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Manuscript Fallacies

One of the most often heard assertions of fundamentalists is that there is overwhelming manuscript evidence in support of the New Testament. We will examine this claim in detail here.

The Case for Overwhelming Manuscript Evidence

Two books cited most commonly in support of this claim are Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ (1998) and Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1979) [1]. McDowell's chapter on this is based on citations from various works, primarily from Bruce Metzger, a much respected scholar in the field of textual criticism, but interspersed with quotations from more conservative scholars such as F.F. Bruce, Norman Geisler and William Nix. Strobel's chapter is presented as an interview with Bruce Metzger, again interspersed with quotes from more conservative scholars. Let us look at what these works have to say.

We are told, first and foremost, of the sheer number of New Testament manuscripts available in the original language, Greek: now numbering at 5,664.[2] We are then told that, in comparison, the other major work of antiquity, Homer's Iliad, has only 643 surviving manuscripts. Then we are told that the earliest extant copy of the Iliad is datable to 400 BCE, which is approximately five centuries later than the date of the original autograph (circa 900 BCE)[a]. By comparison, we are shown that the earliest extant manuscript evidence of the New Testament, has been dated to 125 CE which is only 25 years away from the time of writing. [3]

Finally, in both books, we are treated to quotations from fundamentalist and conservative scholars, waxing lyrical about the resulting significance of these statistics. Let us look at some of these:

  • We are told that the sheer number confirms the textual integrity of the New Testament
    Sir Frederick Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (1941) [4]
    The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, the early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the olders writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one of other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.

  • We are told that this guarantees the purity of the New Testament text
    Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (1968) [5]
    The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book-a form that is 99.5 percent pure.

  • We are assured that none of these remaining variants affect basic Christian doctrine in any substantial way
    Benjamin Warfield, Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1907) [7]
    [The great majority of New Testament] has been transmitted to us with no, or next to no variation; and even in the most corrupt form in which it has ever appeared, to use the oft-quoted remarks of Richard Bentley, "the real text of the sacred writers is competently exact;...nor is one article of faith or moral percept either perverted or lost..."

  • Finally we are told that all these unparalleled features of the manuscripts collection hint at divine guidance
    Benjamin Warfield again: [8]
    If we compare the present state of the New Testament text with that of any other ancient writing, we must...declare it to be marvelously correct. Such has been the care with which the New Testament has been copied-a care which has doubtless grown out of true reverence for the holy words-such has been the providence of God in preserving for His Church in each and every age a competently exact text of the scriptures, that not only is the New Testament unrivalled among ancient writings in the purity of its text as actually transmitted and kept in use, but also in the abundance of testimony which has come down to us for castigating its comparatively infrequent blemishes.
    [Emphasis mine-PT]

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Critical Evaluation of the Evidence

As is usual with fundamentalist claims, once one looks beneath the surface, cracks appear. Note that many of the factual statements above are taken from the works of Bruce Metzger. Yet Metzger himself, when presenting this data in his book The Text of the New Testament: It's Transmission Corruption and Restoration (1992), adds the following caveat:

Lest, however, the wrong impression be conveyed from the statistics given above regarding the total number of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, it should be pointed out that most of the papyri are relatively fragmentary and that only about fifty manuscripts (of which the Codex Sinaiticus is the only Uncial manuscript) contain the entire New Testament. [b] [10]

Note what is being said here.

  • Up to the ninth century there is only one complete manuscript of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century CE). Only two other uncial manuscripts come close to having the complete New Testament, the Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century CE), [in which the first 25 chapters of the gospel of Matthew is missing, a couple of chapters of the gospel of John and eight chapters of II Corinthians] and the Codex Ephremi (fifth century)[missing completely II Thessalonians and II John.]. [11]

  • There are less than sixty complete (or almost complete) manuscripts of the New Testament extant; 59 to be exact. We have seen the three uncials above. The 56 remaining complete manuscripts of the New Testament are minuscules manuscripts. All these are late and date from the ninth century CE and later.

