Variants found in manuscripts – What types of variants exist in these manuscripts? More than 99 percent make no difference, says Wallace. “For example, the most common variant involves spelling, but without changing the meaning of sentences. The variants which may be most significant fit into the group of less than 1%.”
Daniel Wallace gives us one such example, the Gospel of Mark 9:29, when it is reported that Jesus disciples had tried to expel some demons and had not been successful; Jesus tells them: “This kind can only come out through prayer.” Some manuscripts, mostly later, add: “… and fasting.” “So these demons were the kind that should be expelled by prayer and fasting, or just prayer? This is considered a significant variant.”
Another example pointed out by Wallace appears in the book of Revelation 13:18 when it speaks of the number of the beast, the number 666. But about 170 years ago, an academic deciphered an ancient manuscript that tells us that the number of the beast is 616, and Daniel Wallace tells us that this manuscript proved to be one of the most reliable for the book of Revelation. Just over fifteen years ago, another manuscript was discovered – the earliest manuscript of Revelation chapter 13 – where reference is made to the number 616 in Revelation.
“Although the variants among the NT manuscripts amount to hundreds of thousands, we can conclude that those that can actually alter meaning are less than 1%.”
Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus – Both are from the fourth century. They were produced by professional scribes and there are thousands of differences between them, says Wallace. “The vast majority of these differences have no consequence, and yet together, these two manuscripts attest to a very old and very pure form of the text.”
A study by two British academics 130 years ago, concludes that the fact that there are so many differences between these two texts shows that none have been copied from the other, but the striking similarities between the two show that they have a common ancestor, that must have been produced in the second century.
Gospel of Matthew – Daniel Wallace underlines an interesting fact about the Gospel of Matthew. According to Daniel Wallace, most scholars believe that Matthew and Luke used much of their text, taken from the Gospel of Mark to write their own Gospel. “And indeed, if a large part of the Gospel of Mark (about 90%) is found in the Gospel of Matthew, then we can conclude that we actually have a copy of the first century of Mark, which Matthew used. However, Matthew not only copied Mark, but he also changed it. Matthew removed Mark’s redundancies, softened his redundant phrases, cleared his grammar, and placed Jesus in a different light.”
But would Matthew have a perfect copy of the Gospel of Mark to work with? In Daniel Wallace’s opinion, no, for although it is true that the copy that Matthew used is not identical to the original of Mark, but the differences are so trivial that they can not even be translated. And even if we do not have solid evidence of how the Gospel of Mark was in the first century, we have overwhelming evidence that it was hardly different.
The oldest fragment of John’s Gospel may be from the First Century – In 1934, Colin H. Roberts, while examining some papyrus found in Egypt – these had been brought to the University of Manchester in 1920 – that one of the manuscripts had text on both sides, which was part of a Codex. This manuscript was part of the Gospel of John; on one side was chapter 18:31-33, and on the other side John 18:37-38. After having sent the image of the manuscripts to three references of the time in papyrology – in Europe – all concluded that it was a manuscript probably dated from the year 100 AD, or as late as 150 AD. A German academic would “disagree” and would point the date to AD 90.
This piece of papyrus from the apostle John – known as P52 – refuted all German scholars, especially those who had criticized the truthfulness of the Gospel of St John.
After all, is the New Testament lost, or is it found somewhere among existing manuscripts? Professor Daniel B. Wallace reminds us that the Christian faith is not just a belief or a “myth,” it is palpable in history: “The fact that God became man at a certain point in history, places the ‘stamp’ of approval on historical investigation. Christian faith is a historical faith. The Bible is the only sacred text that subjects itself to historical investigation.”
Daniel Wallace argues that we have the original text of the Holy Apostles in today’s manuscripts, and that we cannot walk skeptical, in the face of a mountain of evidence.
In a manuscript of the eleventh century, the note left by the scribe in the finished work shows us the love and the seriousness by the word of God, and its reproduction: “The hands that wrote this, lie buried in a grave, but the letters remain until the fullness of time. Completed with the help of God, February 23, Friday, the second hour, during the eleventh period, in the year 1079 by the hand of Andrew. And if it does happen, that some mistake of omission remains, for Christ sake, forgive me!”
(*) Text edited from lectures given by Professor Daniel B. Wallace in recent years, in defence of the preservation of the original apostolic writings of the New Testament, found in the numerous handwritten copies – of several centuries AD – by scribes and calligraphers.
Note: Dr. Daniel B. Wallace (Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary), is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Evangelical Theological Society, of which he was president for 2016.
He has written, edited, or otherwise contributed to more than thirty books, and has published articles in New Testament Studies.
He is the executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.csntm.org), an institute whose initial purpose is to preserve Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts.