Types of intentional changes made to the Greek manuscripts:
- Spelling/Grammar Changes
- Correcting apparent discrepancies
- Explanatory glosses
- Doctrinally motivated changes
- Addition of enriching material
Spelling and Grammar
There is often a tendency to change the original grammar to conform to better Greek. For example, if the original author said something like, “he ain’t,” a later scribe might change it to the “correct” form, “he isn’t.” Mark, in his Gospel, is very vulgar in his language. Scribes would adjust his language accordingly. While the Bible is inspired by God, this does not mean that eloquence is equally present with each author of the originals.
Some scribes felt compelled to harmonize Old Testament quotations, Gospel parallels, and common expressions. Scribes would simply change the wording to one with which they were more familiar. Some scribes were bothered by the fact that Jesus did not quote the woman at the well (John 4:17) so they change not Jesus’ words, but the woman’s (they were more comfortable with that!). In reality, whoever said that Christ had to quote her exactly?
Jews said to Jesus, “Why do you eat and drink with tax-gatherers and sinners?”
Jews said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax-gatherers and sinners?”
Scribes would change this in two places. They would choose who the scribes were talking to and add “and drink” to harmonize. This is normally found in the later manuscripts found behind the King James.
Correcting Apparent Discrepancies
Scribes would often change what they thought was a contradiction that might cause some embarrassment. In Mark 1:2-3, some scribes changed it to read “the prophets,” instead of just “Isaiah,” since there was actually more than one prophet being quoted.
This is combining two readings to make a new reading. Again, this is found most in the Byz manuscripts (the ones behind the KJV).
“They were continually in the temple blessing/praising God.” Some manuscripts have blessing and some have praising. Later Byz manuscripts would just combine the two, while earlier manuscripts only have one.
These were commentary-type additions to help the reader understand something the scribe thought was confusing.
John 5:4-6 (KJV)
4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
Verse 4 (in italics) is not in the best manuscripts. This is why it does not find its way into the modern translations. More than likely, a scribe added this to explain more tradition behind this pool, whether true or not. This is not only an example of an explanatory gloss but actually creates some theological issues. As Dan Wallace says, this may be the only place in the Bible where “God helps those who help themselves.”
Doctrinally Motivated Changes
These are changes scribes made to adjust doctrine. Although no scribe ever adjusted any major doctrine (at least a viable adjustment), there are some minor changes.
Romans 8:1 (KJV -Byz)
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Romans 8:1 (NAU, ESV, NIV)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Addition of Enriching Material
There are times when the scribe believed he knew more about a particular story that would add to the reader’s understanding of the text at hand. Western text of Acts adds 8.5% more material. This could have come from eyewitnesses or people who had heard fuller versions of the stories being told in the original texts.
Many books add “amen” at the end of a passage. The Lord’s prayer, for example, has a longer ending: “for thine is the kingdom, power, and glory, amen.” This ending is not found in the earlier manuscripts. It was probably an excited scribe who wrote this in the notes/margins of his text and the next scribe did not know whether he meant to put this in the text or had it as a note. It eventually made its way into the KJV.
As time goes on the text grows. But the most important thing to remember is that no essential doctrine is ever messed with by any scribe. No cardinal doctrines are up for debate based upon a valid textual discrepancy. Even Bart Ehrman has admitted to this (April 2008, Oct 2011 Debate with Dan Wallace)
During this week, I will be live blogging Dan Wallace’s Credo Course on Textual Criticism. This is the first of what will over the years be dozens of extensive courses intent on educating people in Christian faith in a deep way that is not normally available to Christians outside of seminaries. These courses will be available in DVD, video download, CD, and audio download. You can preorder this course (30-40 sessions—we don’t know yet as I am live-blogging!).