I occasionally get into debates with people who believe that what is in the Bible is literally and exactly the word of God. Fine–I don’t care if they believe this or not, but if they believe it, there must be some reason that this is the case. To tell me "it is because it is" is not an answer–it is more of a dodge and weave.
The text of the New Testament (I’ll leave out the Old for now) is a patchwork of many different texts and manuscript families. It isn’t something that just fell out of the sky whole and fully formed. We don’t know what the original looked like, for the simple reason that we do not have any of the originals. It doesn’t matter how hard some people do not want to believe this, it won’t change this fact. The earliest scrap is a couple of lines from John from the 2nd century. This is not to say that we cannot guess what the original might have said. That is what our text is today–an extremely good guess. If you look at a Greek or Latin or Hebrew text of the Bible, you will see many notes down at the bottom. This is the critical apparatus. It shows how each sentence is different from other manuscript families. Manuscript families are sets of manuscripts that come from specific areas or from specific times. Scholars then compare these manuscripts with each other, trying to figure out which one is more correct. The people who wrote down these copies can make many mistakes in their copying. Try copying out sentence upon sentence and just look at the mistakes you can make. The problem is compounded when you have scribes who didn’t even know the language they were copying (yes, this has happened).
Thus there are many, many problems with the text of the New Testament. And that problem doesn’t even include the problem of translating the Greek into English. Ever wonder why there are so many different versions of the New Testament? Each translation is different. Why? Because people translate different. If you have ever translated anything, you know this to be the case.
A good case in point is 1 Cor. 6:9-10.
In the New Revised Standard Version, it reads:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of them will inherit the kingdom of God.
Let’s just concentrate one one section–…male prostitutes, sodomites… The original Greek is …malakoi oute arsenokoitai…
In the King James Version you have: …nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind
In the New King James Version: …nor homosexuals, nor sodomites…
The American Standard Version …nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men…
The English Standard Version …nor men who practice homosexuality (they give a footnote saying "The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts"
New International Version: male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders
New Living Translation: male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality
The Wycliffe New Testament: neither lechers against kind, neither they that do lechery with men
I think you get the point. Now there are patterns here to be sure, but there are big differences between male prostitutes, effeminate, homosexuals, and lechers. This is all because of one word–malakoi. So which translation is correct? Well, your guess is as good as mine. There is no perfect translation because we clearly don’t know what the original word meant. There is also a difference between sodomites (I thought those were homosexuals????) abusers of themselves with mankind, abusers of themselves with men, homosexual offenders, and those that do lechery with men. Yes, there are patterns here, but once again there are problems. You even have one translation (English standard Version) that has decided to mix both words together to produce nor men who practice homosexuality and indicate that the Greek shows the passive and active partners. S I guess this means that homosexuals are the passive partner and the sodomite is the active, or that the effeminate are passive and the abusers of themselves with mankind are active? 🙂
So this is what I think about when I get into discussions about the Bible being the word of God. And this is what I think about when someone tells me that the Greek has been translated perfectly. Clearly there are problems with both beliefs…