WHY THERE IS AN ERROR IN MARK 1:2 IN YOUR BIBLE: Another Example of the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible

WHY THERE IS AN ERROR IN MARK 1:2 IN YOUR BIBLE: Another Example of the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible

© 2015, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.


You begin to read the Gospel According to Mark in your New International Version (NIV) Bible, and you see the following:

1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God,[b] as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”[c]
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[d]

That’s nice, you think – until you check those footnotes, and this is what you see:

[c] Mark 1:2 Mal. 3:1

[d] Mark 1:3 Isaiah 40:3

You are about to move on, but then it hits you, and you think, “Wait a minute!” and you look back at the passage again, and notice something troubling:

1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,[a] the Son of God,[b] as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”[c]
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”[d]

The text says that the following quotation “is written in Isaiah the prophet,” but the accompanying footnote says that this first sentence actually comes from Malachi, not Isaiah!  You check the references in the footnote, and they are correct; the first part of the quotation that is ascribed to Isaiah is actually not written in Isaiah at all, but in Malachi!  Is there an error in the Bible?  Because that surely looks like an error.

But perhaps the NIV simply made a mistake here.  Maybe it’s just a typo.  Hoping to find that to be the case, you check the King James Version (KJV), and here you find:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make his paths straight.

Here it says “As it is written in the prophets.”  You double check it with the New King James Version (NKJV), and here too it says, “As it is written in the prophets.”  Now, that does make sense; if the first part is from Malachi and the second from Isaiah, then describing these quotes as written in “the prophets” is accurate.  Whew!  That’s a relief!  There’s no error here, after all.

But something is still nagging at you.  Your church doesn’t use the KJV or the NKJV.  In fact, you seem to remember being told that these are not accurate Bibles, something that had to do with the Greek text of the New Testament that the translators used being based on bad manuscripts.  You hadn’t really understood that but you had taken their word for it.  You also remember being told that the New American Standard Bible is very accurate, so you decide to check it, hoping that it will agree that Mark’s quotations are “written in the prophets.”  But to your horror you find that, like the NIV, it says “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet”!

Then you recall hearing that the new English Standard Version is supposed to be very accurate, so you check that one, and it also says, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” with an accompanying footnote that says “Mark 1:2 Some manuscripts in the prophets.”  (Those must be the bad manuscripts used by the KJV and NKJV translators, you guess).

In desperation, you check every translation upon which you can lay your hands, including the RSV, the NRSV, the HCSB, and even the GNT and TLB – and they all agree that Mark 1:2 reads, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.”  You sit back in dismay.  You believe the Bible is inerrant, which means absolutely free of all mistakes, and yet here is an error staring you in face: a claim that something written in Malachi and not written in Isaiah is written in Isaiah!

Houston, we have a problem.

The Problem

The case of Mark 1:2-3 is a salutary illustration of the fact that textual criticism of the New Testament has never been about comparing the variants in the NT manuscripts in order to reconstruct the original text, but was designed by liberal scholars as a pretext for inserting as many errors as possible into the “original text” of the New Testament, and persuading evangelical scholars to accept and champion an “original text” that can no longer be considered inerrant.  This case also shows how well they have succeeded in the latter goal.


First, it should be noted that this is certainly a matter of textual criticism, as both of the readings “in the prophets” and “in Isaiah the prophet” are found in manuscripts of the Gospel According to Mark.  As mentioned, the ESV footnote to Mark 1:2 tells us that “Some manuscripts [read] in the prophets.”  The question then is which reading is the original written by Mark and which is a secondary reading introduced by a scribe at some later point of copying.

Second, it should be noted that the reading “in Isaiah the prophet” unquestionably introduces an error into the text, for the sentence “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You” is manifestly not “written in Isaiah the prophet.”

Why, then, does almost every modern translation have the erroneous reading “in Isaiah the prophet” instead of “in the prophets”?  As we examine this, we will see how textual criticism is designed to undermine the Bible.

The Evidence

Dr. Daniel Wallace, the wannabe Martha Stewart of textual criticism for evangelicals, crows that textual critics have inserted a “seeming” error into Mark 1:2 and commends them for it, saying,

The problem is that the quotation is initially from Malachi (3:1).  Mark 1:3 then goes on to quote from Isaiah. Why, then, have the modern translations rendered the quotation as coming only from Isaiah?  The reason, quite simply, is that the earliest and best witnesses have such wording. New Testament scholars who work on determining the wording of the original Greek New Testament are functioning at the level of the deepest integrity when they argue that the original read “in Isaiah the prophet.” This is because they are arguing for wording that seems to communicate a mistake. They argue this in spite of their own feelings about the biblical author’s accuracy.[1]

Of course, this is not to say that textual critics necessarily believe in inerrancy.  As Wallace goes on to say,

we are not arguing that the majority of textual critics embrace inerrancy. However, the vast majority do have sufficient respect for a biblical author that they will not impute to him an ostensible inaccuracy unless the manuscript testimony compels them to do so. At all points, textual critics are historians who have to base their views on data, not mere theological convictions. The rule that almost all textual critics follow is: Choose the reading that best explains the rise of the others. This means looking at the external and internal evidence in an effort to trace out both history and psychology.[2]

So, regardless of whether the Bible is the “God-breathed” word of God Himself, whether or not it is inerrant is determined by the pronouncements of textual critics.  One obvious problem is that these critics all view the data through Griesbachian/Westcott-Hort glasses,[3] which prejudge the issue towards favouring erroneous readings, as they were designed to do.  Let us see how this plays out in the matter of Mark 1:2.

First, we note that there is both internal and external evidence that is considered.  Internal evidence focuses on which variant we think the original writer was more likely to have written, whereas external evidence is the actual manuscripts and ancient writings themselves, weighed according to age and quality.  It is important to note, however, that although Wallace tells us that choosing the correct variant “means looking at the external and internal evidence,” as far as mainstream textual criticism is concerned these are not really two separate lines of evidence.  Through the work of Westcott and Hort, which was published in 1881, the weight given to external evidence is actually determined by the internal evidence.

Internal Evidence

How, then, is the internal evidence assessed?  It is assessed according to the “canons (rules) of textual criticism” invented by German rationalist and liberal scholar Johann Jakob Griesbach in 1796 – canons that were designed to ensure that errors would be inserted into the “original” text.  It is crucial to note that Griesbach’s canons were not based on any actual evidence; they were merely asserted without any genuine factual basis whatsoever.  However, since they guaranteed the end of the inerrancy, other liberal scholars accepted them and they became scholarly orthodoxy, and this scholarly orthodoxy was subsequently inherited with little if any question by evangelical scholars.

Griesbach enunciated a total of fifteen canons, but some were simply specific applications of already stated canons.  Essentially they come down to the following:

  • The shorter reading is to be preferred, because, we are told, “scribes were much more prone to add than to omit.”  According to Geisler and Nix, “The premise is that a scribe is more likely to add for clarification than to delete material from the text.[4]

  • The more difficult reading is to be preferred because, we are told, scribes altered the text to correct mistakes, so that “That reading is rightly considered suspect that manifestly gives the dogmas of the orthodox better than the others.”

  • The reading that best explains the origin of the others is to be preferred.

  • The reading that creates discrepancies with other quoted or parallel material is to be preferred.  Geisler and Nix describe it as follows: “The more verbally dissonant readings of parallel passages, whether they invoke Old Testament quotations or different accounts of the same events (as in the gospels), are to be preferred. There was a scribal tendency to harmonize divergent accounts of a given event recorded in Scripture.[5]

The first thing that has to be noted about these canons is that they are based fundamentally upon the assumption that scribes deliberately altered the text at will.  This assumption is the linchpin for the entire edifice of modern textual criticism; without it, the whole system collapses.

The second thing to note is that neither Griesbach nor any of his heirs proved or even attempted to prove this assumption, even though it is quintessential to their system.  This sine qua non point was simply proclaimed and accepted as an axiom.

The third point to note is that this assumption is wrong.  It is not true that scribes took it upon themselves to alter the text at will.  There are two lines of evidence that show this to be the case.  First, a number of studies eventually were done examining actual manuscripts to determine scribal habits.  Some of these studies are:

Tarelli, C.C. “Omissions, Additions, and Conflations in the Chester Beatty Papyri,” JTS, 1938

Colwell, Earnest Cadman. “Scribal Habits in Early Papyri: A Study in the Corruption of the Text.” in Hyatt, J. Philip. ed. The Bible in Modern Scholarship: Papers read at the 100th meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1965.

