There’s a typical argument heard on campus, particularly in the religion department: “You can’t trust the Bible because its full of inconsistencies and contradictions.” Religion professors and skeptics of Christianity capitalize on the fact that there are thousands of various readings of both the Old and New Testaments … leaving Christian faith with little to stand on.
But is this true? Ezra Abbot, a member of the American Revision Committee, wrote about the various readings in his Critical Essays: “The number of ‘various readings’ frightens some innocent people, and figures largely in the writings of the more ignorant disbelievers in Christianity. ‘One hundred and fifty-thousand various readings!’ Must not these render the text of the New Testament wholly uncertain, and thus destroy the foundation of our faith?
“The true state of the case is something like this. Of the 150,000 various readings, more or less, of the text of the Greek New Testament, we may dismiss nineteen-twentieths from consideration at once, as being obviously of such a character, or supported by so little authority, that no critic would regard them as having any claim to reception. This leaves, we will say, 7,500.
“But of these, again, it will appear on examination that 19 out of 20 are of no sort of consequence as affecting the sense; they relate to questions of orthography, or grammatical construction, or the order of words, or such other matters as have been mentioned above, in speaking of unimportant variations.
“They concern only the form of expression, not the essential meaning. This reduces the number to perhaps 400, which involve a difference of meaning, often very slight, or the omission or addition of a few words, sufficient to render them objects of some curiosity or interest, while a few exceptional cases among them may relatively be called important. But our critical helps are now so abundant that in a very large majority of these questions of reading we are able to determine the true text with a good degree of confidence. In the text of all ancient writings, there are passages in which the text cannot be settled with certainty; and the same is true of the interpretation.”
Biblical scholar Philip Schaff concludes that only 400 of the 150,000 various readings caused doubt about the textual meaning, and only 50 of these were of great significance. Not one of the variations, Schaff says, “altered an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.”
That textual errors do not endanger doctrine is emphatically stated by Sir Frederick Kenyon: “No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading.”
Kenyon also points out that the Bible has the most reliable manuscripts in the world when compared with any other ancient book. “Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet our knowledge of their writing depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands.”
Taken from Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, © 1972 by Campus Crusade for Christ, San Bernardino, CA pages 43-45.