In a recent conversation, a friend of mine was surprised at the tremendous interest lately in a stone box found in the Holy Land, with an inscription reading “James, brother of Jesus.” Why would a few words on a box be so fascinating, when we have the entire
New Testament to tell us all about Jesus?
I explained that while we do have the New Testament, what we don’t have are any original manuscripts of the books of the New Testament. These so-called autograph manuscripts have been lost over the centuries. What we have today are translations and copies of copies. Some of these copies may date to within a generation or two of the originals, but the originals penned by the first disciples of Jesus are lost. This wouldn’t present much of a problem, except that some of these early manuscripts differ from each other, having additional material, or missing material.
As a result, how we understand and interpret these sacred texts is a complicated process, and many biblical scholars devote their lives to understanding these nuances.
This is just my opinion, but I think we may be better off not having the original manuscripts. It’s already a huge temptation to make the text of scripture an absolute authority, in effect worshipping the Bible, instead of God. If we had an autograph manuscript, that temptation would be even greater. As it is, I think we’re better off having to work for our understanding of scripture, using all the reasoning, intellect, and wisdom God has given us to help us understand his Word.
The truth is, we still have much to learn about the Bible. Advances in the study of ancient languages, archeology, and history all increase our understanding of the sacred texts. Fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit to aid and guide us in the search for greater knowledge and understanding.