"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 7, Number 9, September 2004
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
I will show partiality to no one. Nor will I flatter any man.”
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]
The Salience of the Lamb
Those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes.”
Charles Lamb (1775-1834), quoted in
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
(2nd edition), p. 306
I am happy to report that recently I became the owner and editor of the web-site www.KJVOnly.org. This site was begun several years ago to make publicly accessible numerous scholarly and documented articles by various authors on the current English Bible controversy. The site has developed into a virtual “one-stop” location for trustworthy materials on the King James Bible debate, and almost every aspect of that controversy is addressed in at least one of the articles posted there. Many who have visited the site have commented on how the information available there has been singularly helpful to them. New articles are being regularly added. All back issues of “As I See It” can also be found there.
If you have not visited this site, let me invite you to do so.
The DaVinci Code Deception
It is a rare thing indeed for a novel to sell millions of copies and to remain atop the New York Times’ “best sellers” list for more than a year. Yet that is exactly what the novel The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown has done. Released in April of 2003, and going through at least 50 printings since publication, sales reportedly exceed some 8 million--in hardback alone (the paperback version has not yet come out, to my knowledge). Translations have already been made into several languages. A movie version, directed by Ron “Opie” Howard, is reported to be in the progress.
I’ll admit up front that I have not yet read the book--I’m disinclined to buy a new copy and thereby pay royalties to such an author, and am waiting to find a cheap used copy somewhere; I have read four book-long critiques of the book which quote extensively from it (and though independent works, all four are in agreement as to the book’s claims and content) and viewed in part three televised programs dealing with the book which included interviews with the author.
By all accounts, the novel is reported to be an interesting though not flawless tale, judged as merely a work of fiction. The story line is about a centuries-long conspiracy by a secret society to keep concealed shocking facts that would supposedly absolutely destroy Christianity if they became known. A murder is committed to keep these facts secret. The main characters are in a quest to uncover clues leading to the truth behind the murder and find themselves in danger for their lives. The action is fast-paced.
The problem with this novel is that it boldly declares itself to be a factually accurate work, and that all of its claims and evidence discrediting the New Testament, Christ and the Gospel message are completely true. Many people who have never read the Bible, or who have only the most meager knowledge of Scripture, and who have no background in ancient history, especially early Christian history, and therefore are completely unequipped to recognize the utter falsity of Brown’s claims, will be poisoned in their attitude toward the Bible. No doubt many will be confirmed in their unbelief by this novel, because it tells them what they want to hear--that Christianity is bogus, Christ is only a man, the Bible is a fraud, and there is no need to fear, or prepare for, judgment to come. The message of the book that unbridled sexual expression is the highest good (one of its themes) caters to natural human desire in our libertine age.
Even weak Christians who don’t have the necessary academic background to discredit Brown’s phony reconstruction of history may be spiritually harmed by The DaVinci Code. Hank Hanegraaff tells of one Christian woman who came to him in tears, because she feared that this novel had destroyed the basis for the Christian faith. The danger is such that a general warning needs to be made to the Christian public, and to Brown’s readers in general, that Brown is in fact the deceiver, and that his claims are unfounded, dishonest and untrustworthy.
That the NT is indeed credible, its canon sound and complete, its integrity intact, its claims true, and its Christ supernatural (all of which are maliciously and deceptively attacked by Brown) has been demonstrated repeatedly by Christian apologists. Indeed, there is no lack of excellent defenses of the Scriptures and the Christian faith by competent scholars against every one of Brown’s baseless attacks. Unfortunately, none of these defenses has proven as popular as Brown’s fictitious work. Among these, as pre-emptive strikes of sorts against The DaVinci Code, could be named the two books by Lee Strobel reviewed in AISI 7:8, namely, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Zondervan, 1998) and The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (Zondervan, 2000). Anyone troubled by Brown will have his concerns laid to rest by reading Strobel, who consults and quotes real authorities and presents real historical evidence, and did so before Brown’s book ever saw the light of day.
The response of Christian writers to the specific malevolent attack on the faith that The DaVinci Code constitutes has been rather slow in coming, though of late an increasing number of books and articles have appeared, sounding the alarm.
The year 2004 has seen a growing tide of solid responses to Brown’s fiction. Several competent and highly-qualified authors have raised the alarm against this not-so-subtle attack on the faith. Let me mention some of these.
