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by Michael T. Griffith
How can Mormonism be from God when it teaches that the Bible is not inerrant or complete?
Doesn't the Bible teach that it is inerrant, complete, and all-sufficient?
Doesn't Revelation 22:18-19 teach that the Bible is the final word of God to man?
For information on the LDS view of the Bible, see The Holy Bible home page
Why This Question Must Be Asked
As we saw in the preceding chapter, evangelical anti-Mormons point to the editorial changes made in the post-1830 editions of the Book of Mormon as evidence that the record is not inspired. In making this charge, these critics assume that the Bible is inerrant and complete, and that therefore it has not undergone any sort of serious editing or tampering. Thus, it is necessary to ask, Is the Bible inerrant and complete?
The LDS Church does not go out of its way to discuss the problems in the Bible. Thus, most Latter-day Saints, when asked to provide examples of Bible errors, can cite few if any biblical problems. Anti-Mormons often interpret this as proof that there is no real evidence that the Bible is errant. I will show herein that such is not the case.
Most of the lay fundamentalists with whom I occasionally dialogue express the view that the doctrine of inerrancy applies to our present-day Bible, that is, that the Bible as we now have it is inerrant. Most fundamentalist scholars, on the other hand, take a somewhat different position. They maintain that the doctrine of inerrancy applies only to the "original autographs" of the Bible. However, notwithstanding this declaration, they are very hesitant to admit the presence of even the most obvious biblical errors. Gleason Archer's book, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, which is very popular among fundamentalists, is a prime example of this hesitancy. In attempting to explain undeniable errors, Archer provides answers that are strained and unconvincing. A number of his explanations constitute tacit admissions of error.
In discussing Bible difficulties, it is not my intent to denigrate or demean the Bible in any way. The Bible is scripture. It is sacred and inspired. However, it has not come down to us in perfect or complete form. Fortunately, being LDS, I am not bound by fundamentalism's either-or view of the Bible. Latter-day Saints do not accept the fundamentalist claim that the Bible must be perfect in every way or else it can't be from God. Thanks in large part to modern revelation, Mormons can look past the Bible's problems and appreciate its beauty, importance, and inspiration. Judged by any reasonable standard, the Bible is a literary and revelatory masterpiece, and it is an important source of information about returning to our Heavenly Father. Personally, I am of the opinion that the doctrine of inerrancy is actually harmful to the Bible, (1) because it is unscriptural and demonstrably incorrect, and (2) because it sets up an indefensible "straw man" view of the book that can easily be demolished by atheists and other hostile critics.
The Bible vs. the Doctrine of Scriptural Inerrancy
In reality, it is not possible to discuss what the Bible says about itself since it was written by many different authors over a very long period of time. It must also be remembered that our present standard Protestant Bible of sixty-six canonical books was not settled upon until a few centuries ago. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians accept into their canons several so-called "apocryphal" books which are excluded in the Protestant Bible. And, there is no doubt that the early Christian canon went beyond the Protestant canon.
The Bible neither teaches nor logically implies the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy. In fact, as many scholars have noted, just the opposite is the case. Indeed, the biblical authors certainly did not view scripture as perfect and unchangeable.
Does 2 Timothy 3:16 Support the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy?
In 2 Timothy 3:16, the apostle Paul wrote:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
Strangely enough, fundamentalists cite this verse to support the idea of biblical inerrancy. However, this passage merely says that "all scripture" is "profitable" for doctrine, reproof, etc. It says nothing about scripture being "perfect," or "inerrant," or "infallible," or "all-sufficient." If anything, Paul's words constitute a refutation of the idea of scriptural inerrancy, as Oxford University's James Barr has pointed out:
The striking thing about 2 Tim. 3: 16 is not its declaration of scriptural inspiration but its unstressed and low-key application of it. It is not remarkable that it says nothing about inerrancy or historical accuracy, which were not an issue at the time or until many centuries later; but, more important, it says nothing about scripture being the foundation of the Christian faith, or the ultimate criterion of its genuineness, or the decisive factor above all others in the understanding of it. What it does say is that scripture is useful, profitable for the needs of the pastoral ministry. (1983:20, original emphasis)
In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul tells Timothy that "from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (vs. 15). The only "holy scriptures" Timothy could have known from childhood were the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament. Yet, would any Christian assert that in Paul's view the Old Testament was the final and complete word of God to man? Of course not.
Verse 15 makes it clear that in speaking of "all scripture" Paul was referring to the Jewish scriptures and perhaps to some of his own epistles. The New Testament as we know it did not exist yet. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Paul's canon included some Jewish scriptures that are no longer found in the Old Testament, such as the book of Enoch (Barr 1983:25; 1984:4). In fact, notes Catholic scholar Richard F. Smith, "The entire Church of the first centuries accepted the LXX [the Greek Old Testament, also called the Septuagint] as an inspired work, and therewith accepted what are now called the deuterocanonical [apocryphal] books" (in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:511).
No Original Manuscripts
We do not possess the original manuscript for a single book in the Bible. What we have are copies of copies of copies many times overand in several different languages.
The oldest manuscript support for the Old Testament is the Qumran material, i.e., the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls date to between the end of the third century B.C. and A.D. 70. Therefore, they were written a bare minimum of three hundred years after the last old Testament book was composed.
Next to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest extant text of the Old Testament is the Septuagint (also known as the LXX), preserved in codices from the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. (Achtemeier 1985:1040-1041). The oldest of the remaining Old Testament manuscripts date to no earlier than the ninth century A.D.
