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FOUNDATIONS  OF  THE   BIBLE

MANUSCRIPT  TRANSMISSION

In order to appreciate fully the total process by which the Bible was transmitted from the first to the twentieth century, certain mechanical items must be discussed (e.g., preparation, age, and preservation of manuscripts). Along with these technical matters of transmission, certain definitions are basic to the understanding of this crucial "link" in the chain "from God to us."

THE  PROCESS  OF  TRANSMISSION

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Genuineness

As used here,  genuineness refers to the truth of  the origin of a document,  that is,  its authorship.
It answers the questions:

Is this document really from its alleged source or author?
Is it genuinely the work of  the stated writer?

Authenticity

This refers to the truth of the facts and content of  the documents of the Bible.
Authenticity deals with the integrity (trustworthiness) and credibility (truthfulness) of  the record.
A book may be genuine without being authentic -

if the professed writer is the real one - even if the content is untrue.

Then,  again,  a book may be authentic without being genuine -

if the book would be called forged or spurious  - regardless of the truthfulness or falsity of its content.

Biblical books of course must be both genuine and authentic or they cannot be inspired,  because in either case there would be a falsehood.  It is assumed that a biblical book, which has divine authority, and hence credibility, and has been transmitted with integrity, will automatically have genuineness.  If there be a lie in the book regarding its origin and/or authorship,  how can its content be believed?

Guarantee of Authenticity (and Genuineness)

The whole chain of revelation must be examined in order to demonstrate with certainty that the fact and route of revelation are found in the history of the Bible known to Christians today.
A complete chain  "from God to us"  will consist of the following necessary  "links."

1. Deity This is the first link in the chain of revelation.
The existence of  a God who desires to communicate Himself  to man is the one irreducible axiom of this entire study.
2. Apostolicity The next link is apostolicity.
That God accredited and directed a group of  men known as prophets and apostles to speak authoritatively for Him is the repeated claim of the biblical writers.
3. Canonicity A somewhat parenthetic but necessary link is canonicity.
It answers the historical question:  Which are the inspired prophetic and apostolic books and how are they known?
They are those books that were
written by men of  God,
confirmed by acts of God,
came with the authority and power of God,
told the truth about God and man,
were accepted and collected by the people of God
4. Authority The direct result of apostolicity is authority,  as circumscribed by the limits of canonicity.
The teaching of  men who were divinely accredited for that purpose is divinely authoritative teaching.
In that sense,  authority is just a logical link,  consequent upon apostolicity as apostolicity is,  in turn,  dependent upon deity,  or,  rather,  upon God's desire to communicate to men.
5. Authenticity Likewise,  authenticity is the necessary result of authority,  which is derived from apostolicity,  deity,  and so on.
Whatever is spoken of  God must be true,  because God is the very standard of truth itself (cf. Heb. 6:18).  The Scriptures are authentic  (true in content)  if they are the prophetic voice of God.

Heb 6:17-18
Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.    (NKJV)

6. Integrity This is the historic evidence that links authenticity and credibility.
Anything authentic or true is of course credible.
The question is, does the twentieth-century Bible possess integrity?
To put it another way,  does it adequately and accurately reproduce the original apostolic writings known as the autographs?

Autographs

Sometimes these were inaccurately called  "originals"  and sometimes incorrectly defined as the original writing from the hand of  an apostle or prophet.
In reality autographs are

the authentic apostolic writings produced under the direction and/or authorization of  a prophet or apostle.

An autograph would not necessarily have to be written by an apostle's own hand - Paul often used a secretary
(Rom.16:22),  as did Jeremiah (Jer. 36:27).

Romans 16:22
I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.     (NKJV)

Jeremiah 36:27-28
Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words which Baruch had written at the instruction of Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying:  "Take yet another scroll, and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned."     (NKJV)

Nor does an autograph necessarily have to be the  "first edition"  of a book.
Jeremiah,  for example,  produced two editions of his scroll to Jehoiakim (Jer. 36:28 - above)
Similarly,  some students of  the gospels have suggested that Mark may have had two editions.