Hank Hanegraaff, the “Bible Answer Man” and Paul L. Maier respond succinctly but effectively in their book The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2004), 81 pp.; $4.99, paperback. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, exposes the major factual errors and gross misrepresentations of Brown’s novel. Hanegraaff in turn presents the positive case for the credibility of the NT records, especially the Gospels, in marked contrast to the utter unreliability of Brown’s alleged “facts” and other fictitious claims. All is fully documented. Brief enough to read at one sitting, this small book is likely to be very useful in informing church members and others about the dangers and errors in The Da Vinci Code.
James L. Garlow (Th. M, Princeton; Ph.D., Drew University) and Peter Jones (Th.M, Harvard Seminary; Ph.D., Princeton Seminary) wrote Cracking Da Vinci’s Code (Colorado Springs: Victor Books, 2004), 252 pp., $14.99, paperback. Under the literary device of a naïve and gullible individual exposed to the novel The Da Vinci Code, but with an informed friend seeking to expose the deceptions of Brown’s novel, and presenting the Gospel truth, Garlow and Jones address the distortions, erroneous claims, and subversion--dishonest subversion--of Biblical teaching by Brown. They have an excellent presentation (pp. 112, 113) about the origin of the bogus “Priory of Sion” and the forger who first put forth the claims and “documents” that form the foundation of Brown’s thesis. They give particular attention to what may be called Brown’s positive purpose (his negative one is to subvert the credibility of Christ and the New Testament), that is, the promotion (as a substitute for Christianity) and re-introduction of ancient fertility rites as the highest approach to God, in short, orgiastic, sex-worshipping in the guise of religion. The volume is well done, with thorough documentation of sources.
Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago and a prolific author, has written The Da Vinci Deception (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2004), 122 pp., $14.99, hardback. Like the above books, he exposes Brown’s demonstrably false claims, defends the Christian canon, the doctrine of Christ’s deity as a doctrine of believers since the beginning, not (as Brown claims), the imposed view of Emperor Constantine only in the 4th century. He includes a strong appeal for the reader to accept the historic Jesus of the Gospels and New Testament, rather than the mythical Jesus of later Gnostic imaginings.
Dr. Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, has written Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 188pp., $19.99, hardback. This was the first anti-Da Vinci Code book to come to my attention. Bock examines in depth the ancient error of Gnosticism (which The Da Vinci Code seeks to revive as “real” Christianity). Among other things, Bock shows that while ancient Gnosticism denied the true corporeal humanity of Jesus, Brown’s modern Gnosticism denies His true deity, debasing Him into just a mere mortal man (and thereby demonstrating that the ancient Gnostic texts do not support Brown “new” version of Christianity). The book would have been improved by the omission of the foreword by Catholic University of America Professor Francis J. Moloney.
I have read the above four titles and would say that those by Hanegraaf and Maier, and by Garlow and Jones are the better of the group. I have not seen the following three volumes, but include them for completeness.
Richard Abanes, The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code: A Challenging Response to the Bestselling Novel. (Harvest House).
Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the Da Vinci Code (Inter-Varsity).
Carl E. Olson & Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in the Da Vinci Code (Ignatius); 250 pages, softcover. A Roman Catholic response and rebuttal of Brown’s fictional claims.
All of these books are available through the usual sources--CBD, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. I even purchased that by Garlow and Jones at Wal-Mart.
(Note: there is a book that claims to provide “supporting documentation“ for Brown’s claims that The Da Vinci Code is entirely true. That book is Secrets of the Code, edited by Dan Burstein. It reprints different publications, articles, chapters, etc. from which Brown drew his misinformation. An examination of the sources excerpted reveals a collection of kooks, crack-pots, lunatic-fringers, fabricators and forgers. The reader needs to be warned that this book is not an expose of Brown’s errors, but a supporting work.)
I would strongly urge every pastor or Bible teacher, indeed, every Christian, to read at least one of the above noted critique’s of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, so that they can be prepared to respond to those friends, co-workers and neighbors who may have read this novel, or those who will see the movie (which movie will inevitably--no matter how bad it is--be lauded to the skies by the liberal media; I can imagine Ron Howard and Dan Brown being interviewed by Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, or the women on “The View”, and can an appearance on “Oprah” be far behind? And no doubt Andy Rooney will pontificate that this is the way movies about Christianity should be made, unlike “The Passion of the Christ,” which he utterly despised).
This issue is not going away anytime soon.
