Manuscript black and white

How We Got the Bible

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In my efforts to better understand how the text of the Bible came to be as it is today, I’m currently reading a book entitled ‘How We Got the Bible’ by Neil R. Lightfoot. A passage I was reading today stood out, and I would like to share it, as I think it highlights a flaw in the thought of many Christians concerning God’s relationship with human beings.

In the ninth chapter of the book (p95), Lightfoot writes the following:

It is a fact that the New Testament text has been transmitted to us through the hands of copyists. It is also a fact that, since these hands were human, they were susceptible to the slips and faults of all human hands. It is not true, therefore, that God has guided the many different scribes in their tasks of copying the Sacred Scriptures. The Scriptures, although divine, have been handed down through the centuries by means of copies, just like any other ancient book. [emphasis added]

I find this reasoning to be problematic. If God was not involved in the process of scribes copying manuscripts, it is illogical to say that it is by God’s providence that we have the Bible in the form(s) it takes today. To take God out of the lives of the scribes is to remove God from the history of human activity and deny His ability to unfold the events of history in the way He chooses.

It would make much more sense to say that God is in sovereign control of His creation, and that He was in control of the copying process embarked upon by the scribes. That way, we can say with full confidence that when we are reading the Bible the words on the page are as God intended them to be. The fact that there are errors and contested readings is a part of God’s plan, as He doesn’t like humans to be perfect in every way all the time.

Theologians have a clear choice to consider. Either God is sovereign over creation and we can read the Bible knowing that we are reading the words God intended for us to read, or if we maintain that God was not guiding the scribes, as Lightfoot suggests, our confidence in reading evaporates and chance and circumstance necessarily come into the equation, depriving God of His sovereignty and depriving our modern Bibles of their authority.

Related post: God’s Grand Game
Related essay: An Almighty Predicament

41 comments

  1. Hi Steven, in studying this subject myself I found that even secular authorities agree that Jewish scribes were very meticulous when copying sacred manuscripts, and that the ancient Israelites were just as careful when transmitting oral history. We have a plethora of ancient manuscripts with which to compare modern translations, so there seems to be very little reason to seriously question the veracity of the biblical text. And as you say, with God overseeing the process, any human errors are bound to be minimal and of little significance, and usually easy to identify with a little work. The Bible is the most well-documented piece of ancient literature, and we can be more certain of it’s origins than we can of Shakespeare’s plays.

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    1. Hi Don!

      I’ve been really enjoying your blog, you’re an excellent writer with an obvious passion for the Gospel and I respect and appreciate that. Thanks for stopping by and reading my post.

      A big focus of mine is the relationship between God’s sovereignty and free will, and that was again my central point when composing this post. If you can ever spare a bit of time, I invite you to check out my essay entitled ‘An Almighty Predicament’ (on my Essays page) in which I describe my struggle with Christianity based on the free will problem.

      Alternatively, feel free to check out a couple of my other posts, and you’ll probably get the general idea.

      Comments, or email exchanges, are always valued and appreciated.

      God bless!

      Steven

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      1. I’ll definitely check them out. I once wrote a thirty-page essay of my own views on God’s sovereignty vs. free will, and we may have some differences of thought there, but that’s okay! I’ll know more once I read your recommendations. Really enjoying your blog as well! ~Peace

        Don

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          1. Sure, it’s on a flash-drive somewhere. I’ll send it along. I downloaded your “Almighty Predicament” and just started to read… lots to discuss!

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  2. Hey Steven, I read your essay, An Almighty Predicament, lot’s of good stuff to discuss! One question: Are you able to open Word documents if I email them to you? Just so you will recognize it, my email starts with my name – don

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  3. Once you say that the faults of man are simply those that God has allowed for then the next step is to say God engineered those same faults.
    It is a door from which there is no return and and infallible proof that the Bible is perfect . It must follow that the translations are all perfect and the debate of Christians and others is merely God smiling on our imperfections.
    It reminds me of the Catholic churches doctrine of infallibility of the Pope on matters of faith it simply puts an end to all debate, but then Faith its self means an end to debate.

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