Editor’s Note: I am currently blogging through my book Easter: Fact or Fiction, 20 Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead. That book is available on Amazon by clicking the picture or link below. Please check it out! (Scroll down for links to the other parts to this post) (CLICK HERE FOR THE AMAZON LINK)
“One word of warning, already referred to, must be emphasized in conclusion. No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. Constant references to mistakes and divergences of reading, such as the plan of this book necessitates, might give rise to the doubt whether the substance, as well as the language of the Bible is not open to question. It cannot be too strongly asserted than in substance, the text of the Bible is certain. Especially this is the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the church is so large, that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or the other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the word.
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 writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts are counted by hundreds, and even thousands.”
– Sir Frederic George Kenyon
Some Christians are quite surprised to find out that we no longer have the original written books of the Bible available. They are also surprised the first time they find out that, of the thousands of Greek hand-written copies of the New Testament in the possession of scholars, there are quite a few textual variants. Indeed, it is quite likely that no two Greek manuscripts of the Bible are exactly alike. Given this, how is it possible to know with genuine confidence just precisely what the original books of the Bible said? How can we know what is REALLY God’s word? Skeptics like Bart Ehrman, and creative conspiracy theorists like Dan Brown have made much of these textual variants, with Ehrman seemingly acting like all the variants in the hand-written copies of the Bible are some sort of suppressed scandal, and Dan Brown writing fiction that alleges that the early church actually CHANGED the Bible to suit their needs and suppress their enemies. If any of this is true, then how can we possibly know for certain that Jesus rose from the dead? If the Bible has textual variants…is it reliable?
Yes, depending on how you count them, there are 200000 variants found in the existing handwritten Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, which is a very large number on the surface. As mentioned above, Former Evangelical Bart Ehrman has become a bestselling author by attacking the credibility of the Bible. He points out that, among the Greek manuscripts of the Bible we have – the earliest and best texts – there are 200000 variant readings, and then makes the case that because of the variants, we can’t be sure in knowing what the word of God actually says.
Well…even though that number seems high, it is easily explainable, and not particularly troubling when you understand the transmission of the biblical text. First – the New Testament is the best ancient document we have in terms of reliability, closeness to its composition date, and number of manuscripts. Yes, there are variants…all texts at the time were hand copied – some by professional scribes, some by blokes like you and me. But, since we have thousands of texts, we can determine the accurate/original reading of nearly every Bible text there is – with maybe three major exceptions, and a small handful of minor ones (The three major exceptions are: John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20 and 1st John 5:7-8 – the Comma Johanneum) I mention those particular texts because they are easy targets for atheist college professors and lightly educated skeptics – but honestly, they are the big three. As Bart Ehrman himself has acknowledged, NO important doctrine or teaching of the New Testament is in any doubt. Professor Norman Geisler clears up some misconceptions about hand-written manuscript copies here:
“In order to address the issue of accuracy, we need to clear up misunderstandings many critics have concerning “errors” in the biblical manuscripts. Some have estimated there are about 200,000 errors in the New Testament manuscripts. First of all, these are not “errors” but variant readings, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical (i.e., punctuation and spelling). Second, these readings are spread throughout nearly 5,700 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter of one word in one verse in 2,000 manuscripts is counted as 2,000 “errors.”
Textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only one in sixty of these variants has significance. This would leave a text 98.33 percent pure.16 Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 changed the meaning of the passage, only fifty were of real significance, and not even one affected “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.”16
No other ancient book is so well authenticated. The great New Testament scholar and Princeton professor Bruce Metzger estimated that the Mahabharata of Hinduism is copied with only about 90 percent accuracy and Homer’s Iliad with about 95 percent. By comparison, he estimated the New Testament is about 99.5 percent accurate.17 Again, the 0.5 percent in question does not affect a single doctrine of the Christian faith.”
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 I apologize that I do not know the female word for “blokes.”
16 Philip Schaff, A Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper, 1883), 177.
17 For more details and for sources, see Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 532.
 Frederic G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts: (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2011), 10-11
Links to the other 20 posts in this series (20 Reasons To Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead)