The Christian New Testament has, without question, exerted great influence upon Western life
and culture. And yet the text of no other body of ancient literature exists in so many different
versions. This is, in the main, the result of the almost embarrassing number of variant copies of the
New Testament that have been unearthed from ancient times and from the Middle Ages.
The New Testament is now known, in whole or in part, in over three thousand Greek manuscripts.
Each one of these hand-written copies differs from every other one. (The Interpreters Dictionary of
the Bible, Abingdon Press, 1962 edition in 4 volumes, under the heading 'Text, NT'. The work is a
compilation of over 200 contributors, including Professors of Old Testament Literature, Biblical
Language, Church History and New Testament Language and Literature.) In addition to these
Greek manuscripts, the New Testament is found in more than ten thousand manuscripts of the
early versions and in thousands of quotations of the Church Fathers. These manuscripts of the
early versions and quotations of the Church Fathers differ from one another just as widely as do
the Greek manuscripts. (ibid)
It has been estimated that New Testament manuscripts differ among themselves from between a
staggering 150,000 to 250,000 times. (ibid) The actual figure is perhaps much higher. A study of
150 Greek manuscripts of the Gospel according to Luke has revealed more than 30,000 textual
differences alone. (ibid) Each manuscript studied and unearthed inevitably adds substantially to
the list of differences. So much so that The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible unavoidably
concluded that: "It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the New Testament in which the
manuscript tradition is wholly uniform." (ibid) Many of the differences arose at a very early stage.
Prior to the invention of the printing press (15th century) all copies of Bibles show considerable
textual variations. Such differences, so much a part of the history of the transmission of the New
Testament, continue to live on in modern day copies.
Of the manuscripts to date, only about 50 contain the entire 27 books of the New Testament.
Some contain additional books and gospels that were later expunged as fabrications. In these
documents, there were originally no spaces between either letters or words, no punctuation, no
accents or breathing marks on the Greek words (there was only a continuos flow of letters) and no
chapter or verse divisions. In fact, the system of chapters in the New Testament now in use was