Ancient Versions

The autographs are not extant (in known existence).
So they must be reconstructed from early manuscripts and versions.
The earliest Old Testament translation into Greek is the Septuagint (LXX) begun in Alexandria,  Egypt,  during the third century B.C.

The earliest versions,  or translations of the New Testament into other languages,  for example,  the Syriac and Latin,  extend back to the threshold of the second century.  They began to appear just over a generation from the time the New Testament was completed.

Citations of the Fathers

The corroborative quotations of  the church fathers from the first few centuries,  totaling over 36,000,  include almost every verse of  the New Testament.  Some of these citations begin in the first century,  and they continue in an unbroken succession from that time

Manuscript Copies

These were in Greek and extended practically to the first century in fragmentary form and to the third and fourth centuries in completed copies.
The earliest manuscripts,  known as uncials,  were written in capital letters throughout.

Later manuscripts,  known as minuscules,  were written in lower case letters or in flowing letters,  cursives.

Some manuscripts were written on scrolls and others as books,  codex form,  from which they are known as codices.

Modern versions

The ancient manuscripts are the most important witnesses to the autographs and  they form the basis for the modern versions of the Bible.
Some early modern versions were based on medieval versions;  however,  since the discoveries of  the great manuscripts of  the New Testament and other miscellaneous items,  most recent versions and translations are based on the latter.


THE  PREPARATION  OF  MANUSCRIPT  COPIES

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Another factor that enhances confidence in the fidelity of  the transmitted text is derived from a consideration of the copying and subsequent care of manuscripts.

The Old Testament

Although it is impossible to fix with certainty the beginning of  Hebrew writing,  it was pre-Mosaic.
Thus,  from an early date the Scriptures were copied.  These copies were made according to different criteria, depending on the purpose of the manuscript being copied.

There are no manuscripts in existence dating from before the Babylonian captivity (586 B.C.),  but there was a great flood of copies of  the Scriptures dating from the Talmudic period (c. 300 B.C.-A.D. 500).
During that period there were two general classes of manuscript copies.

Synagogue Rolls, and
Private Copies

1.  Synagogue Rolls

The synagogue rolls were regarded as  "sacred copies"  of  the Old Testament text and were used in public meeting places.

Separate rolls contained the

Torah (Law) on one roll
Nevi'im (Prophets) on another roll
Kethuvim (Writings) on two other rolls
Megilloth ("five rolls") on five separate rolls

The Megilloth were no doubt produced on separate rolls to facilitate their being read at the annual feasts.

Strict rules were employed so that these rolls would be copied scrupulously.
Samuel Davidson related these rules rather meticulously when he wrote.

1. A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals
2. Prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by a Jew
3. These must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals
4. Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex
5. The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 nor more than 60 lines;  and the breadth must consist of thirty letters
6. The whole copy must be first-lined; and if three words should be written without a line, it is worthless
7. The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor any other color, and be prepared according to a definite recipe
8. An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least deviate
9. No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex before him
10. Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene
11. Between every new parashah,  or section,  the breadth of nine consonants
12. Between every book, three lines
13. The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not do so
14. Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish dress
15. Wash his whole body
16. Not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink
17. Should a king address him while writing that name he must take no notice of him

Three of  these books were on one roll of poetry: Job, Psalms, and Proverbs;
and three other books were on the other: Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

At the Passover,  the Song of  Songs was read
At Pentecost,  it was Ruth;
Tabernacles featured Ecclesiastes;
Purim used Esther;
and on the Anniversary of  the Destruction of Jerusalem, Lamentations was read.

2. Private Copies

The private copies were regarded as  "common copies"  of  the Old Testament text and were not used in public meetings.

These rolls,  although not governed by such strict rules as the synagogue rolls,  were prepared with great care.
They were frequently ornamented,  often took a codex form,  and sometimes included marginal notes and commentaries.

Because they were private copies,  the desires of  the purchaser were paramount in choosing such things as the size,  material,  form,  and ink color.  Seldom did an individual have a collection of scrolls that contained the entire Old Testament.

