Are There Any Major New Testament Text Variants?


0:04 I have a question here about manuscript

0:07 variants. A variant is a difference

0:12 between one manuscript of the New

0:14 Testament and another, in this case, and

0:16 there are lots of variations since the

0:19 New Testament was handed down for 1400

0:22 years or so by recopying the manuscripts

0:26 one-by-one. There's going to be

0:28 differences in the text, and some people

0:30 have made a big deal about those

0:31 differences. It turns out there are three

0:34 different things you need to think about

0:35 with regards to variations. One is

0:38 whether they're meaningful, secondly

0:41 whether they're viable, and third whether

0:44 they're theologically significant. When I say

0:46 meaningful, the vast majority of

0:48 variations are spelling errors. That is,

0:53 they don't get in the way of us

0:55 reconstructing the original, so they're

0:57 not meaningful to reconstruct the

0:59 original. Sometimes words are transposed

1:02 like "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus," it

1:04 means the same thing.

1:05 Ninety percent or so of all the

1:08 variations fall in that category.

1:10 Some are not viable. That is, they are

1:13 meaningful, they show a difference in the

1:16 meaning of the text, but there's so few

1:18 of them that it is unlikely this is the

1:21 original reading. Looks like something

1:23 drifted in from some over-ambitious

1:25 scribe, and so consequently those are

1:28 eliminated as well. There's a famous

1:30 verse in first John chapter 5 that

1:33 seems to suggest of the Trinity. It's

1:35 called the Johannine Comma, but so few

1:38 texts have that in it, it's pretty clear

1:41 it's been added by somebody else. Now

1:43 there are two large sections that most

1:45 people know about that study this at all

1:47 that are variants and that is the long

1:49 ending to the Gospel of Mark and also

1:52 the woman caught in adultery in

1:55 the book of John, beginning of chapter

1:58 6, I think, and going into chapter 7.

2:01 It actually occurs in different manuscripts

2:03 in different gospels, and it doesn't

2:05 occur in the earliest ones, and so it's

2:06 pretty clear that this is an addition.

2:08 And I've been asked, are there any

2:10 other significant ones than those three

2:13 I just mentioned - the long ending of Mark, the

2:15 section of John, and the Johannine Comma

2:17 in first John 5. What's curious to me is

2:20 that I don't even consider those

2:22 significant. They are large, but they are

2:25 not significant in the sense that

2:27 there's any debate about whether they

2:29 belong in or out of the original text.

2:31 They don't. And secondly, there's nothing

2:33 theological that really hangs from

2:37 any of those passages. What about the

2:39 Johannine Comma? That suggests the

2:40 Trinity. Sure, but we can do without that

2:42 passage and still make our case fully

2:45 for the Trinity from other texts. So that

2:48 particular thing is not an issue.

2:50 Simply put, there are a number of other

2:53 meaningful and viable variations and

2:57 manuscripts but none that are

2:59 theologically significant, and meaningful,

3:02 and viable. I heard Dan Wallace said

3:05 once, who is an expert in this area,

3:08 there probably hasn't been a manuscript

3:10 difference that's come up in the last 50,

3:13 or 60, or 70 years that's made any

3:15 difference to our understanding of the

3:17 theology of the New Testament. And that's

3:19 the thing to keep in mind when you think

3:21 about the claims about the massive

3:25 number of manuscript variants. There is a

3:28 massive number, and the reason there's a

3:29 massive number is because we have a

3:31 massive number of manuscripts to compare.

3:33 But the massive number of manuscripts

3:35 which causes the massive number of

3:37 variants also allows us to solve the

3:40 problems. And it turns out that the vast,

3:43 vast, vast majority of these are are not

3:45 meaningful to regaining the original.

3:48 They are not viable because in

3:52 some cases there's so few in a

3:54 particular kind. And as to their

3:56 theological significance, it's

3:58 inconsequential. The text that we know

4:00 for sure contains all the solid theology

4:03 that has anything to do with with basic

4:05 Christianity. And so not only are there

4:08 not any other big variations

4:11 that matter than those three that I

4:14 mentioned, I don't even think those three

4:15 that I mentioned – the woman caught in

4:19 adultery, the Johannine Comma, and the long

4:21 ending of Mark – they themselves are not

4:24 theologically significant because

4:26 anything significant in any of those

4:28 passages in question is repeated clearly

4:32 in passages that are not in question.

4:36 Simply put, though there's a challenge

4:38 about the manuscript evidence, it is not

4:40 something we have to worry about because

4:43 the evidence falls completely in

4:47 our favor.

video |
Greg Koukl