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    December 3, 1929

    The Story of Our Bible


    W. W. Prescott

    The first of a series of splendid contributions on this important theme by
    William W. Prescott

    [Signs of the Times, December 3, 1929, The Story of Our Bible, Part 1, pp. 4, 5]


    Whether or not we have the original authors’ copies of the various books of the Bible?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.1

    How long the Bible was in process of being written?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.2

    How many men, under inspiration of the Spirit of God, contributed the sixty-six books of the Scriptures?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.3

    In what three languages the Bible was written?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.4

    The story of its translation into the English language?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.5

    What the latest and best manuscripts of the Bible are?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.6

    What kind of “errors,” and how many, the copyists have made in transcribing the numerous copies of the Scriptures?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.7

    What the difference is between the “Authorized” Version and the “Revised” Version?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.8

    What the Vulgate and the Septuagint are? The connection of Wycliffe, Luther, Coverdale, and Tyndale with the history of Bible translations?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.9

    Whether the Bible as we now have it is reliable, or whether many vital errors have crept in since it was first written?SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.10

    These and scores of other equally as interesting and important questions will be answered in this series of articles by Prof. William W. Prescott. At the request of the editors, Mr. Prescott has been spending many months in research in this field; and every statement made in his articles will be authoritative and amply substantiated from the best sources available. We bespeak a wide reading of his contributions on a theme so vital to Bible students.SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.11


    GOD is; God has spoken: God has used human language with which to convey to us His eternal purpose of grace; the Bible is the living word of God, the organism in which the divine will for our salvation finds its expression, the Book of books, unique in its origin, in its formation, and in its transmission to us.SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.12

    It is not my purpose in this series to consider the inspiration of the Scriptures nor the formation of the canon, but to present some facts concerning the original texts, and to cover in a general way the story of how the Bible has come down to us through the centuries until we have it in the latest English translations. It is a story of great interest and of supreme importance to every devout reader of the oracles of God.SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.13

    I shall begin with a brief review of some simple facts more or less well known to the average reader. Certain names stand out prominently in our thought of the authorship of the Bible on the human side-Moses, Ezra, David, Isaiah, Paul, and John occur to us at once among the many contributors to this volume, extending over a period of sixteen or seventeen hundred years yet preserving in a remarkable way the unity of the revelation of the gospel of the kingdom. In what language or languages did these and other men write? Have any of the original documents been preserved until our time? In what historical line of descent have these writings come down to us so that we can read them in our own tongue? When we read the English Bible, can we be sure that it brings to us the thoughts of God as they were imparted to writers of the original documents? These are questions worthy of serious consideration on the part of every earnest inquirer after the way of life.SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.14


    That portion of the Bible which we designate as the Old Testament was all written in Hebrew, with the exception of Daniel 2:4 to 7:28; Ezra 4:8 to 6:18, 7:12-26, and Jeremiah 10:11, which were written in Biblical Aramaic, “a kind of modified Hebrew, employed in part by the Jews in the centuries immediately preceding, and during the Christian era.” The New Testament was written in the colloquial Greek of the first century Anno Domini. Of course this was fourteen centuries before the invention of printing from type, and a long, long time before the manufacture of modern paper; and all these manuscripts and copies of them were written by hand upon papyrus and skins and vellum. All these original manuscripts have perished, and we are now dependent upon copies and translations, ancient and modern. Of these, however, there are a large number, especially of those containing a whole or a part of the New Testament. “The whole number of different Hebrew MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi, the most laborious students in this department (1753-1783), was 1,346.” The number of New Testament manuscripts, large and small, runs into the thousands.SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.15

