Originally published Thursday, 24 April 2014.
We've seen how the number of manuscripts for the New Testament exceeds all other ancient texts by thousands; as well as observed the fact that the New Testament books were well referenced in historical documents outside of the NT.
Now let’s look at the variants within the manuscripts. It should be noted that the more manuscript copies available, the more variants.
A textual variant is any time the New Testament manuscripts have alternative wordings…By far the most significant category of variants is spelling differences. Spelling differences account for roughly 75 percent of all variants.(McDowell, 2005)
Spelling variants, followed by pronoun and synonym differences account for the variants we see within the manuscripts. In fact, three scholars: NT scholar Bruce Metzger, Greek scholar A. T. Robertson, and Sir Frederick Kenyon all agree that the New Testament we have today is 99.9% accurate and by far the most accurate of any known ancient text. (Geisler, 2007)
We know that the manuscripts far outnumber all other ancient documents and are accurate according to the academic and historical tests of scholars, but how did the New Testament Cannon come to be? How do we know that the books included in the Bible are meant to be there? Three criteria were deemed necessary. Meeting these criteria, the entirety of the Old Testament and the New Testament were first agreed upon at the Council of Laodicea in 363 A. D. followed by the Council of Hippo (393 A.D.) and the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.):
- The books must have apostolic authority—either they were written by eyewitness apostles or by followers of apostles.
- Conformity to the rule of faith. Was the document congruent with the basic Christian tradition that the church recognized as normative?
- Did the document have continuous acceptance and usage by the church at large?
In 2005, former evangelical and present New Testament professor at the Universtiy of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Bart Erhman, broke from the faith and published the New York Times Bestseller, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. As recently as March of 2014, Erhman continues to lead people astray with his claims that Jesus was given deity postmortem by his disciples in his latest book, How Jesus Became God.
In speeches and writings, Erhman points out the differences in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ final words on the cross in the books of Mark and Luke. Additionally, he makes bogus claims that Jesus’ was not buried and further that the eyewitnesses of Jesus following his resurrection were merely hallucinations. As Lee Strobel conveys in his book, The Case for Christ, Dr. Gary Collins, a psychologist, explains, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t’ something which can be seen by a group of people.” (Strobel, 1998)
Erhman’s claims can be rebutted.
These divergent, eyewitness accounts within the gospels are not barriers to our faith but are important in proving the authenticity of the texts.
Complete harmonization would indicate the accounts were all from a single source or editor. Each author of the gospels includes early and unique material that eyewitnesses can provide. (Norman L.Geisler and Frank Turek, 2004)
Further, the New Testament writers include embarrassing details, carefully distinguished between their own words and those of Christ, and refer to facts that readers of their day could either verify or repudiate. Finally, after imprisonment, beatings, and martyrdom none of the disciples recanted the gospel. The disciples either died for the truth or a known lie. As many can attest, “liars make poor martyrs.” (Habermas, 2004)