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Has the Bible Been Corrupted?



Can we trust the Bible?

Critics and scholars have argued against the infallibility of the Bible, but what does actual historical evidence say? Scholars have written arguments trying to debunk the truth of Scripture, but they do not stand up to the weight of reality. Ben Stuart shows us how we know the Bible has not been corrupted and reminds us it was for our salvation that the Scriptures were preserved.

Key Takeaway

There's something different about this book. Categorically different. Miraculously preserved so that you could hear the message that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. The preservation was an invitation.

Are the words we have now even close to the words that Jesus spoke 2000 years ago?

The Bible was copied by hand for hundreds of years. Didn't Constantine change it? Did King James adopt it for his own purposes? How could the words possibly be the same as the apostles and prophets?

The common thought is that the textual transmission is like the telephone game. The words and meanings get lost. However, that's not the case with the Bible and it's been disproved many times.

2 Attitudes towards the veracity of Scripture.

  1. Total despair
  2. Ignorant certainly

Reasonable confidence is found between those.

3 Questions to consider

  1. Quantity. Are there differences in the scripts we have? Scribal alterations? How many times? Textual critics count every change in every letter.
  2. Quality. What kind are these textual variations?
  3. Orthodoxy. How much of our theology is built on suspect passages?

Do we have the original manuscripts of the New Testament (NT)? No, by the end of the 2nd century, they were probably turned to dust because they were written on papyrus.

The two oldest manuscripts we have are P53 and B. They have about 6-10 differences per chapter. There are 260 chapters in the NT, so approx 2000 differences. Add in more texts and you'll get more variants.


  • 138,162 words in Greek, about 400,000 variations. There's about 2.5 variance for every word in the NT.
  • The reason we have so many variants is because we have so many texts! If we only had one, there would be no variants. With all the texts of the Bible, you can actually trace back where the variant took place. The more manuscripts we have, the closer we get to the original language, not further away.
  • What NT has today is "an embarrassment of riches"
  • How many ancient manuscripts (pre-printing press) do we have today? In Greek, we have over 5,800. In Latin, over 10,000. In other languages, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, and Hebrew, over 10,000. Altogether we have 20-25,000 manuscripts that exist today.
  • If all of those were lost, we'd still have the Bible. The Church Fathers quoted the NT over a million times. For example, Ignatius, who died in AD 107 quoted Matthew. 7.941 verses are in the NT, so in a million quotes, you have the NT over and over.
  • Other historians and their texts
    • Almost everything we know about ancient Rome comes from the following 3 historians
      • Livy- we have 27 manuscripts.
      • Tacitus- we have 3, the earliest copy of a text is from 800 years after he died.
      • Suetonius- his copies were also 800 years after he died.
    • The Greek Historians
      • Thucydides and Herodotus were from the 5th century BC, their copies are 800 years after they lived and we only have slivers.

In the NT we have 6000 in Greek 10,000 in Latin, 10,000 in other languages, over a million quotations, and the earliest fragments date back to within a decade of the original.

For a visual: if you were to take the average Greek author and manuscripts we have and stack them up, they would be about 4 ft tall. If you stack the NT documents, it's as high as 4.5 Empire State buildings.

The oldest Greek NT fragment we have is p52 (John 18:31-33, 37-38). It's the size of a credit card. For years, the Gospel of John was thought to be written much later after Jesus's death in AD 170. But the fragment found was dated to AD 90 and it was a copy. Copies have to come after the originals. So, if the copy was dated AD 90, the original had to be written in the lifetime of John, who was a disciple.

When the KJV was translated, it was off of 7 Greek NT manuscripts. Now we have 1000 times that. We are not playing the telephone game and getting further away, they go earlier and earlier in the lifetime of the Christian Church.

What's the quality of these variants?

Meaningful- there is a change in the text that has meaning

Viable- this has sufficient pedigree to potentially represent the wording of the original

4 Groups of Textual Variants

Group 1: Spelling differences.

Not errors. Differences. For example, in Greek "John" or "Johnn", it's not wrong either way, it's a stylistic preference. Of all the variants, this makes up 70% of them.

Group 2: Alternations that can't be translated into English.

Greek is a highly inflected language. The order of the sentence doesn't determine what the object or the subject is, what determines it is what ending you put on the end of a word. So saying "Jesus loves Paul" in English could look like "Paul loves Jesus", "love Jesus Paul", or "love Paul Jesus", but they are all going to be translated the same from the Greek because of the ending of the word. You can add in the definite article, a synonym. The point is that there are 500 ways you could say that sentence in Greek and it will always get translated into "Jesus loves Paul."

So 400,000 variants sound pretty small when Groups 1 and 2 make up for 99% of the textual variants of the Bible that are neither meaningful nor viable. The number of variants doesn't matter, it's the nature of them.

Group 3: Meaningful but not viable- it changes the meaning, but they're probably not authentic.

There are 2 examples in the same verse. 1 Thessalonians 2:7 says either "We became gentle among you" or "We became little children among you". Gentile= "epios" in the Greek and children is "nepios". It's tricky. In the 14th century, a document was found that said "We became horses among you". This is determined to be a meaningful variant because the word horse has meaning, but no one thinks is original. 99% of meaningful variants don't change the meaning at all.

Group 4: Meaningful and viable- there's a change and there are questions about it.

Example: Revelation 13:18. "Let the one who has insight calculate the beast's number, for it is the number of a man; and he is 666." A 5th-century scholar found a manuscript that said the number of the beast is 616. Later, another document was found by Dr. Wallace saying the same thing. So, two documents say this. It is a legitimate question, but no one is building their life on the number of the beast. This is about as varied as it gets.

So the presentation that the Bible has been changed dynamically over time is not accurate.

So what about orthodoxy?

There are theories spread that the deity of Jesus was created in the 4th century as the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Constantine made Jesus God for his own political purposes. P66 is John's first chapter copied in AD 200. Go read that chapter. 125 years before the Constantine, the Church was saying that Jesus was God. So what they wrote then is what we have now, and who Jesus was then is who He is now.

What about the Old Testament (OT)?

3 texts were believed to be the oldest OT manuscripts and were built from the Masoretic texts: Cairo, Aleppo, and Leningrad. They were all from approximately the 10th century.

So, for a long time, the earliest copies of the OT were from 900 years after Jesus, but in the 1940's the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in Qumran containing the entire OT except for the book of Esther. Now, we have a copy of the OT from 100 years before Jesus.

How much did the OT change over those 1000 years? In Isaiah 53 there were only 17 letters that were different. 10 of those were spelling differences, and 4 were the presence of a conjunction, which is a matter of style. 3 of them were the word "light" added in. For example, "they shall see" or "they shall see light". Of the 166 words in this section, only one word is in question and it does not change the sense of the passage. This is typical of the whole manuscript.

This book is categorically different and has been miraculously preserved so that you could hear the message that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. The preservation is an invitation.


"An ounce of evidence overcomes a ton of presumption."

Ben Stuart

Discussion Questions

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Scripture References

  • John 18
  • 2 Peter 1:16-21
  • John 1:1-2
  • Isaiah 53:1-12
Ben Stuart Ben Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church D.C. Prior to joining Passion City Church, Ben served as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries on the campus of Texas A&M. He also earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime.