FROM THE BOOK: "ALLEGED DISCEPANCIES OF THE BIBLE" by John Haley
Results of the Discrepancies
What is the effect of the discrepancies, in relation to the integrity of the text, and to the moral influence of the Bible?
1. Text of Bible Not Unsettled
They neither unsettle the text, nor essentially impair its integrity. They fail to vitiate it, in any appreciable degree. The conclusion reached by eminent scholars and critics, after protracted and thorough investigation, is that the sacred text has been transmitted to us virtually unaltered.
Says Isaac Taylor, 1 "The evidence of the genuineness and authenticity of the Jewish and Christian scriptures has, for no other reason than a thought of the consequences that are involved in an admission of their truth, been treated with an unwarrantable disregard of logical equity, and even of the dictates of common sense. The poems of Anacreon, the tragedies of Sophocles, the plays of Terence, the epistles of Pliny, are adjudged to be safe from the imputation of spuriousness, or of material corruption; and yet evidence ten times greater as to
1 History of Transmission of Ancient Books, pp. 169-170.
its quantity, variety, and force, supports the genuineness of the poems of Isaiah, and the epistles of Paul."
Bishop Butler: 2 "There maybe mistakes of transcribers; there maybe other real or seeming mistakes, not easy to be particularly accounted for; but there are certainly no more things of this kind in the scripture, than what were to have been expected in books of such antiquity; and nothing in any wise sufficient to discredit the general narrative."
That the text of the Old Testament has been transmitted to us substantially intact, is a conceded point. In all but a few unimportant cases, the genuine reading is settled beyond dispute. The candid and scholarly Bleek 3 asserts that "the Hebrew manuscripts have been preserved unaltered generally; and this in a measure of which we find no second example in other works which have been multiplied and circulated by numerous manuscripts."
Keil: 4 "The Old Testament, like all the other books of antiquity, has been propagated by transcription. And thus it has happened, even in spite of the great care with which the Jews, who were filled with unbounded reverence for the holy scriptures, watched over their preservation and transmission without injury, that they could not escape the common lot of all ancient books. In the course of repeated copying many small errors crept into the text, and various readings came into existence, which be before us in the text as it is attested in the records belonging to the various centuries.. . . The copyists have committed these errors by seeing or hearing wrongly, by faithlessness of memory, and by other misunderstandings; yet not arbitrarily or intentionally. And by none of them have the essential contents of scripture been endangered."
Even De Wette, 5 comparing the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Phoenicians with the Hebrews, observes, "From the former, either all the monuments of their literature have perished to the last fragment, or only single melancholy ruins survive, which in nothing diminish the loss of the rest; while, on the contrary, from the latter there is still extant a whole library of authors, so valuable and ancient that the writings of the Greeks are in comparison extremely young." This is a very significant concession from one of the leaders of modern rationalism.
Gesenius 6 says, "To state here in few words my creed, as to the condition of the Hebrew text in a critical respect. It cannot be denied, that through the anxious care of the Jewish critics, the text has been in general very well preserved."
2 Analogy, p. 288 (Malcom's edition).
3 Introd. to Old Testament, ii. 365.
4 Introd. to Old Testament, ii. 294-295.
5 Introd. to Old Testament, i. 23 (Parker's edition).
6 Biblical Repository, iii. 41.
"In the Hebrew manuscripts," says Prof. Stuart, 7 "that have been examined, some eight hundred thousand various readings actually occur as to the Hebrew consonants. How many as to the vowel-points and accents, no man knows. And the like to this is true of the New Testament. But, at the same time, it is equally true, that all these taken together do not change or materially affect any important point of doctrine, precept, or even history. A great proportion, indeed the mass, of variations in Hebrew manuscripts, when minutely scanned, amount to nothing more than the difference in spelling a multitude of English words. What matters it as to the meaning, whether one writes honour or honor, whether he writes centre or center?" Such scholars as Buxtorf, Bleek, Havernick, Keil, and others, affirm that the Jews took such extraordinary care in copying their sacred books, "that it was a practice to count not only the number of verses, but also that of the words, and even of the letters of the various books, in order to ascertain the middle verse, the middle word, and the middle letter of each book." 8
Keil 9 remarks that the Masora, a rabbinic critical work upon the Old Testament, contains an "enumeration of the verses, words, and letters of each book; information as to the middle word and middle letter of each book; enumeration of verses which contain the whole consonants of the alphabet, or only so many of them; and also of words which occur so many times in the Bible with this or that meaning, and of words written plene,' or 'defective.'"
