Friday, April 28, 2023

Inheriting a Treasure: A Trustworthy Bible

  When I was young, we visited Volendam in the Netherlands. In the above picture, here I am with my family, my father from the Netherlands, my mother from Puerto Rico. I am the very little girl who looked so authentically Dutch that a tourist asked my mother whether she could borrow the Dutch girl for her pictures, to which my mother, outraged, replied, “That is my daughter!”

Volendam in the north of Netherlands was known for its traditional Dutch outfits. I had not realized until recently that Erasmus came from the Netherlands, as well. He came from Rotterdam, which lies south of Volendam, near a river that leads to the coast. Desiderius Erasmus, who published the first Greek New Testament in 1516, has an inspiring story.  He was trained by a lay religious movement, the Brethren of the Common Life, that emphasized the need to read Scripture in the native language of the people.[1] Erasmus was dedicated to publishing an accurate Bible as the base for these translations, because he believed: “If you dedicate yourself entirely to the study of the Scriptures, if you meditate day and night on the law of the Lord, you will have no fear, day or night, but you will be protected and trained against any attack of the enemy.”[2] He was asked by a famous book publisher, Johann Froben, to work on the New Testament with him so that Christians around the world would have the original words as written by the New Testament writers. But Froben pushed Erasmus to hurry so that they could beat the publication of the Spanish Complutensian Polyglot Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin) by Francisco Ximenes. Erasmus felt that his volume was “precipitated rather than edited” because of the rush.[3] Because of the hurry, Erasmus did not find as many early Greek manuscripts as he wished he could have. For the Book of Revelation, he found only one Greek manuscript dating from the twelfth century! To his chagrin, the last six verses of Revelation were missing. So Erasmus translated the Latin Vulgate into Greek, instead of delaying the publication. This inadequate reading is still perpetuated in printings of the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament, from which the King James Version was made in 1611 and Luther’s German translation. Erasmus’s New Testament edition rests upon six Greek manuscripts, the oldest from the tenth century. Both the current Greek New Testaments (the 28th and 5th editions) are based on more than 5735 (in 2003) manuscripts[4] and Revelation is based on 29 Greek manuscripts with 14 of them earlier than the tenth century (dating from the second [p88], third [p10, p115], fourth [p24, Codex Sinaiticus, 0169, 1217], fifth [codices A, C, 0163], sixth [p43], and eighth [0229] centuries. The important Codex Sinaiticus was in Mount Sinai during Erasmus’ time, but was not discovered by Europeans until 1844 by Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf.[5]   

Erasmus did not allow his Greek New Testament to include the Trinitarian statement in 1 John 5:7-8 concerning “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth.” These words may still be found in our King James Version. They are wonderful words. However, they were not written by the Apostle John. Erasmus is reported to have promised his contemporaries that he would include these verses if ever found in Greek. In response, the very first Greek version of these words appears to have been manufactured in 1520 by a Franciscan friar who translated these words from a late Latin Vulgate. Erasmus did add the verses to a later third edition, but he remained suspicious of their origin. Probably they entered a later Latin translation as a marginal commentary, since they had not appeared in the Latin Vulgate before AD 800, way after Jerome’s own Latin translation (c. 382).

While Erasmus’ Greek text came to be called “the text now received by all” in 1633 or the “Textus Receptus”[6] and while the Latin translation was a good text, God has enabled Christians to find even better Greek manuscripts through the years. The further away we are from the New Testament events, the more Greek manuscripts we are discovering!

What did I learn from my compatriot Erasmus’ own example? How devout and earnest he was to find and edit and publish the genuine New Testament, and to stand for what he thought was right, nevertheless, even he could be pushed too much, to accept what he knew was not right. God’s original revelation has no errors because God is true (John 3:33b) and God’s words are “trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:5; 22:6). We humans also need to stand for the truth as best we can and resist pressure that leads to untruth, while appreciating men and women like Erasmus who have fought to promote a reliable Bible for us to use, study, and apply to our lives.

I am so grateful to God for scholars like Erasmus, who himself learned Greek in order to bring together a Greek New Testament so people could read God’s word in the original language. And I am so blessed to have grown up with my Dutch Huguenot heritage. The Huguenots like Erasmus disseminated and studied the Bible. And, following in their heritage, I am delighted to invest my life in studying and teaching the word of God. I realize this is the great treasure I have inherited.


Erasmus drawn by Albert Dűrer in 1526. The letters read “a better portrait his writings show” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (

[1] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, vol. 2 (Peabody: Prince, 2004), 95.

[2] The Handbook of the Christian Soldier: Enchiridion militis christiani, trans. by Charles Fantazzi (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 33,, downloaded 17 April 2023.

[3] My appreciation for the account of Erasmus from Bruce Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 138-48.

[4] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 50.

[5] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 62-65, 172.

[6] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 152.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

When “Who’s in Charge Here” Is a Lethal Question


Musicians in Costa Maya, Mexico (, picture is by Aída Besançon Spencer 2/27/2023.