    The existing manuscripts of the Old Testament are of comparatively recent origin, nearly all of them dating from the eleventh century, but “a codex of the date A. D. 916 has been found among the Karaites of the Crimea, together with an incomplete roll of the law, reaching back to 843.” This statement need not startle anyone, as the rules relating to copying these documents were so rigid that there are but comparatively few variants in the different manuscripts which have been preserved. The present Hebrew text was established very early in the Christian era, if not in the time of Christ, by those who had the greatest possible reverence for their sacred books. “The text they have given us is formed with the most anxious regard for the smallest particulars. The peculiarities of the different writers, books, and times; archaisms, idioms, local shades of dialect, even special modes of writing, are preserved with wonderful fidelity.”SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.16


    The number of the Jews who either voluntarily migrated or were transported to the west increased to such an extent, and their adoption of the Greek language was so general, that there arose a demand for a translation of the Hebrew manuscripts into their adopted tongue. This work was begun in the early part of the third century before Christ, and was completed soon after the middle of the second century. The title “LXX,” or Septuagint, was given to this translation, possibly because it was understood that seventy scholars were employed in making it, more probably because “when issued, the translation met with approval, and received the sanction of the Jewish Sanhedrin.” The manuscripts were distributed among the translators, with the natural result that there was a lack of uniformity in the product. The best work was done on the Pentateuch, which was first rendered into Greek. Considerable freedom was exercised in translating the writings of Jeremiah, and “the book of Daniel is the worst of all.” The LXX rendering of this book was later replaced by the version of Theodotion, which has held its place until the present time.SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.17

    About thirty uncial (large letter) manuscripts of the Septuagint translation have been preserved for us, and over three hundred of the cursives (small letter). “The first printed copy of the Septuagint was embodied in the Complutensian Polyglot, issued under the supervision of Cardinal Ximenes in 1514-1517. The Aldus edition, based on manuscripts in Venice, appeared in 1518. But the great edition of the Septuagint in those centuries was that published under the patronage of Pope Sixtus in 1587.... The greatest work of all was that issued at Oxford by Holmes and Parsons, 1798-1827. This gives us the Roman edition of 1587, with variant readings of about three hundred twenty-five manuscripts. Tischendorf published a revision of the Roman texts with variants from S, A, and C. Swete published a three-volume edition of the Septuagint (1887-1894), according to the best extant manuscripts, with all the variants of three or four of the next best manuscripts....SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.18

    “The whole purpose of scholars is (1) to determine as near as may be, by a study of all the best manuscripts, the text of the Septuagint as it was originally translated from the Hebrew; (2) to determine, by the use of that best text of the Septuagint the text of the Hebrew Old Testament from which the Septuagint translation was made; (3) to determine, by a comparison of this text with the Masoretic text, as nearly as may be, the original form of the Hebrew books of the Old Testament. Such determinations, even approximately, clear up many serious difficulties, and aid us greatly in translating the original text into good idiomatic English.”-Ira Maurice Price.SITI December 3, 1929, page 4.19


    I must pause here a moment to consider briefly a question which naturally arises in connection with this study and revision of manuscripts. What effect, if any, does such textual criticism of these documents have upon the inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures? This is not the place to discuss any theory of inspiration, and so I shall deal with this matter without regard to any such theory. The differences in the various manuscripts arise from the mistakes of copyists or from intentional changes introduced by editors either directly or through the adoption of marginal notes designed to elucidate the text. Whatever view of inspiration may be entertained, only the most radical extremist would advocate that there would be any miraculous intervention to prevent such changes from being made. The definite purpose of conscientious textual criticism is not to write a new document, but to restore to us as far as possible the very words written by the authors of the original manuscripts now lost. This involves years of patient labor on the part of the most competent scholars, whose literary attainments qualify them to deal critically with the languages in which the manuscripts were originally written, and also with the languages of the various early versions, such as the Syriac, the Coptic, etc. Such scholars as Robert Dick Wilson in this country, and B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in England, have devoted the larger part of their lives to this one field of scholarship, and they have made available to us the valuable fruit of their labors.SITI December 3, 1929, page 5.1


