Despite being among the best preserved works of antiquity, it shouldn’t be surprising that – given the staggering amount of New Testament manuscripts – many minor variations exist among them…
Such errors could have come into being in any number of ways, from simple transcription issues to direct insertions – for better or worse – to augment the language. Regardless, scholars – especially those who have forged their livelihood in this field – have been able to confidently reconstruct the original Scriptures through comparisons of thousands of manuscripts and the verses they contain.
These differences are referred to as textual variants, and have been studied by scholars for many years with some intriguing results. For instance, among the 5,600 or so Greek New Testament manuscripts, some 200,000 textual variants have been noted. Though that figure seems dramatic, it is important to remember that any discrepancies within the text – even something as simple as a misspelled or absent word – is counted as a textual variant.
In light of this, comprehensive studies have been conducted to determine whether or not the textual variations were a threat to core Christian doctrine. What was the result? As the scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix put it, “The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book-a form that is 99.5 percent pure.”¹
For some, “quantity versus quality” is an argument that has come up in regard to the Biblical manuscripts. The point, say its proponents, is that just because we have a vast library of New Testament manuscripts, it does not mean that what they record was actual fact or is even intrinsically valuable. Paraphrasing one observer, does possessing an original copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales make it trustworthy as a historic record? His argument is that the quantity of the material does not accurately represent the viability of evidence for its statements. The interesting fact of the matter however is how that observer, keen on proving his point that Christianity and the Bible are drivel, misses the larger evidences that further support it. Sadly, he is not alone in such myopia concerning these issues.
Some skeptics have been quick to suggest that much of the New Testament, especially those portions that proclaim both Jesus’ divinity and the various prophecies He fulfilled in His life, were written in much later, perhaps taken as plagiarists stole myths from surrounding cultures. Others, among them liberal theologians and scholars, claim that what we believe of the New Testament is itself flawed in the sense that it is not an accurate record of firsthand accounts, but rather documentation from second- and third-hand sources. All such claims are baseless, ignoring critical information that actually supports the various claims of the New Testament and its authorship.
One matter that should be considered is how the Gospels are all utterly silent concerning the destruction of the Temple at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. This event would have been seen as utterly cataclysmic and noteworthy to any who lived through it, of far greater significance at the time than even the contemporary fall of the World Trade towers in 2001, yet none of the Gospels record it or any detail pertaining thereto! The overwhelming significance of this siege against the Temple cannot be overestimated. If these Gospels represent later fabrications, why then is there no mention of it, the turmoil that preceded it, or the social disarray that followed? Just this matter alone would suggest that the Gospels themselves each were written prior to that devastating occurrence.
In reality, much of the New Testament is clearly claimed to have been firsthand accounts by Paul, Luke, John and others. Tradition has maintained that such was the case, and various archaeological finds over the years have absolutely confirmed many of the details outlined by those books they have claimed authorship over. All together, such provides a substantial amount of credibility to the authenticity of each.
- Geisler, Norman L. & Nix, William E., “A General Introduction to the Bible,” Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 136
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