Biblical Texting

Coffee is especially good this morning.  After my first sip of dark roast the phrase “textual variant” popped into my mind – not sure why.  Anyway, scholars of the Bible often talk about textual variants but I never paid much attention to it until I noticed a footnote in my Bible.  The footnote said something like, “…this word or verse is not found in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts…”  What the heck does that mean?  I was taught that every word in the Bible was “God-breathed” and that it was completely inerrant and infallible.  Isn’t there a MASTER or an original copy of the Bible that we can refer to?

As it turns out, there are NO master or original copies of the Bible.  There were no printing presses back then so people had to copy everything by hand.  It was a good thing, though, because the material they used to write on have all disintegrated.  So, what we have are copies of copies of copies and so on.  Scholars have found thousands of copies of manuscripts over the years and guess what?  There are variations among all the manuscripts.  People are human and they are bound to make spelling errors or repeat words or phrases.  Some even changed the text to suit their theological preferences.  As one scholar put it, “There are more variations than there are words in the New Testament.”  Scholars will also point out that most of these variations are minor and don’t affect the doctrines of Christianity – but some do make a difference.

Because the Bible has so many textual variations how can we know what the Bible really says?  What are the original words of God?  Do we have reliable copies of the Bible?  If you look at how many different versions of the Bible that are in existence today, you would start to wonder.  Anyway, let’s look at an example of a textual variant.

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark starting at verse 40 (in my own paraphrasing) a man with a skin disease came to Jesus, fell to his knees and begged Jesus to heal him.  Verse 41 continues with, Having “pity” on the man, Jesus touches him and heals him.  A very nice, compassionate story as it appears in most Bibles today.  However, the variant comes in verse 41.  Instead of having “pity” on the man, Jesus gets “angry” at him.  And guess what the footnote says?  Ha!  There has been much debate as to which word is actually the original.  Today’s Christian would expect it to say “pity” but what were the real intentions of the author?  I could give you gobs of scholarly debate, but I won’t.  I love a good mystery!

Now… time for another cup!  Make it a habit to read your Bibles!  And don’t forget to read the footnotes.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

My coffee is really good this morning.  I prefer a dark roast but I’m willing to try just about anything.  Hope you’re enjoying a cup or two.

I read something interesting as well as shocking the other day.  The article stated that the divorce rate among Christians turns out to be the same rate as the National average – which is about 50%.  How can that be?  What would Jesus think about our high divorce rate?  Did Jesus prohibit divorce?  Here’s what I found.

The prohibition of divorce by Jesus is attested by three sources:  Paul (1 Cor. 7:10-11), Mark (Mark 10:1-2) and Q (Matthew 5:32 & Luke 16:18).  According to scholars it also passes the “criterion of dissimilarity” since divorce was permitted by the law of Moses (Deut. 24:1).  Because of this, scholars believe that Jesus “historically” said that divorce is absolutely prohibited.

Absolute prohibition of divorce is a radical thought among Christians but it is demanded by Jesus.  How are churches getting by with allowing a divorced Christian to remarry?   Time for another cup!

Jesus’ Age & Ministry

Having coffee this morning got me thinking about Jesus and his ministry here on earth.  I can remember in Bible study class how we were taught that Jesus died when he was around 30 years old and that his ministry lasted about three years.  I always trusted my pastor to be right but I wanted to find exactly where he got that information from.  So, here’s what I found and where I found it.

The Gospel of Luke 3:23 explicitly states that Jesus was “about” 30 years old when he was executed by the Romans.  But, the Gospel of John 8:57 disagrees with Luke by saying that he is “not yet fifty years old” which to me means he was around 45-49 years old.  I could be wrong but these were the only two places I could find any author mentioning Jesus’ age.

None of the Gospels explicitly state the length of Jesus’ ministry, but we can infer from the writings how long it lasted.  John’s Gospel mentions three different Passovers (2:13, 6:4, 12:1) and multiple trips to Jerusalem.  So, we can only guess that Jesus’ ministry lasted about three years.  However, from reading the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we would assume that Jesus’ ministry took place within one year (one journey to Jerusalem and one Passover mentioned).

If I go with my pastor’s thought about Jesus being around 30 years old, then I’m ignoring what John says when he thinks that Jesus was about 15 years older.  If I believe that Jesus’ ministry lasted three years, then I must ignore the writings of the other three Gospel authors.

Oh well… time for another cup of Joe!