I don’t think many Christians would be surprised to learn that the Bible they hold in their hands was created by men, meaning that some of the books that appeared in earlier manuscripts and could have been canonized as the Word of God. Neither should it be a surprise that there were discrepancies among many of the early manuscripts.
But the BBC magazine played this “revelation” as somewhat cataclysmic.
It headlined an article about the Codex Sinaiticus, an ancient manuscript that was put back together and just published online, “The Rival to the Bible.”
Firstly, the Codex contains two extra books in the New Testament.
One is the little-known Shepherd of Hermas, written in Rome in the 2nd Century - the other, the Epistle of Barnabas. This goes out of its way to claim that it was the Jews, not the Romans, who killed Jesus, and is full of anti-Semitic kindling ready to be lit. “His blood be upon us,” Barnabas has the Jews cry.
Had this remained in subsequent versions, “the suffering of Jews in the subsequent centuries would, if possible, have been even worse”, says the distinguished New Testament scholar Professor Bart Ehrman.
And although many of the other alterations and differences are minor, these may take some explaining for those who believe every word comes from God.
Faced with differing texts, which is the truly authentic one?
Mr Ehrman was a born again Bible-believing Evangelical until he read the original Greek texts and noticed some discrepancies.
The Bible we now use can’t be the inerrant word of God, he says, since what we have are the sometimes mistaken words copied by fallible scribes.
“When people ask me if the Bible is the word of God I answer ‘which Bible?’”
The Codex - and other early manuscripts - omit some mentions of ascension of Jesus into heaven, and key references to the Resurrection, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has said is essential for Christian belief.
Other differences concern how Jesus behaved. In one passage of the Codex, Jesus is said to be “angry” as he healed a leper, whereas the modern text records him as healing with “compassion”.
Also missing is the story of the woman taken in adultery and about to be stoned - until Jesus rebuked the Pharisees (a Jewish sect), inviting anyone without sin to cast the first stone.
Nor are there words of forgiveness from the cross. Jesus does not say “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.
Fundamentalists, who believe every word in the Bible is true, may find these differences unsettling.
Thanks to Ben Plonie for the links.