Summary: What is a textual variant and why does it matter?
This week, I am going to do something very different. I am going to preach from a text that is not in my bible. I preach from the ESV, but this passage is not in there. Neither is it in the NIV, ASV. But it is included in the KJV, NKJV, and the NASB (in brackets). I going to examine the text, but I am also going to seek to explain why it is included in some translations and not in others.
Note: Many would simply gloss over this subject or give a cursory answer for it. But I have decided to address it at length because I believe the tenacity of the Bible is worthy our attention and consideration. The agents of our enemy are always seeking to call the bible into question, and we cannot afford to have a false understanding about the Bible and how we received it.
QUOTE: Dr. James White ”The biggest weapon we hand our enemies is an ignorance of the history of our Bible"
I am treading on very dangerous ground in this message because opinions on this issue are so varied and the vitriol of those who argue can be so intense. I agree that it is a serious issue; but we cannot allow emotion or tradition to cloud the truth.
Illustration: “My Experience Teaching on this Subject” I once taught a lesson on the history of the NT text at a church and during the message I could tell the worship leader (not the pastor) was quote upset with what I was saying. When I concluded, he took the podium and said, “Well, that was certainly a lot of information. Be sure you all go and study to see if what he said is correct.” While I appreciate that, as that is what we all should do, I could tell in the tone of his voice that he did not believe it was.
Illustration: “KJV is the Standard for Some” A few years ago I was challenged in a Sunday school class because two people had bibles that did not read the same at a certain point. The woman challenging me said that the KJV was the right one and anything that was different had altered the Bible.
Most Recent SermonAudio Comment: “Great sermon bro, but honestly, you need to put down both of those nas / esv & pick up the old KJV.”
Some folks get very upset when you bring up this subject, primarily because they are unfamiliar with the issues at hand.
The issue is the Bible manuscripts which underlie our english translation. There are thousands of them (over 5,000 just in Greek), and while they have an amazing amount of agreement within them, there are portions of the text wherein there is question as to what the original manuscripts actually said.
Two Points Regarding The Tenacity of the NT Text
1) The New Testament is the single best documented work of antiquity.
QUOTE: F.F. Bruce “There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament”.
As noted, there are approx. 5,700 hand written Greek manuscripts still in existence.
Some manuscripts go back to within one generation of the originals.
Look at these comparisons:
Homer's Iliad, the second best-preserved literary work of all antiquity, has 643 copies, with the earliest being 500 years after the original.
Julius Caesar's The Gallic Wars (10 manuscripts remain, with the earliest one dating to 1,000 years after the original autograph)
Pliny the Younger's Natural History (7 manuscripts; 750 years elapsed)
Plato (7 manuscripts; 1,300 years after the originals)
Tacitus' Annals (20 manuscripts; 1,000 years).
Even Bart Eahrman affirms that the NT is the best documented work of antiquity.
2) The New Testament is the most open religious document, readily acknowledging the textual critical issues in its own footnotes.
The liberals accuse the Christians of trying to hide the fact that our manuscripts contain variants; but nothing could be further from he truth
Our printed Bibles contain them in the footnotes.
Compare this with other religious works, like the Quran, and you will see that they are not open to such things in their text, even though variants do exist within them as well.
Great men of the past were well aware of these things, and their faith never wavered and learned Christians today know these things, and our faith is intact.
The key is, folks, nothing I am saying in this sermon is a secret.
These things are well documented and Christians should never be afraid of truth.
As I have noted, we have come to a place in our text wherein there is not agreement regarding the original reading. Textual variants are common, but most of them are not viable or meaningful (i.e. word order, spelling changes, “movable nu”, homoioteleuton). But a few of them would actually change the text, and thus are very important for us to examine.