Parker,10 in De Wette, gives, from Bishop Walton, a list of the number of times which each Hebrew letter occurs in the Old Testament. The same list may be found in Menasseh ben Israel's Conciliator.11
Bishop Herbert Marsh 12 has the following very just inference: "When we consider the rules which were observed by the Jews in transcribing the sacred writings, rules which were carried to an accuracy that bordered on superstition, there is reason to believe, that no work of antiquity has descended to the present age so free from alteration, as the Hebrew Bible."
The erudite translator 13 of Outram says, "There are not wanting proofs of the most scrupulous care of the Hebrew text on the part of the Jews." "No evidence has been adduced of their wilful alteration of any part of the Hebrew text." It was by such scrupulous and minute care as this, that the Jews preserved their sacred books from any important variation or corruption.
7 History of Old Testament Canon, p. 192. Revised ed. p. 178.
8 Bleek's Introduction to Old Testament, ii. 451—452.
9 Introd. to Old Testament, ii. 316.
10 Introduction to Old Testament, i. 357.
11 Vol. i. p. 250.
12 Lectures on Criticism and Interpretation, p. 57.
13 John Allen, in Modern Judaism, pp. 6-7 (Second edition).
Moreover, notwithstanding its minute discrepancies and "various readings," the text of the New Testament is better established than that of any other ancient book. No one of the so-called "classics," not Homer nor Herodotus, compares favorably, in this respect, with the New Testament. Says Prof. Stowe,14 "Of the manuscript copies of the Greek Testament, from seven hundred to one thousand of all kinds have been examined already by critics, and of these at least fifty are more than one thousand years old, and some are known to be at least fifteen hundred years old; while the oldest of the Greek classics scarcely reach the antiquity of nine hundred years, and of these the number is very small indeed, compared with those of the Greek Testament."
Among the Greek classical writers, Herodotus and Plato are of the first importance. The earliest manuscripts of Herodotus extant are, one in the Imperial library at Paris, "executed in the twelfth century"; one in the Florentine library, which Montfaucon assigns to the tenth century; and one in the library of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, which may possibly have been written in the ninth century.15 One of the earliest manuscripts of Plato is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and was executed not earlier than the ninth century.
Among the manuscripts of the New Testament, we have the Alexandrian, written about a.d. 350; the Vatican, written about a.d. 325; the Sinaitic, of date equally early; the Ephraim manuscript, "probably somewhat later than the Alexandrian, but of great critical value"; and the Beza manuscript, dating about a.d. 490.16 Other scholars substantially concur in these dates, though Alford 17 and Scrivener 18 assign the Alexandrian manuscript to the fifth century; that is, a.d. 400-500.
Here, then, we find five manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, the youngest of which is about fourteen hundred years old; and all of which may have been prepared by persons who had studied the original manuscripts written by the apostles themselves.
So far, therefore, as an authenticated and settled text is concerned, the classics are very far behind the New Testament.19 "There is not," says Tregelles, 20
14 Origin and History of Books of Bible, p. 60.
15 Taylor's History of Transmission of Ancient Books, pp. 276-278; compare Stowe, p. 59.
16 Stowe, pp. 65-77. See, also, Alford, Prolegomena to Greek Four Gospels, pp. 107-116; and Scrivener, Criticism of New Testament, pp. 76-103.
17 Prolegomena to Four Gospels, p. 107.
18 Criticism of New Testament, p. 82.
19 Dr. Bentley, in his annihilating reply to Collins, speaking of the manuscript copies of Terence, the oldest and best of which, now in the Vatican library, has "hundreds-of errors," observes, "I myself have collated several, and do affirm that I have seen twenty thousand various lections in that little author, not near so big as the New Testament; and am morally sure, that if half the number of manuscripts were collated for Terence with that niceness and minuteness which has been used in twice as many for the New Testament, the number of the variations would amount to above fifty thousand." And yet Terence is one of the best preserved of the classic writers.—Remarks upon a late Discourse, etc. Part i. Sec. 82.
20 New Testament Historic Evidence, p. 74.
"such a mass of transmissional evidence in favor of any classical work. The existing manuscripts of Herodotus and Thucydides are modern enough when compared with some of those of the New Testament."
