| Ellen G. White Estate

Have people changed the words of our Bibles?

I believe that when Mrs. White wrote of “learned men” having “in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain,” she wasn’t thinking of newer translations of Scripture nor of commentaries. Rather, she was referring to the times when the only copies of the Bible were made by hand and therefore, they were few in comparison to what we have today.

In all, there are now several thousand manuscripts of portions (and occasionally all) of the New Testament, some dating back as far as the second century a.d., but most from the later centuries down to about the sixteenth century. No two of these manuscripts are just alike in every detail. There may be spelling differences, occasional mistakes of copying in which a word or a line is left out or repeated, and so forth. And then there are differences of wording. Many of the modern translations will tell you about these differences in the footnotes at the bottom of the page.

Mrs. White, I believe, was commenting on the tendency of some scribes, while copying, to make the text say what it “ought” to say—to “clarify” meanings that were obscure or troublesome to them, making the text conform to what they believed. Yet she expressed her confidence in our ability to find the truth in Scripture by comparing one part of Scripture with another, so that none need go astray. And in fact, the number of manuscripts we have for each portion of Scripture (so we can compare them) and the ways we have of evaluating the variations have given us even greater confidence that we have the text of the Bible as nearly as possible like it was written originally.

In another place, Selected Messages, 1:16, Mrs. White commented along a line similar to the passage you quoted.

Some look to us gravely and say, “Don’t you think there might have been some mistake in the copyist or in the translators?” This is all probable, and the mind that is so narrow that it will hesitate and stumble over this possibility or probability would be just as ready to stumble over the mysteries of the Inspired Word, because their feeble minds cannot see through the purposes of God. . . . All the mistakes will not cause trouble to one soul, or cause any feet to stumble, that would not manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth.

Despite her recognition that such problems might have occurred, she had unbounded confidence in the Bible. She continued (on pages 17, 18),

I take the Bible just as it is, as the Inspired Word. I believe its utterances in an entire Bible. Men arise who think they find something to criticize in God’s Word. They lay it bare before others as evidence of superior wisdom. These men are, many of them, smart men, learned men, they have eloquence and talent, the whole lifework [of whom] is to unsettle minds in regard to the inspiration of the Scriptures. They influence many to see as they do. And the same work is passed on from one to another, just as Satan designed it should be, until we may see the full meaning of the words of Christ, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). . . .

Brethren, cling to your Bible, as it reads, and stop your criticisms in regard to its validity, and obey the Word, and not one of you will be lost. . . .

Simplicity and plain utterance are comprehended by the illiterate, by the peasant, and the child as well as by the full-grown man or the giant in intellect. If the individual is possessed of large talents of mental powers, he will find in the oracles of God treasures of truth, beautiful and valuable, which he can appropriate. He will also find difficulties, and secrets and wonders which will give him the highest satisfaction to study during a long lifetime, and yet there is an infinity beyond. 

As for modern translations and commentaries, Mrs. White herself used them. You will find a number of quotations from versions of the Bible other than the King James Version in many of her later works, when these other versions were available. She also consulted Bible commentaries occasionally. So I believe that these are not what she was referring to in Early Writings.

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