How Many Variants?

How Many Variants? December 10, 2015

Peter Gurry has written an interesting post about variants in the manuscripts of the New Testament. The short version is that one first has to define what one means by “variants,” since we do not have an original against which to compare, and even then it can be unclear precisely what number one ought to come up with. Click through for a summary of the issues plus links to fuller treatments of the topic.

And while James Snapp usually blogs about textual criticism, he has recently veered off into a comparison of Jedi and Christian theology.

GNT Variants by Type


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  • arcseconds

    If we assume that the original reading has survived in the manuscript tradition at each point of variation,

    Is this a defensible assumption? It seems pretty dubious to me, or maybe I don’t understand exactly what he is saying here. It sounds like he’s assuming that the original thing written by the original author always survives (passagewise) intact.

    The sentence continues:

    then it’s [the estimate of the number of original variants is] simply a matter of counting the number of variation units and extrapolating from there.

    I’m not sure what he’s doing here?

    • arcseconds

      maybe I’d better actually read the article…

      • The whole point is that it is hard to quantify “variations” unless one has a fixed text from which one can then say that differences are departures. Since we don’t have the original, any attempt to decide that one version is most likely the original, and others are departures from it, is itself an extrapolation, making the issue more complicated.

        • arcseconds

          That makes things conceptually simpler, but in the absence of an unproblematic fixed text, presumably one tracks the variations (or at least the major ones, in terms of level of attestation and degree of difference from one another) as being on par with one another (as a first approximation).

          It seems like that’s what Gurray is doing, I just don’t understand what he’s counting as ‘original’ and why.

          I still haven’t read the article, though, and probably won’t have time over the next couple of days…