The New Testament

Although the autographs of the New Testament have long since disappeared,  there is enough evidence to warrant the statement that those documents were written in rolls and books made of  papyrus.

The Old Testament had been copied into the  books and the parchments,  but the New Testament was probably written on papyrus between about A.D. 50 and 100.

During this period,  papyrus rolls were used,  and papyrus survived long periods of  time only when placed in rather unusual circumstances.  By the early second century,  codices were introduced but they too were still generally made of papyrus.

As a by-product of the persecutions,  culminating with the Edict of Diocletian in 302-303,  the Scriptures were jeopardized and not systematically copied.  It was with the Letter of  Constantine to Eusebius that systematic copying of the New Testament began in the West.

From that time,  vellum and parchment were used along with the papyrus.
It was not until the Reformation era that printed copies of the Bible became available.


THE  AGE  OF  MANUSCRIPTS

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Because there was no printing process available at the time of manuscript copying of  the Scriptures,  the age of manuscripts must be determined by other means than a publisher's date.  The process of dating is not nearly as accurate as finding the publication date printed on the title page of a modern book,  but it is relatively accurate.

Materials

The materials of  a given manuscript copy may provide the basis for discovering its date.
Such materials as stone (not used for manuscripts),  papyrus,  vellum,  parchment,  and leather.
For present purposes,  only those materials that could be utilized in making rolls and/or books will be considered.

1. Skins Skins were possibly the earliest materials used,  and they were at first of  coarse texture and made rather heavy,  bulky rolls.  These materials were used early in Hebrew history and led to refinements in the post captivity period.
2. Papyrus Rolls Papyrus rolls were used in the New Testament period,  largely because of their inexpensive character when compared with vellum and parchment.
3. Papyrus Codices Papyrus codices were introduced when attempts at collecting the individual rolls revealed that there was a need to make them less cumbersome to handle.
Formerly each book or group of  books was written on a single roll,  but this multiplicity of  rolls was replaced by codices in the early second century.
4. Vellum Vellum was prepared from animal skins,  chiefly from lambs and young goats,  and was rather costly.  It was used for more expensive copies of manuscripts.
5. Parchment Parchment was used as early as the days of the New Testament composition
(2 Tim 4:13).
2 Timothy 4:13
Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come and the books, especially the parchments.    (NKJV)

Because there are various qualities of parchment and vellum writing material made from animal skins,  they were often used during the same period of time.
Codices of  the two materials did not appear generally until after the Edict of Diocletian and were the primary materials used in manuscript copying in the Middle Ages.

6. Redressed Parchment Redressed parchment was used for copying manuscripts after the original writing had become faded.  Sometimes parchments were  "erased"  and "rewritten,"  as in the case of the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C),
also known as a
palimpsest
rescriptus
(Greek,  "rubbed again")
(Latin, "rewritten")

Needless to say, these manuscripts would be of a later date than the earlier text on the parchment.

7. Paper Paper was invented in China in the second century A.D.
It was 
introduced into Eastern Turkistan as early as the fourth century
manufactured in Arabia in the eighth century
introduced into Europe in the tenth century
manufactured in Europe in the twelfth century
became common by the thirteenth century

There were, of course, developments in the manufacture of paper, for example, with hemp, flax, linen, and rag content.
Thus,  the materials used in the manufacture of writing material on which manuscripts were copied assist in determining their age.

Letter size and form

Evidence is also provided by letter size and form for the date of a given manuscript.

The earliest form of  Hebrew writing was in the prong-like letters of the old  Phoenician alphabet.
This style prevailed until the return from the Babylonian captivity in Nehemiah's time (c. 444 B.C.).
After Nehemiah the Jews apparently adopted the Aramaic script,  as it became the vernacular language during the fifth century B.C.  At that time,  the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Aramaic;  then,  after about 200 B.C. it was copied in the square letters of Aramaic script.

