Christianity is a religion of the book. From the outset, it has stressed specific texts as authoritative scripture. Yet not one of these original, authoritative texts exists today. We have only late copies, dating from the second century to the sixteenth. And these copies vary considerably. Indeed, the 5,700 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament that have been catalogued contain more variations than there are words in the New Testament. Some scholars say there are 200,000 variant readings, others say 300,000, 400,000 or even more!
Some variant readings are simply scribal mistakes. Others are editorial “improvements” intended to make the text easier to understand. Still others are deliberate attempts by the scribes to make the texts more amenable to the doctrines being espoused by Christians of their own persuasion and to eliminate the possible “misuse” of the texts by Christians affirming heretical beliefs.1