarm, then I must communicate that to you, the readers.

"Don't destroy God's Word! Or change it!"

My conclusion:

If the critical edition of the New Testament be treason against God’s Holy Word, then it’s the most poorly executed conspiracy in the history of Bible study.

Let’s see why. One extreme theory has it that any manuscripts that were produced in Egypt were deliberately corrupted: Peter Ruckman [3] states that Alexandrian manuscripts from Egypt were perverted and mixed with Gnostic and with Arian ideas. Unfortunately, neither Ruckman or his followers seems to be familiar with what were historical Gnostic teachings (they include a rejection of the Genesis account of creation, the incarnation of Christ, his death on the cross, the resurrection, the second coming). Nor do they know that Arian doctrine deeply contradicts Gnosticism. Gail Riplinger adds that these manuscripts were a Satanic plot to remove the deity of Christ, salvation by faith in Christ alone, and that they were designed to prepare the church to accept the antichrist’s one world religion. She does not read Greek, and like many people in this camp, there always hangs the insinuation that those who have training in this field have been “brainwashed” and are worse than useless.

Very well. I propose a test.

I have chosen a book of the New Testament at random, Paul’s Epistle to Titus, since it is long enough to be a significant case study but not too long. Yet it is loaded with doctrine, including the sovereignty of God, the absolute need for his grace in salvation, the deity of Christ, the requirement for personal godliness, the preaching of God’s Word, the importance of pastors to teach the truth in holiness, the trustworthiness of the Word, the rejection of false doctrine, the vital importance of good works, sound doctrine, virtues of love, sobriety, family relationships, self-control, integrity, honesty, the blessed hope of Christ’s coming, the deity of Christ, his incarnation, Christ’s death to redeem his people from sin, justification by faith, regeneration and washing of the Holy Spirit, the three persons of the godhead, eternal life, and so forth.

The versions I have used are Stephanus’s edition of the Textus receptus (or TR, the 1550 version, found here; and the 28th edition of Nestle-Aland (or NA-28; published in 2012, the student can read the NA-28 free here . [4] I have them side-by-side on my screen in Logos software.

Let’s look at this randomly chosen text, and you will then judge for yourself if the Alexandrian manuscripts and the editors of NA-28 have gone out of their way to deliberately pervert the Bible teaching on the fundamental doctrines mentioned above. I will ask the reader to bear with me as we go, literally, word for word through the epistle.

Titus 1

Verses 1:1, 2, 3 are identical in the TR and the NA-28. Apparently the conspirators, if they existed, missed a golden opportunity to erase the statement that God “manifested his word through preaching” the gospel; that is hardly a Gnostic way to teach, which is through the secret passing along of hidden truth. Why did no Alexandrian erase it from the Bible?

In 1:4 the TR has “grace, mercy, and peace”; the NA-28 has “grace and peace.” Does this mean that the Alexandrian editors were tearing the mercy (ελεος/eleos) of God from the pages of Holy Writ? Goodness no, since they “accidentally” let stand “according to his mercy he saved us” in Titus 3:5. A later copyist accidentally added it in here in 1:4, almost certainly because he was recalling its presence in 1 Tim 1:2 and 2 Tim 1:2; that is, it was a simple transcription error, not evidence of a plot. Also in 1:4, “the Lord Jesus Christ” in the TR is “Christ Jesus” in the NA-28. Is this a plot to destroy the Lordship of Christ? Hardly, as any quick read through Titus will affirm, and as the hundreds of reference to the Lord Jesus reveal throughout the NA-28. The answer for this change is that it was common, when scribes were copying their manuscripts, to accidentally confuse Christ Jesus for Jesus Christ, to add the title Lord, etc.

Another wet firecracker of our imaginary conspirators comes up in 1:5, where Paul left Titus behind in Crete. In the TR, it’s the verb καταλειπω/kataleipō, whereas in the NA-28 it’s απολειπω/apoleipō. What have they done to pervert the text? Not much, since the two verbs are close synonyms – Titus was “left behind” in both versions, and in English there is no difference. We have to ponder, what possible motive could someone have had to “ruin” God’s word by swapping two close synonyms?

1:6-9, the TR and NA-28 are identical. A conspirator would have had the perfect opportunity to eliminate from his “new revised Bible” a verse such as “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” But it’s still there.

1:10, as in 2:10, 2:11, and twice in 3:8, the NA-28 has an additional “definite article”, which functions in Greek differently than it does in English, as anyone knows who has studied the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ misinterpretation of John 1:1. In these five instances in Titus, there is no difference at all in meaning, and the KJV and ESV translate 1:10 as “the circumcision.”

1:11-14 are identical in TR and NA-28.

