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Bill Hamblin

Do Bible authors "add to" or "take away from" biblical texts?

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This is an extension of a discussion that was closed while I was in Egypt.

Bill,

Perhaps I have not made my position sufficiently clear. I will try again.

There is nothing wrong with an inspired writer producing a new text that covers much of the same material, whether historical (narrative) or didactic or liturgical, as an existing inspired text. My understanding of the biblical prohibitions against adding to or subtracting from the word of God (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:18-19) would in no way impugn Deuteronomy repeating material found in Exodus, or Chonicles using Kings as a source, or Matthew adapting most of the material in Mark. It would, however, be a problem for my view if Matthew had issued a theologically doctored version of Kings (in which, say, he had Solomon speaking about dreams that he had about the coming of Jesus to die on the cross for our sins) and claimed to have "translated" the book of Kings.

Nor is there anything wrong with Greek-speaking Jews translating, say, Genesis from Hebrew into Greek. Admittedly, translations are generally imperfect, so the LXX ended up differing somewhat from the Hebrew text on which it was based. (In turn, the traditional Hebrew text, the MT, is very close to the original text of Genesis, but in some cases the LXX may preserve an earlier reading. But that's another issue!) What would be objectionable would be for Greek-speaking Jews to claim to have produced a "translation" of Genesis but in fact deliberately rewrote it to teach Platonism.

To give some examples from LDS scriptures, I would not argue that the use of the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi is a violation of the biblical prohibition concerning adding to or taking away from the word of God (although I object to that text on other grounds). On the other hand, I most certainly do argue that Joseph Smith's revisions of the book of Hebrews in the JST violate that prohibition.

Hi Rob,

Do you agree that Matthew and Luke quote extensively and frequently word-for-word from Mark?

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This is an extension of a discussion that was closed while I was in Egypt.

Hi Rob,

Do you agree that Matthew and Luke quote extensively and frequently word-for-word from Mark?

Heh... because of the nature of this discussion, it finally dawned on me (call me swifty, why not?) that with the flavor of criticisms against Joseph Smith's understanding of scripture going on in Christianity these days, they, in order to be completely consistent, *must* insist that Matthew and Luke are NOT writing scripture inspiredly, but merely plagiarizing Mark! A new discussion on this is the truly behemoth book by Beale & Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Baker Academics, 2007 ( a whopping 1240 pages!)

And as far as the objection of Mr Bowman that "What would be objectionable would be for Greek-speaking Jews to claim to have produced a "translation" of Genesis but in fact deliberately rewrote it to teach Platonism," goes, Paul did something very similar to this to the Old Testmanet Jewish understanding of "Law" as Hawthorne and Martin have clearly shown in their own behemoth text Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, InterVarsity Press, 1993 (another hefty tome weighing in at a mere 1038 pages). Paul deliberately put an entirely new twist on things. One may not agree with him in all matters concerning this, but one of the most extensive discussions on this is none other than the controversial Robert Eisenman in his 4 texts concerning Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls and James, Jesus's brother, etc., written over the last 12 years or so.

As far as that goes, who does not realize that the exact Platonism being read back into the scriptures was certainly and obviously done by none other than Philo of Alexandria himself?! That is a pretty much standard understanding. And it is precisely this kind of Platonism which Christianity has adapted for her own, and then read back into the scriptures as if that were their original meaning!

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Bill,

You asked:

Do you agree that Matthew and Luke quote extensively and frequently word-for-word from Mark?

Yes, this is most probably correct, although some biblical scholars deny Markan priority.

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Yes, this is most probably correct, although some biblical scholars deny Markan priority.

Do either Matthew or Luke say they are quoting Mark, or any other source?

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Bill,

Matthew does not say he is quoting Mark or any similar source. Luke's preface indicates he at least consulted sources and may have used them, although he does not mention Mark, of course.

You know this, and you know enough about me to know that I know this. Would you care to make a point?

Do either Matthew or Luke say they are quoting Mark, or any other source?

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Bill,

Matthew does not say he is quoting Mark or any similar source. Luke's preface indicates he at least consulted sources and may have used them, although he does not mention Mark, of course.

You know this, and you know enough about me to know that I know this. Would you care to make a point?

Patience is a virtue.

Was the book of Mark an inerrant book of scripture when it was first written, or did it only acquire its inerrant status after it was quoted by Luke and Matthew?