Jesus Outside the New Testament: Ancient Evidence
Occasionally, one meets an individual who adopts the historically impossible view that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. Anyone familiar with the breadth of ancient extra-biblical evidence attesting to the person and life of Jesus would never adopt such a view. Indeed, the evidence that confirms the historicity of Jesus is vastly more extensive that that for the historicity of Confucius, Buddha and Muhammad combined, to mention just three ancient religious leaders--and yet who denies the existence of these three? No doubt there is a prejudicial spiritually-motivated inclination that leads some to deny that Jesus was a real person, but that is another matter.
These diverse ancient witnesses are assembled in one conveniently-sized volume, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, by the late scholar F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974; 216 pp.). Here, Bruce assembles and discusses the testimonies to the life, miracles, death, resurrection and disciples of Jesus as found in ancient sources (some dating to the first or early second century): in Greek and Roman writers, in Jewish writers rabbinic and secular, in extra-canonical “sayings” of Jesus (including an extended treatment of the 114 sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gnostic “Gospel according to Thomas” that plays such a prominent place in The Da Vinci Code), extra-canonical “Gospels,” and even in the Koran and Islamic tradition. Bruce has a final chapter about how the findings of modern archaeology confirm the general picture of Christ as given in the New Testament, and even some specific details.
All ancient texts are given in English. Footnotes and documentation are extensive, and a high level of accurate scholarship is maintained throughout (as is to be expected in Bruce’s writings). Naturally much in these extra-canonical sources is incomplete, distorted, exaggerated, or otherwise an inadequate picture of the true Jesus, but they attest to His life in its proper historical context, reported miracles, rejection, suffering and death, and His resurrection, as well as His growing body of followers. Of course, the New Testament is and must remain the primary, the one absolutely essential source of trustworthy information about who Jesus was and is, what He taught, and what He did.
Pliny’s Important Testimony to Early Christianity
One of the most important extra-biblical testimonies concerning Christ and early Christianity is to be found in the official correspondence of Pliny the Younger (ca. 62 A.D--115 A.D.) to the Roman Emperor Trajan (reigned 98-117 A.D.). Pliny, governor of Bithynia in what is today northwestern Turkey, wrote to the Emperor in 111 A.D. (107 A.D. according to some sources) for advice on how to deal with the rapidly growing number of Christians in his province. The letter is significant for the details it gives concerning Christian doctrines, practices, morals and personal conduct.
We reproduce the letter, numbered x. 96, as given in Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, pp. 25-27--
“My Lord: it is my custom to consult you whenever I am in doubt about any matter; who is better able to direct my hesitation or instruct my ignorance?
I have never been present at Christian trials; consequently I do not know the precedents regarding the question of punishment or the nature of the inquisition. I have been in no little doubt whether some discrimination is made with regard to age, or whether the young are treated no differently from the older; whether renunciation wins indulgence, or it is of no avail to have abandoned Christianity if one has once been a Christian; whether the very profession of the name is to be punished, or only the disgraceful practices which go along with the name.
So far this has been my procedure when people were charged before me with being Christians. I have asked the accused themselves if they were Christians; if they said ‘Yes,’ I asked them a second and third time, warning them of the penalty; if they persisted I ordered them to be led off to execution. For I had no doubt that, whatever kind of thing it was that they pleaded guilty to, their stubbornness and unyielding obstinacy at any rate deserved to be punished. There were others afflicted with the like madness whom I marked down to be referred to Rome, because they were citizens.
Later, as usually happens, the trouble spread by the very fact that it was being dealt with, and further varieties came to my notice. An anonymous document was laid before me containing many people’s names. Some of these denied that they were Christians or had ever been so; at my dictation they invoked the gods and did reverence with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose along with the statues of the gods; they also cursed Christ; and as I am informed that people who are really Christians cannot possibly be made to do any of those things, I considered that the people who did them should be discharged. Others against whom I received information said they were Christians and then denied it; they meant (they said) that they had once been Christians but had given it up: some three years previously, some a longer time, one of two as many as twenty years before. All these likewise did reverence to your image and the statues of the gods and cursed Christ. But they maintained that their fault or error amounted to nothing more than this: they were in the habit of meeting on a fixed day before sunrise and reciting an antiphonal hymn to Christ as God [emphasis added--ed.], and binding themselves with an oath--not to commit any crime, but to abstain from all acts of theft, robbery and adultery, from breaches of faith, from repudiating a trust when called upon to honour it. After this, they went on, it was their custom to separate, and then meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. And even this, they said, they had given up doing since the publication of my edict which, according to your instructions, I had placed a ban on private associations. So I thought it the more necessary to inquire into the real truth of the matter by subjecting to torture two female slaves, who were called ‘deacons’; but I found nothing more than a perverse superstition which went beyond all bounds [probably referring to the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection--ed.].