In the fitting words of Scrivener, 21 "As the New Testament far surpasses all other remains of antiquity in value and interest, so are the copies of it yet existing in manuscript, and dating from the fourth century of our era downwards, far more numerous than those of the most celebrated writers of Greece or Rome. Such as have been already discovered and set down in catalogues are hardly fewer than two thousand; and many more must still linger unknown in the monastic libraries of the East. On the other hand, manuscripts of the most illustrious classic poets and philosophers are far rarer and comparatively modern. We have no complete copy of Homer himself prior to the thirteenth century, though some considerable fragments have been recently brought to light which may plausibly be assigned to the fifth century; while more than one work of high and deserved repute has been preserved to our times only in a single copy. Now the experience we gain, from a critical examination of the few classical manuscripts that survive, should make us thankful for the quality and abundance of those of the New Testament. These last present us with a vast and almost inexhaustible supply of materials for tracing the history, and upholding (at least within certain limits) the purity of the sacred text; every copy, if used diligently and with judgment, will contribute somewhat to these ends. So far is the copiousness of our stores from causing doubt or perplexity to the genuine student of holy scripture, that it leads him to recognize the more fully its general integrity in the midst of partial variation."
With equal felicity and truthfulness, Isaac Taylor, 22 on the proof of the genuineness of the scriptures, observes: "And as the facts on which this proof depends are precisely of the same kind in profane, as in sacred literature, and as the same principles of evidence are applicable to all questions relating to the genuineness of ancient books, it is highly desirable that the proof of the genuineness of the sacred writings should be viewed, in its place, as forming a part only of a general argument, which bears equally upon the entire literary remains of antiquity. For it is only when so viewed, that the comparative strength and completeness of the proof which belongs to this particular case, can be duly estimated. When exhibited in this light, it will be seen that the integrity of the records of the Christian faith is substantiated by evidence in a tenfold proportion
21 Criticism of New Testament, pp. 3-4.
22 History of Transmission of Ancient Books, p. 5
more various, copious, and conclusive 23 than that which can be adduced in support of any other ancient writings. If, therefore, the question had no other importance belonging to it than what may attach to a purely literary inquiry, or if only the strict justice of the case were regarded, the authenticity of the Jewish and Christian scriptures could never come to be controverted, till the entire body of classical literature had been proved to be spurious."
Nor does the Bible suffer by comparison with books of later date. For the text of Shakespeare, which has been in existence less than two hundred and fifty years, is "far more uncertain and corrupt than that of the New Testament, now over eighteen centuries old, during nearly fifteen of which it existed only in manuscript. The industry of collators and commentators indeed has collected a formidable array of Various readings in the Greek text of the scriptures, but the number of those which have any good claim to be received, and which also seriously affect the sense, is so small that they may almost be counted upon the fingers. With perhaps a dozen or twenty exceptions, the text of every verse in the New Testament may be said to be so far settled by the general consent of scholars, that any dispute as to its meaning must relate rather to the interpretation of the words, than to any doubts respecting the words, themselves. But in every one of Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays, there are probably a hundred readings still in dispute, a large proportion of which materially affect the meaning of the passages in which they occur."24
The probability that trivial variations would be found in considerable numbers will be seen when we reflect that, according to Prof. Norton's 25 estimate, there were, at the end of the second century, as many as sixty thousand manuscript copies of the Gospels in existence. That these variations are of slight importance we have already seen; so that in spite of the "fifty thousand various readings" 26 of which we are often told, he must be very ignorant or very mendacious who represents the text of the New Testament as in a dubious and unsettled state. Its antiquity and all other circumstances being taken into the account, there is no other book which compares with it in possessing a settled and authenticated text.
The famous Bentley, 27 one of the ablest critics England has ever seen, observes: "The real text of the sacred writers does not now (since the originals have been so long lost) lie in any single manuscript or edition, but is dispersed in them all. 'Tis competently exact indeed, even in the worst manuscript now
23 The italics are our own.
24 North American Review, quoted in Stowe's Origin and History of Books of Bible, p. 82.
25 Genuineness of the Gospels, i. 50—53.
26 See as to the probable number, Scrivener's Criticism of New Testament, p. 3
27 Remarks upon a late Discourse of Free Thinking, Part i. Sec. 32.
extant; nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost in them, choose as awkardly as you can, choose the worst by design, out of the whole lump of readings." Again he adds, "Make your thirty thousand (variations) as many more, if numbers of copies can ever reach that sum; all the better to a knowing and serious reader, who is thereby more richly furnished to select what he sees genuine. But even put them into the hands of a knave or a fool, and yet with the most sinistrous and absurd choice, he shall not extinguish the light of any one chapter, nor disguise Christianity but that every feature of it will be the same."
When men seek to impugn the credibility of the Bible, by alleging "discrepancies "and "various readings," we may safely answer, with Prof. Stuart,28 that they are so easily accounted for, and of so little importance, that "they make nothing of serious import against the claims which the matter, the manner, and the character of the scriptures prefer as the stable ground of our belief and confidence and obedience."