As for the New Testament, there is one second-century fragment of John's gospel known as the Rylands fragment, but it is very small and contains only a few verses. The earliest substantial manuscript support for the New Testament comes from the Chester Beatty papyri, which date to the third century. These papyri contain most, but not all, of the books of the New Testament. The first complete New Testament manuscript is the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates to the fourth century. Therefore, the oldest papyri containing most of the books of the New Testament were written at least 120 years after the originals were composed, and the oldest complete New Testament manuscript postdates the original autographs by at least 220 years.
There are literally thousands of variant readings in the Bible manuscripts. No credible Bible scholar denies this. However, some scholars, most of them fundamentalists, assert that no central Bible doctrine is affected by the variant readings. This claim is demonstrably incorrect.
For example, in Hebrews 10:5-10, the epistle's author is quoting from the book of Psalms to prove an important theological point: the preparation of a body for Israel's Messiah. The key statement is "a body thou hast prepared for me" (vs. 5), which depends on the Septuagint translation of Psalm 40: 6. The author's whole point in quoting Psalm 40:6 is that it mentions the reparation of a body for the Messiah coming into the world. The writer returns to this point in Hebrews 10:10, saying, "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." However, the Hebrew Old Testament (the Masoretic Text or MT) says nothing about a "body" in Psalm 40:6, not one word. In fact, in the Hebrew the sentence reads, "thou hast given me an open ear" (Barr 1984:142-143; Achtemeier 1980:64), which is how it is translated in the RSV. In the KJV, which also follows the MT in this instance, the statement reads, "mine ears hast thou opened."
Another case of variant readings affecting important doctrine can be found in Acts 2:26-28, where Peter is represented as quoting Psalm 16:9-11 as a prophecy of Jesus' resurrection. The problem is that Peter depends on the Septuagint version of Psalm 16, which is different from the Hebrew. Achtemeier explains:
Whereas the Hebrew speaks of God keeping the faithful servant [David] from the "pit" [i. e., the realm of the dead], the Septuagint translation speaks of keeping the "Holy One" from "corruption;' a change that lies at the heart of the point Peter is making in this sermon. The prophecy of Jesus' resurrection depends on the Septuagint translation, which is again different from the Hebrew original (Achtemeier 1980:64)
And then there is the case of Ephesians 4: 8. In this verse Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 to support his statement on the grace of Christ in Ephesians 4:7. The quoted words from the Psalms, and Paul's comments on them, "prepare the way for vs. 12, i.e. toward an appreciation of the cosmic relevance of the gifts given to the church" (Barth 1974b:430). However, Paul's version of psalm 68:18 does not come from the Hebrew text, nor from the Septuagint, but from the Aramaic Targum, an ancient Jewish commentary on the Old Testament (Furnish 1971b: 841; Mays 1217; Archer 404)! Also, Paul attributes the words from Psalm 68:18 to Christ, but the Aramaic Targum ascribes them to Moses (Furnish 1971b:841; Mays 1217).
We have considered some of the many cases where the New Testament authors found it necessary to follow the LXX over the Hebrew Old Testament. Says Richard F. Smith, "at times the LXX is cited [in the New Testament] in support of Christian doctrines precisely because the Hebrew text does not support the doctrines in question" (in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:511).
Further proof that variant readings affect important passages comes from Deuteronomy 32:8-9. In the MT, as it is translated in the KJV, the passage reads as follows:
When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD's [Yahweh's] portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
However, it has long been known from the Septuagint, and more recently from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the phrase "according to the number of the children of Israel" used to read "according to the number of the sons of God." In the RSV, which takes into account the confirming evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the passage reads like this:
When the Most High [El Elyon] gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. For the LoRffs [Yahweh's] portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.
The significance of this variation is that in ancient times the term "sons of God" frequently referred to members of a divine assembly of gods. The ancient Hebrews believed in a divine council of deities headed by the supreme father-god El (also called Elohim or E1 Elyon), and they often referred to the members of this council as "the sons of God ." There is considerable disagreement among scholars over the council's composition, but there is no serious question that a belief in a divine assembly of heavenly deities was an important doctrine in ancient Hebrew theology (Eissfeldt; Mullen; Hayman; Morgenstern; Hanson 39; Clifford; Ackerman; Ackroyd; Seaich 1983:9-23).
By changing "the sons of God" to "the children of Israel," someone was deliberately trying to eliminate the reference to the divine council.
The LXX and Dead Sea Scroll versions of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 portray Yahweh as separate from El and as a member of the divine assembly subordinate to Him. As Niels Lemche says, "the Greek version apparently ranges Yahweh among the sons of the Most High, that is, treats him as a member of the pantheon of gods who are subordinate to the supreme God, El Elyon" (226, emphasis added). According to Harvard University's Paul Hanson,
This verse no doubt preserves early Israel's view of her place within the family of nations. The high god "Elyon" originally apportioned the nations to the members of the divine assembly .... Israel was allotted to Yahweh (39)
As the RSV puts it, Israel was Yahweh's "allotted inheritance," given (or "allotted") to Him by His Father, El.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint prove that in the original Hebrew of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, Yahweh was portrayed as a member of the divine council under El. Therefore, those who subsequently tampered with the Hebrew text were probably Yahweh-only editors who wanted to erase the original distinction between E1 and Yahweh and to depict Yahweh as the one and only God.
Another serious problem is that there are considerable scriptural passages that are present in some manuscripts but that are completely missing in others. For example, the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 is not found in any manuscript dating prior to the sixth century.
