At the end of the day, we can have full confidence in the transmission of the Bible. How serious are the many thousands of “textual variants” in the Greek New Testament manuscripts?
“4. How significant are the variants? It is easy to leave the wrong impression by speaking of 200,000 “errors” that have crept into the text due to scribal mistakes and intended corrections. There are only 10,000 places where these 200,000 variants occur. The next question is, How significant are those 10,000 places? Textual critics have attempted to answer that question by offering percentages and comparisons. a. Scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only about one-eighth of all the variants had any weight, as most of them merely involve mechanical matters such as spelling or style. Of the whole, then, only about one-sixtieth rise above “trivialities,” or can in any sense be called substantial variations. Mathematically that would compute to a text that is 98.33 percent pure whether the critic adopts the Textus Receptus, Majority Nestle-Aland Text, or some eclectic text of the New Testament. b. Ezra Abbott gave similar figures, saying about 19/20 (95 percent) of the readings are various rather than rival readings, and about 19/20 (95 percent) of the remainder are of so little importance that their addition or rejection makes no appreciable difference in the sense of the passage. Thus the degree of substantial purity would be 99.75 percent. c. Philip Schaff (p. 177) surmised that of the 150,000 variations known in his day, only 400 affected the sense; and of those, only 50 were of real significance; and of this total, not one affected “an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching.” d. A.T. Robertson (p. 22) suggested that the real concern of textual criticism is of a “thousandth part of the entire text That would make the reconstructed text of the New Testament 99.9 percent free from real concern for the textual critic.” (Ed Hindson & Ergun Caner (General Editors), The Popular Encyclopedia Of Apologetics: Surveying The Evidence For The Truth Of Christianity, 99-100 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers)
Trust in God’s Word. The process of how we got the Bible is an amazing journey to consider; and when a person begins to navigate the rough seas that threatened to overwhelm the revelation of the Scriptures, the more reverent and awestruck will his attitude be in comprehending the great Lord Who so amazingly preserved His Word.