NT Textual Variations and Why They’re Not a Big Deal

Matthew Fragment

Fragment of the Gospel According to Matthew (original autograph: ~60-70 A.D.); This is a copy dating to ~250 A.D. (Wikimedia Commons)

In a 2013 article entitled, Is the New Testament Text Reliable?, Greg Koukl tacked the old assertion that the New Testament has been copied and recopied so many times over the ages that today, we can’t even know what the original texts said.  To kick off that article, Koukl used a great example of how this meme continues to be perpetuated:

In the spring of 1989 syndicated talk show host Larry King interviewed Shirley MacLaine on the New Age. When a Christian caller contested her view with an appeal to the New Testament, MacLaine brushed him off with the objection that the Bible has been changed and translated so many times over the last 2000 years that it’s impossible to have any confidence in its accuracy. King was quick to endorse her “facts.” “Everyone knows that,” he grunted.

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How and When the New Testament Was Written

Papyrus 46, an ancient fragment of a copy of Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthian church, likely dating to 175-225 A.D.

Papyrus 46, an ancient fragment of a copy of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthian church, likely dating to 175-225 A.D.

Christianity is unique among world religions because it is so firmly rooted in history.  Its sacred documents, collected within the New Testament (NT), are not simply the writings of a single person, nor are they just “pronouncements of divine wisdom” devoid of any historical context.  Rather, the books of the New Testament are incredibly important historical documents.

They bring to us information about various peoples and societies, governments, laws, events, political conditions, and daily life during the first century.  As historical documents, their accuracy can be judged against other sources from the same time period.  The NT documents have been more closely scrutinized than any others in history and, contrary to some critics, they actually have a great track record for accuracy.  Numerous times, critical scholars have declared them to be in error, only to be proven wrong by subsequent archeological or documentary finds.

But how did we get these documents?  Continue reading

The Problem That Isn’t

Saint Luke, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum

Saint Luke by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum: Luke was the author of the Gospel of Luke, as well as Acts of the Apostles.

Some critics have used the so-called “Synoptic Problem” to cast doubt on the traditional belief that the gospels were actually written by apostles and by close associates of apostles.  They also cite the Synoptic Problem to cast doubt on the reliability of early church historians, such as Papias, Eusebius, Origen, Ireneaus, and others, all of whom attest to the traditionally understood authorship of the gospels.  If the critics are right, then the gospels do not reflect eyewitness testimony regarding the teachings and actions of Jesus.

Any person who is interested in becoming a Christian—or any Christian who wants to defend the faith—needs to understand a few things related to all of this.  Continue reading

How We Got the New Testament


The city of Carthage, now a suburb of Tunis in Tunisia, was the site of the Synod of Carthage in 397 A.D. It was a key city in the Roman Empire at the time.

A favorite charge brought by some “scholars” and atheists is that the New Testament is not reliable because it was assembled hundreds of years after the birth of Christianity at the third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD.   They further claim that by then, politics and power struggles had more to do with the selection of New Testament books than reliable theology.  As such, certain books were “deemed” Holy Scripture and other, more accurate books (e.g. the Gospel of Thomas) were cast away and banned.

Therefore, they assert, Christian practice and doctrine today look very different from the early church and from what Jesus intended.  This claim cuts to the very core of Christianity.  Does the New Testament accurately reflect Jesus’ teachings or is it merely a collection of the most politically expedient books that happened to “win out” at the time?  Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Do Greek Gospels Mean Weak Gospels?

376px-The_Evangelist_Matthew_Inspired_by_an_Angel (2)In a recent post, we explored the origins of the gospels.  These books outlining Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, were written relatively soon after his crucifixion and, evidence indicates, are basically first- and second-hand accounts.  The gospels of Matthew and John were written by two of Jesus’ original disciples, at least according to tradition and to early church historians.

Recently, while on a trip across the country, I was reading a book that repeated a common argument against the gospels being eyewitness accounts.  Continue reading