Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus

''Christ in Glory'', commissioned by Emperor Iyasu I Yohannes of Ethiopia


We can see how miraculous our Bible is through a brief survey of the seven earliest translations of scripture which continued to be used for well over a thousand years from the time of their creation until the present without any break in use:

    The received Aramaic translation (often called "Syriac" or "Peshitta") gave the eastern churches including India a nearly complete canon. Assyrian tradition also states Mar Elia III witnessed in the 12th century to an Aramaic manuscript dated to the Greek year 389, thereby 78AD. Whether or not such an early witness is accepted, the Aramaic translation was formed no later than the early fifth century when it became the majority text in the churches of the East. This 5th century (or earlier) version excluded only 2nd Peter, 2nd John, 3rd John, Jude, and Revelation. All these were added in the Harklean version of the Aramaic canon in 616AD. Both the miaphysites and the Church of the East accepted the Aramaic and then the Harklean Aramaic canons.

    Latin translations abounded with great variation in the fourth century, prompting the dyophisite bishop of Rome in 382AD to commission an authoritative Latin version from Jerome, the most highly esteemed Latin scholar of the day. Jerome's Latin Vulgate (approximately AD 400) matched the Aramaic of the East in great detail, as if they both drew from the same line of manuscripts despite geographic, cultural, linguistic, and hierarchical differences. Not only Jerome's translation, but also Jerome's canon matched the Aramaic, plus the five books listed above. 

    Our faith arrived in Ethiopia in the first century via the Apostles Matthew and Bartholomew plus the eunuch of Acts chapter eight and other Jews who were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In the early fourth century, two young Christian brothers from Lebanon (Frumentius and Edesius) went as slaves to Ethiopia where they worked their way up into positions of trust in the royal court. Their evangelistic labors included conversion of royalty and the ironic royal declaration of the Ethiopian Empire as a Christian empire in 330AD despite King Jesus words, "My kingdom is not of this world." Frumentius served as the first bishop in Ethiopia by appointment of the patriarch of Alexandria, a tradition which continued for successive Ethiopic bishops for sixteen hundred years.
    150 years after Frumentius, nine miaphysite believers came to Ethiopia from the Syrian region of the Eastern Roman Empire. These nine preached throughout Ethiopia and produced the Ge'ez translation of scripture, a translation which had begun in Frumentius' days with little progress. The resulting canon of the Ethiopic church includes several additional books (none of which are Gnostic nor Arian) along with all of Jerome's canon like the later Harklean Aramaic canon. The wording of the Ethiopic translation bears remarkable similarity to both the Latin and the Aramaic, betraying an original common source and agreement of scripture on all three continents.

    Since most of the New Testament was written first in Greek, the Greek speaking Byzantine Christians should be consulted to verify the canon and manuscript line of holy writ. Eastern Orthodoxy proudly affirms that they have maintained their copying of Greek manuscripts in unbroken use from the beginning. The Greek text of the Byzantine Bible matches the scriptures handed down in Aramaic, Latin, Ethiopic Ge'ez, and (as we will see) several more early translations. Greek Orthodox believers are dyophysite like Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

    Only the manuscript line used for the Coptic translation disagrees with the versions used throughout Christianity from 800AD to 1800AD. The miaphysite Coptic Patriarchy in Alexandria (Egypt) did not use its authority over the miaphysites in Ethiopia to change the Ethiopic Bible despite obvious differences. The Coptic Bible does not include the end of Mark 16 nor the beginning of John 8. The other frequent differences are very minor between the Coptic version and all others. None of the differences in the Coptic version would change one's theology.

    The kingdom of Georgia is located between modern Russia and Iran. Early in the fifth century, evangelist Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian script for discipling Georgian converts. Beginning in 411, Moses of Chorene translated the Bible into Armenian from the Aramaic (a.k.a. Syriac). In 434, John of Egheghiatz and Joseph of Baghin translated Greek manuscripts from Constantinople into Georgian. Their version survives today as the Georgian Orthodox Bible in agreement with the manuscript line of all but the Coptic Bible. The Georgian canon is identical to the Latin, the Harklean Aramaic, the Coptic, and the Byzantine Orthodox canons. Georgian Orthodoxy holds to dyophysitism.

    The kingdom of Armenia is located between Georgia and modern Iran. Bartholomew and Jude Thaddeus preached in Armenia in the first century. Political change came to Armenia in 301AD at the miracles and preaching of "Gregory the Illuminator" for King Tiradates III. Upon conversion, Tiradates declared his kingdom a Christian kingdom in contradiction to King Jesus clear statement: "My kingdom is not of this world."
    The Armenian translation of scripture occurred in the fifth century and included all the books of Jerome's Latin canon, the later Harklean Aramaic canon, the Coptic canon, the Georgian canon, and the Byzantine Greek canon. The Arminian canon added 3rd Corinthians. Beginning in the nineteenth century, many Armenian Bibles omitted 3rd Corinthians, but the Armenian Zohrabian Version still includes it and is still in popular use. The Armenian translation shows a common manuscript line with all but the Coptic translation. Armenian Orthodoxy is miaphysite.

