A conflict rages in this age which has been called "the battle for
the Bible." This battle (more like a war) is being fought on
several levels. Some deny that the Bible is God's Word at all.
Others deny that the Bible completed God's revealed Word. While some
scholars battle over original inspiration, and some argue over Greek
texts, others are fighting the battle of English translations.
Amid the confusion of theological word battles and personal vendettas,
many are crying for answers. As we survey the battlefield, several
points must be made clear. The first point is that this battle is
one battle. On every level, this battle is about whether or not you
and I have or can have the Word of God.
If the Bible only contains God's Word, but no one knows which parts are His Word and which parts are not, what good is that? And why argue over perfect inspiration, if God has not preserved His Word? And what about all those translations? The whole problem comes down to this: Can you and I get a hold of God's pure Word; and if we can, where?
Another point to be made is that this battle for the Bible is very important. Nothing is more important than whether or not we can get God's truth. If God's Word is not our source of absolute truth, then what is? We are left holding an empty bag.
Yet those who claim allegiance to the Bible cannot seem to do enough to
weaken its power. Scholars dilute the Bible text. Publishers
come out with new, better-than-ever bibles every few months.
Preachers freely correct the words of the living God. And young men
herd off to seminaries (or rather cemeteries) to be taught the
inadequacies of the Word of God.
No one claims to have a painting that contains the work of
Rembrandt. They either have a painting by Rembrandt or they do
not. Even a careful imitation is worthless next to the real
thing. Likewise, we either have God's Word or we do not.
Since God's Word by reason of God's own character must be totally pure,
then an impure word cannot be God's Word.
God's Word is incorruptible (I Pet. 1:23). That which is God's Word
is completely pure (Prov. 30:5). Other forms of printed matter
(printed sermons, tracts, corrupted "bibles," etc.) may contain
portions of God's Word, but they cannot be said to be God's
Yes, this is all one battle. And this battle is important.
But a third point needs to be made. This battle is not
new. Ever since the Garden of Eden, when Satan denied God's
Word and Eve changed it, Bible correcting has been one of man's favorite
Take, for instance, the text of the New Testament. Its alteration
has not been solely the recent work of little men with thick glasses
hovering over ancient manuscripts. No, the greatest corruptions of
the New Testament text occurred during the first two or three centuries
after it was written. By the end of this period, the vast majority
of various readings had already been written and the different Greek
texts of today could have been composed. These centuries, during
which the battle lines were drawn, set the time frame for the Tale of
A tale of three cities is a tale of intrigue and deception--one which
pits the forces of God and Satan into battle over the integrity of the
Bible. This war over the Word, which began in Eden's beautiful
garden, still rages today with ever-increasing fury. God's
churches, God's men, and God's people cannot afford to remain neutral
when the stakes are so high. Yet, many seem determined to live
their spiritual lives as deserters.
Before the unfolding of this story begins, two Biblical principles must
be understood. The first principle is that God has promised,
without exception, to preserve not only the Word which He has given to
man, but also the words. This promise is confirmed every time God
commands us to read, memorize, meditate upon, learn, or obey the words
which He has given us. Nowhere in the Bible does God suggest the
possibility of us not having His words. The promise of preservation
is stated as follows in Psalm 12:6,7: "The words of the LORD
are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified
seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them
from this generation for ever." This passage demands
responsibility from present- day Christians. According to God, His
words are preserved pure. If they are preserved, then we had better
find them and believe them without correcting them.
The second principle which must be understood is that many will
"corrupt the word of God" as stated by Paul in II Corinthians
2:17. Paul also warned against "handling the word of God
deceitfully" (II Cor. 4:2). This evil practice of corruption assures
us of the fact that many corrupted copies of God's Word have been and
will be made. The man who claims that all bibles are the word of
God either does not know the scriptural principle of corruption or denies
it. Corrupting the words of God is not an exception or simply an
accident; it is an industry.
These two principles taken together demonstrate another important
truth. Since God in His power is preserving the Word, and since the
devil and his forces are corrupting the Word, the Bible cannot be
approached as any other ancient book. Textual criticism sufficient
for Homer's Iliad will not work for God's Word! And while mistakes
in Homer do not really matter, mistakes in God's Word could send a
generation of mankind to hell. Unless God's preserving power and
Satan's corrupting influence are considered, manuscript evidence is no
more honest than last year's politicians.
Modern bibles exist in a myriad of forms because intentional changes were
made in copies of God's Word by those who disbelieved its teaching.
Of course, modern scholars claim that none of the various readings in the
multitude of versions affect any major doctrine. This claim
requires a low opinion of the weight of scripture. Every change
made in the pure Word affects doctrine because "all scripture is
profitable for doctrine" (II Tim. 3:16). When any passage
loses this profitability, then the Word of God is no longer
With these principles stated and explained, the story can now
begin. A tale of three cities begins in the Roman Empire during the
time of Christ. The three cities (Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch)
were the three largest and most influential cities in the Roman
Empire. Yet, to the Christian their influence concerning Bible
corruption and preservation is of much greater importance.
As capital of the Roman Empire and the empire's largest city, Rome ruled
the ancient world. Rome emphasized form, legalism, and tradition.
Through tradition, Rome became the center of Biblical addition. The
Apocrypha is one example of how Rome added to scripture. From
Italy, Rome dominated the theology and spiritual life of southern Europe
and northern Africa.
Alexandria, Egypt, the second largest city, was the world capital for
science, education, and scholarship. Great minds gravitated to
Alexandria. This hometown of Philo and Origen dominated the
theology of surrounding Egypt and Palestine. As is the practice of
modern scholarship, Alexandria subtracted from the Word of God. The
Alexandrian Text is still the basis of modern Bible corruptions.
The third largest city of the empire was Antioch of Syria. Located
in the East, Antioch dominated the regions of Syria and Asia minor, the
lands of early apostolic work. Antioch was known for her luxury and
cosmopolitan flavor, but also for a literal interpretation of scripture.
Although belittled by the scholarship of today, the Syrian Text was the
underlying basis for the King James Version of 1611.
These three cities were located in three important countries on three
different continents. They represented the three major races.
Why are they so important? How did these cities become so
influential in the historical transmission of the Biblical Text?
These questions and more are to be answered in the following text.
But never forget that God promised to preserve His Word. Our
greatest concern should never be to judge or criticize the Word, but to
find it, then read it, study it, memorize it, obey it, teach it, preach
it, and if necessary, die for it.
Located on the Mediterranean Sea in the country of Egypt on the continent
of Africa, Alexandria is still an active city today. This great
seaport is in the area known scripturally as the "land of Ham"
(Ps.105:23). Alexander the Great founded the city in 332 BC during
his conquest of the world. It rapidly developed into the greatest
metropolis of the ancient world, reaching an estimated population of one
million by the first century BC at the time of Christ, the city was
superseded only by Rome.
Under the rule of the Egyptian Ptolemies, Alexandria became the literary
and scientific center of the world. Its university molded much of
the philosophical thought of the time. The famous library of
Alexandria contained half a million or more books and rolls.
Vigorously pursued were the studies of mathematics, astronomy, poetry,
and medicine. Alexandria was a Greek city by founding and thought;
but because of the city's open-mindedness, it became a city known for its
cosmopolitan collection of the religions and philosophies from the known
world. It was in this environment that the Jewish theologian Philo
first combined Judaism with Platonism to establish the allegorical
approach to the Old Testament.
In practice, Philo (b. 20 BC) was more of a Greek philosopher than a
Jewish theologian; hence his greatest influence was not in the Jewish
realm. He desired to use the Old Testament to support his Greek
philosophy. Therefore, he established a system of allegorical
interpretation (spiritualizing of scripture) in order to make the
scripture mean anything he desired. He taught that the hidden,
deeper meaning of a passage of scripture was far superior to the plain,
literal meaning. His allegorical interpretation became a wealth of
ideas for the Alexandrian school of Christian thought of the second and
third centuries. This theological school was established in Alexandria in
the second century after Christ by a man named Pantaenus and was
continued by Clement of Alexandria. The School elevated Greek
philosophy and emphasized the allegorical interpretation of
scripture. The school became known for its scholarship and
philosophy and was later brought into great prominence by a man named
Origen (lived 185-254 AD).
In most church histories, Origen is praised as one of the greatest Bible
scholars of all time. In this book, Origen's mental genius and
religious fervor are not questioned, only his knowledge of Biblical truth
and his spiritual relationship with God. Origen possessed only one
coat and no shoes, rarely are flesh, never drank wine, devoted much of
the night to study and prayer, and slept on the bare floor. The
certainly demonstrates religious fervor and devotion. On the other
hand, because of his doctrine, Origen is certainly unworthy of his
reputation as a great Bible scholar. He taught that the Father is
the originating cause of the Son, and that the Holy Spirit was
subordinate to and created by the Son. He believed in the necessity
of baptism for the remission of sins and approved of the baptism of
little children. He taught that even the damned and devils would be
brought into voluntary subjection to Christ after they were sufficiently
punished. Origen developed a formal method of interpreting the New
Testament scriptures by applying Philo's allegorical
interpretation. In this way, he was able to support all of the
above doctrines and more.
Theologians and scholars who reject Origen's method of allegorical
interpretation and doctrinal conclusions often claim that his abiding
merit lies in his work in textual criticism. He is famous for his
labors to produce a correct text of the Greek Bible. Is it
possible, however, that Origen's false doctrines affected his Biblical
criticism? Two examples should suffice. While editing the New
Testament text, Origen removed the word carpenter from Mark 6:3 because
he did not think it should be there. He also removed the command,
"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," from the passage of
Matthew 19:16-22 because he could not logically explain its presence and
said it therefore must have been added. How many times Origen
applied this method of Bible correction only God Himself knows.
The Greek text which was being formed at Alexandria during the time of
Origen came to be known as the Alexandrian Text. This text is
represented mainly by two Greek manuscripts: the Sinaiticus (found
by Tischendorf in 1844 in a Greek Orthodox monastery at the base of Mt.
Sinai) and the Vaticanus (discovered in the Vatican library in
1481). These manuscripts are the basis for the majority of the
subtractions made in the English bibles since 1611. Because Origen
supported the readings which make up the Alexandrian text, scholars look
to him as one of the most important witnesses to the corrupted text which
is used for modern translations of the Bible. After Origen's death,
Alexandria continued to have great influence on the text of the New
Testament. Even today, the Alexandrian Text is accepted by the
majority of scholars as that which is closest to the originals.
Alexandria is very rarely mentioned in the Bible, but these references
tell the Bible student much about the direction the city would
take. Its commerce and shipping trade are evident in the fact that
the ships which took Paul from Caesarea to Rome for trial were ships of
Alexandria (Acts 27:6; 28:11). Alexandria's opposition to true
doctrine is demonstrated by the Alexandrian Jews which were found in the
temple disputing with Stephen (Acts 6:9). But the most revealing
passage about Alexandria is found in Acts 18:24 where, "a certain
Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the
scriptures, came to Ephesus." Here was a man who was eloquent
in speech and very knowledgeable in the scriptures, but who knew,
"only the baptism of John" (v.25). For this reason,
Aquilla and Priscilla, converts of the apostle Paul, "took him unto
then, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly"
(v.26). The high degree of training and superior knowledge of
Apollos confirms the emphasis on scholarship in his home town.
However, his gaps in Biblical knowledge and errors in Biblical doctrine
also point to the characteristic problems of Alexandria. These
problems were to continue in Alexandria through the early church history
period. The old copies of manuscripts of the New Testament which
were influenced by the Alexandrian scholars are characterized by their
omitting of important doctrinal phrases and verses. These omissions
are not mistakes--scholarship always subtracts from the Word of
For an example of their subtractions, let us examine the passage of Mark
16:9-20. This passage is missing in both the Sinaitic and the
Vatican manuscripts. Therefore, in most recent versions, it is
either omitted, or marginal notes question its place in the divine
text. However, these verses are found in all the Greek manuscripts
except the two noted above and in all the Latin manuscripts but
one. The Sinaitic and Vatican manuscripts were written between
325-350 AD But approximately 150 years before Mark 16:9-20 was
deleted by these manuscripts, the passage was quoted as scripture by
several writers: Justin Martyr (c. 150), Tatian (c. 175), Iraneaus
(c. 180) and Hippolytus (c. 200). Thus the evidence of the majority
of witnesses and the evidence of greatest antiquity both overwhelmingly
support the passage. Why then do the scholars still prefer to omit
the verses? Evidently because they still desire to follow
Alexandria became the world center of education and scholarship.
Here both Judaism and Christianity tried to merge their thought with
Grecian Platonism. Soon, human wisdom took place over the words of
the Bible, and scholars leaned upon allegorical interpretations to derive
from the Bible what they already accepted as truth. However, this
was not enough. The science of textual criticism had to be
developed to remove from the scriptures phrases which were offensive to
their own doctrine. Hence, Alexandria became the place known for
her subtraction from the Word of God.
Rome is located in the country of Italy on the continent of Europe.
The date of the founding of the city of Rome is unknown. In the
ancient world and in the Christian world, Rome's greatest influence was
in the areas of form and organization. This influence was already
increasing eight centuries before the time of Christ. Rome gained
control of the Italian peninsula about 275 BC. By 133 BC, Rome
governed a world empire stretching from Syria to Spain. At the time
of Christ, Rome was the largest city in the world (population: 1.2
million) and was capital of the Roman Empire. It eventually became
the center of the Roman Catholic Church and since 1871 has been the
capital of the country of Italy.
The city of Rome is mentioned by name none times in the Bible. Of
these nine references, special attention needs to be given to the one in
II Timothy 1:17. The Apostle Paul wrote II Timothy while in a Roman
prison, and in this epistle he praises a man named Onesiphorus because he
refreshed Paul and, "was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he
was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me" (II
Tim. 1:16-17). Rome was therefore known as a place which persecuted
Christians. When Constantine declared Christianity to be the state
religion, this persecution did not cease. Those who stood for their
beliefs still suffered at the hands of the developing
Attention also needs to be given to an indirect reference to the city of
Rome in the prophetic book of Revelation. The seventeenth chapter
of Revelation speaks of the mother of harlots who will be drunken with
the blood of the saints. She is clearly the one world religion
which will deceive multitudes during the great tribulation. The
woman is said to be, "that great city, which reigneth over the kings
of the earth" (Rev. 17:18). The identification of the city is
made in verse nine which states, "The seven heads are seven
mountains, on which the woman sitteth." Over and over again
Rome is identified by ancient historians as the city of seven hills or
seven mountains. Therefore, Rome will be the center of the future
one world religion.
The doctrinal development of Rome can most easily be understood by the
study of three men. Although these three men were not born in Rome,
they greatly influenced the city by advancing the position of Roman
supremacy, by translating the Roman Catholic bible, and by establishing
the Roman method of Bible interpretation.
The first man, Cyprian (195-258 AD), did much to develop the doctrine of
Roman supremacy. During the first centuries after Christ, the
churches of several large cities were elevated to high positions of
respect and authority. Rome was only one of these important
cities. However, Cyprian taught the doctrine of the primacy of the
Roman church over the other churches. He further claimed that
anyone outside the Catholic Church was lost and therefore made way for
the Roman Catholic monopoly of salvation. The teachings of Cyprian
were later used by Roman Catholicism to establish its tremendous
political strength over the majority of Christians during the Middle
The second man, Jerome (340-420 AD), is important because of his
influence on the Bible. He lived as a hermit for several years.
Later (with the help of several lady benefactors) he started a monastery
in Bethlehem. He strongly promoted self-denial, the celibacy of the
clergy, and the worship of Mary. Around 382 AD Pope Damasus
commissioned him to retranslate the New Testament into Latin. He
used the work of Origen to help in his translation which was later
accepted as the official Roman Catholic bible. Copies of the
already existing Old Latin Vulgate, which agreed more closely with the
true text, were discarded and often destroyed. Jerome's Latin
Vulgate triumphed at the expense of pure copies of the Word.