  • Most of the extant manuscripts are fragmentary. Let us give some example of the papyri manuscripts. P1, a third century manuscript, consists of only 17 verses from the gospel of Matthew (1:1-9, 12, 14-20). P2, a sixth century manuscript, consists of three verses from John (12:12-15) and six verses from Luke (7:22-26, 50). Even the famous P52, from the John Rylands library, the earliest fragment of the New Testament, consists only of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33, 37-38). Out of the 96 catalogued papyri manuscripts, 68 contain 20 verses or less. Only thirteen of the papyri manuscripts contain more than 40 verses. The situation with the uncial manuscripts is not much different. Of the 299 extant uncial manuscripts, 195 have only two folios or less. (A folio, by the way, is a parchment folded in the middle to make four pages) [12]

Further, calling the New Testament a book and then comparing with Homer's Iliad which, in every sense of the word, is a single book by a single author [c] , is, to say the least, disingenuous. For, as we have seen elsewhere, the New Testament is a compilation of many books by various authors. Indeed we know many of the books were intially circulated independently or in collections smaller than the New Testament.[d] To simply add up the number of manuscripts of these various works and then claiming "the" New Testament has more than 5000 manuscripts is, as Austin Powers would say, "just not cricket".

What do we get when we compare individual books within the New Testament with the Iliad? Let us take the Book of Revelation as an example. There are only 287 extant, complete and incomplete, manuscripts of this book, far below Homer's Iliad of around 650. The Book of Acts is found in 573 manuscripts; still less than the Iliad. When Acts is combined with the Catholic epistles as a single work, this number is increased to 662-more or less the same as the Iliad. If we take the entire Pauline corpus as a book, this comes up to 792 manuscripts, not very far above the Iliad. Only when we look at the gospels, do the numbers get significantly higher (2361 extant manuscripts). Broken down in this way, as it should be, the numbers no longer look that impressive. [e] [13]

We can probe this further. Why not compare the New Testament with the manuscripts of the other "great" [in the sense of having many followers] monotheistic religion, Islam? The library of Astan-i Quds-i Razavi in Mashhad, Iran alone houses eleven thousand manuscripts of the Quran in Arabic. This is already double the extant New Testament manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts date from the ninth century CE, or only three centuries after the death of Muhammad (570-632 CE). [14]

While we are comparing the New Testament with the Quran, let us look at the time between the earliest manuscripts and the time of the composition of the autographs. We have seen above that the oldest complete New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, dates from the fourth century CE, or about two and a half to three centuries after the original autographs. The oldest securely dated complete manuscript of the Quran is dated to the ninth century CE. It is, also, around two and a half centuries removed from Muhammad's time, comparable to the Sinaiticus. Furthermore fragments of the Quran have been dated back to as early as the early eighth or even seventh century CE, again, comparable to the earliest of the New Testament papyrus fragments. [f] [15]

In short, the statistics with respect to the New Testament manuscripts are not unparalleled historically.

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The New Testament is Not Variant Free

Strobel subtitled the section of his book, The Case for Christ, dealing with the manuscripts as "A Wealth of Evidence". So has this "wealth of evidence" of textual data confirmed the traditional biblical texts, like the Textus Receptus underlying the King James Version (KJV)? Let us first look at this evidence with respect to the variant verses in the New Testament.

Strobel mentioned that he had "seen estimates" of 200,000 variants in the New Testament. But he immediately allayed his readers fear by stating that this is an illusion, for a "single word mispelled in two thousand manuscripts" is "counted as two thousand variants". He then went on, as we have seen above, to quote Geisler and Nix as saying that the text of the New Testament is "99.5% pure". [16]

Obviously a better way at looking at this is to look at the verses in the New Testament and see how many of these verses have variants. Thus even if there are one hundred variant manuscripts on a particular verse, we will simply count this as a single variant verse. Given this assumption, how many verses in the New Testament have variants? The table below, adapted from Aland's The Text of the New Testament, shows the full story: [g] [17]

Group of WritingsTotal Number of Verses Number of Verses with VariantsPercentage of Verses with Variants
The Gospels3769171345.4%
The Acts100632932.7%
Pauline Epistles203249524.4%
The Catholic Epistles73522029.9%

It can be seen above that the most corrupted works (in terms of variant verses) in the New Testament are the Book of Revelation and the Gospels. Virtually half of the verses in these works have variants. Even the least corrupted corpus, the Pauline epistles, has almost 25% variant verses. In total more than a third of the verses in the New Testament have variants.

