A thorough review of a handwritten copy of the Gospel of John didn't reveal much controversy or conspiracy to the Rev. Tim Koch.
Instead, the endeavor simply fortified his faith.
Koch is the pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Cresbard and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wecota. He went through the Greek manuscript, written between 900 A.D. and 1000 A.D., as part of his thesis project.
As Koch's eyes scanned a script that's more than three times as old as the U.S., he couldn't help but have thoughts of Robert Langdon. Langdon is the fictional professor in popular Dan Brown books such as, "The Da Vinci Code." He's able to decipher mysterious symbols as perilous adventures unfold around him.
But while both Langdon and Koch deal with historical documents, looking to learn more about the history of religion, that's where the similarities end.
While some books, blogs and television programs imply biblical conspiracy, Koch didn't find anything that juicy as he went line-by-line through John.
"TV stations such as the History Channel, Discovery Channel and Planet Green often talk about the church in conspiratorial terms," Koch said. "As if the church suppressed the truth and was secretive about everything it did and continually worked to destroy Greek literature in favor of biblical literature. These claims simply cannot be substantiated by any credible historian."
He would know. He knows his Bible and his Greek.
Koch has been the pastor at the Cresbard and Wecota churches since July 2011. A native of St. Francis, Minn., he's a fifth-generation church worker. His parents are Lutheran grade school teachers in St. Francis. His grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all Lutheran pastors.
Some of Koch's ancestors have ties to northeast South Dakota. His father was born and baptized in Britton.
As Koch was pursuing his master's of sacred theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, he took a class called New Testament textual criticism. As part of the class, he had to either write a 10-page paper or analyze images of foreign text, noting differences between them. He chose the latter, which sparked the topic for his thesis work.
"I had a knack, my professor told me, for being able to decipher handwriting, so that's how I got into it," Koch said.
The tedious analysis of pages and pages of handwritten Greek isn't something many of his classmates appreciated, though. Generally, he said, they didn't understand why he took on the task.
That's not to say they could escape it altogether, though. All Missouri Synod seminary applicants have to meet qualifying standards in both Greek and Hebrew, said Koch, who went above and beyond.
"There was a romantic element to what I was doing, and I couldn't get enough of it," he said.
Koch looked at four manuscripts of the Gospel of John and thought he would encompass all of them into his thesis work. Ultimately, though, because the four documents had so much information, he settled on the most difficult one that's formally called Manuscript 2193.
Manuscript 2193 contains all four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Koch said he focused on John because of an ongoing international effort to identify variants in all New Testament manuscripts. He said the effort is currently focused on the Book of John.
Koch compared the text in 2193 to what has been deemed the standard text of John, the 1873 Oxford printing of the Greek New Testament and noted even the smallest differences.
The process of comparing an ancient manuscript to the 1873 Oxford standard text is called a collation. Collating of historical documents is not uncommon, Koch said.
Before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1454, there were no standardized biblical texts, and manuscripts were filled with errors that scribes tried to correct or clarify, Koch said.