Christian Apologetics Free Course 04, Lesson 02
The Reliability Of The Canon
Purity Of The Canon
Questions have been raised frequently about the purity and integrity of the biblical Canon. Most of these questions have come from three sources: the radicals among Christians, the rationalists/atheists, and the Muslims. Ahmadiya Muslims are quite vocal about corruption in the biblical Canon, with the outrageous claim that there are more than 60,000 errors in the Bible. These questions have been adequately answered by Christian scholars but in spite of this they been circulated by ignorant people, and thus they are widely heard today. On the other hand, many critics of Christianity know the truth but in spite of that they keep repeating these question with the sole aim of intimidating the ignorant lay people.
So much information is available on the subject of the purity and integrity of the Canon that several volumes can be filled. Thus what is mentioned on this subject in a small section like this of this book should be considered only as a pointer to what is available.
Theological Considerations: Bible itself reminds in many places that it is book inspired by God. “All scripture is given by the INSPIRATION of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Since the origin is God Himself, we can be confident that what has reached us is holy, free from all kind of error, and without any admixture any kind of falsehood.
Bible is not a collection of profound human insight or wisdom, but rather a book given by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit controlled the human writers in such a way that they wrote exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted to be recorded. According to 2 Peter 1:20, 21: “..no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost”. Consequently, the information contained in the Bible is free from any kind of error, conceivable or inconceivable.
Bible records much information about the unknown past. For example, much of the details in Genesis ten chapters are from the earliest historical times, for which much record is not available. Inspiration guarantees the accuracy of these records. Similarly, though Bible is not meant to be a textbook of history, the historical narratives in the Bible are all totally accurate.
Inspiration guarantees that the information recorded in the Bible about divine will, attributes, and attitudes are accurately portrayed. It also guarantees that when God’s expectations, demands, and instructions are mentioned, they are not human speculation but an accurate presentation of what the true God expects from mankind.
In addition to what God said and what the righteous people did, the Bible also records what the unrighteous people, fallen angels, and even rebellious believers did. This is not to endorse error, but to give us an accurate record of error so that we might be warned to flee from such things and lead a righteous life.
Practical Aspects: Right from the earliest times Jews recognized that the inspired word of God is to be handled carefully and respectfully. Thus Priests and leaders of the Jews carefully preserved and transmitted the text from generation to generation. Eventually highly trained priest-scribes like Ezra began handling the job of copying and transmission (Neh. 8:9). After the time of Babylonian exile many of the Jews became concerned about the preservation of the Scriptures, and this is the time when professional scribes became numerous.
There were many large groups of scribes wherever the Jews lived, and these people faithfully copied not only the Old Testament but also commentaries and other books used among the children of God. Scribes were the preservers of the Law. They were professional students of the law and its defenders. This was specially so during the Hellenistic period when the Jewish priests became corrupt. Eventually they became so obsessed with preserving the Scriptures that they developed elaborate rules and regulations for their profession. These rules contained stipulations regarding both the behavior of the scribes as well as the way in which the Biblical manuscripts were to be handled.
With dispersion, Greek became the language of many Jews and this is the time when an important translation of the Old Testament was produced in the Greek language. Known as the Septuagint, many of the New Testament writer quoted from this translation. Aramaic translations were also made, and this was the spoken language which Jesus and many of His disciples used.
With the wide dispersal of the Jews, they almost ceased to exist as a nation in their motherland. Hundreds of thousands of Jews scattered around the world adopted the local languages as their language of communication. With this came the gradual elimination of Hebrew as a spoken language. This introduced many difficulties to the religiously minded people. The Jews used the old way of writing the Hebrew language till about AD 500. This system used all capital letters, without spacing, without word-divisions, and without vowels. For example, the God was written as GD in Hebrew. The vowels were supplied by the reader at the time of reading.
The old system of writing was fine as long as Hebrew was used as an everyday language, but it became very difficult with the disuse of Hebrew. The Old Testament text without vowels and without word-divisions was now liable to be misinterpreted by the ignorant. Thus the word GD cited above could be read either as GOD or as GUIDE, because the original text did not contain the vowels. Thus only a person thoroughly familiar with the text of the Old Testament would know which pronunciation to use in a particular place. The concern over these issues resulted in the rise of a group of experts called Massorates. These outstanding Old Testament scholars had their heyday between AD 500 to 1000.
The Massorates carefully compared the handwritten copies available to them and made very accurate copies of the Old Testaments. They developed and introduced vowel marks so that there is no confusion left about what a certain word was. They also developed an elaborate code for copyists and the copies. The copyists had to follow certain rigorous rules about bathing, cleanliness, and self-preparation before they copied the divine text. They also had to check the text of each page of the copy so that it matched horizontally and vertically with the original text. Texts not meeting the stringent integrity criteria were usually destroyed so that they might not corrupt future texts through ignorant people. The text produced and left by them for the progeny is called the Massoratic Text, or MT.
The Old Testament in the King James Version and that in all Indian translations are based upon the Massoratic Text. Many critics and radicals gleefully attacked this fact, claiming that the MT must be full of errors compared to the originals. They based their argument on the premise that even the earliest MT text was produced only 1000 years AFTER the original was written. Many undiscerning even accept such careless pronouncements and became very disturbed. However, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the forties changed the whole picture.
Dead Sea Scrolls were produced almost two hundred years before the time of Christ. Which meant that many of the Dead Sea scrolls were as much as 1200 years older than the Massoratic Text. A comparison of these two families of manuscripts showed that the MT was unusually accurate. Thus the work done by Jewish scholars in preserving the purity of the Old Testament Text was demonstrated once again.
As far as the New Testament text is concerned, it is of more recent origin. The art of writing was widely practiced, and writing materials (though highly perishable) were plentiful. Consequently, numerous copies, translations, and versions were produced. So many of them survive today that it overwhelms Bible scholars. More details about manuscripts of OT and NT available today would be given in another section.