Authenticity of Bible Versions
We have many Bible versions available in the market. How do we decide which version is the right one?
For purposes of simplicity I have divided the versions into two major categories.
- Byzantine/Syrian – henceforth called Eastern (primariy Textus Receptcus)
- Roman/Egyptian – henceforth called Western (primarily Codex Vaticanus)
It is to be noted that though there are differences among the texts within the two categories yet their similarities allow them to be clubbed into these categories. The differences between the manuscripts of the two groups are far more than they have among each other.
Major ways to decide the authenticity of Bible versions are:
- Time of first mention or reference by people.
- Age of oldest manuscripts available.
- History of changes made.
- Condition of the manuscripts.
- General acceptance by the body of believers
1. Time of First Mention: It was initially surprising to me surprising that the Church Fathers referred to both the Eastern and Western readings. But later, I realised that we had to expect this since Paul mentions spurious letters ascribed to the church leaders.
2 Thess. 2:2 - That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
The table below compare the number of times the Church fathers used
Name Approx. Year % of distinctly Western % of distinctly Eastern Comments
Marcion 160 A.D. 23 18 Declared to be heretic
Irenaeus 202 A.D. 16 16.5 Lyons, France
Clement 215 A.D. 13.5 15 Alexandria, Egypt
Origen 254 A.D. 16.5 17 Alexandria and Caesarea
Hyppolytus 235 A.D. 14.5 19 Rome, Italy
From this we understand that it is not possible to distinctly state that certain version came earlier than the other version hence it is more true as there seems to be a presence of both from around 150 A.D. itself.
2. Age of Oldest Manuscripts Available:
The Western version has a distinct edge in this as the oldest manuscript fragments yet found are from the Western type. But we cannot make this a case since previously it was the Eastern version until older version belonging to the Western type was found. Maybe in future older version of the Eastern text maybe found. Hence absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We cannot conclusively state which is oldest ever though we can state that with the present level of knowledge the Western texts are older but our knowledge may change as more discoveries are made.
3. History of Changes:
Churches have a tendency to change the manuscripts according to their world view. As is the case with the New World Translation produced by Jehovah’s Witness. The Roman church has proved that it changed the Bible text multiple times. The Old Latin Vulgate is different from the New Latin Vulgate and it has also changed the 10 commandments in the Old Testament. The Western readings have shown both random mistakes as well as doctrinal changes. Hence they are not very trustworthy. There have been random errors but not doctrinal changes in the Eastern type, they have not shown this form of evolution. Hence, the manuscripts of the Eastern type are more trustworthy.
4. Condition of Manuscripts:
Many of the oldest fragments of the Western type that has been found were used to form the hard covers of the bound books. These pages were compressed together to form the hard binding. Good copies generally would not be used to form hard bindings, these copies were rejected so instead of using blank sheets the book binders used these rejected sheets. Codex Sinaiticus (Western Type) was corrected 14,800 times many phrases, lines and paragraphs were missing or written twice over. It omits the verses in Mark 16:9-20 but leaves space vacant for this to be written down before starting the next book. Proving that Mark had these verses which were not copied.
The Greek of the Codex Vaticanus is of the Classical Greek style and not the Koine Greek style used by the real authors. It omits the pastoral epistles 1 Timothy to Titus, Revelation and Hebrews after chapter 9. This could be due to the fact that the teachings in Hebrews 10 that goes against the teachings of the church in which it was found. Unfortunately the Codex Vaticanus is considered the most authoritative and the most complete. Codex Vaticanus has evidence of Mark 16:9-20 being written and then erased.
The evidence of the blank spaces, style of writing Greek and erasing give the suspicion of careless tampering or premeditated changes. The oldest Eastern Manuscripts found do not show these many corrections or changes. Hence, the manuscripts of the Eastern type are more trustworthy.
5. General Acceptance by the Body of Believers
The Western texts are usually spread in the regions where the Alexandrian and Roman churches had influence. Eastern texts were used both in the Western churches of Gauls, Goths, Waldensians, and the Eastern churches of Syrians, Greeks, Armenians and Turkey. These versions using Western type texts include: The Peshitta Version (AD 150 – AD 400), The Italic Bible (AD 157), The Waldensian (AD 120 & onwards), The Gallic Bible (Southern France) (AD177), The Gothic Bible (AD 330-350), The Old Syriac Bible (AD 400), The Armenian Bible (AD 400 There are 1244 copies of this version still in existence.), The Palestinian Syriac (AD 450), etc.
The Eastern texts were not in public use after the 5th century. The texts were kept within the Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church and the Coptic Church. The Eastern Type texts were in general public use by common people from the earliest times to today. We should note the place of autographs (the original letters) written by the apostles would be located. Most of the texts were authored in and addressed to Eastern / Byzantine area.
John – Turkey; Peter – Babylon; Paul – Turkey, Greece, Rome; James – Jerusalem; Matthew - ?; Mark – Egypt; Luke - travelled with Paul in Turkey/Greece.
It is possible that the copies were taken to other places and not originals, but copies in the region of the autographs could be cross verified with originals or other copies available. Copies in other places could only be checked with the copy that was brought or if one individual had a corrupted copy then no one would be able to rectify it. This leads to the opinion that it is harder to publish and maintain a corrupt copy in the Eastern region of early Christianity than in the Western regions as people could compare it to the available originals. This gives credence to the Eastern type texts.
The end of the matter . . .
In conclusion, it is to be noted that versions of Bible based on the Eastern type are more representative of the original manuscripts than the Bibles based on the Western type. Bibles based on the Eastern type texts are KJV, NKJV, KJV EasyReading (RECOMMENDED), YLT. Bibles based on the Western readings are NIV, NASB, RSV, MSB, GNB, etc. It has to be noted that the important thing is to be able to read easily and be filled with the love and Spirit of God. Unless we have them then no version will help us and if we have them then any version will suffice.
This document is not to put someone down or to encourage arguments or condemnation but meant only for the few who would like to know and discern.
References provided on request