I. The Importance of Textual Integrity
As an evangelical Christian, I acknowledge the Bible, including the New Testament, as the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God – God’s revelation of His character, actions, purpose, and calling to His people. The text of the New Testament is central to our Christian faith. For example, we talked last week about the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. One of the reasons we can trust their accuracy is that they were written very soon after the death and resurrection of Christ. Eyewitnesses – both Christian and non-Christian – were present who could (and would) have contradicted any false historical claims contained in the Gospels. This is all fine and good – but what if the text, the words, of the Gospels were changed after their initial writing? That is, what if the words that we have in Matthew’s Gospel are not an accurate reflection of what Matthew actually wrote, but have been radically changed by later scribes and copyists? The words would no longer be a reflection of early eyewitness testimony.
This morning we are going to talk about textual integrity. A working definition of textual integrity is: “Accurate transmission of the words of the New Testament, such that the words we have in our New Testament are a faithful representation of the words originally written by the authors of Scripture.”
Furthermore, as Christians our faith is centered around the person and work of Jesus Christ. While Christianity affirms much more than this, the necessary core of faith in Christ must include and profess (1) the deity; (2) the atoning death; and (3) the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. How do we come to the place of acknowledging the centrality of these doctrines? From the New Testament. How do we know who Jesus is and what He has done? From the Gospels. The historical reliability of the New Testament is absolutely key. But so too is the textual integrity of the New Testament.
A. Textual Integrity and Historical Reliability
In many ways historical reliability depends upon textual integrity. Imagine with me that I have in my hands the only existing biography of my great-great-great-grandfather Sven Anderson – hand-written in Swedish by his eldest son Argur in a series of journals. Argur’s account of his father’s life would be the best source of information about the famous Sven Anderson (inventor of Swedish meatballs and the founder of IKEA). What a treasure it would be! Naturally, I prepare to publish the account so that the world can acknowledge the genius of my ancestor. But now, imagine that I come across some parts of Sven’s biography that strike me as inaccurate or unkind. I don’t want to malign great-great-great-grandfather’s memory, so I decide to, well, change a few details here and there. You know, take out the section about Sven beating his wife; change the section about Sven’s dispute with his neighbor to make the neighbor look worse. Whatever the changes I make, they are all made before the account of Sven’s life is published. My newly-published biography of Sven Anderson would still be the only source of information about the life of the great Swede; but it would no longer be an accurate account. The changes that I made would have rendered it historically suspect. The biography is no longer historically reliable – not because of any fault of the original author (Argur Anderson), or the original hand-written document, but rather because of the ill intentions and actions of myself as a later scribe.
B. Textual Reliability and the Person and Work of Jesus Christ
The New Testament Gospels are, by all accounts, the best source of information that we have about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Gospels are the result of a long process of textual corruption and alteration, such that the original form of the Gospels is irrecoverable, then our ability to know who Jesus is and what He has done and what we are to do in response would be compromised. A popular accusation launched by liberal theologians and scholars is that the real Jesus was just a man, but that later scribes and church authorities imposed a supernatural Jesus upon the earliest Gospel traditions. That is, the Gospel-writers did not necessarily present Jesus as being a God-man; that came later as scribes copied and re-wrote the Gospel material. In order to have faith in Jesus and follow Him faithfully, we need to know who Jesus was and what He did.
C. Textual Reliability and Scriptural Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority
Finally, our affirmation of the New Testament as the Word of God depends upon textual integrity. Along with 1 Peter 1:21, I affirm that Scriptural prophecy did not come about “by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Timothy 3:16 proclaims that Scripture is “God-breathed,” or inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the purposes of “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” But what precisely is inspired by God? It is natural to assume that it is the writing of the original Scriptural author. That is, the Gospel penned by Matthew is God-inspired. If later scribes introduced errors or mistakes into the text, those mistakes are not inspired Scripture. We affirm Scripture as being inerrant – that is, without error in all that it teaches and proclaims. However, what precisely is inerrant? Again, it is the original writings that must be seen as inerrant. If a later copyist or scribe introduced an error or addition to the original document, those scribal errors are not inerrant. Ditto for Scriptural authority. God’s Word is authoritative for our Christian belief and practice. We are to do what Jesus commands and exhorts us to do, and to believe what the New Testament teaches us to believe. But we must be confident that what we have is actually what God intended to communicate to us.
Thus, it is essential to be able to know and to show that we have good reasons for believing that the text of the New Testament that we have today is an accurate representation of the original text of the New Testament documents. So our endeavor today is to provide reasons to believe in the textual integrity of the New Testament.
II. The Textual Reliability of the New Testament
This may come as a shock, but the New Testament was not originally written in English. Rather, it was written in Greek – koine Greek, to be precise – the common language throughout the 1st-century Roman Empire. The Greek New Testament was then translated into other languages – Syriac and Latin being amongst the earliest. Our English New Testaments are translations of Greek originals.
However, originals is a misleading word. We do not have the original New Testament. That is, we do not have the hand-written Gospel of Matthew that came from Matthew’s pen. What we have, rather, is copies of the originals. The original documents (e.g. the Gospel written down personally by Matthew) are known as the “autographs” (αυτογραφοι). These documents are long gone, disintegrated in Middle Eastern dust, or burned in a Roman or Jewish fire. Thus, we have copies of the original autographs. In fact, we have copies of copies of copies of copies of copies of the first copy of the original autographs. The various copies of the New Testament (in whole and in part) are knows as the manuscripts, or the manuscript tradition; and it is from these copies that our English translations are derived.
The original copies of the New Testament documents were not done by computer, or by photocopying, or by printing press. Rather, they were painstakingly hand-written, by candlelight, often in the context of oppression and persecution. Sometimes the copies were hand-written as an elder or bishop read the Scriptures aloud. Either way, copies were made from a very early date, and circulated among the first Christian communities.
A. The Wealth of the Manuscript Tradition – Quantity and Quality
The existing copies of the New Testament documents are known as the Manuscript Tradition. We have an incredible wealth of New Testament manuscripts, especially in comparison to other ancient documents. For example, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote his Annals around 100 A.D. – later than all (or nearly all if you accept the questionable dates put forward by more liberal scholars) of the New Testament documents. However, there are only two surviving manuscripts of the Annals, from the 9th and 11th centuries respectively. Our New Testament documents, on the other hand, have more than 5000 manuscripts in existence, the earliest ones being partial copies of individual books from the mid-2nd century, or less than 100 years after the autographs were written. We have manuscripts containing the entire text of the New Testament from as early as the 4th century. Tell me, how could you possibly tell whether the Annals reflect what Tacitus originally wrote or not? Well, you have to trust the two existing manuscripts, assuming that they agree with one another! In the case of the New Testament, however, we have thousands of manuscripts to compare to one another.
Ancient historians have great respect for the textual integrity of the New Testament, because they are accustomed to working with other ancient documents that have much poorer textual traditions.
But there’s a funny thing about copying by hand, especially under less-than-ideal conditions. Even with incredible care and attention, it is inevitable that some mistakes will be made in the copying process. When copying text, it is easy for your eye to skip a whole line and pick up further on – in fact, this sometimes happens when I am reading a text, let alone trying to copy it by hand. It’s also easy to err by replacing something unfamiliar with something much more familiar (e.g. replacing “Tawa” with “Tara” in a written copy, or with “Paul” if it’s read). Sometimes scribes could err by attempting to smooth out apparent inconsistencies or difficulties.
For example, take a simple sentence: “In the fifth year of marriage, his wife Shirley bore a firstborn, a son, and he named him John, a gift from God.” Imagine that this sentence is read out loud, and a number of scribes are busy writing out what they hear. How do they spell John? Jon (short for Jonathan) is a very common alternative spelling; if the scribe personally knows a Jon, they are quite likely to “mis”spell the name accordingly. Similarly, someone from a smaller community where there are no “Shirley”s, but a couple of “Shirlene”s, could easily hear the more familiar name and write it down instead. Furthermore, in hearing the words read, it would be quite natural to filter out “, a” and simply write “bore a firstborn son” instead. Thus, from one simple reading and writing of the sentence, there are three easily-understood errors that could occur.
Given a written copyist, other errors could just as easily occur. Instead of “In the fifth year of marriage,” a scribe could easily write “In their fifth year of marriage,” or even “In the fifth year of their marriage,” emphasizing that it was both the unnamed husband and the wife (Shirley) who were married for five years.
