Colwell states: “the overwhelming majority of readings were created before the year 200.” Kilpatrick says, “almost all variants can be presumed to have been created by A.D. 200.” The Alands, say, “practically all the substantive variants in the text of the New Testament are from the second century …” Is this true?
An Eastern form of text, which was formerly called the Caesarean text, is preserved, to a greater or lesser extent, in several Greek manuscripts (including Θ, 565, 700) and in the Armenian and Georgian versions. The text of these witnesses is characterized by a mixture of Western and Alexandrian readings. (Bruce M. Metzger)
The chief characteristic of Western readings is fondness for paraphrase. Words, clauses, and even whole sentences are freely changed, omitted, or inserted. Sometimes the motive appears to have been harmonization, while at other times it was the enrichment of the narrative by the inclusion of traditional or apocryphal material. (Bruce M. Metzger)
The Alexandrian text … is usually considered to be the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original. Characteristics of the Alexandrian text are brevity and austerity. That is, it is generally shorter than the text of other forms, and it does not exhibit the degree of grammatical and stylistic polishing that is characteristic of the Byzantine type of text (Bruce M. Metzger)
There can only be one reading, which is the original reading. The reading that the other reading(s) most likely came from is likely the original. This is the fundamental principle of textual criticism.
Variation Unit: any portion of text that exhibits variations in its reading between two or more different manuscripts. 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.