“The Bible is full of mistakes!” (4 of 4)

This post, continued from yesterday, is based on a talk given by Dr Daniel Wallace.

In these videos, a different scholar takes on the theme of this post:

Now back to our scheduled programming:

2. What kinds of variants are there?

There are over 400,000 of them. But 99% of them don’t matter: movable nu; inconsistent use of  the definite article before proper nouns (e.g. “the Jesus”); varying word order (there are 16 ways of saying “Jesus loves Paul” in Greek that don’t affect the basic meaning). [See this previous post for a more detailed explanation.]

If you think about it, we’ve got about 140,000 words in the Greek NT and 400,000 variants, which comes to about 3 variants per word. As seen in the example of “Jesus loves Paul” above, a three-word sentence could potentially have hundreds of textual variants; 140,000 words could produce tens of millions of textual variants. With that view, 400,000 variants aren’t that many.

Less than 1% of our variants are meaningful and viable. And because there are so many manuscripts, most scholars would agree that there’s no need for conjecture. The hypotheses are testable.

An example of a meaningful and viable variant is found in Revelation 13:18. One 5th century manuscript has the number ‘616’. This was disregarded until recently when a thumb-size fragment of Revelation was rediscovered—the oldest manuscript on Revelation 13 we have—which also says ‘616’. We don’t know what John wrote, but we know that whether the number of the beast is 666 or 616 doesn’t change core Christian doctrine. No essential truth is impacted by any viable variant.

3. Deity of Christ

It has been stated that until 325 AD, Jesus was viewed as a mortal prophet. We can turn to the manuscripts to refute this claim.

P66 (papyrus number 66), from 175 AD contains John 1:1. This is 150 years before Constantine. Jesus is explicitly called God in John 20:28, Romans 9:5, Hebrews 1:8, 2 Peter 1:1. Manuscripts dated well before 325 AD contain all these passages.


Dr Wallace concludes by saying that we don’t have exactly what they wrote then. However, in essentials what we have now is what they had then.

Posts in this series
Part 1 Can we be sure of what the New Testament says?
Part 2 What kinds of textual variants are there?
Part 3 What is the manuscript evidence for the New Testament?
Part 4 What is at stake with the variants?