P.M. Head, “The Habits of New Testament Copyists. Singular Readings in the Early Fragmentary Papyri of John,” Biblica 85, 2004

Royse, James R. Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008.  [This one is a book almost 1,000 pages in length.]

Every one of these studies has shown that scribes very rarely (if ever) deliberately altered the text and that the most common scribal error by far was accidental omission.[6]  Second, it is an undeniable fact that early Christian leaders were vehemently opposed to any alteration of the word of God.[7]  Any change, therefore, that a renegade scribe may have made on occasion would not have been accepted and so would not have become established in the manuscript tradition.  It is clear therefore, that the methods of modern textual criticism are invalid and its conclusions are not only incorrect but likely to be diametrically opposed to the truth.

External Evidence

According to Geisler and Nix, text-critical decisions (i.e. the selection of the correct variant) must be based on both internal and external evidence.[8]  They claim that

In general, external evidence is more important than internal evidence, because it is more objective than the latter … Nevertheless, decisions must take both lines of evidence into account and carefully evaluate them.[9]

No doubt Geisler and Nix are sincere, but what they have said is misleading, as it implies that there are two independent lines of evidence for determining the best reading: For the internal evidence, Griesbach’s canons are used, and for the external evidence the “best manuscripts” are chosen.  But how is it decided which manuscripts are the best ones?  They are assessed according to Griesbach’s canons; the more they demonstrate the phenomena Griesbach claimed are signs of originality (e.g. having variants that are shorter, more difficult, and more disharmonized), the better they are proclaimed to be.  Thus, internal and external evidence do not constitute two separate lines of evidence; in fact, Griesbach’s canons rule over all.  So the hand of a German liberal scholar and rationalist who died more than two hundred years ago continues to pull the strings on which today’s textual critics, whether evangelical or not, dance like puppets.

How did this come to be accepted?  In the latter part of the 19th century two old Bible manuscripts came to light, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.  They were the oldest manuscripts that had yet been discovered, dating to the mid-4th century AD.  They were immediately hailed by liberal scholars as the best manuscripts of the Bible, though this is manifestly false; they are terrible manuscripts.  As Dean Burgon pointed out long ago,

Codex Vaticanus omits words or whole clauses 1,491 times in the Gospel accounts alone and is “disfigured throughout with repetitions.”  Codex Sinaiticus “abounds with errors of the eye and pen … On many occasions ten, twenty, thirty, forty words are dropped through very carelessness. Letters and words, even whole sentences, are frequently written twice over, or begun and immediately cancelled; while that gross blunder …. whereby a clause is omitted because it happens to end in the same words as the clause preceding, occurs no less times than one hundred and fifteen times in the New Testament.”[10]

In addition, in the early 20th century, Biblical scholar and textual critic Herman Hoskier did a careful comparison of these two codices and found more than 3,000 significant disagreements between them in the Gospel books alone,[11] and this number actually exceeds the number of times they agree with each other.[12]  In fact, they do not even come close to the 70% agreement required to be classified as members of the same “text type”[13] – which means that the “two best Alexandrian[14] manuscripts” cannot both be Alexandrian![15]

Thus, by any objective standard, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus should never have been afforded credibility as authorities on any textual matter by any serious scholar.  However, as extremely corrupt manuscripts their variants fit Griesbach’s canons, inserting errors into the text, which is what liberal scholars wanted, so these manuscripts were championed as being “the earliest and best manuscripts.

It is important to understand, however, that by “best” they do not mean “best” in the sense that any rational human being would understand it viz. as a designation based on actual measurable quality; they mean that their variants fit Griesbach’s canons better than those of most other manuscripts.

Were they the earliest?  Yes, at the time they were the earliest known manuscripts, and the earlier should be preferred to the later – if all other things are equal.  But, as we have seen, they were not.  Most of the extant Greek NT manuscripts, though later, were carefully copied and showed little deviation one from another – unlike Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.

By way of analogy, suppose that there are one hundred witnesses to an auto accident.  Two of them stood twenty feet away from the accident when they witnessed it, and the others stood thirty feet or more away.  The policemen on the scene find that the ninety-eight witnesses who stood thirty feet or more away tell a consistent, clear story about the details of the accident.  The two who stood twenty feet away, however, contradict the other ninety-eight at a number of significant points.  Whom should the police believe?  The two insist that, since they were closer, their testimony should override those of the other ninety-eight.  The police consider accepting that, but as they examine the testimony of these two closest witnesses, they find that they contradict not only the other ninety-eight, but they contradict each other again and again.  Being closer than the others, then, does no good if the testimony is so corrupt.  Whom would the police believe?  Obviously they would believe the other ninety-eight.  Only a lunatic – or a textual critic – would believe the two contradictory ones.

Because Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus gave liberals a golden opportunity to proclaim erroneous variants as the original readings – and to destroy the claim of Jesus’ resurrection[16] – they had to be promoted as the best manuscripts.  Westcott and Hort convinced the scholarly world – on completely bogus grounds[17] – that the vast majority of the extant manuscripts, of the so-called Byzantine text-type, were inferior and marked with secondary readings, and we arrived, at where we are today.  With this understanding, let us proceed to examine the case of Mark 1:2.

The Evidence for the Authenticity of Mark 1:2            

As we have seen, Daniel Wallace claims that

The problem is that the quotation is initially from Malachi (3:1). Mark 1:3 then goes on to quote from Isaiah. Why, then, have the modern translations rendered the quotation as coming only from Isaiah? The reason, quite simply, is that the earliest and best witnesses have such wording.[18]

Meanwhile, the ESV footnote states: “Mark 1:2 Some manuscripts in the prophets.”  Now, this is quite an understatement, however.  In fact, 96.7% of the manuscripts (a total of about 1,740) read “in the prophets” while 3.1% (a total of about 56) read “in Isaiah the prophet.”[19]  This by itself is already enough to settle the matter, as it is statistically impossible for a secondary reading (i.e. not the original one) ever to infect a majority of manuscripts, let alone to attain a dominance of 96.7%.[20]

Now, what constitutes “the earliest and best witnesses” to which Wallace refers?  He lists the following Greek manuscripts: Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, L, Δ, Θ, family1, 33, 205, 565, 700, 892, 1071, 1241, 1243, and 2427.[21]  Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus date from the 4th century, so they are the earliest of the Greek manuscripts, but as we have seen they cannot even be considered good, let alone “the best.”  Of the other manuscripts, L is from the 8th century; Δ, Θ, 33, 565, and 892 are from the 9th century; the oldest member of family1 is from the mid-10th century and others from the 12th-15th centuries; 700 and 1243 from the 11th century; 1071 and 1241 from the 12th century, 205 from the 15th century; and 2427 a forgery made no earlier than 1874.  It is indeed difficult to see how Wallace can present these as being among the “earliest” evidence![22]

On the other hand, “in the prophets” is found in Codex Washingtonianus, which dates as early as the late 4th century (and so is not much younger than Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus); Codex Alexandrinus, perhaps as early as ca. AD 400; Codex P and Codex Ʃ from the 6th century; Codex E from the 8th century, and F, G, and H from the 9th century.  So there are four manuscripts reading “in the prophets” from the 6th century and earlier, and three, all corrupt, reading “in Isaiah the prophet.”  It seems more accurate, in light of this, to say that the “earliest and best witnesses” read “in the prophets,” not “in Isaiah the prophet.”

The earliest of all evidence comes from the writings of Irenaeus.  He refers to this passage three times in Adversus Haereses.  In 3.10.5, Irenaeus writes,

Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, which shall prepare Your way.  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make the paths straight before our God.  Plainly does the commencement of the Gospel quote the words of the holy prophets.

This is Irenaeus’ most detailed description of the actual beginning of the Gospel According to Mark, and he clearly describes it as reading “in the prophets.”  Similarly, in 3.16.3 Irenaeus writes,

Wherefore Mark also says: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets.

In 3.11.8, however, Irenaeus writes,

Mark, on the other hand, commences with the prophetical spirit coming down from on high to men, saying The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet – pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel.

Two out of three times, then, Irenaeus quotes “in the prophets.”  Wallace tries to mitigate this evidence by asserting that

The difficulty of Ireneaus is that he wrote in Greek but has been preserved largely in Latin. His Greek remains have “in Isaiah the prophet.” Only the later Latin translation has “in the prophets.”[23]


the original Greek text of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies is found only in fragmentary form.[24]

Another source avers that

The great work of Irenæus is unfortunately no longer extant in the original. It has come down to us only in an ancient Latin version, with the exception of the greater part of the first book, which has been preserved in the original Greek, through means of copious quotations made by Hippolytus and Epiphanius.[25]

Yet another informs us that

The Greek text of the five books of Irenaeus Adversus Haereses is lost, aside from quotations.[26]

Now, if the Greek version of Irenaeus is available only via third-party quotes – and church fathers were often very imprecise in their quotations[27] – the Latin version, of which manuscripts do exist,[28] is more reliable, not less.

Moreover, while Wallace claims that “This evidence [for the reading ‘in Isaiah in prophet’] runs deep into the second century,” James Snapp correctly points out that “In terms of the actual pieces of evidence, that is not the case, with the exception of Irenaeus’ citations[29] – two thirds of which support “in the prophets.”

In sum, then, it is beyond any reasonable dispute that the external evidence proves that the original reading of Mark 1:2 is “As it is written in the prophets.”  But let us go on to consider the internal evidence.

First, let us recall the canons of textual criticism:

  • The shorter reading is to be preferred
  • The more difficult reading is to be preferred
  • The reading that best explains the origin of the others is to preferred
  • The reading that creates discrepancies with other quoted or parallel material is to be preferred

Here are the rival readings:

“in the prophets”             (Found in 96.7% of the Greek manuscripts)

“in Isaiah the prophet”   (Found in   3.1% of the Greek manuscripts)

Now, if we consider the first canon, we see that “in the prophets” is certainly the shorter reading.  The first canon favours “in the prophets.”

Now consider the fourth canon.  The following are the parallel passages in Matthew 3:3 and Luke 3:3-4:

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.’”

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.”

The parallel passages in Matthew and Luke (neither of whom cites the passage from Malachi 3:1) explicitly mention Isaiah the prophet.  By the fourth canon, a scribe should want to harmonize his passage to the parallel passages, so he would have changed the reading to “in Isaiah the prophet.”  The disharmonized reading is “in the prophets.”  The fourth canon favours “in the prophets.”

Now consider the third canon.  The third canon is “The reading that best explains the origin of the others is to be preferred.”  So if “in Isaiah the prophet” was the original reading, how did it become changed to “in the prophets”?  Wallace insists that

The explanation is that “in the prophets” is obviously a secondary reading, motivated by perhaps several pious scribes who thought “Isaiah” was a contradiction. Hence, they changed it to “the prophets.”[30]

Prime facie this seems plausible, and our Martha Stewart then strives mightily to insist that the opposite is not possible.  He avers that “Scribes surely knew that the first part of the quotation was from Malachi–after all, not a few of these same scribes had copied out the OT. They knew their Scriptures well. Hence, an accidental change to ‘Isaiah’ by some well-meaning early scribe is rather unlikely” – although he then admits that “there is some evidence that an occasional later scribe made this error”![31]  Wallace doesn’t seem to realize that it is irrelevant that it was “unlikely” that a scribe changed “the prophets” to “Isaiah the prophet,” as it would have had to happen only once to explain the phenomena we see in the manuscripts.  Unlikely things do happen – and Wallace himself admits that this “unlikely” thing did happen occasionally.

Wallace then tries to buttress this by claiming that

to argue that an early scribe did so and that his error infected many MSS for generations in several widespread regions is beyond credibility.[32]

The mind boggles here; Wallace thinks it is “beyond credibility” that a scribal error “infected many MSS for generations” so that it is now found in 3.1% of manuscripts, but he does not find it incredible to imagine that a different scribal error infected many MSS for generations so that it is now found in 96.7% of the manuscripts!  This is simply senseless.[33]

Wallace then avows that “there is virtually no possibility that a scribe could have accidentally written Isaiah by dittography[34] and claims that the only other possibility is conspiracy, which he rejects.  Therefore, he concludes, “in Isaiah the prophet” must be the original reading.

Wrong.  There is another possibility that Wallace has overlooked.  A scribe, recognizing the second part of the quotation as being from Isaiah may have noted that in the margin of his manuscript (as was done not infrequently) and another scribe subsequently using that manuscript as the exemplar for his own copy may have mistakenly thought that “Isaiah” was part of the actual text and so included it in the text of Mark 1:2 in his own copy.  So there certainly is a viable route whereby “Isaiah” may have been inserted accidentally.

So is the third canon a saw-off?  Is the possibility that a pious scribe tried to correct the erroneous reading “Isaiah the prophet” balanced by the possibility that “Isaiah” was mistakenly inserted from a marginal note?  Well, no.  The first scenario, favoured by Wallace, requires that scribes intentionally altered the text, which, as we have already seen, was not generally done and would not have been accepted into the majority of manuscripts.  So the latter explanation, which does not require intentional alteration by scribes, is necessarily the better explanation – and it means that the original “in the prophets” was later altered accidentally to “in Isaiah the prophet.”  So the third canon also favours the reading “in the prophets.”

Now isn’t this interesting?  Not only does “the earliest and best evidence” support the reading “in the prophets,” but so do three of Griesbach’s four canons!  That should settle the issue.  But it doesn’t.  It doesn’t because there is one factor left that favours the reading “in Isaiah the prophet,” and that is the second canon, the one that stipulates that “the more difficult reading is to be preferred,” and the reading that introduces an error into the original text is always “the more difficulty reading” by definition.  And since introducing errors into the original text is the “hidden agenda” of textual criticism as designed by Griesbach (a fact of which modern textual critics seem to be blissfully unaware), this canon will always trump every other consideration, as we have seen it does in this case.

It is certain, then, that “in the prophets” is the original reading in Mark 1:2, but it is equally certain that textual critics will insist that “in Isaiah the prophet” is the original reading.  With a stiff upper lip they will admit that the original text has an error in it (so much for the doctrine of inerrancy!) while congratulating themselves on their deep integrity.  They are no doubt sincere, but they are being played like a fiddle by the ghost of Griesbach.

The Evangelical Response

Wallace asks, “How does all this relate to the issue of inerrancy?[35] and manages to stultify himself with little effort.  First, he insists that “the evidence is overwhelming that Mark wrote ‘in Isaiah the prophet.’ Whatever one’s beliefs about inerrancy, it seems to me, they have to adjust to this piece of evidence,[36] because, you know, we can’t “start with the presupposition of inerrancy.[37]  The irony is palpable; as we have seen, the evidence favours “in Isaiah the prophet” only if we accept the presuppositions of Griesbach with regard to internal evidence and their effect on the view of the external evidence.  So we can’t “start with the presupposition of inerrancy,” but we can start with the presuppositions of a long-dead rationalist liberal scholar?  It seems to me that Wallace has chosen the wrong presuppositions.

Why, by the way, can we notstart with the presupposition of inerrancy”?  According to Wallace,

then we should logically be forced into holding to conjectural emendation in some places (such as Luke 2:2). This is so because there are several more severe problems to inerrancy than Mark 1:2.[38]

This is both a red herring and a primo example of the slippery slope fallacy.  We are discussing the correct reading of Mark 1:2, whether it is the one in 96.7% of the manuscripts or the one in 3.1% of the manuscripts.  No one is suggesting “conjectural emendation.”  (In fact, it is quite shameful – and supremely illogical – for Wallace to suggest that those who presuppose inerrancy would “also emend the text any time it disagrees with our theology on other fronts.[39]  Those who believe that the Bible is inerrant do so because they believe it is the word of God, and they would never dare to alter it.)

Now, if Mark 1:2 originally read “In Isaiah the prophet,” that would be an error already, and since Wallace avers that “there are several more severe problems to inerrancy than Mark 1:2,[40] does that mean that Wallace believes there are even more blatant errors in the Bible?  If so, how does he believe in Biblical inerrancy in any meaningful sense?  And it is ironic that he adduces Luke 2:2 as the example of these putative “more severe problems to inerrancy,” since there is no problem at all in Luke 2:2.


Now, then, there are evangelical apologists who do believe in inerrancy but have been led by the nose to believe that the Nestle-Aland/UBS Greek text is closest to the original and therefore Mark did write “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” which certainly seems to be an error.  How do they attempt to explain away this error in the Bible?

