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How Many Variants Are There?

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  • James Snapp, Jr.
    Eddie, Recently at the TC-Alternate list I noted the following: How many variants exist among the Greek manuscripts of the books of the New Testament?
    Message 1 of 12 , Apr 3, 2008
      Eddie,

      Recently at the TC-Alternate list I noted the following:

      How many variants exist among the Greek manuscripts of the books of
      the New Testament? Estimates have ranged from 30,000 to 50,000 to
      200,000 to 300,000 to 400,000.

      Dr. Tommy Wasserman's book "The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and
      Transmission" meticulously presents the extant Greek attestation of
      Jude's text. Wasserman's reconstructed text of Jude consists of 461
      words. Wasserman lists 1,271 textual variants (I think. Some of
      these are "defective," which means that they cannot be reconstructed
      with certainty.) If we work with the unproven premise that variants
      were created at the same rate in other books that they were created
      in Jude, then if we apply the ratio of 461-to-1,271 to the total
      number of words in the NT (put at 137,490 by Morgenthaler, as cited
      by Metzger on p. 1 of "Lexical Aids for Students of NT Greek"), then
      the total number of variants = 379,067. Or to loosen up the math a
      bit, we could estimate that the number of variants in a given book
      will be 2.75 times the number of words in the book.

      So, it initially looks like the total number of textual variants in
      the Greek NT is in the neighborhood of 380,000. One thing that I'm
      not sure about, though, is whether or not it's sensible to count the
      *authentic* readings as variants. When most folks talk about
      variants, they mean variations from the original text, even though
      technically a contested genuine reading is also a variant. If we
      subtract from 380,000 the *authentic* 137,490 words, with their
      authentic spelling, in their authentic word-order, then the number of
      inauthentic readings seems to drop to 242,510.

      Now, that unproven premise that I mentioned is probably incorrect.
      We should probably expect the rate of variants in the Gospels to be
      much higher than in Jude, since the Gospels have many more witnesses.
      So let's figure in, oh, another 75,000 variants. Depending on
      whether or not the authentic variants are counted, the total number
      of variants in the Greek witnesses to the NT text might be about
      455,000 or (subtracting the authentic readings) 317,510.

      (Btw, I don't mean to imply that I agree with Morgenthaler's word-
      count; I just used it because it was handy for the calculation.)

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.
      Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
      Tipton, Indiana
      www.curtisvillechristian.org/BasicTC.html
    • Daniel Buck
      ... Not one doctrine is established or disestablished from the 6-7% in dispute.
      Message 2 of 12 , Apr 3, 2008
        "Gene Brooks" <gbrooks@...> wrote:

        >>92 to 93% of the text is agreed as autograph for everyone.
        Not one doctrine is established or disestablished from the 6-7% in
        dispute.<<

        A couple of considerations here.

        1. Every time an ancient koine mss of any appreciable size is
        unearthed, it adds to the number of listed variants; the older the
        ms, it seems, the more unique it is. Eliminate all pre-5th century
        mss, and that number of agreement climbs up to the high 90's,
        approaching 99% by the eighth century.

        2. How about the doctrine (teaching) of Jesus that certain kinds of
        demons can only be expelled by prayer and fasting? From being
        reiterated in the majority of mss, it is eliminated in the eclectic
        text. This despite the fact that the corpus is divided, with mss of
        all three textual families and four versions taking opposite sides on
        the question. Even arm and geo exhibit a rare disagreement here.

        Daniel
      • Eddie Mishoe
        Of the approximately 138,000 words in the GNT, it is interesting to note that one can reach the 400,000 variants by using the same 138,000 words. Here is how
        Message 3 of 12 , Apr 4, 2008
          Of the approximately 138,000 words in the GNT, it is
          interesting to note that one can reach the 400,000
          variants by using the same 138,000 words. Here is how
          that would happen visually.

          Use any base text you like; it is irrelevant, other
          than it must be a complete GNT. Just to cover all
          bases, let's do two experiments: one using the
          Majority Text, the other using the Critical Text.