The square characters of extant manuscripts are not identical to those of that early period,  but they are direct descendants.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls of  Qumran in 1947 brought even more precision to the study of  Hebrew paleography,  as it has brought a large quantity of early biblical and non biblical manuscripts to light. These manuscripts have provided the first examples of  Hebrew texts from pre-Christian times,  a thousand years earlier than the oldest Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts previously available.

The Qumran manuscripts reveal three main types of  text and indicate differences in matters of spelling,  grammatical forms and,  to some extent,  wording from the Masoretic text.  By the time of the Masoretes (c. A.O. 500-1000), the principles of the late Talmudic period (c. A.o.300-500) became rather stereotyped.

Greek manuscripts were written in two general styles during the New Testament period: literary and nonliterary.
The New Testament was probably written in nonliterary style.  In fact,  for the first three centuries,  the New Testament was undoubtedly circulated outside the channels of ordinary book trade.

Whereas the literary hand was well-rounded,  graceful,  and handsome,  the nonliterary was smaller,  square lettered,  sprinkled with variants,  and exhibited a general lack of  literary exactness.
The written repositories of  Christian tradition were not plentiful during the first three centuries,  and the records that were preserved included various oral and written traditions according to the individual interpreters involved in the given historical situation.

The style of writing was slow and laborious during the early centuries of the church,  as the letters were capital (uncial),  written separately,  and without breaks between words or sentences.  Uncial manuscripts were copied through the tenth century;  but before they became less prominent,  a new form of writing was introduced into the field,  which is called minuscule or cursive writing.  By the tenth century,  the demand for manuscript copies caused the more fluid cursive style to outstrip the cumbersome uncial style.

Thus,  by the golden age of  manuscript copying,  the eleventh through fifteenth centuries,  this new running hand employing small and connected letters was the dominant form of  manuscript copying.  It was superseded in the fifteenth century by printed manuscripts,  after the introduction of movable typeset by Johann Gutenberg.

During the centuries when handwriting underwent its gradual process of development, one form gave way to another almost imperceptibly. Considerable time is generally required to produce significant changes in the shapes of letters and the general appearance of the script. Bruce M. Metzger observes the quite marked differences in the average hand from about A.D. 900 to 1300.

As time went on, there was a very great increase in the number of ligatures; there was a general decline in the minuscule hand as scribes apparently devoted less care to their handiwork and copied rapidly; considerable diversity developed in handwriting;  and in some cases the writing became irregular,  with letters that varied considerably in size.

The shape of  breathing marks changed from square to round shape between 1000 and 1300.
In addition to the evolution of  minuscule script there was an intrusion,  in ever greater numbers,  of  uncial forms of  certain letters which replaced the corresponding minuscule forms.

Punctuation

Further light is added to the age of a given manuscript by its punctuation.
At first,  words were run together,  and very little punctuation was used.
"During the sixth and seventh centuries,  scribes began to use punctuation marks more liberally."
The actual process of  change proceeded from space less writing,  to spaced writing,  addition of  end punctuation (periods),  commas,  colons,  breath and accent marks (seventh-eighth centuries),  interrogation marks,  and so on.  It was a long slow process that was rather complete by the tenth century,  in time for the minuscules and the golden age of manuscript copying.

Text divisions

It was not until the thirteenth century that modern chapter divisions appeared,  and not until the sixteenth century that modern verses were introduced.  But this development occurred prior to the mass distribution of the printed Bible,  and it augmented the influence of the Rheims-Douay and King James Version of the English Bible.

Miscellaneous factors

Also involved in the dating of  a given manuscript were such miscellaneous factors as the size and shape of letters within the uncial miniscule groupings of manuscripts.

Ornamentation

Another factor in dating of manuscripts;  from the fourth to the late ninth centuries the ornamentation of  manuscripts became more elaborate in the uncial manuscripts.

After that time,  they became less ornate and less carefully copied.

Spelling was modified during the centuries,  just as it is in living languages,  and that helps date manuscripts.

The color of the ink used is another important factor.  At first only black ink was used,  but green,  red,  and other colors were added later.

