How Many Times Have The Bible Been Rewritten – You may have heard that the Bible has been translated and translated so many times that we cannot know what the original version said. Or you may have heard that the early Christians deliberately changed the text of the Bible to suit their purposes. The assumption is that the error crept into the text over time, changing the original message.
Can we really know how much the Bible has changed over the centuries? Can we be sure that what we read in the New Testament is the original eyewitness account of Jesus?
How Many Times Have The Bible Been Rewritten
Through the science of textual criticism, which is used to test the accuracy of every ancient manuscript (including Homer, Shakespeare, Aristotle, and others), we can know exactly how much the Bible has changed over time. Read on to learn more and learn how to teach your kids this concept with a simple exercise.
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According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, textual criticism is “the technique of restoring texts as closely as possible to their original form.” The basic rule of textual criticism: the more the better and the older the better.
The more the merrier. The more copies of a document, especially old ones, you have, the easier it will be to determine what the original text was. This is so that you can compare the copies with each other. A copy may contain an error; but not all copies will contain the same errors. We have more than 24,000 partial and complete portions of New Testament manuscripts that can be compared with each other, by far the most of any ancient work. Homer’s Iliad is the second oldest manuscript still in existence, but we only have 643 copies of it. You can see from these numbers that it will be much easier to determine the original text of New Testament documents than any other ancient book.
The older the better. The older your surviving manuscripts are, the closer they are to the original. It goes without saying that the older your document is, the better it will reflect the original thinking and teachings of the original document. We have a whole New Testament dated 225 years from the original; complete books for 100 years of the original and fragments for about 50 years of the original. This may seem like a large time gap, but the Iliad, again in second place, has a gap of 400 years between the surviving manuscripts and the original works. Most ancient books have a time period of about 1000 years.
Here’s the bottom line: If we can’t be sure we have the original text of the New Testament, then we can’t assume we have the original text of any ancient book—and no one does.
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One more thing to note. When scholars create a new translation of New Testament documents, they do not simply refer to more recent translations to create their new edition. They also refer to the oldest surviving manuscripts. This is a check to ensure that the original text and meaning is exactly preserved.
Here is an exercise to help your children understand the concept of how textual criticism works to prove that we have the original words of the New Testament.
Choose a piece of text – either a scripture that your children don’t know, or something else (it could even be a personal message, such as “Hi honey, you’re so smart and I think you’re wonderful!”). Examples of what I used for this activity are at the end of this post.
Rewrite this paragraph ten times, deliberately making mistakes in each copy (misspelling a word, leaving out a word, adding a word, changing a word, etc.). I put each passage on a separate sheet of paper to emphasize that they are different copies of the same passage.
Has The Bible Been Changed?
Tell your children that you are trying to understand what the original message said, but each of the newspapers has a slightly different version of the message. Tell them that they have to compare the sentences (work word by word) to find out the real message. Give them a blank piece of paper to write what they think was the original message reconstructed from the provided copies.
By working word by word, your child should be able to quickly identify which words appear most often on the slips of paper and decode the original message. If the word appears on all sheets of paper (all copies of the text), then it was in the original. If the word is not in any of the sentences, then it was not in the original. If it’s in most sentences, it probably was in the original. If you use a passage from the Bible, ask them to confirm their work by looking it up in the Bible.
Explain to your children that the process they went through to figure out their message is very similar to how scholars figure out whether we have the original words of the disciples and Jesus in our Bibles or whether the meaning of the Bible has changed over time. But instead of having ten copies of a message, we have thousands of copies to compare against each other. We know with great certainty that the Bible we hold in our hands contains the same message as the documents and letters that the early churches received from the apostles.
Below is a copy of the text we used for our children when doing this exercise. In retrospect we found we could have used longer poems.
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(note: none of these poems are completely correct poems, which would not be the case in real life, but this exercise makes it more interesting for children)
The Lord will utter mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. here In fact, here was actually smeared on the page, impossible to make out. The former president bent over the book and used a razor and scissors to carefully cut out small squares of text. Soon the book’s words will live in their own hand-bound red leather book, ready to be read in private moments of contemplation. Every cut had a purpose and every word was carefully thought out. As he worked, Thomas Jefferson inserted his selections—each in a variety of ancient and modern languages that reflected his extensive education—into the book in neat columns.
Thomas Jefferson was known as an inventor and craftsman. But this time he was working with something that is considered sacred to hundreds of millions of people: the Bible.
Using his scraps, the elderly third president created his own New Testament—one that most Christians would hardly recognize. This Bible focused only on Jesus, but none of his mystical works. It did not include great scenes such as the resurrection or the ascension, or miracles such as turning water into wine or walking on water. Instead, Jefferson’s Bible focused on Jesus as a moral man, a teacher whose truths were spoken without the aid of miracles or God’s supernatural powers.
Can We Determine How Much The Bible Has Changed Over Time?
Jefferson’s 84-page Bible, created for his private use and kept secret for decades, was the work of a man who spent most of his life struggling with and questioning religion.
The Bible compiled by Thomas Jefferson from four different translations is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of America.
Prepared late in the ex-president’s life, the Jefferson Bible, as it is now known, contained no sign of Jesus’ divinity. In two volumes,
Jefferson redacted Bible passages that he considered excessive or offensive to his Enlightenment mind. He left behind a carefully compressed vision of the Bible that illustrated his own complicated relationship with Christianity.
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The book was closed for several reasons. Jefferson himself believed that a man’s religion stood between him and his god. Religion is “a matter between every man and his maker, in which no one else, much less the public, [has] a right to interfere,” he wrote in 1813.
But there was another reason for Jefferson to keep his revised Bible secret. At the beginning of the 19th century, the approach to the Bible knife was nothing short of revolutionary. If the book had been known, says Mitch Horowitz, who edited a reprint of Jefferson’s book, “it probably would have become one of the most controversial and influential religious works in early America.”
Jefferson’s editorial work took place in an America deeply rooted in state-sponsored religion. Although many immigrants came to America fleeing religious persecution, laws governing religious practice were a part of life before the Revolution. Even after the founding of the United States and the ratification of the First Amendment, states used public funds to pay for churches and passed laws supporting various tenets of Christianity for more than a century after the passage of the Bill of Rights. Massachusetts, for example, did not abolish its official state religion, Congregationalism, until 1833.
Jefferson, an advocate of rational thought and self-determination, had long opposed such laws, while keeping his own views on religion strictly secret. 1786 he
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