Textual Variants in the Book of Revelation

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Uncover the complexities of the Book of Revelation through an in-depth look at its textual variants. This article examines the fascinating field of New Testament textual criticism, shedding light on how copyist alterations have subtly influenced one of the most enigmatic books of the Bible. Your journey into biblical scholarship begins here. NOTE: Before delving into the textual variants in the book of Revelation, a few things need to be discussed first for those who do not know the subject. Even if you believe you do have a knowledge of the subject, I would recommend reading the preliminary information anyway.

Brief Excursion on Responsibility and Accountability

There are some incredibly significant issues in the Greek text behind the Byzantine family of Greek manuscripts, especially the KJV (Textus Receptus), that were not in the original manuscripts. We have John 7:58-8:11. Mark 16:9-20, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1 John 5:7, Luke 2:33 (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:23), Matthew 17:21; Matthew 18:11; Mark 7:16; Mark 9:44, 46; Mark 11:26; Mark 15:28; Luke 17:36; Luke 22:43-44, Luke 23:17, Luke 23:34; Acts 8:37; Acts 15:34; Acts 24:7, Acts 28:29, to mention just a few.

Now, let us also remember what was said in the apostle John’s book of Revelation, that no one was to alter one word or they would suffer plagues.

Revelation 22:18-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.

Suppose a scribe alters the text by adding to it or taking away from it. And suppose the textual scholar knows this was a willful alteration and not part of the original. And consider that the Bible translator knows this, and the publishing house knows this as well. Yet, they still include this alteration for monetary reasons or because of tradition, or for theological purposes; they, too, are going to suffer the plagues of God for retaining the error no matter how small or insignificant they may believe it to be. Now, let us take it one step further, and the Christians who use that corrupt Bible, knowing that it contains corruption, are not going to be spared the plagues that the others suffered.


End of Brief Excursion

The first part of this CPH Blog article will cover the gist of what is most often discussed in New Testament textual criticism today. Thereafter, we will discuss what should be the primary focus of NTTC (New Testament Textual Criticism). It would seem that Bart D. Ehrman and other Bible critics of his persuasion have sent many textual scholars on a quest. These scholars have become obsessed with discussing how many variants there are, how to count the textual variants, and whether they are significant or insignificant. Below, we will cover what is being said about variants, as well as whether some are more significant than others, and then close the chapter with what actually is the most important mission in NTTC.

Some Bible critics seem, to begin with, the belief that if the originals were inspired by God and fully inerrant, the subsequent copies must continue to be inerrant in order for the inerrancy of the originals to have value. They seem to be asking, “If the originals were inspired, and the copies were not inspired, and we do not have the originals, how are we to be certain of any passage in Scripture?” In other words, God would never allow the inspired, inerrant Word to suffer copying errors. Why would he perform the miracle of inspiring the message to be fully inerrant and not continue with the miracle of inspiring the copyists throughout the centuries to keep it inerrant? First, we must acknowledge that God has not given us the specifics of every decision he has made in reference to humans. If we begin asking, “Why did God not do this or do that,” where would it end? For example, why didn’t God just produce the books himself, and miraculously deliver them to the people as he gave the commandments to Moses? Instead of using humans, why did he not use angelic messengers to pen the message, or produce the message miraculously? God has chosen not to tell us why he did not move the copyists along with the Holy Spirit, so as to have perfect copies, and it remains an unknown. However, it should be noted that if we can restore the text to its original wording through the science of textual criticism, i.e. to an exact representation thereof, we have, in essence, the originals.


We do know that the Jewish copyists and later Christian copyists were not infallible as were the original authors. The Holy Spirit inspired the original authors, while the most that can be said about the copyists is that they were guided by the Holy Spirit. However, do we not have a treasure-load of evidence from centuries of copies, unlike ancient secular literature, some of which dates within decades of the original? Regardless of the copying, do we not have the Bible in a reliable critical text and trustworthy translations, with both improving all the time? It was only inevitable that imperfect copyists, who were not under inspiration, would cause errors to creep into the text. However, the thousands of copies that we have enable textual scholars to identify and reject these errors. How? For one thing, different copyists made different errors. Therefore, the textual scholar compares the work of different copyists. He is then able to identify their mistakes.

A Simple Example

Suppose 100 people were invited or hired to make a handwritten copy of Matthew’s Gospel, with 18,345 words. Further, suppose that these people fit in one of four categories as writers: (1) struggle to write and have no experience as document makers; (2) skilled document makers (recorders of events, wills, business, certificates, etc.); (3) trained copyists of literature; and (4) the professional copyists. There is little doubt that these copyists would make some copying errors, even the professionals. However, it would be impossible that they would all make the same errors. If a trained textual scholar with many years of religious education, including textual studies, and decades of experience, were to compare the 100 documents carefully, he could identify the errors and restore the text to its original form, even if he had never seen that original.

The textual scholars of the last 250 years, especially the last 70 years have had over 5,898 Greek manuscripts at their disposal. A number of the manuscripts are portions dating to the second and third centuries C.E. Moreover, more manuscripts are always becoming known; technology is ever advancing, and improvements are always being made.

Hundreds of scholars throughout the last three centuries have produced what we might call a master text, by way of lifetimes of hard work and careful study. Are there places where we are not certain of the reading? Yes, of course. However, we are considering very infrequent places in the text of the Greek NT that contains about 138,020 words, which would be considered difficult to arrive at what the original reading was. In all these places the alternative readings are provided in the apparatus. Bible critics who exaggerate the extent of errors are misleading the public on several fronts. First, some copies are almost error-free and negate the critics, who claim, “We have only error-ridden copies.” Second, the vast majority of the Greek New Testament has no scribal errors. Third, textual scholarship can easily identify and correct the mass majority of the scribal errors. In addition, of the remaining errors, we can still say most are solved with satisfaction. Of the small number of scribal errors remaining, we can say that most are solved with some difficulty, and there remain very few errors of which textual scholarship continues to be uncertain about the original reading at this time.


400,000 to 500,000 Supposed Variants in the Manuscripts

With this abundance of evidence, what can we say about the total number of variants known today? Scholars differ significantly in their estimates—some say there are 200,000 variants known, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more! We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all. Perhaps, as I indicated earlier, it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.

Bart D. Ehrman has some favorite, unprofessional ways of describing the problems, which he stresses without qualification, in every interview he has for a lay audience or seminary students. Below are several, the first two from the quotation above:

  • Scholars differ significantly in their estimates—some say there are 200,000 variants known, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more!
  • There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.
  • We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways. (Whose Word is It, 7)
  • We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. (Misquoting Jesus, 10)
  • In the early Christian centuries, scribes were amateurs and as such were more inclined to alter the texts they copied. (Misquoting Jesus, 98)
  • We could go on nearly forever talking about specific places in which the texts of the New Testament came to be changed, either accidentally or intentionally. (Misquoting Jesus, 98)
  • The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. (Misquoting Jesus, 11)

Each of the bullet points above claimed by Ehrman can be categorized as an exaggeration, misinformation, misleading, or just a failure to be truthful. Many laypersons-churchgoers have been spiritually shipwrecked in their faith by such unexplained hype. What the uninformed person hears is that we can never get back to the originals or even close, that there are hundreds of thousands of significant variants that have so scarred the text, we no longer have the Word of God, and it is merely the word of man. How such a knowledgeable man cannot know the impact his words are having, is beyond this author.

