Thursday, February 10, 2011

400,000 Changes and the Bible: Textual Variations

Has the Bible been "lost in translation?" Bible critics are quick to make the challenge that the Bible is a copy of a copy of a copy and therefore unreliable.1 Critic, Bart Ehrman goes onto discredit the Bible by alleging that there are numerous discrepancies within the New Testament manuscripts, 400,000 to be precise. It has been said that these are very important differences that are so drastic that they change the entire meaning, including altering fundamental Christian doctrines. Dan Wallace of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts points out that such criticism is completely unwarranted and he explains why.2

In my last blog, I pointed out that of the New Testament manuscripts, there are over 5,700 in Greek, 10,000 Latin and counting, not to mention all of the citations from the early church fathers. This being the case, according to Wallace, we should not be surprised to discover manuscript errors. He claims 400,00 is actually low, considering the 'embarrassing amount of riches' in manuscripts. Furthermore, Wallace and others have argued that these changes are fairly insignificant. A few cases in point: There are 16 different Greek variations to say that Jesus loves John, without changing the meaning. One particular manuscript shows signs of the monk growing tired as he copied, misspelling words and the like.

  1. Of the New Testament manuscript variants, 75 to 80% are simple spelling errors.
  2. The next largest category contain changes that can’t be translated; synonyms.
  3. The third category include variations that impact the meaning, but are not viable.
  4. The final category represents less than one percent of the variants and include changes that are both meaningful and viable. For example, the last 12 verses in Mark's Gospel is not found in the N.T. Manuscripts, prior to the fifth century. One of the most beloved passages (John 7:53-8:11), where the woman is caught in adultery is also omitted from the earliest manuscripts.3
The bottom line is that no viable changes that are meaningful, change or effect any major Christian doctrine or contradict any early creed. Of course, there is the exception of snake handling churches who want to take Mark 16:18 literally; however, I do not know of any Christian scholar who takes this sect seriously. There are, however, those who reject the earlier manuscripts in favor of the majority texts, as defended particularly by some King James only proponents.


1 While this remains a subject of interest among many skeptics as well as believers, it has been examined at great length over the years by many Bible scholars and historians. In the MP3 link below, Craig Keener discuses his book, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, in which he summarizes a few basic important points on the matter.
2 Reinventing Jesus, Daniel B. Wallace, J. Ed Komoszewski and M. James Sawyer. Justin Taylor conducted an interview with Wallace which is available here:

1 comment:

  1. Credo House recently posted a blog on this topic that goes into quite a bit more detail:

    Text Criticism in a Nutshell