Probably the most famous example of someone tampering with the Christian scriptures is the so-called Johannine Comma:
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth:the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. (1 John 5: 7-8, NKJV)
The first line was later removed from most modern bible translations so that we typically find just the following:
For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (John 5: 7-8, NIV)
According to notes in the NIV Study Bible the questionable line was added to the Latin Vulgate Bible and is not found in any Greek manuscript prior to the sixteenth century. The implication is that some scribe or scribes of the Roman Catholic church added it. Which they did, and for an obvious reason: this was the only line ever found in any Bible that directly points to the idea of a Triune God. The scripture was altered by Church authority to bolster a difficult-to-comprehend doctrine.
The reason this line was found in any Greek manuscripts after the 16th century was because Erasmus added it to later editions of his Greek New Testament, the first ever compiled. At first Erasmus didn’t include the Comma, as it wasn’t in any of the Greek texts he found, either. Under immense pressure from Church authorities he agreed to put the Comma “back in”. Additionally, Erasmus couldn’t find complete Greek manuscripts for certain other scriptures (particularly Revelations) so in those cases he merely translated the Vulgate’s Latin “back” into Greek, errors and all.
(Remember that the New Testament scriptures were originally written in Greek and it wasn’t until Pope Damasus ordered Jerome to produce a Rome-sanctioned Latin bible in the fourth century BCE that a single authoritative church-wide book ever existed. But even Jerome’s earliest Vulgate (common) Bible didn’t have the Comma: it was added later.)
This is the kind of thing that many Protestants came to expect of the Roman Catholic Church, with the Magisterium’s disdain for Sola Scriptura. Except, as you can see with the above scriptural quotes, the King James (as well as the New King James) version of the Bible still include the Comma. And most modern Protestant versions of the Bible (with a few notable exceptions) rely upon Erasmus’ Greek New Testament, which is largely derived from the Vulgate. These collective works are known as the Textus Receptus (a term bible scholars use to describe any Greek text that is not based on the best, oldest or most verifiable manuscripts but on Erasmus’ work instead.)
But scriptural manipulations by ‘orthodox’ authorities don’t end there. In John 5 there is the story of Jesus encountering the crippled man at the healing springs of Bethsaida. Apparently he has waited 38 years to be lowered into the water and be cured. Why so long? Well, he says, every time an opportunity arises, the water is no longer “stirred”. Which is a little confusing: what is this man talking about? What does he mean by ‘stirred’ waters. At some point someone took it upon himself to solve this mystery for us, even though he made it up in order to do so. You won’t find it in most Protestant bibles but you will find it in the trusty old (and New) King James:
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
(John 5: 4, King James Version)
Even though many still love the King James (and it is easier on the ear – compare its version of Ecclesiastes with the competition’s) many more will concede that it has quite a few issues. But it is not the only bible that does. Which, along with all the other textual changes and scribal errors (and there are many more), poses some serious challenges to anyone who believes that the Bible is the innerant, infallible Word of God, that must be taken literally in order for us to understand God and the universe.
Take the problem we have with 1 Timothy 3:16, which for most of the Church’s history (and in many bibles today) has read like this:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.
But in the early 18th century bible scholar J.J. Wettstein, upon examining the Greek manuscript this verse derives from, found that one of the word’s had been changed to read “God” when it originally said something like “who”. This altered verse is one of the few, if not the only, explicit statements of Jesus’ divinity found in the Bible. The verse originally read more like this:
Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
Who was revealed in flesh,
vindicated by the spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
Which speaks more about the mystery of who Jesus was and not the absolute assertion that he was God. By pointing this out (among other questions about scriptural accuracy) Wettstein was shunned from his religious and academic community. And even though this information has been well known for nearly 300 years many bible publishers refuse to make the necessary changes. What type of faith do we have when we need to fall back upon spurious scripture for our religious security?
It seems to me that, all affirmations of Sola Scriptura aside, Protestants have more devotion to non-biblical “tradition” than they would like to believe. I mean, sola which scriptura, for Pete(r)’s sake?
(Thanks to Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” as the source for most of the above material.)