These days probably all publications of the Bible (in this case the NT) include variants in the margin, as alternative to the text printed in the body of the page. Variants between texts must have been inevitable in the days before printing. For my Bible, I imagine dedicated labor in the 'backrooms' of the Empire, possibly in spare time at the end of the working day. No strong lighting, etc, and absolutely no wage subsidies! However, proper account needs to be taken of the very considerable skill in the traditions and meticulous work of scribes.
The Gospels are not biographies and are not written in the way a contemporary author of our times would write. They reflect the literary standards of the first century (and after). Copyright did not exist! No concern about plagiarism. No central authorised publisher - the only multi-national business was the Empire. Sequence contained in a Gospel is not necessarily based on time but may be arranged by similarity of content. Another Gospel may have 'pericopes' placed differently. Some of the extracts are clearly compressed in one author or another. (From my post, 'Trustworthy Documents'.)

There are places where today's ancient collection includes variants with difference in meaning. These variants are noted in the margin of the translation. Working in the English, for example, I posted 'An Introduction' of a little more than 300 words from John, chapter 1, (NLT). There, footnote (g) tells us that the translators had to consider Greek for 5 other words in lieu of the Greek for the seven they used. That is a very small part of the passage, and even so, nothing critical should hang on such a phrase.

To focus on this following example which arises from three Greek words: The New Living Translation (NLT) translators included in the main body of John 1, verse 18:

But the unique One, who is himself God,[g]
The footnote honours an attested ancient variant:
g. Some manuscripts read But the one and only Son.
The difference arises from the presence or absence in some Greek, Latin, Syriac and Egyptian manuscripts of one word (definite article 'the') and/or the replacement, in some, of the word 'God' by 'Son'.

All in all, in the selection (John 1:1-18) there are 252 Greek words, out of which just 3 words present a complicated question. There are many weighty witnesses with alternative wording. Which words were original? (The solution adopted by the publishers seems fair to me.)

A convenient brief example of all four Gospels, as presented in the Revised Standard Version (RSV):

Textual study (margin) data is included below in each case by publisher.

As I described in 'Trustworthy Documents', the final position is that 54% of the verses in the Gospels stand without any variant.  In the case of the other verses, many, many textual variants have no bearing on reliability of the record. In fact we now have before us, at the minimum, 97% of what the authors wrote. We are indeed privileged.

Variant variant

Some time ago (2021?) I noticed that the BibleGateway had replaced in their listings the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) with the current New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVUE). The NRSVUE was published by Zondervan in 2022.

The introductory material in the book tells us that the NRSV copyright owners, the (USA’s) National Council of Churches (NCC), commissioned the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) to undertake a review of the NRSV. Work was underway in 2017. The final NRSVUE was submitted to the NCC in 2021.

The NRSVUE contains “approximately 12,000 substantive edits and (or, in?) 20,000 total changes, which include alterations in grammar and punctuation”.

The basis to this was that there had (again) been “many developments in Biblical scholarship, textual criticism, linguistics, and philology”.

The SBL appointed 7 general editors and 56 book editors, who worked over 2018-2019; the proposed updates were considered by the teams of general editors over 2019-2020.

The antecedent Revised Standard Version (RSV) had been the work of translation teams that were “both ecumenical and interfaith”, an approach that was continued.

The above I have adapted from the SBL’s preface to the published NRSVUE. I have not further examined the changes (example follows), but the arrival of the NRSVUE illustrates how variants are considered and incorporated in the body of the Bible, as published.

An example:

No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, himself God, who[f] is close to the Father’s heart,[g] who has made him known (John 1:18, NRSVUE).


a. 1.18 Other ancient authorities read is the only Son who

b. 1.18 Gk bosom

No one has ever seen God. It is God only Son,[e] who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known. (John 1:18, NRSV)


e. Other ancient authorities read It is an only Son, God, or It is the only Son

f. Gk bosom

I can feel sympathy with people who simply adhere to the (“original”) King James Version of 1611, and ignore the rest. For myself, I prefer to compare the available works and consider the evidence.


Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NRSVUE) are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Primary data source: Blomberg, C.L., Gospels, Historical Reliability of, in The IVP Dictionary of the NT, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2004

Bible text accessed from

Image: author - derived from Synopsis of the Four Gospels, ed K. Aland, ed. 15, German Bible Society, Stuttgart (2013), p92

AL 25/05/2024