According to recent reports, Bible-touting Christians are at
it again. Certain evangelical and missionary groups have made
it their express and primary agenda to ensnare as many of our
unsuspecting brothers and sisters as they can -- armed with a
lot of money but little intellectual rigor and very little
It is the sort of problem with which we have had to contend
since the earliest days of Christianity. And it is a problem
that has consistently reared its head. But now with the so-
called "millennium" rapidly approaching, efforts to
proselytize the Jews for Christianity have again been placed
into high gear.
We probably do not have the resources to adequately fight
back with money. So let's try some truth.
I would like to focus on one narrow issue: the integrity of
the writings that are source of Christian beliefs. "The Bible
says" is the common refrain that is on the tongues of those
who aim to convert us. Let us examine what this statement
How credible are the Christian Scriptures? Can they serve as
a basis for religious belief -- or belief in anything at all
for that matter? To what extent can they be used to buttress
the contentions of Christians and to substantiate their
The following brief discussion is intended to afford those of
us who confront the Christian attack, directly or indirectly,
with additional ammunition to fight back. It is also hoped
that it will incidentally reinforce our appreciation for the
truth and extreme integrity of our Torah and heritage.
To be as fair as possible, I have not used works by
critics of the Christian Bible. I will present only what
ultra-conservative Christians say about the document that
serves as the foundation of their own beliefs. I have relied
mainly on two works by Christian scholars whose interest is
certainly to present their Bible in the best possible light,
but what they say is amazing.
One is a book written by a Roman Catholic priest, Raymond F.
Collins, which comes with official declarations given by the
Censor Librorum and the Bishop of Rockville Center that the
material is "free of doctrinal or moral error."
The other is a chapter by Gordon D. Fee in a book which is
part of a series called Contemporary Evangelical
Perspectives, published by Zondervan Publishing House, a well-
known and highly-respected publisher of Protestant Christian
Those of us who are accustomed to dealing with the Torah,
whose every letter has been preserved with the utmost care
and fidelity, are in for a little surprise.
Very little is known with certainty about the
earliest stages of the development of the Christian Bible.
Most scholars agree, however, that in the earliest years of
Christianity, there was no unique Christian text, either
written or oral. For the early Christians, the Bible was our
Tanach, and nothing else.
There almost surely were quite a few stories about J in
circulation in the various churches. And just as surely, many
of these were quite different from the ones known today.
Nevertheless, none of these was considered sacred or fixed in
Indeed, there is a good deal of compelling documentary
evidence that most of the works that comprise the present-day
Christian Bible were not in existence before the year 100,
i.e. at least 70 years after the death of J. So at the very
outset, very little stock can be placed in those works that
profess to be records of historical fact.
Even after it was written and after it began to be accepted
as sacred in some way, the Christian Bible remained a very
fluid document for a long time.
The number of manuscripts of the Christian Bible exceeds all
other ancient documents by tens or hundreds of times. Most
manuscripts date from the fourth century and later, but some
papyrus manuscripts from the second century also exist.
There are extant, in whole or in part, well over 5,000 Greek
manuscripts of the Christian Bible. (Fee, writing in '78,
puts the number at 5,338.) No two manuscripts are exactly
John Stuart Mill, working in the late seventeenth century and
having far fewer manuscripts at his disposal, was able to
identify some 30,000 variant readings altogether. Today, the
variant readings number about 200,000. As the Catholic
Encyclopedia puts it, the total number of variations in
these manuscripts is greater than all the words in the
A recent study analyzed the variants in only a relatively
small portion of the Christian Bible, that of the historical
stories of J. It also examined only a small portion of the
existing manuscripts: those written in the second century
which are clearly similar to the versions of the stories
found in the Christian Bible of today. They excluded
manuscripts which are so different that they have hardly any
relation to the currently accepted versions of the stories,
of which there are quite a few.
The words in the manuscripts that were selected were compared
to each other and to the current versions. What was found was
"surprising," since estimates before the study had assumed
that the number of discrepancies would be very high.
The manuscripts studied show "only" 30,000 variant readings
that impact meaning. Moreover, "only" 40% of the
verses contain some variant. If one considers differences
that do not affect the meaning, the number is of course much,
The first printed Greek text appeared in
1516. The Greek text is the basic text for the eastern
churches, based in Constantinople and including the Russian
churches. Its editor was Erasmus, a famous Catholic priest.
This version served as the basis of all printed Greek texts
in the Western world until newer critical editions, based on
ancient manuscripts, began to make their appearance in
In preparing his version, Erasmus ran into a slight problem.
The only manuscript Erasmus had of one of the books of the
Christian Scriptures, called "Revelations," was missing the
last six verses. To make up for this omission, he translated
from the Latin version to the Greek. As a result, his Greek
text has readings that have never been found in any Greek
The King James Version of the Christian Bible, which became
the "textus receptus" of the English speaking world
for several hundred years, was based on this defective Greek
version of Erasmus. Even today, the Greek text found in the
most popular handbook edition of the Greek Christian Bible
contains approximately 2,500 variants from the reading in any
typical ancient manuscript.
The ancient Greek manuscripts are not all widely different
from each other. Many bear enough relationship to many others
that scholars have been able to group the manuscripts into
several textual families. Many scholars believe that there
exist three main families of texts.
