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Old 26th January 2006, 03:33 PM
Ron Conte Ron Conte is offline
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Default The Evolution of the Bible

The Bible has not remained the same since the writing of each of the original manuscripts.

Some books might not have an original manuscript, since some books (e.g. Genesis) are the product of many years of editing: adding, subtracting, and changing material. By the time that the book reaches a version analogous to a 'first edition,' it may exist in numerous copies that are not identical to one another.

In any case, the books of the Bible that we have today are not the same as the original manuscripts or the earliest sets of manuscripts of any book. Have they degraded as time passed? Must we recover the originals in order to save truth from extinction? Have the truths of Scripture been distorted and obscured with the passage of time? No, no, and no.

Instead, God's Providence and Grace is with Sacred Scripture as it is passed from generation to generation, just as God guides the transmission of Tradition and the teachings of the Magisterium. Just as the truths of Tradition and the Magisterium become clearer as time passes, so also do the truths of Scripture become clearer -- and they become more clearly expressed through the process of editing and translating and comparing different versions in different languages.

In fact, just as the understanding and the clear expression of the truths of Tradition and Magisterium continually improve in a process analogous to evolution, so also does the understanding and the clear expression of the truths of Scripture continually improve. The truths themselves do not change or evolve. It is their expression in human language which evolves as Scripture is transmitted from one version to another, from one generation to another.

The Living Scriptures

The Scriptural life of the Church influences editors and translators. As the faithful, through the centuries, prayerfully read, understand, and live Scripture, the understanding of the text increases and results in translations and editions that more clearly express the truths of Scripture than prior editions and translations. Each successive version of Scripture is influenced by other versions, in the same and other languages. Later versions of Scripture more clearly express the truths of Scripture, which were always present in some form, but which may have been obscure in prior editions. These later versions have the advantage of being influenced by other versions of Scripture and by the continuing process of the entire Church on earth praying and living Scripture through the centuries.

As a result, having the original manuscript of a book of the Bible would not be better than having numerous version of that book, in numerous languages, with numerous differences in wording. These later versions have gone through the long process of being influenced by the Scriptural life of the Church, so that the truths of the original manuscripts are more clearly expressed.

Copying and Editing

In any particular language, even in the language in which the book was originally written (a matter of some dispute, in my view), as the text is copied again and again, the copyists sometimes functioned like an editor, not merely a copyist. Sometimes they may have done this deliberately, making a change to the wording of the text to make the meaning clearer. They had to do this because they generally worked from only one (or only a few) copies in order to make their copy. And old manuscripts of the Bible have frequent copyist errors. So a copyist would intelligently decide if a spelling or wording was the error of a previous copyist and correct that error. Sometimes the correction resulted in a phrasing of a truth which expressed that truth more clearly than the original phrasing. Sometimes a copyist/editor would be correcting a real copyist error. Sometimes the assumed error was not a copyist error, but an awkward phrasing that could be improved. Over centuries of such corrections, and, in later years, similar types of corrections were made by editors of printed versions, so that the truths of Scripture, by Providence and Grace, have become more clearly expressed in their various languages.

Providential Errors

Some improvements to the wording and phrasing of the truths of Scripture may have been non-deliberate random errors, a few of which happen to improve the text, and so were more likely to be maintained in subsequent editions. Such happy errors do not in any way add to, subtract from, or change the truths of Scripture, but merely express those truths more clearly and more eloquently.

This providential improvement in the way that the truths of Scripture are expressed is analogous to evolution. In the theory of evolution, random changes or mistakes in the genetic code occasionally result in improvements. These improvements are more likely to continue to subsequent generations. These improvements build up to result in a significantly better and different organism. Of course, the Christian view of evolution sees any such improvement as part of the Providence of God.

So the words and phrases used to express the truths of Scripture have been subject to many generations of copyist 'typographical' errors. Letters are dropped or added, accidentally. One word is substituted for a similar word because the text was misread. The order or words might be changed accidentally by the copyist. Such errors are more likely to occur, and are more likely to be adopted by subsequent copyists/editors, if the result is a phrasing that more clearly expresses the truths of Scripture than the original text. Most such errors are not improvements and are corrected in subsequent copies. But some small percentage of these 'errors' accidentally result in a better expression of truth. So does God's Providence and Grace guide the expression of the unchanging truths of Scripture into greater clarity.

In Summary

The truths of Scripture do not evolve, they are unchanging. The expression of the truths of Scripture in human language is what evolves and changes, under God's Providence and Grace. Such is also the case with the expression of the truths of Tradition and Magisterium.

The later versions of the Bible, especially taken as a set (not so much any individual version by itself), contain a clearer and more comprehensive expression of the truths of Scripture than the original manuscripts did.

The truths of Sacred Scripture are not completely contained within any one version or edition of the Bible. Any individual version will contain the vast majority of these truths. But, in their entirety, these truths are located across all the versions and editions of the Bible that exist in their various languages.

Ron Conte
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Old 27th January 2006, 11:13 AM
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On the subject of "providential errors" (quotes necessary!), a number of scholars have alleged "mistakes" on the part of the NT writers on the basis that their reliance on the Septuagint (LXX) Greek OT leads them to ignore the true significance of the Hebrew original. I think this is an over-simplification. In particular, we are not entitled to assume that the translators of the LXX were not themselves divinely inspired; I think there is a good case for saying that they were, and must have been.

That does not entitle us to ignore the original Hebrew significance of the original text, insofar as it is available to us. The issues of resolving such questions are amazingly complex and I would be disinclined to trust anyone who claims to have solved them all single-handed. There is an important role here for the PBC.
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Old 27th January 2006, 03:09 PM
Ron Conte Ron Conte is offline
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Default bias towards the 'original' languages

Biblical scholars today tend to have a bias toward the so-called 'original languages'. This is what leads them to look with disfavor on the Septuagint, or to even assert that the NT can contain errors by relying on it.

But the inspiration of Scripture is greater than the languages used. That is why this idea of the evolution of the Bible toward greater clarity is important. The Bible's meaning breaks free of any one language or culture or time period.

So, in my controversial view, Matthew wrote in Hebrew, Mark in Latin, Luke in Greek, John in Aramaic. Jesus spoke mostly Aramaic, some Hebrew (synagogue), some Latin (Herodians, Pilate), and maybe occassionally Greek. So which is the original language?

God has arranged things so that we cannot exalt one languge above the others. And He wisely has kept the 'original manuscripts' from us, lest we think that the Bible is frozen into one form: exactly these lettes in this order in this language.
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Old 28th January 2006, 12:28 AM
Ana Ramos
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All about Sacred Scripture is extremely awesome. I thank you, Ron,
for your well documented information.
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