Miscounting Textual Variants

In 1963, Neil R. Lightfoot penned a book that has served to help over a million readers, How We Got the Bible. It has been revised two times since 1963, once in 1988, and again in 2003. There is a “miscalculation” in the book, which has contributed to a misunderstanding of how textual variants are counted. In fact, there are several other books repeating it. A leading textual scholar, Daniel B. Wallace, has brought this to our attention in an article entitled, The Number of Textual Variants an Evangelical Miscalculation. World-renowned Bible apologist Norman L. Geisler has commented on it as well.

Lightfoot wrote,

From one point of view, it may be said that there are 200,000 scribal errors in the manuscripts. Indeed, the number may well considerably exceed this and obviously will grow, as more and more manuscripts become known. However, it is wholly misleading and untrue to say that there are 200,000 errors in the text of the New Testament. (Actually, textual critics consciously avoid the word “error;” they prefer to speak of “textual variants.”) This large number is gained by counting all the variations in all of the manuscripts (over 5,800). This means that if, for example, one word is misspelled in 4,000 different manuscripts, and it amounts to 4,000 “errors.” Actually, in a case of this kind, only one slight error has been made, and it has been copied 4,000 times. But this is the procedure that is followed in arriving at the large number of 200,000 “errors.”

Wallace makes this observation in his article:

In other words, Lightfoot was claiming that textual variants are counted by the number of manuscripts that support such variants, rather than by the wording of the variants. This book has been widely influential in evangelical circles. I believe over a million copies of it have been sold. And this particular definition of textual variants has found its way into countless apologetic works.” He goes on to clarify just what a textual variant is, “The problem is, the definition is wrong. Terribly wrong. A textual variant is simply any difference from a standard text (e.g., a printed text, a particular manuscript, etc.) that involves spelling, word order, omission, addition, substitution, or a total rewrite of the text. No textual critic defines a textual variant the way that Lightfoot and those who have followed him have done.

Geisler writes,

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.”

Lightfoot evidently was thought to have erred by counting manuscripts rather than the variants in the text. In fairness to Lightfoot, it should be pointed out that he deplored the system of counting “errors” by the number of manuscripts, as the quotation above reveals. He was simply saying that critics were doing this, not that it was proper. It is difficult to see why Wallace would attribute responsibility for the system to Lightfoot. Also, Wallace cited Lightfoot’s 1963 edition that did not include the distinction between “error” and “textual variant.”

Let me offer the reader an example for our purposes. First, we should underscore a few important points raised: (1) we have so many variants because we have so many manuscripts. (2) We do not count the manuscripts; we count the variants. (3) A variant is any portion of the text that exhibits variations in its reading between two or more different manuscripts. This is more precisely called a variation unit. It is important to distinguish variation units from variant readings. Variation units are the places in the text where manuscripts disagree, and each variation unit has at least two variant readings. Setting the limits and range of a variation unit is sometimes difficult or even controversial because some variant readings affect others nearby. Such variations may be considered individually or as elements of a longer single reading.

We should also note that the terms “manuscript” and “witness” may appear to be used interchangeably in this context. Strictly speaking, “witness” (see below) only refers to the content of a given manuscript or fragment, so the witness predates the physical manuscript on which it is written to a greater or lesser extent. However, the only way to reference the “witness” is by referring to the manuscript or fragment that contains it. In this book, we have sometimes used the terminology “witness of x or y manuscript” to distinguish the content in this way.

We begin by choosing our “base” or “standard text.” We are using the standard text (critical or master text), Nestle-Aland (NA) Greek Text (28th edition), and the United Bible Society (UBS) Greek Text (5th edition). These two critical texts are actually the same. Therefore,

Note: When the acronym NU is used, N stands for Nestle-Aland, the U for United Bible Societies, since the texts are the same. The apparatuses are different, the UBS version designed primarily for translators (more on this below).

In this writer’s opinion, the critical NU text is as close as we can get to what the original would have been like. Therefore, we can use the reading in the critical text as the original reading, and anything outside of that in the manuscript history is a variant: spelling, word order, omission, addition, substitution, or a total rewrite of the text. Any difference in two different manuscripts is a variant, technically speaking.

Before going to our example, I want to emphasize that Bible critics, who grumble and repeat over and over again how there are 400,000 variants in the text of the New Testament, have only one agenda: they want to discredit the Word of God. They use the issue of variants as a misrepresented excuse for their having lost their faith, having shipwrecked their faith, or having had no faith from the start. These Bible critics are no different from the religious leaders Jesus dealt with in the first century. Jesus said of them, “Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel!” (Matt. 23:24). They thrust aside 99.95 percent because 0.05 of one percent is in not absolutely certain! Now let’s turn to our example, which comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Example of a Textual Variant

Colossians 2:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

that their hearts may be comforted, having been knit together in love, and into all riches of the full assurance of understanding, and that they may have a complete knowledge of the mystery of God, namely Christ, [τοῦ θεοῦ Χριστοῦ; tou theou Christou]

See the chart below.


Variant Unit MSS or Versions
NU* of the God of Christ

Standard Text


of the God 10 MSS
2 of the Christ

1 MS


of the God who is Christ 4 MSS
4 of the God who is concerning Christ



Of the God in the Christ 2 MSS
6 of the God in the Christ Jesus

1 MS


of the God and Christ 1 MS
8 Of God the father Christ



Of God the father of Christ 5 MSS
10 Of God and Father of Christ



Of God father and of Christ 4 MSS
12 Of God father and of Christ Jesus



Of God father and of Lord of us Christ Jesus 2 MSS
14 Of God and father and of Christ

38 MSS

Total of 14

14 Variants in 1 Variant Unit

79 MSS

* NU = Nestle Aland Greek New Testament—United Bible Society Greek New Testament

These 14 variants are found in 1 variant unit in 79 MSS. Thus, it bears repeating that we have only 1 variant unit with 14 variants in 79 manuscripts, not 79 variants. We do not count manuscripts, as most textual scholars know. Moreover, the focus should be on the fact that we really should consider the one single variant unit. Then, ask ourselves just how many variant units do we have in about 137,000 Greek NT words or 7,957 verses. How many of those are extremely insignificant (spelling, word order, and so on) and easily resolved? In trying to paint a picture of the trustworthiness of the text, this author does not think talking about variants is really helpful, and it can confuse the layperson. The churchgoer needs to know what a variant is and the general extent of the variants, but in the long run, it is the places in the text (variant units) that are affected by variants that most matter and what we have as our text in the end. See below.

The United Bible Society’s “A” “B” “C” and “D” ratings are fine, and the definitions by UBS, i.e., [A] certain, [B] almost certain, [C] difficulty in deciding, and [D] great difficulty in arriving at, are helpful but should be better qualified, with some numbers of what percentage of the text fall under each area.

All Variant Units (Places)

What we need to talk about is how many places there are where we find variants. What percentage is this of the entire New Testament text?

