Some reflections on the confidence that I possess the Word of God

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Some of the recent threads have caused me to muse over some of the assertions made regarding trust that one possesses the Word of God.

One of the things that an unbeliever scholar like Bart Ehrmann engages in is the argument that, if the Scriptures were God's Word He would preserve it from variants. In other words, Bart argues that God's preservation would be such that every copied text would be so divinely directed that even a vandal would be unable to make a change from one copy to another such that those finding a Greek manuscript would never have one that differed from another.

Some (not all) TR positions are a variation on the theme. The argument is that if we have some variation in Greek manuscripts and cannot settle on an epigraph of what the original is then we cannot have confidence that God preserved His Word.

Now, what I realized is that if you've never really been trained in the basics of dealing with an apparatus that is seems like we're dealing with massive variations in texts. Bart counts up the number of variations across thousands of manuscripts and with some arm waving he convinces the Christian: "How can we possibly know what the Word of God says?" The TR proponent goes along with this unbelieving argument and says: "Yeah, but don't worry, we don't even look at those thousands of manuscripts because we have a manuscript that has no variants. It doesn't agree with any manuscript, including the majority text, but we've eliminated the crisis."

But how big is this crisis?

Does anyone who hasn't been trained wonder why those who have been trained aren't "freaking out"?

Why aren't we stopping at every single verse and saying: "Yeah, but there may be a variant reading to that..."

It's because the "problem" isn't really a problem at all.

Let's say I loaned you a book and you were careless as you read it and stained 7-10 pages in a complete novel to where a word here was smudged or a sentence there was unreadable?

Would I conclude I know longer possess the novel? That I can't read it or even read around the missing article or word and figure out what was going on if I read it again.

It's an incomplete analogy and I'll let others weigh in with their own analogies, but I want to make sure folks understand how very few variations there are that have any significance.

The further reason that variations don't mean that confidence in a translation is jettisoned is because, even when one is certain about what the Greek is (because yes there are large parts of Scripture where there is zero disagreement about the Greek) - even with no doubt - there is still some debate on how to best translate things as seemingly mundane as the kind of genitive is in a particular verse. In fact, no theological debates ever center around whether the long ending of Mark, the pericope adultery, or the comma Johannian. The debates arise over the words we agree are there in the text.

I suppose what I'm driving at is that you should not uncritically adopt an argument because you believe the false narrative that someone is taking your confidence in the text away from you with the discovery of Greek manuscripts. If anything, you should rejoice that God's Word was so widely used in the Church. Christians were making books (folding papyri) before books were cool. They were using the Word and making copies of it. The fact that we keep finding copies of these should make you rejoice. Even though we have the printing press, variants get into printed copies of books much less when you're hand copying something but the reality is that what we have is a testimony to the continuous use of God's Word in human history and the fact that God was pleased that his poor, embattled Saints would take comfort from a hand copy in someone's hand-writing, even with a few spelling mistakes (or maybe a page falling off with wear) should not bring you dread that we don't know what God's Word is but that we have a testimony of its continued use. Further, what we possess is (at worst) a few "smudges" here and there because God's people have been using the Word so much that a few areas have variants that change so little.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Once upon a time.... It was the 1920s, small town U.S.A.

The sun went down, and most of the townsfolk were off in their homes, this family on 1st St., that family on Maple St., Bob in his two-room walk up apartment on Main St. More than a few of these folk were turning on their radios for the evening fare. At some time during their listening hours, an important news bulletin was broadcast.

The next morning, residents were unusually talkative. A magnetic pull seemed to draw a crowd to the common square where the people were eagerly talking about what they heard the previous night. As might be expected, those who had listened to the drama programs seemed to be collected under the oaks. Several mothers whose children were addicted to Howdy Doody were talking at the picnic tables. There was some cross-pollination of listeners to various output milling about in general.

The shows that were on the previous night (including a couple reruns) were less the topics of conversation than the news at the top of the hour and the special bulletin that came across on all the frequencies. That was the real motivation for the larger-than-normal gathering and conversation.

There was just one problem. Some people had GE radios, and others had RCA. Bob had a radio manufactured in Europe, and it seemed to cycle a static burst five seconds long every seven-and-a-half minutes for no reason he could determine. Reception in town varied, according to the residences locations and distance (and terrain, and weather, etc.) to the cities where stood the towers for the stations originating the programs, the news, and that common bulletin. The speaker quality in each radio set was variable as well, not to mention the age and strength of the other internal components.

Anyway, it turns out that although at first most of the townsfolk thought there was at least one important, common topic to engage with others about; come to find out that no one had heard the same program as anyone else, no one heard the same hourly news, and the common bulletin put out on every channel at the government's request said a completely different thing to each and every listener. Hunh?!

If only there was a single radio manufacturer! If only there was some way that everyone could hear the same episode of Gunsmoke! The government can't even fix things so that its message is sent out with sufficient clarity that no hearer has a good excuse for ignoring it. Listening to Bob's radio constantly leaves him wondering if that sound was an "M" or an "N." Is the lawman's name really Nat Billom? So, it's hopeless.

Would things be any better if the government standardized the radio they install and test in every house, apartment, and business? Would everyone finally get the same, the correct message? Would that hold the population accountable?

(Apologies that in my parable the old-timey radio shows mentioned by name are anachronistic to the '20s. Who today has heard of Charlie McCarthy?)


Puritan Board Senior
I found this debate very well done on the part of Dan Wallace responding to Bart Ehrman.

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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
I found this debate very well done on the part of Dan Wallace responding to Bart Ehrman.

I've read some of what Ehrman has written, and though I find his arguments largely specious, I'm really not that concerned or even put-off by it. But for some reason whe I hear or see his speak I have a very visceral reaction, and can only stomach it for a minute or less...


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I've read some of what Ehrman has written, and though I find his arguments largely specious, I'm really not that concerned or even put-off by it. But for some reason whe I hear or see his speak I have a very visceral reaction, and can only stomach it for a minute or less...
Probably because he’s almost certainly demonized (i.e., demon-possessed).
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