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Textual Criticism Questions:


Below are e-mails I received in 2005 asking questions about textual criticism. The e-mailers’ questions and comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

>Subject: Variants and Inerrancy

Hi Gary!

I am assuming you are a Christian who believes that God's Word is inspired and inerrant in the original autographs...

My question is: how can I reconcile the doctrine of the infallibility of the available manuscripts with the seeming fact of scribal errors.

How can today's Bible be infallible if a scribal error could give a wrong fact, such as the number of horses a king had, or whatever.

Can you give me a faithful, logical and clear answer to this?

My simple way out of this would be to choose one version of the Textus Receptus, declare it to be inerrant and the scribal errors are not errors.

Please help!

In Christ,

The doctrine of inerrancy states that the original manuscripts of the Bible are inspired. It does not claim that copies of those manuscripts are inspired. So there is not conflict between the doctrine and the presence of textual variants.

Now I do believe that God was overseeing the transmission of the manuscripts to be sure that no readings were lost. But it is the job of textual critics to determine which of the variants reading are most likely original. And the vast majority of the time, this is very easy to determine as obvious mistakes are easy to spot.

Moreover, for the vast majority of the text of the NT there are no variants. And when there are, the majority of the time, they are very minor, often not even showing up in translation. But there are some important variants. These are listed in the first appendix of ALT2 and will also again be in ALT3.

Then an even more extensive list of significant textual variants will be included in the forthcoming new edition of the ALT: Companion Volume. It will also include a chapter discussing the issue of variants in general.

In any case, for these important and significant variants, you need to decide for yourself which of the different methods of textual criticism is best. For me, that is the Byzantine tradition and Majority Text method, hence why my translation is based in the Byzantine Majority Text.

Much more on all of this can be found in my Bible versions book and the forthcoming new Companion Volume. But the important point is, for the vast majority of the NT, there is either no question as to what is the original reading or the variant is very minor. It is only with regard to the variants listed in the ALT's appendix or that you should even concern yourself with, and to a lesser degree the significant variants in the companion Volume. But either way, those constitute a very small percentage of the NT.

>Subject: RE: Variants and Inerrancy


Thank you for taking the time to send me your response.

It was very helpful!!


"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16, The Holy Bible

>Subject: Bible verse

First of all, Gary, I would like to thank God for you and everything I have learned from you through your website. I wanted to see what you think about john 2:17. Which do you believe is translated correctly, the Received Text: "zeal for your house has eaten me up," or the Critical Text: "zeal for your house will consume me." Once again thank you very much for everything you do. I truly enjoy reading and learning from you. May the Lord continue to bless and protect you always.


First off, you're quoting from the KJV or NKJV for the first reading, both of which use "eat up" here. Most other versions have "consume." These are just synonymous terms, so either would be legitimate translations of the Greek verb.

However, there is a textual variant here for the tense of the verb. The TR has an aorist (past) tense, while the MT and CT both have a future tense. In cases where the MT and the CT agree against the TR, you can be very confident that the former is the original reading.

This variant will be included in the "Significant Textual Variants" chapter of the forthcoming new Companion Volume:

John 2:17 MT/ CT: will consume - TR: consumed

My own translation for the ALT, which is based on the MT, is as follows:

17Then His disciples remembered that it is written, "The zeal of Your house will consume Me." [Psalm 69:9]

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