Challenge: The Bible Has Been Changed

Posted: December 7, 2010 by Amy Hall in God Has Spoken, Weekly Challenge

I’ve found this to be a common conversation:

FRIEND: I’m not a Christian, but I like what Jesus had to say. All He wanted was for us to love each other, but Christians have twisted His words and turned Christianity into all this judgment and hell. Jesus didn’t tell people they would go to hell–He’d be so upset to hear Christians today.

CHRISTIAN: I love it that you’re interested in Jesus! Would you like to hear more about the things He said? I’d love to get together with you and use the Bible to go over what He taught about love, judgment, and hell. Then you can see firsthand what Jesus said without having to hear secondhand through Christians.

FRIEND: No thanks. You can’t trust the Bible to tell you what Jesus said. It’s been translated so many times, and over the years people in power have added and deleted different things. The original message has just been too corrupted–like a game of Telephone.

When you’ve heard this in the past, how did you handle it? How should you have handled it? Tell us where you’d go from here, and then we’ll hear back from Brett on Thursday.

  1. I find it odd that he claims we can’t trust what the Bible says, but he’s certain that Jesus taught us to love each other. What gives him this certainty?

    I’d also like him to show me these passages that were added and deleted. I’d just ask him the simple question “Could you show me what parts have been added and deleted?” Chances are he won’t be able to do it. From what I’ve heard the translators these days use the Greek manuscripts for the NT and the Hebrew (as much as possible at least) for the OT. If that’s the case then the English translations we have now are direct translations from one language to another, not from one language to another to another to another to another. I’m no expert on Bible translations though.

    • Sorry. I meant to add to my first comment “if he CAN be certain of something the Bible says, namely that Jesus taught us to love each other, why can’t we be certain of the other things it says too?”

  2. Adrian Urias says:

    Ive never been able to successfully deliver the answer effectively. ive given the substance, but they just dont want to seem to listen. i dunno, maybe the people i talk to just arent that open. they love a conspiracy *coughdavincicodecough* bible corruption and cover ups just sounds cool.

    there is something self defeating about this claim. if he claims to know the bible has been corrupted, then that implies we can reconstruct what the autographs said, since we can know what originally wasnt there (according to their claim), and it shouldnt be a problem. we just delete those since we apparently know what shouldnt be there.

    also, translations have to do with relevant language. no distortions here and there.

    its actually not like telephone. telephone implies one singular line. one person tells one other person, and so on. but thats not how things went down. one person told like 50 people, or made 50 copies, and from those 50 copies we have another 50 copies from each one, which totals 2500 copies. so its not like it had 2500 chances of one mistake building upon another. it branches out. im not saying there are the figures, its just to make the point that it isnt analogous.

    im also curious to what he means when he says “people in power” nothing a bit of history wont clear up im sure.

  3. Sam Harper says:

    I agree with Kyle and Adrian that the difficulty in this situation is just getting the person to listen to you. I mean you can simply SAY to them that they’re wrong, and that we actually DO know what the originals said, but they’re probably not just going to take your word for it. And it’s hard in an off-the-cuff conversation to explain how textual criticism works and how abundant our manuscript evidence for the Bible is. And unless you’re in your own home, you probably can’t just whip out a few authorities on the subject and show them what the experts say. I don’t know what the more succinct response might be. I don’t see any way around it without going into textual criticism, which sometimes just puts people to sleep or at least strains their concentration to the breaking point.

    I have often used an illustration, though, to distinguish the telephone game from textual criticism. Suppose I have ten people copy a letter, and suppose each one of them makes a mistake while copying it. What are the chances that they would each make the SAME mistake? Pretty small. So, we can go through the ten letters line by line and be able to reconstruct what the original said even though each copy is corrupted. Since each person’s mistake will be unique, we can know what the original of that line said just because there’ll only be one copy with that particular variant. That is a very overly simplified explanation of textual criticism, so I’d just follow it up by explaining there are different kinds of mistakes, and different methods for determinism what the original said. After explaining that, then I’d make an appeal to authority, that the Nestle Aland 27th edition is a reconstruction of the original Greek New Testament that the experts consider to be very close to the original.

    I also agree with Kyle that there’s an inconsistency between claiming to know what Jesus said, and saying you can’t trust what the Bible says. After all, the only way we know what Jesus said is through the Bible.

    • I heard another illustration that I thought was helpful, though I can’t remember where I read it from…

      In telephone you just say something to a person’s ear once. The author said it was more like a father teaching his daughter the Lord’s Prayer. He doesn’t just tell the girl once and expect her to remember it. He keeps teaching it to her until she has it committed to memory exactly the way it’s suppose to be.

      I’m not sure it would have been this way for everyone at the time, but I imagine if Jesus’s words were so important to his disciples then they’d make the effort to remember them and pass them down accurately.

  4. Kiona Roberts says:

    hey there. This is a quit interessting topic. My little two cents would be that some people do change the bible for example: Mormons, johava witnesses, Muslims etc. however the christian bible stays stagnant to the original copy that was produced A.D. 70 – 95. at least thats when the last book (revalation) was completed. And the bible had to be translated for anyone to undestand it outside of greek language. Any way God is said to be just which is the one thing we have to rely on to follow him and if that is true, he wont equip us who want to follow him with some shady boot leg version of the bible. And i have put the bible to the test with all its practicals and it has not stired me worng and i dont think it ever will.

  5. Daniel Gruhn says:

    I would point them toward McDowell’s book “Evidence that demands a verdict” which indicates our ample supply of early manuscripts, some even dating back to the 2nd century. And if what we know of early church history is true, then these were the times in which the church was most persecuted. So people in power had little reason to change what the texts said for it gained them no additional power; such power plays would not come until around Emperor Theodosius, who ruled in the late 4th century. After Theo, the church gained more authority and corruption had more incentive to infiltrate. At the height of the Holly Roman empire, the Popes were notoriously corrupt. Yet even then, when a comparative analysis is made of what we have now to what the earliest manuscripts said, very little has in fact changed. So the statement regarding the un-reliability of the Bible is ungrounded lest they want to say the apostles themselves changed what Christ said. Then Kyle’s comment would fit in quite nicely regarding the double standard of the knowledge of what Jesus said. So we have virtually no reason to denounce Biblical authenticity. Therefore, I would re-state the offer to read the Bible with them so as to learn what Jesus actually said.

    And if they were still unwilling, then I would point out that they are not interested in learning what Jesus truly meant but are rather interested in what they wished him to have meant. I find people treat Jesus as though he were another westernized Buda, which is to say that he is simply a hippy from the 1960s.

  6. Again, adding to what has been said, as has been pointed out above, this claim is somewhat self-refuting. It’s got suicide tactic written all over it. Surely to know that the text has been changed, the person must be able to have seen what the original text says or at least has someone who has, or else have an alternative source with the actual message.

    I think rather than trying to show why it’s not been changed it is better to challenge the presupposition by firstly asking the person how they know what Jesus’ original message was, what their source is and why their source is better than the Bible. Secondly could they clarify specifically what has been changed, with examples, and also how they know it’s been changed.

    Unless they can give evidence of another source that supports their claim about what Jesus’ original message was then there is no reason to accept their claim. And if they have no other source, then they are not willing to investigate the authenticity of the Bible as a reliable source, and are apparently willing to go on their own intuitions about what Jesus’ message was.

    Many people seem to throw out this slogan or idea that the Bible has been changed too much to know what it said, but when you probe them further it appears they are basing it on nothing more than slogans that other people have said.