This story from NPR ran in mid-July but was only sent to us recently. Here’s how it begins:
How Bible Stories Evolved Over The Centuries
Many Christians believe that the words of the New Testament are set in stone. But scholars at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary are chronicling just how much those words have evolved over time.
See, it’s that kind of story. Of course “over the centuries” means “over the first three centuries after Christ.” Do the reporters think that this is news to “many Christians” that the Scriptures weren’t written in English and handed down to Protestants in their present form, I guess. I’m not entirely sure what “set in stone” means at all.
Later we’re told:
Variations in the early Greek manuscripts may seem like a cause for alarm for many Bible literalists, but the majority of the discrepancies the project documents, Warren says, were caused by early transcribers doing their best to clarify the text.
Let me just quote from the reader who sent the story in:
“Variations in the early Greek manuscripts may seem like a cause for alarm for many Bible literalists …” Really? Who thinks this? Besides the author of this piece? What is a literalist?
Is this about a new database? Or about a couple of well-known textual issues (long ending of mark, woman caught in adultery) that are treated like breaking, controversial discoveries?
The article gives this example of what it’s talking about:
Take the story of Christ’s resurrection. As the gospel of Mark tells it, on the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the tomb and appeared to various people, including his disciples.
But Bill Warren, the professor leading the project, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that in the original manuscripts for Mark, the story of Jesus visiting the disciples is nowhere to be found.
“We actually have more than one ending in the manuscripts, and then we have some with no ending,” Warren explains, “So what we think probably happened there is that as soon as you see the other Gospels with the resurrection stories, early in the 2nd century at least, someone says, ‘You know, we need to put some of this material into Mark to round it off better.’ “
NPR doesn’t explain what it means by literalists. My church doesn’t use that term, and for particular reasons. We do believe that Scripture is inerrant and inspired by God. So while we don’t count as part of the group that’s supposed to be shocked and appalled by this truly ancient news, I wonder if the reporter understands the distinction.
I opened up my Lutheran Study Bible to see the notes for the end of Mark. Here’s what it says:
Mark’s Abrupt Ending: As the ESV text note for 16:9-20 shows, these verses do not appear in a number of early Greek manuscripts. This likely means they were not part of Mark’s original composition, which may have used a “suspended” ending that left readers wanting to learn more about Jesus and His disciples. The longer ending was perhaps added later to satisfy people’s interests.
The reader who submitted this has a great point. Is this entire article premised on a couple of well-known textual issues that are treated like breaking, controversial discoveries? And why?
Image of Saint Mark via Wikipedia.