The third man, Augustine (354-430 AD), was bishop of Hippo, North Africa,
for many years. Although there is not space to discuss his
doctrine, his method of interpretation needs to be considered. He
established what came to be known as the western type of interpretation
which teaches that the scripture must conform to the interpretation of
the church. Thus he led the way for the Roman Catholic requirement
that bible interpretation must adapt itself to the tradition of the
In some ways the Romans could be compared to the Pharisees of whom Christ
said, "Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by
your tradition" (Matt. 15:9). And again, "But in vain
they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men"
(Matt. 15:9). Some of the unscriptural ideas of the Roman Catholic
Church (such as monasticism and infant baptism) may have developed in
Alexandria, but they were established as lasting traditions by
Although Alexandrian scholarship subtracted from the Word, Roman
tradition added to the Word. However opposite these approaches may
seem, the two movements joined in the development of the Roman Catholic
bibles. Rome took Alexandria's diluted bible and added to it
according to its traditions. This resulted in the corrupted bibles
which we still have with us today.
The unchanging practice of Roman Catholicism has been to place tradition
above the Word. However, this practice was made a dogma at the
Council o Trent in 1546. This council declared that the apocryphal
books together with unwritten tradition are to be received and venerated
as the Word of God. In elevating tradition, God's Word has been
lowered. In truth, this makes the Word of God of none
The tendency to add to the Word of God can be seen in the two most
influential manuscripts of the last century, the Vaticanus and the
Sinaiticus. The Vatican manuscript was discovered in the Vatican
library in 1481. It was discounted by early Greek scholars but was
elevated by Westcott and Hort in the translation of the Revised Version
in 1881, four hundred years after its discovery. This manuscript
adds the Epistle of Barnabas as well as the apocryphal books to the text
of its New Testament. The Sinaitic manuscript was found in St.
Catherine's Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai in 1844. It contains
the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas in its New Testament
text. This tendency to add to the Word of God can also be found in
the New American Standard Version of the English bible. Located at
the end of Mark in large capital letters is the word ADDITION after which
follows a short paragraph. A marginal note explains that a few later
manuscripts and versions contain this paragraph. Absolutely no
indication is given as to whether this is the Word of God or
The New Testament was being corrupted by men who claimed to be correcting
it even before all of the New Testament books were written (II Cor.
2:17). There have always been and will always be those who handle,
"the word of God deceitfully" (II Cor. 4:2). The two
major motives for changing the word of God are Scholarship and
tradition. Scholarship, as found in Alexandria, usually subtracts
from the Word while tradition, as found in Rome, usually adds to the
Word. These two influences explain the corrupted bibles of
today. Bible study, therefore, becomes a process of multiple
choice. If you like it, leave it in. If you do not like it,
take it out. If you want it, but it's not there, put it in.
Why allow the Bible to change us when we can so easily change the
But what of God's pure Word? Is there not a preserved Bible in
existence? The answer is yes! God has not left Himself
without an absolute witness of truth. He has preserved His
Word! In the next chapter we will consider the power of
preservation and God's use of Antioch of Syria as well as the surrounding
areas of Syria and Asia Minor to keep His Word pure from the corrupting
influence of man.
Antioch was located in Syria on the Asian continent. The native
inhabitants of Antioch descended from Shem, one of the sons of Noah,
through Aram (Gen. 10:22). Please notice that God did not use the
Japhethites of Europe or the Hamites of Africa to preserve His
Word. He used the Shemites of Asia of whom Noah prophesied,
"Blessed be the LORD God of Shem" (Gen. 9:26). This
scripture shows that God is going to use the Shemites throughout history
in a special way. He established His chosen nation, the nation of
Israel, through Abraham who was a descendent of Shem. He offered
salvation to mankind through the Jews, for Christ declared,
"salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). He also revealed
Himself to mankind in the Bible which was written by Jews and given to
Jews (Rom. 3:1-2). If God's chosen people, His offer of salvation,
and His written Word all came through the children of Shem in accordance
with the prophecy of Noah, why then would God not use the children of
Shem to preserve His book? The Syrians of Antioch were the Shemites
which God used to preserve His New Testament during the first centuries
after it was written. Antioch has a great influence in the area of Asia
Minor as well as in Syria. These areas were the early locations of
the greatest revivals and most extensive evangelism. Most of the
New Testament books were either written or received in this part of the
world. By His wonderful providence, God had placed Antioch in a
special place of importance. Antioch became the early center for
Bible-believing Christians and Bible preservation.
Much is revealed about a Bible teacher or Christian group by examining
their approach in interpreting scripture. The same is true in the
study of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. Rome took the approach of
ecclesiastical interpretation. In other words, the past traditions
of the church and church theologians determine the meaning of the
The approach of Alexandria was that of allegorical interpretation.
Scripture was to be spiritualized by scholars in order to conform it to
their philosophical beliefs. Only Antioch took the literal approach
to Biblical interpretation. According to this approach, the Bible
means what it says and says what it means. There is no need to
change or manipulate scripture because the Word of God is already
perfect. Now who do you want to copy your next Bible manuscript:
the traditionalists from Rome, the scholars from Alexandria, or the
literalists from Antioch?
No matter how much we know about a place historically, the bottom line is
still, "What saith the Scripture?" The city of Rome is
mentioned nine times in the New Testament and is characterized as a place
of persecution (II Tim. 1:15-17). Although only mentioned three
times by name, Alexandria is clearly a place of false doctrine according
to scripture (Acts 6:9; 18:24-26). But our greatest amount of
Biblical information is reserved for the city of Antioch. It is
mentioned by name nineteen times and has great importance for us
today. In fact, the church at Antioch is the greatest example of
Biblical Christianity in the entire New Testament.
The founding and early ministry of the church at Antioch are described in
Acts 11:19-30. Acts 13:1-4 narrates the calling and sending of the
first missionaries out of Antioch: Barnabas and Paul. From
these two passages we learn seven basic characteristics of the church at
Antioch. First, the church at Antioch was a preaching church (Acts
11:20,23). Second, it was a witnessing church (Acts
11:21,24). Third, it was a teaching church (Acts 11:26;
13:1). Fourth, the church at Antioch was a serving church:
"The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts
11:26). Fifth, it was a giving church (Acts 11:29-10). Sixth,
it was a praying church (Acts 13:2-3). And seventh, the church at
Antioch was a missionary church (Acts 13:3-4). Being founded on these
principles, the church at Antioch continued in its Biblical ministry for
several centuries. Why then should any one think it strange that
God would use the influence of Antioch in the preservation of
scripture? That is exactly what He did.
There are about 4,000 or 5,000 existing manuscripts of the New
Testament. They have been classified according to their
characteristic readings by various scholars and divided into
families. Although all divisions of manuscripts are manmade and
therefore subject to dispute, one of the most accepted divisions
separates the manuscripts into three families. These families are
called the Western, the Alexandrian and the Syrian. The Western
Text is related to Rome, the Alexandrian Text is related to Alexandria
and the Syrian Text is related to Antioch. The Western and
Alexandrian Texts are represented by a minority of manuscripts and
corrupt the pure Word of God. The Syrian Text represents the great
majority of manuscripts and, as a whole, preserves the pure Word of
God. This pure text is still preserved for us today in the English
of the King James Version of 1611.
Book after book has been written in the last hundred years on both sides
of the issue of textual differences. But the real question is
whether God preserved His Word or not. If He did, He could have
used anyone in any way, although history definitely points to
Antioch. If He did not, then our Bible is corrupted beyond repair,
and we are left without any final authority for truth. We are left
blind in a world blackened by sin and rebellion toward God. But we
do have the pure and preserved words of God. Open up your King
James Version of 1611 and read, study, teach, and preach it.
Its words are without error and without mistake. Therefore, we can
proclaim its message without apology.