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Textual variants in the New Testament manuscripts arise when a copyist makes deliberate or inadvertent alterations to the text that is being reproduced. Textual criticism of the New Testament has included study of its textual variants.
Most of the variations are not significant and some common alterations include the deletion, rearrangement, repetition, or replacement of one or more words when the copyist's eye returns to a similar word in the wrong location of the original text. If their eye skips to an earlier word, they may create a repetition (error of dittography). If their eye skips to a later word, they may create an omission. They may resort to performing a rearranging of words to retain the overall meaning without compromising the context. In other instances, the copyist may add text from memory from a similar or parallel text in another location. Otherwise, they may also replace some text of the original with an alternative reading. Spellings occasionally change. Synonyms may be substituted. A pronoun may be changed into a proper noun (such as "he said" becoming "Jesus said"). Most of these variants are not of any importance, since the meanings do not really change.
Origen, writing in the 3rd century, was one of the first who made remarks about differences between manuscripts of texts that were eventually collected as the New Testament. He declared his preferences among variant readings. For example, in Matthew 27:16–17, he favored "Barabbas" against "Jesus Barabbas" In John 1:28, he preferred "Bethabara" over "Bethany" as the location where John was baptizing. "Gergeza" was preferred over "Geraza" or "Gadara". At Hebrews 2:9, Origen noticed two different readings: "apart from God" and "by the grace of God".
John Mill's 1707 Greek New Testament was estimated to contain some 30,000 variants in its accompanying textual apparatus which was based on "nearly 100 [Greek] manuscripts." Eberhard Nestle estimated this number in 1897 as 150,000–200,000 variants. In 2005, Bart D. Ehrman reported estimates from 200,000 to 400,000 variants based on 5,700 Greek and 10,000 Latin manuscripts, various other ancient translations, and quotations by the Church Fathers. In 2014 Eldon J. Epp raised the estimate as high as 750,000. Peter J. Gurry puts the number of non-spelling variants among New Testament manuscripts around 500,000, though he acknowledges his estimate is higher than all previous ones.
Since 1981, in a system developed and introduced by Kurt and Barbara Aland in their textbook The Text of the New Testament, Greek New Testament manuscripts have commonly been categorized into five groups.
Below is an abbreviated list of textual variants in the New Testament.
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