Can I trust the Bible enough to bear the weight of my tough questions? If you know me, you know that I didn’t drop out of seminary or leave the ministry or deny the faith. So, you can guess how I answer that question.
So, my purpose in this post is not to give a full-scale apologetic for the reliability of the New and Old Testaments. There are plenty of great books out there that do a better job at this than I could. To me, the external evidence in favor of the reliability of Scripture was overwhelming; therefore, my questions were: “Is the Bible internally consistent? Does it contradict itself?” and “Can I trust a Bible that contains thousands of textual variants?”
To answer these, I decided that I needed to examine my point of reference (see my last post) in its most pure form I could access. This led me to sign up for as many biblical language and interpretation classes I could squeeze into my schedule. Over time, I began to develop the tools I needed.
Let me just address the textual variant question for now. After personally studying several of the most problematic textual variants – along with a host of other less-troubling ones, I am more amazed than ever by the internal consistency of the Bible.
By and large, Christians didn’t discard manuscripts with variant readings (unlike other religions) so as to present a semblance of divine consistency. Sure, there have been failed attempts in Christian history to claim the primacy of supposedly uniform texts, but the real miracle is that God used incredibly human means – textual variants – to actually preserve for us a trustworthy Bible. We can compare texts from all over the world and throughout early church history and feel quite confident that we hold in our hands what God wanted to communicate to us.
In fact, I have encountered no textual variant which substantial alters the content of Christian doctrine or our understanding of the historical events recounted in the Bible. Even when we are unsure of which manuscript reading to go with, the basic content often remains unaltered. To quote Dan Wallace, one the world’s leading New Testament text critics, “For more than two centuries, most biblical scholars have declared that no essential affirmation has been affected by the variants.”1
I’d also like to quote Greg Gilbert at length, because his words may help someone:
“First…the vast majority of the textual variants in the manuscript copies we have are just utterly uninteresting and undramatic. They have to do with plural versus singular pronouns, inverted word order, subjunctive versus indicative mood, aorist versus perfect tense, and on and on…Second, Christian scholars have been exceedingly careful to document…the most significant variants along with an analysis of each one…But the point is that…there’s no conspiracy to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes…we believe that those variants…can help us determine to a remarkably high degree of probability what the original documents of the New Testament actually said. Finally…it turns out that not a single doctrine of orthodox Christianity depends solely on a questioned portion of the biblical text. Either the questioned portions don’t involved anything truly interesting, or if they do, the very same doctrines expressed in those locations are taught elsewhere in unquestioned portions of the Bible” (Why Trust the Bible, 56-57, bold mine).
I am grateful for scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of these issues, but when I embarked on my investigation, I wasn’t willing to simply take their word for it. I wanted to see things for myself. And what I discovered through personal experience was that Wallace’s and Gilbert’s claims are true. We need not doubt the trustworthiness of the Bible because of the presence of textual variants.
If you want to read a little more about this issue, see this article.
If you wanna get really nerdy with textual variants, check out this debate between Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace or the website of the CSNTM.
- Have you had an experience similar to mine? Please share in the comments!
- Is there a textual variant that you’ve wrestled with or have a question about? Share your story or ask your question in the comments!
- Are there any books that you would add to my Amazon list on the reliability of the Bible? Please share these with me in the comments!