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Bill,

You asked:

Was the book of Mark an inerrant book of scripture when it was first written, or did it only acquire its inerrant status after it was quoted by Luke and Matthew?

It was already inerrant Scripture. I do hope you're not going to proceed to beat up a straw man here, but that appears to be where you're headed.

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It was already inerrant Scripture. I do hope you're not going to proceed to beat up a straw man here, but that appears to be where you're headed.

Nope, I'm not.

So when Matthew and Luke use the text of Mark, do they always cite it precisely, or do they paraphrase, add to, or take away from some passages?

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Bill,

You asked:

So when Matthew and Luke use the text of Mark, do they always cite it precisely, or do they paraphrase, add to, or take away from some passages?

You've got to be kidding.

When Matthew and Luke use the text of Mark, they do not always cite it verbatim. However, they neither add to nor take away from the Gospel of Mark. That is, they do not change the text of the Gospel of Mark. Nor do they deny something Mark says.

Bill, I have already addressed this point. Your little series of questions culminates in a straw man.

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You've got to be kidding.

When Matthew and Luke use the text of Mark, they do not always cite it verbatim. However, they neither add to nor take away from the Gospel of Mark. That is, they do not change the text of the Gospel of Mark. Nor do they deny something Mark says.

Bill, I have already addressed this point. Your little series of questions culminates in a straw man.

You've asserted that you've addressed this point. As far as I can tell you don't understand the point.

Nearly all of Mark is contained in both Luke and Matthew. Yet many things are paraphrased, removed, or added. Why does this not amount to "adding to" or "taking away from" Mark? Your claim is really strange, and amounts to little more than special pleading.

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Bill,

Nearly all of Mark is repeated in Matthew (and most of it also in Luke), but neither Matthew nor Luke were presenting their work as a corrected version of the Gospel of Mark, nor as a replacement for the Gospel of Mark. Thus, they were not taking anything away from Mark, nor were they adding anything to Mark. I don't see how that is special pleading. I also don't see how this is comparable to Joseph Smith editing the Book of Revelation, taking things out and putting things in as he saw fit. Smith didn't claim to be writing something other than the Book of Revelation; he claimed to be translating the Book of Revelation. Comparing this to Matthew using Mark as a source--now that's special pleading.

Please explain to me, if you would, what it would look like for someone really to "add to" or "take away" from the Book of Revelation, in a way that would come under the censure given in Revelation 22:18-19. Has anyone ever done this, in your opinion? If someone were to do this, and do so under the cover of being a prophet, how would you tell if he had violated the warning? Would you simply pray about it?

You've asserted that you've addressed this point. As far as I can tell you don't understand the point.

Nearly all of Mark is contained in both Luke and Matthew. Yet many things are paraphrased, removed, or added. Why does this not amount to "adding to" or "taking away from" Mark? Your claim is really strange, and amounts to little more than special pleading.

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Bill,

Nearly all of Mark is repeated in Matthew (and most of it also in Luke), but neither Matthew nor Luke were presenting their work as a corrected version of the Gospel of Mark, nor as a replacement for the Gospel of Mark. Thus, they were not taking anything away from Mark, nor were they adding anything to Mark. I don't see how that is special pleading. I also don't see how this is comparable to Joseph Smith editing the Book of Revelation, taking things out and putting things in as he saw fit. Smith didn't claim to be writing something other than the Book of Revelation; he claimed to be translating the Book of Revelation. Comparing this to Matthew using Mark as a source--now that's special pleading.

Please explain to me, if you would, what it would look like for someone really to "add to" or "take away" from the Book of Revelation, in a way that would come under the censure given in Revelation 22:18-19. Has anyone ever done this, in your opinion? If someone were to do this, and do so under the cover of being a prophet, how would you tell if he had violated the warning? Would you simply pray about it?

This is really a bizarre argument. So, you're saying that if JS took Revelation, quoted 80-90% verbatim, but paraphrased, removed or added numerous passages, and then presented it as his own new book, you would have no problem with this? I believe that inspired editing of previous scripture was a common practice among ancient prophets, and is amply demonstrated in the Bible itself. The fact that this phenomenon is inherently incompatible with the inerrant world-view is your problem, not mine.

That you don't recognize the problem is an excellent demonstration of the fact that you, like most anti-Mormons, consistently use one standard to attack Mormonism, but refuse to use the same standard when it applies to the Bible.

Matthew didn't use Mark as a source. He rewrote Mark by adding material, taking away material, and changing material. Even a cursory textual comparison shows this is manifestly the case.

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Bill,

You wrote:

This is really a bizarre argument. So, you're saying that if JS took Revelation, quoted 80-90% verbatim, but paraphrased, removed or added numerous passages, and then presented it as his own new book, you would have no problem with this?

This is a clever criticism, but I think it is fallacious. Suppose I answered that I would not have a problem, in principle, with someone doing this. That doesn't mean I could not have a problem with what Joseph Smith in fact did. Notice, for example, that I have not argued that the Book of Moses or the Book of Abraham violates the principle of not adding to or taking away from scripture, even though, as I see it, both of these books are rewrites of portions of Genesis by Joseph Smith. I have other criticisms of those books, but I don't apply the principle of Revelation 22:18-29 to them. So actually I am being quite consistent, and your criticism fails.

You wrote:

I believe that inspired editing of previous scripture was a common practice among ancient prophets, and is amply demonstrated in the Bible itself. The fact that this phenomenon is inherently incompatible with the inerrant world-view is your problem, not mine.

The issue, from my perspective, is not merely that of "editing" but of changing the meaning of the text, either (a) to suit one's theology or religious agenda or (b) because one doesn't understand the text one is changing. Both kinds of changes are in abundant supply in the JST. So again, you are imposing on me a sort of narrowly fundamentalistic way of understanding the issue that doesn't apply to my view.

You wrote:

Matthew didn't use Mark as a source. He rewrote Mark by adding material, taking away material, and changing material. Even a cursory textual comparison shows this is manifestly the case.

Three points here.

(1) The early church clearly did not view Matthew's work as a rewriting of Mark, since it treated them as two separate works with titles (probably going back to the late first or early second century, if not even earlier) of the Gospel "according to Matthew" and "according to Mark."

(2) Although I am inclined to accept Markan priority, your argument assumes it as a given, which it is not. The evidence is circumstantial, complex, and hotly debated by scholars.

(3) Your textual comparison is apparently a bit too cursory, because a little more attention to the facts yields a different picture. It is true that almost all of Mark is in Matthew, but the reverse is not true; that is, it is not true that Matthew is mostly Mark. Mark's Gospel has no infancy narrative (Matt. 1-2), no Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), lacks most of the material in Matthew 10, all of Matthew 11, most of Matthew 18, all of Matthew 23, the last part of Matthew 24, all of Matthew 25, and the second half of Matthew 28.

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The issue, from my perspective, is not merely that of "editing" but of changing the meaning of the text, either (a) to suit one's theology or religious agenda or (b) because one doesn't understand the text one is changing. Both kinds of changes are in abundant supply in the JST. So again, you are imposing on me a sort of narrowly fundamentalistic way of understanding the issue that doesn't apply to my view.

That may be your perspective, but it is not what the text of Revelation talks about. It talks about taking away or adding to the text, period.

Of course there are ample examples in the Bible of texts being changed because of theological agendas or because of confusion about the meaning of a text. Surely you know this! The OT is interpreted in all sorts of innovative ways by NT authors.

So the problem remains. When JS does it, it is unacceptable to you, but when biblical authors do it, it is acceptable. Right?

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Three points here.

(1) The early church clearly did not view Matthew's work as a rewriting of Mark, since it treated them as two separate works with titles (probably going back to the late first or early second century, if not even earlier) of the Gospel "according to Matthew" and "according to Mark."

(2) Although I am inclined to accept Markan priority, your argument assumes it as a given, which it is not. The evidence is circumstantial, complex, and hotly debated by scholars.

(3) Your textual comparison is apparently a bit too cursory, because a little more attention to the facts yields a different picture. It is true that almost all of Mark is in Matthew, but the reverse is not true; that is, it is not true that Matthew is mostly Mark. Mark's Gospel has no infancy narrative (Matt. 1-2), no Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), lacks most of the material in Matthew 10, all of Matthew 11, most of Matthew 18, all of Matthew 23, the last part of Matthew 24, all of Matthew 25, and the second half of Matthew 28.

1- So? How does this demonstrate that Matthew does not delete, add to and change Mark?