Finally, the texture and color of  parchment help date a manuscript.  The means of parchment production changed,  quality and texture were modified,  and the aging process added another cause for color change in the material.


THE  PRESERVATION  OF  MANUSCRIPTS

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Although manuscripts give information as to their date,  and their quality is governed by their preparation,  the preservation of  given manuscripts adds vital support to their relative value for the textual critic and student of  the Bible.  That may be illustrated by a cursory treatment of manuscript preservation in general.

Old Testament manuscripts

These manuscripts generally fall into two general periods of evidence.

1. The Talmudic Period (c. 300 B.C.-A.D. 500)
 
The Talmudic period produced a great flood of  manuscripts that were used in the synagogues and for private study.  In comparison to the later Masoretic period,  for the Temple and synagogues there were very few,  but they were careful  "official"  copies.
By the time of the Maccabean revolt (168 B.C.),  the Syrians had destroyed most of the existing manuscripts of  the Old Testament.
The Dead Sea Scrolls (c. 167 B.C.-A.D. 133) have made an immense contribution to Old Testament critical study.
There were many manuscript copies,  confirming for the most part the textual tradition of the Masoretes.
2. The Masoretic Period (flourished c. A.D. 500-1000)
 
The Masoretic period of  Old Testament manuscript copying indicates a complete review of established rules,  a deep reverence for the Scriptures,  and a systematic renovation of transmission techniques.

The New Testament manuscripts

New Testament manuscripts fall into four general periods of development.

1. The first three centuries -
Witnessed a composite testimony as to the integrity of  the New Testament Scriptures.
Because of the illegal position of  Christianity,  it cannot be expected that many,  if any,  complete manuscripts from that period are to be found.  Therefore,  textual critics must be content to examine whatever evidence has survived,  that is,  non biblical papyri,  biblical papyri,  ostraca,  inscriptions,  and lectionaries that bear witness to the manuscripts of the New Testament.
2. The fourth and fifth centuries -
Brought a legalization of Christianity and a multiplication of manuscripts of the New Testament.
These manuscripts,  on vellum and parchment generally,  were copies of earlier papyri and bear witness to this dependence.
3. From the sixth century onward -
Monks collected,  copied,  and cared for New Testament manuscripts in the monasteries.
This was a period of  rather uncritical production,  and it brought about an increase in manuscript quantity,  but with a corresponding decrease in quality.
4. After the tenth century -
Uncials gave way to minuscules,  and copies of manuscripts multiplied rapidly.

The classical writings of Greece and Rome

These writings illustrate the character of  biblical manuscript preservation in a candid fashion.
In contrast to the total of 5,366 partial and complete New Testament manuscripts known today,  the Iliad of  Homer has only 643,  The Peloponnesian War of  Thucydides only eight,  while Tacitus's works rely on but two manuscripts.

The abundance of  biblical evidence would lead one to conclude with Sir Frederic Kenyon that

"The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true word of God,  handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries."
Or, as he goes on to say,
"The number of manuscripts of  the New Testament,  of early translations from it,  and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church,  is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of  these ancient authorities."
This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.

Summary and Conclusion

Between the autograph and the modem Bible extends an important link in the overall chain  "from God to us"  known as transmission.

It provides a positive answer to the question:

Do Bible scholars today possess an accurate copy of the autographs?

Obviously,  the authenticity and authority of  the Bible cannot be established unless it is known that the present copies have integrity.  In support of the integrity of the text,  an overwhelming number of ancient documents may be presented.

For the New Testament,  beginning with the second century ancient versions and manuscript fragments and continuing with abundant quotations of  the Fathers and thousands of  manuscript copies from that time to the modem versions of the Bible,  there is virtually an unbroken line of testimony.

Furthermore,  there are not only countless manuscripts to support the integrity of the Bible (including the Old Testament since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls),  but a study of the procedures of  preparation and preservation of  the biblical manuscript copies reveals the fidelity of  the transmission process itself.

In fact,  it may be concluded that no major document from antiquity comes into the modem world with such evidence of its integrity as does the Bible.

 

  
 

Bibliography

 


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