Can you trust the Scripture

Can you trust the Scripture


The short answer to this question is NO. Yes I know what 2 Timothy 3:16 states; All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, but before you get wrapped all  around the axle please let me explain.

The word of the Scripture isn’t always as clear-cut as we’d like it to be. It didn’t fall from the sky, bound in leather, with every word in perfect English. Instead, it’s something countless scribes have spent thousands of years deciphering, working off age-old manuscripts that don’t always say the same things.

They don’t always get it right. Some of the best-known verses in the Scripture have been mixed up, rewritten by translators, or even just snuck into the Good Book from scratch, pulled from nothing more than a scribe’s imagination. And that can be a big deal. If you believe that the Scripture is the word of God, every little detail matters. The slightest typo could completely change the way millions of people understand the Scripture.

In 586 B.C., Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians. The Temple was looted and then destroyed by fire. The Jews were exiled. About 70 years later, the Jewish captives returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. According to the Scripture, Ezra recovered a copy of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and read it aloud to the whole nation. Ancient scribes who copied the handwritten texts of the Scripture frequently changed the text intentionally.

Although unintentional changes account for the vast majority of textual corruption, intentional alterations also account for thousands of corruptions. In some cases, to be sure, it does seem that the scribes were being malicious. But these instances are few and far between. The majority of the intentional changes to the text were done by scribes who either thought that the text they were copying had errors in it or by scribes who were clarifying the meaning, especially for liturgical reasons.

Some of the commonest intentional changes involve parallel passages. This is where the passage that the scribe is copying out has a parallel to it of which the scribe is aware. For example, about 90% of the pericopes (or stories) in Mark’s Gospel are found in Matthew. When a scribe was copying Mark, after he had just finished copying Matthew, he would frequently remember the parallel in Matthew and make adjustments to the wording of Mark so that it would conform to the wording of Matthew. This alteration is known as harmonization. Occasionally, the wording in Matthew would be conformed to that of Mark or Luke. Or when the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, especially when the quotation is from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament abbreviated LXX), scribes tended to conform the wording in the NT to the LXX. Parallels between letters of Paul also suffer from this kind of alteration. Scribes also were prone to clarify what they thought the text meant. Sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong. An understanding of early church history helps us to get a better grasp on which reading is most likely to be authentic and which is not. But we can’t always be sure, and one of the great problems with this kind of approach is pinpointing when a reading arose and matching it to a theological agenda.

Some examples are in order to illustrate the above points. In Mark 3:21 most manuscripts (including early and important ones) read, “When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they were saying, ‘he is out of his mind.’” The ‘they’ here is ambiguous: it might refer back to ‘his family,’ in which case Jesus’ family was calling him nuts; or it might refer to a general ‘they.’ Manuscripts of the Western text-type changed ‘his family’ to ‘the scribes and the rest’ to remove the potential embarrassment. Yet this is precisely why ‘his family’ is probably authentic: what scribe would change the text to make it more ambiguous, and capable of embarrassment?

In John 4:17, Jesus quotes the Samaritan woman’s words back to her: “Correctly you have said, ‘I don’t have a husband.’” However, in the Greek text, he didn’t quote her exactly. The word order is reversed: “A husband I don’t have.” The emphasis seems to be that she had someone at home but he was not her husband, a point Jesus will make explicit in the next verse. However, a few manuscripts change the word order to make both statements conform to each other—however, they don’t change Jesus’ word order but the woman’s! It’s as if the scribes were thinking, “He quoted her correctly; she just didn’t say it right in the first place so we need to adjust her words”! Other manuscripts both changed the word order of what the woman had to say and turned Jesus’ statement into an indirect statement (“Correctly you have said that you don’t have a husband”), to safeguard the Lord’s speech. Here is an instance in which the parallel is in the same verse rather than between two Gospels.

In Mark 9:31 and 10:34, most manuscripts change the wording of Jesus’ prediction of his own death and resurrection to say that he would rise from the dead ‘on the third day’ instead of ‘after three days.’ However, several important and diverse witnesses read ‘after three days’ in these verses. Why the change? Because Matthew and Luke spoke of Jesus’ resurrection as occurring on the third day, not after three days. Mark consistently referred to Jesus’ resurrection as occurring after three days, while Matthew and Luke almost consistently speak of it as occurring on the third day. There is but one instance in Matthew in which ‘after three days’ is used, and that on the lips of would-be witnesses against Jesus (Matt 27:63). Without getting into the details of these parallels, suffice it to say that both Matthew and Luke seemed to want to clarify that ‘after three days’ meant ‘on the third day’; and most later scribes, not recognizing the Jewish idiom, also changed the wording in Mark to reflect the wording in Matthew and Luke.

The fact that later scribes changed the text of Matthew to conform to Mark shows that they were more concerned about verbal harmonization than keeping the original text. And this is something we see frequently in the synoptic gospels: harmonization simply for the sake of smoothing out historical and literary parallels, regardless of the consequences for other theological issues.

Nevertheless, such harmonization is easy to spot. And scribes were not entirely consistent. Thus, the ‘after three days’ in Mark 8:31 is virtually untouched. Even this strong motive to alter the text was never done systematically and was never done completely. For this reason, we can have a great deal of confidence that the essential message of the original text can be recovered, for there is always a witness to it.

One of the best-known stories in the Scripture may have been completely made up by a translator.

