“A Thousandth Part of the Entire Text”
MANY are the variations said to exist in the different manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures. This has caused some to wonder just how much substantial variation there is, that is, differences that really matter. It will be enlightening to note what Westcott and Hort said on the subject in their Introduction to the New Testament:
“With regard to the great bulk of the words of the N.T., . . . there is no variation or other ground of doubt. . . . The proportion of words virtually accepted on all hands as raised above doubt is very great, not less, on a rough computation, than seven-eighths of the whole. The remaining eighth therefore, formed in great part by changes of order and other comparative trivialities, constitutes the whole area of criticism. If the principles followed in the present edition are sound [and they are generally accepted as being sound], this area may be very greatly reduced. Recognizing to the full the duty of abstinence from preemptory decision in cases where the evidence leaves the judgment in suspense between two or more readings, we find that, setting aside differences of orthography [spelling], the words in our opinion still subject to doubt only make up about one-sixtieth of the whole New Testament.
“In this second estimate the proportion of comparatively trivial variations is beyond measure larger than in the former; so that the amount of what can in any sense be called substantial is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text. Since there is reason to suspect that an exaggerated impression prevails as to the extent of possible corruption in the N.T., which might seem to be confirmed by language here and there used in the following pages, we desire to make it clearly understood beforehand how much of the N.T. stands in no need of a textual critic’s labors.” Yes, not more than a thousandth part of the Christian Greek Scriptures is open to question as to just what is the correct reading.