Dodge #1: Scroll Title

First up is Andrew Lamb, of the Australian branch of Creation Ministries International, an evangelical apologetics ministry with a very strong avowal of belief in inerrancy.[41]  Lamb argues that

This passage and Mark 1:2-4 illustrate the same point about Jewish copying conventions, which are not errors even though they may not comport to the Chicago Manual of Style. Mark 1:2-4 says:

It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” — “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

However, the first quotation (v. 2) comes from Malachi 3:1, and only the second quotation is from Isaiah 40:3. Is this an error? By no means! The Jews often kept all the Prophets on a single scroll, and so would often cite the most prominent of the prophets. Later gentile scribes failed to realize this, and ‘corrected’ the text to “As it is written in the prophets”. But there is no error in following the citation conventions of the day rather than 21st-century practices, as various bibliosceptics unreasonably demand.[42]

This is bad, folks.  This is really bad.  First, we cannot get rid of errors simply by proclaiming them not to be errors, as Lamb does.  Nor does it help to insist that those who point out that there is an error here are making “unreasonable demands.”  The only demand is that there not be an error, and the reading “in Isaiah the prophet” is clearly an error.  To try to explain this away as a matter of a supposed “citation convention” is a non-starter.  Whether the page numbers should precede or follow the date when citing a journal is matter of citation convention, whereas ascribing a quotation to someone who did not write it is is not a matter of a “citation convention” – it is an outright error.  It is fatuous to suggest otherwise.

In fact, as another CMI functionary pointed out,

While it true that an infinite God must in some way accommodate Himself to finite human ways of knowing in order to reveal His nature, law and Gospel, this does not imply the loss of truth. It is adaptation to human finitude, not accommodation to human error.[43]

By this standard, first-century writing conventions may be followed by Biblical writers if they do not involve errors, but not if they do involve errors – such as falsely attributing quotations.  So the claim that “in Isaiah the prophet” in Mark 1:2 is not an error fails even by CMI’s own standards.

This failed suggestion is bad enough, but let us now look at the other attempt made by Lamb to avoid this obvious error inserted into Mark 1:2.  He writes,

The Jews often kept all the Prophets on a single scroll, and so would often cite the most prominent of the prophets. Later gentile scribes failed to realize this, and ‘corrected’ the text to “As it is written in the prophets.”[44]

We note immediately that Lamb does not reference a source for this claim.  No wonder; while Lamb no doubt sincerely believes what he has written, the fact is that it is not even remotely true.  The Jews never “kept all the Prophets on a single scroll,” because they could not do so.  There was an upper limit to the size of scrolls of about 32-35 feet.[45]  The great Isaiah scroll 1QIsaa, found in a cave on the shores of the Dead Sea in 1947, is 7.34 m long,[46] and the Greek Minor Prophets scroll 8ḤevXIIgr, found later at Naḥal Ḥever, is more than 10 m long,[47]  which by itself is near the upper length limit.  So there is no way that the Jews could have “kept all of the prophets on a single scroll.[48]  Where were CMI’s fact checkers on this one?  Certainly, Lamb has utterly failed to solve the problem of the error inserted into Mark 1:2 by textual critics.

Dodge #2: Jewish Copying Convention

Well known evangelical apologist James R. White also wades into this issue.  He, too, tries to argue that (a) the reading “in Isaiah the prophet” is not an error, and that (b) the argument that it is an error “is simply one of ignorance of the common forms of citation at the time of the writing of the New Testament.[49]

This dodge is commonly proffered by evangelical apologists.  CMI Information Officer Lita Cosner, for example, baldly asserts that

It was standard Jewish practice to string more than one prophet together and only cite the one that was making the main point.[50]

James Patrick Holding, founder and president of the on-line Tekton Education and Apologetic Ministries,[51] also advances this argument, claiming that

it was an accepted practice to list the prophet who was making the main point. Composite attributions suit a common practice of Jewish exegetes.[52]

Interesting: “Common forms of citation”!  “Standard Jewish practice”!  “Accepted practice”!  “Common practice”!  With such bold statements, we can surely expect to see copious actual documentation to prove that there was such a common, standard, accepted practice.  But we don’t.  We don’t because there was no such practice.

What is the evidence offered by James White that there really was such a “common” practice “at the time of the writing of the New Testament”?  Actually, all he does is claim that

We have at least two instances recorded for us by the apostles where a conflated citation of two different Old Testament prophets is placed under the name of the more important or major of the two prophets.[53]

Is this supposed to be taken seriously?  No actual mention in any ancient writing in which it is stated that the Jews indeed had such a copying convention?  Not a plethora of examples from all sorts of ancient Jewish writings of this practice, as there should be if this was indeed one “of the common forms of citation at the time of the writing of the New Testament”?  No, White offers none of these.  All he offers is the claim that

We have at least two instances recorded for us by the apostles where a conflated citation of two different Old Testament prophets is placed under the name of the more important or major of the two prophets.[54]

Even this is a misrepresentation.  There are not “at least two instances,” but only two supposed instances, of which Mark 1:2 is one.  So there is only one other such putative example, and even if it actually were what White claims (and it is not), that is not nearly enough to establish the claim that this was a common Jewish practice – or a practice at all.  It would be far more reasonable to assume that, among all the OT citations in the NT, two different writers erred in their attributions, rather than that it was a recognized, legitimate practice.  After all, if one student puts down “5” as the answer to “2 + 2 =” on an arithmetic test, he can hardly point to another student who also put down “5” and argue on that basis that this answer is not an error but a “convention.

Furthermore, there is no parallel between Mark 1:2 and Matthew 27:9-10, White’s other alleged example of this “common practice.”  In Mark 1:2-3, there are two clear sentences, one of which comes directly from Malachi 3:1 and the other directly from Isaiah 40:3.  The quote in Matthew 27:9-10, on the other hand, is not found directly anywhere in the OT.  Zechariah 11:12-13 has certain common elements, while Jeremiah 32:6-9 has nothing but a reference to a field and has no real connection with Matthew 27:9-10; it is dragooned in by evangelical apologists desperate to get Jeremiah in there somewhere because of the attribution in Matthew 27:9.  No matter how one tortures Jeremiah 32:6-9 and Zechariah 11:12-13, you will not get Matthew 27:9-10.  (To show how desperate evangelical apologists are to locate at least some of this prophecy in Jeremiah, CMI’s Andrew Lamb appeals to “a small allusion to Jeremiah 18:1-4 and 19:1–3, and the field mentioned in Jeremiah 32:6-9.[55]  Add in Jeremiah 18:1-4 and 19:1-3 and torture away; you will still not get Matthew 27:9-10.)

If one looks carefully, however, he will notice that Matthew 27:9 explicitly says that this prophecy was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, not that it is written in Jeremiah, so the most reasonable understanding is that this was an oral prophecy from Jeremiah that had been handed down and was known at the time of the writing of Matthew, a phenomenon we also see in Matthew 2:23 and in 2 Kings 14:25.[56]  Thus, there is no need to troll through the book of Jeremiah to try to find some place into which one can shoehorn the prophecy of Matthew 27:9-10.

So White has utterly failed to establish the claim that, as Miss Cosner puts it,

It was standard Jewish practice to string more than one prophet together and only cite the one that was making the main point.[57]

Interestingly enough, many evangelical apologists make this claim without offering any actual proof; they only reference other evangelical apologists who also make the claim without offering any proof.

Let’s see if James Patrick Holding does better.  He does not start well, claiming that

In Matt. 27:9-10, more than one prophet is cited in a quote; yet only one is mentioned by name. In 2 Chron. 36:21, the first part of the verse is drawn from Lev. 26:34-35, the second is from Jer. 25:12, yet only Jeremiah is listed.[58]

We have already seen that Matthew 27:9-10 is not a genuine parallel to Mark 1:2, and neither is 2 Chronicles 36:21, which reads (from verse 20):

And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

This passage does not even have quotations!  Furthermore, it is evident from the way the wording is laid out that the only prophesied fact attributed to Jeremiah in this passage was that the Jews who were not killed by Nebuchadnezzar would be carried away to Babylon into a lengthy captivity, which Jeremiah certainly prophesied (e.g. 13:19, 25:8-13, 29:4-10).  The facts that follow, which did happen in accordance with Leviticus 26:34-35, are presented as just facts.  So nothing in this passage is said to be written by a prophet by whom it was not written.  Holding’s conclusion, that “What does this tell us? That it was an accepted practice to list the prophet who was making the main point,[59] is completely unwarranted.

Holding then seems to offer some actual external evidence, claiming that

Z.H. Chages in The Student’s Guide to the Talmud [172ff] relates a practice of the rabbis of quoting various persons under one and the same name. The rabbis “adopted as one of their methods that of calling different personages by one and the same name if they found them akin in any feature of their characters or activities or if they found a similarity between any of their actions.”

Thus for example Malachi and Ezra are said to be the “same person” (Meg. 15a) because they both say similar things (Mal. 2:2, Ez. 10:2). Chages gives examples of as many as three people being treated as one person because of such similarities.

