Why I Trust My Bible - Lesson 9

Textual Criticism: Are the Greek Texts Hopelessly Corrupt?

It does no good to talk about inspiration and canonization if the church altered the contents of the Bible through the centuries. And why are there differences among the Greek manuscripts? This is the topic of textual criticism. The current situation is that we are confident of 99% of the New Testament text, and the 1% we are unsure of contains no significant theological doctrine.

Bill Mounce
Why I Trust My Bible
Lesson 9
Watching Now
Textual Criticism: Are the Greek Texts Hopelessly Corrupt?

1. Challenge

a. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

b. Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53–8:11

2. Historical process

a. Autographs

b. Manuscripts (mss)

c. Variant (reading)

3. Types of variants

a. Omissions/additions

b. Differences

c. Footnotes “other ms(s) read”

4. “Textual Criticism”: which “reading” is most likely original?

a. External criteria

b. Internal criteria

5. What did they find?

a. Only two passages of any length

1) John 8

2) Mark 16:9-20

b. A couple dozen variants involve one or two verses

1) Matt 6:13

2) Luke 22:43-44

3) 1 John 5:7-8

4) John 5:4

c. Remaining passages are a word or two at best

1) Many of the smaller variants are easily decided on (Matthew 5:22)

2) Insignificant types of differences account for the vast majority of “errors”

3) Left with very few that are important

a) Mark 9:29

b) Mark 1:41

6. How many variants are there?

a. How do you count variants?

1) Ehrman says there are 400,000, more errors than there are words

2) Example of 10,000 mss and 1 ms

3) Example of five manuscripts

b. How many variants are there?

1) Variants in two texts/groups

2) Two oldest and best mss

3) 5,000 – 10,000 versions

c. What is the significance of these numbers?

7. Statistics don’t lie, but interpretation can be suspect

a. Not every word is suspect.

1) How many places are there questions?

2) How many of these places are significant?

b. The bulk of the variants are insignificant

c. Obvious changes where we can see what was original

d. Some “families” are better than others

e. Textual Critics have done a great job

f. The multiplicity of mss encourage us that we are getting closer to the originals

g. Dan Wallace (CSNTM) concludes

1) We have the original Greek of the NT in the many manuscripts.

2) We just don’t know which text has it for a given verse

8. Conclusion: Do not doubt your Bibles

a. 5,800 manuscripts, with none of the autographs

b. 99% of the text is sure

c. That 1% contains no significant Biblical teaching

9. Have Scholars/Translators tried to hide these issues?

a. UBS5 lists 1,408 of the most significant textual variants

b. NA28 lists over 10,000

c. 282 in NIV (2011)

d. 460 in ESV

10. Ehrman on the “black hole”

a. Challenge

b. Truth

1) P52

2) 12 mss from the 2nd century

3) 64 from the 3rd century

4) 48 from the 4th century

5) Together you can reconstruct the entire NT several times over

  • Are you curious about the trustworthiness of the Bible? Are you looking for answers to common criticisms and questions about its reliability? "Why I Trust My Bible" is the class for you! This class is taught by Dr. Bill Mounce, former seminary professor and member of the NIV translation team. It will help you understand and defend your belief in the Bible. Whether you're a freshman in college facing new challenges to your faith, or a parent concerned about your child's belief in the Bible, this class is designed to provide you with the tools you need to think critically about these issues and to be confident as you share your belief about the reliability of the Bible with others. Don't miss this opportunity to learn about the Bible and its trustworthiness.
  • Some people feel that it is wrong to ask fundamental questions such as whether or not they trust the Bible. But if you never seriously ask the question, you will never be convinced that it really is true and trustworthy.

  • As amazing as it sounds, some people question whether Jesus actually lived, often claiming that there is only one non-biblical reference to him. That simply is not true; there are many more. But it makes sense that he is not referenced a lot since biographies were written about the rich and powerful.

  • Since there was a period of time between when Jesus lived and when the gospels were written, how can we trust that the writers' memories weren't faulty? And didn't they change history to match their theology? Actually, the "informed controlled": understanding of orality assures us that the writers were accurate and trustworthy. The gospels were not written right away because we prefer the testimony of eyewitnesses.

  • While the gospels are anonymous, tradition is very strong as to who wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and all four authors were in a position to know the truth and we can trust their writings. If the church did not care about authorship traditions, they would not have picked these four.

  • If the biblical writers were not concerned about historical accuracy, we would expect more verses that would have answered the burning questions of the first century, and we certainly would not have the many embarrassing and difficult verses that we do have. The gospel is couched in historical fact, and if the events did not happen then the teaching is false.

  • How can we trust the Bible when it is so full of mistakes and internal contradictions? Really? Where are they? Doesn't harmonization help us see how the gospels can describe the same event but in different terms? If the Bible and science and history disagree, doesn't the Bible, properly interpreted, deserve the benefit of the doubt?

  • There is no question that Jesus and Paul sound different, but are their differences complementary or contradictory? What effect would their different contexts have on how they speak and what they write about?

  • Canonization is the process by which the church determined what books belonged in the Bible (and here we are focusing on the New Testament). Despite the frequent assertion to the opposite, the canon was not determined by a few individuals in a haphazard way. It appears that the three tests were authorship, harmony of doctrine and tone, and usage in the church as a whole. Did the church get it right?

    Correction: Bill mentions "Dan Block." He means, "Dan Brown." (Dan Block is a friend of his.)

  • It does no good to talk about inspiration and canonization if the church altered the contents of the Bible through the centuries. And why are there differences among the Greek manuscripts? This is the topic of textual criticism. The current situation is that we are confident of 99% of the New Testament text, and the 1% we are unsure of contains no significant theological doctrine.

  • Unless you can read Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, you need a translation. But why are there so many, and why are they so often different? Can they be trusted? Bill Mounce, chair of the ESV translation for 10 years and currently on the Committee on Bible Translation that is responsible for the NIV, shares his answer to these questions.

  • We have looked at attacks on the trustworthiness of the Bible and given reasonable counter-arguments. it remains but to share personally why I trust my Bible.

We can no longer assume that people trust their Bible. The popular media has launched such an attack on the believability of Scripture that our people have serious questions about the Bible. Are you ready to answer them? Did Jesus actually live? (Bill Maher on Larry King Live says no.) Did the biblical writers get it right, or did they slant/create the message? The gospels were written so long after Jesus lived; how can you trust them? How can you believe a Bible that is full of internal contradictions with itself and external contradictions with science? Doesn’t archaeology disprove the Bible? Why should we believe the books that are in the Bible; many good ones were left out, like the Gospel of Thomas. Why trust the Bible when there are so many and contradictory translations? These questions and more are discussed and answered in this class.

The YouTube Videos and handouts that Dr. Mounce is referring to in lecture 1 are the links that you will find on the class page. The two handouts are a list of the books of the Apocrypha, and a chart showing translations of the Bible on a continuum from formal to dynamic equivalence. The two links are an article by Dr. Blomberg, and a YouTube video of a debate between Dan Wallace and Bart Ehrman. 

The bibliography and footnotes in the book, Why I Trust the Bible, by Dr. Mounce, also provide a detailed list of the resources that are the basis for this online course and for the book.

Some additional resources that will give you a picture of what is going on in culture are interviews and debates with people like Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Bill Maher, Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, Tim Keller and Steven Crowder (e.g. "Change my mind"). You will find many of these by searching on YouTube. Many of these people are not believers, and Harris and Maher, for example, think that religion is the underlying cause of all the problems in the world. 

For biblical responses regarding issues raised outside of the trustworthiness of the Bible, you can see classes on BiblicalTraining.org like C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy, Advanced Worldview Analysis, and others. Other websites that you may find helpful are Apologetics 315 and Summit Ministries


Lecture 9: Textual Criticism

This is the 9th lecture in the online series of lectures on Why I Trust My Bible by Dr Bill Mounce. Bill was a preaching pastor at a church in Spokane, WA, and prior to that a professor of New Testament and director of the Greek Program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He also taught at Azusa Pacific University and is the author of the bestselling Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek.