Very pertinently says Dr. Hodge, 29 "These apparent discrepancies, although numerous, are for the most part trivial; relating in most cases to numbers or dates. The great majority of them are only apparent, and yield to careful examination. Many of them may be fairly ascribed to errors of transcribers. The marvel and the miracle is, that there are so few of any real importance. Considering that the different books of the Bible were written not only by different authors, but by men of all degrees of culture, living in the course of fifteen hundred or two thousand years, it is altogether unaccountable that they should agree perfectly, on any other hypothesis than that the writers were under the guidance of the Spirit of God. In this respect, as in all others, the Bible stands alone.. . . The errors in matters of fact which sceptics search out bear no proportion to the whole. No sane man would deny that the Parthenon was built of marble, even if here and there a speck of sandstone should be detected in its structure."
"The subject of various readings," observes President Hopkins, 30 "was at one time so presented as to alarm and disquiet those not acquainted with the facts. When a person hears it stated that, in the collation of the manuscripts for Griesbach's edition of the New Testament, as many as one hundred and fifty thousand various readings were discovered, he is ready to suppose that everything must be in a state of uncertainty. A statement of the facts relieves every difficulty. The truth is, that not one in a thousand makes any perceptible, or at least important, variation in the meaning; that they consist almost entirely of
28 History of Old Testament Canon, p. 104. Revised edition, p. 180
29 Theology, i. 169-170.
30 Evidences of Christianity, p. 289.
the small and obvious mistakes of transcribers, such as the omission or transposition of letters, errors in grammar, in the use of one word for another of a similar meaning, and in changing the position of words in a sentence. But by all the omissions, and all the additions, contained in all the manuscripts, no fact, no doctrine, no duty prescribed, in our authorized version, is rendered either obscure or doubtful."
2. Moral Influence of the Bible Not Impaired
Moreover, as the text of scripture is not vitiated, so its moral influence and. efficacy is not essentially impaired by all the "contradictions" which lynx-eyed infidelity has discovered, or affected to discover, in it. In respect to them, Prof. Bush 31 strikingly and felicitously remarks, "Their apparent contrariety shows at least with what confidence the book of God appeals to our reason on the ground of the general evidence of its origin, exhibiting, as it does, such examples of literal self-conflict in particular passages. A work of imposture could not afford to be thus seemingly indifferent to appearances."
We thus see how the mighty moral prestige of the Bible resolves these apparent objections into strong presumptions in its favor. The truth of our proposition becomes obvious when we carefully consider the influence of the Bible, both upon individuals and upon society in general—-its effect upon mankind.
We cannot specify here, what every community furnishes, instances of men once dishonest, turbulent, profane, sensual, or drunken, who, under the influence of the Bible, have thoroughly reformed their conduct and life, and become as remarkable for meekness, benevolence, purity, and self-control as they had previously been notorious for the opposite traits.
Among those who have recognized the influence of the Bible, and bowed reverently to its authority, we find many of the "foremost men" of the race—-the acutest and most powerful intellects, the most distinguished poets, statesmen, and scholars whom the world has ever seen. It would be superfluous to name Milton and Dante; Bacon, Newton, and Leibnitz; Boyle, Locke, and Butler; Hale and Grotius; Pascal and Faraday; Washington and Wilberforce.
Had the Bible been, as some assert, full of irreconcilable discrepancies and insoluble difficulties, it could scarcely have commanded the homage of such
Notes on Exodus, Vol. i. p. 295.
minds and hearts as these. For, it is not extravagant to say that these men were as acute in detecting imposture, and as competent to discriminate between truth and falsehood as are, in our own time, the Bishop of Natal and the Duke of Somerset.
In proof of the power of the Bible to leaven and renovate society, we need only point to the Sandwich Islands, and to the mission fields and schools of India and Turkey; we need but allude to the marked difference between nations which have received the Bible and those which have rejected it—-between Prussia and France, between England and Spain. On a candid survey of the field, we see the correctness of Chancellor Kent's saying: "The general diffusion of the Bible is the most effectual way to civilize and humanize mankind; to purify and exalt the general system of public morals; to give efficacy to the just precepts of international and municipal law; to enforce the observance of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude; and to improve all the relations of social and domestic life."
It was well affirmed by John Locke, "That the holy scriptures are one of the greatest blessings which God bestows upon the sons of men, is generally acknowledged by all who know anything of the value and worth of them."
We, therefore, deem the position an impregnable one, that all the discrepancies and objections which the teeming brain and malignant heart of infidelity have been able to conjure up and rake together, do not in any essential degree detract from the value of the inspired volume, nor diminish its wonderful and beneficent moral power.
