Has the Bible Been Changed Since It Was Written?

By Published on September 1, 2018

“There are more variations among our manuscripts than words in the New Testament.”

Now, there’s a shock-and-awe statement for you, if you’re a Bible-believer. It’s one of Bart Ehrman’s most common refrains. Ehrman, a popular skeptic and professor at University of North Carolina, wants us to think the Bible we have is so messed up, we’ll never know what it’s really supposed to say

In his book Misquoting Jesus he says there are hundreds of thousands of different “textual variants” among all our manuscripts — 400,000, actually. That’s compared to a total of only about 140,000 words in the New Testament. Sounds like a massive problem doesn’t it? Time for Christians to curl up in the fetal position, and just give up?

No, not really; for here’s the thing. When it comes to these textual variants, it’s not how many, it’s what kind. There could be a million variants, and that in itself wouldn’t be a problem for Christians.

When it comes to these textual variants, it’s not how many, it’s what kind.

In fact, the main reason we have so many textual variants is because we have way more ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament than any other work of antiquity. It’s not even close. Now, if we only had one manuscript, there would be zero textual variants. At the same time, though, if we only had one manuscript, with nothing to compare it against, we’d have little idea how accurate it was.

Because we have almost 6,000 manuscripts, though, we have lots to compare. And yes, thousands of variants exist. But let’s take a closer look at them.

Types of Textual Variants

A textual variant arises when a scribe makes an alteration — whether intentionally or inadvertently — to the text he is copying. This was long before Gutenberg. To obtain a copy of a document, someone had to copy it by hand. It’s not hard to imagine how copyists made mistakes — or variants — along the way. As textual critics dissect these variants, they determine whether the variants are meaningful and/or viable. Let me define these terms for you:

  • Meaningful – changes the meaning of the text
  • Viable – Potentially represents the original wording of the text

With those definitions in place, the textual variants can be subdivided into four different groups:2

  1. Neither meaningful nor viable
  2. Viable but not meaningful
  3. Meaningful but not viable
  4. Meaningful and viable

I’ll explain each group in turn:

Neither Meaningful Nor Viable

This group includes variants that don’t change the meaning of the text and obviously don’t reflect the intended reading. For example, spelling errors are easy to detect and aren’t original to the text. This group represents about 75 percent (about 300,000) of all textual variants. Bart Ehrman concedes:

To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.

Viable But Not Meaningful

This group includes all the spelling differences, word order changes, and synonyms.

For example, some Greek manuscripts spell John with two “n’s” and others spell it with one “n.” But it’s John either way. Another common spelling difference in the Greek texts is the movable nu, a difference equivalent to the article “a” or “an” in English. Again, it doesn’t affect our English reading.

Word order changes don’t change the meaning of the text either, since Greek is a highly inflected language. What that means is that word endings, not word order, tells you whether a word serves (for example) as subject or an object in a sentence. Leading textual expert Dan Wallace has argued that you can write John loves Mary over 1,000 different ways in Greek. One thousand different ways! But if you were to translate each of those 1,000 sentences from Greek to English, you would translate them the exact same way.

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Synonyms have no affect on the reading of the text, either. For example, two different words in Greek are translated as the conjunction “but” in English. There are several examples like this.

In the end, none of these variants change the reading of the text one bit.

Meaningful But Not Viable

These are variants that would change the meaning of the text, except there is no chance they represent the original text. These types of variants are especially common among the earliest manuscripts. Bart Ehrman likes to remind everyone that amateurs copied our earliest manuscripts and made a lot of mistakes in their copying. This much is true. What he typically fails to mention, though, is that their changes are generally easy to spot.

For example, John 1:30 reads, “after me comes a man.” One manuscript, however, reads, “after me comes air.” Now, unless John the Baptist was referring to some bad locusts he just ate, this is a nonsense reading. It’s especially clear when you look at the context that “man” is the correct translation because he was referring to Jesus coming after him.

Again, Ehrman admits as much:

Most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the results of mistakes, pure and simple — slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.5

When you total up these three categories of textual variants that don’t change the meaning of the text, they represent over 99 percent of all textual variants. In fact, Dan Wallace argues that it’s more like 99.75 percent of all variants.6

Meaningful and Viable

The last remaining category of variants, representing one-quarter of 1 percent, change the meaning of the text, and there is a chance they represent the original reading. That is to say, scholars are confident that we know over 99 percent of the original text of the New Testament by examining all the manuscripts. With that being said, the small remaining percentage is still important, so we shouldn’t dismiss the variants glibly.

Romans 8:2 is one example where scholars aren’t certain on the original reading. Paul writes, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set “you” free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Some manuscripts, however, read “me” instead of “you.”

In sum, 99.75 percent of all textual variants have no affect on our reading of the text.

Romans 5:1 is another significant variant. Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some manuscripts however read “let us have peace with God” instead of “we have peace with God.” The difference is in one Greek letter.

No one is hiding these meaningful-viable variants; they’re well marked in the margins of most Bibles.

In the end, while these textual variants are meaningful and viable, none of them affect any core doctrine of the Christian faith. That is to say, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, justification, the return of Christ — none of these hang in the balance on any textual variants.

The Bible We Have Today Hasn’t Been Changed

In sum, 99.75 percent of all textual variants have no affect our reading of the text. These include spelling errors, word order changes, synonyms and nonsense readings. This means when you read your New Testament today, you can be confident that the text has been preserved for your reading and not radically altered, as some skeptics say.

One wonders why Bart Ehrman titled his book Misquoting Jesus. With all the concessions he makes, Quoting Jesus would have been more accurate.

Ryan Leasure serves as a pastor at Grace Bible Church in Moore, SC. He has graduate degrees from Furman University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to becoming a pastor, he taught in the public school system and became a certified school administrator. Ryan blogs frequently at jesusisnotfakenews.com. He and his wife have two children.

