ALLEGED DISCREPANCIES IN THE BIBLE
I) MOST DISCREPANCIES ARE A RESULT OF IMPROPER READING
God's Word must be read in accordance with the framework in which it was written: a framework which is defined by the normative rules of language, context and logic - rules which do not impose undue, unintended or humanly contrived meanings to the text at hand . Poor reading, purposeful or not, is not an actual discrepancy in the Bible. It is an act of improper application of the framework and rules with which the Bible was inspired by God to be written..
II) THE REST OF THE ALLEGED DISCREPANCIES ARE DUE TO COPYIST ERRORS OF THE MANUSCRIPTS OF THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGES WHICH CAN LARGELY BE RESOLVED THROUGH THE PROPER APPLICATION OF THE NORMATIVE RULES OF LANGUAGE, CONTEXT AND LOGIC BY WHICH GOD'S WORD WAS INSPIRED AND WRITTEN
A) The Similarity Of Alphabetical Characters To One Another And Worn Manuscripts - Erasures, Smudges, Faded Characters, Tears, Etc., Are the Cause Behind Many Copyist Errors, Especially Numbers
A very large number of discrepancies take their rise from errors in the manuscripts, these errors being occasioned by the similarity of the alphabetical characters to one another, worn manuscripts with erasures, smudges, faded characters, tears, etc., and by the consequent blunders of transcribers. There is a very close resemblance of certain Hebrew letters to one another, such as Beth and Kaph; Daleth and Resh; Daleth and final Kaph; Vav and Yod; Vav and Nun final; Heth and He; Heth and Tav; Pe and Kaph; etc."
And certain Greek letters, also, look very much alike...
At times the error is a matter of the acuteness or obtuseness of an angle; at other times, the length or the straightness of a line - distinctions so minute that even when the letters are perfect, mistakes will sometimes happen, and still more frequently when they are inaccurately formed, or are partially effaced due to wear and tear - smudges, faded characters, tears, etc. In fact, this is one of the most fruitful sources of error in the Hebrew manuscripts. In the ancient Hebrew, letters were, in all probability, used for numerals. That is, letters were employed by the original writers to represent numbers, which were expanded and written out in full by later copiers. The Jews, in the post-exile period [post Babylonian Captivity] as is evident from the inscriptions of the so-called Samaritan coins, employed the letters of the alphabet for numbers. It is not improbable that the ancient Hebrews did the same, just as the Greeks, who derived their alphabet from the Phoenicians, expressed, from the earliest ages, numbers by letters. And when a manuscript being copied is faded or blotted or smudged, the problem is compounded. No parts of ancient books have suffered so much from errors of inadvertency as those which relate to numbers; for as one numeral letter was easily mistaken for another, and as neither the sense of the passage, nor the rules of orthogrphy nor of syntax, suggested the genuine reading.
B) Copyists Have Made Errors In A Number Of Ways
1) Accidental Examples:
The repetition of a word, letter, or phrase caused by the eye skipping backward; the omission of a word, letter, or a phrase, caused by the eye skipping forward; omission in which the eye skips forward from one word to a similar word having a similar beginning; omission in which the eye slips to a similar word having a similar ending; two letters or two words are reversed. The frequent use of contractions in writing, i.e., using short form of words omitting letters often replaced by an apostrophe or other mark, was a very common source of errors; for many of these abbreviations were extremely complicated, obscure, and ambiguous, so that an unskillful copyist was very likely to mistake one word for another.
2) Purposeful Examples
Resolving variant readings by including all of them, (conflation). Additions to clarify the meaning of the text or to harmonize with another text, (interpolation).
III) THERE ARE MEANS USED TO DETERMINE WHICH VARIANT READING IS MOST LIKELY THE ORIGINAL ONE
[Notes From "New Testament Text And Translation Commentary," Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, IL, Philip W. Comfort, 2008, Introduction, Methods Of Textual Criticism, pp. ix-xvi]:
A) External Evidence - Focusing On The Classification Of Manuscripts And / Or The Documents Themselves
The character and reliability of the documents themselves. the genealogical relationship between manuscripts copied from the same exemplar; based on a number of perameters such as the age, location and number of manuscripts which have each particular variant.
B) Internal Evidence - Focusing On Discerning The Most Likely Reading From Which All The Other Readings Deviated
Often the reading that is most likely the original is the one that best explains the variants, i.e., the variant reading that is likely to have been the source from which the others arose, (which prompted scribes to editorialize) - sometimes referred to as "the harder reading." Furthermore, scribes seem more inclined to omit words rather than to add words - hence the view that the preferred reading is the longer one. On the other hand, unnecessary words to arrive at the same meaning or to fill in a perceived textual gap are cause to prefer the shorter reading. Hence this must be done with the utmost of care, and unbias on a case for case basis - neither external nor internal arguments can be assumed to be given absolute sway over the other.
