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Based on a comment from @AndrewThompson,

'the' Bible (any one you care to name) is no more evidence of anything than the BOM is. You might take the numerous discrepancies between versions of 'the' Bible as the proof of that statement.

there is a belief out there that "versions" of the Bible apparently have "numerous discrepancies". I'd like to know what these are.

What is the most egregious textual variant measured in terms of its impact on theology?

P.S. If you are going to cite the game of "telephone" please be prepared to cite a specific example, demonstrably showing manuscript evidence. If there are so many "discrepancies" this should be an easy exercise. The Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls are all online. Additionally, there are several "Critical Appartus"es, the best are by Bruce Metzger, that will catalog every known variation. These things can be checked, I'd just like a good example of something significant.

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Let the cowardly anonymous downvoting begin! – Affable Geek Feb 15 '12 at 14:44
Please note, I've even accepted answers that I completely disagree with, even over my own, but are at least scholarly. I would encourage people to be brave enough to actually articulate objections, so that these claims can be evaluated. Have the courage to be reviewed, or at least the decency to be quiet. – Affable Geek Feb 15 '12 at 14:55
I too adore the drive by down voting. It would only be fair if the person would mention the reason why they down voted. In fact I think it should be mandatory on StackExchange - or at least a setting. – user1054 Feb 15 '12 at 16:38
That's a reasonable Downvote :). I wanted to do justice to the original comment, but did clarify I wanted manuscript discrepancies. Cwallenpoole has done a good job there. I'll admit though, it could be a list question, but so far there ain't no stinkin list! I really want to evaluate these textual discrepancies to show how irrelevant they really are. – Affable Geek Feb 17 '12 at 13:01
Here's a online collection of New Testament textual variants, for anyone interested in seeing the differences for themselves. – Bruce Alderman Feb 17 '12 at 22:44

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are some rather major and fundamental differences between different versions.

The KJV was based on the Textus Receptus New Testament, a work which was clearly corrupt (the last part of Revelation was translated from a Latin version!) and the Masoretic Text, a document which was clearly inferior.

Of course, if you want to be able to see the differences between the ancient texts and the TR, then I suggest you look for people who believe the King James to be superior. This author claims that there are over 5000 differences.

An easy way to see this effect is to actually look at the RSV. Quite frequently you'll see in the footnotes, “Aramaic "they"” or “Vulgate "until"” or, even better, "Hebrew unclear". Sometimes this is even enough to change the entire meaning of the passage (LXX says, "a virgin", Hebrew says, "a young woman" in Isa 7).

Just as an example (and this was just the first page I happened to open), in 1 Sam. 18:28, there is a significant difference between manuscripts. As an illustration:

When Saul realized that the LORD was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David (NIV)

while another manuscript has

But when Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that all Israel loved him (RSV)*

Now, while I suppose you could argue that this is not "significant", the differences between manuscripts are sufficient to cause a major difference in interpretation. I would argue that saying that this is "not important" swallowing the proverbial camel.

THEN there is the question of "which text in the text do you believe"? In reading Hebrew, there is occasionally a note that "while this text is to be written this way, it is to be said some other way." The most obvious example is: יֱהֹוִה (Qr אֲדֹנָי) which means, "YHWH is to be pronounced adonai," but there are other cases where it is clear that the footnote represents a difference in historical understanding and then-current treatment of the language. So... which is it?

So yes, there are different versions of the Bible. No, they are not insignificant. And yes, the telephone analogy is apt.

* The RSV states that the "all Israel" quote is more likely, but the "his daughter Micah" does appear in an ancient Heb. manuscript.

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And any one of you who does not own an RSV or at least an NRSV should go out and buy one. – cwallenpoole Feb 15 '12 at 15:34
+1 This is great link - especially page 2. But interestingly, of the five textual examples he gives as "significant," I find none of them to be terribly compelling. For instance what is the difference bewten "He that believeth" and "He that believeth on me" really? Still this finally presents the counter case I've been looking for, even if it is the context of KJV-only ism. Thanks! – Affable Geek Feb 15 '12 at 16:03
I would challenge the skeptics to go through the five examples of discrepancies given and see if they think the variants are significant. – Affable Geek Feb 15 '12 at 16:06
I'll give you 1 Sam 18:28, but again, doesn't really make a theological point. – Affable Geek Feb 15 '12 at 17:27
@cwallenpoole You are in fact making the opposite point from the one you state up front. If the best example you can find is so trivial theologically (and it is trivial) then you are clearly adding to the evidence for there being no significant differences. – DJClayworth Feb 16 '12 at 15:07

Perhaps the biggest textual difference in terms of text size (but not theology) is Jeremiah. The version of Jeremiah we are used to comes from the Masoretic text, but the text in the Septuagint is one eighth shorter! The Dead Sea Scrolls has evidence for a Hebrew version of the Septuagint's text showing that the differences weren't created by its translators.