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Many Traditional Passages Have been Pronounced Unauthentic, Doubtful or Changed by Modern Textual Critics

One could justly ask: Could these variants be mainly insignificant ones, consisting of spelling errors, copying errors etc? And could it be that the New Testament can still be considered to have "survived in...a form that is 99.5% pure"?

The science of modern textual criticism utilizes the evidence from this manuscript base to try and get as close to the text of the original autographs as possible. The result of all this research into the evidence of the manuscripts are the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th edition (normally abbreviated as Nestle-Aland27) and the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament fourth edition (GNT4). Both these editions have the same underlying Greek text. These are referred to as "critical editions" as the text is based on the critical scientific evaluation of all the extant New Testament manuscripts.

Do these new editions enable one to get closer to the autographs of the New Testament? In my opinion, yes.

Do these editions confirm the traditional text of the King James Version? Definitely NOT!

Let us just consider how today's critical edition differs from the text underlying the King James Version.

For starters, we have seen elsewhere, modern textual criticism has shown that the ending of the gospel of Mark (16:9-20), the Johanine comma (I John 5:7-8) and the pericope adulterae in John 7:53-8:11, do not form part of the original text of the New Testament.

Kurt and Barbara Aland, the editors of both the Nestle-Aland27 and the GNT4, in their book The Text of the New Testament, gave a list of New Testament verses that have been relegated to the apparatus (i.e. in the footnotes) of the modern Greek New Testament. Relegated verses mean that these are no longer considered authentic by textual scholars. These verses are Matthew 5:44, 6:13, 16:2b-3, 17:21, 18:11, 20:16, 20:22, 20:23, 23:14, 25:13, 27:35 ; Mark 7:16, 9:44, 9:46, 11:26, 15:28; Luke 4:4, 9:54-56, 17:36, 23:17, 24:42; John 5:3b-4; Acts 8:37, 15:34, 24:6b-8, 28:16, 28:29; Romans 16:24. As the reader can check for himself, many of these verses have significant content in them.

The Alands provided more verses which are still left in the text but placed in brackets to show their doubtful authenticity. These include Mark 10:7, 10:21, 10:24, 14:68; Luke 8:43, 22:43-44; Romans 16:25-27.[18]

We see also that modern textual studies have resulted in the deletion or changes in many portions of verses that used to be in the KJV. As comparison we will put the KJV (based on the Textus Receptus) next to the NRSV (based on the latest critical edition of the Greek New Testament): [19]

Matthew 1:25And knew her not till she had brough forth her firstborn son:but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;
Matthew 8:29And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God.Suddenly they shouted, "What have you to do with us, son of God?"
Matthew 16:20Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Matthew 17:20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief:He said to them, "Because of your little faith."
Matthew 20:16So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosenSo the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Matthew 21:12And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple,Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple
Matthew 25:13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man comethKeep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 27:35And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lotsAnd when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;
Mark 1:2As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy faceAs it is written in the prophet Isaiah, See I am sending my messenger ahead of you
Mark 6:11And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust from under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.
Mark 10:21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
Mark 10:24But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!"
Luke 2:14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!!
John 7:39But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that beleive on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.Now he said this about the Spirit, which beleivers in him were to receive; for yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Acts 6:8And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
Romans 1:16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto slvation to every one that believeth;For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God of slavation to everyone who has faith,
I Corinthians 10:28But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof:But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice, then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience.
Ephesians 3:9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid by God, who created all things by Jesus Christand to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;
Colossians 1:14In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 2:2That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have knowedlge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself,
I Timothy 1:17Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
James 5:16Confess your faults one to anotherTherefore confess your sins to one another,
I John 4:3And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.
Revelation 1:11Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asiasaying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches,..."

A cursory count of the variants shown above - those that are unauthentic, doubtful, or rendered differently in the new Greek New Testament compared to the traditional KJV - gives the number to be around 100 verses. And this does not exhaust all the significant textual variants in the New Testament.

Thus when Strobel quotes Geisler and Nix to say that the New Testament has survived in a form that is "99.5% pure", the message he conveys is that, at any time in its history, regardless of the underlying Greek text, Christians had had access to essentially the original text of the New Testament. Indeed this is essentially what the quote above by Benjamin Warfield explicitly stated: namely that God preserved "for His Church in each and every age a competently exact text of the scriptures".