The following evidence is compared:
1. A variant's status as the shorter or shortest reading.
2. A variant's status as the harder or hardest reading.
3. A variant's fitness to account for the origin, development, or presence of all other readings.
4. A variant's conformity to the author's style and vocabulary.
5. A variant's conformity to the author's theology or ideology.
6. A variant's conformity to Koine (rather than Attic) Greek.
7. A variant's conformity to Semitic forms of expression.
8. A variant's lack of conformity to parallel passages or to contextual information.
9. A variant's lack of conformity to Old Testament passages.
10. A variant's lack of conformity to liturgical forms and usages.
11. A variant's lack of conformity to extrinsic doctrinal views.
C) Reasoned Eclecticism - operating with one eye on the external evidence and one eye on the internal evidence.
Apply a combination of internal and external considerations, evaluating the character of the variants in light of the manuscript evidence and vice verse in order to to obtain a balanced view of the matter and as a check upon purely subjective tendencies.
Documentary evidence can take us back to the earliest is, on the basis of external evidence alone we cannot determine whether the earliest recoverable stage of the textual tansmission is the autograph or a copy of it... Second, the extant documentary evidence often presents a situation where one cannot clearly determine which reading has the best documentary support. In the end, then,... documentary evidence can throw a considerable weight into the scales of probability [but] will not by itself suffice to determine [a] choice between competing readings.
Those who practice textual criticism know this all too well. The situation then becomes one of emphasis. Does one give more weight to documentary evidence or to internal consideration?...
All textual critics - implement both external and internal criticism in selecting the reading which is most likely original. And all textual critics must do this on a variant-unit by variant-unit basis. Some give priority of place to internal over external evidence; others do the opposite. The editors of NU demonstrate that they tried to do both; this can be seen in Metzger's discussions in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. However, it is my observation that the resultant eclectic text exhibits too much dependence on internal evidence, emphasizing the "local" aspect of the "local-genealogical" method, to use Aland's language. This means that the decision making, on a variant-unit by variant-unit basis, produced a text with an uneven documentary presentation. Furthermore, the committee setting, with members voting on each significant textual variant, cannot help but produce a text with uneven documentation. All eclectic texts reconstruct a text that no ancient Christian actually read, even though they approach a close replication of the original writings. However, the NU edition's eclecticism extends even to following different manuscripts within the same sentence.*
[*Note that Hort overreached in embracing Codex Vaticanus as the preeminent text for the entire New Testament. The same can be said for Tischendorf, who was too enthusiastic about his prize find, Codex Sinaiticus. However, for several books of the New Testament, we can hardly do better than start with Codex Vaticanus and/or Codex Sinaiticus - if only for the simple reason that they often contain more extant text than the earlier papyri and that they usually provide witness to an early text]
In my view, an eclectic approach that gives greater weight to external (documentary) evidence is best. Such an approach labors to select a premier group of manuscripts as the primary witnesses for certain books and/or sections of the New Testament, not for the entire New Testament, since each book of the New Testament was, in its earliest form, a separate publication. Once the best manuscripts for each book or group of books in the New Testament are established, these manuscripts need to be pruned of obvious errors and singular variants. Then these should be the manuscripts used for determining the most likely original wording. The burden of proof on textual critics is to demonstrate that the best manuscripts, when challenged by the testimony of other witnesses, do not contain the original wording. The part of this process that corresponds to Aland's "localness" (internal evidence) is that the text must be determined on a variant-unit basis. However, my view of the "genealogical" (external evidence) aspect is that it must be preestablished for an entire book and not recreated verse by verse, which results in a very uneven documentary presentation. Of course, internal criticism will have to come into play when documentary evidence is evenly divided, or when some feature of the text strongly falls for it. And, on occasion, it must be admitted that two (or more) readings are equally good candidates for being deemed the original wording.
IV) WHY HAS GOD PERMITTED DISCREPANCIES IN THE MANUSCRIPT COPIES AND TRANLATED VERSIONS OF THE BIBLE TO PREVAIL?
A) God Permitted Discrepancies In The Manuscript Copies Of The Bible And Translated Versions In Order To Prompt Individuals To Invest Themselves In His Word As Part Of Their Temporal Lives Especially In The Accurate Learning And Defense Of It
Actual and imagined discrepancies in the Bible evidently cause believers to dig into the details of God's Word in order to defend their faith in the Word of God.
The alleged discrepancies of the Bible, real and imagined, have prompted men to 'search the scriptures,' and to ask: How are these difficulties to be resolved? Things which are 'hard to be understood,' present special attractions to the inquiring mind. Sometimes a deeper interest is awakened by examining two or more passages which appear to contradict each other than by examining two or more which resemble each other.
The seeming contradictions in scripture are too numerous not to be the result of design; and doubtless were designed, not as mere difficulties to try our faith and patience, but as furnishing the most suitable mode of instruction that could have been devised ..."