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Textual Criticism and the Bible

"If comparative trivialities such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like are set aside, the works in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly mount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament."

Then too, one must remember that Jehovah's Witnesses put great stock in the jig-saw puzzle analogy.

Even those who flatly reject them rarely attempt to point out any inconsistencies. Some mistake the certainty Jehovah's Witnesses project for pride. They should not. It's nothing haughty if the guy with the phone book claims he can find every number in the city.It may comprise half their rationale for accepting the beliefs they do. And why not? If your car runs, you don't spend as much time under the hood as your neighbor whose car doesn't run. Your car does. The individual components can't be all that defective. So JW beliefs form a network that give satisfying, consistent and coherent explanations for the important questions of our day.

So that guy next door owns an automobile of which each component is exquisitely crafted by award winning engineers, graduates of the finest engineering schools. He looks askance at that mongrel car of yours - who knows where its component parts have been? Yet for all his high pretensions, his car doesn't run. Yours does. Incredibly, this fact does not humble him. He continues to labor on his respectable yet inoperative car and loudly denounces you as a naive buffoon.

Or, take that Neil Young song which they play all the time up here: When God Made Me. Okay, so Neil Young has paid his dues and earned his place in music. I like his songs as well as anyone. But he's no theologian. He plaintively whines spiritual questions that any ten year old with Bible knowledge can answer. Yet nobody labels the lyrics as lacking depth. To the contrary, they hail him as a great spiritual seeker, a visionary on the noble quest to learn all, and so forth. Noble, perhaps. But if you've spent tons of time telling others Bible answers to questions which they have, only to have many roll their eyes at your far-too-unsophisticated message, "noble" isn't the first adjective that comes to mind.

They caught Sheepandgoats in a rash statement. He had insisted that there are no contradictions in the Bible. So he had to back off a bit.

Of course there are contradictions in the Bible, at least as it has come down to us. There are contradictions in every aspect of life. The important question is - how significant are they?

"We do not even have a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of the original." It's true enough. But it's equally true with all ancient writings....with any ancient historian, with any ancient philosopher. With all of them we have not even a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of the original. Yet are we ever admonished to discount these writings for fear that scanty manuscripts make them worthless? No. Only the Bible. Go figure. I suspect Brandon nailed it. People don't like the Bible because it roundly condemns much of what society embraces. They don't like it's conclusions. They don't like the responsibilities it places upon us. Or as James puts it:

Therefore, if one knows how to do what is right and yet does not do it, it is a sin for him. Jas 4:17

Better not to know it. Better to shoot down the source.

I might not feel this way if all ancient writings were looked at askance. But they're not. Only the Bible.

Grounds for textual criticism of the Bible are not comparable to these other secular writings. They are far superior. For example, the gap between the original writings of Thucydides and the oldest extant manuscript of his work is 1300 years. For Herodotus' writings it is 1400 years. for Tacitus, 800, Pliny: 750. Josephus, 1000. With the New Testament, however, the gap shrinks to 200 years, sometimes less. The smaller the gap, of course, the less room for errors to creep in.

Moreover, the New Testament was the source material for evangelizing. For that reason, copies increased exponentially, a fact which ensures accurate preservation. Today, there are over 4000 extant manuscripts covering portions of the NT, a number astronomically greater than the writings of other ancients. It is therefore not difficult to reconstruct the original. If you have ten copies of an original, of which nine are identical and one is different, which one do you think contains the copyist's error? That's how they ferreted out the spurious verse at 1 John 5:7 which the Trinitarians tried to slip in.

On the other hand, ancient secular writings were copied much more sparingly. Should a copyist make an error on, say, Aristotle, we're sunk. There's not the plethora of competing copies with which to compare. Still, nobody suggests these writings are so unfit that they best belong in the dumpster, as they do the Bible.

Are there errors in the Bible manuscripts? Yes, there are many thousands of them. Yet they are virtually all insignificant, a mispelling here, transposition of words or letters there, insertion or deletion of an article in another place. Note, for example, the viewpoint of Westcott and Hort, who produced the Greek master text which the most recognizable modern New Testament translations use as source material:

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'


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