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!
Download the free Study Guide!
Is there a connection between pagan religion and the abortion industry?
This powerful presentation traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God and crime against humanity has produced in our beleaguered society.
Conceived as a sequel and update to the 1988 classic, The Massacre of Innocence, the new title, The Abortion Matrix, is entirely fitting. It not only references abortion’s specific target – the sacred matrix where human beings are formed in the womb in the very image of God, but it also implies the existence of a conspiracy, a matrix of seemingly disparate forces that are driving this holocaust.
The occult activity surrounding the abortion industry is exposed with numerous examples. But are these just aberrations, bizarre yet anomalous examples of abortionists who just happen to have ties to modern day witchcraft? Or is this representative of something deeper, more sinister and even endemic to the entire abortion movement?
As the allusion to the film of over a decade ago suggests, the viewer may learn that things are not always as they appear to be. The Abortion Matrix reveals the reality of child-killing and strikes the proper moral chord to move hearts to fulfill the biblical responsibility to rescue those unjustly sentenced to death and to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 24:11,12; 31:8,9).
Speakers include: George Grant, Peter Hammond, RC Sproul Jr., Paul Jehle, Lou Engle, Rusty Thomas, Flip Benham, Janet Porter and many more.
Ten parts, over three hours of instruction!
Running Time: 195 minutes
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
High Quality Paperback — 200 pages
A Reasonable Response to Christian Postmodernism
Includes a response to the book Christian Jihad by Colonel V. Doner
The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.
Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.
Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.
$14.95 — 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.)
That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!
Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.
Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.
$19.95 — 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.)