We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a cruise from Miami to several Central American countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. While on the cruise, we learned of the Mayan civilizations that lived in Mesoamerica before the Spaniards arrived. One Mayan leader, Rigoberta Menchú, helped, with others,[1] to end a 36-year war (ending in 1996) between the Guatemalan government and the Mayan guerrilla opposition. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her peacemaking efforts.[2] She helped negotiate the return of Mayan land and Mayan rights and respect. Now Guatemala has at least 30% pure Mayans (41% indigenous people).[3] The resultant sharing of power and benefits between the Spanish descendants and Mayan descendants are a model to all of us, including us Christians, in our churches and institutions. How is that?

We learn from the New Testament that all we believers are living stones being built into a spiritual house in order to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, our spiritual living cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-6). In a priesthood of all believers, everyone deserves respect, power, recognition, and space to exercise each one’s spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:8-11).

We do not always appreciate the practical importance and application of the concept of the priesthood belonging to all. Sadly, the ancient Mayan culture did not have the concept of a priesthood belonging to all. As priests we Christians serve as intermediaries between people on this earth and the living God through Jesus, who is God, our one and only high priest, taking our concerns to God.[4]

As we visited the ancient sites of Quirigua, Guatemala and Chacchoben, Mexico, we learned that at these sites and elsewhere in A.D. 250-900 (and earlier) a religious and educational elite of around 1% of the population chose the occupations for all. The elite themselves inherited their roles and status. The elite were engineers, astronomers, as well as priests who lived together but separate from the poor in special elevated housing. The elite promised favor to the peasants from the 68 deities, if the elite’s control and rulership of society were accepted. They were intermediaries between the underworld and the higher spiritual world. At Quirigua, the ruling king was pictured on stelae (limestone structures) as intermediaries. At Chacchoben, we can still see Mayan trees where the roots symbolize the underworld and the branches symbolize the spiritual higher world.  But around A.D. 950, a great drought came upon Mesoamerica and the peasants became disgruntled with the structure where the majority served like slaves for the minority. It is hypothesized by archaeologists that the peasants felt driven to revolt and to destroy the elite royals, who had not succeeded in providing them fertile grounds with abundant food.  When the elite died, who could then read their marvelous calendars[5] and books? The unempowered peasants were not literate. That is the lethal underside of a stratified culture where an elite provide certain benefits to an oppressed majority. When the benefits do not come through, the elite are blamed; there is no community responsibility. But, no human or humans can fully guarantee happiness or accuracy in prognosis for their underlings.

When James and John tried to set up special future benefits for themselves from Jesus, the remaining ten apostles were angry. As a consequence, Jesus explained that they were all acting like the “Gentiles” or nonbelievers who have rulers who “lord it over them” and these “great ones tyrannize them.” Instead, great Christian leaders should serve as slaves of all, as Jesus did (Mark 10:41-45). Possibly the Mayan elite thought they were serving all, therefore they deserved special benefits, but, as soon as others saw them as tyrants and failures, their hierarchical and stratified society collapsed and the privileged lost their privileges and their lives. Within 500 years their civilization collapsed.

Now, over 30-40% of Guatemalans are evangelical Christians. Lonely Planet notes (in 2016), “The number of new evangelical churches in some towns and villages, especially indigenous Mayo villages, is astonishing.”[6] And, what the elite could not accomplish, the Holy Spirit accomplished many years later (1974-75), creating from the ground enormous vegetables in Almolonga, Guatemala that did bless many and astonish the world.[7]

Who recognizes God’s spiritual gifts? All followers of Christ must be involved so that all take responsibility for successes and failures. We know that no spiritual gift is greater than any other (1 Corinthians 13:4-30). It is the triune God who appoints, gives, arranges, and activates (1 Corinthians 12:4-30) and no elite group in the church should control the recognition and acceptance of spiritual gifts.

Who’s in charge here? Who can be our intermediary to God? The answer for Christians is all of us by means of the triune God.


[1] In 1996, Álvaro Enrique Arzú Irigoyen of the Pártido de Avanzada Nacional (PAN) and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Party (URNG=4 guerilla organizations) signed a peace accord (Steve Fallon, Bridget Gleeson, Paul Harding, and John Hecht, Central America on a Shoestring, 9th ed. [China: Lonely Planet Publications, Oct. 2016], 215).

[2] “Santo Tomas,” Currents (Feb. 24, 2023): 1. Rigoberta was a Quiché Maya and an advocate for indigenous people throughout Latin America. Thanks also to the helpful informative tour guides, Fernando and Alvaro.

[3] Fallon, et al., Central America on a Shoestring, 217, 718.

[4] Jesus died on human behalf to save us, while each of us humans pray for ourself and others to the triune God. Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:25-8:2; 9:11-15; 10:19-21.

[5] These Mayans had 3 calendars: the solar calendar with 19 months (365 days), a lunar calendar with 13 months (260 days), and a cycle of life calendar of 52 years.

[6] Fallon, et al., Central America on a Shoestring, 218.

[7] Mell Winger discusses the radical transformation of the city now “marked by family harmony, prosperity, and peace in the Holy Spirit,” compared to its earlier poverty, alcoholism, and devotion to the demonic idol Maxirnon. Mell Winger, “Almolonga, the Miracle City,” Renewal Journal (11 May 2012), Stephen R. Sywulka, “The Selling of ‘Miracle City’” (April 5, 1999) observes that residents of Almolonga should avoid the prosperity gospel and maintain humility (