How badly did the early scribes corrupt the New Testament? Daniel B. Wallace

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Daniel Wallace:

The New Testament has been under a barrage in the last few years. The Old Testament has been sieged. The biggest apologetic question used to be: „Is it true?”

Now, the question that is on the horizon, and is increasingly so, is: „Did God really say that?” „Is that what the Bible really says?”

Daniel Wallace, answers 4 important questions:

  1. How many textual variants are there?
  2. What kinds of textual variations are there?
  3. What theological beliefs depend on textually suspect passages?
  4. Is what we have now what they wrote then?

Daniel Wallace is a professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary and the founder of The Center for the Study of the New Testament Manuscripts, an institute that seeks to study and preserve the manuscripts of the New Testament. Wallace is an expert in biblical Greek and in textual criticism, the academic study of ancient manuscripts. Daniel Wallace’s personal website – The following lecture was given at Watermark Community Church of Dallas Texas on September 29th, 2012.

Here are some points from the lecture:

  • Dr. Wallace begins with a preliminary question: Don’t we have the original New Testament anymore? The answer is ‘no’. It turned to dust… probably by the end of the second century. These were originally 27 documents, sent to a variety of churches in the ancient world, that got collected later on. But, the originals must have worn out within 100 years of the writing of them. The reason I say that is because they were all written on papyrus. Papyrus doesn’t last real long. It’s actually stronger than paper. It’s kind of got the consistency of a paper grocery sack (bag). Now, these papyrus texts, they would have been copied and copied, and handled. The early church would have disseminated these documents, they would have worn out. So, we don’t have the original New testament anymore.
  • But, of the copies we do have, don’t they all say exactly the same thing? Our 2 closest, earliest related manuscripts have between 6 and 10 differences per chapter. Because of the disappearance of the originals and the difference in the manuscripts we cannot say that we have the original New Testament. Textual criticism is necessary because of these differences and because the originals don’t exist anymore.

Definition of textual variance: Any place among the manuscripts in which there is variation in wording, including word order, omission or addition of words, even spelling differences.

The quantity of Variants:

  • In the Greek NT we have approx. 140,000 words
  • Textual Variants in the manuscripts approx 400,000

So for every word in the NT we have about 2 1/2 textual variants. The reason we have a lot of textual variants is that we have a lot of manuscripts.  If there was one copy of the New Testament today, it would have no variants. As soon as you have a second copy, you will have variants. (Yet) the more manuscripts we have, the better we are in getting back to reconstructing the original. And the reason we have a lot of textual variants is that we have a lot of manuscripts. There’s nothing in the ancient world that compares to the number of variants that we have for the New Testament, nor to the number of manuscripts. (11:19)

Let me go back 300 years ago to the famous scholar- Richard Bentley, and author of the book  „Remarks Upon a Discourse of Freet Thinking” (1713). He said:

If there had been but one manuscript of the Greek New Testament at the restoration of learning about two centuries ago, then we [would have] had no various readings at all… And would the text be in a better condition then, than now [that] we have 30,000 [variant readings]?

It is good therefore… to have more anchors than one; and another MS, to join the first would give more authority, as well as security.

  • Greek manuscripts: The latest number of how many Greek New Testament manuscripts we have: 5824 By the way, the average sized Greek New Testament manuscript is more than 450 pages long. We’re not talking of little fragments. Yes, there are some that are little fragments and there are some that are huge manuscripts. But, the average size is over 450 pages.
  • Latin manuscripts: The New Testament was translated into various languages as well, early on- latin swept across Europe and starting in the second century, the New Testament was translated into Latin. We have more manuscripts in Latin than we do in Greek: The count is over 10,000+.
  • Ancient languages manuscripts: It (NT) was then translated into other ancient languages- Syriac, and Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, and Gothic and Old Church Slavonic, Arabic, the list goes on and on-Our best guess is that there is at least 5,000 manuscripts in these other ancient translations.
  • Quotations from NT: Even without these manuscripts, there are over 1 million quotations from the New Testament by church fathers.The New Testament itself has just under 8,000 verses in it. We can sometimes reproduce the New Testament many times over just by the quotations of the church fathers.

