How Badly Did Scribes Change the New Testament? – Dr. Daniel B. Wallace

The title of this talk is intentionally provocative.  The answer to the question is “Not badly at all.”

Dan Wallace says:

“The New Testament has been under barrage the last few years.”

“The biggest apologetic question used to be: Is it true?  Now, the question on the horizon is:  Did God really say that?  Is that what the Bible really says?”

Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code says:

The Bible “has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions.  History has never had a definitive version of the book.”

Atheist C. J. Werleman (Jesus Lied, p. 41) says:

“We do not have any of the original manuscripts of the Bible.  The originals are lost.  We don’t know when and we don’t know by whom.  What we have are copies of copies.  In some instances, the copies we have a twentieth generation copies.”

Skeptics will say:

How can you possibly tell what the New Testament originally said.  It’s been translated, copied so many times that we don’t know.

Dan Wallace makes the point that if we are skeptical about the reliability of the New Testament we ought to be a thousand times more skeptical about all other authors from antiquity given the disparity in the textual evidence for each.  “Maybe Julius Caesar never existed; maybe there never was an Alexander the Great.”  Of course, such skepticism would be ridiculous…but that is the sort of skepticism applied to the New Testament.

In the video, at about the 30:49 mark, Wallace displays a table which shows that in 1611 the translators of the King James Version used 7 Greek manuscripts, the earliest of which was from the 11th Century, while in 2012 we have over 5,800 Greek manuscripts, the earliest of which is from the 2nd Century.  Wallace concludes that as time goes on we are not getting farther and farther away from the original texts (as skeptics would have it); rather, we are getting closer and closer to the original texts.

Wallace says that 99% of the textual variants do not change the meaning at all.  For example, spelling differences, such as variances in the spelling of a name like John (with one “n” or two).  There are even spelling mitsakes…but, of course, they do not prevent a reader from getting the meaning.

As for the less than 1% (roughly 1/4 of 1%) of textual variants that are meaningful, Wallace gives two examples:  Mark 9:29 (in which the uncertainty is about whether “and fasting” should follow the word “prayer” or not) and Revelation 13:18 (in which the uncertainty is about whether the number is 666 or 616).

Even the skeptical Bart Ehrman says (and Wallace cites the book and page for this quote at about 41:55):

“Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”

(Wallace mentions that he has debated Ehrman three times.  One of those debates was sponsored by the Ehrman Project; I made some notes on it which can be found here.)

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