I beleive the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated, copied, and interpreted correctly. In the course of my studies of the Bible, I've discovered that it has a long and convoluted history. So, these are my discoveries and my musings of Christian history and doctrines.

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States

Friday, May 06, 2005

The case of the missing Bible text Part 1

A few weeks ago, while conversing at the dinner table, my Dad mentioned that verse 37 of Acts, chapter 8, of the King James Version of the Bible (English) was not in his Swedish Bible. I repeat - NOT - in his Swedish Bible. He also mentioned that when he lived in Sweden, he saw some older Bibles that were published back in the 1800's and they did have verse 37. Old Swedish Bibles have Acts 8:37, but the newer Swedish Bible that he owned, published in 1917, didn't.

Then we got to wondering if verse 37 was in my mother's Danish Bible. So after dinner we hauled her Bible out and looked. Yes, it was there. So then I got out my parallel Bible which has 4 different English Translations laid out in columns next to each other for ease in comparing verses. Those translations are the New Revised Standard Version, the Revised English Bible, the New American Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible. Interestingly enough, none of those translations included verse 37.

Now, you may be asking yourself "What is so significant about verse 37?"

In the King James Version of the Bible, Acts 8:36-38 reads:

36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
Verse 37 is significant because it emphasizes the importance of belief in Jesus Christ as being a requirement for baptism. Phillip says "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." Some Christian denominations baptize infants that are incapable of believing. Other denominations teach that the fate of every man is pre-destined and that it is only by God's will and "grace" that select individuals will be saved in the kingdom of God. The individual has no say in the matter. No matter what a person says, does, or even believes, his or her outcome has already been pre-determined. The state religion of Sweden, if I'm not mistaken (someone correct me if I'm wrong), is one of those denominations. Believing is something that someone chooses to do of their own free will. Consequently, verse 37 negates the beliefs of these particular denominations.

A footnote in the New Revised Standard Version says "Other ancient authorities add all or most of verse 37 …". The Revised English Bible writes as a footnote "some witnesses add …". A footnote for the New American Bible says "The oldest and best manuscripts of Acts omit this verse …". Last of all, the New Jerusalem Bible footnote says "v.37, omitted here, is a very ancient gloss…". Gloss? What's a "gloss"? According to my dictionary, among other things, a gloss could be words of explanation or translation inserted between lines of text. Or, it could be comments written in the margins or as a footnote.

For thousands of years people have been copying documents by hand. Typically after a certain amount of text was copied, either the scribe himself, or a superior, an overseer of some sort, would compare the newly copied work with the original text. If any there were any errors, rather than burn it and see hours of tedious, painstaking labor go up in smoke (especially if they were getting paid), people would often write the corrected text in the margins. But what if someone wasn't so careful? A single mistake, or a deliberate omission for that matter, could be replicated over and over for who knows how long. But, on the other hand, it was also a common practice to write personal commentaries in the margins.

All of this raises some interesting questions:
1. Did all of these Bibles use the same manuscripts?
2. If they did, why did they choose to omit the gloss?
3. If there were manuscripts that didn't have the gloss, how do the scholars know that these manuscripts are any better than the one that did have the gloss?
4. Did the scribe who wrote the gloss do it because it was on the original manuscript being copied which is now lost to the world or was he just expressing his personal belief or opinion?

There is only one way that anyone can know for sure which of the translations is the most correct. And it is NOT by the endless debate of scholars. Especially nowadays, with all the discoveries being made by archeologists and such, theories and views of the Old World are constantly being overturned. Experts are great, but they are not the last word by any means. It's an easy way, but yet, surprisingly, few people ever take advantage of it because they believe that God has ceased talking to man after the death of the apostles. But that view is contrary to James 1:5-7.

It's amazing that a few simple scratchings of a reed pen on parchment by some nameless scribe could be of such import, but it is.


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