What about variant texts in biblical manuscripts?
I was first introduced to the concept of biblical textual criticism in a biblical interpretation class sponsored by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary at the Center for Urban Ministries in Boston. The professor teaching the course was a conservative who nevertheless upset many of the evangelical pastors in attendance by leading a discussion on how variants in newly discovered New Testament manuscripts have altered newer translations of the Bible such as the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version.
The thought that even small portions of the Bible are in dispute rankles evangelicals because it is thought that the original autographs of the Bible were inspired of God and therefore inerrant and infallible. There is no quick and easy answer to this question, but any editor can tell you that the text of a manuscript is often adjusted as it is prepared for publication in different editions. This occurs for many reasons.
These reasons may include:
1. Corrections and mistakes that have crept into the text due to careless copying;
2. Adjusting spelling and grammar to reflect modern changes to the language;
3. Smoothing of the text for style and consistency;
4. Edits for emphasis or to make the meaning of certain words and phrases more clear.
The long and short end of the discussion was that none of these minor variants affect the meaning of any text in the New Testament.
Skeptics and atheists who criticize the Bible’s integrity like to point out that among the 25,000 manuscripts and portions of the Bible there are supposedly hundreds of thousands of variants.
My answer to this is that the number of “variants” depends on what you use as your denominator.
If variant means simply the total number of places where the text varies in each manuscript, then the number is high simply because each variant text is counted each time it occurs in any text. For instance, let’s say that an original manuscript had the Greek word for “him” in the text, but a scribe decided that the word is better understood in the reflexive tense as “himself.”
The new manuscript is then copied 2027 times. This would equal 2028 in this way of numbering “variants.” The numerator here is each instance of a variant in all manuscripts over a denominator of 1.
2028/1 then equals 2028 variants.
But if we count each example of the variant only once, whether the same variant occurs once or over 2000 times in different manuscripts, the number shrinks dramatically because the same variant copied over and again are counted only as one variant.
2027/2027 + 1 equals one variant and the original. So there are only two variants.
We also need to distinguish between “significant” and “insignificant.”
If a word is spelled differently or contains a different case or tense, but means the same thing, then it is thought to be an insignificant variant. For instance, if meaning of the original “him” was reflexive and a scribe simply wished to emphasize this, then practically speaking these 2027 instances of the “himself” variant are insignificant because it doesn’t change the meaning of the text at all.
It is only when the actual meaning of a sentence changes even slightly that the variant is termed “significant.”
How to number the total amount of variants that would significant change the meaning of a text is highly subjective. Just to give an idea of how insignificant even the most “significant” of these variations can be, the following example is often used. In some early manuscripts, the word “yet” does not appear in John 7:8. Some manuscripts read, “I am not going up to this feast,” while others read, “I am not yet going up to the feast.” Then John 7:10 says, “However, after his brothers had left for the feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.” Some critics say that a copyist probably added the word “yet” to verse 8 to bring it in harmony with verse 10 and prevent the appearance that Jesus lied even though the original text would not have included “yet.”
However, editors of the most recent modern translations of the Bible agree that the total number of significant variants in the New Testament is somewhere between 300 to 1500. The modern translations mentioned above include these variants in the form of footnotes. Usually these are small words or different spellings of place names and people’s names.
If you are like me, such differences seem trite. In fact, the professor of the biblical interpretation class I was attending challenged us that if one’s faith was shaken by such variants, then it was not really a true “faith” in God. In fact, no text – even including modern printed texts that also contain errors – could withstand such a scrutiny of details if this would be our definition of “inerrancy.”
This does not affect the concept of inerrancy because the general meaning is not changed at all. Inerrancy does not mean that there is no variation is the 25,000 manuscripts of the Bible available to us. It simply means that none of the variations in the most reliable texts are so significant that the meaning of the text varies from copy to copy. The transmission of divine inspiration isn’t dependant of an exact wording nor on how the meaning of the text is rendered; but solely on a facet of divine intent that is communicated by the text. If this were not true then books could not be translated into various languages without losing the sense or meaning of the texts.