1. Challenge

In this session, we are going to look at a textual criticism; this considers the Bible and the whole issue of the Canonicity and how the Greek text got here and if it damaged in that process. One of Ehrman’s books with a slightly misleading title called Misquoting Jesus focuses on two large sections of the New Testament; one has to do with the longer ending of Mark 16:9 while the other one is in John 8 about the woman caught in adultery. He leaves the impression that there are other passages that are as big and troublesome and tries to insinuate, because of this file that you can’t trust the Bible. Ehrman says that there are four hundred thousand errors in the Greek manuscripts of the Bible, which means that there are more errors than there are words. Further, Ehrman gives the impression that every word of the Bible is suspect and in his opinion the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are hopelessly corrupt. And furthermore, we have no idea what the original autograph says. If Ehrman was correct in what he is saying and if the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were so hopelessly corrupt then we wouldn’t know the original autographs, and issues of morality, the Gospel writers, purposes of historicity and canonization, all of these things would be irrelevant. So, if Ehrman and his supporters are correct, this is really significant. But as you would imagine, I don’t think that Professor Ehrman is accurate on this.

2. Historical Process

Let me start by explaining the historical process and some of the key terms as the whole issue of textual criticism is quite technical and complex. First, Ehrman is indeed well trained under Bruce Metzger in textual criticism. But thankfully we have people like Dan Wallace, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, who has written a standard 2nd year Greek textbook and perhaps most importantly, he has started a ministry for the study of New Testament Manuscripts. Dan has permission to photograph some Greek manuscripts which had never been catalogued before as they were buried in the archives of certain churches. Dan is a phenomenal textual critic, every bit as good as Bart Ehrman. I would like to say that either you are a text critic or you have a life because the science is so technical that you don’t have time to explore anything else.

The first key term is autographs, which is used to describe the original written documents. So when Paul sat down and added the emanuances out of Romans, that piece of parchment is called the autograph. These autographs were all written on parchments; on biodegradable forms of material. We don’t have any autographs; we have none of the originals and I don’t know of anyone who claims that we do. But what we do have are thousands and thousands of manuscripts which are simply copies. So when Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, what we call the autograph, and sent it to the Roman church; other churches would have found out about this great letter and they would have wanted copies of it to keep. Those copies are called manuscripts and if you look in the footnote of your Bible, sometimes it will say MS which is singular for manuscript or MSS. And in comparing these manuscripts, you will find that they are different in places and these differences are called variants. If you have three differences for one word, those are three different variant readings. So, you have to see that there are different kinds of variants, autographs, manuscripts and variant readings. So, this was the historical process to make copies which were distributed to others. Some of these are variants of omission or addition. In other words, there will be one manuscript that will have a word or a phrase and another manuscript that will not have that word or phrase. Mark 16 and John 8 are two of the longest variant passages. Another example is the last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘for thine is the Kingdom, power, glory forever, amen.' Clearly we know that this was added centuries later. Jesus never said this as part of the Lord’s Prayer. We also know that the church tended to make things a little loftier, and this certainly fits into that category. And we know that Jesus never said that part of the prayer.

3. Types of Variants

We have another passage in John 5:4 where Jesus goes to the pool and there is someone who has been there for thirty-eight years; Jesus asked the man what he was doing there. Modern translations leaven out verse 4 which says, ‘the angel of the Lord will come down and stir up the water and the first person in would be healed.’ We know that John never wrote that sentence; it was added later. You can see why a scribe would be writing along and question why this person was lying there for thirty-eight years. There is a tradition that an angel of the Lord would come down, so you can understand how easy it would be for a scribe to add that sentence. Another interesting illustration is in Matthew 17:21. Right before this there is an exoticism of an evil spirit from a boy. Jesus was angry because of their lack of faith and in modern translations, verse 21 is usually left out where it says, ‘However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’ There is usually a footnote that says that some manuscripts include something similar to Mark 9:29 saying, ‘this kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.’ This verse does belong in the Bible. It happens when the disciples ask why they couldn’t cast the demon out of the person. The reason for this addition is from a Scribe who tried to get the Gospel to agree with each other. So, these are illustrations of the possibility that there were additions or passages deleted.

