This question came from my atheist friend. I recommended him to read at your website and books, but he was curious regarding your answer on certain textual variations, particularly your response that “No, Christianity doctrines are affected by these variations” in your website. He asked back that:
1.) Isn’t God supposed to preserve His words? And not a single word will be lost? So why are there these variations?
2.) Isn’t the Bible supposed to have God’s or Jesus’ perfectly preserved literal and exact speech and words that came out from His mouth, and not just His preserved doctrinal message? So even if there is no doctrine that got affected, it didn’t answer the question: Does the word recorded in the Bible is from Jesus/God or man-made only? The Christians believe that the Bible is the literal word of God right?
3.) How do we know there are no doctrines that got affected? Christians didn’t have the original manuscripts of the gospels.
1. Says who? Who created this standard? Surely atheists did not create this standard! Put it this way. Either God could have used humans to transmit his Word, or he could not have. Well, he did. If he had not used humans to copy his words to us, what would the alternative have been? Could he supernaturally force all copiers to make copies which are perfect? Or maybe he could occasionally drop perfect versions of the original out of the sky. Is that the kind of thing that God does–force people’s hands, literally, or drop notes out of the sky?
Here are the plain facts. God entrusted the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament to human beings, and human beings make errors. Let me repeat what your friend read at my web site. The amount of uncertainty–words or phrases for which there is a significant uncertainty–in the Greek New Testament is somewhere between 0.1 and 0.5%. Or put it another way, our text is certain to somewhere between 99.9 and 99.5%, depending on which scholars we listen to. And like I said, none of the minor questions of the precise original text has any significant effect on any important Christian belief. That is good enough for me. The people God entrusted the New Testament text to did a really good job. This is what the evidence tells us.
2. No, it is not. Again, who says that this is what is required? The New Testament gospels are faithful renderings of the sayings and deeds of Jesus. The speeches are not exact transcripts. No one ever claimed that they were. Let us look at things from the perspective of people in the ancient Near East, who were used to oral traditions. None of those who heard or read Matthew or Luke would have assumed that these were exact transcripts. This was not something expected by a Near Eastern audience. This need for “exact” quotes is a product of Western thinking. The question is whether the gospels faithfully represent what Jesus said and did. I am convinced that they are. My answer is that Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20-21, the Scripture is not a matter of the writer’s interpretation, “but the prophets [or other Bible writers] spoke from God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Or, as Paul put it, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3:16. In other words, the words that were written were inspired by God, through the influence of the Holy Spirit. That is why the gospels, for example, are a faithful rendering of what Jesus did and said. These words were written by people, but they are not the word of people, they are the Word of God (1 Thess 2:13). Now, I have quoted 2 Peter, 2 Timothy and 1 Thessalonians. These are biblical claims and statements. They do not amount to proof or evidence. We can talk about the evidence for inspiration, which is enormous. But, the Bible itself claims that these are the words of God, not of man. Whether anyone accepts this claim should be based on the evidence, which I believe is overwhelmingly in the positive.
3. Again, we can look at these textual variations, minor though they are. We can pick any example of a passage about which there is at least some doubt. We have thousands of manuscripts, so there is plenty of evidence to draw from. For example, there is Luke 14:5. Some manuscripts have “If one of you has a child…” Others have “If one of you has a donkey.” Is the meaning of this passage affected if it is child or if it is donkey? No. We could look at another example–arguably a more significant one. With Luke 22:20, some manuscripts have “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Other manuscripts have “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Some manuscripts do not include “which is poured out for you.” Again, this has no effect on any belief of Christianity. This is what I mean that none of these extremely minor textual variants have any effect on any theology or doctrine in Christianity. If the critics of Christianity disagree with this claim, I will challenge them to produce a single exception. Let us base our arguments on evidence, not on speculation. There is none. That is why I say this!