How does this compare with other ancient literature?

  • The average classical Greek writer has less than 20 hand written copies of his works still in existence. If you were to stack them up they would be 4 foot high.
  • If you were to pile all the existing New Testament manuscripts they would be 1 mile high.

Skeptics will say: How can you possibly tell what the New Testament originally said? It’s been translated, copied so many times?

Yes, but, we are not relying just on the latest versions of it? We can go back in time and we can see earlier copies and see many, many, many copies. If we’re gonna be skeptical about what the New Testament originally said, that skepticism, on average, needs to be multiplied at least 1,000 times any other classical Greek or Latin author.

Herodotus was the historian of Alexander the Great. Suetonius was one of the 3 historians on the Caesars. If we don’t have the New Testament texts, or if we have doubts about that, we should be 1,000 times more skeptical about these other texts. Maybe Julius Caesar never existed. Maybe there never was an Alexander the Great. Let’s play fair with the evidence. The New testament is phenomenal in terms of how much we’ve got in manuscripts. But, it’s also earlier than these other texts.

In the first millennium, till about AD 1,000 we have about 15% of our New Testament manuscripts. We have multiple copies of the entire New Testament within the first 300 years.

Has the Bible been translated and retranslated so many times that we don’t know what it originally said? If we go back to 1611, when the first King James Bible was published, we discover that the New Testament was based essentially on 7 Greek manuscripts that a scholar had published about 100 years earlier. The earliest of these manuscripts is from the 11th century. Today, in 2012, we have over 5800 manuscripts, almost 1000 times as many manuscripts and our earliest go back to the second century.

As time goes on, we are not getting farther and farther away from the original texts. We are actually getting closer and closer to them. 

We haven’t lost those manuscripts that the King James translators used.

The nature of the variants: What kind of variants are there?

  • 99% of the variants make virtually no difference at all. They are spelling variants that don’t change the meaning.

One of the common variants that we have among the manuscripts is the use of the article, the word „the”. (With) proper names, you would see in Luke chapter 2 ‘the Joseph and the Mary left Jerusalem’. Well, that’s in Greek. We don’t translate it that way. The word ‘the’ occurs 20,000 times in the Greek New Testament.

  • The smallest group of variants are those that are both meaningful and viable, that do affect the meaning of the text and they have a good chance at being authentic.
  • Less than 1% of all textual variants fit this group. Actually the number is approximately 1/4 of 1%.

I’ll give you a couple that are pretty meaningful texts:

  1. Mark 9:29 –  Jesus’s disciples try to cast out a demon and they can’t. So they come to Him and He says: „This kind can come out only by prayer [and fasting].” Well, I put ‘and fasting’ in brackets because the earlier manuscripts don’t have ‘and fasting’. But, most of the manuscripts which are later, do have ‘and fasting’.  This is a meaningful variant and a viable variant and it is the only place in the New Testament that says that fasting may be required to exorcise demons. So, it’s meaningful ad viable and it does change the text. But, how significant is it?
  2. Here’s one that may be more relevant to you: Revelation 13:18- „Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” Now, everybody knows the antichrist’s number is 666. Not so fast. In the middle of the 19th century, in Paris, a manuscript was deciphered that had never been deciphered before, by a scholar who spent 2 years on it had found that Revelation 13:18, the number of the beast was 616. Now, I had the opportunity to examine that manuscript a couple of years ago and sure enough it says 616. Well, that’s just one manuscript. But, it turned out to be our second most important manuscript for Revelation. It’s text is terrific in almost all of Revelation. Maybe it’s one that was wrong, for there were no others that said 616, until 1998 when at Oxford University, the papyrologists were going through all these papyri that for the majority had never been published and they came across a small fragment, actually 26 fragments  that spread out over 9 chapters, one of them the size of a postage stamp with this verse on it. And it had the number of the beast as 616. Well, that’s just one manuscript. But, it’s also our earliest manuscript for Revelation.  Now, even with all that evidence which is really significant, most scholars today would say, „We believe that the number of the beast is 666. When all the dust will say, we will probably say, „We’re not sure”.  But, here’s the point about Revelation 13:18: I know of no church, no denomination, no Bible college, no theological seminary of any sort that has as its doctrinal statement: We believe in the virgin birth, We believe in the deity of Christ, and we believe that the number of the beast is 666. It may be important, but not that important.