1:15 the little connective word μεν/men is found in the TR, not in the NA-28. It makes no difference in an English translation, and so they come out the same.

1:15 there are two forms of the verb μιαινω/miainō, that is, μεμιασμενοις‌ in the TR and in the NA-28 μεμιαμμένοις. They are two forms of the exact same verb and both mean “but to those who are defiled.”

Titus 2

2:1-4 are identical, to the letter, in the TR and in NA-28. What a missed opportunity for these hypothetical conspirators, to rip out 2:1 from the Bible – “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.”

2:5, where Titus should teach wives how to conduct themselves, there is a small difference between οικουρους/oikourous and οικουργους/oikourgous. They not only look alike, they are pronounced almost identically, meaning that the change over the years was due to a scribe mishearing the word. But anyway, what earth-shaking change is there between the TR and NT-28? Zero change, both mean to be “busy at home.”

2:6, the texts of TR and NA-28 are identical.

2:7, the difference is minor. In the TR, Titus’ teaching should be in “uncorruptness”, using the term αδιαφθορια/adiaphthoria. But this is also the meaning of the term ἀφθορία/aphthoria in the NA-28! In the English one would not notice the difference. The TR uses the term aphthoria later in the verse, probably because the scribe was thinking of a similar text in 2 Tim 1:10.

2:8, the word order is changed in the last clause, as it can be in the Greek with no alteration of meaning – it still comes out “having no evil thing to say”. There is also a difference between the pronoun “of you” in the TR and “of us” in the NA-28. The two pronouns were pronounced alike and are often confused in the transmission of the New Testament text, but it does not mean that someone was tinkering with the Bible’s message. The same thing happens in 2:10, “your God” and “our God”.

2:10, the order of the words “all” and “faith” are switched between the TR and the NA-28, but given that this is the Greek language, and words can change order without changing the meaning of the sentence, we would have to rate this a zero with regard to an attack on God’s word – in both cases it comes out “in all things”.

2:12-15, the texts are identical, to the letter. 2:11 has a tiny change that does not alter the meaning of the text (see above under 1:10). But I want to stop here and underscore what it is we’re seeing. If some sort of Alexandrian Gnostic Gospel-Hating Bible-Destroyer in the fourth century AD really and truly wanted to corrupt the true Word of God by introducing new doctrines into the text, then why didn’t he do so when presented with this golden opportunity? For this short section of Titus 2:11-15 is densely packed with one tenet after another that would be anathema to any Gnostic. First, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (as the KJV) – no self-respecting Gnostic would leave this alone, since it was a fundamental to his thinking that God brings salvation only to a spiritual elite, that is, the members of the Gnostic movement. Second, dividing time into “this present world” and the age to come (see also Eph 1:21, which is clearly affirmed in the NA-28) – Gnostics absolutely rejected this sort of chronology. Third, the blessed hope, the coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ – Gnostics completely rejected a literal second coming. Fourth, from what some have said, the “Secret Alexandrian Society to Destroy your Bible” was going to every length to tear out the deity of Christ from the Bible – but somehow they missed out on one of the great texts of his godhood, Titus 2:13. Look at any version of the Bible based on the critical text – the NIV, the NASB, the ESV, you name it – and the deity of Christ shines as clearly as can be, as magnificently as in the 1611 KJV. Fifth, in 2:14 we have the doctrine that Christ “gave himself” in death to “redeem us” – no self-respecting Gnostic would have borne with that notion, as they denied the death of Christ on the cross.

If someone had done a supposed Gnostic-New Ager scissor-and-paste job on Titus 2:11-15, it would have come out as brief as it would be unrecognizable: For the cosmic knowledge has appeared, bringing spiritual enlightenment to a few initiates.

On to chapter 3.

Titus 3

Titus 3:1 The TR adds the word και/kai between “principalities and powers”. NA-28 does not have that word. However, in English one translates it exactly the same, whether the word kai is present or not. No difference.

In 3:2 the TR has πραοτητα/praotēta, the NA-28 πραυτητα/prautēta. They sure look similar! That’s because these are merely two spellings of the same word for “gentleness”. The difference is no more significant than that between the American “Savior” and the British “Saviour”, see below in 3:4 – it’s the same word and it means “gentleness”.

3:3-4 are identical in both editions. That is, no textual conspirator thought to remove the anti-Gnostic and anti-New Age idea “after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared”!

3:5 has a simple change of word order. And because Greek does not place as much stress on word order as does the English, the meaning comes out the same as “works of righteousness which we have done.” Later in 3:5 there is a difference in spelling for “mercy” – the Greek case is different – but the meaning is exactly the same, as shown by a comparison of the KJV with the ESV – “according to his mercy he saved us” compared with “he saved us…according to his own mercy”.

