the new testament
During the last 30 years there has been a significant increase in the number of versions of the Bible available to us. The 1611 King James Version that served so well, and had no serious competitor for over 300 years is now surrounded with alternatives. The new versions now available are of course benefits to study because we can compare alternative renderings of verses. However, we should be aware of the dangers in this wide choice.
Some Bibles are paraphrases (e.g. The Living Bible, 1971). A paraphrase version is achieved by merging translation and exposition, so that if the personal views of the translators are faulty, then we are no longer reading the inspired Word, but the ideas of the translator. A version may be simple to read and understand, but enquirers after truth can be misled. We do not need to be linguists nor qualified in the Hebrew and Greek languages to understand Scripture, but we should be alert to textual changes that lead to shifts in doctrine in “new translations.”
The New International Version (NIV) contains abundant information on the source documents used for the Old Testament. The paragraph on the text begins: “For the Old Testament the standard Hebrew text, the Masoretic Text as published in the latest editions of Biblia Hebraica was used throughout…” Further detail runs to about 225 words. See page 22.
However, the preface allocates only 78 words to inform us about the New Testament sources and is silent about the actual Greek manuscripts used, telling us: “The Greek text used for translating the New Testament was an eclectic one… The best current printed texts of the Greek New Testament were used.” The translators examine all the variations of a given verse and then come to their own opinion on how it ought to read. This approach appears to provide ample opportunity for doctrinal bias. A reading of the NIV will show that the New Testament is where almost all the doctrinally significant changes have been made.
There are over 5,250 Greek texts of all types available which range from a scrap with parts of a couple of verses to complete New Testaments. About 80% 90% of manuscripts are in essential agreement amongst themselves and support the Authorised Version1 which is based upon what has been called the Textus Receptus or “Received Text.” This Received Text is sometimes also known as the Byzantine text because of its association with the Church in the East. It is interesting that the Greek New Testament text used by the Greek Orthodox Church today is the same as that which forms the basis of the Authorised Version (KJV).
The more recent versions of the Bible, since 1881 (starting with the Revised Version) are based on a small group of manuscripts which not only differ from the majority but are also at variance with each other. The two main manuscripts that are used for this eclectic text are Codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) which are believed to date from the fourth century. These manuscripts along with a small number of other manuscripts circulated mostly in Egypt and the West provide the basis for most modern versions such as the RV, RSV, NIV, NEB, GNB, REB, NRSV
The Codex Vaticanus (B) was found in the Vatican library in the fifteenth century and Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) found (1859) in a dustbin in a Catholic Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. These two manuscripts have many omissions. For example, Codex B has the whole of Revelation missing and parts of Genesis, Psalms, Hebrews and some of Paul’s writings. Codex Aleph includes the apocryphal books mixed in with the New Testament and omissions of many single verses. Their reliability may be assessed from the fact that: “These two manuscripts have been altered by as many as ten different correctors over the centuries and are therefore corrupted copies.”2
In the nineteenth century Greek manuscripts were grouped into text types. The Alexandrian group is based on a small number of manuscripts. The Aleph and B are the two principal manuscripts of the Alexandrian text type and modern New Testament Greek texts are based largely on them.
Two Different Texts
So far as the New Testament is concerned, we have two different Greek texts and therefore two different Bibles. On one hand there is the AV based on the Received Text, on the other, those based on an eclectic text. The NIV is based on a combination of the United Bible Societies’ and Nestle Aland printed Greek New Testament text, but it is the doctrinal differences which should be of concern to us. In particular the shifts in emphasis to the pre existence of Christ, and the trinity.
The chart in the centre pages shows some of the source documents for many of the Bible translations that have been published down the centuries. Jesus, Peter, John, Paul and Jude warned first century believers to be on their guard against false teachers and corruption of the Truth (Revelation chapters 2,3; 2 Peter 2:12; 1 John 4:1; 1 Timothy 4:1 3; Jude vs. 3 40). We should not be surprised therefore to find that there are corrupted manuscripts in existence alongside the larger number which are in essential agreement among themselves.