Earlier this month, a website called Business Insider spread several false claims about the Bible in a short video produced by Joe Avella. The video also promoted some statements which are technically true but which were framed in a way which is likely to mislead viewers. Let’s test the reliability of the claims made in the recent Business Insider video about the Bible.
The Business Insider video’s narration stated, “This sacred text has changed a great deal.”
There’s no doubt that this is true, because whenever an ancient text is translated, it changes. However, such changes tend to be benign, like when water is poured from one bottle into another. The form changes, but not the content of its message, provided that the translation is accurate. And, among Greek manuscripts, spelling changed; lettering-styles changed, individual copyists made mistakes (which can be filtered out by comparing multiple copies), and so forth. Then came a claim that the earliest copies we have were made hundreds of years after the events they describe.
Granting that we do not have any of the actual documents written by the authors of the books of the New Testament, the Business Insider’s claim that the earliest copies that we have were made “hundreds of years” after the events they describe is FALSE.
At the beginning of the New Testament, the Gospels describe the ministry of Jesus, around A.D. 30, and at the end, John mentions his exile to the
, around A.D. 90. Thus “hundreds
of years” after that would be between 230 and 290. island
|Some manuscripts that were made before A.D. 230.
Next, the Business Insider video stated, “For the first 100-200 years, copies of the Bible were made by hand – and not by professionals.” Bibles were made by hand for a lot longer than that; they were made by hand until after Gutenberg invented movable type in the mid-1400’s. That is why we call them “manuscripts.” But the claim that no early manuscripts were written by professionals is not true. In the early manuscript known as Papyrus 46, one can observe notes about the number of sense-lines after some of the books, showing that the copyist was a professional who expected to be paid by the sense-line.
|Meanwhile in the real world.
|Not familiar with the
evidence about the story
of the adulteress?
This book can help.
And let’s consider that quote from Bill Warren: if one holds the view that the story about the adulteress was not written by John as part of his Gospel, then what we have in John 7:53-8:11 is an authentic story. In which case, what has happened is that instead of making an entire New Testament book out of this episode, it was grafted into the Gospel of John instead. So in this scenario, with the longer text, readers get one more true, authentic report about Jesus.
The Business Insider video then considered Mark 16:9-20 and stated, “In original manuscripts of Mark, this part of the story is nowhere to be found.” But the same video just finished telling us that we don’t have the original manuscripts! The original manuscript of Mark was made in the first century, probably in the mid-60’s. The manuscripts to which the Business Insider’s video refers are not the original manuscripts; the two early Greek manuscripts which end the text of Mark 16 at the end of verse 8 were made in the 300’s – at least one hundred and thirty years after Saint Irenaeus quoted from this passage as it appeared in his manuscript of Mark, around the year 184. This passage is supported by over 1,600 Greek manuscripts, and is used by over 40 writers from the era of the Roman Empire. The Business Insider doesn’t seem to sense a need to share these details with its viewers.
Next, the video turns to Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Here we learn that Joe Avella consulted a book by an atheist to learn about the background of the Bible. What could go wrong?) Although some early interpreters tried to remove this passage from the text because it seemed to pose a theological difficulty, it was not removed in the Byzantine text, the text that was used in medieval Greek churches and which is attested by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. Nor was it removed in the Vulgate, the text that was used in the Latin-speaking churches. So: what the video presents as the third-biggest change in the Bible turns out to be an attempt at alteration which the church reacted against.
The Business Insider’s video says that this passage was “changed to reference the Romans.” That is false. Interpretations of the phrase “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” varied, but the words themselves were not changed to refer to the Romans. If the Business Insider has been hiding a manuscript in which Luke
says that Jesus said, “Father, forgive these Romans,” let’s have it. Otherwise this false claim – and the other
false claims crammed into this video – should be withdrawn.
Let’s hope that Business Insider’s writers and video-makers are better at dispensing financial advice than they are at investigating the history of the text of the Bible.