I am questioning information I read on the page: Dr. John Oakes uses Mark 1:2 as an example of Byzantine copyists attempting to improve a text. He states, "The quote following in Mark 1:2 is taken both from Isaiah and Malachi. Presumably a copier took the role of an editor, removing what hethought of as a mistake in Mark." May I suggest a different possibility? An Alexandrian copyist, who was not a Jew, was familiar with the quote in Isaiah but not in Malachi. He thought it an improvement to specify Isaiah, making it easier for a reader to verify the quote.    I am a relatively new Christian in search of truth. Why would any believer think "harmony" between the gospels indicates doctoring by copyists? Why are so many proponents of the modern critical texts seemingly anti-Christian? These same proponents must love the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their biggest advocates.  My research is not helping me. Personally I’m leaning Byzantine, because errors of omission are much more common than errors of addition. And if the additions are claimed to be intentional editing, what of Revelation 22:18,19? Weren’t the copyists reading what they copied?     My preliminary belief is that those with faith in the sovereignty of God seem to lean Byzantine, while others lean Alexandrian. Please give me some help. I would really appreciate a list of the major differences between the two.

Thank you so much in advance.

Answer: I think your point is a legitimate one.   When we, or perhaps the scholars we tend to count on, look at such textual issues, we do not necessarily determine the truth, but only the most reasonable explanation of the facts.   Of course, what is a "reasonable" explanation of the information will depend on the facts, but also on the presuppositions one uses.  All this can make things confusing for the uninitiated or the new Christian, as many people come across so sure of their conclusions, when if you remove the presuppositions, the case might not be quite as strong.  Anyway, if I am guilty of overstating my case, I will apologize for that. Let me speak for myself personally.  When asking questions about the copying and transmission of manuscripts and when I ask about the process of translation from the mother tongue to another language, I assume that God relied on human beings to preserve and translate the scriptures.   Of course, I believe that God is sovereign–that he can do whatever he will.  God could guide the hand and mind of the copyist, but the question is whether he actually did or not.  In any case, the evidence tells me that the process of producing copies of the original autographs of the New and Old Testament books was a human one.   We know from the evidence that the process of copying the original Hebrew and Greek inspired writings introduced a significant number of errors, most of which are extremely minor–having no doctrinal or theological implications. This being stated, I tend to look at the available manuscript evidence through the lens of a couple of rules of thumb.   First of all, as a rule of thumb, the older manuscripts are generally more reliable.  This is common sense, but we should remember that this is only a rule of thumb.  There will be exceptions.  Another common sense rule (which will have exceptions, and which should not be wielded with authority) applies to the small number of cases in which copiers became editors–making attempted "improvements" in the copy they have in front of them.   The rule is that when a manuscript was "improved" the editor will make the manuscript read easier or be less surprising or the editor will "harmonize" with another gospel.  For example, if we have two versions of a particular passage in Matthew, and a parallel passage in Mark.  Scholars will assume that it is more likely that the version in Matthew which is different is the original, because it is extremely unlikely that a copier would on purpose make it different from Mark.  Also, if there are two readings, one of which is "softer" or easier to believe Jesus would say that, versus one which is harder or more surprising, a rule of thumb is that the more surprising or difficult version is more likely than not the original, because it is reasonable to think that someone trying to "improve" the text would soften it or make it easier to accept. Again, this is not a way to determine the "truth," but merely a way to ask which is the most likely conclusion.  When we have a variant reading which is confirmed in the older manuscripts and is also more difficult, then my confidence that this is the correct original would be even more strong. So, perhaps it is counter intuitive to you, but a common sense approach to the question of which is the original will favor the one which is less harmonized.   This does not mean contradiction.  Not at all.  I am absolutely convinced that there is no contradiction between the gospel accounts.  It is just that we have separate witnesses who report different details from their different perspective.  It is the differences between the gospel accounts which lends credibility as much as it is the harmony between the gosples. You ask, "Why would any believer think "harmony" between the gospels indicates doctoring by copyists?  This is a legitimate question.  We know that in some cases, scribes doctored the text.  This is a well-established fact. Whether they feared Revelation 22:18 or not, I cannot judge, but it is well established that scribes willfully altered the text, at least in some cases. 1 John 5:7,8 is almost certainly an example of this, as it is in no Greek manuscript before the 16th century.  Most commonly this was a sincere attempt to solve some sort of perceived problem (which, in my opinion was not a problem at all).  We have human beings involved here, and human beings do things, even out of a sincere desire, which are not a good thing!  It is vastly more likely that someone doctoring the text is made to make it appear less "difficult" than to make it more "difficult."   I applied this kind of rule of thumb to the passage in question.   The general consensus is that the Byzantine text, as a rule, represents a somewhat later line of manuscripts than the Alexandrine, although there are exceptions to this.  The fact that the Byzantine text has the variation which is likely to be later, combined with the fact that it is more likely that the editor of the original would make it harmonize than make it difficult combines, in my opinion, to give the conclusion that it is far more likely the original was from the Alexandrine manuscript line. I feel you should be careful about labeling those who are honestly seeking to determine what is the original Greek or Hebrew text as lovers of the Jehovah’s Witness or anti-Christian. The Golden Rule seems to discurage such behavior.  This is a kind of slander.  I, for one, an not a friend of Jehovah Witness theology or anti-Christian.  I lean toward my view of Mark 1:2 because the evidence leans that way, not because of any theological bias.   I am cautious about the argument from sovereignty because the Bible never promises that copies or translations will be inspired.   Those who use the sovereignty argument are most often supporting the claim (an extremely weak one, in my opinion), that the King James version is somehow inspired and that the later, rather than the earlier manuscripts are more reliable.  This is counter-intuitive and is not supported by either evidence or biblical statements. In any case, I would strongly resist being dogmatic about this.  I am definitely open to the possibility that your description is the correct one–that a copyist whose work led to the "Alexandrine" version of Mark 1:2 is the one who erred.   This is certainly possible, but I will stick with my statement that in my opinion it is considerably more likely that the "Byzantine" text is the one in error here. Your argument about errors of omission vs errors of addition is not a bad one.  It should be taken into account.  However, generally omissions are accidental, but in Mark 1:2 it seems more likely that the change was not accidental.  This does not invalidate your argument, but it may slightly weaken it.  I think we could summarize the question about Mark 1:2 as follows:   If we can assume a purposeful change by and editor in order to "improve" the text, then probably the Alexandrine is the correct variation, but if we can assume a completely accidental change happened, then it is more likely that the Byzantine text is correct. Again, I am quite sincere in saying that your final conclusion may be right.  I do not think this manuscript question has any implications for the gospel of Jesus or for theology.   This is not a significant question to the Christian faith, but it is a valid question to pursue. As for more differences, I just posted an outline, power point and audio of a class I did just this past weekend on Biblical inspiration, manuscripts and versions.   You can find it at the web site. John Oakes, PhD

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