"No—it can't be." I will never forget standing in my kitchen after finishing a New Testament class, reeling a bit from what I had just learned—that one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible was something called a textual variant.
I have always loved the Bible. I’ve studied it ever since I could read and write—but for most of my life, like many Christians, I didn't really know how we got the Bible. I didn't know about textual variants, how the New Testament was transmitted, or that we don't actually possess any of the original writings.
What is a textual variant? When scholars have many copies (manuscripts) and early copies of a particular work, they can compare them to find out what the originals actually said. The New Testament has more and earlier manuscripts than any other work of ancient literature. Because these manuscripts were copied by hand, naturally there are going to be some differences between them like spelling changes, grammar devices, and mixed up or missing words. Once in a while, a bit of text was even added or removed by a scribe after the original writing was sent out. All of these differences are called textual variants.
Years ago, I was part of a study and discussion group in what would later become a Progressive Christian community. This was before the term "Progressive Christian" was very well known in most circles. In this group, traditional beliefs about Christianity and particularly the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible were under constant scrutiny.
In one of our meetings, while taking a swipe at the idea that the Bible is inspired by God, one student asserted, “Confucius thought of the ‘Golden Rule’ before Jesus. Jesus stole it from him.” Mind. Blown. What was he talking about?
[This post is a summary of an excellent yet lengthy piece written by D.A. Carson in Themelios, a journal for religious studies. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.]
Biblical authority is an idea that is slowly losing its grip on modern Evangelicals. It's a very simple proposition—it gives the Bible the right to form and correct a Christian's beliefs and behaviors. This has been one of the bedrocks of our faith, going back to ancient Judaism, with a renewed emphasis since the Reformation. With the onslaught of the post-modern "anything goes" mentality of our culture, some Christians seem confused about what biblical authority is, and how important is it for spiritual growth. Here are 10 signs you might be abandoning biblical authority without even realizing it.