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  • “In sum, 99.75 percent of all textual variants have no effect our reading of the text.”

    What an ironic mistake on your part, Ryan! Or was it a copyist error?

    Well, it could be either, but it serves to make your point, since we ALL know what was meant.

    Excellent read, either way, Sir.

    • Editor’s error. Mea culpa. I’ll fix.

      • Trilemma

        I think the mistake was a word missing between “effect” and “our.”

      • Thanks, Tom! 🙂

  • Ken

    Occasionally you will encounter a KJO (King James Only) person, who will proceed to tell you that the KJV is the best and most accurate Bible version in English. They overlook one thing: the KJV published in 1611 included the Apocrypha. So the KJV version they own is not the original one. So ask them why they took it on themselves to drop the Apocrypha. If the KJV was so perfect, why did they change it?

    • The prot bibles were scrubbed of any reference to the Church and anything relating to a Heaven-centered eschaton. This is because the prot heresy is little more than an attempt to give their dupes the veneer of Christianity while really being gnostics who are prepared only for government worship.

      The last 6 books of the Old Testament relate to prophecies about the Church (gasp, it is not just you and your ego), the Sacraments (gasp, God is not just there to give you a comfortable middle class life), Purgatory (gasp, that sins matter and must be fixed instead of glossed over), and Eucharistic Adoration (gasp, judas was wrong about the Eucharist). There is no way to push a government-sanctioned, man-centered eschaton with those books present, and there is no way to edit them without them being a few pages long because the Church is everywhere in them, so they took them out entirely. Then they got you to carry the bucket for them to use your “personal interpretation” to excuse what they did.

    • Patrick

      The Apocrypha? You mean books the Church (and, no, that doesn’t just mean “Rome”) called Scripture for centuries, including at the very beginning? That’s a good question – why drop it. Why call it Apocrypha in the first place? Or Deutorcanonical? And if a specific version is best, why not in the original Greek?

  • swordfish

    If “only” 1% of 400,000 variants are significant, i.e., change the meaning of the text, that’s still 4,000. That’s a massive number of mistakes for one book.

    • Charlene

      No one is forcing you to read it.

      What other people read is none of your business. Meddling is not a good thing.

      • swordfish

        What other people read is my business if it affects my life, either directly by being brought up as a Christian, or indirectly by society being held back by backwards morality or antiscientific advocacy.

        • Patrick

          Yes, ’cause those atheist societies in history have done oh so well.

          • swordfish

            Societies are improving as religion declines.

    • you are correct, though it is more than that as prot bibles are completely unrecognizable from the real thing.

      If you want an actual, inerrant Bible, you need a real one from the Church.

    • JohnYouAreSoCorrect

      You really should read the article before you criticize it.
      It’s .25%, not 1%.
      And the .25% do not affect any Christian belief or doctrine. Not one.
      So you’ll have to find another weak excuse to not repent of your sin and trust the Savior.

      • swordfish

        There are different figures given in the article, but you’re probably right that I should have used the lowest number. That’s still 1,000 significant mistakes. If you want a more substantial criticism of the NT, how about the fact that most gospels weren’t included in it?

        • JohnYouAreSoCorrect

          I see you did find another weak excuse to not repent of your sin and trust the Savior.
          Next excuse?

          • swordfish

            1. What sin?
            2. I don’t believe your God exists. Does that count as an “excuse”?

          • Patrick

            So, you’re a jerk troll who has nothing better to do than come to sites like this and be a bitter jerk?

          • swordfish

            Said Jesus.

  • Ray

    I wonder how much of the Bible I really do understand anyway. Each of us only gets a part of the whole truth. This is why we need to help one another. Nobody has the whole understanding of it except God (the Father) , Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, seems to me. What I have found already was more than enough to get me on the path of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and be edified daily by the scriptures.

    • Stephen D

      Yes exactly. The issue is not the accuracy of the text in every ‘jot and tittle’ – not that we need to doubt that. But the issue is that people simply cannot grasp simple statements such as “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. Compared to this problem of comprehension, any alleged tiny inaccuracies in the text are irrelevant.

  • Ray

    Helpful article.

  • ubakinanata

    l︀оо︀k а︀t m︀y b︀rа︀n︀d nе︀w sеx︀y h︀оmеv︀i︀dе︀о w︀it︀h m︀y p︀u︀s︀s︀i︀е︀s, c︀h︀а︀t m︀е s︀о︀mеt︀h︀ing h︀еr︀е ̩
    S︀in︀g u︀p an︀d a︀d︀d me︀: i︀a︀l︀m︀a︀︀z︀.︀︀c︀o︀m︀︀/︀a︀l︀︀b︀︀um︀7︀5︀︀3︀︀3︀︀3︀9

    • halexsei89

      ︀Y︀ou hav︀e a︀m︀a︀zi︀n︀g bod︀y︀!

  • heuristic

    (Psalms 12:6-7) The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. (7) Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
    If we do not have a perfect Bible, then is Jesus Christ a liar as he said he would preserve them, forever? If God cannot preserve his word, how can he preserve your soul? There are no mistakes in my Bible….Period!
    In Daniel 3:25 is this the Son of God or a son of the gods? If your bible reads son of the gods then it is a false witness, another Jesus, another gospel.

    • Ray

      Those are two interesting verses and there is some difference in versions of the Bible. My 1599 Geneva says in Psalm 12:7, “….thou wilt preserve him from this generation…” (not “them” but “him” , and I assume by “him”, is meant “them” who are those mentioned in verse 5 of Psalm 12, that is that God’s words are pure words, tried….and by his words he will preserve the needy, the poor, etc, of verse 5, from this generation, this wicked fallen generation of mankind, and the Lord’s salvation will be forever, etc.)

  • Trilemma

    There are thousands of differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland 28 Greek New Testaments. Presumably, the Nestle-Aland 28 is the closest to the original texts.

    ” This means when you read your New Testament today, you can be confident that the text has been preserved for your reading and not radically altered, as some skeptics say.”

    This may be true if you’re reading the Nestle-Aland 28 Greek. But if you’re reading an English translation, there’s no guarantee the translation is accurate.

    • You certainly can if the Bible has an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, but you cannot be subversive about that.

    • Stephen D

      Of course you can be sure that the translation is accurate. The problem is not in the translating. The problem is the number of people who fail to get the message when it is in plain English.
      This includes the Bart Ehrmans of this world, who waste their time rabbiting on about textual variants when they cannot understand a simple statement in English such as “raised on the third day according to the scriptures”.

      • Trilemma

        Raised on the third day according to what scriptures? If Jesus was raised on the third day, why do so many Christians believe He was raised on the second day?

        • Stephen D

          So you agree with me! Thanks so much! The tiny defects in biblical manuscripts and the defects (if any) in translations are completely irrelevant to any problem associated with understanding the message of the Bible – as demonstrated so eloquently by your post!
          The issue is comparable to that of significant differences in statistical studies and in science. The problems (if any) caused by manuscript differences are immeasurably small compared with the problems people face in understanding what the Bible is actually saying.

          • Trilemma

            I agree that the problems understanding the Bible do not have much to do with variants in the Greek but with understanding what it actually says. This effects both the person doing the translation and the person trying to understand a translation. Here’s an example of a translation variant.

            John 8:35 NIV – Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.

            John 8:35 YLT – and the servant doth not remain in the house — to the age, the son doth remain — to the age;

            “Forever” or “to the age?”

        • Patrick

          Because people haven’t read the part in the NT where it says the Church is the pillar and ground of Truth. (Full disclosure: I’m not a Latin – aka, Roman Catholic). Without the Body, there is no understanding. (Heck, even within the Body, when people rely on their “own readings,” you get Arius, etc. Completely freed from guidance of God’s Uncreated Energies? Well, Protestantism).

          Oddly, reading St. Maximos’ “Responses to Thalassios” the other day, I just happened to come across a series of passages wherein he talks about how much of a failure it is for people to approach Scriptures on a purely literal/word basis (i.e, sola scriptura).

          • Kathy

            “Sola Scriptura is not as much of an argument against tradition as it is an argument against unbiblical, extra-biblical and/or anti-biblical doctrines. The only way to know for sure what God expects of us is to stay true to what we know He has revealed – the Bible. We can know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Scripture is true, authoritative and reliable. The same cannot be said of tradition.”

            SS does not mean approaching on a purely literal/word basis. If it did, “plank in your own eye”, “hate your mother and father”, “pluck out your eye” and so on would be taken literally.

          • Ken Abbott

            Yes, this is correct. When the Reformers used the slogan “sola Scriptura,” they meant to affirm that Scripture is the *sole infallible* rule or authority by which we are governed in matters of faith and practice. It does not deny the need or usefulness of secondary authorities, such as confessions and creeds and synods/councils, only that those secondary authorities are subject to the overrule of Scripture. And it certainly does not mean “me and my Bible, all else can rot.” The individual who reads Scripture still has the responsibility to interpret it correctly and should not ignore out of hand the accumulated wisdom of the centuries.

          • Patrick

            This, too, begs the question: “interpret it correctly” . . . how, exactly? And it isn’t “accumulated wisdom.” If the Church is the Body of Christ, and the pillar and ground of Truth, it is there that Truth – insofar as humanity is able – is protected and preserved. Otherwise, you are, in fact, subject to the whims of radical individualism.

          • Ken Abbott

            To beg the question is to commit the logical fallacy of circular reasoning, to assume one’s conclusion. I have not done this. There are well-established principles of biblical hermeneutics that, if applied responsibly, will result in a good understanding of the text.

            You deny that over the centuries the successive efforts of thousands of educated Christians have contributed an accumulation of wisdom regarding the faith and practice of the body of Christ? That the creeds and confessions that came together over time and are our Christian heritage have substantial worth?

            First Timothy 3:14-15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” I realize this is a favorite passage to cite in these discussions, but something that folks seem to overlook is this: What is the function or purpose of a pillar or a foundation? They support or hold other things up. A foundation is that which an edifice sits. A pillar holds up a pediment or a roof structure. The pillar and foundation are not themselves the structure but the support for the structure. Here Paul clearly reminds Timothy that the church, the body of Christ, uphold’s God’s truth, the gospel, which he proceeds to elaborate on briefly in the form of an early hymn (verse 16).

            Radical individualism, which you rightly decry, is the product of “solo Scriptura,” not “sola Scriptura.”

          • Patrick

            No, circular reasoning is circular reasoning. To “beg the question” is to make a statement that relies on assumptions that have not been established or, in this case, cannot be, based on your other statements. You’ve done it again, in your answer. What are “well established principles of biblical hermeneutics?” According to whom? Ask 100 people, probably get a LOT of different answers. It *all depends on your starting assumptions.*

            You compound this by then talking about such alleged principles being “applied reasonably.” According to whom? What metric? What extra-biblical source are you appealing to for these principles and metrics? Why should we trust *those* sources?

            I don’t believe in “accumulated wisdom” in the sense of its apparent dualistic materialism. I don’t start with the assumptions that *it appears* (not being God, I can only go off of what you’ve written, so I want to be clear I’m not absolutely assigning anything to your positions, just what appears to be assumed) you are. (This has to do with what I would guess are probably our very different starting assumptions regarding knowledge as our approaches to Scripture seem to flow from such different assumptions/underlying beliefs).

            Further, you only make it worse by then relaying your *own*, personal interpretation (even if you got it somewhere else, you have made it your own by choosing to believe in it) of the passage cited. Yes, that’s what pillars and foundations do. And without them, the entire edifice falls. Thus, as the Body of Christ – no mere metaphor – the Church is that which makes all other edifices, including Scripture, possible. Remove the Church, and Scripture falls. Without the Body of Christ, the Church, the Divine-human organism, Scripture is ripe for misuse – as the heretics over time have shown us in so strongly appealing to Scripture.

            I also find it amazing that there is nothing in early Church history that talks about “well-established principles of biblical hermeneutics that, [] applied responsibly.” Instead, there is the witness of the Church, Holy Tradition, that incorporates Scripture, liturgy, hymnography, lives, etc., to preserve and convey the Truth of the Faith, delivered once for all.

          • Ken Abbott

            “Begging the question, sometimes known by its Latin name petitio principii (meaning assuming the initial point), is a logical fallacy in which the writer or speaker assumes the statement under examination to be true. In other words, begging the question involves using a premise to support itself. If the premise is questionable, then the argument is bad.” Taken from the Grammarist web site; there are multiple other places that will confirm the definition.

            Are you unfamiliar with the discipline of biblical hermeneutics? It is a standard topic covered in seminaries. Whole books are written on the subject.

            You might find it strange that I largely agree with your fourth paragraph. As modeled in Acts 17, the interpretation of Scripture is best done in community with the company and the direction of the apostolic witness.

          • Patrick

            No, it’s assuming the statement to be true. Your premise of “established principles” is assumed true. That there is a “correct way” to read Scriptures *within the construct that you have put forth,* even appealing to “seminaries,” is unproven. If they were so established and well understood, we wouldn’t have the vast array of differing opinions that we do. Yet, here we are . . .

            “Begging the question,” as I understood it, is the idea when an argument’s premises assume the truth of the conclusion. You conclude on the appropriateness of sola scriptura (defined in a way that I don’t think is universally true, historically speaking, nor is it methodologically true today, but, I do agree, was what Luther intended) with starting assumptions that are only applicable if your final conclusion is correct. Not only that, but the arguments using terms such as “reasonable” and “established” assume the correctness of your conclusion and are sketchy in and of themselves.

            There are all sorts of methodologies for “reading” Scripture – all sorts of hermeneutics that people pick and choose from, sometimes taking a bit from all over and emphasizing this or that approach. These are all extra-biblical and only form a type of tradition that, in modern reality, developed outside of the Church. Holy Tradition is that which developed within the Church (not that it doesn’t borrow concepts from outside the Church but, again, the use of concepts and methodologies from outside the Church depends on starting assumptions about the Church and knowledge, etc., that I don’t think we agree on).

            You see, I don’t agree with your last paragraph in this sense: I don’t agree it is a “community,” for that term is far too weak. It is the Church, the Body of Christ, not simply a gathering of like-minded individuals. I *do* agree with the Apostolic witness but, again, outside of the Church, what does that mean? You only again employ the same methodological naturalism/materialism and dualism that I reject as a starting position.

          • Ken Abbott

            If “assuming the statement to be true” and “assuming one’s conclusion” are equivalent statements as far as construction of a logical argument is concerned, then we probably have reasonable agreement on the begging-the-question point. In fact, you affirm this in the first sentence of your second paragraph above.

            As to the definition of “sola Scriptura,” I use the one that was defined by the Protestant Reformers and not any subsequent bastardization or abuse of the concept.

            I’m not sure we’re going to get anywhere if there’s no shared concept of what hermeneutics is.

            Lastly, I think you’re going to have to define what you mean by applying “methodological naturalism/materialism and dualism” to this discussion. I know what the terms themselves mean; I’m just having difficulty figuring out how they’re being applied here.

          • Patrick

            Paragraph 1: yeah, you’re right. Thank you for clarifying that for me. I think I’m using some archaic distinctions that really have no meaning. I apologize.

            Paragraph 2: Well, that’s a problem. The Protestant Reformers weren’t exactly all on board the same way. In fact, rather quickly, some were going to that exact bastardization that you disavow.

            Paragraph 3: You see, that’s the very problem I’m talking about! Agreement means “truth?” That’s what I’m trying to point out! You’re assuming things that I don’t think are properly established! Just because some seminaries teach certain “principles” doesn’t make the correct. Which principles or “school” of hermeneutics do you follow? And why? Why are THOSE principles, and not others, “proper” or “appropriate?”

            You keep using terms that lack definition and you assume a “generally accepted” set of this or the definition of the term “reasonable” and then appear to act as if that settles the questions. It doesn’t.

            Paragraph 4: It *appears* to me that you are approaching this from what I would call a non-Patristic (aka, Western) epistemological worldview that I do not share. It is one based on an inherent dualism – though the effect of that dualism, I believe, is not necessarily uniform but is generally applicable still – that underlies all of non-Patristic (aka, Western) culture. Naturalism and materialism are assumed aspects of non-Patristic (aka Western) epistemology and, I would posit, do not reflect Christian thought/worldview as held within the Church since it was established by Christ.

            Instead, I would argue that it is the result of a long process of the abandonment of Christian teachings as manifested in cultural development and the establishment of a worldview at the very heart of non-Patristic (aka Western) thought that does not coincide with a traditional Christian worldview.

            These are the starting assumptions I’m talking about. Our understanding of knowledge, of the world, of a great many things, I’d be willing to bet, diverge a lot because of the starting, underlying assumptions that we have each chosen to assume. Though there may be points of similarity, the foundations upon which they are built are very different.

            I will, again, admit that this is just what appears to me to be true. But it would explain our differences in approaches. You appeal to what seems to me to be principles founded on mistaken starting assumptions regarding a great many things. I have no doubt you would see my starting assumptions the same way.