The oldest is what is referred to as the Alexandrian. It was
used by Christians in Egypt in the earliest centuries, before
the country was converted to Islam. The Egyptian manuscripts
are the most ancient, dating from the 2nd century, and
according to many scholars, these represent the most
carefully preserved and purest form of the early Christian
Bible. This version fell into disuse with the spread of Islam
and the destruction of many of the Asian and African
A second text type is commonly called the Western. It seems
to have developed at around the same time as the Alexandrian.
But the textual relationships are not consistently sustained
over large portions of the text. They lack the homogeneity
found in the Alexandrian and the later Byzantine texts. In
Collins' estimate, these texts apparently reflect an
uncontrolled, sometimes "wild," tradition of copying and
translating. By the end of the sixth century, the Western
churches had fully adopted the Vulgate, the Latin version of
Jerome, and thus, the Greek Western text also fell into
The third text-type is known as the "Byzantine" or "majority"
text and is represented in over 80 percent of Greek
manuscripts. This text-type did not appear until about 350
C.E. and even then its origins are shrouded in mystery.
The Byzantine text type was the only Greek version to
survive. It influenced the Latin version adopted by Rome, and
ultimately became the dominant text in the Eastern Church.
Once adopted, the Greek text remained somewhat fixed in
Constantinople and the Eastern church.
So much for the Greek version of the text.
Around the year 384, Jerome created the Latin Vulgate, the
text that was to become the official text of the Roman
Catholic (Western) Church. He wanted to clear up the great
number of discrepancies found in the Old Latin manuscripts.
His version was based in part on old Latin versions with help
from at least one Greek version.
Jerome's version was not fully accepted right away. It
circulated with older Latin versions and it took about two
hundred years before the Vulgate superseded the older
translations. Rather than simply adopt the Vulgate, copyists
who still believed in the accuracy of the old Latin versions
changed the Vulgate in many places to conform to the old
Latin versions. Thus many local Latin texts developed.
Several attempts were made throughout the Middle Ages to
purify Jerome's text, but without much success. Today, there
exist over 8,000 extant Vulgate manuscripts. Here too they
display little uniformity; they reflect an enormous cross-
contamination of text-types.
In 1546, the Council of Trent pronounced the Vulgate to be
the only authoritative Latin text and it mandated the
publication of an authorized version which was first
published in 1590. At that time, Pope Sixtus commanded that
the variant readings not be printed in later editions.
However, because the 1590 version was defective, Clement VIII
recalled the copies in circulation in 1592 and issued a new
authentic edition. This newer edition contained some 4,900
readings different from the 1590 edition.
Obviously, the Latin version fared no better than the
@BIG LET BODY = The variant readings in the Christian Bible
are due to many factors. A large number are unintentional
errors made by scribes when copying from existing texts.
Their blunders include misspelled words and transposed
Hundreds of changes however are far more significant, made
intentionally with the aim of "helping out" the text. Many of
the earliest Christians were unlearned and the earliest texts
were thus often unskillfully written. Later copyists tried to
smooth out the Greek of earlier texts by corrections and
additions according to the best of the ability of the
copyist. For example, common synonyms for uncommon words were
substituted, difficult phrases were rewritten, blatant
historical inaccuracies were removed and more.
Many variants were caused by attempts to harmonize
conflicting passages with each another. There are also many
instances of conflate readings, where one text combines
variants found in two others.
In addition to these sorts of changes, the Western text type
contains more extensive variants such as long paraphrases and
There also are manipulations of the text that involve
deliberate changes for doctrinal reasons. And some of these
changes have bearing on some of the most fundamental
doctrines of Christianity.
One example is with regard to the only explicit statement in
the entire Christian Bible which makes the absurd claim that
G-d is a "trinity."
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, all Greek
manuscripts earlier than the 13th century omit any such
statement entirely. Its earliest appearance in Latin
manuscripts dates to the 9th century. The statement is not
found in any other ancient manuscript regardless of language
and does not appear in any of the other numerous writings of
In a decree issued in 1897, the Pope cautioned scholars
against rejecting the authenticity of the statement. However,
a retraction was made in 1927 with the issuance of another
decree allowing scholars to doubt or reject the statement.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "no scholar
any longer accepts its authenticity."
These variants are not errors or simple accidents, but were
made intentionally with the express aim of creating doctrine
that had hitherto not existed. They involved deliberate
tampering with the text and were nothing less than
Tragically, it was precisely these sorts of inventions that
were at the heart of the difference between the Christian and
Jewish beliefs in G-d, and that led Christians, in the name
of propagating their religion, to shed Jewish blood.
Over the past two hundred years, Christians have discovered
that the texts upon which they have relied are extremely
defective. After these relevations, and all that our nation
has suffered at the hands of Christians and Christianity, one
would have hoped that by now we would no longer have to
contend with the problem of proselytizing aggression.
Considering the lack of credibility and authenticity which
knowledgeable Christians attribute to the fundamental texts
of Christianity, it is absurd that we have to continue to
defend ourselves against missionarizing Christians.
Nonetheless, based on declarations made in these totally
unreliable texts, some Christians unfortunately still believe
that their road to salvation is through the conversion of
One can hope and pray that this will soon cease. In the
meantime, what we must do is disseminate the truth as best we