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A brief introduction to the history of the New Testament
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By Sam Huizenga
105 Balmoral Ave. N
Hamilton, On. Canada
New Testament (NT) revelation was originally communicated through prophets who spoke as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.
This method waned and finally ceased in the latter part of the first century.
During this time, the Spirit inspired various authors to write the letters of the NT.
Artist depiction of the Apostle Paul
Other letters were written, but faithful Christians were able to discern which letters were inspired by God and which ones weren’t.
The church councils of the fourth century which listed the canonic books of the Bible were only supporting what was already realized by faithful believers.
Artist’s depiction of the Apostle Paul
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries were a time of terrible scripture corruption.
Ancient scholars edited the Word and changed the scriptures according to their own heresies and ungodly theology.
Most of the existing manuscripts from this period are unreliable because they contain these editorial corruptions.
Sample of the Sinaiticus manuscript
The Greek speaking churches in the east held the original autographs for possibly up to the late 2nd century.
Reliable copies of the autographs were made and copies of those copies were produced. Over time a history of faithful scripture transmission developed in the east.
Early century manuscripts of this type are rare because of their being worn out by constant use.
Early map of Eastern Roman (or “Byzantine”) Empire
In the west the Latin speaking churches rapidly fell into Catholic superstition and ritualism
During the dark ages the Word of God was withheld from the common people and idolatrous Catholic dogma was taught instead.
Pope Gregory “The Great”
The underlying Bible of the Catholic church was the Latin Vulgate, first edited by Jerome in 404 A.D. John Wycliffe produced an English translation of the Vulgate in 1382 and was persecuted for it.
In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman invaders marking the end of the Byzantine empire.
Greek scholars together with many precious manuscripts moved to Europe exposing the Catholic west for the first time to the reliable text of the original scriptures.
Martin Luther nails his “95 Theses” to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg.
The influx of faithful scripture manuscripts prompted a revival of Biblical truth in the west. A movement emerged which claimed only the scriptures for Divine authority and turned away from Catholic heresy. It wasn’t long before a Greek NT was produced which would become the underlying Bible of this movement, the Reformation.
In 1440 the printing press was invented in Germany by Johannes Gutenberg.
Gutenberg Printing Press
In 1516 Dutch Scholar Desiderius Erasmus published the first printed Greek NT which was later called the “TextusReceptus” (TR)
Erasmus’s Greek NT was printed in a single inexpensive volume and was published ahead of the official Catholic Greek NT, the expensive “Complutensian Polyglot”.
The TR was an immediate success. The fact that it was relatively inexpensive and available outside of official Catholic control enabled it to be acquired by many who previously didn’t have access to the Greek scriptures. It became the underlying Greek NT of the Reformation. The Byzantine text reflected in the TR stood in stark contrast to the corrupted Latin text used by the Catholic Church.
Luther translated Erasmus’s 2nd edition into German in 1522. Tyndale translated it into English in 1526. Casiodoro de Reina translated it into Spanish in 1569. Many other translations were made as a revival of God’s Word spread like wildfire.
Casiodoro de Reina
Further editions of the TR were produced by Robert Estienne (1503-1559), Theodore Beza (1519-1605) and the Elzivir brothers.
English translations of the TR include Tyndale’s (1525), Miles Coverdale (1539), the “Great” Bible, The Geneva Bible (1560), The Bishop’s Bible (1568) and finally the King James Version (1611).
The KJV was an attempt by King James 1 to appease puritan sympathies in the Church of England. A team of 47 excellent, God-fearing scholars worked exclusively on the project from 1604-1608. A general council edited and reviewed their work after that. The KJV stands as one of the finest examples of carefulness and thoroughness in the history of textual scholarship. The translators used the TR as the basis for the NT and the completed work was first published in 1611.
King James I of England
The importance of the KJV cannot be overstated. It was the crowning jewel of the Reformation period. It’s presence was instrumental in shaping history and it’s impact is still felt today. As England emerged into a global power the influence of the KJV spread throughout the world. It dominated over a period of scriptural fidelity, spiritual enlightenment and gospel outreach such as was not seen since the days of the Apostles.
God has always been active in tending to and preserving His own Word. Even throughout the Dark Ages the text of holy scripture was preserved intact. By Divine providence the preserved text was again brought into the forefront during the Reformation. It overcame the shackles of Catholicism and prospered for the next three centuries. The KJV is a reliable translation of that preserved text. It comes to us stained by the blood of faithful Christians who suffered so that God’s Word could be possessed by the common people.
Throughout the late 1700’s and the 1800’s there was a movement to edit the NT using rationalist principles. Scholars such as Johann Griesbach (1745 – 1812) and Karl Lachmann (1783 – 1851) were pioneers of this critical method. The goal of the rationalists was to dethrone the “vile” TR and replace it with a Greek NT that was revised by the principles of faithless textual criticism.
In 1844 Constantin von Tischendorf discovered a complete Bible manuscript (the Sinaiticus or “aleph”) at a Greek monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Later another complete Greek manuscript (the Vaticanus or “B”) was made available by the Vatican Library. These two ancient codices are dated from the 4th century and differ greatly from the majority of NT manuscripts that are reflected in the TR.
Both the Sinaiticus (aleph) and the Vaticanus (B) can be traced back to the revision work of early heretics. 2nd and 3rd century apostates such as Origen edited the text of scripture and produced corrupted editions to suit their own gnostic beliefs.
Artist rendering of Origen
Even though aleph and B were clearly unreliable rationalist scholars in the 1800’s used them as a basis to correct the TR and to produce a critical Greek NT instead. Textual critics ignored the fact that these manuscripts disagree with each other in hundreds of places. They ignored the fact that they differ from the majority of manuscripts in thousands of places. Unbelieving scholars mistakenly taught that these corrupted manuscripts were superior simply because they are older.
