The study of the Bible and its ancient manuscripts saves me from fundamentalism and religious intolerance. The more we know, the better we are protected against bigotry. Allow me to take you along and show you how I spent Monday afternoon (my day off) this week.This snippet is from the Sinai Bible, the oldest surviving, almost complete Bible. It was produced, hand written, in early IV century C.E. most likely in Alexandria. In this picture is the text of the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospel of Luke (11:2b-4). And here is my working translation of the original text as written by the hand of the first scribe:
Your name be holy!
Your kingdom come!
Your will be done as in heaven, thus on earth!
Our daily bread give us by day!
And forgive us our sins,
as even we forgive our debtors!
And do not turn us in for trial.
The Gospel of Luke contains a shorter version of Lord’s Prayer while Matthew (6:9-13) has a longer version, and the original Luke version was probably even shorter than what we have in our text. The green field with the text Your will be done as in heaven, thus on earth! is absent from the oldest preserved fragment in the Bodner Papyrus No.75, which predated the Sinai Bible by another century. Most likely this petition was inserted from the Gospel of Matthew or from church liturgy.
What makes this picture interesting is the great number of manuscript corrections. Blue circles in our picture represent grammatical corrections and textual additions. Red circles and pink fields represent deletions. On the margins of our textual column are also two larger textual inserts. One on the lower right side was later erased (yet, thankfully, still remains readable), and the one on the upper left margin was questioned by a later scribe (by a dot beneath the tilde mark in the text). Both these larger insertions attempted to include a petition deliver us from evil into different places of the prayer and again came as a borrowing from the gospel of Matthew.
In total, there were at least two, possibly three or more correcting hands (scribes) who made at least twelve changes or corrections of changes in the space of three verses. Think about it: twelve textual variants in this short prayer, twelve! And this is one of the oldest biblical manuscripts and an important source for our biblical translations. Now you know why an honest study of the Bible is the best vaccination against Christian fundamentalism, biblical literalism, claims of the biblical inerrancy and all sorts of religious bigotry.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not dismiss biblical text or Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. I actually find them greatly fascinating and inspiring. For this reason I invite you to come to worship this Sunday and pray together this deeply meaningful and transformative prayer of our Lord as we seek its true meaning for us today.
And here is the Lord's Prayer as was preserved for us in the Manhattan Gospel of Henry Rutgers:
May what you stand for
be considered Holy.
May the world be shaped
as your love will have it:
Preserve for us and future generations
enough food for everyone
with fresh air to breath,
clean water to drink
blue planet to inhabit.
May governments around the world
institute the Unconditional Basic Income.
Let police and courts treat people fairly
regardless of their class, nationality or race.