Furthermore, there are two endings of the Gospel of Mark, that is, there are two different versions of chapter 16. The shorter ending consists of verses 1-8, while the longer ending consists of verses 9-20. The verses comprising the longer ending are missing in many ancient texts, including the two oldest Greek manuscripts, the Old Latin codex Bobiensis, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (Metzger 1971:122-126). Yet, these verses record statements attributed to the Savior that are not found in the ending of any other Gospel. In addition, the two endings contain conflicting information about who went to Christ's tomb, who saw what, and who reported what to whom (more will be said about this below).
How are we to account for Mark's two different endings? An ancient Christian scholar named Papias may have given us the answer. Papias lived in the early part of the second century. He was the bishop of Hierapolis and a highly respected theologian and writer. According to Papias, the Gospel of Mark was a "rough draft." David Aune explains Papias' views on the subject:
Mark's Gospel, in Papias' view, consisted of apomnemoneumata ("reminiscences") previously fashioned into anecdotes.. . by Peter. The term apomnemoneumata is roughly synonymous with hypomnemata (meaning "notes" or "rough draft," connoting unfinished form, or "commentary") but in the singular can mean "book".. . . Papias.. . regarded the Gospel of Mark as apomnemoneumata (=hypomnemata), in contrast to Matthew, which he considered a finished composition. Paratactic and asyndetic style are characteristic of hypomnemata (cf. Theophrastus, Characters), both features of Mark. Papias' assessment of Mark as apomnemoneumata, then, means that he thought of it as unfinished and unpolished (Aune 66-67)
All indications are that the New Testament manuscripts were tampered with at a very early stage. Citing Frederick Scrivener's book, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, J. Reuben Clark observed the following:
The changing of sacred writings had very early become so common that Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, writing to the bishop of Rome (Soter) in the second century, complained that his own letters had been tampered with (168-176 A.D.). Heretics produced their own corrupted texts. Irenaeus (fl. 178 A.D.), "the glory of the Western Church in his own age," who "had been privileged in his youth to enjoy the friendly intercourse of his master Polycarp, who himself conversed freely with St. John and others that had seen the Lord," had no [New Testament] text to which he could refer as authentic, and was forced to settle discordant readings, as scholars today settle them, that is, "to search out the best copies and exercise the judgment on their contents." (Scrivener, pp. 505-507.) (124)
Princeton's James Charlesworth discusses some of the evidence that the Gospel of John was edited:
. . . [T]he Gospel of John was revised from time to time and whole chapters--chapter 1 and 21 and probably chapters 15-17--were added .... Chapter 14 ends with Jesus' exhortation to his disciples "Rise, let us go from here." Chapters 15 through 17 consist of long speeches by Jesus appealing for unity. Chapter 18 rather clearly picks up where Chapter 14 left off: Chapter 18 begins, "When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. . . ." These words follow chapter 14 much better than they do chapters 15 through 17. Chapters 15 through 17 were probably added in a "second edition" of the Gospel. (25)
This editing could only have occurred before our earliest copies of John were produced, since those copies all contain twenty-one chapters.
In the case of the Old Testament, it is not possible to identify when the first acts of tampering or revisional editing were performed, since it was written over such a long period of time. However, scholars have long known that, to varying degrees, all of the sacred books of the Hebrews underwent editing, to include interpolation and deletion.
The Samaritan Pentateuch
Mention has already been made of some of the differences between the Greek and Hebrew Old Testaments. There are also differences between other versions of the Old Testament. For example, the Samaritan Pentateuch differs significantly from the traditional Hebrew Pentateuch. (The term "Pentateuch" refers to the first five books of the Bible.) The Samaritan Pentateuch contains ancient Palestinian readings that are often in accord with the LXX but which vary from the Masoretic Text (Skehan, MacRae, and Brown in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:566). The Samaritan Pentateuch's editors felt at liberty to edit and expand existing scripture:
The harmonizing, expansionist nature of the Samaritan text has been mentioned: It fills out the plague narratives in Exodus so that each time the Lord gives Moses a message for Pharaoh, Moses repeats it word for word before the narrative continues. Similarly, sections of Deuteronomy that expand on themes already present in Exodus are actually transposed into the text of Exodus; Numbers undergoes similar harmonizing treatment, as does Deuteronomy itself .... The Samaritan tradition is supported both by targums in Aramaic and by a Greek Samareitikon, the known fragments and Syro-hexaplar translation of which show the same expanded text. This expanded recension was occasionally cited in the NT, notably in Acts 7. (Skehan, MacRae, and Brown in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:566)
Problems in the LXX
As is well known, the ancient Christians viewed both the LXX and the Hebrew Old Testament as inspired. Yet, in most cases they preferred the LXX to the Hebrew version (see, for example, Skehan, MacRae, and Brown in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2: 569- 574). Traditional Christendom also accepts the inspiration of both the LXX and the Masoretic Text. Yet, as w~ have already seen, at times the Septuagint differs significantly from the Hebrew. Beyond this, them are problems with the LXX itself. Three prominent Catholic scholars, Patrick Skehan, George MacRae, and Raymond Brown have observed that the Septuagint "contains translations that vary enormously in accuracy and style from one book to the next, and sometimes within single book" (569). Richard F. Smith refers to "the mistranslations that frequently mar the version" (in Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:511). } Swete warns:
. . . the reader of the Septuagint must expect to find large number of actual blunders, due in part to a faulty archetype, but chiefly to t misreading or misunderstanding of the archetype by the translators. Letters or clauses have often been transposed; omissions occur which may be explained by homoioteleuten; still more frequently the translation has suffered through insufficient knowledge of Hebrew or a failure grasp the sense of the context. (In Brown, Fitzmyer, and Murphy 2:511-512)
The geographical and other difficulties to be addressed below are proble that appear in our English Bible because they cannot be smoothed ore lessened by choosing one variant reading over another.