There is another set of variants where they are just different, it isn’t a matter of a word or phrase being present or absent; they are just different. The name of John, for example, can be spelled with two ‘ns’ or one ‘n’. It has no difference in meaning; it is simply a different way to spell his name, but every time you get a difference in spelling, that counts as a variant. Another example is the Greek word for he is, it is ‘sd’ or you can put an ‘n’ on the end and get ‘sdn’. There is no difference in meaning but those kinds of differences are all through the Greek manuscript. Well, those are variants and yes, they may be variants but they have no significance. They both mean, she is or he is or it is. Another kind of difference is the article of proper names. Greek tends to have an article in front of proper names. You just don’t say ‘Jesus’, but instead you say, ‘the Jesus’ and of course in translation, it is written simply as ‘Jesus’. But you will find that some names in these different Greek manuscripts will have the article and some don’t, yet there is no difference in meaning. There are unintentional errors and an example is in Romans 5:1 where Paul has explains justification isn’t through works but through faith in Jesus Christ, the kind of faith that Abraham had. You get to the end of Roman 4 where there is a significant break in the letter. In 5:1 Paul says ‘therefore, let us have peace with God’ while the other is, ‘we have peace with God’. Now what is the difference? If it is ‘let us have peace with God’, this is a significant difference because you are not saying that we are at peace, but we need to pursue it. The other manuscripts say that we have peace with God; this is concrete and real because of our justification by faith and not by works, we have peace with God. You know what the difference is between the two? One of the ways in which copies were made, a person would read it and then the scribes would write it. It wasn’t all just one on one. It could have been several making copies of it.

Sometimes they had these schools of scribes where one person would read it and perhaps ten scribes would write it. You can see how you could have confusion between ‘echamin’ which means ‘we have’ and ‘echomin’ which is let us have. There is not much difference in the sound, ‘a’ compared to an ‘o’. They are pronounced almost the same and so you can see why different people would have one or the other. So, there are unintentional differences that are like this. There are also intentional differences of making one Gospel agree with the other Gospel like we have already seen. In Matthew there is, ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ but in Luke 6 it is, ‘blessed are the poor.’ Some Greek manuscripts try to fix this to read the same. You will find those kinds of intentional differences. So, the types of variants include omissions, additions of words and verses and we have variances that are simply different for lots of different reasons. That is why if you look at the bottom of your Bible there will be footnotes that say MSS or other manuscripts have. The translators are telling you that they are following one particular set of Greek manuscripts and translating what they have but recognize that there are other manuscripts that have an important difference as shown in the footnote. If there is strong evidence that the other reading might be accurate, it will always tell you in the footnote. But for the Net Bible, the translators of that Bible hated footnotes. In addition, having a footnote entered into the ESV was virtually impossible. As a group, they did not want to have a footnote; decisions were made as to the best possible translation. I wasn’t on the NIV committee when these footnotes were used but it is still hard to have a footnote entered into a Bible. So when you see a footnote, there is something that is really significant.

4. Textual Criticism - Which Readings are Most Like the Original

So you have thousands of Greek manuscripts, about 5,900 of them and you have differences as you compare them. Textual criticism was developed as a science to discern which variant was most like original. There are external and internal criteria to be considered in discerning these variants. For example an external criterion would consider how old a Greek manuscript would be. A manuscript from the 4th century would be more important than one from the 11th century. There are seven hundred years differences in them; so you are going to prefer the much older manuscript by default. There is also the quality of writing to consider; the evidence is the scribes in the first several hundred years were very careful in how they wrote. They were neat and organized and clear. In text criticism, the neater and clearer a manuscript is there is more of the likelihood that it will be used. But there is an also internal criterion. Mainly what the text critics do, they look at two different readings and they say which one is the most likely the original and which one would most likely to have given rise to the other readings. For example, when the disciples couldn’t exorcise the one demon and Jesus explains, ‘this kind does not come out except by prayer.’ So, is it more likely that Jesus said, ‘this kind does not come out except by prayer’ and later on some added in, ‘and fasting’. Or is it more likely that Jesus said, ‘this kind does not except by prayer and fasting’ and later on someone dropped, ‘and fasting.’ Which reading gives rise to the other? It is virtually inconceivable that Jesus said, ‘prayer and fasting’ and that the ‘and fasting’ would have been dropped. We generally believe that information was added rather than dropped. We rather see examples where information was dropped out of the Bible. Interestingly, by the way, in a lot of the fundamentalist attacks on anything but the King James Bible; the charges are that these modern translations have left verses out. Well, ninety nine percent of the people would say no and that these verses were added later. And so, we are not going to put verses in that aren’t original.

