I’m continuing my look at the numbers and statistics for reliability of the New Testament. Last post you saw how we have overwhelming amount of copies of the New Testament compared to copies of Aristotle and Plato also the time gap between the originals and the copies are much closer with the New Testament than all other Greco-Roman literature. Bart Erhman, head of the Religion department at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says often there are more variants than there are words in the New Testament. That statement is true but like Paul Harvey used to say “but here’s the rest of the story”.
Yes, there are differences between the copies of the the New Testament books and we have to remember that humans copied these documents. God did use humans to transmit His inerrant Word. How can God’s Word be inerrant if there are scribal errors. God’s Word is inerrant not from transmission but from the consistent truth out of these letters despite man writing them and copyists making mistakes.
Let’s look at how many variants there are and what kind of variants there are to get the whole story. Many Atheists, Muslims, or non-believers will say Bart Erhman’s quote about more variants than words in New Testament then “Drop the Mic” thinking they made a solid point however they fail to bring out all the details. First, I liked remind you of the chart I showed in last post where at the bottom of it there were notes and one of them said there are 19,000+ copies in other languages(Latin, Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic, and a few others) besides the 5,800+ in Greek. If we only had one copy of a New Testament book then we wouldn’t have any variants but we have thousands and thousands of copies therefore we are going to have many variants. How many variants do we have? At the most, there estimated to be around 400,000 which sounds like a lot but let’s break it down more. I said earlier we have just a total of just under 25,000 copies and according to Daniel B. Wallace the average pages to a manuscripts of a book is 450+ pages which amounts to over 2 million pages total of manuscripts. Whew!! I don’t know how many words that means in the manuscripts but while typing this I made around 300 words a page so if we calculated based on that we come up with around 600 millions words!! So 400,000 variants isn’t really big number after all!
Let’s look at what kind of variants there are in these copies. There are two kinds of variants which are 1) Meaningful and Viable: these are variants that can change or alter the meaning of the text. 2) Meaningless and not viable: these are variants that don’t affect or change the meaning of the text. Out of the approximately 400,000 variants, 99.7% are meaningless which amounted to misspellings,Greek syntax, and word order, which there over 1,000 ways to write “Jesus loves Mary”. Therefore less than 1% of the variants are meaningful and viable so out of all the 2 million pages and countless words there are just twinkling amounts that affect any meaning in the scriptures! The really big question out of all these numbers and statistics is did any of these 400,000 variants affect any of the core doctrines of the Christian Faith? The answer is a BIG FAT 0%!!! Here we have 9 authors writing letters from various locations to various locations and hundreds maybe even in the thousands of human copyists, professionals and non-professionals, making copies through various centuries and none of the central Christian doctrines have been changed or altered. What are the odds of that happening thru human hands? I surmise that is the same odds of Larry Bird or Steph Curry shooting a 150 foot shot and SWOOSH! Nothing but net! This how God uses man even with error prone ways can make His truth inerrant in His Word.
You see, people like Bart Erhman, Muslims, Atheists, and Non-Believers like to point out the 400,000 “errors” in the New Testament then say, “How can we trust the Bible?!”. This reminds me of a picture that Daniel B.Wallace showed in one of his presentations and the title above picture was”Polar bear attacks man and tries rip off his leg”. The picture is at the bottom of page so view at your own risk.
So you see opponents of Christianity want to paint a bad picture of our beliefs but their picture doesn’t really amount to a “hill of beans”. They want to give big numbers but they are really not that big and bad rather they make no impact on our core beliefs. Remember God’s truth is what is inerrant not the transmission and God’s truth survives man’s errors.
Kevin J Garrison