Indeed, we ought to expect that the manuscripts containing copies of the New Testament documents would have a large number of copying errors. And this is the case. There are thousands of scribal errors that can be identified in the New Testament manuscripts.
B. (Most) Copying Mistakes are Insignificant
However, the vast majority of those scribal errors are pitifully insignificant. For example, does Paul end the letter to the Philippians with “Amen,” or not? The manuscripts disagree – some have it, others do not. Does it matter? No. In 1 John 1:4, is John writing in order to make his or their (“our” or “your”) joy complete? Again, the manuscripts disagree – some have “our” (ημων), others have “your” (υμων). Does it matter? Not really. Both are perfectly applicable, and it doesn’t affect anything near the main message of the letter. Even the most strident opponents of Christianity admit that there are relatively few scribal errors in the New Testament manuscripts that have any sort of importance or relevance.
C. (Almost All) Copying Mistakes are Identifiable
Not only are scribal errors in the New Testament manuscripts relatively insignificant, they are also easily identifiable through the academic discipline of textual criticism.
By comparing New Testament manuscripts, it is almost always relatively easy to identify where the mistake was made, and what the original reading was. Why? Different scribes copying the same manuscript are almost certain to make different mistakes. Hence, where one scribe might miswrite “John” as “Jon”; another (perhaps Scandinavian in origin) may write “Johan,” another (perhaps French) “Jean,” and another yet “Jan.” Most of the scribes, however, would correctly transcribe “John” as “John.” Nearly always, by comparing existing manuscripts side by side, textual critics are able to ascertain with fair certainty what the original (correct) reading is.
What I would like to do now is take a look at several places in the New Testament where we have differences in the manuscript tradition – where some manuscripts read one way, and others a different way. The examples that we will look at are not chosen randomly or self-consciously. Rather, I have adopted most of the primary examples used by Bart Ehrman in his book Misquoting Jesus, where Ehrman struggles valiantly to demonstrate that the New Testament manuscripts are hopelessly and irreparably corrupted.
In looking at some of these examples, I will show that far from supporting Ehrman’s thesis about the textual corruption of the New Testament, we can see even from these (Ehrman’s strongest arguments), the textual integrity of the New Testament shines forth brightly.
IV. Some Test Cases of Textual Reliability
A. Obvious Additions: Mark 16:9-20 & John 7:53-8:11
Ehrman cites two prominent examples of places in the New Testament where later scribes have obviously inserted a lengthy passage where it did not originally exist.
Mark’s Gospel ends fairly abruptly. After the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, Mark 16 recounts the discovery of the empty tomb by three women. An angelic messenger instructs the women to “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Instead, verse 8 reads: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” And there ends the Gospel of Mark, according to the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. Most English translations continue to print verses 9-20 as the official ending to Mark’s Gospel – but notice that they preface the section with an indication that these verses are not in the earliest manuscripts. The scholarly consensus, among both Christian and non-Christian biblical scholars, is that verses 9-20 do not belong at the end of Mark’s Gospel. If there was more after verse 8 (and scholars are disagreed on whether there was or not), it has been lost; what we have is definitely not original. This is a clear case where later scribes have added an ending. The copyist who originally inserted the verses was unwilling to allow such an abrupt and seemingly non-triumphant ending to the Gospel; possibly he or she knew what we have as verses 9-20 through an apocryphal source, and added them as an “appropriate ending”.
Another significant and rather obvious addition is John 7:53-8:11, which also happens to be one of the best-loved Jesus narratives in the Gospels. In this story, a woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus by a crowd eager to judge and stone her [no mention of where the guilty male party happened to be]. Jesus rebukes the crowd, inviting the innocent members of the mob to cast the first stones. Ashamed, they each walk away; Jesus implicitly absolves the woman of her wrongdoing and exhorts her to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Here, the manuscript evidence is similarly clear, but also somewhat confused. Many ancient manuscripts do not have these verses at all; others have the story, but at a different point in John’s Gospel; others still have the story, but place it in a different Gospel altogether. What seems clear, however, is that the story was not a part of the autograph of John’s Gospel – it is not originally there. Please note – this does not mean that the story must be false or invented. Indeed, as we saw last week, the John the Gospel-writer insists that not everything that could be told about Jesus is told about Jesus in his Gospel. Therefore, the narrative of Jesus and the adulterous woman could very well be authentic and historically accurate. However, it is quite clear that it is not part of the original Gospel of John.
