(Some of this material will appear in my forthcoming book, Los mitos que los cristianos creen. Y comparten [Myths that Christians Believe. And Pass Along.])
This is a conspiracy theory that certain old manuscripts of the New Testament (principally the codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) contain a rewritten gospel. And that therefore, non-KJV Bibles are perversions, not versions, of the Scripture. Chick Publications, who trace every possible evil of our day to the Vatican, nicknamed this the Alexandrian Heresy, a fictional movement unknown in ancient Alexandria but well-known to readers of Chick tracts. (Chick Publications’ David Daniels has taken this one step further into the twilight zone, arguing that Sinaiticus is a modern forgery!)
I quote the summary of another book:
“It will be seen from this study that the modern Bible versions like the ASV, ERV, RSV, NRSV, NEB, NASV, NIV, ESV, and many others, contain many of these [certain] doctrinal heresies. These heresies are not by accident. They were purposely caused. The reason for this is that the headquarters of Gnosticism was Alexandria, Egypt. It is also true that the Vatican and Sinai N.T. Greek manuscripts, on which these new versions are based, originated in this same city – Alexandria, Egypt. It is clear that, when the Traditional Greek Words in the Gnostics’ possession opposed their heresies, these apostate Gnostics doctored the N.T. Greek Words in order to conform them to these heresies. In actuality, Gnosticism – not some manuscript debate – is the doctrinal foundation of the Vatican and Sinai Greek N.T. manuscripts and hence the doctrinal foundation of the new Bible versions which are based upon them.” From Gnosticism the Doctrinal Foundation of the New Bible Versions, by D. A. Waite.
There are four or five mistakes just in this statement, that is, errors of fact, not differences of opinion. In addition, Waite substantially contradicts himself, but that is another topic for another day.
The Gnostic theory comes from people who are culpably negligent in their research, almost always because they are copying and pasting material from someone else. No-one who has read “the ASV, ERV, RSV, NRSV, NEB, NASV, NIV, ESV, and many others” (that is, actually studied them verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, book-by-book in a sober fashion, not just read about them or plucked a few verses out of context) would say that they deny the deity of Christ, the trinity, the person of the Spirit, the atonement for our sins, the incarnation, and every cardinal doctrine you could name.
Nor have many – perhaps any – of these conspiracy theorists seriously read Gnostic literature first-hand, or even understand the basics of Gnostic thought. For example, they tell us that Gnostics did not believe in the deity of Christ! So said fiction novelist Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code: he claimed to have researched Gnosticism, but in his fictional tale revealed he really had no clue of what it taught.
Let us examine just one book of the New Testament, 1 John. I reference it because of 1 John 5:7 – “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (so the King James Version, similarly the NKJV). This verse is absent, not only from all the ancient Greek copies, but it is also absent from the vast majority of all copies over 1400 years; it appears only in eight of the thousands of manuscripts; the earliest, the 10th century manuscript 88, has it written in the margin (meaning the scribe doubted it was part of the text); the two manuscripts that do contain it in the text itself are from the 16th century! The Textus receptus of Erasmus included the verse only beginning with his third edition, under pressure from the church; it appears to have been imported from the Latin Vulgate, the Bible of the Catholic church. Martin Luther did not include it in his pioneer translation in German. On the other hand, the Catholic church confesses, “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §249). SO: the Catholic Erasmus rejects the verse; then accepts it; Luther rejects it; then accepts it; the Catholic church always accepts it, because it is in their Latin Vulgate. In the world of reality, these are irreconcilable data for any talk of a Vatican conspiracy against 1 John 5:7.
By the way, if it could be proven that John did include that phrase, I would count myself, a Trinitarian, very happy indeed.
The best explanation of the facts is that the manuscripts do not contain it because the apostle did not write it. This is based on known data, not an unsupported hypothesis. The conspiracy theory runs that 1 John did contain this verse from the very beginning. That it was taken out because the Gnostics don’t like the trinity, mauling the epistle in order to deceive the church.
Would a Gnostic have done this? Not that we have any evidence for. In fact, Gnosticism had its own doctrine of the trinity and based some of its teaching on the baptismal text of Matthew 28:19 – a verse that all ancient manuscripts and tbe critical text include, along with the trinitarian benediction in 2 Cor 13:14.
Consider two Gnostic books that any student of the sect knows well:
As for the baptism which exists in the fullest sense, into which the Totalities will descend and in which they will be, there is no other baptism apart from this one alone, which is the redemption into God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, when confession is made through faith in those names, which are a single name of the gospel, when they have come to believe what has been said to them, namely that they exist. Tripartite Tractate 15, 3rd century
Or how about this one:
Not only must those who produce the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, do so, but have produced them for you. If one does not acquire them, the name (“Christian”) will also be taken from him…. For the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He who has been anointed possesses everything. He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit. Gospel of Philip, 3rd century
So, does it look plausible that “the greatest corruption of the biblical manuscripts happened in the 2nd century in Alexandria when the true Antiochan [sic] manuscripts were mutilated to adapt to the beliefs of the Gnostics and Arians”? So says Ken Matto, “The Characteristics of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus”, an essay based mainly on innuendo, rather than scholarship.
