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Textual Criticism: Are the Greek Texts Hopelessly Corrupt?

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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.


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

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