          Let's use John 1.1a as an example:

          EN ARCH HN hO LOGOS (base text)
          1. ARCH HN hO LOGOS (EN omitted)
          2. EN ARCH hO LOGOS (HN omitted)
          3. hO LOGOS HN EN ARCH (word order)
          4. hO LOGOS EN ARCH HN (word order)
          5. LOGOS HN EN ARCH (hO omitted)
          6. HN EN ARCH LOGOS (2 variants, hO omitted, word
          order)
          7. ARCH HN hO LOGOS (EN omitted)
          8. HN hO LOGOS ARCH (2 variants, EN omitted, word
          order)
          9. EN ARCH hO LOGOS (HN omitted)
          10. EN ARC HN hO LOGOS (omitted letter in ARCH)
          11. EN ACH HN LOGOS (omitted letter in ARCH and
          omitted hO)
          etc.

          As you can see, I can exceed the 400,000 variants
          without the need to ever use another word other than
          those in the GNT. By the above permutations, I could
          exceed millions of variants... all without using any
          word outside the GNT. Of course, how hard would it be
          to reconstruct the 'original' text in this instance.

          Since most variants fall into the categories of
          "insignificant," I'm wondering if there is a better
          way to present the data so as to give people an
          accurate estimate of the reliability of the mss
          evidence.

          I think Dr. Daniel Wallace's statement that there are
          about 1,400 meaningful and viable variants, but not
          one of these affects any cardinal doctrine, is on the
          right track. And he also adds that this 1,400 means
          99% of the original GNT has been reconstructed.




          Eddie Mishoe
          Pastor


          ____________________________________________________________________________________
          You rock. That's why Blockbuster's offering you one month of Blockbuster Total Access, No Cost.
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        • Greg Sahlstrom
          I recently read a 1966 article that estimated New Testament textual variants as perhaps 300,000. More recently estimates of 300,000 to 400,000 appeared in
          Message 4 of 12 , Apr 4, 2008
            I recently read a 1966 article that estimated New Testament textual
            variants as perhaps 300,000. More recently estimates of 300,000 to
            400,000 appeared in Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus". Yet, books
            I've read have largely based their estimates of variants on
            multiplying estimates that were based on John Mill's listing of
            variants in 1707. Of the 300,000 - 400,000 variants in manuscripts
            (or whatever the current total might be), I read that these represent
            perhaps 10,000 places in the New Testament. Does anyone have sources
            of newer information that include some sort of verification of the
            numbers (more than educated guesses)?

            Greg Sahlstrom
          • Michael Marlowe
            ... Eddie, thanks for this. I think it shows how useless this kind of number-crunching can be--especially in a linguistic field of study like TC--and how
            Message 5 of 12 , Apr 5, 2008
              Eddie Mishoe wrote:

              > Let's use John 1.1a as an example:
              >
              > EN ARCH HN hO LOGOS (base text)
              > 1. ARCH HN hO LOGOS (EN omitted)
              > 2. EN ARCH hO LOGOS (HN omitted)
              > 3. hO LOGOS HN EN ARCH (word order)
              > 4. hO LOGOS EN ARCH HN (word order)
              > 5. LOGOS HN EN ARCH (hO omitted)
              > 6. HN EN ARCH LOGOS (2 variants, hO omitted, word
              > order)
              > 7. ARCH HN hO LOGOS (EN omitted)
              > 8. HN hO LOGOS ARCH (2 variants, EN omitted, word
              > order)
              > 9. EN ARCH hO LOGOS (HN omitted)
              > 10. EN ARC HN hO LOGOS (omitted letter in ARCH)
              > 11. EN ACH HN LOGOS (omitted letter in ARCH and
              > omitted hO)
              > etc.
              >
              > As you can see, I can exceed the 400,000 variants
              > without the need to ever use another word other than
              > those in the GNT. By the above permutations, I could
              > exceed millions of variants...


              Eddie, thanks for this. I think it shows how useless this kind of
              number-crunching can be--especially in a linguistic field of study like
              TC--and how misleading statistics can be when they are presented without
              exact and complete information about how they were generated.

              Michael Marlowe
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