The Da Vinci Cod and the Reliability of Scripture

[From the archives.]

What happens if you take a book’s title and drop a letter somewhere? The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s best seller about secrets and intrigue in the Vatican, might just become The Da Vinci Cod, described as

“Thrills, spills and gills as a Harvard swimbologist tries to catch a murderous albino monkfish. A load of pollocks but better than Brown’s original.”

Just try to crack that cod’s secrets

Many of the twenty retitled books’ descriptions are even better than their titles. And who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? Look at the way the cover art for Of Ice and Men evokes a certain insouciance, or cast your gaze on the steely eyed stare of the title character from Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crow.

Getting Things Wrong is Nothing New

In 1631 the printers of a new edition of the 1611 King James Bible, also known as The Authorized Version, made a little three letter mistake with Exodus 20:14. By leaving out the letters n, o, and t, they printed a well known verse so that it read “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

Oops. No wonder they call this version The Sinner’s Bible.

The misprint so incensed the Archbishop of Canterbury that he declared:

I knew the time when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the best, but now the paper is nought, the composers boys, and the correctors unlearned.

Modern Bible translations seem to be more accepting of error in transmitting God’s word down through the centuries. It’s not that modern translators are careless about error, but that they recognize it exists in the ancient manuscripts. The NIV’s notes, for example, cite repeatedly the instances of discrepancy between ancient texts and attribute them to possible scribal error.

Is this a problem for modern readers who want to know if the Bible is reliable? After all, the Bible claims about itself:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)

How can we trust that claim if we don’t know we have an accurate record of what was originally written? It comes down to recognizing that the discrepancies are on points that do not concern basic doctrinal issues.

We don’t have one ancient manuscript that says God is love and another that says he isn’t, for example. Nor do we see one source claiming that God created all there is and another that claims God is actually part of that creation.

On all points of doctrine that I can think of, the texts are consistent. This gives me confidence that the Bible really is as authoritative as it says it is.

But if you do happen to find an ancient manuscript that tells you “Thou shalt commit adultery”, don’t tell the Archbishop of Canterbury.


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15 Responses to The Da Vinci Cod and the Reliability of Scripture

  1. Pingback: The Da Vinci Cod and the Reliability of Scripture by Tim Fall — Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another @tim_fall | Talmidimblogging

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    Missed one:
    Dan Brown, author of Angle-fish and Demon-fish….

    However, the apparent errors, discrepancies, mistypes – points of concern/disagreement do NOT affect any major doctrine.

    Something for us to hold onto

  3. Those examples of altered titles are great! Reminds me of Edith Wharton’s classic, The Hose of Mirth, which depicts children playing happily in the sprinkler all summer.

  4. glutenfreeyorkregion says:

    It’s moments like these that keep me coming back to this blog. Way to go, Brother Tim!

  5. JYJames says:

    From your post (and from the Bible itself): “After all, the Bible claims about itself:

    “‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)'”

    We use the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, rather than commentaries, daily, because we want to understand God’s Word explaining God’s Word. We also like the NASB translation. This has kept us out of some unhealthy trends (in the religious community, mainly). After attending church on Sunday, we have six days to debrief with the Bible, prayer, and discussion ourselves.

    When we have the opportunity to introduce someone to Christ, we bring them to the bookstore where we have them take a passage, read it from various Bibles, and compare their understandings. (The goal is to have a positive experience reading God’s Word daily.) Most often they choose the Living Bible, (God bless Ken Taylor), because they are new Christians.

    “Good News for Modern Man” is a New Testament that is also helpful for new Christians, in English and in French, “Bonnes Nouvelles Aujourd’hui”, also very helpful. Other languages do not have the choices we have in English for translations and paraphrases.

    When we host international students, we give them the opportunity to choose an English Bible or a Bible in their own language, as a gift and as outreach.

    No translation or paraphrase is perfect, however, they can be helpful for the growing Christian or a seeking person. (Critical thinking is good, and some in the church support this, as Francis Schaeffer did in the past sometimes. However, according to his son, Frank, his dad also had his blind spots, God help us all.)

    Thanks again, Tim Fall, for the post.

    • Tim says:

      I remember when Good News for Modern Man was the hottest thing going. Praphrase found its place in opening up God’s word with that one.

    • Kitti says:

      Receiving a TCR Bible as a gift was the best thing that ever happened to me for my Bible research I think. I really need a new copy, but man are they expensive.

      While I have a preference for KJV I have never (So far as I recall) claimed it was better than any other. I thought it was weird when someone got mad at me for being so judgemental/ opinionated by being part of the “KJV-only-crowd”, which are people who believe that the KJV is the only accurate bible in the entire world outside of the original Hebrew/ Greek. I had never heard of such a thing before. I don’t know enough languages to assert which extra-lingual (is that a word?) Bible is the most accurate. My take is simply that it stands up better than many may claim. Just as there have been misunderstandings of words in the original manuscripts (“kephale” and “authentein”, anyone?), there have been inaccurate/ incomplete assumptions made about wording in the KJV as well.

      At any rate I also prefer it for consistency’s sake, (as opposed to sourcing multiples) and if there’s ever a question/ descrepency I look it up to get the best info that I can, and either God will help me clear it up or I’ll have to admit ignorance and wait for a more mature period of my life. I don’t worship the Bible – in any language, not even the original scripts – but I worship the God who authored it. He is more powerful than the Bible, and whether that means He has performed a centuries-old miracle in preserving it word-for-word in only one English version, or performs a centuries-old miracle in transcending typed or scrawled letters and jumps straight into the heart of knowledge and understanding, I trust that He is bigger and stronger than any source of human error.

  6. George Leung says:

    One of the concern about Bible translation is the famous John 3:16, which is used by Evangelical to demonstrate God’s love (shall not perish but have eternal life) due to a definite salvation. However, if you read any Chinese version, it’s just simply 不至滅亡,反得永生, which can be translated as “does not perish but have eternal life” (a neutral, present tense), not unlike Wycliffe Bible. Meanwhile, RSV use “should not perish but have eternal life.” and some even use “may”, both indicate that the person may or may not be saved. So what is the actual meaning in the original greek?

    • momzilla76 says:

      I just ask myself “Would Jesus have gone through all that He did only to give us a kind of, maybe, iffy chance at eternal life?” Then there is the word eternal. It doesn’t mean if you can keep it. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      What have your studies shown to be the best way top translate that passage, George?

  7. joepote01 says:

    Good post, Tim!

    Yes…errors and discrepancies exist between manuscripts. Much more concerning to me is errors in translation. It is extremely difficult to fully convey the meaning with all the nuance and emphasis when translating from one language to another…across very different cultures…across millenniums of time…

    As a blogger and writer I am very conscious of how easily something I write can be misconstrued or misunderstood. I am very aware of how the reader’s life experiences cause what I wrote to have a different meaning as it is read than it had as I wrote. And that’s among contemporaries who speak the same native language, who are from generally the same culture, time period and education level.

    In recent years, I have begun to give myself permission to disagree with the translators…to recognize that the translator’s own personal understanding of biblical truth influenced how they translated the text…and that my understanding may be closer to the original intent…even though I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar.

    For this reason, I tend to use multiple English translations as well as Greek and Hebrew lexicons as I study scripture.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve experienced those misunderstandings with my contemporaries who read my stuff too, Joe. And I find myself scrutinizing the texts the same as you. I’m not a Greek or Hebrew scholar but comparing multiple translations helps.

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