Counting the number of early manuscripts we have for the New Testament and comparing this with the number of manuscripts of other ancient texts achieves nothing, other than to distract attention from evidence that authors such as Clay Jones are less comfortable with. Is he trying to prove that, for example, even our most ancient manuscript of the Iliad is hopelessly corrupt? Or is he trying to prove that if our most ancient manuscript of the Iliad may be close to the original, then the greater number of NT manuscripts guarantees reliability for the New Testament? Neither argument is a sound approach to proving the relative accuracy of the New Testament. I do not know and would not challenge whether the New Testament is 99.5 per cent pure by word count, but this is less important than whether there are major contestants to the argument for reliability.
The second article cited in the question makes use of the same argument, although to a lesser extent. Citing New Testament specialist Daniel Wallace, it acknowledges that there are about 300,000 individual variations of the text, although it is true that most of these variations are inconsequential.
By looking at some of these variations, we can see whether some are really very important, even if they are small in number.
Theologically, the most important error in transmission is in Mark 16:9-20, known today as the 'Long Ending'. Mark's Gospel is believed to have originally ended at verse 16:8, with the young man telling the women that Jesus was risen and they fled in terror, telling no one. The verses that follow differ in style to the body of Mark and do not fit into a proposed parallel structure that otherwise includes the entire gospel. There was also, at one stage, a 'Short Ending' and also a variant of the 'Long Ending'. So, in the earliest New Testament gospel to be written, no one saw Jesus again after his crucifixion and burial.
While not an error in transmission, Uta Ranke-Heinemann says in Putting Away Childish Things , page 7, the nativity accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are, with respect to time, place, and circumstances, a collection of legends. This is a view that many respected scholars agree with.
The former Australian Anglican Primate, Archbishop Peter Carnley wrote of the differing stories of the empty tomb:
The presence of discrepancies might be a sign of historicity if we had four clearly independent but slightly different versions of the story, if only for the reason that four witnesses are better than one. But, of course, it is now impossible to argue that what we have in the four gospel accounts of the empty tomb are four contemporaneous but independent accounts of the one event. Modern redactional studies of the traditions account for the discrepancies as literary developments at the hand of later redactors of what was originally one report of the empty tomb...
There is no suggestion that the tomb was discovered by different witnesses on four different occasions, so it is in fact impossible to argue that the discrepancies were introduced by different witnesses of the one event; rather, they can be explained as four different redactions for apologetic and kerygmatic reasons of a single story originating from one source."
Another theologically important error in transmission is known as the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7), as it has been relied on as biblical evidence for the Holy Trinity. The text including the comma reads (KJV):
1 John 5:7: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
1 John 5:8: And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one
If the comma is removed, it would read:
For there are three that bear record, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one
The editors of the 1808 New Testament in an improved version found the following reasons for rejecting the comma:
- This text concerning the heavenly witnesses is not contained in any
Greek manuscript which was written earlier than the fifteenth
- Nor in any Latin manuscript earlier than the ninth century.
- It is not found in any of the ancient versions.
- It is not cited by any of the Greek ecclesiastical writers, though to prove the doctrine of the Trinity they have cited the words both before and after this text
- It is not cited by any of the early Latin fathers, even when the subjects upon which they treat would naturally have led them to appeal to its authority.
- It is first cited by Virgilius Tapsensis, a Latin writer of no credit, in the latter end of the fifth century, and by him it is suspected to have been forged.
- It has been omitted as spurious in many editions of the New Testament since the Reformation:—in the two first of Erasmus, in those of Aldus, Colinaus, Zwinglius, and lately of Griesbach.
- It was omitted by Luther in his German version.
An alteration of historical relevance, rather than theological, is the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. The Epistle is undoubtedly authentic, but appears not to be a single epistle as written by Paul. A study of the book shows references to two further Pauline epistles, and evidence that those two epistles are actually incorporated in 2 Corinthians. It appears that at one stage quite early in Christian history, there were incomplete copies only, of the three epistles. The best that could be done was to consolidate them into a single epistle and circulate it in this form.
There are many other interpolations and variations, most of them trivial, but also some of significance. It would be impossible to canvass even a small proportion of them, but I have shown there are major contestants to the argument for reliability.