Many scholars think the Hebrew text behind the Septuagint is more likely to have been the original, and the Masoretic's longer text was developed from it. I've heard it suggested that the origin of the differences may actually be explained in the text itself: Jeremiah 36 describes the destruction of a scroll containing Jeremiah's oracles which he then rewrites. Jeremiah also uses two messengers, Baruch and Seraiah, to carry his messages to different directions. So the two versions of Jeremiah could have both been written by him, but at different times for different people.

Jeremiah is a tricky case, and for those who believe in the inspiration of the Bible it requires a more nuanced understanding of inspiration than simply saying that the original manuscripts were inspired and not the transmission process afterwards. I've never met anyone who believes in the inspiration of scripture but rejects the Masoretic text of Jeremiah and yet there are strong arguments that it is a major revision of the original, whatever that was.

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When you say, "the Hebrew of the Septuagint" in the first line of paragraph 2, do you mean "the Hebrew from which the Septuagint was translated"? Or what do you mean? – Lee Woofenden Apr 12 at 4:01
Yes that's right. – curiousdannii Apr 12 at 4:02

Discrepancies between verses in Genesis

Genesis 6:19-20 says that Noah took two of each clean and unclean animal onto the Ark, but Genesis 7:2 says he took seven of each clean animal (or possibly 14, depending on how you interpret it) and only two of each unclean animal:

6:19-20: And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. 20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

7:2: Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

These differences occur because there are two slightly different biblical Flood stories written by two different sources (the Yahwist and the Priestly Source), cleverly merged together so that a casual reader sees only one rather complex Flood story.

The verses attributed to the Yahwist are: Genesis 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 7:7, 7:10, 7:12, 
7:16b-17, 7:22-23, 8:2b-3a, 8:6, 8:8-12, 8:13b, 8:20-22.

The Flood verses attributed to the Priestly author are: Genesis 6:9-22, 7:6, 7:8-9, 
7:11, 7:13-16a, 7:18-21, 7:24, 8:1-2a, 8:3b-5, 8:7, 8:13a, 8:14-19, 9:1-17.

Discrepancies between gospel accounts of the empty tomb

Matthew 28:1-5: In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.


Mark 16:1-6: 1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

. Luke 24:1-6: Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

. John 20:1-2: The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Archbishop Peter Carnley, former Anglican primate of Australia writes in The Structure of Resurrection Belief:

The presence of discrepancies might be a sign of historicity if we had four clearly independent but slightly different versions of the story, if only for the reason that four witnesses are better than one. But, of course, it is now impossible to argue that what we have in the four gospel accounts of the empty tomb are four contemporaneous but independent accounts of the one event. Modern redactional studies of the traditions account for the discrepancies as literary developments at the hand of later redactors of what was originally one report of the empty tomb... There is no suggestion that the tomb was discovered by different witnesses on four different occasions, so it is in fact impossible to argue that the discrepancies were introduced by different witnesses of the one event; rather, they can be explained as four different redactions for apologetic and kerygmatic reasons of a single story originating from one source.

Discrepancies between manuscript versions

One of the most famous discrepancies of this type occurs in Isaiah 7:14. The Septuagint (LXX) version contains the Greek word parthenos ('virgin), which is carried forward into almost all English translations, including the KJV:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The Masoretic text, believed to be unchanged from the original Hebrew, uses the word 'almah, which means 'young woman' and is used only in this sense in 9 other references in the Old Testament. The word for 'virgin' is betulah and is used exclusively in that sense more than 50 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. However, the Septuagint mistranslated 'almah as the Greek parthenos, with the English meaning of 'virgin', and it is this version that Matthew 1:23 refers to.

Discrepancies between modern English language translations

Some Bibles studiously avoid use of the word 'slave' even when the context clearly refers to a slave, preferring instead to use the euphemisms 'servant' or 'bondservants'. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary says that the concept of slavery in the Scripture has been completely hidden to the English reader.

One example is in the Epistle to Philemon, in which the KJV refers to Onesimus as a servant, whereas the NAB refers to him, properly, as a slave:

KJV: Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

NAB: no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man 13 and in the Lord.

The reference to 'servant' in 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 is compared to being a freeman, and clearly a reference to slaves. Once again, we see the KJV use the euphemism 'servant', while the NAB says 'slave':

KJV: Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

NAB: Were you a slave when you were called? Do not be concerned but, even if you can gain your freedom, make the most of it.

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The Gospel of Mark which is said to be the first Gospel has a true ending of Mark 16:8 and as a result has no mention of any Resurrection account.

I think having a Gospel written by someone and not mention the Resurrection account is fairly significant.

If I was to ask any modern day Christian today to write a paragraph about Jesus would include his Resurrection.