We can then discuss the following:

  • What percentage of the text is untouched by variants?
  • Of the percentage affected, how much can we say or surmise to be given an “A” rating, a  “B” rating, a “C,” or “D” rating?

Variant Reading and Variation Unit

This section is based in large part on the work by Eldon Jay Epp and Gordon D. Fee, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), wherein Eldon J. Epp expands on the brief 1964 article of Ernest C. Colwell (1901–74) and Ernest W. Tune on “Variant Readings: Classification and Use.”

Again, what we need to discuss is how many variation units (places) there are where we find variations. Before doing so, let us define some terms.

How to Interpret the Bible-1


Below we have what are commonly described as significant and insignificant variants. Significant would mean any reading that has an impact on the transmission history of a variant unit. For example, it would apply to how we determine the relationship of the manuscripts to one another, such as where a particular manuscript would fall in the history and transmission of the manuscripts. It would also be impactful if the reading could help the textual scholar establish the original. Therefore, insignificant would mean just the opposite, referring to a reading that has very little to no impact at all in many aspects of a transmission history. The reason we stop at “many” aspects here is that all readings in a manuscript play a role in some aspects of the transmission history, such as the characteristics of the manuscript it is in and the scribal activity within that individual manuscript.

InsignificantNonsense Reading: As Epp points out, a nonsense reading is “a reading that fails to make sense because it cannot be construed grammatically, either in terms of grammatical/lexical form or in terms of grammatical structure, or because in some other way it lacks a recognizable meaning. Since authors and scribes do not produce nonsense intentionally, it is to be assumed (1) that nonsense readings resulted from errors in transmission, (2) that they, therefore, cannot represent either the original text or the intended text of any MS or alert scribe, and (3) that they do not aid in the process of discerning the relationships among MSS.” It should also be stated that the original did not contain any nonsense readings, as the writers were led by the Holy Spirit. The inspired author, before publication, would have corrected any error by a scribe such as Tertius or Silvanus.

InsignificantCertainty of Scribal Errors: while these errors “can be construed grammatically and make sense,” there is a certainty on the part of textual scholars that these are scribal errors. These are not nonsense readings but rather readings that make sense, which are scribal errors beyond all reasonable doubt. These would “be certain instances of haplography and dittography, cases of harmonization with similar contexts, hearing errors producing a similar-sounding word, and the transposition of letters or words with a resultant change in meaning.” The problem that we sometimes encounter here is that what may be certainty of scribal error to one scholar may instead be an almost certainty to another and even less so to another. The key element here in determining a reading that is understandable as insignificant is that it can be “demonstrated” so by the scholar making such a claim.

InsignificantIncorrect Orthography (Greek for “correct writing”): this term is used loosely to refer to the spelling of words, which (in Greek) can include breathing and accent marks. Thus, one can refer to variations in the orthography of a word, or even to incorrect orthography. When a variation in orthography is due merely to dialectical or historical changes in spelling for variant readings, the variations are often ignored in the decision process because the reading in question is identical to another reading, once the orthographical differences are factored in (mutatis mutandis). Epp writes, “Mere orthographic differences, particularly itacisms and nu-movables (as well as abbreviations) are ‘insignificant’ as here defined; they cannot be utilized in any decisive way for establishing manuscript relationships, and they are not substantive in the search for the original text. Again, the exception might be the work of a slavish scribe, whose scrupulousness might be considered useful in tracing manuscript descent, but the pervasive character of itacism, for example, over wide areas and time-spans precludes the ‘significance’ of orthographic differences for this important text-critical task.”

InsignificantSingular Readings: a singular reading is technically a variant reading that occurs only once in only one Greek manuscript and is, therefore, immediately suspect. There is some quibbling over this because critics who reject the Westcott and Hort position on the combination of 01 (Sinaiticus) and 03 (Vaticanus) might call a reading “nearly singular” if it has only the support of these two manuscripts. Moreover, it is understood that not all manuscripts are comparable. Thus, for example, one would comfortably reject a reading found only in a single late manuscript, while many critics would not find it so easy to reject a reading supported uniquely by 03. Some also give more credit to singular readings that have additional support from versions. Singular readings that are insignificant would be nonsense readings, transcriptional errors, meaningless transpositions, and itacisms.

Significant Variants: a significant reading/variant is any reading that has an impact on any major facet of the transmission history of a variant unit. One approach to identifying these is to remove the insignificant variants first: nonsense readings, determined (without a doubt) scribal errors, incorrect orthography, and singular readings. Those readings that cannot be ruled out in this process are probably significant.

Number of Variants, Significant and Insignificant Variants vs. Level of Certainty

It would seem that some scholars have lost sight of the most important goal of textual criticism, namely, reconstructing the original. There is little doubt that agnostic Bible scholar Dr. Bart D. Ehrman has led the conversation on how many textual variants exist. The author of this article is focusing their attention on the initial goal of textual criticism, returning to the original. We believe that even now, the Greek New Testament is completely reliable. However, some 2,000 textual places within the New Testament must be dealt with because the witnesses and internal evidence require consideration and deliberation.

The Book of Revelation and Variants

The study of textual variations within the Book of Revelation falls within the purview of New Testament textual criticism. Many of these variances are inconsequential, and frequent changes involve the removal, reordering, duplication, or substitution of one or several words when a copyist’s eye mistakenly returns to an analogous word in the incorrect location of the original text.

For instance, should their gaze shift to a preceding word, they might inadvertently create a repetition, a mishap known as dittography. Conversely, an omission may result if their focus jumps to a subsequent word. To maintain the overall meaning without disrupting the context, copyists might resort to reorganizing words.

In other cases, the copyist may introduce text from memory based on a similar or parallel text from another location. They might also replace a portion of the original text with an alternate reading. The evolution of spelling over time occasionally leads to changes, and synonymous words may be interchanged. A change from a pronoun to a proper noun, such as the transformation of “he said” into “Jesus said,” is another potential modification.

As a conservative New Testament Textual scholar, I approach the topic of textual variants in the Book of Revelation with the conviction that, despite these variants, we can indeed restore and comprehend the intended message of this profound book.

The Book of Revelation, like other books in the New Testament, has passed through multiple hands over the centuries. Scribes have meticulously copied its text, a process that, while remarkably accurate, has inevitably introduced some variations. Again, these textual variants form the foundation of a branch of study known as textual criticism.

Textual variants can encompass a range of changes, from the deletion, rearrangement, repetition, or replacement of one or more words, to subtler shifts like the altering of spellings, the substitution of synonyms, or the transformation of a pronoun into a proper noun. These alterations usually occur when a copyist’s eye inadvertently shifts to an incorrect location in the original text—an error known as parablepsis. As explained abov, if a scribe’s gaze skips to an earlier word, they might create a repetition, a mistake known as dittography. Conversely, if their eye moves to a later word, they might unintentionally omit some text.

Sometimes, these alterations involve more conscious decision-making. For instance, a copyist might rearrange words to preserve the overarching meaning without distorting the context, add text from a similar or parallel passage from memory, or replace part of the original text with an alternative reading.

While such variations might initially seem concerning, they do not undermine the New Testament text’s reliability or its message’s accuracy. In fact, most textual variants do not impact the text’s meaning significantly, and the multitude of surviving manuscripts allows us to identify and correct many copying errors.


