Question Summary:


 “Since there are no existing original documents of the Bible, how can we base our lives on the original Hebrew & Greek text?”



Good Morning Craig,


I have a question regarding your opening statement on your Web-site:


"We believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God in the original Greek and Hebrew language and that it is the basis for how we should live our lives. "


Since there are no existing original documents, (except for some fragments), of the Greek New Testament, and the documents that we have for the Old Testament in our modern Bibles, comes from the Leningrad Codex, (Leningradensis), around 1010 C. E.


It would seem that we cannot base our lives on the, "Word of God in the original Greek and Hebrew language."


We would need to base our lives on the ability of the Spirit of God to reveal His Word(s) to us in the "Translated Texts" that we now have.


However, I may have misinterpreted you actual meaning in regard to your statement?









Hi Dave~


Thanks for the question; I knew eventually someone was going to ask me about this statement, and I appreciate the reflective and sincerity in which you present your question.  I think you may be interpreting my statement about “languages” as being one and the same as, “autographs.”  That the Hebrew Bible was written and compiled is unquestionable, albeit autographs do not exist for the Pentateuch for example.  My concern is not whether the original autographs exist, but that Hebrew was the language in which they were written, then canonized, then translated into versions, English being applicable in my study.


I emphasize the importance of referencing original languages because much is lost, misidentified, omitted and distorted in the translating process.


Please don’t misunderstand me Dave; I agree with you we must allow God’s spirit to reveal His word to us.  After all, He is the Author and Inspiration for the written text.  Sadly however, man has tampered with God’s word so much so it cannot be ignored by simply accepting the “translated texts” we now have. 


Languages vary in meaning and application; what meant one thing even twenty years ago means something entirely different today.  I suppose in an ideal world your statement (below) would make sense:


We would need to base our lives on the ability of the Spirit of God to reveal His Word(s) to us in the "Translated Texts” that we now have.


The problem is the translated texts we have today are simply that… translated.  The science of translating is highly subjective, and translator bias is an ever-present enemy of the truth.  Translator bias can simply be defined in the biblical context as being one’s individual or collective doctrinal prejudice grafted into the particular version.


For example, the Textus Receptus bases its addition of 1 John 5:7 on a well-known historical blunder by Erasmus, who used a late date Latin manuscript, which had these words spuriously added in the margin of the manuscript!  When the King James Translators were “authorized” to produce a version of the bible in English, they used Erasmus’ work based upon his notable reputation as a Greek scholar without significant verification, thereby adding an entire verse to the New Testament.


Westcott and Hort duly noted the error in the Nestle Greek Text because their comparisons of Greek manuscripts revealed this verse did not even exist!  The ASV then corrected the error, but for the countless readers who only knew the KJV, it remained indelibly etched in their minds and became part of their teaching.  I provided a comparison of versions below for your convenience:


·             ASV 1 John 5:7 And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.

·             NAS 1 John 5:7 And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.

·             NIV 1 John 5:7 For there are three that testify:

·             KJV 1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.


I don’t purport to be an expert in Textual Criticism; however, I believe it is a legitimate science for standardization through the collection and canonization ancient documents, secular or otherwise.  Much less manuscript evidence exists for the writings of many of the great philosophers in their prospective ages and time periods; nevertheless, those existing in both Classical and Koine Greek are compiled by archaeologists and critics, compared for verification purposes, in hopes of corroborating what is generally accepted as the genuine autograph content for text.


The Hebrew Bible and the Christian versions of the Old Testament were canonized in different times and places, but the development of the Christian canons can only understood in terms of the Jewish Scriptures.  The idea in Israel of a sacred book dates at least from 621 BC. During the reform of Josiah, king of Judah, when the temple was being repaired, the high priest Hilkiah discovered “the book of the law” (see 2 Kings 22).  The scroll was probably the central part of the present Book of Deuteronomy, but what is important is the authority that was ascribed to it.  More reverence was paid to the text read by Ezra, the Hebrew priest and scribe, to the community at the end of the 5th century BC (see Nehemiah 8).


My understanding is that the Hebrew Bible became Scripture in three stages. The sequence corresponds to the three parts of the Hebrew canon: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. On the basis of external evidence it seems clear that the Torah, or Law, became Scripture between the end of the Babylonian exile (538 BC) and the separation of the Samaritans from Judaism, probably by 300 BC The Samaritans recognized only the Torah as their Bible.


The second stage was the canonization of the Nabiy (Prophets). As the superscriptions to the prophetic books indicate, the recorded words of the prophets came to be considered the word of God. For all practical purposes the second part of the Hebrew canon was closed by the end of the 3rd century, not long before 200 BC.


In the meantime other books were being compiled, written, and used in worship and study. By the time the Book of Sirach was written (circa 180 BC), an idea of a tripartite Bible had developed. The contents of the third part, the Ketubim (Writings), remained somewhat fluid in Judaism until after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in AD 70. By the end of the 1st century ad the rabbis in Palestine had established the final list.


 The Law, the Prophets, and most of the Writings had been serving as Scripture for centuries. Controversy developed around only a few books in the Writings, such as Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon (Songs). On the other hand, many other religious books, also claiming to be the word of God, were being written and circulated. These included the books in the Apocrypha, some of the New Testament books, and many others. Consequently, the official action of establishing a Bible took place in response to a theological question: According to which books would Judaism define itself and its relationship to God?