5. What do They Find

Textual criticism has a set of guidelines that look at external and internal issues and that is how they make their mind up in comparing manuscripts on a certain passage. Well, what do they find? First of all, there are only two passages of any length in the Bible in the New Testament that are significant; this is the Mark 16:9-20 passage and the John 8 passage. There is no possibility that those two passages are original. I respect the work of text criticism, but simply John never wrote chapter 8 and Mark never wrote chapter 16:9-20. Someone added it later on and hence it is not part of the Bible. But let’s have a closer look; in John 8 the first major manuscript where we find the story of the woman that was caught in adultery is from a manuscript in the 5th or 6th century. No copies of John before that have the story of the woman caught in adultery. We can see with manuscript tradition that this story fits into different places; sometimes it comes after verse 36 and then after verse 44 and then at the end of the Gospel; and even at Luke 21:38. This is one of the signs that the passage isn’t original because people are looking for different places to put it. And the reason they would do that is that the story is in the worst possible place. Chapter 7 and most of chapter 8 are on the same topic. It really interrupts the flow of the argument. It is not really related to chapter 7 or chapter 8, but chapter 7 and 8 are related to each other. We find that the story is added in the scholia, which are little notations that are added in the Bible where the script is saying that there is a problem with this passage, and all they do is mark it as being some question about it. Most scholars argue that this story actually happened, but John never actually wrote it. So, most people believe that it did happen, but John never wrote it.

Mark 16 verses 9 and 18, we call the longer ending as there is also a shorter ending. It looks like it was added much earlier, about the middle of the 2nd century and apparently people were uncomfortable how Mark 16:8 ends. The women left the tomb in fear and that was left hanging. But I think it was a great ending because how else would you respond to see the risen Lord. But if you look at the manuscripts, especially the two oldest, one of which is Codex Sinaiticus, and best most complete manuscripts. They don’t have the ending on Mark. In some of the ancient translations that were done very quickly, they don’t have it. Some of the manuscripts include it but with the Scholia showing that there is a question about it. But, interestingly, the early church fathers never discussed it. They discussed everything else in the Bible but not this passage. There are two other endings to Mark? Why would there be two other endings if the longer ending existed. Well, you have other people being uncomfortable with the women leaving the tomb in fear and they are coming up with different ending. This implies that the longer ending didn’t exist. The 4th century historian Eusebius was very aware that the best Greek manuscripts of Mark ended with the women being fearful. So, these are the only two large passages that are in question in the New Testament. There aren’t any other paragraphs that are questionable at any level.

There are a couple of variants in one or two verses but not many. In Mark 6:13, the ending of the Lord’s Prayer was apparently created from 1st Chronicles 29 verses 11-13. That is, ‘for thine is the Kingdom, the Power and Glory forever and ever, amen.’ In Luke 22 verses 43 and 44, there is a variant there. One of the more interesting variants is 1st John 5 verses 7 and 8. The NIV says, ‘for there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.’ This is what the vast majority of Greek manuscripts have, but there is another tradition that got into the King James. In the footnote, it says that late manuscript of the Vulgate. ‘They have testified in heaven, the father, the word and the Holy Spirit and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth. Well, if those words were actually written by John, it would be an important testimony to the trinity; however, John never wrote those points. Meltzer says that the passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except for eight and these eight contain the passage to what appears to be a translation from a late version of the Latin Vulgate. They appear to be translated from Latin back into Greek. The passage is not quoted by any of the Greek fathers and is absent from all of the ancient manuscripts. So there is no way that John wrote that, but you can see why they would have been added as they make a statement about the Trinity. These don’t show up until about the 16th century. They got into the King James Version and I have heard people say very vile and ungodly things about translations that leave that out. They say that they deny the Trinity; of course that is not so and simply foolishness. You just need to go to passages that are authentic in order to argue the Trinity. John 5:4 is another good example of sentence length variant about the angel coming down to stir up the waters for the cripple man.