3:6 is identical in TR and NA-28, the verse dealing with the salvation that God poured out “in Jesus Christ our Savior.” What? The way of salvation is through Christ? No New Age agenda here!

3:7 has the same exact message, only that the form of the aorist subjunctive verb γινομαι/ginomai is in the middle voice in the TR and the passive in the NA-28 – which two forms translate exactly the same – “we should be made” (KJV).

3:9-12 are identical in the TR and NA-28. The hypothetical destroyer of the original text dropped the ball on this, where he could have eliminated from the Epistle to Titus such warnings against false doctrine.

3:13 has the difference of a single letter ν/nu. The TR has απολλω/apollō, whereas the NA-28 has Απολλων/Apollōn – they are simply two different versions of the name Apollos, the man we know from Acts and 1 Corinthians.

3:14 is identical in TR and NA-28.

3:15 is the same in both versions, with the exception that the TR adds “Amen” to the end of the verse. This is a very typical feature of Byzantine manuscripts, since pious scribes would tend to add an Amen at the end of inspired books, in places where the apostle did not write it.

In addition to these data, many scholars believe that the Pastoral Epistles, including Titus, were written to combat at least an early form of Gnosticism. If that is the case, then how is it that supposed Gnostic Destroyers of the Text gave Titus a free pass with all its anti-Gnostic warnings?

We can get help from a classic Sherlock Holmes story: “Silver Blaze” is the mystery of a stolen racehorse. Holmes broke the mystery by pondering the implications of why the guard dog didn’t bark while the horse was being taken. He deduced that the dog must have known the thief, ergo, the owner must have stolen his own horse. This is the rule of “the dog that didn’t bark” and it can be applied quite nicely to our study of Titus: it is the case of the Gnostic/New Ager Greek New Testament Editor that didn’t do anything to further his cause; the best explanation is that such a person did not, does not exist.

Looking at the data above, let’s think through, which then is the more likely explanation?

Scenario A – that a Gnostic/Alexandrian/New Ager went through Titus and plotted, Aha, I will change the words for “left behind” in 1:5 and “uncorruptness” in 2:7, move around a couple of definite articles and change word order where it makes no difference, use an alternate spelling of some words – the name of Apollos, for example – vainly remove the word “and” in 3:1, and I will cut out the “Amen” at the very end? And also remove the word “Lord” in 1:4 but leave hundreds of instances in the whole New Testament? And remove the word “mercy” in 1:4 but accidently or on purpose leave it in at 3:5? Does this bear the marks of some Master Plan to destroy Titus?

Or is the other explanation more plausible, more serious, and in line with the evidence:

Scenario B – that in the normal course of copying manuscripts by hand – and we have thousands of copies that show that these are precisely the kinds of changes that take place over the centuries – that one reference to the “Lord” was added in by a later scribe, that “Amen” was added by a pious scribe, that the rhyming words led to changes between “of you” to “of us” in 2:8 and other changes of spellings, a word more or less that doesn’t change the meaning and is unnoticeable in any English version, including the KJV.

Why in the world would the Nestle-Aland or the Alexandrian text family introduce such trivial changes in the text? Remember that the Alexandrian Conspiracy Theory is nothing less than that someone is manipulating the text not to introduce tiny changes, but in order to destroy the gospel and the fundamental doctrines of our faith.

And if someone wants to backtrack and say, “Well, obviously, the conspiracy did this to throw us off the track of what they werereally doing!” then perhaps – and only you can say – we are lowering ourselves into a level of logic where data does not matter, unless it happens to agree with one’s basic assumption.

God’s inspired Word deserves better treatment.

Our little study of Titus leads us in the direction that if the critical edition of the New Testament be a conspiracy, then its plotters were of the very worst rank. We could say that, if this sort of incompetency, ineptness, and bungling had characterized the terrorists on 9/11, then the hijackers would have posted “selfies” on Facebook along with an announcement of their plan, accidentally ground up their passports and tickets in the garbage disposal, run over each other in the parking lot, walked face-first into glass doors at the airport, made “hijacking” jokes and got arrested at Security, and generally been agents of goofiness rather than agents of danger. The Twin Towers would still be intact.

Modern editions of the Greek New Testament, especially the Nestle-Aland edition, do not seek to “change” or corrupt the Bible. Their goal is a simple one, to determine, “What did the apostles write originally, word for word, letter for letter?” Their method is to take into account all of the ancient manuscripts plus quotations of the text by church fathers and ancient translations into other languages. They publish their findings and also show to the world the evidence they used in order to reach their decisions. Nothing is done in a corner. They do not seek to add, subtract, or replacewords from the Bible, but to remove what has been accidentally added, restore that which has been accidentally removed, and replace so as to have the original word that the apostle used.