What theological beliefs do depend on textually suspect passages?

Teabing, the character in the Da Vinci Code says that Constantine, the emperor actually invented the deity of Christ in A.D. 325. Dan Brown actually believed this. It was based on another book that said (that) there are no New Testament manuscripts form before the 4th century. Well, there were at least 48 of them before the 4th century, but, they didn’t do their research. There’s a lot of misinformation that’s going on nowadays. But, here’s the point. Here in this book, they’re claiming that the deity of Christ came later, 300 years after the time that Jesus lived.

There is a papyrus # P66, written about A.D. 75. It is the first leaf of John’s Gospel. It says in John 1:1- „In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Every New Testament manuscript says that. Every single one in every single language. It’s not just the deity of Christ, we see go all the way back to the original. But, it’s all of our essential doctrines. In fact, here’s some evidence. In Bart Erhman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’ paperback edition, in the appendix the publishers wrote this: „Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?”

Ehrman’s response is: „Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants  in the manuscript tradition of the New testament.” This is a skeptic saying this. This is the guy on whose works, Moslems and atheists are basing their wild flames that the orthodox have so corrupted the texts, that it must not have been orthodox at all originally. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But, they’re basing it on Dr. Ehrman’s work.

In conclusion: When it comes to essentials, we have absolute certainty that this has not been affected.Even a skeptic like Bart Ehrman could not deny that. No essential Christian belief is jeopardized by any viable variant.

6 comentarii (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: On what day was Jesus really born? A New Testament Manuscript Expert Responds « agnus dei – english + romanian blog
  2. Georgeta
    ian. 06, 2014 @ 20:47:52

    1. Regarding the genealogy of Jesus presented in the Christian – New Testament what I believe, is that it was intentionally written this way and did not follow on purpose the prophecies of the Old Testament, and that was because of the Jews!
    Its’ purpose was to make Jews reject it in order to fulfil the mission of Jesus on earth!
    Imagine if Jesus genealogy was written following the prophecies of the Old Testament 100%!
    The Jewish people would definitely accept Jesus as one of the key prophecy was already fulfilled!

    2. Jesus was not born of Virgin Mary! She was legally married to Joseph!
    It was changed because of Roman religion/belief in goddesses!
    Romans could not accept a religion where the role of a woman god was diminished!

    3. And it was because of the Jews again, because according to their Bible –Tanach, the young married woman’ was mistranslated as ‘the virgin’.

    4. The Jews in their majority are all back to Israel which is already established a Jewish State!
    This is all happening now during Jesus’ time, when the Spirit of Christ dominates upon many nations and parts of the world to!

    5. Many miracles and wonders performed by Jesus and his’ disciples in the New Testament are similar to the other ones performed by other prophets in the Old Testament!

    6. Someone, somewhere hides the true “New Testament” the original (probably it is the Vatican), and someday probably not too long, in not quite a distant future, it will come out as a discovery of big proportion!

  3. Georgeta
    ian. 09, 2014 @ 09:29:08

    In genealogia lui Isus prezentata in Noul Testament, nu s-a tinut cont de profetiile Vechiului Testament in mod intentionat!
    Aceasta genealogie eronata avea scopul respingerii poprului evreu a lui Isus!
    Daca ei l-ar fi acceptat pe Isus, el nu si-ar mai fi putut împlini planul Sau de mantuire a tuturor oamenilor pe pamânt!
    Imaginati-va ca aceasta genealogie ar fi fost 100% compatibila cu profetia din Vechiul Testament!
    Poporul evreu l-ar fi acceptat pe Isus, pentru-ca aceasta este o profetie cheie despre Mesia cel profetit in Vechiul Testament si asteptat de ei!

    2. Isus n-a fost nascut dintr-o virgina! Maria a fost casatorita legal cu Iosif!
    Istoria nasterii Lui Isus, a fost schimbata de Romani deoarece ei nu puteau accepta o religie care sa nu aibe o femeie zeu.
    Romanii au avut foarte multe femei zeite!

    3. Un alt motiv a fost si faptul ca în profetiile din Vechiul Testament, care este si Biblia originala a poporului evreu (Tanach), se vorbeste despre o femeie tânara maritata si nu despre “fecioara” care-i v-a da nastere lui Mesia!
    Traducerea a fost gresita probabil în mod intentionat din nou!

    4. Evreii în marea lor majoritate sunt veniti înapoi în Israel, care este declarat official Stat Evreiesc!
    Si-acest lucru se întampla acum, când spritul Lui Isus Christos stapâneeste asupra multor popoare si parti ale lumii!

    5. Multe miracole si minuni facute de Isus si discipolii sai în Noul Testament, sunt similare cu alte miracole si minuni facute de alti profeti si slujitori ai lui Dumnezeu în Vechiul Testament!

    6. Cineva, undeva ascunde manuscrisul original al Noului Testament (posibil ca e la Vatican), si într-o zi poate nu peste mult timp, peste un viitor nu prea îndepartat, v-a fi adus la lumina si considerat “o descoperire de mari proportii”!…

  4. georgeta
    mart. 17, 2014 @ 10:42:04

    Draga Rody,
    îmi face placere sa te întalnesc din nou, de data aceasta la o conversatie ceva mai deosebita de cele avute anterioare.
    Pentru început, trebuie sa mentionez ca am omis un cuvânt deosebit de important într-o fraza inclusa în mesajul meu anterior, si pe care o repet mai jos:

    “Oficial, Isus n-a fost nascut dintr-o virgina! Maria a fost casatorita legal cu Iosif!
    Istoria nasterii Lui Isus, a fost schimbata de Romani deoarece ei nu puteau accepta o religie care sa nu aibe o femeie zeu.
    Romanii au avut foarte multe femei zeite”!

