400,000 Variants in the Bible?

I started reading Craig L. Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? just a few days ago and he quoted known agnostic/atheist Bart Erhman’s calculation of the number of variants in the Bible at around 400,000. That is what Erhman says, not Blomberg. Erhman admits that the number is actually unknown since there are new manuscripts added to the pile every few years and the task of counting the variants is next to impossible.

I remember in seminary being told the number was somewhere around 50,000 variants, so the actual number may never be known at all.

Where Erhman attacks the faith is to quote the number of variants, for him around 400,000, and then follow up with a question along these lines: with such a high number of variants, how can we know what the original manuscripts of the Bible actually said?

The ignorant, uneducated, blind, and overly simplistic just nod their heads at such a statement, never giving it another thought.

The problem is that the number of variants in the original manuscripts, whether they are 50,000 or 400,000 really is not that big of a problem. Let me explain. A variant in manuscripts means that when we find two manuscripts from the same book, and we read them both, then we find that in one, it reads, “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” and at the same point in the other manuscript it reads “Jesus Christ Our Lord,” that counts as a variant even though the order of the words doesn’t change the meaning one iota.

In fact, what Blomberg and others have pointed out ad nauseum is that of all the variants, only about 1,250 of them need some sort of explanation. If you have a study Bible, you know this because these variants are listed in the footnotes of your Bible. The footnotes will tell you that the UBS reads one way and NA reads another. (The USB and NA are compilations of the Greek texts put out by the United Bible Society and Nestle Aland.)

These variants are listed in plain sight for all to see and are not kept secret from anyone who wishes to know the truth, despite what men like Ehrman would have you believe.

But back to the number of variants in the Greek manuscripts we have. Another detail you need to know is that of all these variants, only about 50 of them rise to the level of changing the meaning of the text one way or another. All these are dealt with by scholars and theologians quite thoroughly.

Yet, of these 50, not a single variant changes a thing when it comes to the doctrines of our faith. None of them affect the salvation found in Christ, the atonement He makes for His children, or the hope we have when we are in Him. The doctrine of the Trinity remains steadfast. The doctrine of justification, changes not a whit. The doctrine of the return of Christ, the resurrection, the birth of Christ, the miracles, etc., none of these things change at all with any of these variants. Our faith remains intact despite the claims of apostates like Ehrman.

When it comes to men like Ehrman, and the seeming throngs that he seems to lure when he writes, speaks, and attacks the faith, we must remember that the ones he lures away with his attacks on Scripture, were not of the good seed at all. Jesus told us that Satan would come in and whisk away those who were not in good soil, and heaven knows there are thousands who are not in good soil. This is how men like Ehrman make their living. He is a pawn of Satan, used to draw away the weak, feeble, and confused in the faith. I’m quite sure Jesus has his number.

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3 thoughts on “400,000 Variants in the Bible?

  1. “Former Christian*:Ehrman is still a useful enemy in the sense that we can note how even he will strenuously argue over finer points of what they originals really said. Hey Bart, thanks, because we agree that the text has been transmitted accurately!

    That said, he is unethical and malicious in playing up the “400,000 variants” nonsense. He knows better than anyone that more manuscript evidence is always better than less and that the Bible has so many more manuscripts than other works of antiquity that it will obviously have more variants. In other words, more manuscripts is better than less, but more manuscripts = more variants.

    *There is really no such thing as a former Christian. If you aren’t one now, you never were one. You may have gone to church, etc. but you weren’t a Christian. 1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

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