This amounts to a bait-and-switch.  The rabbis did engage in this bizarre practice of equating people, for example,

they held that Hathach and Daniel are one; that Pethahiah is the same as Mordecai, and Sheshbazzar the same as Daniel. Again, they said that Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes are all one (R.H. 3b).[60]

But there is not even one example of quotations from two different people being attributed to only one of them.[61]

In fact, there is only one example given by Chages that involves quotations by men who are said to be the same person, and that is the one adduced by Holding, i.e., Malachi and Ezra in Meg. 15a.  Holding, however, does not quote the entire section, which we do below:

Even where there was only some resemblance in the names of different persons, they blended the two into one, as we see in the following cases (Meg. 15a): ‘Malachi and Ezra are one and the same person, for, in the prophesy of Malachi, it is written, “He hath married the daughter of a strange God”, while in the book of Ezra, it is written “We have broken faith with our God and have married strange women!”[62]

So even when the two men were equated, their prophecies were not combined under one name; on the contrary, the rabbis were careful to attribute each quote to the actual writer – the opposite of what Holding intimates.  How Holding overlooked this is not clear.

Dodge #3: Collection Order

This dodge is usually appealed to as a means to deal with the supposed problem of Matthew 27:9-10 but since Holding also tries to apply it to Mark 1:2,[63] we will consider it here.

Both Holding and Lita Cosner appeal to a story from Noel Weeks that was published in the Australian Presbyterian in February of 2009.[64]  Weeks recounts an incident from his days as a student at Brandeis University.  A Jewish scholar, Nahum Sarna, told the class that there was a time during which Jeremiah was seen as the first book of the prophets, because “in the Jewish way of labelling things you call a book by its first few words, and you call a collection of books by the first book in that collection,[65] and “you have a quote from Zechariah quoted as being from Jeremiah,[66] which must mean that Jeremiah was at one time considered the first book of the prophets.

This dodge collapses almost immediately under careful scrutiny – the kind of scrutiny that Holding and Miss Cosner should be doing.

First, is there any independent evidence that Jeremiah was ever considered the first book of the prophets?  Sarna gives none, and all of the evidence we have (such as the Septuagint) indicates that Jeremiah was never the first book of the prophets.

Second, Josephus (Against Apion 1.8), the New Testament itself (e.g. Luke 24:44), and possibly Philo (De vita contemplativa 3.25) all indicate that in the 1st century AD the second division of the OT was referred to by the title “the prophets,” and not by the name of the first book in the collection.[67]

Third, and most telling, Matthew quotes from the OT eleven other times in narrative commentary (of which Matthew 27:9 is an example).  Of these, one from Jeremiah is attributed to Jeremiah, four from Isaiah are attributed to Isaiah, and six (one of which is not written in the OT) are attributed to “the prophets.”  This is the same practice we see in Josephus, possibly Philo, and elsewhere in the NT: “Jeremiah” is never used by Matthew as a designation for the books of the prophets as a whole.

So Holding is wrong, Miss Cosner is wrong, and, yes, Nahum Sarna is wrong.  They should have realized that even under the best circumstances the existence of an ancient practice cannot be established on the basis of one example, especially when that one example admits of other, more likely explanations, in this case that Matthew simply made an error (and, had the text read, “what was written by Jeremiah the prophet” instead of “what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet,” it would have been an error.)  And when there is countervailing evidence against the proposed practice, as we have seen there is, it is simply a non-starter.  Miss Cosner’s claim, then, that Noel Weeks “showed how this actually supported the reliability of Scripture[68] is sheer lunacy.

One final point here: Even if it were true that Jeremiah was the first book of the Prophets and so “Jeremiah” was used to refer to the whole collection of books, it would not alleviate the problem of Mark 1:2-3, for in that case Mark 1:2 should have read as “As it is written in Jeremiah” or “As it is written in Jeremiah the Prophet”; remember that it is Jeremiah’s name that is supposed to refer to all the prophets, not Isaiah’s.  Or will some bold evangelical aver based on Mark 1:2 that we “know” that Isaiah was at one time the first book of the Prophets (since it is used that way in Mark 1:2) and that this changeover happened in the brief time between the writing of the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark?

Dodge #4: Gezera Shawa

Finally, the well known apologist and university professor Dr. Craig Evans offers one more way to extricate Mark from the apparent citation error in Mark 1:2.[69]  He, too, insists that this is not in fact an error, averring that

Some critics assume that Mark has blundered, not knowing that the first part of his quotation really does not derive from Isaiah … However, these charges are hardly fair.[70]

And why are they not fair?  Craig tells us that

In late antiquity Jewish quotation and interpretation of Scripture often involved linking related passages of Scripture (a practice known as gezera shawa).[71]

He informs us that

Watts has found other examples of more than one text under the name of only one author in the church fathers. For example, Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.20.4) attributes quotations from Micah 7:19 and Amos 1:2 to Amos alone, and Justin (First Apology c. 32) attributes quotations from Numbers and Isaiah to Isaiah alone.[72]

But this does not solve the problem either.  As Evans says, gezera shawainvolved linking related passages of Scripture,” but that is not the same as actually claiming that a quotation was written in a book in which it was not in fact written.  Krister Stendahl describes gezera shawa as follows:

One exegetical device of the Jewish rabbis (teachers, biblical commentators, and religious leaders) was that of gezera shawa, “equal category,” according to which an obscure passage might be illuminated by reference to another containing the same key term. There are several examples in Paul’s Old Testament exegesis, one of the best known being in Galatians 3:10–14, where the mystery of Christ’s dying the death that incurred the divine curse (Deuteronomy 21:23) is explained by his bearing vicariously the curse incurred by the lawbreaker (Deuteronomy 27:26).[73]

There is nothing, then, in gezera shawa that involves attributing quotations to prophets who did not write them and it is difficult to see why Craig brought up this topic at all, or why he seems to link it with “citing more than one text under the name of only one author.[74]

Evans’ appeal to the fact that “Watts has found other examples of citing more than one text under the name of only one author in the church fathers[75] is also vain.  (Evans begins the list of such examples with “for example,” but the two he lists are actually the onlyother examples” (other than Mark 1:2, that is) proffered by Watts.)[76]

Nor do these examples aid Evans’ case.  He points out that

Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.20.4) attributes quotations from Micah 7:19 and Amos 1:2 to Amos alone.[77]

The problem here is two-fold.  First, this citation is immediately preceded by a quote attributed to Isaiah, but in 4.22.1 the same quote is attributed to Jeremiah – and it is not found in either.  Irenaeus, then, can be careless in his citations (Watts allows that this “complicates the matter”)[78], which makes it far more likely that Irenaeus simply erred in his quote from Micah, rather than that he was following a practice not attested anywhere else.  (No one, it should be noted, believes in the inerrancy of the church fathers.)

The same obtains with Evans’ sole other example:

Justin (First Apology c.32) attributes quotations from Numbers and Isaiah to Isaiah alone.[79]

The actual quote from Justin reads as follows:

And Isaiah, another prophet, foretelling the same things in other words, spoke thus: A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a flower shall spring from the root of Jesse; and His arm shall the nations trust.  And a star of light has arisen, and a flower has sprung from the root of Jesse— this Christ.

Compare the relevant passages in Numbers and Isaiah:

  • “A Star shall come out of Jacob;

    A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,” (Numbers 24:17b)

  • There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,

    And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. (Isaiah 11:1)

There are significant differences: Justin has substituted “flower” for “scepter”; “root of Jesse” for “Israel”; and “flower” for “Branch,” while adding “and His arm shall the nations trust” and “of light.”  So this is not a matter of a composite composition, but some very faulty memory on the part of Justin.  Undeniably, Evans has failed to establish that gezera shawa involved any sort of practice of quoting multiple prophets under the name of one.  The final attempt, then, to explain away the apparent error in Mark 1:2 has failed.


We have seen that in every major modern translation of the Bible (except the NKJV) Mark 1:2 reads, “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet,” followed by a quote that is not written by Isaiah but by Malachi, and after that a quote from Isaiah.  This is indubitably an error.

We have seen, however, that that is not the actual reading in Mark 1:2.  The actual reading is “as it is written in the prophets,” which is perfectly correct.  This is the reading in the NKJV and the KJV.  So there is no error here.

We have seen that “in the prophets” is the reading that is found in the overwhelming majority (96.7%) of the manuscripts of the Gospel According to Mark, including what should properly be considered “the earliest and best material.”  The reading “in Isaiah the prophet” is found in a small number of manuscripts (3.1%), the earliest of which are extremely corrupt.

