Were the Church Fathers Aware of Variations in the New Testament Manuscripts?

Awareness of textual variants in literature goes back at least a few hundred years before Jesus was born, and scholars have constantly been trying to find the original readings. In the series I've been writing, I've been focused on textual variants in the New Testament, but they also exist in the Old Testament and in secular literature.

Secular Literature

The city of Alexandria, Egypt, was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., and...

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What is a Singular Reading?

There are over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts, but only about 1% of those manuscripts contain the entire New Testament. There are so many manuscripts, however, that almost every passage in the New Testament is represented in hundreds of Greek New Testament manuscripts, and there is a high percentage of agreement among the manuscripts for any given passage.

Handwriting any lengthy document is prone to errors, so it's not surprising New...

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What are Intentional Textual Variants?

Last week I wrote about What are Unintentional Textual Variants?, and this week I want to focus on intentional changes scribes made to the New Testament text.

Intentional changes are often harder to detect than unintentional changes. A spelling mistake should be easy to detect, unless the new word it produces is a legitimate word, and one that make sense in context. The author of an intentional change will try to make the change fit into...

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What are Unintentional Textual Variants?

Textual Criticism studies the differences found in manuscripts, called textual variants, of which there are two types: unintentional changes and intentional changes. This article focuses on the unintentional types of textual variants; a later article will be about intentional textual variants.

In an ideal situation, a professional scribe will have a pristine copy of a book, and smooth blank sheets of parchment...

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Do Textual Variants Show Christianity is False?

Some people are extremely critical of textual variants in New Testament manuscripts, claiming God would have prevented variants from occurring in the manuscripts (if He could have), so the existence of variants prove God doesn't exist and the Bible isn't true. My article Why did God Allow Variants in the New Testament Manuscripts? argues God was not only justified in allowing variants in the manuscripts (not that any of God's actions need a...

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Why did God Allow Variants in the New Testament Manuscripts?

Atheist Arguments

Some atheists argue the New Testament can't be trusted because it's been changed and corrupted over the past two thousand years. (Parts of the Old Testament are about 3,500 years old. Imagine the alleged changes over that amount of time!) The argument then goes on to state that if God really did inspire the Bible, He would have prevented any changes from occurring in the text. Since New Testament manuscripts clearly show...

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How Are Textual Variants and Variation Units Related?

Textual variants 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 Prayer. Variation units 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...

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How Many Textual Variants Exist in the New Testament Manuscripts?

In my article What are Textual Variants? I described textual variants as being any word or phrase in a manuscript that is different from the standard text. If a word is misspelled, it's a variant. If a scribe accidentally left out a verse, it's a variant. Any change, no matter how small, is considered a variant. I've read about two ways to count textual variants, and they conflict.

Counting Method 1

The first method for counting...

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What are Textual Variants?

Last week I started a new series with the article Why are there Variations in Different Translations of the New Testament?. Textual Variants are places where ancient manuscripts attest to more than one reading of a passage. There are about 138,000 words in the Greek New Testament, and it's unreasonable to think anyone could copy it without making a single mistake. Most of the variants are simple spelling errors or other accidental...

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Why did I Study Biblical Manuscripts?

People study Biblical manuscripts for a variety of reasons.

  • Some manuscripts have detailed drawings in them, and it's amazing how many years it took to create some of the manuscripts (What are Illuminated Manuscripts?).
  • The study of paleography (What is Paleography?) shows how writing styles changed over time.
  • Manuscripts are evidence of how people have valued God's written...

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