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May 26, 2009

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Great concise answer. I'm still amazed by how often I get this objection given how far it is removed from the facts.

I get this too. I like to ask "how has it been changed?" If we know how it has been changed then we still know what it originally said. In other words we still wouldn't be lacking the "original". So even in that way the challenge fails. If we say it has been changed but we don't know how, we really aren't saying anything at all.

Damian,

If people could demonstrate that alterations were made to the historic source documents upon which we base our translations, this would undermine the reliability of anything we derive from these corrupted texts. We would know they are not reliable without knowing anything about what the originals actually contained.

The issue of altered source texts is one I've heard ever since Dan Brown's conspiracy novels were published. This theory is also totally devoid of any factual support, since the great number and diversity of early source texts establishes beyond any doubt what the original autographs contained on approximately 99% of the verbiage. So we know conclusively what the originals actually contained, and we translate directly from this material.

I would contend the bible does have some changes. If you actually do a study and compare the Christan translations with the Jewish versions - they vary on certain interpretations. Who's right?

societyvs, if you do a study and compare Christian translations with each other, they also vary in how they interpret certain passages. What's your point?

I was unable to read the article. It did not appear, there was only an empty box. Will check back latter to read.

I’ve found that the best way to handle the vast majority of people who ask things like this is to remind them that questions are not objections and then force them to actually make explicit their claim and their reasons for believing that specific claim. A lot of people can’t do that, and those that can usually articulate pretty shabby stuff. My guess is that most people that ask questions like this one aren’t able to develop their question into an objection and adequately defend it, and so are easy targets for Christian apologists. Here’s a list of questions I’d have for the person asking that question:

1.) Do you know that what you’re reporting is correct?
2.) Do you know how the process of translating Scripture actually works?
3.) Do you affirm this conditional: If the Bible is translated many times, then it is not reliable. If so, what are your reasons? If not, what is the problem to begin with?
4.) Is your claim merely that due to translations our Bibles contain errors or that it is generally unreliable concerning matters of history?
5.) If your claim is merely that our Bibles contain errors, please explain how this threatens inerrancy. If you can do that, then explain why rejecting inerrancy is a problem that the Christian ought to worry about. Is it a threat to the core of the Christian faith, or merely a problem at the periphery that can be dealt with within the Christian community? What are your reasons?

My bet is that those would keep the person busy for quite a while, and you’d never even have to know most of what Greg said in order keep the challenge from ever getting off the ground. I’ve thought about calling this the “Cheap Tactic,” since you don’t have to buy some apologist’s book on the historicity of the Gospels or whatever in order to use it. Just force people to defend every significant thing they claim and don’t let the conversation advance until they do.

--zadok

Zadok,

You rightly name it the "Cheap Tactic" because anyone can pepper another person with a myriad of questions. It isn't particularly charitable to throw questions around and go "See, you haven't given this issue much thought. Do your homework" without doing your own homework first.

The video is not playing. I tried to download the mp4 but to no avail.

Augustine,

Actually, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask someone who makes a claim to defend it clearly and to inquire into the exact nature of their claim and reasoning. If a person makes a claim then it is their claim to defend. Demanding this from those making truth-claims doesn’t always (though obviously sometimes it does) require that you have extensive knowledge of the subject, it just requires knowing what it looks like when someone adequately states and defends a position. Also, the point isn’t to show someone that they haven’t done their homework, as though they have failed to research extensively and accumulate facts. The point is just to get the person to clearly state and defend their claim before you even begin to deal with it. Once they do that, then it is legitimate to ask them for reasons for endorsing the premises of their argument. I support doing this in a charitable way, helping them out when you can. However, some will still find it frustrating simply because they are being forced to recognize how difficult it actually is to give good persuasive reasons for a significant claim. The point isn’t to go around teaching people lessons, but simply to demand that the conversation be conduced as clearly and explicitly as possible. And I would say that learning just how difficult it can be to argue for a proposition is a great good, and so it is charitable to give people the chance to attain this good.

--zadok

Sage,

I was not referring to inspiration at all. I do believe the Bible is the inspired revealed word of God. (And I have good reasons for it). Pick another ancient book then. I'm just saying it would be strange to possess an "original" while claiming we don't have access to one. If we know what the original (of anything) orginally said then we do not lack an original. Someone might claim my copy is wrong, but the charge of lacking an original would be nonsense.Inspiration is another issue. How can someone say "we don't have the original" in the sense of faithful copies not the autographas, but have no idea what the "original" originally said? It's just weird. That's all I was saying.

Zadok,

Please pardon my candor:

What, exactly, is your problem with Christian apologetics?

(Your disdain bubbles up through most of your submissions, and I was hoping you'd articulate your grievance point blank.)

David Hawkins,

I have no exact problem with Christian apologetics. I have no problem with people defending the truth of what they believe. How could anyone seriously have a problem with that? There are times when I detect things in the Christian apologetics community that I find unfortunate. But none of these are essential to apologetics or relevant to every single apologist. I have great respect for two notable apologists, C.S. Lewis and William Lane Craig. If you’re interested in a few things I find unfortunate about the culture of apologetics, I suppose I could give an example of something I find frustrating.

