Variances in Greek New Testament Manuscripts


There are four kinds of differences that exist in Greek manuscripts. Following are samples in each category from John 10, a chapter I’m picking at random.

1. Spelling Differences (~90% of variants)

  1. John 10:1 Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν….“Truly truly I say to you”
    1. λεγω υμειν – “I say to you” – alternate spelling of “to you.”
    2. λελεγω υμιν – “I say to you” – misspelling of “I say.”
  2. John 10:2 ὁ δὲ εἰσερχόμενος διὰ τῆς θύρας ποιμήν ἐστιν τῶν προβάτων. “The one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep.”
    1. εστι – “is” without moveable nu – alternate spelling.
    2. εστην – “is” – by the 800s η and ι were pronounced the same, so this is a misspelling due to sound.
    3. εστη – “is” misspelling for εστι.
  3. John 10:3 τούτῳ ὁ θυρωρὸς ἀνοίγει = “to this one the doorkeeper opens.”
    1. ανηγει – “he opens” – variant spelling, same meaning.
    2. ανοιγη – “he opens” – variant spelling, same meaning.
    3. ανογει – “he opens” – variant spelling, same meaning.
    4. ανειγι – “he opens” – variant spelling, same meaning.

All these forms are variant spellings of the same word probably due to fluctuations in pronunciation over time and region. There are hundreds of thousands of these kinds of spelling differences in the NT.

2. Word Order Differences (~9% of variants)

  1. John 10:1 λεγω υμιν vs. υμιν λεγω – reverse order, both mean “I say to you.”
  2. John 10:4 την φωνην αυτου vs. αυτου την φωνην – reverse order, both mean “his voice.”
  3. John 10:5 των αλλοτριων την φωνην vs. την φωνην των αλλοτριων – reverse order, both mean “the voice of strangers.”

3. Other Differences That Make No Difference in the Meaning (~0.9% of variants)

  1. John 10:3 – “he calls his sheep.” Some manuscripts have φωνει, others have καλει – different verbs, no difference in meaning. Both mean “to call.”
  2. John 10:11 – “lays down” vs “gives.” Some manuscripts have τιθησιν; others have διδωσιν – different verbs, no real difference in contextual meaning.
  1. John 10:6 – “they did not understand.” Some manuscripts have εγνωσαν – aorist form of γινωσκω; others have εγινωσκον – imperfect form of γινωσκω = “they were not understanding.” No communicable difference in meaning.
  1. John 10:7. In most Greek manuscripts, Jesus’ name has an article in front of it (ὁ Ἰησοῦς). A few do not (Ἰησοῦς). No difference in meaning.
  1. John 10:19 – “A division occurred again.” Some manuscripts add the word “then” = “Then a division occurred again.” Makes no difference in meaning. Verse 19’s events clearly follow from what came before.

4. Differences That Make a Difference (~0.1% of variants)

There are very few differences that make a difference in the NT. John 10:29 is an example. Two or three early manuscripts have “My Father, what he has given me is greater than all.” Most others have “My Father, who has given (them) to me, is greater than all.” The difference is whether the Father or the gift is being said to be “greater than all.”

Most English versions go with “who has given.” Bottom line: either option is theologically acceptable. None of the “differences that make a difference” affect any fundamental doctrine of Scripture. Praise God!

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).