According to most modern versions of the Bible, Mark 5:1 refers to Sea of Galilee's eastern shore as the country of the Gerasene: "They [Christ and the disciples] came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes" (RSV; so also the NIV and the New American Bible). This translation is based on the fact that the best and oldest manuscripts for this verse all read "the country of the Gerasenes." However, the Sea of Galilee's eastern shore cannot qualify as the land of the Gerasenes because Gerasa (modern Jerash) is more than thirty miles to the southeast. In addition, the account which follows verse 1 requires a nearby city with a steep slope leading down to the Sea of Galilee. This could not possibly be Gerasa. Gerasa is simply too far away, and there is no slope running all the way from that site to the Sea of Galilee.
In the KJV, Mark 5:1 reads, "the country of the Gadarenes," but this is based on inferior readings from the Greek texts. As mentioned above, the best and oldest manuscripts read "the country of the Gerasenes." In any event, Gadara, though closer than Gerasa, is still too far away to fit, since it is located about six miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee.
According to the KJV rendering of Matthew 8:28, the region in question is named "the country of the Gergesenes." This reading is based on inferior manuscript evidence and represents a scribal addition by later copyists (Metzger 1971:23-24). The best textual evidence for Matthew 8:28 reads "the country of the Gadarenes," which is how it appears in the better modern translations of Matthew. Again, though, Gadara is too far away from the Sea of Galilee.
To add to the confusion, Luke 8:26 follows the geography attributed to Mark. Although the K.IV reads "the country of the Gadarenes," this is another case of this version's reliance on inferior textual evidence. The better modern translations read "Gerasenes." Lindsey Pherigo sums up the situation with regard to Mark 5:1:
The general location [of the events spoken of in Mark 5] is reported [in vs. 1] to be the E shore of the Sea of Galilee but the exact location is reported in different ways. The oldest and best manuscripts have Gerasa, but this is too far from the Sea of Galilee to fit well. Matt. changes this to Gadara ("the country of the Gadarenes," 8:28), but this, though nearer, is still too far from the water. Later copyists change both to "Gergesa," which may correspond to some ruins on the E side of the sea. It remains a problem. (653)
Misidentified and/or Misquoted Scripture
In our present-day Bible, some New Testament authors misquote or misidentify passages from the Old Testament. Two well-known examples of misidentification are Matthew 27:9-10 and Mark 1:2. Achtemeier points out the following concerning these two scriptures:
That there are errors in the "plain and obvious" sense of Scripture has long been seen by those not committed to their denial. For example, Matt. 27:9-10 identifies a quotation as coming from Jeremiah which appears nowhere in that book, but has its closest parallel in Zech. 11:12 -13. All conservative attempts to link Jeremiah with Zechariah in Jerusalem, or to ascribe the quotation to an oral tradition (no such is known), or to piece together vaguely similar materials from a variety of places in Jeremiah, are clearly not motivated by an attempt to get at the plain sense of Matt. 27:9-10. They are attempts to preserve the text from what the conservatives perceive as an error. Similarly, when Mark 1:2 identifies a quotation coming from Isaiah, the "plain and obvious" sense would indicate that Mark thought Isaiah was its source. The presence in that quotation of words taken from Mal. 3:l, which precede the quotation from Isaiah, and the correction of the quotation in Matt. J: J (Matthew omits the material from Malachi), indicate that we have here an "error;' recognized as such and corrected by a later Evangelist (1980:60)
In Matthew 2:6, a statement identified as a prophecy of the birthplace of Jesus is quoted from Micah 5:2, but Micah says Bethlehem is "little among nations" whereas Matthew quotes him as saying that Bethlehem is "not the least among the princes of Judah." In other words, a negative has been substituted for a positive. The difference is brought out a little more clearly in the RSV:
Matthew: "And you, O Bethlehem.. . are by no means least among the rulers of Judah."
Micah: "But you, O Bethlehem.. . are little to be among the clans of Judah."
It is worth noting that the reading of Micah 5:2 being followed here by Matthew does not come from any extant version of Micah's book.
More significantly, the final portion of Matthew 2:6 consists of a conflation of the last part of Micah 5: 2 with 2 Samuel 5: 2. Matthew 2: 6b reads, "for out of thee shall come a governor, that shall rule my people Israel." The words "that shall rule my people Israel" do not appear in Micah 5:2. Rather, they are inserted from 2 Samuel 5:2. However, the statement in 2 Samuel has reference to a promise given by Yahweh to King David.
Reading Between the Lines
In many cases the New Testament authors assign meanings to Old Testament passages that are neither stated nor implied in the passages themselves.