2- This is nonsense. However you want to interpret it, somebody is copying and changing somebody else here. The numerous exact textual parallels can only be explained in this manner. It makes no difference to my argument if Matthew uses Mark or Mark uses Matthew or Luke, or all three use a third unknown source. The fact remains that some of the NT authors are changing, adding to and taking away from a supposedly inerrant text. I have no problem with inspired editing. You, on the other hand, refuse to admit that it even happens.

3- That proves my point, not yours.

So my point stands. For you, it is acceptable when biblical authors under inspiration change inerrant biblical texts, but it is not acceptable when JS does so. That, my friend, is a blatantly inconsistent method.

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Of course there are ample examples in the Bible of texts being changed because of theological agendas or because of confusion about the meaning of a text.

Not to distract from your debate over the Synoptics, but the belief that the Bible was being altered was certainly prevalent during Christianity's infancy:

And I [Justin Martyr] said, "I shall do as you [Trypho] please. From the statements, then, which Esdras made in reference to the law of the passover, they [the Jews] have taken away the following: 'And Esdras said to the people, This passover is our Saviour and our refuge. And if you have understood, and your heart has taken it in, that we shall humble Him on a standard, and thereafter hope in Him, then this place shall not be forsaken for ever, says the God of hosts. But if you will not believe Him, and will not listen to His declaration, you shall be a laughing-stock to the nations.' And from the sayings of Jeremiah they have cut out the following: 'I[was] like a lamb that is brought to the slaughter: they devised a device against me, saying, Come, let us lay on wood on His bread, and let us blot Him out from the land of the living; and His name shall no more be remembered.' And since this passage from the sayings of Jeremiah is still written in some copies [of the Scriptures] in the synagogues of the Jews(for it is only a short time since they were cut out), and since from these words it is demonstrated that the Jews deliberated about the Christ Himself, to crucify and put Him to death, He Himself is both declared to be led as a sheep to the slaughter, as was predicted by Isaiah, and is here represented as a harmless lamb; but being in a difficulty about them, they give themselves over to blasphemy. And again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out: 'The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.'

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, LXXII, ANF 1:235.

Similarly Tertullian accuses the Jews of rejecting the Book of Enoch from their canon because of its messianic prophecies. (see On the Apparel of Women, III, ANF 4:16.)

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Bill,

I've given enough time under the interrogation lights. Now you take a turn. Just what do you think Revelation 22:18-19 means, and how, if at all, might it be applicable in the real world?

That may be your perspective, but it is not what the text of Revelation talks about. It talks about taking away or adding to the text, period.

Of course there are ample examples in the Bible of texts being changed because of theological agendas or because of confusion about the meaning of a text. Surely you know this! The OT is interpreted in all sorts of innovative ways by NT authors.

So the problem remains. When JS does it, it is unacceptable to you, but when biblical authors do it, it is acceptable. Right?

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Bill,

I've given enough time under the interrogation lights. Now you take a turn. Just what do you think Revelation 22:18-19 means, and how, if at all, might it be applicable in the real world?

It means what it says. It implies that some Christians at the time of John were editing Christian texts. John doesn't want his text changed. If JS were making things up, then JS's changes would fit John's prohibition. If JS is making inspired clarifications for issues facing his own generation, it would not come under John's prohibition.

John's prohibition is not, however, a general biblical principle as you claimed. It is the exception rather than the norm. The general principle in the Bible is that inspired authors regularly change earlier biblical texts. John himself regularly restructures, paraphrases, quotes, and changes a great deal of earlier prophetic material, right? You can't be a Christian and accept the NT without accepting this.

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Bill,

Regarding Revelation 22:18-19, you wrote:

It means what it says. It implies that some Christians at the time of John were editing Christian texts. John doesn't want his text changed. If JS were making things up, then JS's changes would fit John's prohibition. If JS is making inspired clarifications for issues facing his own generation, it would not come under John's prohibition.

Just to clarify: these Christians who were editing Christian texts, were they doing something that was okay? Are you saying that John didn't want anyone doing to his text what Christians were doing to other texts? If so, were these Christians "making things up" as they edited these other texts, or were they making inspired clarifications?

