How Many Variants Are There?
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
- "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
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.
- 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
7. ARCH HN hO LOGOS (EN omitted)
8. HN hO LOGOS ARCH (2 variants, EN omitted, word
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
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
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.
You rock. That's why Blockbuster's offering you one month of Blockbuster Total Access, No Cost.
- 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)?
- Eddie Mishoe wrote:
> Let's use John 1.1a as an example:Eddie, thanks for this. I think it shows how useless this kind of
> 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
> 7. ARCH HN hO LOGOS (EN omitted)
> 8. HN hO LOGOS ARCH (2 variants, EN omitted, word
> 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)
> 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...
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.