In Matthew 2:14-15 we are told that the child Jesus was brought out of Egypt by his parents to fulfill the prophecy "Out of Egypt have I called my son ." The prophecy comes from Hosea 11:1. However, as this verse now reads, Hosea is referring to the Exodus and to the unfaithful children of Israel, not to a faithful Jesus:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Ba'als, and burning incense to idols (Hosea 11:1-2, RSV; see also the NIV)
Morton Smith believes Matthew invented the story of the child Jesus being taken to Egypt in order to counter contemporary Jewish criticisms. Matthew, reasons Smith, therefore felt compelled to quote Hosea 11:1 to justify his story. While I certainly don't agree with this theory, I think Smith's statements on the subject warrant examination, if only to show the kind of criticism that can be leveled against the Bible as a result of such problems:
The accusation that he [Christ] had been in Egypt and learned magic there.. . was probably the reason for Matthew's story of the flight into Egypt (2:13-21)--a story known only to Matthew and implicitly contradicted by Luke (who keeps the Holy Family near Jerusalem for forty days to have Jesus presented in the temple, and then sends them back to Galilee). But if Matthew's story is false, why was it invented? Matthew says, "In order to fulfill that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 'From Egypt I have called my son." ' This is another of Matthew's discoveries of a prophecy to justify what he wanted to say. The reference of the prophetic text [i.e., Hosea 11:1] to the people of Israel is so clear from its context that it would never have been pressed into this unlikely service had Matthew not needed it to justify the story. The story therefore needs another explanation and the likeliest one is to be found in its apologetic utility--"Yes," it says in effect, "Jesus did spend some time in Egypt, but only when he was an infant. He could not possibly have learned magic at that age?' (1978:48)
Personally, I think it is possible that Matthew was not referring to Hosea 11:1 as a literal prophecy, but as a symbolic type, an inspired prefiguring. In other words, Matthew was in effect saying, "Just as Israel was called out of Egypt to journey to the promised land and begin its divine mission, so Christ the Savior was called from Egypt at the appropriate time and for the same reasons?' Now, of course, such loose, symbolic usage on Matthew's part would clearly indicate he did not view scripture the way fundamentalists do. But the only remaining alternatives are (1) that Matthew 2:15 is an interpolation, or (2) that Matthew was quoting from a version of Hosea 11 that was drastically different from the one which appears in our modern Old Testament.
One of the most famous Old Testament quotations in the New Testament is Isaiah 7: 14, which is cited in Matthew 1: 22-23 as a prophecy of the Savior's birth. If our current versions of the Isaiah and Matthew passages are accurate, then Matthew was appealing to Isaiah 7:14 as a symbolic type, i.e., as "prophetic symbolism;' because the verse simply does not lend itself to Matthew's usage in its present Old Testament context.
The historical setting of Isaiah 7:1-17 is fairly explicit. King Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign to confirm divine deliverance from the threat posed by two hostile nations to the north, Syria and the Northern Kingdom. God promises Ahaz that the two northern nations won't overcome Judah, and He offers Ahaz a sign to confirm the promised deliverance. However, when Ahaz refuses to ask for the sign, Isaiah rebukes the king and offers the sign anyway. The king is told that a "young woman" (RSV) will give birth to a child named Emmanuel. Before this child is old enough to eat solid food, the northern threat will be removed, but Judah will then face an even greater menace In this context the woman appears to be a person known to the king and t, the prophet, and the child's life should be contemporaneous with events of the next few years (Mays 555-556).
Jewish scholars have been especially critical of Matthew's use of Isaiah 7:14. I quote Jewish author Samuel Levine:
If one reads the entire chapter [Isaiah 7], one sees the flaw [in Matthew's usage of vs. 14] immediately. The birth of the child, Immanuel, was to be a sign from God to King Ahaz, who lived at least 500 years before Jesus .... He [God] is promising a sign to Ahaz that will convince Ahaz not to worry at all about two invading armies .... (39)
Now, Isaiah 7:14 could very well be a dual-fulfillment prophecy, i.e., a prophecy that was meant to be fulfilled twice. Or, Matthew could have viewed Isaiah's prediction as a symbolic type, in much the same way that he might have interpreted Hosea 11:1. However, neither of these possibilities could be acceptable to fundamentalist anti-Mormons, since the Bible says nothing about dual-fulfillment prophecies, and since the inspired-prefiguring explanation would show that Matthew did not view scripture the way fundamentalists do. The third possibility is that the version of Isaiah 7 that Matthew was reading was markedly different from any existing text of the chapter, a proposition which no fundamentalist would be prepared to accept.
Other examples of where New Testament authors assign meanings to Old Testament passages that are neither stated nor implied in the passages themselves could be provided (e.g., Matthew 26:15 vs. Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 27:9-10 vs. Zechariah 11:12-13; Mark 15: 24 vs. Psalm 22: 18; Levine 13-67).
One of the pivotal chronological problems in the Bible is the length of Christ's mortal ministry. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all portray Jesus' public ministry as lasting no longer than a year, John indicates that it spanned at least three years (Eiselen, Lewis, and Downey 874-875; Achtemeier 1980:65; Wilson 58; Marshall 524; Foster 603-604). Over the centuries Bible scholars have ranged the length of Christ's ministry from one to four years, with each scholar justifying his view by citing some New Testament passages and being forced to discount others.
Matthew 27: 15, Mark 15:6, Luke 23:17, and John 18:39 all speak of a Roman custom of releasing one prisoner at every Passover. According to the Gospels, the Roman governor Pilate mentioned and followed this custom when he released Barabbas. But history knows of no such custom. None of the many surviving Jewish and Roman historical sources mentions any such practice.
To further complicate matters, Roman governors did not have the authority to grant pardons. Jewish scholar Haim Cohn explains:
It was not the provincial governor, but solely the emperor in person, who had the power to grant pardons. For a governor to usurp that imperial prerogative would be an offense under the Lex Julia, tantamount to treasonable excess of powers. No governor in his senses would risk being called to account for exceeding his powers and being prosecuted for a treasonable felony, just to curry favor with the native population. Nor is there any evidence to sustain the theory that the emperor had especially authorized Pilate to grant annual pardons. (167-168)
In my opinion, it is possible that the emperor granted Pilate special authority to pardon, in light of the volatile political situation in Palestine at the time. This authority could have come in the form of a private understanding between the emperor and Pilate. In short, I agree with the sentiment expressed by Merrill Tenney:
Although no record of it can be found, there must have been the custom of releasing one prisoner every Passover as a means of placating the Jewish population. (176)
The problem of the Passover pardon illustrates the fact that at times scripture and secular history may be sharply at odds with each other.