    Every translation above was created by the fifth century. For every translation above, we have manuscripts at least as early as the sixth century. Every translation above has been in use from the time of it's translation to the present. Every translation above with the exception of the Coptic comes from a single manuscript line, presumably the original manuscripts. None of these translations except the Coptic calls into question the end of Mark 16 or the beginning of John 8.
    In addition to the above translations, the centuries which followed saw translations into Slavic, Gothic, Arabic, Russian, Anglo Saxon, and many others including the Reina Valera Spanish translation. Until the nineteenth century, every Bible translation still in use reflected the same manuscript line, with the sole exception of the Coptic. It should be noted however that in the first few centuries AD, Christian writers often quoted a second family of manuscripts, those which underly the Coptic translation. While quotes from the secondary manuscripts were always a minority, quotations from the minority manuscripts dried up entirely in the eighth century AD all over the world, except Egypt.

    Since the late nineteenth century, the line of manuscripts rejected everywhere but Egypt for over a thousand years has seen a rebirth or renaissance among Protestants, due in great part to the number of missing words in that rejected line. The missing words in the minority text do not create any theological shifts, but they do (in this writer's opinion) detract from the message of the received text. As one example, the minority text in Mark 1:14 says Jesus proclaimed "the gospel of God," whereas the received translations everywhere but Egypt agreed until late in the nineteenth century that in Mark 1:14, Jesus proclaimed "the gospel of the kingdom of God."
    Coinciding with the rise of evolutionary theory in the mid to late nineteenth century, scholars of that period began skeptically viewing scripture as if the majority text had evolved from a simpler, early form. Since the received texts (everywhere but Egypt) were longer than the rejected manuscripts, it made sense to nineteenth century skeptics to see the shorter, rejected manuscripts as purer and the longer, received text as later embellishments.
    Following the work of Tregelles and Tischendorf, skeptics1 B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort used the older age of a few surviving manuscripts as a second line of evidence against the received manuscripts. The earliest surviving Greek manuscripts of the rejected line came from the fourth century while the earliest surviving Greek manuscripts of the received line came from the fifth century. The older age of a few manuscripts should have changed nothing, since even the skeptics agree that translations of the received version from the Greek were made no later than the same century from which the surviving rejected Greek manuscripts come. Likewise, quotations of both the rejected and the received versions predate the oldest surviving manuscripts, therefore both the rejected and the received line of manuscripts predate the oldest surviving manuscripts.
translations of the received version from the Greek were made no later than the same century from which the surviving rejected Greek manuscripts come. Likewise, quotations of both the rejected and the received versions predate the oldest surviving manuscripts, therefore both the rejected and the received line of manuscripts predate the oldest surviving manuscripts.
    Despite 1,800 years of continuous Christian use of the received form of scripture, Protestant Bibles today overwhelmingly use the minority line of manuscripts embraced by Westcott and Hort. The majority form of scripture handed down everywhere but Egypt can be found in English in the following translations with asterisks next to the more popular:

    * King James Version
    * New King James Version
    - 21st Century King James Version
    - Third Millenium Bible
    - New Authorized Version
    - Cambridge Paragraph Bible
    - Young's Literal Translation   
    - Douay Rheims Version
    * Challoner Douay Rheims Version 
    - Jerusalem Bible
    * New Jerusalem Bible
    * New American Bible (not the New American Standard Bible)
    - New American Bible Revised
    - Revised Standard Version
    - New Revised Standard Version
    - Ignatius Revised Standard Version
    * Eastern Orthodox Bible
    - Orthodox Study Bible

    With miraculous harmony and charity, early Christians regarded the writings of Apostles as equal in authority to those of the Jewish prophets. While early writers disagreed about what was scripture, they never bickered nor condemned one another's opinions. Apostolic bishops even regarded a few books as Scripture which later bishops unanimously rejected as fully inspired. Chief among the rejected books were the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Clement, and the Epistle of Barnabas. A few books are still used by Christians today as holy scripture without universal agreement, including 3rd Corinthians in the Armenian Orthodox Bible and several books in the Ethiopic canon. The Christian Bible2 is a worldwide miracle, not a product of European arguments nor ecumenic councils.

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1) While the word "skeptic" often bears the connotation of disagreeing with Christianity, I call Westcott and Hort "skeptics" in the same vein as described in the paragraph which preceded their description. That is to say, Westcott and Hort were not skeptics of Christianity, but they were skeptics of the established form of scripture, "skeptically viewing scripture as if the majority text had evolved from a simpler, early form."

2) This article dealt exclusively with our New Testament canon. The Old Testament canon of Christians around the world differs significantly from the Old Testament canon of Protestants. Protestants reject the full inspiration of a second canon of Old Testament books found in the Greek Septuagint despite the fact that all other Christians regard the second canon as fully inspired. Protestants call the second canon "apocrypha." When Jerome compiled Rome's Latin Bible, he included the second canon but stated he did not consider it equally inspired. Desiderius Erasmus later had a heavy influence on Protestants. Due to his very high esteem of Jerome, Erasmus too rejected the full inspiration of the second canon. Martin Luther went even further, rejecting not only the second canon of the Septuagint, but also the Epistle of James as well as John's Revelation. The very high regard of the reformers for Erasmus and Luther in the early years of the reformation sealed the Protestant tradition of rejecting the "deuterocanon" or second canon of the Old Testament as "apocrypha" despite it's embrace from the earliest centuries (continuing to today) by Assyrian Christians, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Oriental Orthodox Christians.

"The Miracle We Call 'Bible'" by Matthew Bryan was first published at on May 24th, 2014. All rights are reserved.