Are There Hundreds Of Thousands Of Errors In The Bible Manuscripts?

The Bible has been preserved through the ages by the work of countless scribes who made extremely detailed copies of the original Books given by God through confirmed Prophets and Apostles (Hebrews 2:3-4; Mark 16:20; Jon 3:2; Acts 2:22). God providentially preserved His Word, as He promised in numerous passages of Scripture. For example:

Psalm 12:6-7- 6    The words of the LORD are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times. 7    You shall keep them, O LORD, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.

Matthew 24:35-Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

But what does this promise really mean? Although this promise of miraculous inspiration applies only to the confirmed Prophets and Apostles (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Matthew 10:19-20), many are surprised that the scribes who preserved this Word providentially often made grammatical errors in their endeavors. The promise of miraculous inspiration did not apply to them; rather, they preserved His Word providentially. As such, when one examines the many thousands of manuscripts of the Bible that have been preserved by the scribes, he will find many examples of grammatical errors.

Taking into account these “textual variants,” do we see God’s promise to preserve His Word shattered? Not at all! Despite the claims of modern day atheists, agnostics, pagans, Muslims, and members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we find that God has indeed kept His Word. Speaking of these scribal errors, one diligent investigator discovered:

“The overwhelming majority of these four hundred thousand supposed variations stem from differences in spelling, word order, or the relationships between nouns and definite articles. In other words, a copyist simply switched a couple of letters, misheard a word, or skipped a line of text. Such variants are readily recognizable and, in most cases, utterly unnoticeable in translations!…In the end, more than 99 percent of the four hundred thousand or so differences fall into this category of variants that can’t even be seen in translations!12” (Timothy Paul Jones, Conspiracies And The Cross: How To Intelligently Counter The Ten Most Popular Theories That Attack The Gospel Of Jesus, 1527-1537 (Kindle Edition); Lake Mary, Florida; FrontLine).

One might ask, “What could lead to these kinds of spelling and scribal errors?” When we consider the serious challenges that the ancient scribes often had to contend with (things which we in our modern age of technology often do not comprehend), we can quickly understand the abundance of such errors. For example, one excellent authority has described the reason for these errors with the following indicators:

“1. Unintentional errors. Mistakes of the hand, eye, and ear are of frequent occurrence in manuscripts but usually pose no problem because they are so easy to pick out. Often a scribe with a copy before him mistakes one word for another and so by chance writes down the wrong word. Sometimes a scribe confuses words of similar sound, as in English we often interchange “affect” and “effect.” A few New Testament passages may serve as illustrations. In Romans 5:1, is it “let us have peace with God” or “we have peace with God”? The difference is simply whether the o in Greek is long or short (echōmen or echomen). In 1 Thessalonians 2: 7, is it “we were babes among you” or “we were gentle among you”? The difference is one letter (nepioi or epioi). In 1 John 1: 4, is it “that your joy may be full” or “that our joy may be full”? The difference between “your” (hymōn) and “our” (hēmōn) is one letter and the two words sound alike. In Revelation 1:5, is it “washed us from our sins” or “freed us from our sins”? The difference is one letter and the words sound the same ( lousanti or lusanti). It is not difficult to see how these scribal mistakes could take place. Generally, if they are important enough, our recent translations will footnote such differences to ensure the reader is well informed. Errors of omission and addition are common in all the manuscripts. Words sometimes are omitted by a copyist for no apparent reason, simply an unintentional omission. More often, however, omissions are due to the similar appearance of words at a corresponding point several lines above or below in the manuscript. The scribe’s eye might skip, for example, from the end of line 6 to a similar word at the end of line 10. A scribe might add to his copy in the same way. He may inadvertently transcribe a word twice in succession, or repeat a letter twice, or write a letter once when it should be written twice. Not a few times the scribe may misunderstand the passage due to improper division of the words, especially if the scribe is unskilled in the language. When this happens, we can sympathize with the scribe, remembering that during most of the uncial period the style of writing was to crowd the letters together in such a way as to leave the words without intervening spaces between them. But in all matters of this kind, the textual critic, by comparison of the many manuscripts, can detect and explain these errors without hesitation. Another form of error, more difficult to solve, grows out of the practice of writing explanatory notes in the margin. These marginal notes are somehow incorporated in the main body of material and thus become a part of the text. But it should be stressed that the New Testament manuscripts rarely exhibit this kind of error, and that when it does occur, our many textual witnesses keep us on the right course. 2. Intentional errors. Unintentional alterations in the manuscripts are many, but the vast majority of them are of little consequence….We ought not think these insertions were made by dishonest scribes who simply wanted to tamper with the text. Almost always the intention of the scribe is good and he wants only to “correct” what appears to be an error in the text. So if a word seems improperly spelled, or a Greek verb does not have the proper ending, or a form does not correspond with the classical idiom, then the scribe feels it is his duty to improve the text he is copying.” (Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got The Bible, 88-90 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)

So there were good and logical reasons for these scribal errors in the New Testament manuscripts. Yet I must stress again the incredible unity among these manuscripts, even with all of these scribal errors in consideration:

“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)

When we encounter the claims of the enemies of the Bible, we see again that studying the matters out leads us to again reaffirm the authenticity of God’s Word. Shouldn’t we be willing then to build our lives upon the solid Rock of Jesus Christ? As a believer in His Gospel (please read 1 Corinthians 15:1-8), why not repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins today (Acts 2:38)? If you are an erring child of God, why not repent and pray to The Lord this very moment and be restored and rededicated to Christ and His church (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9)?

The grace of The Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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