A serious historical problem presents itself in Luke 2: 1-2, where it is said that shortly before the Savior's birth "a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the wo~d should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment [or census] when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (RSV). However, although the first census among the Jews did in fact take place during the governorship of Quirinius (=Cyrenius in the KJV), this did not occur until at least A.D. 6 (Achtemeier 1985:847; Wilson 55).
This was the year that Judea came under direct Roman rule. The census was reported by the Jewish historian Josephus as an unprecedented event of that year. Moreover, Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until after the death of Herod and long after Jesus' birth. Therefore, in its present form, Luke 2:1-2 cannot be correct.
Some have attempted to explain this problem by claiming that Luke is referring to an earlier census and to some earlier position Quirinius held in the Middle East. Unfortunately, as things stand now, this theory is sheer speculation. There is no direct evidence to support it, and there is good evidence against it (compare Archer 365-366 with Fitzmyer 1981:399405).
Why not simply grant the possibility that Luke 2:1-2 represents a well-intentioned but historically incorrect attempt by a later scribe to inject chronological precision into Luke's account of the Savior's birth? Isn't it somewhat odd that Quirinius is not mentioned in any of the other Gospels?
If we were to judge the New Testament reports of Christ's resurrection in the same way anti-Mormons judge LDS historical accounts of events in Mormon history (such as the First Vision), we could easily repudiate their historicity, for they contain many discrepancies.
For example, John says there were two angels at Christ's tomb (20:12), but Matthew states there was only one (28:2). It is true that if there were the two angels spoken of by John there was certainly the one mentioned by Matthew. However, this observation does not resolve the discrepancy. It does not explain why John mentions two angels but Matthew speaks of only one.
Other problems abound. John's Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb and saw two angels sitting in it, and then she saw Jesus (John 20), whereas Matthew's two Marys arrived at the tomb and saw one angel, and then Jesus (Matthew 28). on the other hand, Mark's three women saw one angel, and Mary Magdalene alone saw the Savior (Mark 16). However, Luke's group of women saw two angels who suddenly appeared at their side (not sitting), but they did not see Jesus (Luke 24).
Matthew's and Luke's women go off to tell the disciples what they have seen, but in the short ending of Mark (16: 1-8), the women were too frightened to say anything to anyone: "frightened out of their wits.. . said nothing to a soul, for they were afraid" (vs. 8). Yet, in the long ending of mark (16:9-20), the risen Lord's first appearance is to Mary Magdalene alone, and she promptly tells the disciples what she has seen (vss. 9-10).
In any of the fundamentalist "harmonizations" of the resurrection accounts, one repeatedly sees their authors forced to pick one Gospel's version of a particular detail over another's. Those statements in the Gospels which don't agree with the proposed "harmonization" must be discarded or "deemphasized."
Another resurrection difficulty is the disagreement between the Gospels and certain statements made by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. According to Paul, after Christ was resurrected, He appeared to Peter, and then to "the twelve" (vss. 4-5). Paul also mentions an appearance of the risen Christ to more than five hundred people at a time (vs. 6). Paul goes on to say that the resurrected Savior appeared to James as well, and then to the apostles for a second time (vs. 7). However, none of the Gospels says anything about Christ appearing to Peter apart from the other disciples. The Gospels are also silent about a one-on-one appearance to James. Furthermore, to judge from his wording, Paul seems to suggest that Christ's first post-resurrection visitation was to Peter, a proposition which is plainly contradicted by all four Gospels.
Mark and Luke say that Jesus stayed in Peter's house and then healed the leper (Mark 1:29-45; Luke 4:38; Luke 5:12-13), but Matthew says Christ healed the leper first (8:1-4, 14-16).
According to Matthew, the Capernaum centurion spoke man-to-man with Jesus (8:5-10). Luke, however, says the centurion sent some Jewish elders and friends to speak on his behalf (7: 1-9).
There is a discrepancy between Matthew's and Luke's orderings of the temptations of Jesus. Matthew 4:5-10 puts the proposal to jump from the top of the Temple as the second of Christ's three temptations and Satan's offer of world empire as the third. Luke 4:5-12 reverses Matthew's ordering. He puts the offer of world empire as the second temptation and the proposal to jump off the Temple as third. Both reports cannot be correct. One of them is in error.
Some fundamentalists deal with this problem by asserting that Luke reversed Matthew's ordering "in the interests of dramatic effect" (Archer 321). This is entirely possible. However, if such is the case, what does this say about Luke's attitude toward scripture? What fundamentalist would feel free to relate an episode from a biblical text in such a loose manner and still claim to be drawing on perfect, unchangeable holy writ?
I can just imagine what anti-Mormons would be saying if a similar problem existed in the Book of Mormon! Let's suppose, for example, that Alma had retold Lehi's vision of the tree of life but that in doing so he reversed Lehi's ordering for two of the events in the vision. Anti-Mormons would strongly object if LDS scholars attempted to justify such a revision with the explanation that Alma reversed Lehi's ordering "in the interests of dramatic effect." Our critics would ask, "If God wasn't satisfied with the order in which the vision unfolded, wouldn't He have changed it beforehand? How could Alma be a true prophet of God and yet deliberately alter holy scripture just to make a sacred vision seem more dramatic?"
