This video is from the Dallas Theological Seminary Hendricks Center blog:
Apologetics Guy Mikel Del Rosario writes:
During a special event called “Jesus in Primetime,” Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Ben Witherington, and Dr. Dan Wallace discussed a variety of topics surrounding Jesus and the Bible in the public square. One of the topics they discussed was the issue of variant readings in the New Testament. Are there really hundreds of thousands of textual differences in our New Testament manuscripts? What does it all mean?
In this video clip, Dr. Dan Wallace identifies four categories of textual variants and explains why these differences don’t need to shake our faith in the New Testament.
The first and largest category is made up of spelling differences in the text, accounting for over 75% of all textual variants. What about the other 25%?
The next largest category represents synonyms, word order differences or articles with proper nouns; issues which don’t affect the meaning of text at all. For example, Greek writers would use the definite article before people’s names (e.g. “The Jesus”). In this case, whether or not the definite article is there makes no difference in English translations.
The third largest category is made up of variants that actually make a difference in the meaning of the text. But the differences in this category are unlikely to represent any of the original words of the New Testament because the manuscripts where they appear are very late–far removed from the time of Jesus and his original followers.
Finally, the fourth category is made up of variants that both make a difference and may possibly represent the original readings of the text. But this is less than 1% of all variants in the New Testament. For example, most scholars discuss whether the story about the woman caught in adultery was not originally in In John’s text at this point. This is a genuine discussion that notes in a good study discuss. Many do question its presence. Others still argue the event does describe something that did happen in Jesus’ life. What is impacted by this?
Bock answers this question: “What is impacted is whether or not a particular passage teaches a particular point, but in the big scheme of things, there is no fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith that is impacted by this one percent.” Wallace agrees: “There is no cardinal doctrine that is impacted by the viable variants.”
Indeed, it seems a bit misleading for certain scholars to declare that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 textual variants amongst the existing manuscripts we have today and leave it at that. We have so many variants because we have so many New Testament manuscripts. If all we had was one codex with all the books of the New Testament in it, we wouldn’t have any variants!
But having over 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts is a good thing because it can help us have more confidence in the readings which best represent the text of the original autographs.
Bart Ehrman tries to sell a lot of books by fussing about these variants, but in a debate with another expert, he quickly folded and admitted that there were only four variants that touched on anything important.
Bart Ehrman’s screeching about variants: should we care?
In Ehrman’s debate with Peter Williams on the UK-based Unbelievable radio show, and in Ehrman’s debate with Dan Wallace, Ehrman lists the 4 worst problems caused by the variants:
- the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
- the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) is a late addition not present in the earliest manuscripts
- Jesus was angry and not compassionate when he healed the leper (Mark 1:41)
- that Jesus died apart from God, and not by the grace of God (Hebrews 2:9)
I personally dislike that story in 1), because I think a lot of feminized Christians like it because they do not want to have their happiness diminished by moral judgments. They misunderstand this passage to support self-serving moral relativism and postmodern hedonism. Or worse, anti-capital-punishment. Eww. I say, get rid of the wimpy passage and good riddance. It’s hundreds of years too late from the earliest manuscripts, anyway.
Regarding 2), I like that long ending because it’s more useful from an apologetics standpoint. So I do care about this invariant, and I just don’t use that ending when I debate these historical issues. For 3), I prefer angry Jesus to compassionate Jesus, but I don’t really care because Jesus is angry in lots of places. And for 4) It doesn’t really matter to any core doctrine. It’s theological stuff, not historical fact.