Therefore I deferred further inquiry in order to apply to you for a ruling. The case seemed to me to be a proper one for consultation, particularly because of the number of those who were accused. For many of every age, every class, and of both sexes are being accused and will continue to be accused. Nor has this contagious superstition spread through the cities only, but also through the villages and countryside. But I think it can be checked and put right. At any rate the temples, which had been well-nigh abandoned, are beginning to be frequented again; and the customary services, which had been neglected for a long time, are beginning to be resumed; fodder for the sacrificial animals, too, is beginning to find a sale again, for hitherto it was difficult to find anyone to buy it. From all this it is easy to judge what a multitude of people can be reclaimed, if an opportunity is granted them to renounce Christianity.”
Everything in this letter harmonizes perfectly well with the picture of Christians and Christianity we find in the NT documents--meeting on a special day (no doubt Sunday), singing to Christ as God (note how this exposes the utter lie of Dan Brown who claims that the doctrine of the Deity of Christ was imposed on Christianity by Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D.--more than 200 years after the letter of Pliny testifies to the Christians’ belief in Christ’s Deity!), maintaining the highest standards of morals and ethics, the refusal to acknowledge other gods or to worship idols, meeting together for communal meals, the reception of Christianity by people of all classes and standings, and more. Nothing here supports in the least the fictitious “primitive Christianity” that Brown claims Gnosticism was.
Those who know the facts and documents of history will universally reject the claims of The Da Vinci Code as a colossal fraud.
Did the Church Fathers Know Hebrew?
In response to our article regarding the Septuagint (AISI, 7:7, 7:8), a reader wrote: “I have a question about your article on ‘The Septuagint
B.C. or A.D.?’ My question is about a statement you make under the heading of
‘Christian Writers’ subtitle ‘Apostolic Fathers’ first paragraph. You state, ". . . All these quotations are in Greek (none of these men had command of Hebrew) . . ." What evidence do you have that these men had no knowledge of Hebrew? Do you mean that they were illiterate in regards to Hebrew or simply did not have access to it? Thank you for your scholarship and devotion to the truth.
On the issue of how much knowledge of Hebrew the church fathers had,
there is an excellent article (which surely must have cost the author
months of labor to produce) by C. J. Elliott, viz., "Hebrew Learning
Among the Fathers" in, A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature,
Sects and Doctrines, edited by William Smith and Henry Wace (London: John
Murray, 1880), vol. II, pp. 851-872 (double column, small print; good
reference libraries at universities will have this set). This article
indicates that the only fathers capable in Hebrew were Jerome (by far the
best) and Origen (much inferior). A very few others had a
smattering--Epiphanius, Eusebius, Theodoret--, but scarcely more than the
rudiments, and all these were centuries after the apostolic fathers. See
the summary statement on. p. 872b:
"The results of this inquiry may be summed up in few words. With the exception of Jerome, and perhaps Origen, none of the early Christian writers appear to have possessed any knowledge of Hebrew which was worthy of the name. The knowledge possessed by Epiphanius, to whom we may perhaps add Eusebius and Theodoret, was of an extremely superficial character, and served only, if indeed it extended so far, as to enable them to appreciate the value of the great work of Origen. Origen's scholarship was also very rude and elementary; and it yet remains to be ascertained to what extent the Hexapla represented the fruit of his own investigations, or the results of his wise and laborious appreciation of the knowledge of others. The name of Jerome stands out conspicuously alike upon the roll of his predecessors and of his successors until the time of the Reformation as by far the most distinguished, perhaps the only Christian writer of antiquity who was qualified to make an independent use of his Hebrew acquirements, and to whom the whole Christian church will ever owe an inestimable debt of gratitude for the preservation of so large a portion of the results of Origen's labors, and still more for that unrivalled and imperishable work which has been not inaptly described as having 'remained for eight centuries the bulwark of Western Christianity.' "
Additional Implications Regarding the LXX
and the Manner of Its Use by Christ and the Apostles
A reader wrote with some observations regarding our two-part article on the Greek version of the OT, the Septuagint (The Septuagint--B.C. or A.D.?, in AISI 7:7, 7:8). Because they are exactly on target, I thought them worth publishing.