There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the second canon Dave, what is now considered to be the Roman Catholic version of the Old Testament.  The conflict arose first as a translation of the earlier Hebrew books into Greek developed. The process began in the 3rd century BC outside of Palestine, because Jewish communities in Egypt and elsewhere needed the Scriptures in the language of their culture. The additional books in this Bible, including supplements to older books, arose for the most part among such non-Palestinian Jewish communities. By the end of the 1st century ad, when the earliest Christian writings were being collected and disseminated, two versions of Scripture from Judaism were already in existence: the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Old Testament (known as the Septuagint). The Hebrew Bible, however, was the official standard of belief and practice; no evidence indicates that an official list of Greek Scriptures ever existed in Judaism. The additional books of the Septuagint were only given official recognition in the Roman Catholic tradition. The writings of the early so-called ‘Church Fathers’ contain numerous different lists, but it is clear that the longer Greek Old Testament prevailed.


The last major step in the history of the Christian canon took place during the Great Reformation. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he rediscovered what others, notably Jerome, the 4th-century biblical scholar, had known: that the Old Testament had originated in Hebrew. He removed from his Old Testament the books that were not in the Bible of Judaism and established them as the Apocrypha. This step was an effort to return to the presumed earliest and therefore best text and canon, and to establish in opposition to the authority of the church the authority of that older version of the Bible.


All contemporary translators of the Bible attempt to recover and use the oldest text, presumably the one closest to the original. No original copies or autographs exist Dave; rather, hundreds of different manuscripts contain numerous variant readings. Consequently, every attempt to determine the best text of a given book or verse must be based on the meticulous work and informed judgment of so-called ‘scholars.’  This may be part of what you see as a conflict in the statement I posted in my home page.


In your email to me, you made the following statement:


“The documents that we have for the Old Testament in our modern Bibles, comes from the Leningrad Codex , (Leningradensis), around 1010 C. E.”


With regard to the Old Testament, the chief distinction is between texts in Hebrew and the versions, or translations into other ancient languages. The most important, and generally most reliable, witnesses to the Hebrew are the Masoretic texts, those produced by Jewish scholars (called the Masoretes aka Masorites) who assumed the task of faithfully copying and transmitting the Hebrew Bible. These scholars, active from the early Christian centuries into the Middle Ages, also provided the text with punctuation, vowel points (the original of the Hebrew text contains only consonants), and various notes. The standard printed Hebrew Bible in use today is a reproduction of a Masoretic text written in AD 1088. The manuscript, in codex or book form, is in the collection of the Saint Petersburg Public Library.


There is another Masoretic manuscript Dave; it is known, as the Aleppo Codex from the first half of the 10th century a.d. and is the basis for a new publication of the text in preparation at Hebrew University in Israel.  The Aleppo Codex is now considered as the oldest manuscript of the entire Hebrew Bible.  It dates from well more than a millennium after the latest biblical books were written, and perhaps as much as two millennia later than the earliest ones.  On this basis alone my statement about original languages stands firm, as Hebrew is the accepted language of the text.


Extant, however, are older Hebrew manuscripts, such as the Masoretic and other autographs of individual books. Many from as early as the 6th century were discovered during the late 19th century in the genizah (storage room for manuscripts) of the Cairo synagogue. Numerous manuscripts and fragments, many from the pre-Christian era, have been recovered from the Dead Sea region since 1947 (e.g. - the Dead Sea Scrolls). Although many of the most important manuscripts are quite late, the Masoretic texts in particular preserve a textual tradition that goes back to at least a century or more before the Christian era.


The most valuable versions of the Hebrew Bible are the translations into Greek.  In some instances the Greek versions actually offer readings superior to the Hebrew, being based on older Hebrew texts than are now available. Many of the Greek manuscripts are much older than the manuscripts of the full Hebrew Bible; they were included in copies of the entire Christian Bible that date from the 4th and 5th centuries. The major manuscripts are Codex Vaticanus (in the Vatican Library), Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus (both in the British Museum).


The major Greek version is called the Septuagint (“seventy”) because of the legend that 72 scholars translated the Torah in the 3rd century BC. The legend is probably accurate in several respects: The first Greek translation included only the Torah, and it was done in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC. Eventually the remaining Hebrew Scriptures were translated, but obviously other scholars whose skills and viewpoints differed translated them.


Numerous other Greek translations were made, most of them extant only in fragments or quotations by the early so-called ‘Church Fathers’. These include the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, and Lucian. The 3rd-century Christian theologian Origen studied the problems presented by these different versions and prepared a Hexapla, an arrangement in six parallel columns of the Hebrew text, the Hebrew text transliterated into Greek, Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodotion.  While I strongly disagree with most of Origen’s doctrinal conclusions, he did emphasize a form of textual criticism helpful in delineating and verifying authentic manuscripts.


Other versions include the Peshitta, or Syriac, begun perhaps as early as the 1st century AD; the Old Latin, translated not from the Hebrew but from the Septuagint in the 2nd century; and the Vulgate, translated from the Hebrew into Latin by Jerome at the end of the 4th century AD.


Also to be considered with the versions are the Aramaic Targums. In Judaism, when Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the language of everyday life, translations became necessary, first accompanying the oral reading of Scriptures in the synagogue and later set down in writing. The Targums were not literal translations, but rather paraphrases or interpretations of the original, not unlike what the New International Version translators have done in modern times.. The two major Targums are those that originated in Palestine and those that were revised in Babylon. Recently a complete manuscript of the Palestinian Targum has come to light called the Neofiti I of the Vatican Library. The best-known Babylonian Targums are Onkelos for the Pentateuch and Jonathan for the Prophets.


The versions often are good, sometimes even the best, witnesses to the original text. Moreover, they are important as evidence for the history of thought among the communities that took the Bible seriously.


I would love to continue on this topic, but have many more replies to attend to Dave; I hope this has been helpful.  Thank you for taking time to stop by and I pray your pursuit of the Lord in His inspired word leads you to one main goal; to love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith.


Yours in Jesus’ name~





The Bible Answer Stand Ministry


“Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.” 1 Peter 3:15 Amplified Bible




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