However, as we can see above, this claim is simply not true. (Note that 0.5% errors amount to 40 verses. We have already shown more than twice this amount of differences between the KJV and the GNT4)

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Some of the Changes Impinged on Christian Doctrine

Further it is obvious that these deletions, omissions and changes to the traditional text trouble many fundamentalists. Since the 1970's, the proponents of the "Majority Text" and "the King James Only" camp have mounted a concerted effort to resist the findings of the textual critics. Thus far from providing comfort to believers, the new "wealth of evidence" has caused a backlash within fundamentalist circles. [20]

That such a backlash occurs calls to question one of the claims above; that there is "no article of faith or moral precept" that is threatened by this textual data. There are actually a few traditional practices and beliefs that have been called into question due to the textual evidence.

One example is from the last 12 verses of Mark.

Mark 16:17-18
And these signs will accompany those who believe;..they will pick up snakes with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

Many pentecostal churches still practice carrying poisonous snakes and drinking poison during worship as a show of their faith.[h] Yet, as the textual evidence show, the passage promising they will not get hurt is spurious! This is an example of a precept (which is "a rule of action") that has been affected due to the textual evidence.

Let us look at another, weighter, example - the Johanine comma:

I John 5:7-8
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that witness on earth, the Spirit, the Water and the Blood and these three agree in one.

Remember that modern textual evidence shows that the italicised words above are not found in the earliest manuscripts. In other words, they do not form part of the original autograph of I John. Yet this statement is the clearest and most direct support of the doctrine of the trinity in the New Testament.

Some fundamentalist, while accepting the lack of authenticity of this passage, normally claim that there are other passages that support the doctrine of the Trinity. They would normally cite passages such as this: [21]

II Corinthians 13:13
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

(Other such similar passages such as Matthew 28:19, I Corinthians 6:11, 12:4-6, II Corinthians 1:21-22.)

However, as Gerd Ludemann points out [22], these are, strictly speaking, triadic, not trinitarian, formulas. That the formula was not taken to mean a triune godhead can be seen from the fact that the first official definition of the trinity was not found in Christian theology until 381 CE! (We have describe the evolution of this elsewhere in this website.) Thus while it is certainly possible to read backwards through the prism of modern Christian theology to take these passages as trinitarian, in reality the meaning is not explicit in the text. The closest modern meaning for this triadic formula would be the English phrase "fighting for king and country". As we know, the phrase is in no way meant to show the unity of king and country but simply that one stands as a symbol for the other. Thus the triadic formula, in its primitive meaning, simply implies that Jesus, like the king, stands as a symbol for something greater. The holy spirit is something that emanates, like breath from a human, from god.

As the Macmillan Compendium: World Religions explains:

[E]xegetes and theologians agree that the New Testament does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity. God the Father is the source of all that is (Pantokrator) and also the father of Jesus Christ. "Father" is not a title for the first person of the Trinity but a synonym for God. Early liturgical and creedal formulas speak of God as "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"; praise is to be rendered to God through Christ (see opening greetings in Paul and deutero-Paul). There are other binatarian texts (e.g. Rom 4:24, 8:11; 2 Cor. 4:14; Col. 2:12; 1 Tm. 2:5-6, 6:13; 2 Tm. 4:1) and a few triadic texts (the strongest are 2 Cor. 13:13 and Mt. 28:19; others are 1 Cor 6:11, 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 1 Thes. 5:18-19; Gal. 3:11-14) Christ is sent by God and the spirit is sent by Christ so that all may be returned to God. [23]

Thus, take away the Johanine comma, and you take away the only verse in the New Testament which explicitly teaches the triune godhead.

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In Conclusion: An Obvious Point

Finally we must note that a very often made assertion by evangelicals and fundamentalist -that the large number of surviving manuscript and their relative lack of deviations prove that the New Testament is "true"- is patently false. At best all these claims about the sheer number of manuscripts and their faithful reproduction can do is to show that the New Testament as we have it today is what the original authors wrote. It does not follow from this that what they had written is true.

Since this rather obvious point does not seem to have permeated fundamentalist circles yet, I have to give an example here.

Suppose we find a couple of old manuscripts of a document of an ancient, now-defunct, religion. The two manuscripts are more or less identical except at a few verses. Let us say that there is one verse where there is a discrepancy which cannot be resolved easily. This verse [when translated into English] is given in the two manuscripts as:

Manuscript "A": The moon is made of sweet cheese.
Manuscript "B": The moon is made of swiss cheese.

Suppose that at a later date, in something akin to the discoveries at the dead sea, thousands more manuscripts of this document dating to times earlier than these two manuscripts were found. Upon studying these new finds, it is found that they all support the reading given in Manuscript "B". This means that textual scholars can now be certain that the verse , in its original form, reads "The moon is made of swiss cheese." We have now reached a state of textual purity as far is this verse is concerned. It is uncontaminated by later additions, deletions or amendations and we know that this was what the original author of the manuscript wrote down.

Note, however that textual purity does not equate to factual veracity or to epistemological truth. The statement that "The moon is made of swiss cheese." is still false.

Indeed this point is so often missed by fundamentalists and evangelicals that even the reknowned textual scholar, Bart Ehrman, had to assert this in his textbook The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (2000):

At one time or another, you may have heard someone claim that the New Testament can be trusted because it is the best attested book from the ancient world, that because there are more manuscripts of the New Testament than of any other book, we should have no doubt concerning the truth of its message. Given what we have seen in this chapter, it should be clear why this line of reasoning is faulty. It is true, of course, that the New Testament is abundantly attested in the manuscripts produced through the ages, but most of these manuscripts are many centuries removed from the originals, and none of them perfectly accurate. They all contain mistakes-altogether many thousands of mistakes. It is not an easy task to reconstruct the original words of the New Testament.

Moreover even if scholars have by and large succeeded in reconstructing the New Testament, this, in itself, has no bearing on the truthfulness of the message. It simply means that we can be reasonably certain of what the New Testament authors actually said, just as we can be reasonably certain what Plato and Euripides and Josephus and Suetonius all said. Whether or not any of these ancient authors said anything that was true is another question, one we cannot answer simply by appealing to the number of surviving manuscripts that preserve their writings.[26]

This forms a fitting conclusion to this section.

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a.Actually this dating for Homer's work, 900 BCE, given in McDowell's book (p43) is nowadays recognized to be too early. It is now generally accepted that the date in which the Iliad, in its present form, was put in writing was around 700 BCE. [6]
b.The Greek manuscripts of the New Testament is generally divided into three categories: papyri, uncials and minuscules. Papyri refers to the material the text is written on, papyrus. Papyrus manuscripts are the earliest witness to the New Testament. Extent papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament ranges from the second century CE to the eight century CE. The other two categories, rather inconsistently with the first, refers to the handwriting style of the manuscripts. Uncials, refers to the formal capital letters used in the writing of the text. Uncial manuscripts are normally written on parchments (animal hides). Extent New Testament uncial manuscripts ranges from the turn of the third century CE to the 11th century CE. Finally miniscules refer to the small letters written with a running hand. Minuscules form the bulk of the manuscripts but are also the latest and furthest removed from the original manuscripts. The earliest minuscule manuscripts date from 9th century. The latest, just before the advent of printing, in the 16th century. [9]
c.Although there is some controversy whether the Iliad is the work of a single person or of many different redactors, the poem is without doubt a single work which talks about a single event, The Trojan War.
d.The manuscript collection attests to this fact. As the Alands noted in their book, The Text of the New Testament, [25] many of the manuscripts in codex form come in various configurations that do not include the complete New Testament:

