Feb 18, 2020
In this episode, Brother Jonathan answers this very common
Have we lost the original text of the Bible?
Remnant Bible Fellowship
- One of the most common questions or arguments that is brought
up by people wanting to invalidate the Bible is the idea that the
original text of the Bible has been lost either by transmission or
translation. A lot of people repeat this idea without doing any
actual research. People blindly believe this idea, because no one
who actually does an investigation into the data believes it.
- For example, one of the leading textual critics,
atheist/agnostic Bart Ehrman, who authored the book “Misquoting
Jesus”, which has turned more people against the Bible than most
books, had this to say in the appendix:
- “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual
variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”
- So, from one of the leading critics of the Bible you have heard
up front that there is not a single cardinal doctrine of
Christianity that is affected by the differences, or variants, of
the manuscripts underlying the Bible. What is a ‘variant’? Let me
- A variant happens when someone who is copying a manuscript (a
handwritten copy of the New Testament whether partial or whole)
makes an error in copying or a correction. Then, what results is
that you now have two manuscripts that differ. Later, someone
copies that same manuscript and another person copies the other.
Now you have four manuscripts that read differently, because most
likely when they copied again there was a new variant added also.
This happens many times over.
- So, what do you think? Do all those variants add up to a
completely different text, thus forever hiding what the original
New Testament said? Not at all. For one thing, this view assumes
that there is no one who is double-checking these things. We know
for a fact that this is not true. The early Christians wrote about
how they noticed some of these copying errors and talked about it.
Another thing is that they still had the one they copied
originally. Yes, the originals wore out after time because of the
incessant copying and circulating of them, but that doesn’t mean
that the text was lost.
- Here’s an example for you. A professor of a college class with
one-hundred students gives a copy of the Gettysburg Address to
everyone. Their assignment is to hand copy it word-perfect. They
all come back and turn their copy in. The teacher collates them all
and checks them. Errors were made. In fact, everyone made at least
one error. What does this mean?
- Well, for one thing, do you think that every single student
made the same exact error in the same exact places? No. Each
student would make individual errors. This also would prove that no
one cheated. There was not one person who just superseded
everything and erased everyone else’s copies and substituted his
own. It is the fact that each student’s work had its own variants
that proves that there was no mass control or revision done.
- You could easily gather all the papers, note the differences,
and where they all agreed you would know was right. And where there
were oddball variants that didn’t match any of the others you would
know that that student just goofed there.
- This is what the situation of the New Testament is like. We
have all these copies with variants, but they agree the
overwhelming majority of the time.
- But, let’s consider what type of variants there are.
- Types of variants
- There are roughly 300 to 400,000 variants in the New Testament
manuscripts. That sounds like a depressingly large number. That’s
more than there are words in the New Testament. But guess what?
99.75% of those variants don’t affect the translation at all. Less
than one-half of one percent of these affect how the text is
translated at all. It’s usually things like a name of a person or
place is spelled differently. A large number of variants is because
there was no standard understanding of how to spell John’s name. So
the smallest number of variants are the ones that are both
meaningful (that is, they affect meaning in some way) and viable
(that is, actually possible).
- But what constitutes ‘meaningful’? Well, when I say meaningful
what I mean is that it affects that translation in some way. But
when you start looking through these you see that most are trivial
or insignificant. Like how do you spell Bethesda? Or, in Mark 9:29,
does Jesus mention just praying does he add fasting? People like
Bart Ehrman will often use examples like the pericope of the woman
caught in adultery in John 8 or the last twelve verses of Mark as
examples of textual issues. They imply that these are normal.
That’s completely false. Most textual variants are spelling issues,
then you have word order issues (which rarely affects translation
in Greek), and you also have a choice of this word or that word.
For example, sometimes the manuscript said “Jesus did this or that”
and another says “the Lord did this or that”. Either way you know
who its referring to. Does it affect meaning? Yes. Does it affect
doctrine. Not at all.
- Doctrines such as the deity of Christ and whether or not the
early Christians believed that Jesus was the Son of God are not
affected at all by these variants. What the Bible says about
salvation is not affected. Whether or not Jesus is going to return
and how is not affected. Christianity is not affected at all by
anything in the manuscript tradition. Those who say that it is are
speaking from ignorance or just simply lying to you.
- What about translation?
- It’s more common to hear that the text has been lost by the
constant translating. Those who say this actually don’t know what
translating is. You take the meaning from these words over here and
bring their meaning over into another language. Languages have
rules you know. We have bilingual or trilingual people that we meet
in everyday life. Ask them if meaning is lost. Yes, sometimes
nuances particular to a language is hard to convey, but its not
lost. Especially since we have the text as it was written. Not a
single doctrine is affected.
- Let me put it this way. No, we don’t have the actual physical
original copies of the New Testament text. But we have about 6,000
copies of it in the exact same language. If you expand that to
include other languages then you get up to around 25-26,000 copies.
That is miraculous by secular historical standards. The differences
between these copies, as we already talked about, are minor and
insignificant. Some important texts passages that explicitly state
the deity of Christ, for example, are exactly the same in every
single manuscript. We have manuscripts that are within decades of
when the New Testament was completed. Over 100 in the second
century alone. We have a fragment of the gospel of John that is
from the first century. That gospel was written in the 90s AD.
That’s single digit year difference.
- But, setting all that aside we have the writings of the early
Christians, sermons, homilies, lectionaries, etc. They did not have
the gift of brevity. Sometimes they quote almost whole chapters.
With these quotations alone we can reconstruct the New Testament in
its entirety. They also verify that the Christians back then
believed the exact same gospel message that is preached today. They
believed in the deity of Christ. They believed in saved by grace
through faith. Some of these were written by the disciples of the
- In short, we know what the original text said and we know what
the original Christians believed.
- Now, does that validate that church on your corner? No. Just
because we have the text of the Bible doesn’t mean that people
follow it or obey it. But I’ll tell you one thing, when I started
reading the Bible I saw that my home church and many around me were
not getting what they believed from the Bible. They were just
propagating what others told them. If you want to know what God
said, just go get a Bible and start reading. Start in Matthew.
- Jesus said that we must repent of our sins (that is acknowledge
them and turn from them) and follow Him because we believe that He
died for our sins according to the scriptures. In closing, I will
read the passage from scripture that was written by the Apostle
Paul in 55 ad. Scholars acknowledge that this passage is based on
an early Christian confession from the time immediately following
the resurrection of Jesus—about 33-4 ad.
- “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached
to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which
also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to
you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of
first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that
He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and
that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He
appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of
whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He
appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to
one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1Co 15:1-8)
- You have no excuse for not believing that the text of the Bible