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. Continue reading →
These are my notes on a (very engaging) talk given by Dr Daniel Wallace ( length—42:18). Some material overlaps with my last twoposts.
Is what we have now what they had then?
We don’t have the original New Testament manuscripts. We don’t have the copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. Can we trust what we have today?
When thinking of the reliability of the manuscripts, we should avoid two attitudes:
Total despair, that we can’t affirm Jesus’ deity, the resurrection, the virgin birth, etc
Absolute certainty. Scholars don’t always agree on what the original text says, hence the marginal notes in modern translations.
1. How certain are we about the wording of the NT?
Not only do we not have the original NT manuscripts, but we also have between 6-10 differences per chapter for the closest manuscripts. Multiply that by all the chapters, and we have a problem. There are exactly 138,162 words in the Greek NT and about 400,000 textual variants. We have so many variants because we have so many manuscripts: over 5,700 in Greek (and counting) and over 10,000 in Latin. The earliest complete NT is from around 350 A.D.—the Codex Sinaiticus.
If we lost all the Greek and Latin copies, we have 10-15 thousand manuscripts in other languages (Syriac, Armenian, Old Church Slavonic, Georgian, Ethiopic, etc). And if we lost all those manuscripts, we’re not left without an NT, because of the patristic writers. The patristics quoted the 7,341 NT verses over a million times. We could reconstruct the entire NT, with the exception of a half-dozen verses, from the church fathers up to the fourth century. So even though we don’t have the original documents, we have a vast richness of documents. Continue reading →
Are there a lot of differences and variations in the text between the manuscripts, and do these pose problems as to the reliability of the NT?
The massive number of manuscripts inevitably produces a massive number of variants. These include omissions, additions and spelling mistakes. The majority of these textual variants [technical term for the differences] are inconsequential or nonsense errors made by inattentive scribes.
The most common variant is what is called the movable nu, the letter ‘n’ at the end of a word when the next one begins with a vowel. Sometimes the movable nu is present, sometimes it is omitted [I, Nelima, think a contemporary example would be the difference between people who say “an historic moment” and those who say “a historic moment”]. Another common variant is the spelling of the name John in Greek: sometimes it has two n’s, sometimes one. Dr Wallace believes that 75-80% of the textual variants are of this sort—they don’t change anything.
The next largest category are those variants that make no translational difference. These include word-order changes and synonyms. For example, you can say “Jesus loves John” in 16 different ways in Greek and still have it translate the same way in English. As for synonyms, you may find ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ used interchangeably: both terms refer to the same person.
The third largest category is made up of meaningful variants that aren’t viable. This means that they impact the meaning of the text in some way, but they don’t have a pedigree to show that the variance goes back to the original text. If one manuscript has a variance seen in no other manuscripts, then it is placed in this category.
The fourth category is of those variants that are both meaningful and viable. Not more than 1% of all variants fit into this category. At least 99% of the NT is beyond reasonable doubt as to the original wording of the text. Continue reading →
That’s what someone said to me not too long ago. My response was, “Such as?” In addition to being ignorant, I was neither gentle nor respectful (1 Peter 3:15-16). I’ve gained some technical knowledge; working on my heart won’t be quite as easy 🙂