If you like the King James Version, by all means use it – although I recommend that you do not read as Scripture the books of Sirach, 1 Maccabees, and the other apocrypha which the original 1611 version contained! If you like the Textus receptus, which reliably transmits the Word of God, then fine – although I would recommend the New King James. My goal is not to take the KJV or NKJV away from you, but to demonstrate that they are not the only reliable Bibles in English.

The critical text does not lead to spiritual apostasy, as it is the Word of God, and in a slightly more accurate text than that of theTextus receptus. Sure, there are fans of the critical text who lose their faith; there are also plenty of Textus receptus or KJV-only people who go astray. I don’t know about you readers, but I can report that my confidence in the New Testament is stronger than ever, as is my awareness that I must obey it – and apart from some times when I read in the KJV or NKJV or the Reina Valera in Spanish, I read from the Nestle-Aland Greek text or from some version based upon it.

Let’s all immerse ourselves in God’s precious, inspired Word.

NOTES:

[1] I invite the reader to visit my essay about my own study of Scripture, starting here.  I should also mention that in my theology blogs – in English, in Spanish – I am typically not engaging with other scholars, but with a broader audience. The Textus receptusissue, while still a live one in English, is today a much hotter issue in the Spanish-speaking church.

[2] Let not the word “critical” mislead us. It is not a “critical” edition in the sense of judging and changing the Bible, but rather in the sense of carefully analyzing all the thousands of manuscripts from antiquity.

[3] Chick Publications has joined in the fray, relying on the “findings” of Peter Ruckman. Given that Ruckman has invented new doctrines concerning the inspiration of the 1611 King James Version, the End Times, demons, and other issues, I do not hesitate for a moment in labeling Ruckmanism a sect. Some believe that if teaching is “fiery” then it is more accurate. Wrong –Jesus-is-Savior.com is one of the most scorching of websites, and its authors seem able to write without the burdens of self-criticism or objectivity. One of its essays begins “Men have been ‘handling the word of God deceitfully’ (II Cor. 4:2) ever since the devil first taught Eve how. From Cain to Balaam, from Jehudi to the scribes and Pharisees, from the Dark Age theologians to present-day scholars, the living words of the Almighty God have been prime targets for man’s corrupting hand. The attacks on the Word of God are threefold: addition, subtraction, and substitution. From Adam’s day to the computer age, the strategies have remained the same. There is nothing new under the sun. One attack which is receiving quite a bit of attention these days is a direct attack on the Word of God as preserved in the English language: the King James Version of 1611.” In other words, the writer sets up the reader to expect that any revision of a particular Bible version, the 1611 KJV, is by definition Satanic – he then breathlessly tells you what evil plot is going on. The author sets up the pins and then knocks them down. Jesus-is-Savior.com does not let people to comment on its essays, which are full of holes and could be easily refuted if that were allowed. As for the author of New Age Bible Versions, “Dr.” Gail Riplinger has her degree in home economics. Her unearned doctorate comes from the fundamentalist Hyles-Anderson College; she is not the person to go to for help in reading Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek texts, tracing the history of Bible manuscripts, or for that matter, telling an accurate version of the work of the New Testament scholarship over the last two centuries. She depends heavily on the writings of Dean Burgon, in the 19th century. Burgon was on the one hand a defender of biblical inspiration, but he also was capable of penning the most vile, gossipy slander against Westcott and Hort, ripping sentences out of context to make them confess their errors “from their own mouths” (They belong to a secret cult! They are closet worshipers of the Virgin Mary!). All nonsense; Riplinger hasn’t the tools to analyze Burgon’s opinions about New Testament criticism nor those of Westcott and Hort. In fact, they were both firm defenders of the faith, fighting against liberalism and for world missions. While we want to affirm that everyone has access to God’s Word, this does not mean that everyone is qualified to do the sort of deeper study that textual criticism entails – people devote their lives to this quest.

[4] This test has been simplified, because the Nestle-Aland 28 text does not always follow the so-called Alexandrian text of Sinaiticus (ﬡ, or 01) – see above under Titus 1:10. Also, the manuscript Vaticanus (B, or 03) was damaged at some point in time and lost pages; this sometimes happened over centuries of wear and tear. For that reason the original manuscript of Vaticanus does not contain the text of Titus – that is, Vaticanus didn’t simply omit it!

Visit Dr Shogren’s blog to comment on his article.

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/cmc-gary-shogren-sm.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Copyright Gary Shogren.

Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica[/author_info] [/author]

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