Critics of Christianity point to the variations, discrepancies, and even forgeries in the bible as one of their points to disprove Christianity. Unfortunately, some of their criticisms are true. There are verses in the bible that are deliberately inserted, omitted, and/or changed. But, the point of the critic that finding errors in biblical texts absolutely disproves Christianity is not a valid conclusion. It may or may not disprove one point of theology like whether or not women can be leaders in the church, whether Jesus disagreed with the Law’s death penalty, or whether abortion or drugs or abortion or magic are acceptable, but to point to even a relatively large number of controversial verses as having errors and to be able to categorically conclude that Christianity is false is simply not a valid conclusion.
For one reason, Christianity is a faith based on the spirit of Christ in the believers connecting them to each other and to the Father. Despite the depiction by some scholars that Christianity is a “religion of the book” because it supposedly depends on a “holy book” for its foundation, the reality is that the written scriptures, while an invaluable tool, are still only a tool. It is the spirit of God in Christ in the believers that is the basis of the Christian faith.
Also, fundamental to the realm of Christianity is that it is not of this world and thus does not depend on any object of this world, which includes printed materials which can and have been manipulated.
The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; (Acts 17:24 ASV)
The temple not made with hands is the church comprised of all the believers. Furthermore, the word of God that is important is the one written on the hearts of believers:
Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men; being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh. And such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward: (2 Corinthians 3:2-4 ASV)
To some, this may not seem reasonable in light of the Reformation’s stand on Solo Scriptura. Be assured I am not recommending abandoning the scriptures. I referred to them in the quotes above. The Reformation provided invaluable service as it brought people back to looking at the documents that spoke of what original Christianity was founded on in an era where the Roman Catholic Church gained great wealth by selling bishoprics and indulgences and elevated its own opinions above all else.
However, one end result of the Reformation is a church literally divided into tens of thousands of sects. There is no agreement on what the bible says on a host of divisive issues with many of these tens of thousands of sects setting themselves up as the sole holder of true doctrine to the people that participate in their services. There is something rotten in Denmark here. As valuable as the Reformation was and is, the explosive division that has happened as a result is the elephant in the room.
In any event, back to the topic of scribal forgeries, some Christian responses to charges of biblical forgery don’t help the situation at all. For example:
The Bible is either the inerrant word of God or else it is an imperfect record by fallible men. Once we have come into agreement with Jesus that the Scripture is completely trustworthy and authoritative, then it is out of the question for us to shift over to the opposite assumption, that the Bible is only the errant record of fallible men as they wrote about God.[i]
This statement makes some assumptions that are not true. It assumes that the scriptures that Jesus were talking about are the 66 books in the Protestant Bible. There is no evidence that Jesus recognized anything more than the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. It also assumes that there are no positions between the Bible as either the inerrant word of God or an imperfect totally human record. Another tenable view is that some of the words that are in the bible are authored by God, and others are historical accounts or other writings by trustworthy people who were deeply involved in the process, and even that some of the writings were included in error, as ghastly as that sounds to some! For example, the Peshitta version of the Bible didn’t include 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. These books first appeared in 508A.D.[ii] If anything attests to the fact that there was not uniform agreement on what was acceptable to be included in scripture, let alone who has the authority to call something scripture, it is that.
Still, there are recognized problems with the texts of the bible and it would be imprudent to ignore them.
In There are Numerous Variations in the Texts From Which We Get The Bible; Using an Interlinear Text To See Them, I show how to use an interlinear Greek-English Bible to view variations in the text.
Here are some examples of verses that are apparently forged (changed to suit the scribe’s purpose). Remember, verses were forged to harmonize similar passages, eliminate apparent discrepancies, adapt the text for liturgical purposes, or deliberately make doctrinal changes.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13)
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” is in the KJV, but not in many later versions because it is missing in a lot of manuscripts and appears to be added for liturgical purposes, i.e., it simply makes the prayer sound more like a prayer used in a worship service.
I put this before Matthew 17:21 because it appears as part of a compound error in that verse:
And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29 KJV)
“and fasting” is not in some texts.
This next verse has a double error:
But this kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:21)
First, as this verse doesn’t appear in some texts it appears to be added to harmonize with Mark 9:29. Second, it harmonizes with the version that has “and fasting” added. So, obviously, as fasting gained preeminence, this “and fasting” appears to be added to some texts, and winds up in both Matthew and Mark.
Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved. And after these things he was manifested in another form unto two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country. And they went away and told it unto the rest: neither believed they them. And afterward he was manifested unto the eleven themselves as they sat at meat; and he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. And these signs shall accompany them that believe: in my name shall they cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen. (Mark 16:9-20 ASV)
This whole section is missing in some texts. As at least some of these things are in other gospels it may have been added to a lot of texts to harmonize the text or it was deleted in some texts on some other grounds. In any event, it is another example of scribal error.
In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water, for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden. (John 5:3-4)
The italicized words above are not in a lot of the texts.
John 7:53 to 8:11
The section from John 7:53 to 8:11 is missing in many texts. This is the famous story of the woman caught in adultery. No one has come up with a commanding reason why this parable is included other than it must have been part of the oral tradition of Jesus stories that were the means of communicating what Jesus did before the gospels were penned. It is called an orphan story because it appears at different points in different manuscripts in being included in both the gospels of Luke and John. It is such an interesting story because in it Jesus uses the details of the Law to free the woman as the Law specifies the requirement of two witnesses in order to have valid judgment. When no witnesses come forward the woman is freed.
Some more examples of scribal forgeries include the whole chapter of John 21 and Rev 1:21. In the next article, I will look at some forgeries and variations directly related to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Added 2019: One good source on textual variations including unintentional and intentional variations and textual criticism, in general, is THE MAKING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Arthur G Patzia, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Pa 1995, p. 137-149 Patzia is senior professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary.
© copyright 2011-2023 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. Revised 2019