We are living in an age of discovery
I was invited to a conference in August 2011 in Cambridge, England which was being held in conjunction with the 400 year anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, which was written in 1611.
Now, I love the King James Version, which is known in scholarly Biblical circles as the ‘Authorized Version.’ It is a beautiful, poetic masterpiece which has stood the test of 400 years. Most people hold it in extreme reverence and I am one of those people.
Note this post: http://samuelmartin.blogspot.co.il/2011/11/if-king-james-version-was-good-enough.html
While this Biblical masterpiece is a thing of beauty and something we all hold dear, there comes a time when we have to move forward with the times and embrace advances which help us to have a greater understanding of Scripture.
In this regard, let me give you three reasons why we need to embrace modern Bible versions. The first concerns the discovery of new Bible manuscripts which were not known in 1611. The prime example of this is the Siniaticus manuscript.
It was rediscovered by a Biblical scholar, Constantine Tischendorf in 1862 in the St. Catharines monastery in the Sinai in Egypt. Here is his own account of how he found it from Wikipedia:
“The story of how von Tischendorf found the manuscript, which contained most of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament, has all the interest of a romance. Von Tischendorf reached the monastery on 31 January; but his inquiries appeared to be fruitless. On 4 February, he had resolved to return home without having gained his object:
On the afternoon of this day I was taking a walk with the steward of the convent in the neighborhood, and as we returned, towards sunset, he begged me to take some refreshment with him in his cell. Scarcely had he entered the room, when, resuming our former subject of conversation, he said: "And I, too, have read a Septuagint" — i.e. a copy of the Greek translation made by the Seventy. And so saying, he took down from the corner of the room a bulky kind of volume, wrapped up in a red cloth, and laid it before me. I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those very fragments which, fifteen years before, I had taken out of the basket, but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete…”
The time of the mid to late 1800’s was one of great discovery and Biblical scholarship. Manuscripts were being discovered and critical editions of the New Testament were being published.
This brings us to the second reason we need to look carefully at the latest Biblical scholarship. The ability to review a large number of texts is now available whereas in 1611, the resources available were more limited than they are now. After all, in 1611, they did not have the libraries of the British Museum, the Library of Congress in the USA, the Smithsonian Institution or the Louvre in Paris. These institutions mobilized resources to collect manuscripts for posterity and many new manuscripts have come to light.
This has revolutionized Bible research. Professor Scrivener in his book “Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament (published in 1894)” surveyed almost 4,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in his survey. That is right. Almost 4,000 separate manuscripts! This was physically impossible in 1611. Many of the texts were not yet discovered or were not easily accessible nor was global travel as easy as it was in the late 1800’s.
The third reason is the Dead Sea Scrolls. These only came to light in 1947 and have now been studied for 65 years. Scores of Biblical texts came to light in complete and fragmentary form and many of these texts have shed fresh light on difficult passages of Scripture.
Many modern versions take these new discoveries and readings into consideration in their Bible versions. So should we.
These discoveries and this type of review of ancient texts were just not possible in 1611. So, we have been able to improve our knowledge of Scripture since 1611.
Knowledge is multiplying
However, our improvement in knowledge is not slowing down. On the contrary, it is speeding up. We have noted of late in the last 30 years or so an acceleration of knowledge in the scientific world with computers, medicine, science and the like. Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel Corporation, the makers of all those chips in our PC computers, has said that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every two years. So far his prediction has been proven correct.
Let us not think for a moment that Biblical scholarship is falling behind. In no way. If anything, it is speeding up.
Let us consider the example of Rabbi Jacob Neusner. Rabbi Neusner, age 79, has published more than 1,000 separate books. Quite a feat and only possible in today’s modern world. But we are not only talking now about volume. We are talking about quality and breadth of study.
I saw a great illustration of this of late concerning an essential book by Dr. Kenneth Bailey. This is one book you will all want to add to your library. Dr. Bailey is especially gifted in bringing a Middle Eastern perspective to his Biblical studies. And let us not miss the importance of a Middle Eastern perspective when it comes to Scripture.
He is well known for his books on this subject dealing with Jesus and the Gospels (http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/author.pl/author_id=1185). But look at his upcoming book on St. Paul and I Corinthians. We note what Prof. Burge from Wheaton College has to say about it.
“Yet another commentary on 1 Corinthians? Hardly. With this book Bailey opens a new genre in the rhetorical analysis of this famous and difficult New Testament letter. He argues that 1 Corinthians consists of five essays and each has a common ancient rhetorical structure ("ring composition") missed by most exegetes. . . . [In] addition Bailey is using tools unavailable to the average scholar: twenty-two ancient translations of 1 Corinthians into Arabic, Syriac and Hebrew, as well as commentaries dating as far back as ninth-century Damascus. This book is a gold mine of astonishing new discoveries, cross-cultural insight and sound pastoral wisdom. It will inevitably join the ranks of the great and important books on this epistle.” Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College - http://www.ivpress.com/title/ata/3934-press.pdf
New genre! Missed by most exegetes! Gold mine of astonishing new discoveries! Wow!