    Nu cred ca afirmatia mea despre nasterea lui Isus din Maria ca fiind o femeie tânara casatorita ar schimba identitatea lui Isus!
    Vechiul Testament – “Tanach sau Torrah” este fundamentul principiilor care-l caracterizeaza pe Dumnezeu si care stau la baza comunicarii Lui cu oamenii.
    Pentru a ne învata si pentru a ni se descoperi dealungul trecerii vremilor, Dumnezeu a ales ca popor de experimentare poporul Evreu.
    Ei au fost poporul care l-au experimentat pe Dumnezeu prin directa comunicare si-o legatura permanenta cu El dealungul istoriei lor!
    Dumnezeu a fost drept, correct si plin de adevar cu ei în toate timpurile si situatiile prin care au trecut. Dumnezeu întotdeauna face lucrul promis, si nu se schimba! Dumnezeu nu se contrazice pe El însusi! De aceea eu cred în profetiile “Vechiului Testament” si ca Dumnezeu a hotarât ca ele sa se întample si sa se împlinesca ‘aidoma’ asa cum sunt spuse si scrise în Tanach!
    Ele reprezinta temelia Noului Testament!
    Uitati-va pe internet la dovezile pe care le aduc evreii cand justifica credinta lor si cand explica ce anume îi determina pe ei sa nu-l accepte pe Isus ca Mesia!
    Ei aduc scrierile/profetiile originale dinTanach-ul lor – Vechiul Testament, si le explica asa cum sunt ele scrise în limba lor!
    Ei vorbesc despre diferente în traducere dintre ‘Tanach’ si ‘Vechiul Testament’!
    ‘Tanach’ este cel mai vechi, este originalul care mai târziu a fost tradus si numit ‘Vechiul Testament’ prima parte a bibliei crestinilor.
    In Vechiul Testament logodna era considerata casatorie, deoarece nu gasim nicaieri în VT ca cineva ar fi desfacut o logodna odata întemeiata între baiat si fata!
    Si-atunci, la ‘Matei”…. scrie ca Iosif a luat nevasta lui acasa, ceea ce a însemnat ca Maria din punct de vedere oficial era considerata nevasta lui, indifferent de faptul ca în prealabil s-au cunoscut în mod intim sau nu. Ceea ce i s-a întâmplat Mariei în privat, a fost o experienta personala traita si cunoscuta numai de ea si alte 2-3 persoane apropiate ei!
    Din punct de vedere oficial si recunoscut în mod public, Maria era nevasta lui Iosif!
    De aceea nimanui nu i-a pasat ca este gravida din moment ce era cu Iosif!
    Chiar si oamenii din popor îl vedeau si vorbeau despre Isus ca fiind fiul lui Iosif “nu este el fiul tâmplarului…”?
    Deci din punct de vedere official, Isus avea doi parinti, si era nascut dintr-o femeie tânara casatorita asa cum scrie în Tanach!
    Daca traducerea ar fi fost asa cum scrie în Tanach: “tânara (maritata) v-a naste un fiu”, raportat/comparat cu cele scrise în Noul Testament, nu ar schimba cu nimic proorocia si nici identitatea lui Isus!
    Însa Romanii asa dupa cum am mai amintit, aveau novoie de o femeie care sa preia rolul zeitelor din religia lor pagâna, si au tradus cuvintele ca: “femeia tânara maritata v-a naste un fiu”etc… în “fecioara v-a naste un fiu etc..” punând astfel accentul prorociei pe ideea de fecioara mai mult decât pe ideea de tânara maritata!
    Acest lucru nu este gresit daca acceptam experienta privata cu Dumnezeu a Mariei!
    Însa daca luam lucrurile din punct de vedere oficial legal, este gresit deoarece Iosif si Maria erau considerati un cuplu casatorit legal!
    Si din nou, acest lucru i-a derutat si confundat pe evrei pentru a nu-l accepta pe Isus ca Mesia!

    • rodi
      mart. 18, 2014 @ 08:42:35

      Draga Georgeta,
      daca citesti acest articol, arata ca cuvantul folosit pentru fecioara de Matei cand a scris Evanghelia dupa Matei si in special Matei 1:22-23, Matei foloseste cuvantul fecioara, in sensul in care-l intelegem noi. Deci, Cornilescu nu a gresit cand l-a tradus si si Americanii tot fecioara au tradus. Matei a fost martor ocular si a stiut exact despre ce e vorba, din gura celei care a fost fecioara cand a zamislit copilul prin Duhul Sfant. Asa ca, daca acesta este adevarul, nu se poate spune altceva decat adevarul. In plus, nu am studiat acest punct, dar in acelasi articol spune ca tot fecioara a tradus si Septuagintul referinta despre faptul ca Isus va fi nascut din fecioara. Daca evreii, sau sa zicem, ateii, nu cred, atunci hai sa schimbam putin cuvintele? Nicidecum. Nu cred ca ajuta la nimic. Confunda mai tare si merge impotriva unui crez de baza, pe care altii il vor interpreta ca tine ca nu crezi ca Isus Hristos este divin. Ei nu o sa se uite la explicatia ta, ci la afirmatia ta. De aceea nu cred ca este o idee buna.
      Aici e linkul pe care l-am mentionat-

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