Chapter 5: The Localities
The manuscripts and their classifications and readings will be studied in later pages. What we shall do now is closely scrutinize the primary centers from which our extant manuscripts have originated. It will be revealed in later study that Biblical manuscripts (MSS) are divided into two general groups. These two groups have been found to disagree with each other in many areas. Every English Bible in existence today will be found to proceed more or less from one of these two groups. The fact that there is one God plainly tells us that there can be only one correct reading concerning any given discrepancy between these two groups.
Obviously, prior to comparing readings, it will be beneficial to investigate the ancient centers from which our two basic groups proceed.
Earlier, we established two "ground rules." It will be relevant to our study to review those rules at this point, and to keep them in mind as we continue. Firstly, we established that the Bible is a spiritual book which God exerted supernatural force to conceive, and it is reasonable to assume that He could exert that same supernatural force to preserve it. Secondly, that Satan desires to be worshipped. He has the ability to counterfeit God's actions and definitely will be involved actively in attempting to destroy God's Word and/or our confidence in that Word, while seeking to replace it with his own "versions." The fact that the disagreement between these two families is centered around points of deity or doctrine tells us that one of them must be the preserved text, as found in the original MSS, while the other is a Satanic forgery. Satan attacked Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:1-11) and will try to replace Him in the future (Revelation 13:1-8).
Are we to believe that Satan, a sworn enemy of Truth, is not going to attempt to disrupt the travel of God's Word through history? Would he dare let the only tangible item which God has left us remain unattacked? No, Satan cannot afford to allow the Holy Scriptures to be unmolested. He will obviously be heard to be its loudest textual critic and will attempt to eliminate God's true Word while replacing it with his own Satanic counterfeit.
With this in mind, we shall begin with the original autographs and trace the history of these two families of MSS.
Jesus Christ always worked through His followers. It is only logical that He would look to His followers as instrumental in the preservation of His words.
The New Testament was a paradox. It was completely foreign to anything that the world had ever known. Until the time of Christ, the world was Biblically divided into two groups.
One was the Jews. They were known as God's "chosen people." Their religious practices were founded on the teachings of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (thirty-nine books which comprise our present Old Testament). They awaited their Messiah, the ruler who was expected at any time to come to earth and set up a Jewish kingdom based in Jerusalem.
The other group spoken of in Scripture is the Gentile population of the world. The Gentiles are also referred to as a group by the term "Greeks." They were very religious, but heathenistic in practice. This is noted by the Apostle Paul. When in Athens he mentioned that the city was "wholly given to idolatry" (Acts 17:16). After seeing them carry out their religious duties, he concluded, "I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious" (Acts 17:22). The Gentile world was caught up in the fantasies of Christless education, philosophy, and religion.
Another location of pagan religious practices was Rome. In Rome were found temples built for the worship of many pagan gods and goddesses. A few of these are Jupiter, Apollo, and Minerva. Still another pagan city known for its education and philosophy was Alexandria, Egypt. Famed for its library and school, it was a center of education during the centuries prior to the New Testament era. It was known to have received much of its philosophy from Athens about 100 B.C.
When the Christian church appeared, made up of born again believers, it was looked upon as a rather strange group of people. The Jews rejected it because its patrons claimed that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah. The Gentiles rejected Christianity because of the Christians' claims that salvation was complete and that one could know that they had eternal life. This ran contrary to the teachings of pagan philosophy that nothing can be known for sure. It also made their heathen religious practices worthless, not to mention all of their beautiful temples.
The New Testament church needed a place to grow. It needed a location that was far away from the prejudices of the Jewish religious community centered in Jerusalem and the Gentile philosophical community. It needed a location that would be advantageous to the spreading of the gospel. Such a location was realized when, after the death of Stephen, the believers traveled to Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19). But it was Antioch that the Holy Spirit chose for the base of Christian operations. Antioch was founded by Seleucus I about 300 B.C. Its location was of prime importance to the gospel since it was built at the crossroads of ancient trade routes from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean and from western Arabia to Asia Minor. It also has a seaport on the Orontes River.
In addition to the secular history of these two areas, let us examine what the Bible says concerning them. The law of first mention is important, as the first mention of a subject usually sets the light in which that subject shall reside in the Bible narrative.
Since one of the two families of MSS originated in Alexandria, Egypt, we shall first look at Egypt. Egypt is first mentioned in Genesis 12:10. "...Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there...." but verse 12 says, "Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive." (Genesis 12:12). Immediately we find a negative air about Egypt in the Bible. Notice that Abram's fear concerns the line of Christ, Satan's first enemy. "And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard." (Genesis 37:36). Here we find Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt. This also is negative.
"Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses." (Exodus 1:11). In this verse we see Israel, the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, persecuted in Egypt, a type of the world. Verses 15 and 16 show that Satan's attack was once again on the seed through which the Lord Jesus Christ would come. In Exodus 20:2, Egypt is called "the house of bondage." In Deuteronomy 4:20, God calls Egypt "the iron furnace." God forbids Israel to carry on commercial activities with Egypt in Deuteronomy 17:16. "But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way." Notice this final sentence gives the solemn warning, "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way."
In Jeremiah 46:25 we find God promising punishment on Egypt. "The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saith; Behold, I will punish the multitude of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with their gods, and their kings; even Pharaoh, and all them that trust in him:"
Look at Ezekiel 20:7. "Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." Here we find that God commanded Israel not to be associated with Egypt's idolatry.
The last of our references compares Jerusalem in apostasy to Sodom and Egypt. "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." (Revelation 11:8).
This is only a small cross section of the Biblical references to Egypt, but I believe we see that God's attitude towards Egypt is not positive.
Now let's zero in on the city of Egypt which will concern our study, Alexandria.
Alexandria is first mentioned in Acts 6:9. "Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen." Here we find that Jews from Alexandria were partially responsible for the stoning of Stephen.
Also in Acts 18:24 we find Apollos was from Alexandria. Although he was later saved and became a great disciple of Christ, he was first associated with inadvertently misleading the people of Ephesus in Acts 19:1-3.
We have now looked at what the Bible has to say concerning Egypt in general and Alexandria in particular.
Since we accept the Bible in all matters of "faith and practice," we should take care to remember that God takes a negative approach to Egypt. Do we have any right to ignore God's displeasure and approach Egypt in a "positive" manner? Solomon was by far wiser than we are, yet he ignored God's clear warnings. For example, I Kings 3:1 says, "And Solomon made affinity with Pharoah king of Egypt, and took Pharoah's daughter, and brought her into the city of David, until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the LORD, and the wall of Jerusalem round about." Also, I Kings 10:28 says, "And Solomon had horses brought out of Egypt, and linen yarn: the king's merchants received the linen yarn at a price." (cf. Deuteronomy 17:16). We find that ignoring God's Word led to the heart being turned away from the Lord and after other gods (I Kings 11:3, 4). This resulted in abominable acts on his part (I Kings 11:5, 8)and finally brought God's judgment in I Kings 11:9-43.
Certainly, if wise Solomon could fall by accepting Egypt in spite of God's clear condemnation, we would do well to take care before we buy any "horses out of Egypt." God may not be pleased with such actions.
Now let us see what the Bible says about the city of Antioch.
Antioch is first mentioned in Acts 6:5 when Nicolas, a Christian from Antioch, was chosen to be one of the first deacons. So we see that the first time Antioch is mentioned, it is in a positive light. Antioch is mentioned again in Acts 11:19. Here, it is a refuge for Christians from persecution. In the Scripture Antioch represents a "type" of the new life given to believers after having accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.
To fully understand the light in which the Bible presents Antioch in Acts 11, we must look at the context in which chapter 11 is written. In the preceding chapter (Acts 10) God plainly shows that He is calling out a following from among the Gentiles. In the following chapter (Acts 12) God shows that He is not going to use Jerusalem as the center of the New Testament church (Acts 12:1-4).
Antioch, the new center, is away from the Gentile centers of Alexandria, Athens, and Rome and the Jewish center of Jerusalem. Antioch symbolizes the Christian's new life, apart from the heathenism of the Gentiles and ritualism of Judaism. II Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." When a Gentile is saved, he is to leave his heathenistic lifestyle for a new spiritual location in Christ. Likewise, when a Jew is saved, he is to leave his ritualism for a new spiritual location in Christ. In Galatians 3:28 Paul states that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek...for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." In I Corinthians 10:32 he divides mankind into three groups, "Jews...Gentiles...the Church of God." As God gives born again man a new spiritual location, He also gave His new young church a new physical location.
Please notice that after Acts chapter 12, the other apostles are left alone at Jerusalem and are mentioned only one last time in the narrative. This is in Acts 21:18 where they briefly rejoice in Paul's report and then get preoccupied with the law! Paul in Galatians 2:11 had to rebuke Peter of this very thing when he came to Antioch and tried to exercise the same legalistic teaching of Judaism on the New Testament church there. Obviously God was using Antioch and Antiochian Christians to forge a new practice of worshipping Him, different from the Old Testament Judaism and the Gentile mythology and heathenism.
Acts 11:20 shows the beginning of God's settlement in Antioch. "And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus." In Acts 11:22, Barnabas, one of the most important figures of the New Testament, moves from Jerusalem to Antioch. He is the man who is responsible for Paul being in the ministry. It was Barnabas who went to Tarsus to get Paul, then named Saul, in Acts 11:25. Upon finding him, Barnabas brought him back to Antioch, not Jerusalem (Acts 11:26). So we see that the primary figure of the New Testament church actually began his ministry in Antioch. Paul had visited Jerusalem in Acts 9:26-29 and had even preached there, but his ministry to the Gentiles really began when he departed from Antioch in Acts 13:1-3 with Barnabas.
We must also notice that it was at Antioch that the disciples were called "Christians" for the first time (Acts 11:26). In verse 27 of Acts 11 we find that the prophets from the Jerusalem church left it to settle in Antioch. In verse 29 of Acts 11, we even see that it was necessary for the Christians at Antioch to send relief down to their brethren in Jerusalem.
As we mentioned before, Paul's first missionary journey originated from Antioch in Acts 13:1-3. The Bible states in verse 2 that the Holy Ghost "called" them. It was in Antioch that God chose these men. Upon returning from their trip (Acts 14:26-28) they came back to Antioch, not Alexandria; not Jerusalem. When some "Christian" Judaizers came up to Antioch from Jerusalem and began to teach the believers there that, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1), Paul and Barnabas confronted them. Afterwards, Paul and Barnabas went down and spoke with the apostles concerning this. They formed a council and returned to their beloved Antioch with a written statement to the effect that Judaism had no hold over the New Testament church.
Upon returning to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas took with them chosen men of the Jerusalem church, Silas being one of them (Acts 15:22). They all returned to Jerusalem but Silas (Acts 15:33,34), and he is the only one whom we find recorded in New Testament history. After Acts chapter 11 and the move to Antioch, God used only those who left Jerusalem and settled in Antioch! Such is the case with Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and Mark. Paul and Barnabas reside at Antioch (Acts 15:35) and depart from there again in verse 40.
Notice that Paul sets his mind to go back to Jerusalem in Acts 20:22, knowing that it is against God's will as we find in Acts 20:23; 21:4, and again in 21:10-12. He goes to Jerusalem in spite of God's warning against it and is seized in Acts 21:30, thus beginning the end of his ministry! This plainly teaches that a Christian is not to return to his "old" life in any way, shape, or form and should stand firm in his "new location" in Christ. It also shows that if there will be any center for New Testament Christianity, it will be found in Antioch.
It may well be that many of the "originals" that we have heard so much about were written right there in Antioch!
Egypt is a type of this world. Antioch is a type of a Christian's new life in Christ. Which one do you think that God would use to preserve His Word?
God will not do anything contrary to His nature. It would not be consistent with God's nature to use Alexandria, Egypt to preserve His Word when He paints such a dismal picture of it in Scripture. In fact, there is no record of any of the New Testament Christians ever visiting there.
Antioch, on the other hand, was greatly used by God as the center of New Testament Christianity. Paul never took up residence in Jerusalem, but always returned to Antioch. Looking from the spiritual and practical aspect, Antioch would obviously be the logical location of the true Bible text.