It’s the famous story of Jesus drawing a line in the sand between a woman and the Pharisees who wanted to stone her to death. In most Scriptures, it shows up between John 7:53 and 8:11, and it gives us one of the most quoted lines in Christianity: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (How it’s exactly written varies between different versions.)

The thing is the oldest copies of the Gospel of John don’t have that story. In fact, that story doesn’t show up anywhere, on anything, until the fifth century AD—about 400 years after Jesus died.

The first text to include this story is an old Greek and Latin translation of the Gospels called the Codex Bezae. That codex is notorious for slipping in the odd extra detail that doesn’t show up anywhere else. And this story, in particular, is worded in a way that some Biblical scholars say doesn’t quite sound like it was written by the same person who wrote the rest of the Book of John.

A lot of people still argue it’s a true story, mostly on the basis that it sounds like the type of thing Jesus would do. There’s a lot of reason to believe, though, that the famous quote isn’t really the word of Jesus; it’s just something somebody slipped in four centuries later.

1 Corinthians 14 contains a strange, seemingly random interjection of misogyny that interrupts what, without it, would be a cohesive thought. They usually show up as verses 34 and 35, and they read:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

When you read it in context, it doesn’t make a ton of sense. The same chapter of the Scripture calls on both “brothers and sisters” to “prophesy” and “speak in tongues,” and it seems to heavily imply that they’re supposed to be doing these things—none of which involve remaining silent—while they’re in church.

There might be a simple explanation, though. Some people think an early Christian scholar just got fed up with his wife and slipped a “stop asking me questions” verse into the Good Book.

A fourth-century manuscript of the Book of Corinthians has a little note penciled into the margins next to those verses, saying that they are a later addition that weren’t originally in the book. And in other early manuscripts, these verses show up in seemingly random different parts of the Scripture. Despite what that one note says, we can’t find a single manuscript that doesn’t contain these lines. And so, for now, most Scriptures still leave it in.

Another example of Scripture manipulation is; One day, Jesus’s disciples said to Him: “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus replied: “When you pray, say this.” And then He said something, but we’re not completely sure what.

The Lord’s Prayer, somewhat ironically, is actually one of the parts of the Scripture that’s seen the most changes through translation. There are a lot of lines in it that we aren’t 100-percent sure are the same as when they were first written down.

The line “thy kingdom come,” in some early versions of the Scripture, read: “May Your Holy Spirit come upon us and purify us,” opening up the possibility that the line was rewritten by someone with an apocalypse obsession.

Even Pope Francis has complained about this one. He objects to the line “lead us not into temptation,” arguing that it should be translated “do not let us fall into temptation.” It’s just a few words, but it’s a big difference. The usual translation kind of makes God sound like a trickster out to ruin everybody’s lives. Scripture clearly tells us that Elohim does not tempt or can be tempted in James 1:13.

And the whole last line—often called the “doxology”—was almost certainly added by a translator. The line “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” doesn’t appear in the earliest in manuscripts, leading a lot of Biblical scholars to think someone, somewhere along the line, slipped it in himself.

There’s this weird part of the Scripture where Moses suddenly starts talking about unicorns as if they’re just gallivanting all over the place. It’s Numbers 23:22, and it reads: “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of a unicorn.”

It’s one of the main reasons the idea of unicorns is still so popular today—after all, they’re in the Scripture. But not everybody agrees that the original Hebrew word, re’em, means “unicorn.” Re’em means “single-horned creature,” but it’s more of a genus than a species. It’s a broad word that could refer to just about any horned creature, including rhinoceroses, wild oxen, wild buffalo, and oryxes.

The King James Version of the Scripture still says “unicorn,” but those other animals have shown up in other translations. Today, most Scriptures just call it a “wild ox.”

By now, though, the unicorn has been firmly made a part of our mythological fantasies—and all because of a poor choice in translation.

When someone denies that Jesus and God are the same being, the easiest verse to prove them wrong is 1 John 5:7-8. In the King James Version, it reads:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

It’s a clear, unambiguous declaration that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same. Except, the thing is, it isn’t actually part of the Scripture.

In the oldest manuscripts, the verses are a lot shorter. They just say, “There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree,” without any references to a Trinity.

All those extra lines don’t show up until the fourth century—which, coincidentally, happens to be when the Catholic Church officially approved what’s known as the Trinity doctrine: the idea that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are one.

Most Biblical scholars think this line was reworked in by some fourth-century priest who wanted to make sure nobody could prove his “Trinity” wrong—and it stayed in the Scripture for more than 1,000 years.


And there are many more mistakes, additions, and omissions in our Scriptures, but I’m not intending to write a book on this just to give a few examples. To get back to my question “Can you trust Scripture” my answer is still NO, but it is also YES. And here is why.

History is a central element of reading and understanding Scripture. History in the Old Testament is not history in the modern sense; it is the story of events seen as revealing the divine presence and power. It is the account of an actual people in an actual geographical area at certain specified historical times and in contact with other particular peoples and empires known from other sources. They had different traditions, cultures, and way of thinking. One thing for all to remember, especially scribes and translators is Deuteronomy 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye take anything from it, that ye may be shomer mitzvot of the commandments of Hashem Eloheichem which I command you. Therefor it is important to keep these for fundamental principles in mind when studying Scripture;

Scripture was written for the people to understand in their time

Scripture (original) is a divine text

There are no mistakes or contradictions in Scripture (original)

Scripture has clear and hidden meanings that need to be deciphered by research