    In this connection I think it may be reassuring to any whose fears may have been aroused by unwarranted conclusions drawn from the large number of variations found in the thousands of manuscripts, if I should submit the statements of two men whose recognized scholarship in the Biblical field will inspire confidence in their unqualified utterances.SITI December 3, 1929, page 5.2

    “Only about 400 of the 100,000 or 150,000 variations materially affect the sense. Of these, again, not more than fifty are really important for some reason or other; and even of these fifty not one affects an article of faith or precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching. The Textus Receptus of Stephens, Beza, and Elzevir, and of our English version, teach precisely the same Christianity as the uncial text of the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS., the oldest versions, and the Anglo-American revision. Richard Bentley, the ablest and boldest of classical critics of England, affirms that even the worst of MSS. does not pervert or set aside ‘one article of faith or moral precept.’ Dr. Ezra Abbott, who ranks among the first textual critics, and is not hampered by orthodox bias (being a Unitarian), asserts that ‘no Christian doctrine or duty rests on those portions of the text which are affected by differences in the manuscripts; still less is anything essential in Christianity touched by the various readings. They do, to be sure, affect the bearing of a few passages on the doctrine of the Trinity; but the truth or falsity of the doctrine by no means depends upon the reading of those passages.”-“Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek,” Philip Schaff, page liv.SITI December 3, 1929, page 5.3

    “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, faithfully handed down from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”-“Our Bible and the Ancient MSS.,” F. G. Kenyon, page 11. (Mr. Kenyon is the librarian of the British Museum in the Department of Manuscripts.)SITI December 3, 1929, page 5.4


    It is quite probable that some one may ask, If the differences discovered are such as do not have a serious effect upon any fundamental Christian doctrine, why expend so much effort to discover and to correct these slight differences? It is fitting that such an inquiry should be made and answered. First, let me say that while each single variant, when considered by itself, may be of no great importance, yet when they are all taken into account the total result may be of considerable moment. It may surprise some to learn that a very slight change in the text of the original document will sometimes make a decided difference in our English translation. I will give one illustration of this. So simple a correction as the change of one letter in the Greek text of Romans 7:6 makes the difference between the translation, “that being dead wherein we were held,” as found in the Authorized Version, which rendering declares that the law is dead, and the translation, “having died to that wherein we were held,” as found in the Revised Version. This change in the translation not only maintains the continued existence of the law, but also sets forth a most important gospel truth, viz., that we are freed from the condemnation of the law through our union with Christ in His death. For such an improvement as this we are indebted to textual criticism.SITI December 3, 1929, page 5.5

    Furthermore, the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were written with large letters, and without any spaces between the words, and without any accents, and without any punctuation. A sentence in English written in that way would look like this: GODISNOWHERE. By one division of these letters it will read, “God is now here,” but a very slight change in dividing will make it read, “God is nowhere,” an absolute change in the meaning. This illustration will, I hope, enable my readers to understand more clearly the statement that a slight difference in dividing the letters and the change of only one letter of the Greek text will account for the rendering of the last clause of Revelation 17:8, in the Revised Version, “was, and is not, and shall come,” instead of “was., and is not, and yet is,” as in the Authorized Version. Some may have found difficulty in understanding how the beast “is not, and yet is,” but textual criticism has relieved this real difficulty.SITI December 3, 1929, page 5.6

    Many of the other changes made as the result of the textual criticism are of less importance than these two, but even a slight help in the restoration of the original text should be gladly accepted. The real object of textual criticism of the New Testament, as stated by Dr. Philip Schaff, is “to ascertain and restore, as far as possible, the original text as it came from the pens of the apostolic authors. It aims to show not what they ought to have written, but what they actually did write.” As the result of the faithful work done in this field by both English and American scholars we are able to-day to enter more closely into the revelation of the grace of God for our salvation than have the readers of the Holy Scriptures in the past.SITI December 3, 1929, page 5.7

    (to be continued)

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