How ought we as Christians, and as teachers and preachers, respond to these “obvious additions” to the New Testament? Simply put, we should not build a theological edifice of any sort upon these non-original passages. We should acknowledge that, to the best of our knowledge, Mark 16:9-20 is not a part of the Gospel of Mark. When we preach through Mark’s Gospel, we should not include these verses. We should certainly not initiate a snake-handling cult on the basis of Jesus’ promise in Mark 16:18! And while we all love the touching story of forgiveness and redemption in John 8, we ought not use it as our foremost example of Jesus’ compassion and mission to lost sinners. Fortunately, we have ample other material in the Gospels to illustrate Jesus’ love – John 4 immediately springs to mind as an acceptable alternative. However, we should steer clear of using either of these obvious additions in our preaching or teaching ministries to avoid the perception that we do not care about the textual integrity and reliability of the New Testament.
It must also be emphasized, however, that Christian scholars and textual critics all acknowledge that these two passages are not part of the original text of the New Testament. Furthermore, neither passage is essential to establishing either the reality of the resurrection of Christ or the forgiving and redeeming mission of Jesus.
B. Verbal Dictation Errors?: Revelation 1:5
Revelation 1:5 serves as a fascinating example of a possible early scribal error based upon a mishearing of the read Scripture. In the NIV, the second half of the verse reads: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, … [v. 6 – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.]” Most Bibles will not even have this as a textual note, but a minority of manuscripts have a different reading: “To him who loves us and has washed us from our sins by his blood …” The Greek word in question is either lusanti (λυσαντι – to release, to set free) or lousanti (λουσαντι – to wash). One can easily understand how a scribe could mistake the word – after all, they sound exactly the same. The presumption is that at one point in time, an elder or bishop would have been reading the text aloud to a group of copyists; one or more of the copyists heard the wrong word and recorded it. Perhaps they felt too shy to raise their hand and ask the elder to identify which word (lusanti or lousanti) he meant. Either way, a mistake was the end result.
Ehrman makes much of this example, even though textual critics are virtually certain that they have recovered the correct original reading (lusanti – freed/released). Why? He argues that this is an example where the scribal error has great theological significance. After all, Ehrman insists, there is a great difference between Jesus washing us from our sins and releasing us from our sins. However, there is not such a difference as Ehrman perceives. If there was, that first mistaken scribe would have been more likely to have raised his hand and asked the elder to clarify the word! Indeed, both connotations are amply evidenced in other New Testament passages – Jesus cleansing us from our sins (e.g. Acts 2:39, 1 Peter 3:21) and freeing us from our sins (e.g. Romans 6). We are not dependent upon Revelation 1:5 for either implication.
Ehrman also uses Revelation 1:5 as a paradigmatic example, arguing that there are likely thousands of other places where oral misunderstanding of the read Scripture resulted in textual errors. However, what Revelation 1:5 does instead, is affirm the role of textual criticism, and its incredible ability to identify places where oral misunderstanding has occurred and resulted in textual variants. Thus, our confidence in the textual integrity of the New Testament is heightened by acknowledging what happened here.
C. Heightened Christology?: John 1:18
Does John 1:18 read: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known”? Or is it supposed to read: “but the one and only son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known”? Textual critics are fairly confident that “God the One and Only” is the correct textual tradition; Bart Ehrman disagrees. Personally, I’ll go with the majority of textual scholars, but just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Ehrman is correct, and that John’s Gospel originally read “the one and only Son” instead. What does this change?
According to Ehrman, a great deal. It demonstrates that some early copyist (very early, in this case), felt it necessary to make divine Christology explicit in John 1. The entire prologue of John (verses 1-18) emphasizes the divine nature and origin of Jesus of Nazareth. Verse 18 is kind of like the icing on the cake – emphasizing that Jesus is “God the One and Only”. Ehrman says this addition is late, and that originally the divine nature of Christ was only implicit in the passage. My question is – does it really matter? Our understanding of the divine nature of Jesus certainly does not rest on John 1:18. Even within the general passage, our understanding of Jesus’ divinity is amply evidenced. (1) Verse 1 – The Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) Verses 2-3 – He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made. (3) Verse 12 – To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (4) Verse 14 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [tabernacled] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only.
