Oh, that we would have just one original manuscript from which we got our scriptures. That would make it so much easier. We could truly say what I’ve heard preached from the pulpit, “the Bible says it, that settles it, I believe it.” Unfortunately, it’s just not quite that simple. Yes, there is an amazing amount of agreement on many, many verses. But, there are a number of bibles and translations that say different things in places, even if it is a relatively small percentage of the time.
The versions of the Bible that we read today do not come from a single manuscript. In fact, there are upwards of 5800 manuscripts from which translators derive the New Testament Scriptures. And none of them are originals. Of course, we know that there were no electronic storage and printing facilities up until recent centuries. That meant that all storing and copying of text had to be done by human hand.
When Erasmus began forming his text for the first English translation of the Scriptures, he had to do what all Bible translators had to do. He had to look at different texts, compare them, and compile a workable text, which is commonly known as Textus Receptus. That process is called textual criticism. You see, Desiderius Erasmus was a scholar who had studied variants in New Testament texts all his life. So he was uniquely suited to his task. Studying variations in texts goes all the way back to Jerome who compiled the first Bible, the Vulgate.
It is impossible to find a Bible today that wasn’t created using some textual criticism. Even Jerome compared texts for work. In fact, Jerome said,
for there are almost as many forms of texts as there are copies.[1a]
Some critics of textual criticism claim that the very process itself makes it impossible to compile the original text of the Scriptures. However, the sheer volume of the thousands of manuscripts available for comparison actually speaks against that claim. Maybe if there were only 30 or 50 manuscripts it might be possible for significant errors to creep into a compiled text from that small number. But, with over 5000 to compare, the odds of getting close to the original increase dramatically. However, this is still a human process and yes, there is only a possibility, not a certainty, of achieving the entire 100% of the original text
The human element brings human errors. It is estimated that as much as 5% of the texts have errors. But, all is not lost there. Most of these errors are simple typos like errors where things were misspelled, or misheard (because the scribe often wrote the new text while another read the old text) and other common communication and transcription errors. So, the vast majority of these errors can be resolved by comparing texts.
Additionally, there are what are known as families of manuscripts because manuscripts copied in different centers of learning tended to have different traits. The Alexandrian family was centered around Alexandria in Egypt. The Cesarean family eventually wound up in Caesarea. The Western family of documents was worked on in Italy, Gaul, and North Africa. The Byzantine family probably started out in Antioch but eventually wound up in Constantinople.
Unfortunately, copying was not the strict word-for-word process that we have with our electronic computerized systems today or even the printing presses of yesterday. In fact, different families tended to affect the texts by exaggerating the emphasis on certain words, adding words to bring things into agreement with other passages, and even adding titles to names where the text only has the name like copying “Lord Jesus” for “Jesus”. For example,
Acts 9:17: “And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said . . .” (KJV) The Western text reads: “. . . and put his hands upon him in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Do you see the Western text embellished Acts 9:17 with the words “in the name of Jesus Christ”? This shows an error in copying. However, this particular error, and many like it do not bring doctrinal errors to the text. There are many examples, this is just one.
However, they are clear proof that some scribes added text that they thought improved the text. We can see many of these by comparing texts from different families.
But, and this is why I use this particular example, what if the added words were incorrect? In the examples below we’ll see cases where the words “and fasting” have been added to different verses. An emphasis on fasting became part of Christian tradition shortly after the passing of the apostles. In the examples below some scribes believed that fasting was required in the things the verses talked about. However, in their zeal, they introduced doctrinal errors. For example, in the case of Mark 9:29, while prayer is required there is no evidence that fasting is required. You can see this in the following 2 versions of the same verse.
He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer and fasting.” (Mar 9:29 WEB)
And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mar 9:29 ESV)
Here is another example. Erasmus’ Textus Receptus, upon which the KJV is translated includes verse Acts 8:37, which is omitted in more modern versions because of the evidence that it is missing in many manuscripts and looks like it was added later.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (Act 8:36-38 KJV)
Compare the above to:
And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Act 8:36-38 ESV)
Phillip’s verbal response is deemed to have been added to the manuscripts that made up Textus Receptus and is omitted in modern versions.
This next one is surprising to some people because it is pretty famous. Look at this comparison of two versions of the same passage.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Luk 4:8 KJV)
And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
(Luk 4:8 ESV)
” Get thee behind me, Satan:” as well as a few other words appear to have been added in Textus Receptus. This appears to be a situation where the scribe was attempting to reconcile Luke 4:8 and Matthew 4:10 because the verse in Matthew has something similar to what was added to Luke 4:8 in Textus Receptus.
Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
(Mat 4:10 ESV)
Here is one more that shows the freedom of scribes to insert something they thought should be in there. Compare the KJV and ESV versions of the following:
In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. (Joh 5:3-4 KJV)
In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. (Joh 5:3 ESV)
Whoa! What a difference. The KJV version has so much more than the ESV! In fact, not only does it have a lot more words in verse three, but it also has a verse that is totally not included in the ESV version. Hopefully, you are getting to see that there was a significant amount of addition of things to the text that were not in the originals by some scribes.
This demonstrates that some scribes felt a certain freedom to augment passages to make the text more consistent. It is a misrepresentation to augment an author’s words with things that the copyist thinks should be there and still call it a true copy of the original. This perhaps reflects the attitude of the copyist towards the document was that it may be imperfect and that corrections and additions to make the document more consistent with similar records were acceptable.
It also demonstrates that at that particular time in history, the centuries immediately following the apostles, the viewpoint of the scribes about the New Testament writings did not include that they were the God-inspired writings of holy men of God speaking as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, and it still must be stated again, the discrepancies in the text represent a tiny fraction of the total amount of verses. The sheer volume of the number of manuscripts, as well as the work of many people working to sift through the available manuscript evidence, leaves us with a great amount of consistency in many many verses.
There is no doubt that the verses teach that Jesus died, rose again, and will come back to meet us in the air. There is no doubt that people were ministered to, were healed, and enjoyed great fellowship. There is no doubt that the Scriptures say that if you believe with your heart that Jesus rose from the dead, and confess him as Lord you will be saved. There is no doubt that there are nine manifestations of the spirit, many gifts of the spirit and that these are available for the believer.
So, yes, these discrepancies can be a little disconcerting, and we must be aware of them. But, once aware, we can trust the Scriptures for what they will teach us about having a life that’s more than abundant.
So far, we have only been talking about variations in texts. What is not discussed in textual criticism is the possibility that some added text similar to “and fasting” entered the transmissions of texts early enough that the error soon became part of all copies. As I said above, the chance of this happening is tiny. But it is not nonexistent. This article raises the possibility that “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” as well as “anointed with oil” were errors introduced not long after the originals were written.
That is why when I study the Scriptures I look for what are called anomalous readings. For example, Matthew 28:19 is an anomaly because it speaks of a command to the disciples to do something that they never did, that is, to baptize in the name of the Father, and the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit. There is no record of this command ever being carried out in Scripture whereas there were many times things were done “in the name of Jesus Christ.” That makes this an anomaly. See Matthew 28:19 – Legitimate Verse that was not Carried Out by the Apostles or Scribal Forgery? for more.
Another set of anomalous Scriptures that I am investigating are Mark 6:13 and James 5:14.
They cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil who were sick, and healed them. (Mar 6:13 WEB)
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, (Jas 5:14 WEB)
Like Matthew 28:19 the body of manuscripts with those Scriptures have no variations that omit the words “anointed many with oil” that I have ever seen. And, unlike Matthew 28:19, which does have church father readings that show alternate readings of Matthew 28:19 without the Trinitarian formula, there are no church father readings that show any alternate verses without the “anointing with oil” words. However, church father readings are very poor sources in that case because there is so little written about the verses, and it is not for centuries after the passing of the apostles.
The problem with the words “anointed many with oil” in Mark 6:13 and similar words in James 5:14 is that they look out of character with the rest of the training on healing in the Scriptures. The anointing with oil process was a common medical practice that was used in that day and time as well as still is used up to this day in certain parts of the world. But it was neither miraculous nor was it claimed to declare the miraculous power of the Lord, rather, it just employed accumulated wisdom in the healing realm using natural products. The medical use of anointing with oil does not always work.
Anointing with oil as part of the manifestations of the spirit is out of place. We have just looked at articles on the healings that Jesus and the Apostles did, and anointing with oil was not seen in any of them. The records of Jesus healing the people as well as the apostles and disciples doing the same in the Book of Acts are demonstrations of the power of God in manifestation. The are not records of practitioners of the medical arts of the day which is what anointing with oil is part of.
Bible Commentators have noted this issue. For example, John Gill in his notes on Mark 6:13 writes;
This they were doubtless directed to by Christ, as an outward sign of healing; but not as a medicine; otherwise there would have been no miracle in the cure: though it is certain, the Jews used anointing with oil medicinally in many cases, as the means of healing; but they did not always succeed, as the apostles did: on the day of atonement
But that oil was used by the apostles as a medicine for the healing of diseases, cannot well be thought; since oil, though it may be useful in some cases, it is not an universal medicine, which is proper to all; nor were the apostles instructed by Christ in the art of physic, but were possessed by him with extraordinary gifts, to cure the disorders of the body, for the confirmation of the Gospel…
Gill’s is a common response, claiming that the oil anointing practice was something that Jesus must have directed on that occasion, but those specific directions are not in the text. And, while there are three records of this same sending out, the other two records omit anything about anointing with oil. Next, Gill notes that oil anointing was a medicinal practice that did not always succeed and that the apostles were not trained for this kind of medicine. Instead, the apostles were empowered with the power of the spirit to heal diseases which is totally different than the medical arts. Consequently, Gill’s comment identifies the issue without resolving it.
The Probing Mind of Brother Raymond
When I was in high school, I experienced something in one class that I hadn’t in any other class in my 12 years of Catholic education. Brother Raymond was my physics teacher among other things and he opened up physics class one day by saying that we were going to study metaphysics for a small part of our physics class. He made some comments about how there was some relationship between metaphysics and physics as physics deals with things in the physical world and metaphysics deals with things around the physical world. And somehow we started talking about verses that appeared to be out of place.
Brother Raymond explained that he was part of a study group that delved into deeper Scriptural topics, and was perplexed by verses like Matthew 28:19 and others and how they discussed things that didn’t appear to be carried out. The fact that they brought this up and their conclusion about it really surprised me. The conclusion from their study was they believed that:
- the Roman Catholic Church felt it had the authority to change Scripture. After all, they thought they were God’s representatives on earth with the power of the apostles.
- The Roman Catholic Church possibly changed Matthew 28:19 to reflect the newly developed doctrine of the Trinity. Those that changed Matthew 28:19 possibly reasoned that “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” actually reflected more of the truth than “in my name”. And they could argue that since Jesus was part of the Trinity, then “in my name” and “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” are actually synonymous.
- They had found other bible researchers who had come to similar conclusions
- They did not think that Matthew 28:19 was an isolated case. Using the same reasoning as above they suspected that the Roman Catholic Church felt it was their duty to embellish the Scriptures with minor changes in order to reflect what they considered true Christian doctrine. I don’t remember if he talked about Mark 6:13 specifically but he did talk about the possibility of other verses having added text not in the original. Thus Mark 6:13, and others might be examples of changes inserted by the Roman Catholic Church.
Brother Raymond couched his remarks with the comments that he hoped that someone, perhaps one of us in the class would be able to resolve the issues around Matthew 28:19 and other anomalous verses. He explained that he believed in the mission of the Catholic Church, but he also believed that there were some things to be reformed. He said he believed that this topic was one of those.
His direction on this topic has stuck with me throughout my life. That was about 56 years ago and I still remember it.
The bulk of this article will be on textual variations. But, this website is dedicated to looking at the traditions that the apostles established and comparing them to developments that happened afterward.
Part of that investigation includes looking at places where textual criticism shows that there are variations in the text, as well as places where the current text does not reflect what happened in the time of the original apostles but reflects the implementation of the doctrinal development of the Roman Catholic Church like Matthew 28:19. Matthew 28:19, Mark 6:13, and James 5:14 talk about things that the disciples were supposedly charged to do, but there is no scriptural evidence that they did in the time of the apostles.
The trinitarian formula is never used by the apostles in the Book of Acts but the Roman Catholic Church implemented its use in the post apostolic period. It became part of the water baptism ritual of the Roman Catholic Church soon after the apostles according to Roman Catholic tradition.
Likewise, other than the anomalous Mark 6:13 there are no occasions where disciples actually healed people by anointing with oil in the text. James 5:14 is also anomalous because in the gospels and the Book of Acts, there are many healings and even some where a minister is called, but none where anointing with oil is practiced. This however also became part of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church which incorporated anointing with oil both into the baptism ritual soon after the apostles and the Extreme Unction ritual in later times.
While this process appears very unlikely to many, at this point we are talking about a miniscule proportion of verses that are possibly affected. Three verses out of about 8,000 in the New Testament means we are talking about .0004 of the verses or .04 percent. From a math/probability perspective, that is certainly within the realm of possibility.
More Insight into Textual Criticism
It is an amazing fact the Western family of texts has about 10% more words in its copies of the Book of Acts than the Alexandrian and other families of texts do.
This alone is proof that the scribes copying texts after the apostles did not adhere to the admonition in Deuteronomy not to add or subtract from what was written. So, besides making typos, and misspellings, and doing things like losing their place while copying, the scribes were sometimes guilty of changing the texts with embellishments and explanations.
Then there’s the problem of translation. The simple truth is that languages don’t correspond word for word. There are many figures of speech and idioms in the Scriptures that do not have a corresponding figure of speech in the language to which is translated. That adds a whole another layer of complexity.
The common refrain that people who study the Bible say is that while we believe that the original documents of the Scriptures are inspired and perfect there are no originals, and so the translators’ task is to apply sound scriptural research tools and principles to discover what the original really says.
See There are Numerous Variations in the Texts From Which We Get The Bible; Using an Interlinear Text To See Them, More Manuscript Basics; Using a Textual Commentary, More Manuscript Basics; Who, What, Where, and How Variant Readings are Evaluated and Rated for more)
Twenty-six Sections of the New Testament that Vary in New Testament Manuscripts
We Can Receive The Truth
First, there are about 8000 verses in the New Testament. So, 20 or 100 even may sound like a lot, but we’re talking about maybe 1% or so of the text. So let’s not blow it out of context. Yes, to be a good student of Scripture means you need to be aware of textual variations, and consider them in your study of Scripture. But, you can trust that you can find the truth, because that is one of the promises in Scripture
However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming. He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine, and will declare it to you. All things whatever the Father has are mine; therefore I said that he takes of mine, and will declare it to you. (Joh 16:13-15 WEB)
The above are the words of Paul. Here are some teachings by the Apostle John:
As for you, the anointing which you received from him remains in you, and you don’t need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, you will remain in him. (1Jn 2:27 WEB)
The promise is that the spirit of truth, the anointing will lead us into all truth. That is our guidance that we can receive the truth.
With that here are the lists of scriptures in the New Testament with significant variations. The first eight are covered in the article Examples of Scribal Forgeries in the Bible. The bulk of this list is from a pretty good Wikipedia article that lists some good information about the variations.
- Matthew 6:13
- Mark 9:29
- Mark 16:9 – 20
- John 5:3 – 4
- John 7:53 – 8:11
- John 21 (entire chapter)
- Revelation 1:21
- Matthew 18:11
- Matthew 23:14
- Mark 7:16
- Mark 9:44 – 46
- Mark 11:26
- Mark 15:28
- Luke 17:36
- Acts 8:37
- Acts 24:6 – 8
- 1 John 5:7 – eight
- Matthew 20:16
- Mark 6:11
- Luke 4:8
- Luke 9:55 to 56
- Luke 23:17
- Acts 9:5 – six
- Acts 13:42
- Acts 23:9
There are no originals of the Scriptures. People have been making notes of variations in the text since Jerome in the fourth century. The amount of variations may seem like a lot, but it is very small considering the size of the New Testament. The overwhelming majority of textual variations can be resolved.
Additionally, I am drawing attention to another class of discrepancies in the text. I call these textual anomalies. Examples are Matthew 28:19, Mark 6:13, and James 5:14. While these sections do not have any textual variations in the numerous manuscripts currently available, they all are anomalies in that they talk about things that were never carried out. Matthew 28:19 includes the command to baptize in the Trinitarian formula while anything that was done was always in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mark 6:13 (along with James 5:14) describes a healing service that includes a common everyday medical practice, i.e., anointing with oil. Both of these processes, baptizing with water in the Trinitarian form, and anointing with oil for healing, while never carried out in Scripture (other than apparently in Mark 6:13 according to the verse), are an integral part of Roman Catholic theology and liturgy developed in the centuries since the original apostles. There is proof that scribes embellished the text when copying and it is certainly in the realm of possibility that scribes could have entered additions to texts that eventually worked their way into all the surviving copies at a date down the road.
 Wikipedia, List of New Testament verses not included in modern English translations I don’t always recommend Wikipedia articles, but some are very useful. This article gives a huge amount of information about these textual variations and, as such. gives a lot of insight into how different versions of the bible were compiled.
© copyright 2024 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. Last Revised 2/12/2024