Missing Scripture: History and the Bible Speak
The claim that the Bible is complete is refuted by the history of the Bible and by numerous statements in the Bible itself. Scholars know of several extant books that were once part of the Bible but which arc now excluded from the traditional Protestant canon. Barr explains:
When people say "the Bible" . . . they usually mean the Bible as accepted in traditional Protestantism: that is, as contrasted with the Roman Catholic Bible, which includes some additional books. These books.. . [which] formed part of the [Roman Catholic] Old Testament, were generally not considered as authoritative scripture by Protestants, and are commonly called "the Apocrypha" in Protestant usage. The most familiar such books include Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also known by the Jewish name, Ben Sira) and Maccabces. These were works of judaism in prechristian times, which however in the end did not come to be included in the canon of scripture of mainline Judaism. In early Greek and Latin Christianity, and in medieval Christianity, these books were widely accepted as full pans of holy scripture. Protestantism, however, in its judgment of the Old Testament followed the canon of the synagogue rather than the practice of the earlier church (1984:41, emphasis added).
There are several places in the Bible where scriptural books and passages are mentioned or quoted which are either lost or arc no longer part of the canon. For instance, Jude 14-15 quotes the book of Enoch as scripture. In fact, the quotation of Enoch is the fullest, most apparent use of an older scriptural text in Jude. Indeed, Enoch is quoted to prove that the sort of evil Jude is discussing "had been foreseen in the distant past" (C. Thompson 943). Thus, Enoch is regarded as having prophesied and his prophecy is utilized by Jude to prove an important point.
In Jude 9, "a vivid illustration is given from a Jewish writing, the Assumption of Moses.. . ." (C. Thompson 943). Verse 9 refers to a controversy between the archangel Michael and Satan regarding the body of Moses. This account is found in the Assumption of Moses, an ancient Jewish text, but it is not present in our modern Old Testament.
In Matthew 2:23, Matthew refers to a prophecy that Christ would be called a Nazarene. However, no such prophecy appears in the Old Testament as we now have it. Some writers have asserted that Matthew 2:23 does not pretend to contain an Old Testament quotation. This is simply blinking at reality. It is unabashed evasion to claim that Matthew was not quoting what he considered to be a scriptural source here. Matthew's intent is so plain it is undeniable: "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene." How much clearer could Matthew be?
Some fundamentalist scholars concede that Matthew is quoting scripture, and they attempt to find potential sources for the prophecy. Unfortunately, these efforts consist of erroneous linguistic analysis and/or appealing to Old Testament passages (e.g., Judges 13:5) that have nothing to do with Christ. The plain fact of the matter is that Matthew quotes a prophecy concerning Jesus that is not found in our current Old Testament.
In Luke 24:46, we read that the Savior said the following to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead" (RSV). The statement "thus it is written" is a standard New Testament formula for introducing quotes from the Old Testament. However, there is no passage in our current Old Testament which speaks specifically of the suffering of the Messiah and of His resurrection from the dead on the third day. This means that the version of the Hebrew scriptures from which Jesus was quoting contained a prophecy that the Messiah would suffer and die and then be resurrected on the third day.
In Colossians 4:16, Paul bids his Colossian readers to "likewise read the epistle from Laodicea." "According to Col. 4: 16," says Mary Milne, "Laodicea received a letter from Paul, and it was to exchange letters with the neighboring community at Colossae" ( 547). Victor Paul Furnish notes that this verse relates to the custom of sharing apostolic letters: "The instruction that this letter [Colossians] be shared with the Laodicean church and that the letter to that congregation be read also in Colossae shows how the custom of exchanging apostolic letters must have grown up--leading gradually to their collection and joint circulation... ." (1971a:864, emphasis added). The Letter to the Laodiceans is now lost.
Another missing epistle of Paul's is referred to in 1 Cofinthians 5:9, where the apostle says, "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators." James Price observes that Paul "is clearly referring here to a previous letter" (800). Elisabeth Fiorenza of Harvard University agrees:
According to 1 Cor. 5:9 Paul is not writing to Corinth for the first time. He sends what we know as the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians from Ephesus in part because his previous letter has been misunderstood and in part because new problems have arisen, about which the community had written him. (1168)
Thus, we should have three epistles from Paul to the Christians at Corinth, but we only have two.
Some of the material in 1 and 2 Kings was taken from a book that was called the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, and the material that was used was only a selection from that book (1 Kings 15:31; 16:20; 2 Kings 10:34; 13:8).
Below is a listing of some of the other scriptural books which are mentioned in the Old Testament but which are now lost:
Old Testament Reference
Book of Jasher
Book of the Acts of Solomon
Book of Nathan
Book of Gad
The Prophecy of Ahijah
The Book of Iddo
Sayings of the Seers
1 Kings 11:41
1 Chronicles 29:29
1 Chronicles 29:29
2 Chronicles 9:29
2 Chronicles 12: 15
2 Chronicles 33:19
Those who argue that the Bible is the complete word of God to man frequently appeal to the words of John found in Revelation 22:18-19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert Millet supply us with an excellent answer to those who cite John's words as proof of the Bible's alleged completeness:
Those who make this argument hope that Bible readers will suppose that with the addition of the book of Revelation, the Bible now became both complete and perfect. In fact, the passage is the classic illustration of just the opposite. The Bible did not exist when John recorded his revelation. Hundreds of years would yet pass before the books we know as the Bible would be bound together in one volume ....