I think at times the culture is guilty of being overconfident and sloppy in its arguments and bestows a false sense of confidence on its members. One way this manifests itself is the haste with which some apologists celebrate the victory and strength of an argument they love. If you would like an example of this, I have actually criticized a cosmological argument that Greg aired, which can be found at:

http://standtofolly.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/another-apologetic-blunder/

I also think apologists tend to have an inflated sense of their own importance and a puzzlingly dramatic sense of “mission,” especially when they depict their vocation as part of an epic intellectual battle in the culture wars of America. Maybe there’s something to that kind of imagery, but I think people get carried away with it and start thinking in terms of teams, sides, tactics, strategy, and every kind of war metaphor known to man. I’ve actually heard Christian philosophy graduate students talk about “infiltrating the secular university” and “capturing” the academy for Jesus (whatever that means). Usually they nudge me with their elbows as though I have some clue as to what they are even saying and actually agree. Predictably, these tend to be people that were fed Christian apologetics from their mother’s knee and mentally enlisted in some kind of intellectual Christian CIA. From my familiarity with the apologetics community, I can’t say that any of that is surprising, because apparently that’s the lingo of the culture.

So, I have no distaste for apologetics itself, just a few dissatisfactions with the way it’s actually done and the cultures it tends to flourish in and contribute to.

--zadok

"societyvs, if you do a study and compare Christian translations with each other, they also vary in how they interpret certain passages. What's your point?" (Jesse)

My simple point is the bible has been changed - namely NT portions. Things have been added, even according to most bible publishers. So addition means changes have been made - so I would say simply 'the bible has been changed at times'.

I don't know if that's a bad thing - but it does reveal some people had agenda's along the way.

Also, I will point out interpretation of certain texts have been changed within the bible - from some OT to NT passages. This also leads to some suspect agenda's - people trying to make a passage say something it may not be saying.

If the point is about originals - it's rather a useless argument (IMO). We have to go by what we have and can use...the manuscripts available and on hand to build from.

Damian,

I also was not referring to inspiration.

When people charge "the Bible has been changed over time," they are not required to produce an original and then show all the discrepancies. They are only required to show that changes have occurred along the way.

I've heard two main ways that people support this charge: unintentional alterations (due to translation) and intentional rewrites. Greg neatly addressed the unintended alterations due to translation. Intentional rewrites (as the theory goes) come from legendary material inserted some years after Christ's death, either by politicking Councils, or from well-wishing devotees trying to enhance the credentials of the Hero of the story. As long as history gives us some clear, reasonable evidence that any of these scenarios did occur, then we would have a corrupted text without knowing what it originally said.

Just a brotherly warning - we don't need to know what something originally said in order to know that it has been changed.

There are numerous examples of where the texts has been changed. While no essential teaching of the word of God is really affected, the lost use this information (though often cannot cite an example) to justify their unbelief.

One example is found in Mark's gospel: Mark 1:2,3. Where in verse 2 some manuscripts read, "Isaiah" where most manuscripts read "prophets." Verse 2 cites from Malachi 3:1 and and it is verse 3 which cites from Isaiah 40:3. But that is not the worst of it: Christian disagree as to which is the original reading. Truth is obvious. Either the origial is inerrant or its not God's word. One reading is its the orginal. One is not.

Our objective should be to get the lost to hear the gospel. So what ever defence one makes for a problem it should be to that end: To get the objector to be willing hear message of God's grace.


Paul,

I think it is fair to say that most scholars, or laypeople who know somewhat about the subject, agree we do not know with certainty what every single word of the original texts was. As you alluded to, the variances in the earliest extant writings are so relatively few, and so minor in their scope, as to be inconsequential toward any matter of doctrine.

When no one determination of the content of the original writing may be clearly established from the records, honesty requires that we refrain from declaring it settled. If we do not know what the inerrant declaration was, we cannot emphatically conclude it. We can form reasoned surmises about plausible meanings, but we must content not to know the very words of God in those rare instances.

Sage S,
Malachi is not Isaiah. The fact that reading exists along with the reading "prophets" demonstraights the acclaimed word of God has been altered. And if this reading "Isaiah" is not factually true for a reading which is really from Malachi and also as you argued, "When no one determination of the content of the original writing may be clearly established from the records, . . ." This one example calls in question the reliablity of any of those records as to claim them to be words from God. While these variant readings may constitute a small percentage of the texts they are nevertheless numerous. Just take the KJV versus the RSV. Or NKJV versus the NIV. Another example, The New English Bible, where it translates "they hacked off my hands and feet" Psalm 22: versus, "they pierced my hands and my feet" reading. Big difference.

Sage S,
There exist disagreements over the issues of textual criticism. It is my view where textual criticism fails to support the inerrancy of the word of God, it fails to support the original readings.

Actually he's not telling the whole truth. Jesus never spoke Greek he spoke Aramaic. Jesus disciples as far as we know, maybe only one or two spoke Greek. The rest were illiterate. No one knows for sure, but the New Testament was written some 30 to 70 years after the death of Jesus and his disciples. No one was sitting there jotting down the words of Jesus and his disciples into Greek while they were speaking them. So obviously you lose a lot in translation from Aramaic to Greek then to English. Next, the so-called Greek that our modern translations come from, there are no complete original copies, only copies of copies of copies. Thirdly, there are several cultural contexts which do not apply to us in modern-day. There is no way to fully understand what someone was trying to say when we didn't live 2000 years ago in that society. It's just like someone coming to America and after three years trying to teach someone English and fully explain American culture and language. Sorry but your logic is completely flawed, stick to faith and belief, logic and reasoning has no place in religion.

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