I've enjoyed reading your 2-part article on the LXX. Excellent. You could have added to your conclusion the fact that if Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Apostles could take the available Greek translation, and quote it authoritatively, or sometimes improve it, and sometimes abandon it entirely and retranslate directly from the original language, then we are both free and obligated to do the same with our available English translation or translations.
I look forward to each issue of AISI. You have been a blessing to my soul. I was saved and raised under the ministry of _________ and it was many years before I was freed from the narrow, proud, censorious spirit that KJVonlyism engenders.
D. R. “
Variant Readings and the Virgin Birth Once Again
In the March 2004 issue of As I See It (vol. 7, no. 3), we addressed the issue of whether critical Greek texts subvert the doctrine of the virgin birth in Luke 2:33, 43 by following Greek manuscript readings different from the textus receptus/KJV, and more largely, the presence of variant readings in other passages in Greek manuscripts and several ancient translations of the NT elsewhere in Luke 2 and also in Matthew 1. Our attention was recently directed to another relevant passage which we inadvertently failed to note in that article, but which involves the same issue, though from another angle.
John 1:12, 13 reads, mostly literally rendered: “ (12) But however many [plural] receive Him, He gave to them [plural] authority to become children of God, to those who believe [plural] in the name of Him, (13) these [plural] not from bloods, neither from will of flesh, neither from will of a male but from God were born [plural].”
I have marked the plural pronouns and verbs so that the grammatical connections are obvious. As written--and this is the form of the text as found in the Greek text in all forms of the Greek without variation, whether textus receptus, majority text, or critical texts--the plural verbs and pronouns in the passage are speaking directly and exclusively about those individuals who exercise personal faith in the Word (Jesus). However, there is another reading, not found in any known Greek manuscripts, but evidenced by some manuscripts of some ancient versions and in some quotations from several church fathers, a reading which can be understood--and by some fathers is so expounded--as a declaration of the virgin birth of Christ (a doctrine which is otherwise without express confirmation in John’s Gospel).
In Old Latin manuscript “b” (from the 5th century) and in quotations in several church fathers, the pronoun at the beginning of v. 13 and the corresponding verb at the end of the verse are singular in number rather than plural, making their immediate antecedent and referent to be “Him” at the end of v. 12, i.e., the Word. Following this reading, the meaning of v. 13 would be that the one not born of bloods nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of a man/male would be Jesus, and John 1:13 would become yet another proof text of the virgin birth of Christ.
Besides the single Old Latin manuscript noted above (the rest follow the Greek text), this reading is attested almost exclusively in Latin fathers or in Latin translations of the writings of Greek fathers, including Irenaeus (in Latin translation), Tertullian, Origen (in Latin translation) in one of two quotations of the text, Ambrose in two out of five quotations of the passage, Jerome in one of three quotes, Augustine in one of fourteen quotes, and Sulpicius (apparently), [this information taken from the United Bible Societies’ The Greek New Testament, 4th ed., p. 313). The difference in Latin is between the plural “qui . . . nati sunt” (“who. . . were born”) and “qui . . .natus est,” (“who . . . was born”), the relative pronoun “who” being the same in the nominative case, whether singular or plural. This ambiguity in Latin (leaving the clarification of the number of the pronoun to the verb at the verse’s end), and the limitation of supporting evidence almost exclusively to Latin fathers or Latin translations of Greek fathers strongly suggests that this variant reading arose strictly in Latin and never had any place in Greek manuscripts, and certainly not in the original manuscript of John.
Tregelles in his The Greek New Testament (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1857-1879; vol. I, p. 377), gives the relevant Latin quotations from Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200): “Non enim ex voluntate carnis neque ex voluntate viri sed ex voluntate Dei, Verbum caro factum est” (“For not from the will of flesh neither from the will of a man but from the will of God, the Word became flesh;” see The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. I, Ireneaus Against Heresies, ch. XVI, paragraph 2, p. 441).
And again, “is qui non ex voluntate carnis neque ex voluntate viri natus est filius hominis est Christ filius Dei vivi,” (“he who not from the will of flesh neither from the will of a man was born, the son of man, is Christ the son of the living God;” see The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. I, Ireneaus Against Heresies, ch. XIX, paragraph 2, p. 449).
And once again, “quoniam non ex voluntate viri erat qui nascebatur,” (“because not from the will of a man was he who was born”; I could not locate this passage in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I)
Beyond the Latin evidence, there is partial support for the singular reading in some Syriac witnesses. The Curetonian copy of the Old Syriac (the Sinaitic manuscript of the Old Syriac is defective at this point), and 6 of 18 manuscripts (and other manuscripts not cited) of the Peshitta Syriac version used by Philip E. Pusey and George H. Gwilliam in their critical edition of the Peshitta Gospels, Tetraeuangelium Sanctum (Oxford, 1901; p. 484), though having a plural pronoun at the beginning of v. 13, “these, ” nevertheless have the verb at the end of the verse (of which “these” is the subject), in the singular, viz. “(he) was born,” clearly a grammatical irregularity (occasioned by the omission of a single letter at the end of the verb), since both pronoun and verb should agree in number to be grammatically correct. The change was perhaps made under the influence of the Old Latin (there are numerous readings in common between the Old Latin and the Old Syriac, and the relationship between the two is still largely a puzzle). At any rate, the singular verb in some Syriac witnesses puts the verb and pronoun in conflict, and immediately indicates that some change has been made in the verse. This partial and limited Syriac support is inadequate to give credence to the singular reading of both pronoun and verb, against the mass of evidence attesting to the plural in both words.
Were so weakly attested readings, as the singulars here are, to be found in the textus receptus and/or the KJV in John 1:13 (and note: they are not), we can be sure that KJVO partisans would bitterly denounce modern texts and versions which follow the universal evidence of the Greek manuscripts plus the great mass of versions and fathers in reading the plural instead of the singular. They would be accused of corrupting the truth, of attacking fundamental doctrine, of denying Christ. Indeed, that is exactly what one church father did do, who read the singular in his Latin version.
Tertullian (c. 160- c. 220) accused his adversaries of altering in John 1:13 what he presumed to be the original reading, the singular, into the plural: “What then is the meaning of this passage, ‘Born [Lat. natus est, singular], not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God’? I shall make more use of this passage after I have confuted those who have tampered with it. They maintain that it was written thus (in the plural) ‘Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,’ as if designating those who were before mentioned as ‘believing in his name,’ [v. 12] in order to point out the existence of that mysterious seed of the elect and spiritual which they appropriate to themselves. But how can this be, when all who believe in the name of the Lord are, by reason of the common principle of the human race, born of blood, and of the will of the flesh, and of man, as indeed is Valentinius himself? [Of course, John is not writing of human physical birth, but the new, spiritual birth which all believers experience, the birth as “sons of God”--editor]. The expression is in the singular number, as referring to the Lord, ‘He was born of God.’ “ (On the Flesh of Christ, ch. XIX, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. III, pp. 537, 538). Tertullian continues at some length following this same line of reasoning, basing his arguments on the singular pronoun and verb in the text as he knew it, rather than the plurals as evidenced in all Greek witnesses, and the great mass of the remaining witnesses, whether versions or fathers.
Were the true original reading of John 1:13 the singulars, then indeed this text would support--and marvelously--the miraculous virginal birth of Jesus, and could be placed along side such texts as Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:16-25, Luke 1:26-38, and Galatians 4:4 in demonstrating the Scriptural nature of that doctrine. But overwhelming evidence compels us to accept the plurals as the true reading here, and therefore we cannot legitimately appeal to the false though attractive readings here in support of orthodox doctrine regarding the incarnation. We must support that doctrine from other, unquestionably genuine, readings in other texts.
Such, then, is a practical demonstration of the principles of textual criticism as applied to the New Testament.
Note: having completed the above study, I examined several works and found that a number of commentaries and other books address the variant readings in John 1:13 and their potential implications. B. F. Westcott notes the variants and ascribes them, as I concluded independently, to an inner-Latin corruption that arose due to the ambiguity of the pronoun qui. J. H. Bernard mentions the variants, notes some modern scholars who had embraced them, but follows the standard Greek readings as overwhelmingly supported. D. A. Carson indicates that a surprising number of scholars, mostly Catholic [and therefore likely to be inclined to follow patristic interpretations] accept the singulars and the alleged reference to the virgin birth, though Carson adheres to the Greek, explaining the singular as possibly a deliberate change made to bolster the virgin birth. R. C. H. Lenski actually accepts the singulars as the true original readings and engages in mental gymnastics to justify this, against the full tide of Greek and other, evidence. Finally, J. Gresham Machen, in his classic work The Virgin Birth (Harper & Row, 1930), pp. 255-258, treats at length the readings, the evidence, the arguments and implications; he rejects the singulars as non-original, and therefore does not find the virgin birth in this verse.