Nor does infidelity furnish any substitute for the Bible. It points us all in vain to Confucius, Zoroaster, and the Vedas, to the cold and arrogant teachings of positivism, to the barren negations and ever-discordant utterances of rationalism. Never book spake like the Bible. No other comes home to the heart and conscience, with light and power and healing as does this. It teaches man how to live and how to die.
A celebrated infidel is said to have exclaimed in his last moments, "I am about to take a leaf in the dark." Cast the Bible aside, and every man at death takes a "leap in the dark."
In the language of an eminent writer, 32 "Weary human nature lays its head on this bosom, or it has nowhere to lay its head. Tremblers on the verge of the dark and terrible valley which parts the land of the living from the untried
Dr. Rorison, in Replies to Essays and Reviews, pp. 340-341 (2d edition).
hereafter, take this hand of human tenderness, yet godlike strength, or they totter into the gloom without prop or stay They who look their last on the beloved dead listen to this voice of soothing and peace, else death is no uplifting of everlasting doors, and no enfolding in everlasting arms, but an enemy as appalling to the reason as to the senses, the usher to a charnel-house where highest faculties and noblest feelings lie crushed with the animal wreck; an infinite tragedy, maddening, soul-sickening—a 'blackness of darkness forever'"
"Thy word is a lamp onto my feet, and a light unto my path" 33
We cannot but agree with Lord Chief Justice Hale, that "there is no book like the Bible for excellent learning, wisdom, and use"; we must, with Sir Isaac Newton, "account the scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy," and to exhibit "more sure marks of authenticity than any profane history whatsoever."
In considering the solutions hereafter proposed, the legitimate force of a hypothesis should be kept in mind. If a certain hypothesis meets the exigencies of a given case, then, unless it can be proven false or absurd, its logical value is to set aside any and all objections, and to secure a strong presumption in its own favor. 34 For instance, it is said: "Here is a case in which the Bible contradicts itself." We reply: "Here is a hypothesis which serves to explain and reconcile the disagreement." Now, unless our hypothesis can be proven untrue or irrational, it stands, and the objection is effectually met. In such cases, the burden of proof devolves upon the objector.
The solutions proposed in the following pages are hypothetical; though, in the majority of cases, the probability amounts to almost absolute certainty. In offering these solutions, we neither assert nor undertake to prove that they are the only, or even the actual solutions; we merely affirm that they are reasonable explanations of each case respectively, and, for aught that can be shown to the contrary, they may be the real ones. Therefore, according to the principles of logic and common sense, they countervail and neutralize the discrepancies
33 Psalm 119:105.
34 Prof. Henry Rogers well says, "The objector is always apt to take it for granted that the discrepancy is real; though it may be easy to suppose a case (and a possible case is quite sufficient for the purpose) which would neutralize the objection. Of this perverseness (we can call it by no other name) the examples are perpetual.... It may be objected, perhaps, that the gratuitous supposition of some unmentioned fact—which, if mentioned, would harmonize the apparently counterstatements of two historians—cannot be admitted, and is, in fact, a surrender of the argument. But to say so, is only to betray an utter ignorance of what the argument is. If an objection be founded on the alleged absolute contradiction of two statements, it is quite sufficient to show any (not the real, but only a hypothetical and possible) medium of reconciling them; and the objection is in all fairness dissolved; and this would be felt by the honest logician, even if we did not know of any such instances in point of fact. We do know, however, of many."—Reason and Faith, pp. 401-403 (Boston edition).
which are adduced, and leave the unity and integrity and divine authority of the sacred volume unimpaired.
The Discrepancies of Scripture may, perhaps, be most suitably arranged under three heads: 35 the Doctrinal, including questions of theology; the Ethical, pertaining to human duties and morals; the Historical, relating to persons, places, numbers, and time; with some miscellaneous cases.
Of such a vast and incongruous mass of materials as has accumulated during the investigation, it has seemed well nigh impossible to make a rigorously exact and clearly-defined classification. Obviously, many of the following cases might, from their complex or feebly marked character, fall equally well in some other, or in more than one, of the divisions. In such cases, that arrangement has been adopted which seemed most natural and obvious. The most prominent or important element in a difficult passage has determined the class to which that passage should be referred.
If anything has been lost in scientific precision and nicety, it is believed that much has been gained in simplicity, convenience, and practical utility, by abandoning the attempt at a complex, logical classification, and grouping the discrepancies under a few characteristic heads.
For other methods of classification, see Davidson's Sacred Hermenentics, p. 520.
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