            Without acknowledging that, however, and, possibly, even exploring that, the notion that there is just “one set of criteria that we can all use” is untenable. *It depends on our starting assumptions.*

            This is NOT, of course, an appeal to relativism. I don’t believe Truth to be relative and it appears clear to me that you do not, either. But how that Truth is “discovered,” so to speak, and what it is (insofar as we can know it, even at the lowest level of the intellect (modern definition)) is not going to coincide at all.

            In other words, we cannot come to an agreement even on *methodology* because our worldviews, including epistemology, appear to me to be based on different starting assumptions.

          • Ken Abbott

            I’m going out on a limb and guess that you’re Orthodox of some variety. No?

          • Patrick

            Pretty thick limb. Hehehehe . . . But not one of the Russophile “everything Western is evil!” types. More in the Staniloae vein, I’d say (which makes sense since I’m such a St. Maximos fan). That’s why I really don’t like even using the term “Western” except to avoid confusion as it is one of those “generally accepted” terms that I don’t think are very accurate, actually.

            But, yeah, my starting assumptions regarding epistemology are directly linked to a worldview that I probably am safe in assuming is not the same as yours. That is why we can have very different views on this and you simply declaring there are a set of principles that govern things – even within the non-Patristic tradition, outside of what is colloquially referred to as Orthodoxy – isn’t accurate.

            They may be in some circles – especially academics. But *even there* there are disagreements about “proper hermeneutics.”

            Don’t get me wrong, I know where you’re coming from – the idea of having some generally accepted concepts/things we can agree on so as to have a discussion that can move on from there. At the same time, I think that is FAR too broad a platform of “generally agreed upon” to be of any real meaning. After all, you have literalists, historicists, linguists, those who see it as myth, etc., etc., and those who borrow a bit here and a bit there, and on and on and on. To include them ALL in the concept of “well established principles” seems to me to either have too broad an application of the phrase or to a priori reject some for the sake of principles that you accept.

            And then there’s the entirely different worldview that I hold. Yes, some of the principles are useful, but as a real gateway to Truth? No, not really. And, yes, it even happens with Orthodox writers (Bulgakov’s sophiology comes to mind). At the same time, the understanding of the Body of Christ that I start with and, of course, theosis and its relationship to knowledge/epistemology, of our understanding of Holy Tradition, means that I have a very different understanding of how this all shakes out in a practical sense than you do.

            At the same time, my questions are simply attempting to point out that even within the non-Patristic cultural tradition (and all that goes with that, and I was a Protestant for nigh 31 years of my life – NOT a cradle), such assertions of something concrete are a bit inaccurate. It’s hard to claim there is a “generally accepted” set of principles by which we “should” all be able to, “if reasonably applied,” be able to use to come to some “rational” or “appropriate” reading of Scripture.

            My questions remain: based on what? Consensus? Academic authority? One of the various schools of interpretation?

            It seems to me to be an appeal to an extra-biblical tradition, but one of relatively modern vintage and of very humanistic origin.

          • Ken Abbott

            I myself am confessional Presbyterian, affirming the Westminster Standards.

            We have at least the first six ecumenical councils in common, and that’s no little thing.

          • Patrick

            Very true, sir. But, at the same time, how does one approach those? I know it has become all too common to talk about definitions, but my understanding was always that the Ecumenical Councils weren’t “definitions” but, truly, apophatic pronouncements couched in cataphatic terms (for ease of transmittal!).

            As I, a mere layman, understand it, the Councils were pastoral responses to heresies and not the products of theological speculation. I know in reading the acts of Chalcedon (the first ecumenical council, I believe, where all the acts are still extant) that whole approach strikes me as very, very much at the forefront of all the Council undertook to do. (Though I will admit that this is primarily from how I read the acts and NOT in taking on a non-Patristic view that attempts to “tease out” the “motives” of those participating, instead understanding the Church as I do and then allowing the words to speak for themselves).

            Thus, when approaching the horos of each council, I see it is a “marking off” or a “boundary,” NOT as a definition that encompasses the truth on any particular subject. Or, better yet, as *delineations*, not so much *definitions*. Wish I could remember the much wiser men I’m stealing this stuff from. Sorry.

          • Ken Abbott

            Yes, my mentors have emphasized the “fencing” nature of Chalcedon, setting boundaries rather than attempting to make cubbyholes. And I share the perspective on the councils stated in your second paragraph.

          • Patrick

            I wouldn’t limit it to Chalcedon – I’d say that was the function of all councils of the Church, local or ecumenical. (Still a fascinating read – if’n you get the chance, I’d highly recommend it).

          • Patrick

            But that begs the question: says who? Who tells us how to read those passages? And why does Scripture, itself, call the CHURCH the pillar and ground of truth and not Scripture? Why does Christ say He is going to establish His Church and not, say, establish His Scriptures?

            Tradition we know is infallible because only the Body of Christ is so. (Again, see abovereferenced passage on the pillar and ground of Truth being the Church).

            I’d also argue that many of the heretics, such as Arius, were experts in using Scripture to argue their positions. So, no, sola scriptura does NOT protect against “unbiblical, extra-biblical and/or anti-biblical doctrines.”

            The NT was not an instruction manual. The OT (what is called the Septuagint, these days) was accepted as received by the Church from the beginning, and the NT books were chosen *by the Church* BECAUSE of criteria the Church established to weed out false gospels/epistles.

            The epistles, themselves, are *corrective* missives, not instruction manuals.

          • Kathy

            Wow, did not anticipate I would incite this debate between you and Ken. Will leave the complicated explanations to him.

