The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation

Daniel B. Wallace

In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, by Norm Geisler (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998; p. 532), there is a comment about the number of textual variants among New Testament manuscripts:

“Some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them. First of all, these are not ‘errors’ but variant readings, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical. Second, these readings are spread throughout more than 5300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter of one word in one verse in 2000 manuscripts is counted as 2000 ‘errors.'”

There are several problems with this paragraph, one of which is this: to say that variant readings are not errors is an odd way of putting things. If the primary goal of NT textual criticism is to recover the wording of the autographa (i.e., the texts as they left the apostles’ hands), then any deviation from that wording is, indeed…

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