There is no honest dispute over the matter that when John spoke about adding to or taking from "the words of the book" he had reference to his book only. What is significant here is that he would seal his book in this manner. It evidences his concern that someone might tamper with what he had written. Now we ask, What would cause him that concern if it were not the fact that it commonly happened? (43)
Furthermore, if one assumes John was referring to the entire Bible, just which "Bible" did he have in mind? Was he thinking of the Protestant Bible? Or of the Roman Catholic Bible?
Other questions come to mind: If John had reference to his and all previous scripture, to which version of the Old Testament was he referring? The Masoretic Text? The Septuagint? The Dead Sea Scrolls?
And how about the two endings of the Gospel of Mark? Was John thinking of the long ending or the short one? In any event, such questions are unnecessary, since there is no argument among serious Bible scholars that John was referring to his book only.
The Witness of the Early Church Fathers
There are many places in the writings of the early church fathers where scriptural sources are cited which can no longer be identified and/or which arc no longer included in the Bible. This is especially true of the early Christian letters and homilies written prior to the fifth century.
For example, Clement of Rome (ca. A.D. 40-100), the revered bishop of that city, in his first letter to Corinth, quotes what he himself labels a "Scripture" concerning the wretched condition of "the double-minded" (1 Clement 23: 3; Sparks 31). However, "the source of this quotation is unknown" (Sparks 31). We no longer possess the scriptural source which Clement quoted to the Corinthian saints.
2 Clement, a highly regarded homily among the ancient Christians, composed sometime between A.D. 100 and 140, quotes a scripture attributed to the Lord Himself regarding the importance of good works. The homily's author introduces the quotation with the words "the Lord said" (4:5; Sparks 62). The source of this quotation is unknown, although some believe it comes from the lost Gospel of the Egyptians (Sparks 62).
The Epistle of Barnabas quotes as scripture a passage which closely resembles two verses from 2 Esdras in the Apocrypha (12:1; Sparks 289; 2 Esdras 4:3; 5:5).
The Epistle of Barnabas itself was quoted as scripture by Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150-215), an early Christian theologian and president of the Christian academy in that city (Sparks 263). The epistle was already in circulation by the early part of the second century and was widely read in the ancient church clear into the third century. Significantly, the epistle appears in one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus.
The devout Christian apologist Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 100-165) treated the books of Esdras as scripture and accused the Jews of having removed from one of them a passage which connected the Passover to the Savior (Roberrs and Donaldson 1:234). Justin even quoted the passage. However, the verse he quoted does not appear in any existing manuscripts of 1 and 2 Esdras.
Justin also claimed that the Jews had removed two passages from many contemporary copies of Jeremiah (Donaldson and Roberts 1:234-235). Justin supplied the verses in question. One of the passages he quoted corresponds to Jeremiah 11:19. However, the other one is not found in any existing version of Jeremiah (Donaldson and Roberts 1:235). Interestingly, this verse speaks of Yahweh visiting Israelites in the spirit world "to preach unto them His own salvation" (Roberts and Donaldson 1:235).
In an early Christian text entitled the Shepherd of Hermas, the pious Hermas is instructed by an angel to quote to a local Christian the Words of Eldad and Modat, a lost prophetic book of ancient Judaism (Fox 383; Sparks 166).
The Shepherd of Hermas itself was a greatly revered text in the early church Written between A.D. 100 and 150, it was cited with approval by Irenaeu (ca. A.D. II5-180), bishop of Lyons and an esteemed Christian apologist Clement of Alexandria regarded it "as divinely spoken and by revelation (Sundberg 1221-1222). The Shepherd of Hermas enjoyed considerable reverence and popularity in the ancient church well into the fourth century. The book, like the Epistle of Barnabas, appears in the Codex Sinaiticus.
In addition to all of the above, according to a number of church father' in the early church there were vitally important "higher teachings" that we deliberately withheld from the written scriptures and which were given on to those church members who were deemed ready and worthy to receive the (Roberts and Donaldson 4:399; MaGil147; Robinson 96-103; Evenson 71-101 This fact alone refutes the claim that the Bible is the complete word of God to man.
What of it All?
LDS scholars have long known of the serious problems in the Bible. Latter-day Saints in general, though not knowing the particulars, have always realized that the Bible is neither inerrant nor complete. Yet, members of the Lot restored church know that the Bible is sacred scripture. As mentioned, are not bound by the fundamentalist view that the Bible is either perfect every possible way or it is false.
President George Q. Cannon, a member of the First Presidency under three different prophets, expressed the Church's feelings about the Bible:
This book [the Bible] is of priceless worth; its value cannot estimated by anything that is known among men upon which value is fixed .... To the Latter-day Saints it should always be a precious treasure. Beyond any people now upon the face of the earth, they should value it, for the reason that from its pages, from the doctrines set f by its writers, the epitome of the plan of salvation which is there given to us, we derive the highest consolation, we obtain the greatest strength. It is, as it were, a constant fountain sending forth streams of living life to satisfy the souls of all who peruse its pages. (2:248)
President Cannon also spoke eloquently about what our attitude ought to be with regard to mistakes in the Bible:
We are not called to teach the errors of translators but the truth of God's word. It is our mission to develop faith in the revelations from God in the hearts of the children, and "How can that best be done?" is the question that confronts us. Certainly not by emphasizing doubts, creating difficulties or teaching negations ....
The clause in the Articles of Faith regarding mistakes in the translation of the Bible was never intended to encourage us to spend our time in searching out and studying those errors, but to emphasize the idea that it is the truth and the truth only that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts, no matter where it is found. (2:249)
(See The Canonical or Biblical Exclusion; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)
A Ready Reply, p. 73-97
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