English Revised Version of 1881
In 1870 the Church of England passed a motion to revise the KJV. 54 scholars were divided into two committees, one for the OT and one for the NT. The original intention was to simply update the language of the KJV.
Mariolotry, Darwinism and Unitarianism were some of the beliefs represented on the revision council of 1881.
However, the NT committee had two members with an ulterior motive. Brook F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort had spent the previous two decades developing a Greek NT using Aleph and B as a basis. They influenced the committee into not only updating the language but changing the underlying Greek text of the NT from the TR to their own critical version.
Brook F. Westcott
In 1881 the English Revised Version (ERV) was published in England. The American Standard Version (ASV) was published in the U.S.A in 1901. Both versions are based on the revisions of Westcott and Hort who preferred the corrupted Sinaiticus and Vaticanus over the majority of existing faithful manuscripts.
The ERV was opposed by many scholars who weren’t impressed with Westcott and Hort’s critical principles. God-fearing men like F.H.A. Scrivener (1813-1891) and John Burgon (1813-1888) stood for the Divine Preservation of the Bible and argued for the priority of the TR. They denounced the scholarship of unbelief that would “correct” the sacred scriptures according to the witness of two corrupted manuscripts.
The first critical versions were unpopular. The KJV proved hard to be dethroned. However, new committees were formed and further revisions of the NT were produced. These new versions followed similar principles to the Westcott–Hort Greek NT. They continued to prefer Aleph and B over the majority of Greek NT manuscripts.
Eberhard Nestle (1851-1913) published a critical Greek NT in 1898. Later his son Erwin Nestle (1883-1972) produced further editons. In 1952 Kurt Aland (1915-1994) became editor of Nestle’s Greek NT. The Nestle-Aland 27th edition is considered by textual critics to be one of two standard NT texts for our modern age.
In 1966 “The Greek New Testament” was published by the United Bible Societies (UBS). Among the members of the committee were Kurt Aland and Bruce Metzger (1914-2007). Metzger is considered to be one of the leading NT textual critics of the 20th century. He readily admits to preferring the readings of Aleph and B. The UBS 4th edition follows similar principles to the Westcott-Hort Greek NT. It is considered to be the second standard Greek NT for our modern age.
Even though these editions are corrupted by faulty textual criticism they have become the basis for all of our modern Bible versions. The New International Version, Revised Standard Version, English Standard version and the New King James Version are some of the English translations of these critical texts.
Let’s view a few examples of the critical versions and see how they affect the text of scripture.
In Matthew 19:17 Christ is making a point about His Divinity.
King James Version “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God…”
New International Version “Why do you ask me about what is good?
English Standard Version “Why do you ask me about what is good?”
Notice the force of Christ’s statement is seriously lessened. Although the Divinity of Christ still is taught in the critical versions it is substantially weakened.
KJV “ Saying, I am alpha and omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book…”
NIV “which said, “write on a scroll…”
ESV “saying, “write what you see in a book…”
Notice the critical versions remove an important statement by our Lord Jesus Christ. They are notorious for omitting words and/or entire verses that are important for doctrine. Some examples are the references to Christ’s virgin birth in Luke 2:33, the deity of Christ in 1 Tim 3:16, the deity of Christ again in Romans 14:10,12 and finally the blood of Christ in Colossians 1:14. The modern critical versions omit over 3000 words in the Gospels alone.
The critical versions are full of footnotes bringing doubt to the authenticity of many scripture verses.
For Instance, in between vs. 52 and 53 of John 7 the NIV includes a note stating “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-John 8:11.”
The ESV includes a note stating “The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53 to John 8:11.”
These statements insinuate that the story of the woman taken in adultery was not in the original autographs and therefore not Divine scripture. The precious words “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” have no force if our Lord Jesus never actually spoke them. Fortunately, this story is in the originals as witnessed by over 900 manuscripts. The manuscripts that cause the removal of these verses are the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.
John 6: 47
KJV “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.”
NIV “…he who believes has everlasting life.”
ESV “whoever believes has eternal life.”
KJV “…man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
NIV “It is written: man does not live on bread alone.”
ESV “… It is written, man shall not live by bread alone.”
KJV “ And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
NIV – nonexistent in the text, included in the footnotes with statement of doubt.
ESV – nonexistent in the text, included in the footnotes with statement of doubt.
Many scholars want to minimize the effect of the variants and omissions found in the critical texts. They argue that none of the major doctrines of the Christian Faith are affected but can be supported by the modern versions. The truth is that there are more then 5000 differences between the critical texts and the TR. This is much too serious to just shrug off. Doctrines like the Deity of Christ, the Trinity and Redemption by Faith are seriously weakened by these differences.
There is one doctrine that is destroyed by the modern versions. It is the doctrine of the Divine Preservation (DP) of God’s Word. DP means that God has been tending like a gardener to the text of His scriptures, weeding out errors that creep in and providing the pure Word to every generation. The revisions and changes found in the critical text were nonexistent for over 1000 years until aleph and B were discovered in the 1800’s. The Byzantine TR was the NT text used by faithful Christians during that time. Since God has promised to preserve His Word, we must conclude that the TextusReceptus represents that preserved text today. Moreover, we have a reliable translation of the TR in the King James Bible.
Matthew 5:18 “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
Psalm 12:6,7 “The Words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation forever.”
Let’s remember that from the beginning Satan has attempted to subtly modify the Word of God. We can take heart in the fact that God has promised to preserve His Word from devilish manipulation. Let us use spiritual discernment and hold to the Divinely preserved text of God’s Word in the KJV.