Why, then, is “in Isaiah the prophet” found in almost all modern translations?  As we have seen, it is because more than two hundred years ago a German rationalist liberal scholar named Johann Jakob Griesbach invented a set of rules (“canons”) for adjudicating among variants in the manuscripts.  As we have seen,

Griesbach simply proclaimed these canons by fiat, with no proof offered.  It should be noted that:

  • They were based fundamentally on the assumption that scribes readily and frequently took it upon themselves to alter the text of the Bible to correct errors.

  • These canons were used to determine which manuscripts were the “best.  The manuscripts that were proclaimed to be the best on this basis are actually extremely corrupt; they are the worst, not the best.

  • In fact, the evidence shows that scribes rarely if ever dared to alter the text.

  • Every study of actual manuscripts has found that Griesbach’s canons are wrong or even completely backwards.

As we have seen, liberal scholars blithely ignored the previous two points and continued to adhere to Griesbach’s canons and the corrupt manuscripts, and most evangelicals continued to follow along like rats following the Pied Piper.  They have been taken captive by the ghost of Griesbach, to do his will.

Hence, most evangelicals champion as the original a Greek text of the New Testament that is not inerrant but actually contains significant errors, as Griesbach’s canons guaranteed would happen.  Because of this, Mark 1:2 reads “in Isaiah the prophet,” a clear error, in almost all modern translations of the Bible.

Evangelicals who believe in inerrancy are, for obvious reasons, troubled by this and try to explain why this error is not, in fact, an error.  However, none of their explanations hold water; all of the prophets were never on the same scroll, there was no Jewish copying convention whereby quotations from more than one prophet were strung together and attributed to the more important prophet or the prophet making the main point; neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah was ever the first book of the Prophets and so neither of their names was ever used to refer to the entire corpus of prophetic books; and gezera shawa had nothing to do with attributing one prophet’s quote to another.

It is disturbing to see evangelical apologists advance such nonsense.  For example, consider the claim that this was a “Jewish copying convention.”  So many evangelicals advance this claim with such confidence that they even accuse those who do not accept it of being “ignorant.”  No doubt they do it in good faith, yet inasmuch as there was no such convention and no evidence to support the suggestion, someone at some point in the past must have knowingly made it up at some point and convinced himself that there must have been such a convention.  So evangelicals allowed liberals to put errors into the Bible and then invented fantasies to explain them away!

It is also disturbing that so many evangelicals accept and advance such dodges even though, as we have seen, it does not take too much effort to check these claims and find out that they are completely bogus.  Why are evangelical apologists not doing their due diligence?

Finally, as we have shown, not one of these dodges actually obviates the error in Mark 1:2!  Even if Mark had been following actual Jewish copying conventions or referring to the first name on a scroll or doing either of the other suggestions, the fact would remain that it would still be an error to say that “Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You” is “written in Isaiah the prophet” because it is NOT written in Isaiah the prophet.  What these dodges do in reality is to pretend that an error is not an error if other people were making the same error.  I have news for these apologists: It’s still an error.  It doesn’t matter how many people decide to say “2 + 2 = 5”; it’s still an error.

This illustrates a toxic trend in evangelical scholarship.  In the past, evangelicals used to understand that the Bible was qualitatively different from any other book.  How could it not be, seeing that it was “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)?  But at some point evangelical scholars adopted the approach

Treat the Bible like any other book to show that it’s not like any other book.

That in turn seemed to become “Treat the Bible like any other book.”  Period.

And that now seems to be becoming “Treat the Bible like any other book because it is like any other book.”  How else can we explain the approach that says yes, the Bible has errors, but that’s okay because that’s how errant people wrote other books in those days, so we don’t count those as errors, and we shouldn’t find it problematic to see them in the Bible?

How is this not a betrayal of the Bible?

Appendix: Is There an Error in Luke 2:2?

Luke 2:2 reads,

This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.

This refers to the census that drew Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.  This is supposed to be a problem, because everyone knows that Quirinius did not begin to govern Syria until AD 6, which is too late to be before the birth of Jesus.

Not surprisingly, CMI tries to explain this discrepancy.  According to Sarfati,

The alleged problem is that Quirinius did not become governor until c. AD 7 according to Josephus, while Christ was born before Herod the Great died in 4 BC. However, N.T. Wright points out that prōtos not only means ‘first’, but when followed by the genitive can mean ‘before&’ [sic] (cf. Jn. 1:15, 15:38). Therefore the census around the time of Christ’s birth was one which took place before Quirinius was governing Syria (Acts 5:37 proves that Luke was aware of the latter).[80]

CMI functionary Lita Cosner also goes that route, arguing that

the word translated ‘first’ can also mean ‘before’, and it fits the Greek grammar very well to have it read something like, “This census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” This, if Luke is talking about 10 years before Quirinius, makes perfect sense.[81]

Unfortunately for these CMI luminaries, their very favourite textual critic in the whole wide world, Daniel Wallace, points out that this suggestion simply does not work.  This suggestion “erroneously presupposes that αὕτη modifies ἀπογραφὴ[82] and the problem with that is that

since the construction is anarthrous, such a view is almost impossible (because when a demonstrative functions attributively to a noun, the noun is almost always articular).[83]

Sarfati also suggests that

Another possible solution is that Quirinius twice governed Syria, once around 7 BC and again around AD 7, which is supported by certain inscriptions. Under this scenario, Luke’s use of prōtos refers to the first census in 7 BC, rather than the well-known one in AD 7.[84]

However, none of these inscriptions mention Quirinius, so this suggestion is at best unsupported speculation – and it doesn’t solve the problem anyway, because 7 BC is far too early for the birth of Jesus.

Not surprisingly, then, our Martha Stewart of textual criticism, Daniel Wallace, thinks this a serious problem, one that “casts serious doubt on Luke’s accuracy,[85] and “one that cannot be resolved with certainty … ‘Only the discovery of new historical evidence can lead to a solution of the problem.’ This is where we must leave the matter.[86]

Also not surprisingly, Wallace is completely wrong.  Perhaps if he did presuppose inerrancy he would look a little more carefully into this matter and if he did he might find that it is not a problem at all.  All he has to do is ask, “How do we know that Quirinius did not begin to govern Syria until AD 6?”  It’s a simple, obvious question that no evangelical apologist ever seems to think of asking, but he should.  He would discover that the only evidence we have for this factoid is the testimony of Josephus.

That, folks, changes the issue entirely.  It is actually not a matter of Luke contradicting known facts of history but of Luke disagreeing with Josephus.  And that settles the issue right there.  Even without considering divine inspiration, it is a fact that Luke is a far better and more careful historian than Josephus,[87] and he was writing at a much earlier date (AD 48) than was Josephus (AD 94).  By Wallace’s own standard of favouring “the earliest and best evidence,” the matter is settled: there is no error in Luke 2:2.  The error is in Josephus.

Why do evangelical scholars who agonize about the supposed error in Luke 2:2 so readily accept the claim that Luke made an error here, as if they believed de facto in the inerrancy of Josephus but not of the Bible?  Why do they not bother to check?  It underscores the fact that evangelical scholars are learned, but generally they are not very bright.


[1] Wallace, Daniel B. “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism.” Posted at https://bible.org/article/mark-12-and-new-testament-textual-criticism.  (Bolding and underlining added.)  Do understand that what Wallace calls “the earliest and best witnesses” are in fact the worst witnesses.

[2] ibid.

[3] See Tors, John. “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism (in Manageable, Bite-sized Chunks)” at https://truthinmydays.com/a-primer-on-new-testament-textual-criticism-in-manageable-bite-sized-chunks/.

[4] Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Revised and Expanded. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986, p. 477

[5] ibid.  These are known as “transcriptional” evidence.  There is also supposedly “intrinsic” evidence, based on what the author is most likely to have written, but this is so subjective that if it is used at all, it seems to be used only to buttress decisions already made on other grounds.

[6] At most, we are told that deliberate scribal alterations were rare, but it is difficult to be sure than even any of the few supposed intentional changes were, in fact, intentional.

[7] See Kruger, Michael J. “Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts” in Hill, Charles E. & Michael J. Kruger. The Early Text of the New Testament. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 63-80.  Kruger is confused by the seeming contradiction between this opposition to alteration and the many variants that are found in the early NT papyri.  His confusion would be cleared up if he realized that these early NT papyri were – literally – garbage.  (See Tors, John. “GIGO: Unearthing a Decisive New Tipping Point for Textual Criticism” at https://truthinmydays.com/gigo-unearthing-a-decisive-new-tipping-point-for-textual-criticism/.)

[8] Geisler and Nix, op.cit., p. 478

[9] ibid.

[10] Burgon, John W. The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objectors and Established. Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1871.

[11] Hoskier, Herman C. Codex B and Its Allies: A Study and an Indictment. 2 vols. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1914.  After finding so many differences in the Gospel books alone, Hoskier did not bother checking the rest of the New Testament books.

[12] Pickering, Wilbur N. The Identity of the New Testament Text. Revised edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980, p. 218, f.n. 68

[13] Colwell, Ernest C. “Method in Establishing Quantitative Relationships between Text-Types of New  Testament Manuscripts.” Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament. NTTS 9. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969, p. 59.  The agreement between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus has been calculated to be only 59% (Elliott, Richard. A Site Inspired by The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism. Appendix I: The Names and Descriptions of the Various Text-Types, p. 339, f.n. 28. Posted at www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/)

[14] A “text type” (a group of manuscripts thought to descend from one archetype) characterized by omissions, disharmonizations, and “difficult” readings, the members of which show significant disagreements with one another.  The concept of text type, integral to modern textual criticism, has been shown by no less than Kurt Aland to be bogus.  (See Aland, Kurt. “The Significance of the Papyri for Progress in New Testament Research,” The Bible in Modern Scholarship. Ed. J.Philip Hyatt. New York: Abingdon Press, 1965, pp. 325-346.)

[15] I am “answering a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5) here.  The concept of “text type” has already shown to be untenable.  See Aland, ibid.

[16] Both are missing the last twelve verses of the Gospel According to Mark – though their testimony in this matter is questionable.

[17] Westcott and Hort first argued on the basis of the “genealogical method” that there is no reason to prefer the testimony of one thousand manuscripts against that of one, though they could not and did not actually apply the geneaological method to the NT manuscripts to show that the one was correct – nor can it be done.  After that, they argued for the superiority of the Alexandrian text essentially on the basis of accordance with the canons of Griesbach.  Whether or not Westcott and Hort were evangelicals is utterly irrelevant; they had obviously fully imbibed Griesbach’s poison.  (For more details, see “Appendix 2: Westcott and Hort’s Arguments against the Byzantine Text Examined and Refuted” in Tors, “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.)

[18] Wallace, “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit. (Bolding and underlining added.)

[19] Pickering, Wilbur N. The Greek New Testament According to Family 35. Lexington, KY, 2014, p. 57.  According to Pickering, 1.3% read εν τω ησαια τω προφητη and 1.8% read εν ησαια τω προφητη

[20] See Tors, “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.

[21] Wallace, “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.

[22] Strangely, he did not include Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis (D), which dates to the 5th century.  It is also known as a very corrupt manuscript.

[23] Wallace, “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.

[24] Osborn, Eric. Irenaeus of Lyons. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 1

[25] “Irenaeus of Lyons.” ReligionFacts. Posted at http://www.religionfacts.com/irenaeus. (Bolding and underlining added.)

[26] Pearse, Roger. “Tables of contents and chapter divisions in Irenaeus’ ‘Adversus Haereses.” Posted on October 21, 2010. At https://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2010/10/21/tables-of-contents-and-chapter-divisions-in-irenaeus-adversus-haereses/

[27] The problems associated with the use of patristic evidence is outlined by Bruce Metzger in Metzger, Bruce. “Patristic Evidence and the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” NTS 18 (1972), pp. 379-380

[28] Osborn, op.cit.

[29] Snapp, James jr. “A Defense of ‘In the Prophets’ in Mark 1:2.” Textual Variants in the Gospels. Posted on June 2, 2010. At http://reclaimingthemind.blogspot.com/2010/06/defense-of-in-prophets-in-mark-12.html

[30] Wallace, “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.  It should be noted that “in Isaiah the prophet” is an error in reality, not just in the opinions of Wallace’s postulated “pious scribes.”

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid.

[33] Now, it is certainly “beyond credibility” that a secondary reading should infect the majority of manuscripts, which in turn means that the reading found in the overwhelming majority of manuscripts is the original – and that reading is “in the prophets.”

[34] ibid.

[35] ibid.

[36] ibid.

[37] ibid.

[38] ibid.

[39] ibid.

[40] ibid.

[41]Creation Ministries International is well known for accepting the Bible as God’s written Word, and thus without error and the ultimate authority on whatever it teaches.” (Sarfati, Jonathan. “Using the Bible to prove the Bible? Are biblical creationists guilty of circular reasoning?” Creation 30:4 (September 2008), pp. 50-52. Posted at http://creation.com/not-circular-reasoning. (Bolding and underlining added.))

[42] Lamb, Andrew. “Does the Bible teach error?” (Feedback 2007). Posted at https://creation.com/does-the-bible-teach-error.  The other passage alluded to is Matthew 27:9.

[43] Kulikovsky, Andrew S. “The Bible and Hermeneutics.” Journal of Creation 19:3 (December 2005), pp. 14–20. Posted at http://creation.com/the-bible-and-hermeneutics. (Bolding and underlining added.)

[44] Lamb, op.cit.  Wallace (Wallace, “Mark 1:2 and New Testament Textual Criticism,” op.cit.) suggests the same thing, writing “Some suggest that Isaiah headed up the scroll of the prophets and hence Mark meant ‘In the scroll of Isaiah.’ This may be, but we are lacking sufficient proof.”

[45] “Matthew, Luke and Acts were each close to the maximum length for scrolls, between thirty-two and thirty-five feet.“ (Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.)

[46] Tov, Emanuel. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Second Revised Edition. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001, p. 204

[47] ibid.

[48] Strangely, Tov claims that “4QRPb-e (= 4Q364-367) is 22-27 metres.” (ibid.)  4QRPb-e is actually the remains of not one scroll, but four separate scrolls: 4Q364, 4Q365, 4Q366, and 4Q367.  Their combined length, then, is irrelevant to the issue of the maximum size of a single scroll.  And, in fact, 4Q364, 4Q365, 4Q366, and 4Q367 may not be related at all.  (See Tervanotko, Hanna. “The Hope of the Enemy has Perished: The Figure of Miriam in the Qumran Library.” in Lange, Armin, Matthias Weigold, and József Zsengellér, From Qumran to Aleppo. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co., 2009, pp. 156-157.)  And even a 27 m scroll could not hold even the four Gospel books (Skeat, T.C. “The Origin of the Christian Codex.” ZPE 102 (1994), p. 266), which together are not as long as “all of the prophets.”

[49] White, James R. The King James Only Controversy. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1995, p. 168.

[50] Cosner, Lita in “Errors in the Bible?” Posted at March 13, 2010. At http://creation.com/claimed-bible-errors.  She then directs her readers to an online article by James Patrick Holding, “Attribution Errors in the New Testament?”

[51] http://www.tektonics.org/

[52] Holding, James Patrick. “Attribution Errors in the New Testament?” Posted at http://www.tektonics.org/lp/mkone2.php

[53] White, op.cit.

[54] ibid.

[55] Lamb, op.cit.

[56] Showing these other examples, which are clear examples of oral prophecies not recorded in the OT, is not akin to White’s appeal to Matthew 27:9 to attempt to establish a “common form of citation” to explain away the error in Mark 1:2, because (a) Matthew 2:23 and 2 Kings 14:25 are structurally genuine parallels to Matthew 27:9, whereas we have seen that Mark 1:2 is not, and (b) this is not an attempt to cover up an error, for Matthew 27:9 explicitly says that this prophecy was “spoken” by Jeremiah, not “written” by him.  Although Matthew sometimes uses “spoken” for prophecies that are written in the OT (for no doubt the prophet both spoke it and wrote it – see Jeremiah 45:1), it cannot be insisted upon that one that is only said to have been spoken must also have been written.

[57] Cosner, op.cit.

[58] Holding, op.cit.

[59] ibid.

[60] Chages, Z.H. The Student’s Guide Through the Talmud. Second, revised Edition. Translated and Edited by Jacob Schachter. New York: Philipp Feldheim, Inc., 1960, p. 172

[61] It is passing strange that Chages titled this chapter (XXI) “The Quoting of Various Persons Under One and the Same Name” in light of the fact that not one of examples he adduces does that, whereas the one example he gives of quoting explicitly mentions the name of each man even though the men are equated as one.

[62] Chages, op.cit., p. 172

[63] Holding’s article “Attribution Errors in the New Testament?”, in which he recounts the story from Weeks, talks only about Matthew 27:9-10 and does not even mention Mark 1:2.  However, in his “Index: Mark” under “Mark 1:2” the reader is sent to this article.

[64] Holding, op.cit.; Cosner, op.cit.

[65] ibid.

[66] ibid.