Comma_Johanneum is also highly debated, which would negate the only explicit verse in the entire Bible that clearly conveys the doctrine of the Trinity:

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But the Trinity rests on more than the Johannine Comma. Futhermore, it isn't debated - it's pretty clearly a gloss, even the NKJV dropped it. But that doesn't matter, because again, the concept of Trinity doesn't rely on just that verse. – Affable Geek Oct 17 '14 at 19:39
And as to the Resurrection missing from Mark - it ends so abruptly then many people think the last page got lost - just like the Gospel of Peter (see, I know Nag Hammadi!). Even if it wasn't originally there, an argument from absence is really unfair, since the virgin birth is only in 2 of the 4 gospels too!. The Resurrection is vital for moderns yes, but there are several theories of salvation that don't require it. – Affable Geek Oct 17 '14 at 19:41
The reason the last page was 'lost' could also be because they didn't like his ending and they re-wrote an ending which we have today which is a forgery. – Blankman Oct 18 '14 at 17:15
Ah yes, "they" didn't like that ending... You weren't supposed to tell anyone until the 27th of Geldof. (And, um, the fact that "they" who wrote the Bible over the course at least 1000 years were at least 40 different people means that it would have been real easy to make this conspiracy) – Affable Geek Oct 24 '14 at 17:24
I'm not referring to all the writings, it is obvious certain writings that had the passion narrative were accepted (and then upgraded gradually in certain cases) and others were deemed heretical and eventually lost as far as we can tell. Hard to say if it was 40, so much of it is pseudonymous (falsely attributed). – public static Oct 24 '14 at 19:15

There are none.

Translation Choices aren't Biblical Version issues

I categorically have to rule out translation choices as different "versions" because by definition, languages that change will change their wording to make things clear. Whether one translates the term "cell phone" into German as Mobil Telefon or Handy, for instance, is completely arbitrary, although the act of translating does introduce different connotations. By the same token, should one literally translate Ich habe die Schnatuze voll damit! literally as "I have the nose full with it!" or idiomatically translate the meaning to "I'm sick of it" or "I'm fed up with it!" Of course those expressions mean nothing until the language catches up with it, proving the point that language changes.

Unlike the Qu'ran, the Bible has no problem with itself being translated. If you want to quibble over a translation, you are quibbling over language, not the "Bible." As such, I would confine any "discrepancies" to the original Greek and Hebrew (and Aramaic parts of Daniel).

There are some very bad translations out there (see Was Jesus a Separate God?), but again, those are not the fault of the manuscripts, but rather translation choices that lacked scholarship.

Manuscripts are pretty consistent

There are admittedly, minor textual variations amongst the various manuscripts, but are there any that have any impact on theology? Most are the grammatical equivalent of a transposed comma or a changed preposition. In a few cases (e.g. the Woman caught in adultery in John 8), there are sections that are missing in older manuscripts, but no textual variations once the story is added to the corpus.

In his book, The Text of the New Testament, It's Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Bruce Metzger analyzes thousands of manuscripts, and points out every miniscule variation amongst the miniscules, codices, papyri, and manuscripts. Glancing through the linked table of contents, it will become obvious how minor the variations are.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1947, after having been buried for nearly two milennia, there were no significant discrepancies.

When Tischendorff uncovered (stole?) the Codex Sinaiticus in the 1800s, there were no significant discrepancies.

In short, this book is way less fluid than modern edits to Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare.

An examination of claims that manuscripts have significant theological variation This is detail, but I think its worthwhile. If you like the short answer, stop reading - but I think in trying to make the case that there is "significant theologcal variation, this text indavertently shows how little disagreement there really is

I'd like to show some examples that one commentator says are "significant", from @CwallenPoole's excellent answer:

Here is the case -

This statement is clearly false. It is not true to the evidence. Dr. Sumner wrote: "The rare parts about which there is still uncertainty do not effect [sic] in any way any doctrine." This is false! Doctrine IS affected. Dr. Robert L. Thomas, John MacArthur's professor in his California Seminary, wrote: "No major doctrine of scripture is affected by a variant reading." False, again. Dr. H.S. Miller wrote: "No doctrine is affected." False again. Dr. Stanley Gundry stated: "Only a few outstanding problems remain, and these do not affect doctrine or divine command to us." False again. Dr. Ernest Pickering wrote: "Important differences of textual readings are relatively few and almost none would affect any major Christian doctrine." False again!

N.B. That's a fair number of good scholars to disagree with. (Kurt Aland is also mentioned, the same Aland of Nestle-Aland - probably the best Greek NT out there.) So, we have a lot of scholars making the claim I'm making. Let's give the author a chance to debunk them.