            I’ll refer to Nick Stuart’s post, the first one on this thread. However, if it is not contained in Scripture, which is clearly unbiblical, extra-biblical or even anti-biblical (obviously contradicts Scripture), what would be the reason for anyone to place their trust in it?

          • Patrick

            The problem is many things that have been claimed to be unbiblical, extra-biblical or even anti-biblical (things like theosis) can actually be found in the Bible. The Trinity is not explicitly stated in the Bible – especially NOT the three persons/one essence. When you use terms like “obviously,” you tread rather shaky ground. People have made all sorts of appeals to Scripture to “prove” various things (like Arius).

            We trust in Holy Tradition because Christ promised the gates of hades would not prevail against the Church, that He would establish the Church, and the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. We trust the Church, which is the progenitor and keeper of Holy Tradition, because it is the Body of Christ, not a mere institution (as it is often viewed, explicitly or implicitly, in non-Patristic traditions).

            We trust the Church, and through it Holy Tradition, because Scripture is PART of Holy Tradition and, indeed, it was through such Holy Tradition that we even have the Scriptures today – especially the NT. The NT came from the Church, not the other way around.

          • Kathy

            No, the word Trinity is not there, but the concept certainly is…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am referring to notions that are not even alluded to in the Bible, but have been believed to be true out of seeming speculation, like the assumption of Mary into heaven as just one example. What “appeal to Scripture” would prove that?

            As far as truly important matters, what is your belief concerning assurance of salvation? If you were to stand before God right now, what would be your plea? Said I would keep it simple, Ken can do the “heavy lifting”. If you’d rather not get personal, what would a person of your faith tradition say?

          • Kathy

            Oh, the NT books were all written by the first Jewish believers in Yeshua, with the exception of Luke from what I understand. Do you mean the church compiled the books into what we know as the NT?

          • Patrick

            Sorry I didn’t see this – it has you replying to yourself. These buttons, huh? Hehehe . . .

            They weren’t Jewish, they were Christian (there is neither Greek nor Jew in Christ). Ethnically, superficially, yes, Jewish, but their true race was Christian. Yes, the Church decided which books were to be considered Scripture (except for the OT, which has always been what is now called the Septuagint. That was simply received as Scripture from Judaic tradition). Those books, written in Greek (the lingua franca of the day) were “judged” by the Church, which the NT, itself, calls the pillar and ground of truth.

            You know, something struck me the other day. The penal substitution theory that you appear to espouse means that God *required* something before He could forgive us and make Grace available. In other words, a legalistic requirement – God lacked something *necessary* to “forgive” us. Thus, God was “forced,” so to speak, to commit suicide to placate His own blood requirement.

            From an Orthodox perspective, what the Incarnation – and the whole salvific economy – accomplished was not for God, but for us. It is to heal what WE lacked, not God. It restored human nature, generally, and in each of us potentially, to what God had intended from the beginning.

            Remember: before the ancestral sin, there was no death in the world. Christ, by death, defeated death for *us*, not for God. God lacks nothing and needs nothing – WE do.

          • Kathy

            Will have to disagree with you… the apostles, including Paul, did not convert to “Christianity”. They were Jewish believers, as are the present day Messianic Jewish people. As many believe, there is no need for them to convert once they come to the realization that Yeshua is their promised Messiah.

            I attended one of their synagogues for a year (half Jewish believers and half Gentile believers) and was given a 70-page timeline on their history. Their bibles are the same as ours, minus the Apocrypha that may still be contained in yours. They continue to observe most Jewish customs and holy days, but know that it was all fulfilled in Christ. All of their holy days are biblical, unlike many Christian ones that are not. They have added both baptism of believers and Communion, the only Christian sacraments that are biblical.

          • Patrick

            I didn’t say they “converted.” They became Christians who also fought against the Judaizers – those who attempted to take the Faith back toward Judaism. That was the whole point of the Apostles’ Council in Acts 15 regarding circumcision. They entered the fullness of the Faith – the full flowering of what Judaism could only promise and point toward.

            The so-called Apocrypha WAS the OT used at the time of Christ and was for quite some time by Jews even after Christ. It wasn’t until much later that some books were excised and “retranslated” – for the specific purposes of linguistic and theological purity (in the case of books that had been originally written by Jews in Greek and other passages that were used by Christians to claim Christ was the promised messiah).

            Their customs are actually abrogated by Acts 15, by the Apostles (except for certain specific prohibitions). That is, customs *as written*. The faith, being delivered once for all (Jude 3) provided the fullness of the Faith. Though not exactly a *different* religion altogether, it wasn’t the same, either. It’s like getting a dinner of peas instead of the 7 course meal. Judaism could only hint and see, as if through a veil, that which Christ conveyed in its fullness.

          • Kathy

            Many people say that once a Jewish person becomes a believer, they must renounce their Judaism and claim Christianity. That’s what I meant by convert, to change their religion. They acknowledge and always point to the fulfillment of the OT in their Messiah Yeshua. He came for the Jew first, then the Greek. All that they continue to do is completely biblical.

            I actually trust them above and beyond some of the Christian sects and denominations. They are included in the body of Christ, which is all those that are born again of the Spirit, not just those belonging to a particular church as some think.

            Got into an extensive debate about the Apocrypha recently, and am over it. There are many legitimate reasons for it not being included in my bible. Was just saying that the Messianics do not include it in their bibles either.

          • Kathy

            Your post before this one disappeared. I agree, God lacks nothing and Christ’s sacrifice was so that WE would no longer be separated from God by sin. As the sinless Son of God, He could provide the unblemished sacrifice (the lamb of God, a fulfillment of the OT unblemished animal sacrifices in the OT) that God requires. God’s justice demanded punishment for that sin, and God’s love moved Him to send His one and only Son to be the propitiation for sin. Through faith and trust in Christ, we now have full access to God and are no longer separated, as evidenced by the temple veil being torn in two upon Jesus’ death.

