We don't have an original copy of any book of Scripture. The surviving manuscripts of the New Testament contain significant differences in text. You can find references to such differences in the footnotes of any NT chapter of the New International Version or New Revised Standard Version.
These manuscript differences give rise to troubling questions about the theological trustworthiness of the New Testament versions that we use today. A few examples of such differences are listed below.
The Baptism of Jesus
There is some evidence that Luke's gospel may have been edited to emphasize Jesus's divinity. In Luke's account of Jesus's baptism, a voice from heaven makes a statement (Lk. 3:22). In most English translations, the statement is rendered, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
But scholars have noted that earlier manuscripts consistently provide instead a quotation from Psalm 2:7: "and a voice came from heaven, which said, 'you are my son; today I have begotten you.'" See, e.g., footnote 8 of Luke 3 in the New Living Translation: "Some manuscripts read and today I have become your Father."
The earlier version has decidedly different implications for the nature of Jesus. It suggests that Luke and his sources may have regarded Jesus as an ordinary mortal until his baptism, at which time he was "adopted" by God as his son. It's possible that, in order to refute this so-called adoptionist heresy, the original Lucan text may have been altered.
Mark's Account of the Resurrection
Different manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, thought to be the earliest of the four canonical Gospels, contain at least three different endings. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts end at 16:8, and say nothing about any post-resurrection appearances by Jesus nor about his ascension, as in this excerpt from the on-line version of the NIV:
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' " Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
This raises questions about what the original Marcan manuscript actually said about the events of Easter Sunday.
The Great Commission
We all know the Gospel of Matthew's rendition of the Great Commission: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:19-20, emphasis added.)
There are some difficulties with this language:
- Eusebius, the early historian of the church, reportedly quoted this passage in several places without the trinitarian baptismal formula, rendering it simply as: "Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I commanded you." (See, e.g., this discussion.)
- The longer ending of Mark contains a Great Commission with a baptismal clause that does not mention the Trinity: "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.' " (Mark 16:15-16.)
- The book of Acts contains no trinitarian baptismal formula; instead it refers repeatedly to Peter and the early apostles baptizing in the name of Jesus only (e.g., Acts 10:48).
The Limits of Reliability
Let me stress that these manuscript issues do not mean that the New Testament should be discarded as unreliable. But the existence of these and other issues does suggest that we should be extremely cautious about claiming that the New Testament is entitled to preemptive spiritual authority.
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I also like The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, by Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. I've read a couple of Prof. Ehrman's books and have listened to several of his lectures published on tape by The Teaching Company; he strikes me as an objective scholar who is not pushing any particular theological agenda.