6. How Many Variants are there?

Craig Bromberg in his book, Historical Reliability, gives a whole list of these verse-long variants on pages 630-633; if you want to look them up, you can. So, there are two big paragraphs and a few sentence length variants with the remainder being a word or two. Remember, Erhman says that there are 400,000 errors; more errors that there are words and what I am trying to help you see that in the technical disciple of text criticism, this gives us a fundamentally wrong impression of the state of the Greek manuscripts. The remaining variants are just a word or two that are easily decided upon. For example, Matthew 5:22 says, ‘But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘you fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.’ Some manuscripts add ‘without cause’; but if Jesus had said that it would not have been dropped. But you can see that someone thought that this needed to be softened a little. We have talked about some of the other kinds of one or two word variations. Sometimes the order is flipped from Jesus Christ to Christ Jesus and sometimes synonyms are used, sometimes there’s an article put in and sometimes not or there is a conjunction or not a conjunction. You look at these and they are fairly easily decided upon, but yet, they are just not important. The vast majority are not important.

Dan Wallace gives us an illustration about Mark 9:29 in regards to one that has already been mentioned in regards to the demon that the disciples could not cast out. We know that ‘and fasting’ was added later but what’s important here, this is the only passage that connects fasting with exorcism and that makes the variant especially interesting. When it comes to exorcism, obviously it requires prayer but does it also request fasting? I would say that because the ‘and fasting’ is questionable, don’t create a theology from this one point. Go find the passages that actually talk about fasting and develop your doctrine of fasting from other passages. Even for exorcism, I wouldn’t really develop a lot of theology from an uncertain verse like this. Another minor one which I think is also important, and that is in Mark 1:41. It says, ‘then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, I am willing; be cleansed.’ Most translations will say something like, ‘Jesus was filled with compassion.’ That is what you would expect of Jesus, right? But when you apply the rules of text criticism, I think the better reading, ‘Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. I am willing, he said, be clean!’ It seems that Jesus was mad actually; I believe that this is the only passage in Bible that says that Jesus got angry. In the cleansing of the temple, it never says he was angry. But he got angry here, he was mad. The reason why the scribes would have changed it with the Greek word was very similar for both statements. It was a very minor change. You can see why the scribe would ask why Jesus was mad at the disciples; they were trying to figure this out. This is an exegetical issue; I think he was mad at sin. Jesus created the world perfect and good; sin came in and turned his world into what it became. Remember, Jesus put all the laws of nature in place; this was his world and sin messed it up. You can see that it is actually a minor thing between the words indignant and compassion. But it is kind of important.

One of the very interesting questions; how many variants are there really? Erhman says that there are 400,000, more than there are words in the Bible. It really depends on how you count, frankly. Let’s say you have 10,000 manuscripts and a particular word is identical in all 10,000 manuscripts. And then you discover some 12th century manuscript that has a different word. That is counted as two variants. Even though there are 10,000 manuscripts that all agree; if this one disagrees that is counted as two different variants. Here is a somewhat silly example; in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul and Silas were either 'gentle among you' or were 'little children among you,' with both words being very similar. But one medieval scribe wrote, ‘we were horses among you.’ The word ‘horses’ is similar to the word for 'little children' and 'were gentle.' So, you can see why they made a mistake. That counts as three variants. The first two were interesting and a little difficult to decide but the third one is clear that it is a wrong translation. But that still counts as a variant. In John 1:30, John says ‘after me comes a man,' but one codex says, 'air' instead of 'man;' the cause of this is dropping off an ‘n’. This counts as two variants. So, understand that variants appear whereever you have differences in the manuscript. Another example, let’s say you had five manuscripts, one has John’s name with two n’s, one has just one n and then one has Petros, Peter. And the other leaves the name out altogether. That counts as four variants, yet it is only one passage. And three of them are almost identical, two n’s or one n and then Petros verses nothing. It still counts as four variants.

So numbers can be misleading and the so-called 400,000 errors that Erhman claims is very misleading. It might be technically accurate but still misleading. Let’s take our very best two Greek manuscripts; if you compare them, there are about 2,000 differences. In other words, there are six to ten places in each chapter where there is a difference. If you compare the Greek text behind the Kings James and the Greek text that all modern translations use now, there are 6,077 places where they are different. That sounds like a lot of places, that is true, but it is not 400,000 places. But how many variants that are significant? Well, if you look at the Greek texts that we use today, how many are listed? The United Bible Society, the 5th edition has one thousand, four hundred and eight foot notes. In other words, in the entire Greek New Testament, there are 1,408 places that they thought important to point out a difference among the Greek manuscripts. The way you get to the 400,000 that Erhman claims, you have to start with the 5,900 Greek manuscripts we have, but we have 10,000 Latin manuscripts; we have five to ten thousand versions of the Bible in other languages and we have over a million quotations among the early church fathers. I am not quite sure how Professor Erhman weighs all of those, but you have to use all of those to get up to the 400,000 variants which he mentioned. But the real question is how many places are there variants and how many of those variants are important. I would say in the UBS’s 1,408 is a much more accurate number on what is actually significant. Erhman’s conclusion that the Greek manuscripts are hopelessly corrupt; his interpretation is certainly suspect. The real question is how many places are there questions and how many of those have significant questions and the number for that is infinitely lower. The bulk of those variants are insignificant; Dan Wallace says that ninety nine percent are insignificant. There is no real effect on meaning. And again, as you look at those variants, you can see so many times where the changes were obvious and it’s really easy to get back to what the original was. Note that the original Greek manuscripts were actually written in capitals with no space and no punctuation. It would have been easy to skip a letter or be confused over a word.

7. Statistics don’t Lie, but Interpretation can be Suspect

Hopefully now you have a good feel for the kind of changes we have been talking about and why they are simply not important. Another thing that is interesting to know; there are families of manuscripts. A family is basically geographical. For example, we talk about a Western text type centered in Italy and that area. Since the center of the church moved to Rome, you would expect a lot of manuscripts to be copied there. And as you look at those Western manuscripts, so many of them weren’t copied well; the Greek manuscripts coming out of Alexandria were much more carefully copied with much fewer changes. So, obviously we are going to trust the Alexandrian text more than the Western texts. Some families of manuscripts are better than others, but one of the interesting ways to look at these, is to say, are we ever going to find a variant that we don’t know about that could be original? The answer is no; it’s highly unlikely that we will find a variant that is not already present in the 5,900 manuscripts that we have. I should also say that these 5,900 contain both, parts of the New Testament and the whole of the New Testament. Basically, text critics have done a really good job. I don’t know of any other area of Biblical studies where there is near unanimous agreement as to the work of theologians having done their job. In fact, as we get more and more manuscripts it is giving us more confidence in bulk of the Greek Manuscripts that we have. Dan Wallace says in reference to this that he is absolutely confident that we have the autograph. Whatever the original was, we have it; it is in those manuscripts that we already have.

8. Conclusion

So in conclusion, we have about 5,900 manuscripts, either fragments or books or the entire New Testament. We don’t have any of the originals. The second point is that ninety nine percent of the text is sure and agree as to what the Greek originally said. The third point is that no significant point is ever questioned. That one percent that we are not completely sure on contains no significant or major doctrine. For example the one about the Trinity, we have information on the Trinity elsewhere that we can establish doctrine on. There is nothing about the life of Jesus or Paul or the early church, none of the doctrines that we believe as evangelical Christians, none of them are brought into question by the variants in the Greek manuscripts. And in fact, Professor Erhman actually says that in the appendix of his book. No Christian doctrine is brought into question. So, text critics have done their work well and translators and scholars have really benefited from these men and women who have devoted their lives to understanding these manuscripts.