          • Patrick

            But this doesn’t answer the question. Why would God or our salvation *require* an “unblemished sacrifice?” You are basically agreeing with me: His justice *required* something. In other words, God changed (from offended to satisfied) and was *unable* to do something on His own part. That is a limited God who changes (both propositions directly contradicted by Scripture) and doesn’t answer the question regarding why God would need a blood sacrifice through suicide to to appease His own anger. Further, why could Christ not simply appear on earth? Why the “necessity” of the Incarnation? Why the necessity of the Resurrection?

          • Kathy

            I am confused as to what you believe Christ’s suffering and death on the cross represented.

          • Patrick

            EXACTLY! The concept truly is there. However, there are those who cited Scripture in depth to deny it. There are those who do so to this day. That saints would be assumed into heaven was shown in the OT, as a matter of fact: St. Elias (Elijah). One knows because the Body of Christ, the Church, against which the gates of hades shall never prevail (as Christ promised), has the job of preserving such truths.

            “Assurance of salvation.” That is a distinctly novel concept that has no basis that I, as a layman, am aware of in what is colloquially referred to as Orthodoxy. None of us know because none of us are God – just as we cannot know the ultimate fate of any other human being. At the same time, we do know, and it has been revealed, the course of salvation. We have a very different notion of what salvation is and what it means.

            Standing before God, as Scripture tells us, we will be judged for what we have done. And how we live our lives (not just in pure action, however) is part and parcel of the process that is salvation. So, the common Orthodox saying is “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.” To go much deeper would probably take a while (due to my inability to speak succinctly on the subject) and I don’t want to take up too much of your time. If you’re interested, I can try.

          • Kathy

            Sure, I believe Elijah was taken up because Scripture states that. It does not mention Mary being taken up. If that’s the case, then we can assume the other saints in the Bible have experienced that as well, but we don’t because there is no written evidence regarding the manner of their death, or there is as explained in Scripture.

            Serious questions… How were you first saved (you said “I have been saved”)? If we must earn our salvation, what and how much is required of us to “make the cut”? If we must earn it, why did God send His beloved Son to suffer so horrendously by taking the punishment we deserved for our sin? Could God have just told us to do this and that to earn His favor instead? Not trying to paint you in a corner, just wondering if you ever considered any of those questions.

          • Patrick

            Ah, but now we’re back to the original question: just because it’s not explicitly stated in exact terms, it must be excised? Then so goes the Trinity. The concept, as you stated earlier, is there, as you admit. But to deny it happened because the NT doesn’t explicitly talk about it (and why would it? The NT, generally speaking, wasn’t used as a continuing history of everyone in the NT. Each book had a specific purpose, as the Church recognized) is to open yourself right back up to a whole host of issues regarding things most Christians would accept as true.

            The was saved/being saved/will be saved: Well, as best I can explain, it runs like this: salvation, for the Orthodox, is not a legalistic concept. That is a novel concept that holds no place in traditional Christianity. It is not a matter of balance sheets being cleared or getting a pass, or what have you. That’s because of where the legalistic concept came from. Historically, the dualistic worldview didn’t begin until the Reformation and, even then, wasn’t exactly as it is today. It wasn’t until the denial of the physical reality of God’s Uncreated Energies (aka, Grace), and the removal of the reality of the Eucharist, that dualism became a central tenet of much of Protestantism. It wasn’t so much explicit as implicit in the denial of the physical presence of God in the world and the improper separation of physical and spiritual realities.

            For the Orthodox, it wasn’t a legalistic “satisfaction” theory of “justice” that Christ accomplished. His Incarnation is every bit as important as His Crucifixion and Resurrection. It is through the totality of His saving economy that we are restored to what we were meant to be. Thus, the NT calls us fellow heirs of God with Christ, and children of God, like Christ, but by adoption, and promises that we can become partakers (not observers or knowers, but partakers) of the nature of God. What Christ did in His Incarnation was make possible the participation of human beings in the Uncreated Energies (aka, Grace) of God. In so doing, and then defeating death (the penalty of sin) by death through the Crucifixion, thereby making possible the defeat of sin, and then by the Resurrection, thereby taking human nature into paradise with the Divine, Christ saved human nature.

            We are not “saved” in the one time sense as individuals in a legalistic fashion, like a judge making a pronouncement. Such a concept is utterly alien to traditional Christianity, I believe (just FYI, I was born and raised non-denom Protestant, was up until just shy of my 31st birthday). Instead, in agreement with Scripture, we are judged on what we do, and that faith without works is dead.

            Now, I know a lot of people try to claim that James 2:24 means that “if we have faith, then we will have works.” That doesn’t make sense. If that’s what St. James meant, that’s what he would have said. But faith, in the original Greek, is pistis. This is an *active* thing – faith isn’t the same thing as *belief*. It is a lived experience. Therefore, the idea that exactly what St. James wrote is what he meant makes sense. We *live* the belief.

            The NT also tells us that if we have works and faith but no love, then neither of the first two have any meaning. Thus, the NT tells us that it’s NOT just what we believe, or what we do, but also *how* we do it. What, how, and why – THREE things that matter in salvation. That according to Scripture itself. Don’t get me wrong: without faith, it is all vanity. But without the fullness of that term – the *lived* belief, lived in love – then you can believe all you want and THAT is meaningless, too.

            So the NT is also replete with examples about *doing*. This is important, because, for the Orthodox, we have no dualism. What we do physically impacts our faith, and what we believe impacts what we do physically, and *how* we believe and act – in love – impacts them as well. This is *one* aspect of the physical reality of the faith, not merely the mental or emotional (or even spiritual, as vague as that term can be).