Verse 18 adds to the divine overtones. But even if Ehrman is correct in asserting that it originally read “the one and only Son,” the Christology of John 1:1-18 is still incredibly rich, and points inescapably to the divine nature of Jesus. This is just an example of how the supposedly “significant theological implications” that Ehrman attributes to textual errors or disputes are really not important when they’re understood in context.
D. Countering Docetism?: Luke 22:43-44
Your Bible probably has a textual note concerning Luke 22:43-44. In my NIV, the verses are printed, but with a textual note that “some early manuscripts do not have” them. It is more likely that the verses were not in Luke’s Gospel originally, but were added in by later scribes to match the emotions of Jesus in the parallel passages of Matthew 26 and Mark 14. Compared to the other Gospel-writers, Luke’s Jesus is composed, almost impassionate, as he faces the knowledge of his impending death by crucifixion.
Critics suggest (somewhat plausibly) that later copyists added these two verses in to counter the growing heresy of docetism. Docetism taught that Jesus was the divine Son of God, but only seemed to take on humanity. Thus, when Jesus was on the cross, it was only the human flesh that was put to death; the divine essence of Jesus was unaffected. Luke’s Gospel was perceived as being the most susceptible to docetist tendencies – hence scribes felt the necessity to counter docetism by inserting anguished emotions upon the Savior.
Textual critics are fairly confident that these verses were not present in Luke’s autograph, even though the majority of our manuscript tradition contains the verses. The reason is simple – it is easier to conceive of a copyist adding these verses in (to counter docetist tendencies) than it is to imagine a copyist deleting these verses.
Let’s assume, then, that the verses were not originally there. What is changed or lost with that understanding? Absolutely nothing! There is simply the demonstration that later copyists did indeed mess with the text – but also the confident understanding that the discipline of textual criticism is able to discern occasions where that has happened and correct them. Is the Jesus of the Gospels altered? No. Are the emotions that Jesus experienced and expressed in the Garden of Gethsemane somehow eliminated? No – they are eminently present in Mark and Matthew. Again, this textual debate does not have any great theological significance. It sheds light on the reasons why early scribes might choose to make additions to the text. But, and I want to emphasize this strongly, it also demonstrates how good the process of textual criticism is at identifying places in the text where that has happened.
E. Eliminating Jesus’ Anger?: Mark 1:41
In Mark 1:40, a man with leprosy comes to Jesus and pleads: “If you are wiling, you can make me clean.” Verse 41 (in the NIV) reads: “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand …”, heals the man, and sends him away. The vast majority (including the earliest) of our manuscripts contain that reading – the Greek σπλαγχνισθεις, a participle translated as “filled with compassion.” A few other manuscripts omit the participle altogether (reflecting the parallel passages in Matthew 8 and Luke 5). A few other manuscripts have a different participle, the Greek οργισθεις, which means “filled with anger” (or, more simply, “angry”). Admittedly, the meaning of the text is changed if Jesus is filled with anger instead of compassion when he responds to the leprous man. However, it is easy to rationally explain why Jesus responds in anger to the man: (a) he is angry at the results of human sin, which include the sickness that plagues the man; or perhaps (b) he is angry that the man questions his willingness to heal him. Furthermore, the idea of Jesus being angry is quite compatible with the picture of Jesus drawn throughout the Gospels. Is Jesus filled with compassion or anger when he cleanses the temple, driving out the money-changers? Well, probably both, but his compassion is made manifest in anger. Jesus the God-man was not a mild-mannered sissy-white college boy. He experienced and expressed the full range of emotions, including anger and wrath. God Himself is often picture in the Scriptures as wrathful – why should God incarnate be any different?
BUT, the main point to bring forward here is that textual critics (apart from Mr. Ehrman) are very confident that Mark presents Jesus in this verse as being filled with compassion, not anger. Ehrman’s preferred textual variant is almost unrepresented in the manuscript tradition, and almost certainly does not retain the original wording. And even if it did, it would not be a theologically significant difference.