9. Have Scholars tried to Hide These Issues

Well, some people say that scholars and translators have tried to hide that fact that there are variants in the New Testament. I know that you have to be careful in critiquing people’s motives. We just don’t know; I am not even aware of my own motives. You don’t argue on what you think the person might be thinking. But the idea of scholars and translators trying to hide the fact of variants is totally untrue. Those who say these things say them in complete ignorance or the person is wanted to perpetrate untruth. The 5th edition of the UBS lists 1,408 places in the New Testament where there are important significant distinctions among the Greek manuscripts. UBS labels them in alphabetical order of their importance. If they say that this variant has an ‘A’ rating, it means that they are sure what the Greek says about it and there are 502 of those. That means that they are so slight that it isn’t an issue. That reduces the variants below a thousand. As for a ‘B’ rating, we are fairly sure about those also and there are 533 variants that have these ‘B’ ratings. Now for ‘C’ ratings, these increase in difficulty where it could be either this or either that. There are 366 of these. But when it comes to ‘D’ ratings, these are far more questionable where we just don’t know. There are only 7 of these ‘D’ ratings. So we start with that 1408 and then we drop off the 502, we are below a thousand places for these variants and even those of little question.

If you go to the NIV, the 2011 edition, there are 282 footnotes that talk about manuscripts. So these Bibles openly state these variants, there is nothing being hidden. In the ESV, there are 460 footnotes that point out problems with these variants. There is nothing hidden from anyone on this. They are all listed in the Bibles, no one is hiding anything. If you hear someone who wants to critique my motives or anyone’s motives on any of the translations, let them, but people are not trying to hide anything.

10. Ehrman’s Black Hole

One last point, Bart Ehrman talks about a black hole; this is a term that Professor Ehrman only uses. What he means by this, there is a massive gap in time between the writing of the autographs and the earliest manuscripts that we have; some 400 years. He says that we don’t have manuscripts from this time period and so there is no way to know if there were massive changes or if they were altered or theologically twisted; whatever be the case because you got this 350 year gap or there about. He says that even though we have manuscripts from the 4th century, we can’t trust them because there is this black hole, this time period between the autographs and the earliest manuscripts. A quote that he has and it’s been used quite a bit is, ‘not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies or copies of the copies of the copies.' Michael Kruger in his book, goes into quite some discussion on this arguing that it’s not like a manuscript was around only for ten years and then it wore out and thrown away. They actually lasted much longer and we have evidence of very important manuscripts, 400 years after they were written being re-inked. In other words, the writing was fading on them but there was enough there that you could ink over them.

Our earliest manuscript is labeled P52; it is papyrus. It has John 18:31-33 on one side and 18:37-38 on the other side and it is dated between 90 to a 100 AD. This has some very interest ramifications for the writing of John. A hundred years ago, people were arguing that the Gospel of John wasn’t written by the Apostle and it was written in the middle of the second century. We actually have twelve manuscripts from the 2nd century. Dan Wallace has an interesting comment; by the end of 2nd century, over 40 percent of all the verses in the New Testament are already found in manuscripts within a hundred and fifty years of the completion of the New Testament. In other words, these twelve manuscripts by the end of the 2nd century give us about 40 percent of the New Testament. This is fairly significant. From the 3rd century, we have 64 manuscripts and from the 4th century, we have 48 manuscripts including many full copies of the entire New Testament. So, while some of these manuscripts are fragments, in considering all of them, we can reconstruct the New Testament as a whole many times over. So there simply isn’t any ‘black hole’. Would we like to have more manuscripts? Of course we would as they would only verify what work that has already been done. And maybe archaeologists will dig up more. Maybe the ministry of Dan Wallace will find some 2nd or 3rd century manuscripts buried in some Istanbul church’s library. We are not going to find less; we are only going to find more. The point here, we have enough to trust the really significant manuscripts from the 4th century.

To sum up, we have about 5900 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 5-10,000 early translations, all the quotations from the early church fathers. We can reconstruct our Bible many times over from these resources. In fact, one writer says that we can reconstruct the entire New Testament simply from citations of the early church fathers, the early church theologians. They quoted vast amounts of the New Testament and the Bible. We don’t even need any of these other Greek manuscripts. And we are absolutely convinced that ninety nine percent of what we have is original, although not autographs and that one percent that we have, we are not completely sure of, doesn’t contain any significant Biblical doctrine or teachings on anything. It just does not come into question and Professor Erhman agrees with this.