Your Bible’s “Early Manuscript” Footnote Explained

You are reading your Bible and come across a little [a]. You check your Bible’s footnote to find a notation that early manuscripts show a different rendition of this verse or possibly omitted it altogether. Questions start piling up in your head: What are these early manuscripts? Which version of the verse is trustworthy? Which is inspired by God? Do we have a trustworthy copy of the Bible?

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What do those "early manuscript" footnotes in my Bible mean... | Scripture Confident Living

Let’s tackle those questions:

Which version of the Bible is inspired by God?

Only the original version of the Bible in its original language is inspired by God. Surely, He has equipped His followers to pass on and translate His Word in a trustworthy manner. However, it’s not perfect. One of those kinks we run into are variations of the text in separate manuscripts. Let me explain.

What are these “early manuscripts”?

We don’t have the original copy of the Bible. For example, the letters Paul wrote to the various churches in his time are not displayed in a museum somewhere. However, we have lots of copies of the originals. Often, those copies are only small portions of the Bible, maybe just a few verses at a time. All together, we have the complete Bible that is now translated into many languages and versions. 

Once in a while, we find new copies of the Bible which date back even further than the manuscripts we use for our modern Bible. If those earlier manuscripts show a slightly different translation or omit a verse, we begin to make notations in our modern Bible. If we find several early manuscripts with this change, we may conclude that they're likely closer to the original inspired Word.

Which version is more accurate?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a blanket answer. Our best estimation would be based on how many of each version we have found and how late each dates back, so that we may be able to follow the unfolding of the slight changes to the text. This mini-tip is just a quick explanation to get you started. If you are really interested in the subject though, there are many books written on early manuscripts and our modern-day Bible. 

Is the Bible still trustworthy?

Yes, friend, the Bible is trustworthy - even our late-manuscript translated version of it. If you take a look at the footnotes we are discussing, you’ll find that the translation changes or omissions do not affect the gospel or theological concepts. Likely, either version says something true about God. God sovereignly preserved His Word for even our generation. The Bible is still our trustworthy guide.

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your reaction to seeing earlier manuscripts mentioned in the footnotes of your Bible? I hope you found this quick explanation helpful.

Keep on reading God’s Word and have a Scripture-confident Monday,