NO.3 – TOO MANY ERRORS!
Claim is often stated that there are so many errors in the Bible we read today. The claim goes that copyists either unintentionally copied words wrongly or at times intentionally copied words/verses incorrectly.
Due to this we simply cannot trust what we read today, to be an authentic copy of the original.
Along with this claim is the complaint that the bible has been simply copied too many times to be accurate.
Well, how should we deal with such a claim?
Firstly it is true to say that there are lots of “errors”. There are approximately 200,000 “errors” in our New Testament (NT) text.
However note the use of commas here, “errors” is not used by any textual critic as they prefer to say textual “variants” e.g. variations in the text.
(This terminology is important as it moves away from the idea that a deliberate change has taken place).
The large number is gained by counting all the variations in all the manuscripts (over 5,300). If the same variant is found in 4,000 manuscripts then that adds up to 4,000 variants.
“The number of variations exists in exact proportion to the number of manuscripts.”
(Lightfoot; How we got the Bible).
There are far more copies of the NT than any other book from the ancient world. Because we have more NT manuscripts, we have more variations.
The more manuscripts we have the more able we are to check the reliability of the text we have.
Greater no. = Greater Accuracy
So are these variations important or not? What bearing do they have on the NT message?
It would be helpful at this point to introduce three types of textual variation:
1) Trivial Variations
These are of no consequence to the text. The vast majority of variations fall under this category.
These are omission or addition of such words as “for” and “the”.
Vowels which sound alike in the Greek and words which can be spelt differently over the years.
An example of this are the different spellings of the pool mentioned in John 5:2, “Bethzatha” or “Bethesda” or “Bethsaida”.
This variation also covers things such as a change in the order of words e.g. “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus”.
The main thing to say about this type of variation (which covers the vast majority) is that it has absolutely no bearing on our current text, they are of no consequence to the overriding message found in our NT.
2) Substantial Variations (which have NO bearing on the text)
These variations refer to differences in a whole verse or even several verses.
The story of the adulterous women in John 7:53-8:11 is an example of this type of variation. Almost all current translations mark these verses as uncertain by way of
parenthesis or italics.
However these type of variations are easily dealt with as one needs only to go the earliest and most reliable manuscripts (gold standard documents) of our NT and discover that none of these manuscripts contain these verses. These verses come from one manuscript of a later date and modern translations add them in brackets to mark their uncertainty.
Well meaning copyists sometimes got in the way by adding genuine stories which had most likely been spread verbally around Jesus’ followers but were not recorded in the originals.
Needless to say the verses in question do not contradict in any way the message and have only been left out (so to speak) as they aren’t in our earliest manuscripts.
3) Substantial Variations (which have a bearing on the text).
Of these there are very few and only one is known to the reader.
Mark 16:9-20 is included in some modern versions but is either in brackets or in italics to indicate that it is uncertain. In the previous section these variations were easy to resolve as the evidence (manuscripts) all pointed in one direction e.g. John 7.
In the case of Mark 16 the manuscripts are split, some include it and some don’t. Either way it is entirely consistent with the rest of the NT and would cause little problem for the textual critic.
When all the “errors” (variations) are boiled down there is only one passage/verse which is uncertain, that cannot be cleared up by looking into our earliest copies.
But even this one passage is entirely consistent with the NT message and causes no challenge to the person who has taken Jesus at his word.
Summary to “To many errors”
1. Variations rather than errors more
2. High no. variations reflects high
no. manuscripts (MS)
3. Three types variation
1. Trivial – no impact on text
11. Substantial – no real impact
as can go back to best sources
111. Substantial – Has an impact
as divided opinion from MS.
However only one in entire NT
and no conflict with the central
Message (consistent rest NT)