Early Non-Pauline Christianity
A Review of F.F. Bruce: "Men and Movements"
Why has the Bible been changed through the years?
June 21, 2009
If the Bible is God`s word, why has it been changed over the years...and why are there so many versions? If God sent a revelation and people changed it, how can it still be a pure revelation from God? Shouldn`t the words of God be the same in each corner of the earth and all through history?
This is a great question and deserves a more thorough answer than I will be able to give in this context, but I will try. Also, I am going to give my opinion. You could easily find other pastors/scholars who would not agree with some things I will say in my answer.
First, your question raises concerns that have plagued Christians throughout history.
It has been shown that changes have been made in the Greek manuscripts over time, but 95% of these changes are accidentals - a mispelled word, transposed words, omitted words, or words that appear to have been added for clarity. The overwhelming majority of these discrepancies do not alter the obvious meaning of the passage. While there are sections of certain passages that have been added (for example the end of Mark 16 and the first part of John 8) none of the larger difficult passages alter or obscure the primary message of the New Testament.
From the earliest years it was questioned why we had four versions of what we refer to as "gospel," the documents whose primary function was to give an account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Why did the Church need/allow four versions (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which differ in points? Many early fathers struggled with this question just as many do today. Most of the early fathers used allegorical methods to explain differences or difficulties. Most of these explanations do not satisfy the honest critic. Many explanations given by modern-day apologists do not satisfy the honest critic either.
"Doesn't this mean that there is no such thing as a pure revelation from God? Shouldn't the words of God be the same in each corner of the earth and the same throughout history?" (I have restated the questions)
These questions include a faulty assumption, in my opinion. Fundamentally we must face the fact that "we carry this heavenly treasure in jars of clay" (2 Cor 4:7). In other words, nothing we do is purely God. The difficulties of the biblical text are much more easily dealt with if we acknowledge that it is the Word of God written by men. The Scriptures are "God-breathed" (2 Tim 3:16) and prophecy comes when "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). Neither of these exclude the influence of man.
It is important to understand that none of this means we cannot trust the Scriptures. It is the inspired Word of God and teaches us what we need to know. Differences in a passage do not detract from the core meaning of the inspired message. An easy way to illustrate these principles is to use perhaps THE most important New Testament passage, one that critics love to beat Christians over the head with - the empty tomb passage. There are several small differences in the empty tomb story, but one particular aspect is the angelic presence encountered by those who discover the empty tomb:
In Matthew 28 one angel appears and tells the women to go tell the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus then appears to the women with the same message.
In Mark 16 a young man (seems like an angel) is sitting in the tomb and tells the women to go tell the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead.
In Luke 24 the women enter the empty tomb and suddenly two men (seem like angels) appear to them and tell them to go tell the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead.
In John 20 the women find the empty tomb, run tell the disciples who come to the tomb. After this two angels appear t o Mary, but she does not understand what is happening, then Jesus appears to her as the gardner and confirms that he has been raised from the dead.
Was there one angel, or two?
Was the angel(s) outside, or inside the tomb?
Did Jesus appear or not?
Because the four gospel accounts differ it is quite impossible to know exactly what happened. But does it really matter? The importance of this story is not how many angels appeared, or even if Jesus appeared. All four accounts agree:
- the tomb was empty
- some kind of angelic presence took place
- the message was given to "go tell the disciples" that Jesus had been raised from the dead
Finally, your last question (restated)
"Shouldn't the words of God be the same in each corner of the earth and throughout history?"
The words are not inspired, the message is inspired.
Kind of like when the Wyclife missionaries used "banana" and "banana leaf" in translation rather than "vine and branches" in John 15.
The empty tomb story is inspired and has not changed in substance throughout the 2,000 years of Christian history. The tomb was empty. There was some kind of angelic presence. And the message was clearly given: He is risen.
Everything else is less important, not unimportant, just not AS important.
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