  • Full New Testament (3 uncials, 56 minuscules-as we have seen above)
  • All of the New Testament except Revelation ( 2 uncials, 147 minuscules)
  • All of the New Testament minus the gospels (1 uncial, 75 minuscules)
  • Gospels with Revelation (11 minuscules)
  • Gospels, Acts & Catholic Epistles (2 papyri, 1 uncial, 8 minuscules)
  • Gospels, Acts, Catholic Epistles & Revelation (2 minuscules)
  • Pauline Epistles & Revelation (6 minuscules)
  • Acts, Catholic Epistles, Revelation (3 minuscules)
  • Gospels & Pauline Epistles (5 minuscules)
  • Acts, Catholic Epistles (18 papyri, 29 uncials, 40 minuscules)
  • Acts, Catholic & Pauline Epistles (8 uncials, 265 minuscules)
  • Pauline Epistles (26 papyri, 58 uncials, 138 minuscules)
  • Revelation (5 papyri, 7 uncial, 118 minuscules)
  • Gospels (43 papyri, 184 uncials, 1896 minuscules)
e.The reader may notice that the numbers don't add up to 5000+ and is considerably less than this. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there is some overlap between the manuscripts, i.e. that some New Testament manuscripts may contain Pauline epistles with Revelation, some have gospels with Acts etc. The reader may also notice that this reason actually brings down the total. Indeed, there are only about 3,200+ New Testament manuscripts. Now comes the second reason. The 5,000+ figure is derived from adding about 2,200+ lectionaries to the total. Lectionaries are books used for liturgical service which would have some passages from the New Testament embedded in them. These lectionaries do not contain continuous text of the New Testament. Some have only gospels lessons, some have the rest of the New Testament except Revelation. Some 200 of these lectionaries contain only scattered New Testament text and according to Kurt and Barbara Aland "should not have been included in the total". These are, so to speak, "grandfathered" into the total manuscript numbers. The earliest extant lectionary is dated to the 4th century CE. Only 32 of these 2200+ manuscripts can be dated to before the 9th century. [24]
f.Lest the reader get the wrong impression, I am in no way presenting the Quran as a reliable piece of work. The textual problems (similar to the New Testament) are well known to historians and critics. These are of course conveniently ignored by the majority of muslim clerics and laity. A couple of good reference works on this issue are: Michael Cook, The Koran: A very Short Introduction, Oxford, London 2000 and Ibn Warraq, The Origins of the Koran, Prometheus, New York 1998.
g.Note that the figures given in the table actually underestimate the number of variant verses. The variants are computed based on the differences in the printed editions of the New Testament, namely the editions of Tischendorf (1872), Wescott-Hort (1881), von Soden (1913), Vogels (1922), Merk (1933), Bover (1943) and Nestle-Aland25. It is certain that even those verses that are the same for all these editions may have textual variants but the scholars are in agreement as to which constitute the actual reading.
It should also be noted that Aland presented the table with the intent of showing how much agreement there is among the manuscripts than is "generally recognised". Presumably textual scholars have quite a pessimitic view of the New Testament such that even if 1/3 of the verses have variants, it is considered a positive sign.
h.Freethought Today Vol 15 1998 No.9 reports that during the last hundred years, there has been around 75 reported deaths in the U.S. among fundamentalists due to snake handling.

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1.McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict: p39-53
Strobel, The Case for Christ: p70-94
2.ibid: p81
3.McDowell, op cit: p39,43
4.quoted in ibid: p45
5.quote in Strobel, op cit: p85
6.Roberts, Pelican History of the World: p181
7.quoted in McDowell, op cit: p44
8.quoted in ibid: p45-46
9.Aland, K. & Aland B., The Text of the New Testament: p73-184
Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: p3-8, p36-67
10.Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: p34 n3
11.Aland, op cit: p78, p107-109
Metzger, op cit: p48
12.Aland, op cit: p78, 98, 99, 103
13.ibid: p78-83
14.Geoffrey Roper (ed), World Survey of Islamic Manuscripts, 1992, Volume I, London 1992: pp481-486 (quoted in the websiteThe Quranic Manuscripts in Museums, Institutes, Libraries & Collections)
15.Cook, The Koran: p122
16.Strobel, op cit: p84-85
17.Aland, op cit: p29
19.Aland, op cit:p282-297
Metzger, op cit: p219-246
White, The King James Only Controversy: p156-186
20.Wallace, Daniel, The Majority Text Theory: History, Methods and Critique, in Ehrman & Holmes, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: p282-296
21.Strobel, op cit: p84-85
22.Ludemann, Heretics: p187, p310 n635
23.Macmillan Compendium; World Religions: p1122
24.Aland, op cit: p163-170
25.Aland, op cit: p78-81
26.Ehrman, Introduction to the New Testament: p449

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