  1. John 3:15. "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."

    Do you know what the "B" (Vatican) and "Aleph" (Sinai) manuscripts do to the three words, "should not perish"? They REMOVE them. So, in the two false Greek texts, there's no hell in Jn. 3:15. What versions follow these corrupted Greek texts? The NIV follows them, the NASV follows them, and the NKJV in the footnotes, follows them. So do the other modern versions and perversions. For them, there is no hell in Jn. 3:15. Is this not a major doctrine?

    So, the claims is "should not perish" is not supported by the manuscript evidence. Okay, let's assume its true. The doctrine of annihilationism is not predicated solely on this Scripture, and in any case, isn't accepted by most Christians. In either case, the significant theological point is "Believe in Jesus, Have eternal life." Hell has other scripture to make the case one way or the other.

  2. Mark 9:44 and 9:46. Another example is Mark 9:44 and 46. Both verses are gone: "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched".

    Because "B" (Vatican) and "Aleph" (Sinai) remove both verses, so does the NKJV in the footnotes; so does the NASV (by putting them in brackets); and so does the NIV. So do the other modern versions and perversions. In so doing, they take away the fires of hell. Is this not a major doctrine? ... Now these false Egyptian Greek texts and the false English perversions will assist them in their heresy of a "fireless hell"!

    Again, neither a widespread position, nor the exclusive basis of the claim.

  3. John 6:47. Let me see if you can accurately lead a soul to Christ using exclusively Jn. 6:47 as rendered in the new versions. Note John 6:47 in the KJV, where the Lord Jesus declared: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life."

    That verse is as clear as a bell, on how to receive "everlasting life." But, the Westcott and Hort Greek text, following the "B" (Vatican) and "Aleph" (Sinai) manuscripts, takes out those two vital and precious words, "on me." Because of their reliance on these false Egyptian Greek texts, the NIV also removes "on me." So does the NASV. So does the NKJV in the footnotes. So do the other modern versions and perversions. If you're trying to lead a soul to Christ with those new versions and perversions, using Jn. 6:47 exclusively, you'll never lead them to Christ, because "on me" (Christ) is gone from that verse in their perversions! All they say is something like this: "Whoever believes has everlasting life." Believes what? Their verse doesn't say. Their verse merely says "believes." According to these perversions of John 6:47, if I were to believe in atheism, Christ promises me everlasting life. The same if I believe in humanism, or in the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, or in Santa Claus, or in Rudloph the Red-Nose Reindeer, or in Bugs Bunny, or in Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Modernism, or in anything else! That's major false doctrine in my judgement, and it stems directly from false Greek texts and false English perversions!

    Okay, so we're missing the words "on me" from believes "on me". From the whole of Scripture, does anybody really think John 6:47 allows belief in Santa Claus to get you into heaven?

  4. Romans 1:16. Here's what it says in the accurate KJV: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."

    The heretical Greek texts of "B" (Vatican) and "Aleph" (Sinai) remove the two words, "of Christ" in this verse. Because of this, the NIV also removes these words. So does the NASV. So does the NKJV in the footnotes. So do the other modern versions and perversions. This certainly is doctrine. "Gospel" means "good news" or a "good announcement." What "gospel" could be inserted there instead of the "gospel of Christ"? Was it the good news about a pay raise? Was it the good news about a new car, a new hat, or a new house? No! It's the gospel or good news about Christ. That's doctrine! That's theology!

    So, is the "Gospel" so radically different from the "Gospel of Christ"? Don't think its major.

  5. John 7:8. Was the Lord Jesus Christ a liar? If you believe the false Greek text, "Aleph" (Sinai), and some of the versions, He was. Note Jn. 7:8: "Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come."

    According to the Greek text "Aleph" (Sinai), the word "yet" must be removed. The NASV omits it also. So does the NKJV in the footnotes. So do some other modern versions and perversions. Why do I say this removal of "yet" makes the Lord Jesus Christ out to be a liar? Because He went up to the feast in question. If He told his brethren that He was NOT going up to the feast, and then later went up to that feast, He would have told a lie, would He not? This certainly is a major theological doctrine. As in all of the other 356 doctrinal passages, the KJV has superior theology here. The perversions are inferior in their theology and doctrine! Stay away from them!

Is it just me, or is this a stretech?

Here's the point - a scholar doing his best to present "theological differences" between manuscript versions fails to make a compelling case that theology is fundamentally altered by manuscript evidence. I still challenge someone to show me a case where Bible "versions" really change theology dramatically.

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As a child, I read the KJV. As an adult I have read many other versions. They sure seem to present the same teachings to me. – thursdaysgeek Feb 15 '12 at 23:17
Those "not dramatic" changes, little by little hinder a clear understanding of God's divinity. To me it is essential to read and understand what the word of God in its fullness tries to express. So, let's do not take this issue lightly, it may deviate us from the truth and the light who is Jesus. – user13925 Jul 1 '14 at 11:43

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