Scholars at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary have completed an eleven year study carefully chronicling how the books of the New Testament have changed since they were first written in the First Century A.D. The database showing the details of their findings will be published this fall and document more than 17,000 variations of late New Testament texts from the earliest Greek manuscripts available.
While scholars have been aware of the patterns of contradictions, changes, and inaccuracies in the Greek New Testament scriptures for a long time, the new study is the first doing a detailed compilation of these changes and showing late additions to the New Testament scriptures. The new study adds details which challenge the common Christian belief that the New Testament scriptures have passed down to us exactly as they were first delivered.
We actually have more than one ending in the manuscripts, and then we have some with no ending. So what we think probably happened there is that as soon as you see the other Gospels with the resurrection stories, early in the 2nd century at least, someone says, 'You know, we need to put some of this material into Mark to round it off better.'
Professor Warren is here referring to Mark 16:9-20 which has been shown to have been appended to the original text in the second century. The earlier manuscripts have a "shorter ending" at Mark 16: 8 which simply describes the women fleeing away from the empty tomb without any reference to the resurrection.
Mark 16:8-Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Many second century manuscripts, however, extend the ending of the Gospel of Mark, and thus, scholars speak of manuscripts with "longer ending," that is manuscripts which include Mark 16:9-20:
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation…
The problem of the authentic ending of the Gospel of Mark is compounded by other versions such as the codex Bobiensis (k) which contains an interpolation between verses 3 and 4 and omits the ending of verse 8. Some other shorter ending versions also have an anomalous ending after verse 8:
But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
Professor Warren also points to variations in the text of the Gospel According to St. John. The earliest known manuscripts, according to Professor Warren, do not include the famous passage in which Jesus challenges a mob (John 8:7):
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her
Warren explains that evidence shows that this passage must have been inserted sometime about the 2nd or 3rd centuries. Professor Warren explains:
The early church canonized books and not stories and so when they had authentic stories from Jesus in the oral tradition that was circulating, they had to find a way to put it in the text. And so the church is trying to save this story even though its not part of John.
Warren, however, attempts to mitigate the significance of these variations to claims of inerrancy of scriptures:
We actually have different qualities of copies among the manuscripts. Some are very careful not to change anything of what they're copying, and some, probably more or less at the service of the church, are trying to clarify the text," he explains. "And then, very early on, some of these scribes are just Christians who during the daytime have other jobs and they're trying to make copies of the text. And so they don't have the same sense of how to make a professional copy.