F. Atonement & The Father: Hebrews 2:8-9
The textual variant contained in Hebrews 2:9 is so unimportant that most of our New Testaments will not even contain a textual note about it. Indeed, textual critics are as certain as they can be that they have preserved the correct rendering. Nonetheless, Ehrman again seeks to make hay with the variants in the manuscript tradition. What precisely is at stake here?
The context of Hebrews 2 is about the person and nature of Jesus Christ, and his relationship to humanity. Calling upon the echoes of Psalm 8:4-6, Hebrews 2:9 reads: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Again, textual critics are almost certain that this is the original text. The vast majority of manuscripts, including our earliest ones, contain this reading. However, there are a few later manuscripts which, instead of “by the grace of God [χαρι θεου]” read “apart from God [χωρις θεου]”. Thus, the end of the verse would read that “apart from God he might taste death for everyone.” There is, I will admit, a difference in meaning with this variant. (Remember, again, that Ehrman is almost certainly wrong in assuming that “apart from God” was the original text; so much of this debate is academic and meaningless.)
However, this is not a significant difference. Both implications – that Jesus died by the grace of God and apart from God – are perfectly in accordance with New Testament theology. The first one is obvious and undisputed – hence Ehrman focuses on the less-attested variant reading. But what does Mark relate Jesus crying out from the cross? Mark 15:34 – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? As Jesus hangs on the cross, bearing upon himself the accumulation of all human sin, also takes upon himself the punishment for those sins. As a result, God the Father turns His face away from God the Son; the divine communion within the Triune God is broken by the presence of sin upon the Son. Speaking of the atonement being achieved apart from God then emphasizes the separation, abandonment, that is felt by Jesus as He hangs, burdened by the guilt of our sin, upon the cross. Granted, the variant textual tradition of Hebrews 2:9 does not present this truth of Scripture in the most clear manner – but again, remember that this is almost certainly not the original reading of Hebrews 2:9 anyway! The correct reading is that Jesus tastes death by the grace of God. But even if we assume (which we need not) that Ehrman’s alternative is correct, Hebrews 2:9 still fits within the scope of orthodox New Testament theology concerning the atoning death of Christ.
Again we see that what Ehrman points to as a significant theological implication of textual variants simply is not there.
G. Teaching the Trinity: 1 John 5:7-8
1 John 5:7-8 contains another fairly evident textual variant. My NIV reads: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” Again, the vast majority of manuscripts, including the earliest ones, contain this reading. However, there are some manuscripts that have a longer version, and read: “For there are three that testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” It is quite evident, therefore, that at some point in time a copyist or scribe added the longer reading in, in order to teach Trinitarian theology explicitly.
Ehrman makes a big deal of this, insisting that 1 John 5 is the only place in the New Testament where the Trinity is explicitly affirmed, and that with the restored original reading, the Trinity is not a New Testament teaching.
However, Ehrman is simply off base. I have taught, preached, and written about the Trinity numerous times, and not once have I turned to 1 John 5:7-8 for textual support. On the one hand, I acknowledge that the verses are not part of the original, and thus cannot legitimately be used to support Trinitarian teaching. On the other hand, full-blown Trinitarianism is easily defended from numerous other passages of Scripture. So, what Ehrman identifies as a theologically significant textual variant is, in reality, inconsequential.
V. Conclusion: The New Testament’s Textual Integrity
Craig Blomberg writes: “only two variants anywhere affect more than a couple of verses, that only eleven involve even a full verse or two, that the consensus among textual critics is that in the modern critical editions of the Greek New Testament we have, either in the text itself or the footnotes upwards of 97% of what the original authors wrote reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and that no doctrine of the Christian faith depends solely on one or more textually uncertain passages.” (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 333)
New Testament textual critics generally agree that we have recovered 97% of the original wording of the New Testament autographs with near certainty. Furthermore, places in the New Testament where textual critics still are not entirely certain which reading in the manuscript tradition truly reflects the original are insignificant. In fact, no Christian doctrines are affected by debated words, verses, and passages. The textual integrity of the New Testament is unparalleled in ancient literature. God has indeed preserved the text of His inspired Word, so that we might have confidence in the Savior who is proclaimed through it.