NT Textual Variations and Why They’re Not a Big Deal

by Craig Dunkley

In a 2013 article entitled, Is the New Testament Text Reliable?, Greg Koukl tacked the old assertion that the New Testament has been copied and recopied so many times over the ages that today, we can’t even know what the original texts said.  To kick off that article, Koukl used a great example of how this meme continues to be perpetuated:

In the spring of 1989 syndicated talk show host Larry King interviewed Shirley MacLaine on the New Age. When a Christian caller contested her view with an appeal to the New Testament, MacLaine brushed him off with the objection that the Bible has been changed and translated so many times over the last 2000 years that it’s impossible to have any confidence in its accuracy. King was quick to endorse her “facts.” “Everyone knows that,” he grunted.

Unfortunately, it’s not just entertainers like King and MacLaine that repeat such memes.  Sometimes, respected academics do it, too.  Consider this from scholar Bart Ehrman, as he describes the number of textual variations that exist among our approximately 5,800 known Greek New Testament manuscripts:

Scholars differ significantly in their estimates—some say there are 200,000 textual variations known, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more!  We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all…There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.1

Many scholars have written books and articles thoroughly investigating—and eviscerating—the assertions repeated by King, MacLaine, Ehrman, and others…

NT Textual Variations and Why They’re Not a Big Deal