Earlier this week, I said I would probably follow up on my post about reading through the Greek New Testament and looking at all the listed variants. Well, here you go!

If you listen to certain skeptics, they will tell you that there are thousands upon thousands of differences between ancient New Testament manuscripts and that this means we have little to no idea of what the original text actually says. While they might be technically right about the thousands of variant readings, the vast majority of those differences are simply variations in spelling that have no impact on how a given passage is understood or translated (think: honor vs. honour or night vs. nite). These and similarly insignificant variants do not appear in the apparatus of the edition I read, but the more significant ones that were listed (and there are still hundreds of them) are still not of a nature that calls into question the message of Scripture. As I read through them, almost all fell into one of these broad categories:

  • Which title(s) of Jesus or God are used in the passage and in which order do they occur? (e.g. Lord vs. God / Jesus Christ vs. Christ Jesus vs. Lord Jesus Christ)
  • Does the writer use the first person or second person plural? (i.e. we vs. you – which are one letter off and sound virtually identical in later dialects of Koine Greek)
  • Is the wording in parallel passages (e.g. in the synoptic Gospels) identical or merely similar (but virtually identical in meaning)?
  • Which conjunction or preposition (most of which are very flexible and heavily overlap in meaning) is used to connect clauses?
  • Is the subject or object implied or explicitly stated? (e.g. He said vs. Jesus said vs. Jesus said to him)
  • A little more rarely, but a bit more impactful: Which verb tense/voice/mood (or noun case/number/gender) is used? (e.g. we have peace with God vs. let us have peace with God)

In many instances, it is easy to determine which reading is original with a high degree of certainty (based on age, character, and geographic distribution of manuscripts as well as an understanding of scribal practices). However, even when this is not the case, the nature of these variants is not such that it radically alters or calls into question the meaning of the text.

There are a few variants that are a verse long, and two that are longer than a verse (the longer ending of Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery). Most of these are easily resolved by looking at the textual evidence, and none of them contain a teaching whose presence or absence changes a teaching of the faith (unless you are “snake-handler,” but that practice is a gross misapplication of those verses anyway).

This is kind of “pet topic” of mine, so I’m trying to refrain from babbling on or going into a lot of technical jargon. Short version: personally looking at all the variants listed in the UBS5 Greek New Testament confirmed/increased my confidence that we do indeed have a highly reliable, absurdly well-preserved New Testament.

4 thoughts on ““Did God really say…”

    1. When compared to other ancient literature it really is absurdly well-preserved both in terms of number of copies and proximity in time of extant copies to the originals. Most writings of similar antiquity exist in 5-30 manuscripts removed from their originals by many centuries. The only one that comes anywhere close is Homer, and even then it’s hundreds of manuscripts instead of thousands.

      Liked by 2 people

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