[67] Luke 24:44 is an indication of a three-fold division of the OT that may have started to be used, but in the NT a two-fold division of the Law and the Prophets (which would include everything other than the Torah) is much more common e.g. Matthew 5:17, 7:12, 11:13, 22:40; Luke 13:28.  Sometimes “prophets” simply refers to prophets in general (e.g. Acts 3:24), rather than to a specific division of the OT.

[68] Cosner, op.cit.

[69] Evans, Craig. “Apologetics Commentary on the Gospel of Mark” in Howard, Jeremy Royal, General Editor. The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible: The Gospel and Acts. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2013, p. 208

[70] ibid.

[71] ibid.

[72] ibid.

[73] Stendahl, Krister. “Biblical literature,” Encyclopædia Britannica (November 25, 2014), p. 23. Posted at https://www.britannica.com/topic/biblical-literature/Types-of-biblical-hermeneutics#ref598279

[74] Craig, op.cit.

[75] ibid.

[76] Watts, Rikki E. Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997, p. 88, f.n. 180

[77] Craig, op.cit.

[78] Watts, op.cit.

[79] Craig, op.cit.

[80] Bott, Michael and Jonathan Sarfati. “What’s Wrong With Bishop Spong? Laymen Rethink the Scholarship of John Shelby Spong.” Last updated on February 7, 2007. At https://creation.com/whats-wrong-with-bishop-spong

[81] Cosner, Lita. “What part of Genesis should we believe? All of it! There are no contradictions in Scripture.” Posted on March 15, 2012. At http://creation.com/bolt-response

[82] Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, p. 305

[83] Wallace, Greek Grammar, p. 304.  “Anarthrous” means lacking the (definite) article, in this case ἡ.  Interestingly, in the original text ἀπογραφὴ does have the article.  It is present in 99.4% of all manuscripts.  The current (28th) edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek texts lists only seven manuscripts omitting it, including the three very corrupt ones – Codex Sinaiticus (original hand only), Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis–two from the 9th century and one each from the 10th and 11th centuries.  Furthermore, since accidental omission was by far the most common scribal error, and in this case is even more likely due to the presence of two etas side by side (αὕτηἡἀπογραφὴ), only the truly blinkered would insist that ἀπογραφὴ was anarthrous in the original autograph.  So the CMI brain trust could argue that this suggestion is not, in fact, “almost impossible,” but since they themselves are acolytes of the Nestle-Aland/UBS Greek text, they will not do that.

[84] Bott and Sarfati, op.cit.

[85] Wallace, Greek Grammar, op.cit., p. 304

[86] ibid., pp. 304-305

[87] Compare, for example, Ramsay, W.M. St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons and London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1896, p. 81 and Ramsay, Sir W. M. The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. London and New York and Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915, pp. 85-89, 222; compare with Whiston, William. Trans. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Revised and Expanded.  Commentary by Paul L. Maier. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999, p. 14

Comments: 2

  1. andy diamond says:

    At least four times you claim that liberal scholars “designed” or “wanted” to produce a biblical text that contained errors, but the conservative scholars who follow the same principles are “no doubt … sincere”. I am wondering how you gained such insight into the hearts of men, did God reveal that to you?

    Based on what you have written here, it appears that it is important to you that the text of the Bible be inerrant. Have you considered how the desire influences your evaluation of the evidence?

    • John Tors says:

      Fair question, sir. No, I have not received an immediate word from God on this; my conclusion was reached via abductive logic.

      First, I am not aware of any serious historian that disputes the fact that the ethos of the Enlightenment was a drive to enshrine Man as the measure of all things and to elevate human reason and rationality as the means to attain truth, and that came with a concomitant denigration of the concept of divine revelation, which in the Western world particularly meant the Bible, and of the supernatural itself; there could be no genuine predictive prophecy, miracles, or any resurrection from the dead. In light of this, it would not be surprising were they to want to find errors in the Bible.

      Second, this attitude was the driving force of liberal scholarship, which specialized in fiat statements, bald assertions, special pleading, and ignoring inconvenient evidence (and it continues thus today). I am surprised that anyone who reads works of liberal Biblical scholarship can fail to notice that.1 It is not difficult to see this for those who actually look.

      Consider, for example, Gerd Lüdemann, Professor at University of Göttingen, a typical liberal Biblical scholar who denies the resurrection and historic validity of Christianity.2 In his book What Jesus Didn’t Say, Lüdemann writes, “First, words are inauthentic in which the risen Lord speaks or is presupposed as the one who speaks, for after his death Jesus no longer spoke.”3 So Lüdemann’s metaphysical bias stands in judgment of the testimony of the Gospel writers. who give us eyewitness testimony. But that is not a problem for Lüdemann, as he maintains that the Gospel writers were not, in fact, eyewitnesses. What is his evidence for this? “Three presuppositions underlying my work are the following: first, the authors of the four gospels of the New Testament are not known …. second, the authors were not eyewitnesses…”4 What is a presupposition? According to the OED, it is the act of “suppos[ing] or believ[ing] in advance of actual knowledge or experience.” One can be excused for looking askance at such scholarship.

      Now, the field of textual criticism is not an exception to this. My reasons for saying so have been explained in my various articles on this topic posted on this website. I remind you that NT textual criticism is still fundamentally based on the canons published in 1796 by German Rationalist Johann Jakob Griesbach, and the linchpin of his canons is that scribes were prone to add and alter the text to correct mistakes. If you are familiar with the concept of “entailment meaning,” you will see that the entailment meaning to this linchpin is that the New Testament as it came off the pens of the authors had mistakes in it. Griesbach made no attempt to prove this; he simply asserted it. Why do you think that, without evidence, he proclaimed that the original NT had errors in it? Did he want to do that? Did he not want to do that? It certainly did not come from actual evidence.

      This linchpin means that whenever there is a choice between two variants in any passage, one of which does not insert an error into the text and the other of which does, it is the latter that will be highly favoured, even if it is found in only a very few, corrupt manuscripts. One need only read Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament5 to see how often textual critics appeal to this linchpin, thus cementing errors in what is supposed to be the original text of the New Testament.

      It gets worse; actual studies on scribal habits that have been done from the first half of the 20th century onward have shown that Griesbach’s canons are not just wrong but backwards, so that in fact it is the variants that do not insert errors into the text that should be chosen, and this is further buttressed by Michael J. Kruger’s documentation showing that early Christians were stridently opposed to having scribes make any changes to sacred text.6 Yet textual critics continue blithely to use Griesbach’s canons. Why do you think that is? Do you think they are all unaware of these developments?

      This preferential option for the variant that introduces an error (or other serious problem) is perhaps best shown in the case of John 7:8, in which Jesus says, “You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” Later, He does go. Now, one variant reads “not” in place of “not yet,” and if that were the original reading, it would make Jesus look deceptive, if not an outright liar. And in this case, “not yet” is not only the reading found in the overwhelming majority of manuscripts, it is even found in P66, P75, and Codex Vaticanus, which normally is decisive for textual critics. But not in this case. Was the chance to make Jesus look deceptive too good for liberal scholars to pass up? Are evangelicals so in thrall to the Griesbach canons that they do not notice what they are doing?

      Based on this abductive reasoning (which, as is obvious, is based on actual facts and not on my view of inerrancy), I do conclude that liberal scholars “designed” or “wanted” to produce an “original” Biblical text that contains errors. Of course, I am willing to be corrected, so if you can answer the following for me:

      • Why did Griesbach proclaim by fiat that the original text of the NT had errors in it?
      • Why did mainstream textual critics accept this?
      • Why do textual critics continue blithely to follow Griesbach’s canons even though they have been shown to be false?
      • Why do textual critics ignore even their favourite manuscripts in order to insert “not” into John 7:8 instead of “not yet”?

      If you can posit viable answers to these that have greater explanatory power than the conclusion I reached, I would certainly be willing to reconsider my conclusion. But first you must give me valid reasons to do so.

      1For those who do want to understand how liberal Biblical scholarship works, I heartily recommend Eta Linnemann’s Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? Reflections of a Bultmannian Turned Evangelical. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990. Translated by Robert W. Yarborough. Chapter 9 by itself is worth the price of the book.
      2 http://wwwuser.gwdg.de/~gluedem/eng/the_resurrection_of_christ.htm
      3 Lüdemann, Gerd. What Jesus Didn’t Say. Salem, Oregon: Polebridge Press, 2011, p.xii
      4 ibid., p.x
      5Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft and New York: United Bible Societies, 1994
      6Kruger, Michael J. “Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts,” in Hill, Charles E. and Michael J. Kruger. The Early Text of the New Testament. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp.63-80

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