What Prof. Burge shows is that this book is a game changer. Dr. Bailey is going where no one else has ever gone before concerning I Corinthians. Why? Very few scholars from the Western world have the academic tools Ken Bailey has because he holds a higher degree in Arabic language (among others including Hebrew and Syriac). He is able to deal with resources which few scholars in the world even hope to have access to.
So we can see why this book has the potential to change our total outlook on I Corinthians due to the work of Dr. Bailey and his abilities to dig into scholarly background material which is ancient and focused in the Christian libraries of the ancient Near East which Western scholars only dream to access.
There is another similar game changing story of a gentleman named David Beyer. Mr. Beyer is a layman with an interest in ancient history. In 1966, a professor named W.E. Filmer published a paper stating his belief that Jesus was born in 3 or 2 BC (my own father, Dr. Ernest L. Martin produced a book titled "The Birth of Christ Recalculated" that also promoted this view) and that Herod died in 1 BC, which is a very different date than most scholars today accept. Most scholars believe King Herod died in 4BC. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus is crucial in this debate.
In Filmer’s paper, he noted that an 18th century monk had seen editions of Josephus which pointed to the possibility that a different year was referenced than appears in most printed editions of Josephus today.
So, David Beyer took it upon himself to travel to the British Museum and the Library of Congress and physically check 46 separate editions of Josephus. To make a long story short, his research proved that 18th century monk correct! There was a scribal error identified to have happened in 1544. All editions of Josephus published before 1544 had the number correct. This one error has thrown off the understanding of this dark decade of history, but now many scholars agree with Mr. Beyer, including the late Professor Jack Finegan, the recognized authority on Biblical Chronology and the author the “Handbook of Biblical Chronology.”
The efforts of this one lay person revolutionized the study of this important time period when Jesus was born. Mr. Beyer only published his research officially in 1995 so this is all very new, however, the point is, this was unknown a few short years ago, yet we now have more facts to help understand the Gospel narratives about the Nativity of Jesus Christ.
History repeats itself
We are now in a period of time which in some ways resembles the time when St. Paul lived. During that time, new mechanisms were created to disseminate information that were before that time not in existence.
For example, it has been noted in the important book “The Birth of the Codex” by Skeat and Roberts that the modern form of book that we have today with leaves attached to a spine positioned between two covers was created in the last part of the First Century. Scholars are now realizing that this development came from the Christian community. In fact, we can point to St. Paul as the inventor of the book form that we have today (See Dr. Ernest Martin, Restoring the Original Bible: ASK Publications: Portland: OR 1994)).
This allowed for a revolution in knowledge and organization of information at that time. You no longer need to carry around cumbersome and expensive scrolls made of animal skins or of papyrus to have your books. You could now have them organized in a single volume and in a specific order.
This was a revolution in knowledge which gave access to information to so many including the common person on the street. This is happening again today due to one development. What is it? It is the Internet.
The Internet is the modern equivalent as an invention of what the codex form of book was in ancient times. As was the case in ancient times, the playing field was leveled. Now information of a religious nature could be secured by so many more people. Men and women could access it equally. It was no longer restricted to priests (men). Now women had access just like men.
This was, of course, started by Jesus himself. Joachim Jeremias, speaking about Jesus and his custom of allowing women to follow Him, said it was “an unprecedented happening in the history of that time” and the consequence was that one of them, Mary Magdalene, not Peter, was the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.” This was a change at that time and it is a change again today. Now the playing field of scholarship and information is open to all without restriction and information is thankfully flowing like never before.
Don’t think we have reached the plateau. Far from it! This is especially the case for theological knowledge. The changes taking place are dramatic and far reaching. It is really an exciting time to be alive if one is interested in theology.
Let us note that almost on a daily basis here in Israel, archaeological discoveries are being made, but while physical discoveries are being made in the field with spades, tractors and digging implements, new discoveries are also being made in libraries on university campuses and other places around this world.
Thankfully, some forward thinking presses are embracing this new trend in knowledge and taking risks to see the cause of learning advanced by allowing scholars (like Bailey among thousands of others) to share their new ideas with us. Let's mention and applaud some courageous ones like www.ivpress.com and www.eerdmans.com. There are many others that can also be mentioned.
Thank God that this is happening because truth will be advanced because of this. And what is this new truth going to show? It is going to show that that good old Book, known as the Holy Bible was, is and always will be God’s Holy Word to mankind: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
I guess that in this new environment of discovery, there are going to be some winners and losers. I could go into the details of why I am suggesting the following, but I’ll leave that for another time. Let’s look at some of the groups or ideas that I personally think are going to benefit and be forced to adapt to change due to these new developments. Disempowerment is coming to some and empowerment is rightfully coming to others.
- Marginalized groups
- Patriarchal structures
- Authoritarian religious systems