The loudest detractors to the Bible’s accuracy and reliability are the atheists and skeptics who use the “hundreds of thousands of errors” argument as a weak propaganda ploy. However, the objection that supposedly “the Bible is full of errors” is based on such variants as those found in John 7:8. The vast majority of variants are not “significant” and even those variants that are significant do not change the meaning of the text so greatly that the original intent of the larger passage is lost. Christians who have examined the evidence first hand are often surprised at how trivial these differences really are.
Although some of the earliest New Testament manuscripts are corrupted and contain many copyist errors, these manuscripts are easy to discern as bad manuscripts. There are a number of early manuscripts that match the received text almost exactly, while worst of the New Testament manuscripts are still over 90 percent similar to the received text.
Many ancient works of literature have only one existing manuscript written hundreds of years after the originals. The Bible has literally thousands of manuscripts – and over a hundred of these still existing manuscripts were copied very early – from about 120 A.D. to 400 A.D. – more manuscript evidence than any other ancient writing.
Your comments are welcome!
Exposes the Dangers of Abortion to Women!
These shocking eyewitness accounts expose the dangers of abortion not only to unborn children, but to the health and lives women as well. An antidote to the smokescreens of the liberal media, these short clips show what really happens in and around abortion clinics.
Although the content is emotionally gut-wrenching, these videos have been used in church seminars and small groups to educate Christians on the abortion issue and to lead people toward a pro-life position. Contains 2 hours and 40 minutes of materials that can be shown separately.
Watch these pro-life videos on-line.
“These videos helped change my mind from pro-choice to pro-life. Your videos are what did it for me. I will be walking in next year’s March For Life in San Francisco.” — A. Jackson, California
“I was going to have an abortion until I saw your video. Praise Jesus!”
— M. Drew, YouTube Commenter
$4.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Exposing The Occult Roots of Abortion
This presentation looks at the spiritual roots of abortion and exposes the myths surrounding child killing. Little known historical facts about abortion and how they relate to modern feminism are presented logically and accurately. Has been effective in converting many to a pro-life position.
Massacre of Innocence goes where no pro-life presentation has gone before in “tearing the lid off abortion” to reveal the spiritual realities we must battle if we will bring an end to this crime. The presentation is absorbing, fast-paced, informative and incredibly devastating to any attempt to justify abortion.
“… an extraordinary statement … a powerfully articulate presentation about what abortion really means, and why a great and moral nation like the United States must not allow the slaughter to continue.”
— Congressman Robert K. Dornan
Running time: 85 minutes
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Download the Free Study Guide!
Just what is Calvinism?
Does this teaching make man a deterministic robot and God the author of sin? What about free will? If the church accepts Calvinism, won’t evangelism be stifled, perhaps even extinguished? How can we balance God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? What are the differences between historic Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism? Why did men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards and a host of renowned Protestant evangelists embrace the teaching of predestination and election and deny free will theology?
This is the first video documentary that answers these and other related questions. Hosted by Eric Holmberg, this fascinating three-part, four-hour presentation is detailed enough so as to not gloss over the controversy. At the same time, it is broken up into ten “Sunday-school-sized” sections to make the rich content manageable and accessible for the average viewer.
Running Time: 257 minutes
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?
Now at last, a plausible candidate for this personification of evil incarnate has been identified (or re-identified). Ken Gentry’s insightful analysis of scripture and history is likely to revolutionize your understanding of the book of Revelation — and even more importantly — amplify and energize your entire Christian worldview!
Historical footage and other graphics are used to illustrate the lecture Dr. Gentry presented at the 1999 Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Florida. It is followed by a one-hour question and answer session addressing the key concerns and objections typically raised in response to his position. This presentation also features an introduction that touches on not only the confusion and controversy surrounding this issue — but just why it may well be one of the most significant issues facing the Church today.
Ideal for group meetings, personal Bible study — for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of John’s famous letter “… to the seven churches which are in Asia.” (Revelation 1:4)
Running Time: 145 minutes
$17.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Foundations in Biblical Eschatology
By Jay Rogers, Larry Waugh, Rodney Stortz, Joseph Meiring. High quality paperback, 167 pages.
All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?
These and many more questions are dealt with by four authors as they present the four views on the millennium. Each view is then critiqued by the other three authors.
$12.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)