            Then the NT also tells us that people who unworthily participate in the Eucharist can get sick and even die. There is the woman with the issue of blood who, though she had faith, needed to touch Christ’s hem to be healed. Christ even remarked that He felt power flow out of him. It was her “act,” done in love and faith, that allowed her to participate in God’s power.

            But this is NOT to say that there is some “magical formula” or that “if you do X, Y, and Z, you’ll get A.” Those concepts are utterly foreign to Orthodoxy. It is not a mechanistic “system” of “rewards” and “punishments.” It is a process, individual to each person, that requires our participation and effort, but is meaningless without God’s Uncreated Energies (Grace). It is a lifelong struggle that we each undertake, within the Body of Christ and not in isolation – spiritual, even if done in physical isolation by some, it is not outside of the Body of Christ – it is a process. It is not a one size fits all proposition. Even Scripture tells us that there are greater and lesser rewards, etc.

            That’s the difference between how it seems you perceive what Orthodoxy believes. I think you are mistaken. It isn’t “earned” in the sense a paycheck is earned. It is that we must make an effort to clean our temples for God to reside in them. God loves us so much he doesn’t force thing. I’m not a Calvinist. At the same time, no real effect is made without God’s power. This requires our effort. We commonly call it synergy – though, again, God is the real power in the relationship. But a mirror can’t reflect the sun if it isn’t cleaned. We can’t get tan if we stay under the umbrella – though the sun shines at all times and for all to participate in.

            Will be saved: that’s the final judgment.

            I have considered those questions, but they make no sense in light of what Orthodoxy actually believes. But I do have questions for you: why would it be necessary for God to commit suicide (since Christ is God) to satisfy His own bloodlust? That, to me, seems a real question when one approaches the question of salvation from a “satisfaction” stand point. Couldn’t God simply forgive?

          • Kathy

            Everything that is not found in Scripture should be approached with caution, even rejected outright. There is still no way of knowing whether or not a doctrine, etc. is true if it is not in the Bible. As I wrote in my first post “The only way to know for sure what God expects of us is to stay true to what we know He has revealed – the Bible.” I will add the life of Christ as we see Him in Scripture since God was revealed perfectly through Him.

            Are you familiar with John 3 and the concept of “born again” in that chapter? An excerpt from a book “Simple Gospel, Simply Grace”: “The new life you have in Christ, the forgiveness you have in Christ, and the freedom you have in Christ are all gifts of grace, GIVEN FREELY AND WITHOUT CONDITIONS. His presence in you is grace. He freely chose to abide with you and to open the way for you to abide with Him. The gospel is grace from start to finish”.

            Our love, obedience and good works flow out of that precise realization, they are not a requirement for grace. I believe all that you wrote seems way more complicated than it needs to be, but thanks for taking the time to explain. Christ did not add burdens onto us, something He continually chastised the Pharisees for….he came to “set the captives free”.

            God is just, and instead of punishing us for our rebellion against Him, His Son paid the debt in full that we owed. You said “Couldn’t God simply forgive?” If so, I’m sure He would have, or He would have simply told us to just behave this way, do this or that, etc. The list goes on and on. How do we know exactly what and how much we need to do?

          • Patrick

            1. “Knowing:” yes, there is, it’s called the Church, the Body of Christ, through which the Bible came. How do we know that the Bible is the Bible? The Church, in the 4th century, judged the various books several local churches considered Scripture (which included first century writings by men who lived at the same time as, and learned from, the Apostles, like Sst. Ignatios, Clement, and Polycarp). Some even included the first “catechism” of the Didache, written around 100 A.D. How were the books of the NT chosen? By the Church – and NOT as the *only* God inspired writings but because they were judged all that was necessary, as a preliminary step, for teaching.

            2. Yes, God’s Uncreated Energies (Grace) is freely given – but it does not effect us in a mechanistic manner. If we have not prepared ourselves to receive it, it doesn’t *force* us to become something. We must voluntarily accept it – even in the non-Patristic traditions (except in Calvinism). Thus, even there, there is a “requirement” or “pre-condition” before God’s Uncreated Energies (Grace) can reside in us.

            The book you cite has starting assumptions of legalism and dualism, it appears. The very things that are a product of not the Faith (colloquially, Christianity) but of cultural and theological developments divorced from original Christian teachings.

            3. You have reversed James 2:24. That passage of Scripture does not say that works, love, obedience flow out of (though they surely do), it says that without them whatever faith we have is dead. The NT also tells us that even with works AND faith, without love, they are meaningless. Unless you ignore these very clear passages, you cannot hold to sola fide.

            What I wrote is only “complicated” in the sense that it was the original teachings of the Church that have been lost and most people are brought up in a cultural/theological milieu that is so divorced from it by time and cultural developments that it *seems* complicated. It isn’t, really, and it makes many spots in Scripture make a LOT more sense (James 2:24 is a great example).

            4. Christ didn’t eliminate personal responsibility. Nor did he eliminate our need to do anything. That is a semi-Calvinist approach.

            Further, your reliance on a penal substitution theory doesn’t answer the question: why did God have to commit a sort of cosmic suicide? Does God change? Is He not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow? Terms like “angry” and “pleased” are only appropriate when still being fed on the milk, when still seeing through a veil. They represent the obscured Truth of the OT. With Christ’s Incarnation, we don’t see through a glass darkly, but clearly. We understand those terms to simply be the products of the human weakness in understanding God and attempting to paint Him in human terms. God does not change, so he does not actually get “angry” or become “pleased.” His attitude toward us never changed, just as He has never changed.

            That God would require a blood sacrifice to appease His anger is, I think, closer to a pagan notion than a Christian one.

  • Nick Stuart

    Those old guys in the Westminster Assembly of Divines got it right:

    Westminster Confession, Chapter I — Of the Holy Scripture

    VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

A Generous Season
James Randall Robison
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