Question: What did early Christians think about alterations to the scriptures?


Question: What did early Christians think about alterations to the scriptures?

Early Christians complained that the scriptures had been altered

Justin Martyr, a second-century Christian author, complained that the Jews had altered scripture:

And I wish you to observe, that they [the Jews] have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the translations....[1]

Origen, a third-century Christian author, bemoaned the problem of poor textual transmission even in his era:

The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.[2]

Textual scholar Bruce Metzger quoted this passage, and then observed:

Origen suggests that perhaps all of the manuscripts existing in his day may have become corrupt....[3]

The Book of Mormon describes how "plain and precious things" (1 Nephi 13:28) were removed from the Bible—Origen here complains of "deletions," from the scriptures, which would be the hardest changes to detect. An alteration may be detectable, but a deletion is simply gone forever.

Corinthian bishop Dionysius complained in the second century:

When my fellow-Christians invited me to write letters to them I did so. These the devil's apostles have filled with tares, taking away some things and adding others. For them the woe is reserved. Small wonder then if some have dared to tamper even with the word of the Lord himself, when they have conspired to mutilate my own humble efforts.[4]

Notes

  1. Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho," in Chapter 71 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:234. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  2. Origen, Commentary on Matthew 15.14 as quoted in Bruce M. Metzger, "Explicit References in the Works of Origen to Variant Readings in New Testament manuscripts," in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey, ed. J Neville Birdsall and Robert W. Thomson (Freiburg: Herder, 1968), 78—79; reference from Erhman, 223.
  3. Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (second edition 1979; first edition 1964), 152; citing Metzger, “Explicit references in the works of Origen to Variant Readings in New Testament Manuscripts,” in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey, ed. J.N. Birdsall (1963): 78–95.
  4. Cited in Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 53. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.