Apart from the lack of any historical backing, let’s perform an experiment with 1 John: If I were to put myself in the place of a generic Gnostic of the third century (as revealed in Gospel of Philip, Tripartite Tractate), what verses might I wish to suppress from 1 John and why? And let’s carry out the experiment based on historical fact not fiction. First of all, the epistle places a lot of emphasis on sin and also on personal faith, and that is not the Gnostic message! More specifically, as a hypothetical Gnostic, I would eliminate or rewrite the verses that teach (A) the incarnation of Christ in a tangible body; (B) that Jesus Christ is one being and not, as some Gnostics believed, the Spirit of Christ/the Son of God temporarily resting in the man Jesus; (C) that the devil is our chief enemy; (D) that Christ died for our sins; (E) that Christ will return at the Second Coming and judge us; (F) that the Law is the revelation of God; (G) that we are dragged into sin because we live in physical bodies; (H) that we are saved by faith. The Gnostic might be tempted to take his red pencil to the following:
1 John 1:1 That…which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at (A) (because of the rumor that the NIV is tainted with Gnosticism, we will cite its text. And will find that it contains 100% of the verses in this list!)
1:1 our hands have touched [Jesus] (A)
1:7 the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (A) (B) (D)
1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (D)
2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (A) (D)
2:12 your sins have been forgiven on account of [Christ’s] name (D)
2:13 you have overcome the evil one (C)
2:14 (repeated) you have overcome the evil one (C)
2:16 the lust of the flesh (G)
2:18 this is the last hour (E)
2:18 (repeated) this is the last hour (E)
2:22-23 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (A) (B)
2:28 when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (E)
3:2-3 what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (E)
3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (F)
3:5 you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. (A) (B) (D)
3:8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (C)
3:10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are (C)
3:16 Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (A) (B) (D)
3:23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ (H)
4:2-3 Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (A) (B)
4:10 [God] sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (A) (D)
4:14 the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world (D)
4:15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God (B)
4:17 we will have confidence on the day of judgment (E)
4:18 But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (E)
5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (B) (H)
5:4 This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith (H)
5:5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (B) (H)
5:6-7 This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (A) (B) (D)
5:10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son (H)
5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (H)
5:18 the evil one cannot harm them (C)
5:19 that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (C)
By the way, if someone wants to claim that a Gnostic would cut out the trinitarian verse in 5:7, I propose that it is the preceding material, 5:4b, 5:5, 5:6, that would be truly anathema to a Gnostic, who denies that the Son came as true human, through the elements of water and blood. I would expect to see the paragraph read:
3b And his commands are not burdensome, 4a for everyone born of God overcomes the world. 8 There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater… (Gnostic Hypothetical Standard Version)
Let’s look at the whole scissored version and do the math: if he were of a mind to produce a new version of 1 John, our hypothetical Gnostic might have taken his scissors – no, his machete! – to cut about 25% of the epistle.
Click this file to see what verses would have offended Gnostic teaching).
The fact that it is not a grain of Gnosticized material in the oldest manuscripts, or in any manuscripts, means that our Gnostic conspirator must have been incredibly dense. The cabal would have canned him from his job as position as a scriptural mutilator. Of the most likely explanation: there was no conspiracy to alter the text, not by Gnostics, not by “Alexandrian Heretics”, not by anyone. Another “Chick conspiracy” falls apart, but they stand by it!
On the other hand, apart from the verse that John positively did not write (5:7), the differences that exist between the critical text or Vaticanus or Sinaiticus and the Textus receptus are minimal and in our English versions are often imperceptible.
I have argued that the critical text does not teach Gnosticism; at least no more than does the Textus receptus! I can say this because, it is simple to take random verses from the TR, where there is some difference with the older manuscripts, and arrive at some kind of fanciful explanation.
One example: one might ask, why does the TR of 1 Jn 2:4 say “and the truth is not in him” when in Sinaiticus it says “the truth of God . . . “? Why, might some person object, does the TR remove God from your Bible? Why does 2:20 TR have “you know all things” (pánta/οιδατε παντα), declaring that the gift of the Spirit makes them, well, Gnostics, whose very name means they are know-it-alls! The critical text avoids this heresy with “all of you know” (oídate pánta/οἴδατε πάντες; “you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth,” NIV), which emphasizes the universality of the Spirit’s work in all believers. That is, a doctrine that the Gnostics reject! No! Let’s not apply rules in a prejudiced way, using data that support only our foregone conclusions. Let’s let us apply sound and consistent standards to our study of any text and translation.
The conspiracy theory that Gnostics perverted the early manuscripts (and hence, every manuscript up through the 16th century) is without evidence and easily disproved.
“Are Modern Versions based on “Gnosticized” Greek Manuscripts? My goodness, NO!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament
Excellent! Very informative. I learned something, which is great!
Out of curiosity, have you ever read Bart Ehrman’s “Lost Christianities”? (Ehrman, I know..). I am really curious about the impact of Hellenization on jewish and xtian thought and beliefs in the ancient church and temples. (Change to views of afterlife, etc) I just ordered Hengle’s “Hellenization’ of Judea in the First Century after Christ” .
Tod, hey, always a pleasure! Yes, I have read his book, and also the book it more or less bounces off of, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, by Walter Bauer (1934). As I understand it, they both have a highly theoretically-based view of the dynamics of history, partitioning various groups into variants of religion. They aren’t lumpers, nor splitters, but uber-splitters, and many historians find their conclusions farfetched because of this methodology. Blessings!