Saturday, March 8, 2014
Matthew 5:17-18 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (NASB)
Introduction: The words that are my life
As a pastor, I am constantly pouring over the text repeatedly, prayerfully and studiously asking the following questions: What is it saying? What does it mean? Where is Christ in this text? And how do I apply it to my life? The words of the Bible are my life, because they connect me to the life, voice and Person of Jesus Christ. Spiritual and physical life hang upon whether the words before me are words of God or words of men.
With the above introduction, I aim to offer over the next couple of days six reasons as to why you can believe and trust that the English version or translation you are studying, reading or applying are the words of God. Today we will focus on the first three of those reasons:
1. Jesus says so.
In the text above, Jesus is asserting that not one “jot” or “tittle” or “smallest letter” or “least stroke of the men” shall pass away. Those statements refer to the characteristics of the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. Let the reader note just how small of differences there are between the letters in Jesus’ illustration:
a. The jot or “smallest” Hebrew letter being the “yod” (י)
b. The “smallest stroke” being the little tale distinguishing the “daleth” (ד) (the ‘d’ sound in the Hebrew) and the caph (ך) (the ‘k’ sound in Hebrew).
Jesus’ statement is fascinating due to the fact that He and the apostles would had been utilizing the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint) rather than the Hebrew. The Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament were used mainly by the Scribes and Pharisees in the first century. Jesus’ comments referred to those copies (and of course the Greek translation, the Septuagint). Thus according to Jesus, there was no essential loss of God’s words or message from the original autographs of the original Hebrew/Aramaic texts to the Greek translations. 1 Jesus' logic is inescapable for us living in the 21st century:
-Jesus saw the translations of His day as being the Word of God
-We have translations of the Bible today
-Therefore the translations of our day are the Word of God
2. Dead Sea Scrolls. For the Hebrew Bible, the oldest complete manuscript copies that existed were from the early Medieval period. In 1947 the world of scholarship was historically altered when a shepherd boy hunting for some goats through a rock into a cave and heard a shattering of pottery. To the shock of the scholarly community, that cave, located in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, contained well preserved documents of the ancient Qumran Jewish community. For the next several years, 11 such caves would yield a treasure trove of manuscripts and copies of every Old Testament book (except Esther). Chief among them is the famous Hebrew “Isaiah Scroll”, which upon close inspection was discovered to be within 95% agreement with the later Hebrew manuscript copies made nearly ten centuries later!2 Though each of those hand copied Biblical manuscripts may have slight differences between one another, whenever you look at the overall history of the copying of Biblical manuscripts, we can honestly say that not one major doctrine or fact is affected. Again compare the attitudes of Jesus, the apostles and the early Jewish people and the historic Christian church, and you will discover that they never saw the translations as being anything less than the inerrant, infallible Word of God.
3. The overall agreement between the copies and translations of the Old Testament.
Whenever one studies the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, also designated the LXX), the Hebrew text, and an Old Hebrew version called the Samaritan Pentateuch, one discovers that in cross comparison situations there is virtually over 95% agreement. In Old Testament textual criticism, the bulk of issues surround solving differences of harmonization. Having studied Hebrew for some twenty years, I can tell the reader first hand that when one studies the literature, the texts themselves and compares them with English translations sold in today’s bookstores, there are no worries.
The Bibles that you and I read, hear, preach, teach and pray through every week and rely upon in life are the Word of God.
1. As we carry forward in this post, the reader will get a chance to see more specifically what I mean by such statements. Clearly Jesus taught that the words in the manuscripts He had access to were reliable and faithful to what would had been the wording of the original text. Differences in the manuscripts – yes. Loss of God’s words and meaning - no.
2. A specific example is comparing Isaiah 53 between the Dead Sea Scroll manuscript (1QIsaa) and the Masoretic Texts of the early Medieval period. Clearly the preservation of God’s words made it through a thousand years of time.