How Are Textual Variants and Variation Units Related?

This entry is part 6 of 36 in the series What is Textual Criticism?

Textual variants1 are words or phrases in a manuscript that are different from the standard text. There may be several textual variants for a verse in the Bible, such as the last verse of the Lord’s Prayer2. Variation units3 are places in the standard text where the original wording is uncertain, and scholars try to determine which textual variant most likely reflects the original wording.

Textual Variants in Colossians 2:2

A single variation unit may have more than one textual variant. Colossians 2:2 actually has three variation units in it4, but I’ll be focusing on the last one. Many New Testament textual critics believe the the verse ended with the three Greek words τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ, which form a single variation unit, but there 14 significant textual variants5 found in about 276 Greek New Testament manuscripts6.

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ…. (Colossians 2:2 NIV)

ἵνα παρακληθῶσιν αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν συμβιβασθέντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ καὶ εἰς πᾶν πλοῦτος τῆς πληροφορίας τῆς συνέσεως, εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ…. (Colossians 2:2 NA28)

A Critical Apparatus contains a list of the textual variants for a variation unit, along with a list of the witnesses a reading is found in. Witnesses include Greek manuscripts, writings by the church fathers, early translations (Armenian, Ethiopic, Coptic, Latin, etc.) and critical editions of the New Testament.

Colossians 2:2 - 14 Textual Variants

VariantsGreek PhraseEnglish TranslationEnglish VersionsCritical Apparatus (Partial)
τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦof the God of ChristASV, BBE, CEB, CSB, GW,
P46 B vgms Hilary Pelagius Ps-Jerome WH NR CEI Riv TILC Nv NM
1τοῦ θεοῦof the GodDBYD1 HP PP 6 69 424** 436* 462 1881 1912 2464 copsa(ms)
2τοῦ Χριστοῦof the Christ81 1241 1462 pc itb Euthalius
3τοῦ θεοῦ ὃ ἐστιν Χριστόςof the God which is ChristCJB, ESV, GNT, NLTD* itar itd ite ito itx vgmss Ephraem Augustine1/2 Varimadum Vigilius
4τοῦ θεοῦ ὃ ἐστιν περὶ Χριστοῦof the God which is concerning ChristEthiopic
5τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἐν Χριστῷof the God in the Christ33 Ambrosiaster
6τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ of the God in the Christ Jesusarm
7τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ of the God and ChristCyril
8τοῦ θεοῦ πατρὸς Χριστοῦ of God the father Christ‭א* A C 048vid 216 440 1175 copbo
9τοῦ θεοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ of God the father of ChristA C 0150 1175 pc l596 copbo Ps-Jerome
10τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ of God and Father of Christ‭א2 L Ψ 075 0278 256 263 365 945 1319 1505 1573 1962 1984 1985 2127 l422 l593 l603 l809c l1153 vgms syrh geo2 slav
11τοῦ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ of God father and of ChristTYN075 0208 459 1908
12τοῦ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦof God father and of Christ JesusRHEvg copbo Pelagius
13τοῦ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦof God father and of Lord of us Christ Jesus1 Vulgate ms
14τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ of God and father and of ChristHNV, JUB, KJV, NKJV,
D2 K L 104 181 326 330 424* 436c 451 614 630 1852 1877 2492 2495 Byz Lect syrh* Theodoret John-Damascus ς ND Dio
© 2020
Disclaimer: I do not know Greek, so I compiled this information from several different sources. Please feel free to copy this chart, but double-check the information before presenting it!
Bibliography: Compare Translations for Colossians 2:2 (Bible Study Tools; webpage) Accessed 12-May-2020.
Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, Third Enlarged Edition (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992) Pages 236-237. (Amazon - 4th edition)
STEP Bible, Colossians 2:2 (Tyndale House, 2020; webpage) Accessed 12-May-2020
A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants, Colossians 2:2 (Ohio Valley University, 1998; webpage) Accessed 12-May-2020.


There are at least a dozen variants here, almost surely generated by the unusual wording τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ (tou theou, Christou, “of God, Christ”; so P46 B Hil). Scribes would be prone to conform this to more common Pauline expressions such as “of God, who is in Christ” (33), “of God, the Father of Christ” (א* A C 048vid 1175 bo), and “of the God and Father of Christ” (‭א2 Ψ 075 0278 365 1505 pc). Even though the external support for the wording τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ is hardly overwhelming, it clearly best explains the rise of the other readings and should thus be regarded as authentic.7

United Bible Societies gives the variant τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ a {B} rating (the text is almost certain). In spite of there being 14 meaningful and viable textual variants for this variant unit, none of the possibilities change the meaning of the text. As you can see from the table, English translations are split between which variant best represents the author’s wording, but none of them violate the author’s intent. There’s really nothing to see here, other than the overall reliability of the New Testament manuscripts.



  • Andrews, Edward D. From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts: Introduction-Intermediate to New Testament Textual Studies (Cambridge, Ohio: Christian Publishing House, 2020; Kindle) (Amazon)
  • Andrews, Edward D. What are Textual Variants [Errors] and How Many are There? (Christian Publishing House; March 31, 2017; Blog) Accessed 06-May-2020.
  • Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, third edition (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1975)


Series Navigation<< What are Variant Units?Why did God Allow Variants in the New Testament Manuscripts? >>


  1. What are Textual Variants?
  2. Why are there Variations in Different Translations of the New Testament?
  3. What are Variation Units?
  4. ἵνα παρακληθῶσιν αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν συμβιβασθέντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ καὶ εἰς πᾶν πλοῦτος τῆς πληροφορίας τῆς συνέσεως, εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ…. (Colossians 2:2 NA28)
  5. There are likely additional variants due to spelling mistakes and other errors, but they would be considered insignificant.
  6. Colossians 2:2 – INTF K-Liste
  7. The NET Bible First Edition. Colossians 2:22 (Biblical Studies Press, 2005) (Logos)

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