You wrote:

John's prohibition is not, however, a general biblical principle as you claimed. It is the exception rather than the norm. The general principle in the Bible is that inspired authors regularly change earlier biblical texts. John himself regularly restructures, paraphrases, quotes, and changes a great deal of earlier prophetic material, right? You can't be a Christian and accept the NT without accepting this.

Bill, you keep engaging in equivocation in this discussion we've been having. Paraphrasing and quoting from an earlier text in one's own writing is not the same thing as editing that earlier text.

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Bill,

Regarding Revelation 22:18-19, you wrote:

Just to clarify: these Christians who were editing Christian texts, were they doing something that was okay? Are you saying that John didn't want anyone doing to his text what Christians were doing to other texts? If so, were these Christians "making things up" as they edited these other texts, or were they making inspired clarifications?

I am simply assuming that John placed the passage in his book in response to a problem that existed.

Bill, you keep engaging in equivocation in this discussion we've been having. Paraphrasing and quoting from an earlier text in one's own writing is not the same thing as editing that earlier text.

I never said it did. I said that biblical authors, including NT authors, regularly changed biblical texts when they quoted them. That's obvious, isn't it?

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It means what it says. It implies that some Christians at the time of John were editing Christian texts. John doesn't want his text changed. If JS were making things up, then JS's changes would fit John's prohibition. If JS is making inspired clarifications for issues facing his own generation, it would not come under John's prohibition.

John's prohibition is not, however, a general biblical principle as you claimed. It is the exception rather than the norm. The general principle in the Bible is that inspired authors regularly change earlier biblical texts. John himself regularly restructures, paraphrases, quotes, and changes a great deal of earlier prophetic material, right? You can't be a Christian and accept the NT without accepting this.

Bill's reasoning throughout this thread reflects the general scholarly approach to the development of biblical texts. If we move into the realm of the Hebrew Bible, i.e. "Old Testament," we find revisionary efforts occurring throughout every single book. As Michael Fishbane explains in his monumental study:

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David,

No one denies that scribes introduced variants into the texts of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and that these variants included intentional glosses or emendations reflecting the scribes' theological concerns. This really isn't the issue, because it isn't in any sense an issue of dispute here. The question is whether this phenomenon (which again no one disputes) is precedent for the extensive rewriting of the Bible that Joseph Smith performed. I say it is not.

Bill's reasoning throughout this thread reflects the general scholarly approach to the development of biblical texts. If we move into the realm of the Hebrew Bible, i.e. "Old Testament," we find revisionary efforts occurring throughout every single book. As Michael Fishbane explains in his monumental study:

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David,

No one denies that scribes introduced variants into the texts of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and that these variants included intentional glosses or emendations reflecting the scribes' theological concerns. This really isn't the issue, because it isn't in any sense an issue of dispute here. The question is whether this phenomenon (which again no one disputes) is precedent for the extensive rewriting of the Bible that Joseph Smith performed. I say it is not.

You say it is not. But in point of fact, JS is doing precisely what earlier Jewish and Christian exegetes have always done. And, from your perspective, inerrant NT exegetes consistently approach the NT in this way. If Matthew was not an inspired interpreter of the OT, then how does what he does to Mark and to OT quotations differ from what JS does to biblical texts? You simply have been redefining the passage in Revelation is criticizing to fit your theological assumptions and presuppositions.

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Hello Rob,

No one denies that scribes introduced variants into the texts of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and that these variants included intentional glosses or emendations reflecting the scribes' theological concerns. This really isn't the issue, because it isn't in any sense an issue of dispute here.

As I see it, the

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David,

No one denies that scribes introduced variants into the texts of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and that these variants included intentional glosses or emendations reflecting the scribes' theological concerns. This really isn't the issue, because it isn't in any sense an issue of dispute here. The question is whether this phenomenon (which again no one disputes) is precedent for the extensive rewriting of the Bible that Joseph Smith performed. I say it is not.

I'm going to have to disagree with your assessment here. The Chronicler and the Deuteronomist did far more rewriting than did Joseph Smith in terms of changing ideologies. I don't see any qualitative difference between the brand of rewriting done by the Chronicler and the Deuteronomist and that done by Smith, except that Smith claimed divine guidance and never rejected any important ideologies from the parent texts. The question remains why it's ok for them to do it and not for Joseph Smith to do it. Perhaps I've missed it, but I saw no direct response to that question, only the assertion that such is the case.

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