Our wealth of New Testament manuscripts, including those of the Book of Revelation, affords us a degree of certainty that is unparalleled in ancient literature. By comparing these manuscripts, scholars can trace the lineage of textual variants, discerning which readings are likely to be original and which are the result of later alterations. Through this meticulous process, we can work towards restoring the text of the Book of Revelation to its original form.

We need to capture the full scope of the meticulous work that has been done by textual scholars. The laborious efforts by renowned scholars such as J. J. Griesbach, Karl Lachmann, Konstantin von Tischendorf, B. F. Westcott, F. J. A. Hort, Eberhard Nestle, Kurt and Barbara Aland, and Bruce M. Metzger indeed have significantly contributed to restoring the New Testament text to its original form.

In the course of their work spanning over 450 years, these textual critics have striven to reconcile the various manuscript discrepancies, bringing us closer to the original autographs than ever before. The 1881 edition of the Greek New Testament by Westcott and Hort, for example, reflects an impressive degree of accuracy, with a congruency of 99.5% to the 2012 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament.

Moreover, the discovery of the papyri in the 20th century served to validate and reinforce the rigorous work of these scholars, underscoring the accuracy of Westcott and Hort’s earlier endeavors. With the combination of the Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament and the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, we have, as you rightly pointed out, a New Testament text that has been restored to a remarkable 99.99%.

It is essential to understand, then, that while scribal errors do exist in the transmission of the New Testament, they in no way detract from the integrity of the message conveyed. In fact, thanks to the meticulous scholarship of numerous individuals dedicated to textual criticism, we can be confident that the New Testament we have today very closely mirrors the original writings.

the accuracy and integrity of the current New Testament text are not the result of a miraculous event, as some King James Version Onlyists (KJVO) assert. Instead, the painstaking work of textual scholars, as well as the diligent efforts of copyists over the centuries, have contributed to the preservation and restoration of the New Testament.

The transmission of the New Testament is a testament to the countless scribes who meticulously copied the manuscripts, often under challenging circumstances. These dedicated individuals played an instrumental role in preserving the Scriptures for future generations. Despite the inherent risk of scribal errors, their work has been remarkable in maintaining the essential content of the texts.

Building on this foundation, textual scholars such as J. J. Griesbach, Karl Lachmann, Konstantin von Tischendorf, B. F. Westcott, F. J. A. Hort, Eberhard Nestle, Kurt and Barbara Aland, and Bruce M. Metzger have laboriously compared and evaluated thousands of manuscripts. Their meticulous work has significantly contributed to reconciling variances, determining the most probable original readings, and restoring the New Testament text with impressive accuracy.

Therefore, while it’s true that scribal errors do exist in the transmission process, the tireless work of textual critics has ensured that we have a New Testament that very closely aligns with the original writings. The claim that the New Testament was miraculously restored overlooks the profound and rigorous work done by generations of scholars and scribes, whose commitment to preserving and restoring the text provides us with a reliable and accurate New Testament today.

The Reading Culture of Early ChristianityFrom Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Furthermore, it is important to remember that the central teachings of the Christian faith are not contingent on ambiguous or disputed passages. The core doctrines are present consistently throughout the New Testament and are not affected by textual variants. Therefore, while the study of textual criticism is crucial for enhancing our understanding and refining the details, it is not a challenge to the faith’s fundamental truths or to the trustworthiness of Scripture.

In conclusion, while the textual variants in the Book of Revelation are an intriguing subject of study and offer valuable insights into the text’s transmission, they do not detract from the book’s authenticity or its role within the canon of the New Testament. With scholarly diligence and God’s guidance, we can navigate these textual waters, restoring and understanding the original message of the Book of Revelation.


The Book of Revelation (9,851 Words)

{A-D} Revelation
{A} 23
{B} 31
{C} 18
{D} 1
Total Var. 73
Words 9,851

The letter {A} signifies that the text is certain.

The letter {B} indicates that the text is almost certain.

The letter {C} indicates that the Committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text. [difficulty does not mean that they cannot decide because they do]

The letter {D}, which occurs only rarely, indicates that the Committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision [Again, it does not mean that they cannot decide because they do]. In fact, among the {D} decisions, sometimes none of the variant readings commended itself as original, and therefore the only recourse was to print the least unsatisfactory reading.

As you can see, out of 9,851 Words, only 1 is a {D} and 18 {C}. All the NT is restored to a 99.99% reflection of the original, including Revelation. An abbreviated list of significant textual variants in the Book of Revelation is given in this article below.

Some Significant Textual Variants In the Book of Revelation

Revelation 1:4-7 in 𝔓18Revelation 1:4-7 in 𝔓18

Revelation 1:5

WH NU  τῷ ἀγαπῶντι ἡμᾶς καὶ λύσαντι ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν
“to the one loving us and having freed us from our sins”
𝔓18 א A C

Variant 1 τω αγαπωντι ημας και λουσαντι ημας εκ των αμαρτιων ημων
“to the one loving us and having washed us from our sins”
P Maj it copbo

Variant 2/(TR) τω αγαπησαντι ημας και λουσαντι ημας εκ των αμαρτιων ημων
“to the one having loved us and having washed us from our sins”

In the Greek there is only a one-letter difference (omicron) between the two readings. The first reading contains the Greek participle λυσαντι (“freeing”); the second reading contains the Greek participle λουσαντι (“washing”). The earliest and best witnesses attest to the first, more difficult reading. Uncomfortable with this wording, later scribes changed the word by adding an omicron, perhaps influenced by 7:14. TR has an additional change—turning both participles into aorists (αγαπησαντι … λουσαντι). All the modern English versions except NJB followed the superior reading, while KJV and NKJV adhere to TR.

Revelation 1:6a

WH NU     ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς βασιλείαν, ἱερεῖς τῷ θεῷ
“he made us a kingdom, priests to God”
𝔓18 (𝔓18 του θεου) A C Majk

variant 1/TR εποιησεν ημας βασιλεις και ιερεις τω θεω
“he made us kings and priests to God”

Variant 2 εποιησεν ημας βασιλειον, ιερεατευμα τω θεω
“he made us a kingdom, a priesthood to God”

The WH NU reading has superior documentary support and is the most difficult reading of the three. (For the reconstruction of 𝔓18, not cited in NA27, see Text of Earliest MSS, 103–105.) The two variants are scribal attempts to make the direct objects parallel in construction. The wording in TR, popularized by kjv, says that the believers are “kings and priests.” Although this reads nicely, it misses the point because it individualizes the believers’ function. The message is that the priests, considered collectively, constitute God’s kingdom (see Exod 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9). The Christians together comprise a kingdom of priests who serve God the Father. They are his kingdom by virtue of their priestly service to God.

Revelation 1:6b

TR NU τοὺς αἰῶνας [τῶν αἰώνων]
“the ages of the ages” (= “forever and ever”)
א C Maj it syr

Variant/WH τους αιωνας
“the ages” (= “forever”)
𝔓18 A P (2344) cop

Though the documentary evidence is almost evenly divided, the variant reading has the edge because it has both the testimony of the earliest extant manuscript (𝔓18) and the combined witness of A and 2344. Internal considerations also seem to favor the shorter reading because this is the only place in Revelation where the shorter form of the eternity expression occurs. The longer form appears twelve times in this book (1:18; 4:9, 10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 14:11; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5). As such, scholars have argued that style should dictate our decision here (see TCGNT). But why, then, would the scribes of 𝔓18 A P 2344 diverge from the normal style? There is no good explanation on transcriptional grounds. Thus, the shorter reading is probably original, which was then expanded. In light of the fact that other verses (see notes on 1:8 and 1:11) in the prologue were expanded to conform to later statements in Revelation, this line of reasoning seems plausible.

Revelation 5:9

WH NU ἠγόρασας τῷ θεῷ ἐν τῷ αἵματι σου
“made a purchase for God with your blood”
𝔓115 A eth

Variant 1 ηγορασας ημας εν τω αιματι σου
“purchased us with your blood”
1 2065*

Variant 2/TR ηγορασας τω θεω ημας εν τω αιματι σου
“purchased us for God with your blood”
א 2050 2344 Maj it

While conceding that the evidence for the WH NU reading is slim (A eth), Metzger (TCGNT) argued for it on the basis that the absence of a direct object after the verb ηγορασας (“purchased”) would have prompted scribes to add a direct object—either before or after the indirect object. Most English translators also supplied a direct object—often the word “people.” The NU committee made this decision (as did WH) before the publication of 𝔓115, which lends further support for this reading. Though there are lacunae in this verse, a reconstruction of the text, given acceptable margins, shows that the manuscript would not have included a direct object either before or after the verb ηγορασας (see Text of Earliest MSS, 667).

Revelation 8:13

WH NU ἀετοῦ
𝔓115 א A 046 it syr cop

Variant/TR αγγελου
P 1 Maja

The difference between the readings is significant: Either John “heard one eagle flying in mid-air” or he “heard one angel flying in mid-air.” The evidence strongly favors the WH NU reading, which has the support of 𝔓115 (not listed in NA27 or UBS4). The variant could be the result of a scribal mistake—confusing αετου for αγγελου—inasmuch as αγγελος appears eight other times in the same chapter. But it is just as likely that some scribe(s) changed “eagle” to “angel” because it seemed more appropriate that an angel would be making a proclamation of things to come, as happens in 14:6 (TCGNT).

The change in TR means that there are eight angels involved with the divine unveiling of events to come. This is inconsistent with the numerical coding in the book of Revelation, which typically has sevens, twelves, or their multiples.

Revelation 11:17a

Most manuscripts have the ascription for God as follows:

κυριε ο θεος ο παντοκρατωρ
ο ων και ο ην

“Lord God the Almighty
the one who is and who was”

The scribe of 𝔓47 wrote ο θεος three times in a row. Either he or another corrector changed the first θεος to κυριος by writing a kappa in place of the theta, making Θ̅Ϲ̅ become Κ̅Ϲ̅. This change was not noted by the editor of the editio princeps of 𝔓47 (Kenyon 1934, 22), but it is noted in Text of Earliest MSS, 341. Kenyon did note that the second θεος was an error of dittography. But since the scribe of 𝔓47 first wrote θεος three times, it is very unlikely that this was an error. Rather, the line in 𝔓47* Ο Θ̅Ϲ̅ Ο Θ̅Ϲ̅ Ο Θ̅Ϲ̅ was probably intentional. Broken in three lines, it reads:

ο θεος ο θεος
ο θεος ο παντοκρατωρ
ο ων και ο ην

“God, God,
God the Almighty
the one who is and who was”

𝔓47c reads:  ο κυριος ο θεος
ο θεος ο παντοκρατωρ
ο ων και ο ην

“the Lord, God
God the Almighty
the one who is and who was”

In both 𝔓47* and 𝔓c there is no vocative. It is a nominative descriptor of God, rather than a praise in direct address.

Revelation 11:17b

WH NU ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν
“the one who is and the one who was”
𝔓47 א A C Maj

Variant/TR ο ων και ο ην και ο ερχομενος
“the one who is and the who was and the coming one”
051 1006

Having the testimony of the four earliest witnesses (noted above) and the majority of manuscripts, the WH NU reading is superior to that in TR. The variant in TR is the result of scribal harmonization, borrowed from the other refrains in Revelation, which end with the expression “the coming one” (see 1:4, 8; 4:8). This is followed by KJV and NKJV, as well as noted in HCSB out of respect for the KJV tradition.

Revelation 11:18 in Uncial 0308, the reading "Servants and prophets"Revelation 11:18 in Uncial 0308, the reading “Servants and prophets”

Revelation 13:18

TR WH NU ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ [= χξς]
𝔓47 (א) A P Maj Irenaeus Hippolytus

Variant 1 εξακοσιοι δεκα εξ [= χις]
𝔓115 C (5 11—no longer extant) MSSaccording to Irenaeus

Variant 2 εξακοσια εξηκοντα πεντε [= χξε]

Writing in the late second century, Irenaeus (Haer. 5.30) was aware of the reading “616” but denounced it as “heretical and deceptive.” He claimed that “666” was found in “all the good and ancient copies” and was “attested to by those who had seen John face to face.” Three significant witnesses (𝔓47 א A) must have their roots in those “good and ancient copies” because they read “666.” However, the recently published 𝔓115 reads “616,” as does Codex C. These are among the “good and ancient copies,” and the number they contain, “616,” is not heretical. Either “666” or “616” could be original inasmuch as both symbolize “Caesar Nero.” In ancient times the letters of the Hebrew and Greek alphabets were used as numerals. The “number” of a name is the sum of its individual letters. The number “666,” abbreviated in ancient manuscripts as χξς (χ = 600, ξ = 60, ς = 6), came from a Hebrew transliteration of the Greek for “Neron Caesar.” The number “616,” abbreviated in ancient manuscripts as χις, is either a Latin equivalent of the name “Nero Caesar” by way of gematria (see Aune 1998, 770–771; NETmg) or a different spelling of Neron Caesar, which drops the final “n” (Metzger 2003, 308). Both convey the same signification of the same person. As of yet, not one English translation prints “616” in the text, even though several note it. The note in HCSB says that one Greek manuscript plus other ancient evidence read “616.” There are actually two ancient manuscripts, 𝔓 and C.

Revelation 18:20

WH NU οἱ ἅγιοι καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ προφῆται
“the holy ones and the apostles and the prophets”
א A P syr

Variant/TR οι αγιοι αποστολοι και οι προφηται
“the holy apostles and the prophets”
C 051 2329 Maj

The manuscript evidence slightly favors the WH NU reading. The variant reading has the term αγιοι (“holy”) function as an adjective rather than being one of three groups told to rejoice.

Revelation 22:14

WH NU μακάριοι οἱ πλύνοντες τὰς στολὰς αὐτῶν
“blessed are the ones washing their robes”
א A 1006 2050 2053 2062 cop

Variant/TR μακαριοι οι ποιουντες τας εντολας αυτου
“blessed are the ones doing his commandments”
Maj it syr copbo

This statement has important soteriological consequences because the activity so described grants one to “have right to the tree of life.” It is possible that some scribe or ancient translator misread πλυνοντες (“washing”) as ποιουντες (“doing”), and τας στολας (“the robes”) as τας εντολας (“the commandments”), but not so for the possessive pronoun (αυτου for αυτων). It is more likely that the change reflects a Pelagian influence—i.e., eternal life can be achieved by good works. The original reading points us in the opposite direction: Salvation comes from having one’s “robes washed” in the Lamb’s blood (7:14).

Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008)

The Entire New Testament Chart

The Entire New Testament (138,020 Words)

{A-D} New Testament
{A} 505
{B} 523
{C} 354
{D} 10
Total Var. 1,392
Words 138,020

The Gospels (64,767 Words)

{A-D} Matt Mark Luke John
{A} 32 45 44 44
{B} 70 49 73 62
{C} 50 45 44 41
{D} 1 1 0 2
Total Var. 153 140 161 149
Words 18,346 11,304 19,482 15,635

The Acts of the Apostles (18,450 Words)

{A-D} Acts
{A} 74
{B} 82
{C} 40
{D} 1
Total Var. 197
Words 18,450

Paul’s Fourteen Epistles (37,361 Words)

{A-D} Rom 1 Cor 2 Cor Gal. Eph. Php Col.
{A} 39 21 12 16 16 10 8
{B} 19 22 17 3 11 7 12
{C} 20 15 10 8 7 3 8
{D} 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Total Var. 79 59 39 27 34 20 28
WORDS 7,111 6,830 4,477 2,230 2,422 1,629 1,582
{A-D} 1 Th 2 Th 1 Tim 2 Tim Tit Phm. Heb.
{A} 9 3 15 2 2 2 20
{B} 2 3 2 6 1 3 11
{C} 3 2 2 1 1 0 12
{D} 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total Var. 14 8 19 9 4 5 43
WORDS 1,481 823 1,591 1,238 659 335 4,953

The General Epistles (7,591 Words)

{A-D} Jam 1 Pet 2 Pet 1 Jn 2 Jn 3 Jn Jude
{A} 7 21 8 18 4 1 9
{B} 12 9 7 7 1 1 0
{C} 4 7 6 4 0 0 3
{D} 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
Total Var. 23 37 22 29 5 2 13
WORDS 1,742 1,684 1,099 2,141 245 219 461

The Book of Revelation (9,851 Words)

{A-D} Revelation
{A} 23
{B} 31
{C} 18
{D} 1
Total Var. 73
Words 9,851

All variation units or places where variations occur are significant because we are dealing with the Word of God, and reconstructing the original wording is of the utmost importance. Recall Lightfoot once more. “What about the significance of these variations? Are these variations immaterial or are they important? What bearing do they have on the New Testament message and on faith? To respond to these questions, it will be helpful to introduce three types of textual variations, classified in relation to their significance for our present New Testament text. 1. Trivial variations which are of no consequence to the text. 2. Substantial variations which are of no consequence to the text. 3. Substantial variations that have bearing on the text.”

Whether we are talking about the addition or omission of such words as “for,” “and,” and “the,” or different forms of similar Greek words, differences in spelling, or the addition of a whole verse or even several verses, the importance lies not with the significance of impact on the meaning of the text but rather the certainty of the wording in the original. What we want to focus on is the certainty level of reconstructing every single word that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude penned.

We will use Lightfoot’s example of Matthew 11:10-23, that is, fourteen verses of 231 words; we have eleven variants in verses 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19(2), 20, 21, and 23(2). This may seem worrisome to the churchgoer or someone new to textual criticism. However, while all of the variants are found in the NA28 critical apparatus (2012), pp. 31–32,[16] the following sources below only covered seven of them because four are not even an issue. Why are they not an issue? We know what the original reading is with absolute certainty. The seven that have some uncertainty is mentioned in the textual commentaries below.

  • Comfort New Testament Text and Translation covers verses 15 and 19
  • Comfort Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament covers verses 12 and 19
  • Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament covers 15, 17, 19, and 23.

Immediately we need to note that verse 12 is absolutely certain as to the original words as well. Verse 19a is mentioned in Comfort’s textual commentary because he is drawing attention to the “Son of Man” being written as a nomen sacrum (“sacred name” that is abbreviated) in two early manuscripts (א W), as well as in L. Therefore, verse 19a is absolutely certain as well. We are now down to five variants. The original readings of verses 15, 17, 19a and the two in verse 23 where variants occur are almost certain. The textual scholars on the committees for four leading semi-literal and literal translations (ESV, LEB, CSB, and the NASB) agree on ten of the eleven variants. There is disagreement on Matthew 11:15. Even so, the reader has access to the original and alternatives in the footnote.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (ESV, NASB, UASV)

The variant is ο εχων ωτα ακουειν ακουετω “the one having ears to hear let him hear,” which is supported by א C L W Z Θ f1,13 33 Maj syrc,h,p cop

“The one who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (LEB, cf. CSB)

WH and NU have ὁ ἔχων ὦτα ἀκουέτω “the one having ears let him hear,” which is supported by B D 700 itk syrs

As is usually the case in more difficult decisions, the variant readings are divided in their support between the leading Alexandrian manuscripts. One reading has 01 (Sinaiticus) on its side, the other has 03 (Vaticanus). This tends to cancel out the weight of documentary evidence.

Now, we return to the charts above. There are 138,020 words in the New Testament. Just 1,392 textual variants deemed relevant for translation have enough of an issue to even be considered in the textual commentary. Again, if we average three words per variant, this amounts only to about 3.026 percent of the 138,020 words, or about 6 percent when we compensate for variant units ignored by the GNT editors. We can also remove the 505 {A} ratings because they are certain. Then, we really have no concerns about the {B} ratings because they are almost certain as well. This means that out of 138,020 words in the Greek New Testament, we only have 364 variants (1,092 words by our average) with which we have difficulty, a mere 10 of which involve great difficulty in deciding which reading to put in the text. Our average would make these variants 0.791 percent of the text without accounting for any difficult variants not included because they were considered irrelevant for translation.

We need not be disturbed or distracted by worries of how many variants there are, or whether they are significant or insignificant. We need only to deal with the certainty of each variation unit, endeavoring to determine the original reading. We should also be concerned with the role textual criticism plays in apologetics. There is no possibility of apologetics if we do not have an authoritative and true Word of God. J. Harold Greenlee was correct when he wrote, “Textual criticism is the basic study for the accurate knowledge of any text. New Testament textual criticism, therefore, is the basic biblical study, a prerequisite to all other biblical and theological work. Interpretation, systemization, and application of the teachings of the NT cannot be done until textual criticism has done at least some of its work.” (Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism 1995, 17) We would add apologetics to that list for which textual criticism is a prerequisite. How are we to defend the Word of God as inspired, inerrant, true, and authoritative if we do not know whether we even have the Word of God? Therefore, when Bible critics try to muddy the waters of truth with misinformation, it is up to the textual scholar to correct the Bible critic’s misinformation.

Again, it is true that Lightfoot erred if he was counting the manuscripts instead of the variants. However, we need not count variants either but rather variation units, namely, the places where there are variations. The above Colossians 2:2 example of variations that are found in 79 manuscripts were seen to have 14 variants in 79 manuscripts, not 79 variants. While this is true, it is also true that this is simply one variation unit, i.e. one place, where a variation occurs. This may sound as though we are trying to rationalize a major problem of hundreds of thousands of variants. However, it is actually the other way around. The Bible critic is misrepresenting the facts, trying to talk about an issue without giving the reader or listener all of the facts. We need to consider Benjamin Disraeli’s words on statistics: “There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

The Certainty of the Original Words of the Original Authors

Virgil (70-19 B.C.E.) wrote the Aeneid between 29 and 19 B.C.E. for which there are only five manuscripts dating to the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 C.E.) wrote The Jewish Wars about 75 C.E., for which we have nine complete manuscripts, seven of major importance dating from the tenth to the twelfth centuries C.E. Tacitus (59-129 C.E.) wrote Annals of Imperial Rome sometime before 116 C.E., a work considered vital to understanding the history of the Roman Empire during the first century, and we have only thirty-three manuscripts, two of the earliest that date 850 and 1050 C.E. Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.E.) wrote his Gallic Wars between 51-46 B.C.E., which is a firsthand account in a third-person narrative of the war, of which we have 251 manuscripts dating between the ninth and fifteenth centuries.

On the other hand, New Testament textual scholars have over 5,836 Greek manuscripts, not to mention ancient versions such as Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, and Gothic, which number into the tens of thousands. We have many early and reliable manuscripts in Greek and the versions, a good number that cover almost the entire New Testament dating within 100 years of the originals. Therefore, reconstructing the original Greek New Testament is a realistic goal for Bible scholars. This belief and goal that we could anticipate a time when we would recover the original wording of the Greek New Testament had its greatest advocates in the nineteenth century, in Samuel Tregelles (1813-75), B. F. Westcott (1825-1901), and F. J. A. Hort (1828-92). While they acknowledged that we would never recover every word with absolute certainty, they knew that it was always the primary goal to come extremely close to the original. When we entered the twentieth century, there were two textual scholars who have since stood above all others, Kurt Aland and Bruce Metzger. These two men carried the same purpose with them, as they were instrumental in bringing us the Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Societies critical editions, which are at the foundation of almost all modern translations.

From the days of Johann Jacob Griesbach (1745-1812), to Constantin Von Tischendorf (1815-1874), to Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875), to Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), to Kurt Aland (1915-1994), to Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007), we have been blessed with extraordinary textual scholars. These scholars have devoted their entire lives to providing us the transmission of the New Testament text and the methodologies by which we can recover the original words of the New Testament authors. They did not construct these histories and methodologies from textbooks or in university classrooms. No, they spent decades upon decades in working with manuscripts and putting their methods of textual criticism into practice, as they provided us with one improved critical edition after another. As their knowledge grew, the number of manuscripts which they had to work with fortunately grew as well.

Samuel Tregelles stated that it was his purpose to restore the Greek New Testament text “as nearly as can be done on existing evidence.” B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort declared that their goal was “to present exactly the original words of the New Testament, so far as they can now be determined from surviving documents.” Metzger said that the goal of textual criticism is “to ascertain from the divergent copies which form of the text should be regarded as most nearly conforming to the original.” Sadly, after centuries, textual criticism is losing its way, as new textual scholars have begun to set aside the goal of recovering and establishing the original wording of the Greek New Testament. They have little concern for the certainty of a reading as to whether it is the original.


In speaking of the positions of agnostic Bart D. Ehrman (author of The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture) and David Parker (author of The Living Text of the Gospels), Elliott overserved, “Both emphasize the living and therefore changing text of the New Testament and the needlessness and inappropriateness of trying to establish one immutable original text. The changeable text in all its variety is what we textual critics should be displaying.” Elliott then reflects further on his goals within textual criticism: “Despite my own published work in trying to prove the originality of the text in selected areas of textual variation … I agree that the task of trying to establish the original words of the original authors with 100% certainty is impossible. More dominant in text critics’ thinking now is the need to plot the changes in the history of the text. That certainly seemed to be the consensus at one of the sessions of the 1998 SBL conference in Orlando, where the question of whether the original text was an achievable goal received generally negative responses.”

We strongly disagree. The goal of textual criticism had been and still should be to restore the New Testament Greek text in every word that was originally penned by the New Testament authors, in a critical edition. If we are aiming only “to plot the changes in the history of the text,” as Elliott put it, we are unable to do so precisely at the time when we have the greatest need to see what happened, i.e. soon after the NT books were first published, if we actually deny and rob ourselves of any chance to recover the original. Then we must admit either that we can never have the complete word of God (the new position), or that any and potentially every quality Greek witness must be considered the word of God. The latter might even be said of a quality version, or at least of readings clearly inferred from such a version. In reality, however, any manuscript that departs from the original in its witness is more or less damaged goods.

We obviously do not think such pessimism is the necessary or inevitable response. In looking at the numbers above as to the certainty level of the restoration of the original Greek New Testament, we have come a long way since John Fell (1625-1686). A spot comparison of changes in ratings between GNT5 and previous GNT editions indicates that the level of certainty is increasing in most cases, and when it does not, the preference tends toward the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. To set aside the primary goal of textual criticism now would be an insult to the lives of many textual scholars who preceded us, not to mention to the authors who penned the New Testament books and the Almighty God who inspired them.

The Role of Faith in Approaching the Text

Faith has always played a central role in the lives of believers and their approach to the biblical text. As scholars have sought to restore the original text of the New Testament through the diligent application of textual criticism, the question arises as to what role faith should play in this endeavor. To address this issue, it is essential to understand the nature of faith, its relationship to reason, and the way it can inform and enrich the study of the biblical text.

Firstly, faith is not synonymous with blind belief or the absence of critical thinking. Rather, faith is a trust or confidence in God and His revelation, grounded in personal experience and historical evidence (Hebrews 11:1). According to Christian teaching, faith is a gift from God that enables believers to apprehend spiritual truths (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, faith does not eliminate the need for reason or critical inquiry. Instead, it provides a foundation and context for understanding the biblical text.

One of the most significant contributions of faith to the study of the New Testament is the recognition of the text’s divine inspiration. While scholars may debate the precise nature of inspiration and the extent to which human authors contributed to the text, the belief in the divine origin of Scripture is central to the Christian faith (2 Timothy 3:16). This belief affirms that the New Testament contains a message that transcends its historical and cultural context, offering timeless guidance and wisdom for all believers.

Faith also provides a framework for interpreting and applying the biblical text. Christian tradition has long recognized the importance of understanding Scripture within the context of the broader narrative of salvation history. The Bible is not merely a collection of isolated texts, but a coherent story of God’s unfolding plan for humanity, centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Faith enables believers to discern the unity and coherence of Scripture, guiding them in their interpretation and application of the text.

In addition, faith fosters a humble and reverent approach to the study of the New Testament. Believers recognize that they are engaging with sacred texts that have the power to transform lives and shape communities. This recognition prompts a sense of humility and respect, acknowledging the limitations of human understanding and the need for divine guidance (1 Corinthians 2:14). While textual critics and scholars seek to ascertain the original text and meaning, faith reminds them that the ultimate goal of their work is not merely intellectual curiosity but a deeper encounter with the living God.

Moreover, faith encourages believers to wrestle with the challenges and complexities of the biblical text. The New Testament contains passages that may be difficult to understand or reconcile with other parts of Scripture. However, faith does not require believers to dismiss these difficulties or avoid engaging with them. Instead, faith can inspire a commitment to wrestle with the text, trusting that God will reveal His truth in the process (2 Peter 3:16).

Faith also plays a crucial role in preserving the integrity and authority of the biblical text. While textual criticism has made significant progress in restoring the original text of the New Testament, it is essential to remember that the process is not infallible. Human error and bias can affect the work of even the most skilled scholars. Faith serves as a safeguard against these limitations, affirming the trustworthiness of God’s revelation and the reliability of the biblical text despite any uncertainties that may arise in the field of textual criticism.

In conclusion, faith is an essential component of a believer’s approach to the New Testament. It provides a foundation for understanding the text as divinely inspired, offering guidance and wisdom for all who encounter it. Faith also fosters a humble and reverent attitude towards the study of Scripture, encouraging believers to wrestle with the complexities of the text while trusting in God’s ultimate revelation. By informing and enriching the work of textual criticism, faith ensures that the pursuit of the original text of the New Testament is not merely an academic exercise but a means of drawing closer to the living God.

Furthermore, faith shapes the way believers engage with the results of textual criticism. While it is important to appreciate the scholarly work that has gone into restoring the original text, it is equally essential to remember that the ultimate authority of Scripture lies not in the perfect preservation of every word but in the God who inspired it. Faith enables believers to approach the biblical text with confidence, trusting that the core message of God’s love and redemption remains intact despite the presence of scribal variants and uncertainties.

Faith also prompts believers to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the meaning of the biblical text. As Jesus promised in John 16:13, the Spirit guides believers into all truth, including the truth contained in Scripture. Faith in the work of the Spirit provides a dynamic, living dimension to the study of the New Testament, ensuring that it remains a transformative force in the lives of individuals and communities.

Finally, faith cultivates a sense of gratitude for the rich heritage of biblical scholarship that has preserved and transmitted the New Testament throughout history. The dedicated work of countless scribes, translators, and textual critics has ensured that the message of the gospel continues to be heard in every generation. Faith acknowledges the vital role these individuals have played in the story of God’s revelation and prompts believers to give thanks for their contributions.

In summary, faith plays a vital role in approaching the New Testament, providing a foundation for understanding its divine inspiration, guiding interpretation and application, fostering humility and reverence, encouraging engagement with the text’s complexities, preserving its integrity and authority, recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit, and cultivating gratitude for the rich heritage of scholarship. By integrating faith with the work of textual criticism, believers can approach the New Testament with confidence and reverence, trusting that God’s message of love and redemption remains clear and accessible to all who seek it.

Again, Faith Is Not Blind

It is important to recognize that the faith of textual scholars, paleographers, papyrologists, and archaeologists is not a blind faith. These individuals have dedicated their lives to the rigorous and methodical study of the New Testament text, employing scientific methods and critical analysis to uncover the most accurate representation of the original writings. Their faith is rooted in the conviction that the words of the New Testament contain a divine message, and their pursuit of the text’s original form is motivated by the desire to bring that message to light as accurately and faithfully as possible.

Faith, in this context, is not a passive acceptance of dogma but an active engagement with the evidence at hand. Scholars in these fields approach their work with intellectual honesty and rigor, acknowledging the complexities and uncertainties inherent in the study of ancient texts. They are constantly refining their methods and updating their understanding based on new discoveries and insights, demonstrating an openness to change and a willingness to reevaluate long-held assumptions.

In this way, their faith is both informed and invigorated by their scholarly pursuits. Far from being an obstacle to critical inquiry, faith serves as a driving force that propels these scholars to engage more deeply with the text, to wrestle with its challenges, and to seek a more profound understanding of its message. This interplay between faith and scholarship enriches both the academic study of the New Testament and the spiritual lives of those who engage in it.

Moreover, the results of their work, such as the various editions of the Greek New Testament and the countless commentaries and studies that have been produced, serve not only to strengthen the faith of those engaged in the work but also to provide a solid foundation for the faith of countless believers around the world. The achievements of textual scholars, paleographers, papyrologists, and archaeologists over the past 500 years have demonstrated the remarkable stability and resilience of the New Testament text, reinforcing the belief that its core message has been preserved despite the challenges of transmission and the passage of time.

In conclusion, the faith of those working in the fields of New Testament textual criticism, paleography, papyrology, and archaeology is not a blind faith but an informed and active one, rooted in a deep commitment to understanding and preserving the divine message contained in the New Testament. Their tireless efforts have not only contributed to the intellectual richness and spiritual vitality of the Christian faith but have also provided a solid foundation upon which believers can base their trust in the reliability and authority of the New Testament text.


A guide to the sigla (symbols and abbreviations) used in the body of this article.

General Sigla

# beginning with 0: uncial

# not beginning with 0: minuscule

superscript: original reading

c superscript: scribal correction

ms superscript: individual manuscript

mss superscript: multiple manuscripts

pt superscript: partial attestation

vid superscript: uncertain reading

arab: Arabic versions

arm: Armenian versions

𝔐 or Byz: Byzantine text-type

cop: Coptic versions

sa: Sahidic version

bo: Boharic version

eth: Ethiopic versions

ƒ: Greek manuscripts family

geo: Georgian versions

goth: Gothic versions

it: Italic/Vetus Latina

latmost Italic and Vulgate

latt: all Italic and Vulgate

𝔓: papyrus

𝑙: individually numbered lectionary

Lect: most or all numbered lectionaries

parenthesized (): approximate reading

rell: all other extant manuscripts

slav: Slavic versions

syr: Syriac versions

vg: Latin Vulgate

TRTextus Receptus

Uncial Sigla

א‎: Codex Sinaiticus (01)

A: Codex Alexandrinus (02)

B: Codex Vaticanus (03)

C: Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (04)

Dea: Codex Bezae (05)

Dp: Codex Claromontanus (06)

Ke: Codex Cyprius (017)

Kap: Codex Mosquensis I (018)

Le: Codex Regius (New Testament) (019)

Lap: Codex Angelicus (020)

Papr: Codex Porphyrianus (025)

S: Codex Vaticanus 354 (028)

V: Codex Mosquensis II (031)

W: Codex Washingtonianus (032)

Z: Codex Dublinensis (035)

Γ: Codex Tischendorfianus IV (036)

Δ: Codex Sangallensis 48 (037)

Θ: Codex Koridethi (038)

Ξ: Codex Zacynthius (040)

Π: Codex Petropolitanus (New Testament) (041)

Φ: Codex Beratinus (043)

Ψ: Codex Athous Lavrensis (044)

Ω: Codex Athous Dionysiou (045)

ff1: Codex Corbeiensis I

ff2: Codex Corbeiensis II

g1: Codex Sangermanensis I

k: Codex Bobiensis

Critical Editions

  • T8th: Tischendorf’s 8th Edition of Editio Octava Critica Maior
  • WH: Westcott and Hort (1881)
  • NANovum Testamentum Graece (Nestle–Aland)
  • UBS: United Bible Societies
  • ECMEditio Critica Maior

About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).




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