God has communicated to man in various manners throughout history. To some, such as Joseph the son of Jacob, and Joseph the husband of Mary, He spoke in dreams. To Adam and Moses, He spoke as though face-to-face. To the nation of Israel, He spoke through the prophets. And alas, He spoke to the world through His Son, the Lord Jesus, the Christ, whom the world crucified.
God’s direct communication to the various men and women in history is called divine revelation. He chose certain individuals for this blessing. Most of humanity, believer and non-believer alike, will never experience revelation.
While revelation is solely the activity of God, through which He directly reveals truth to man, inspiration involves man in an active sense. By inspiration the prophets passed on to others what they had received from God. (Norman Geisler, and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible, Chicago: Moody Press 1968, p. 30.) Today, we call their works the Bible or Holy Scripture. Through this medium the inspired, recorded Words of God indirectly speak to all of us.
When these chosen men received God’s revelation, there were no copy machines or printing presses. Men called scribes copied the original and subsequent manuscripts. It was their job to transcribe these documents with accuracy. This methodic and tedious process was carried on for almost three thousand years with the Old Testament and over sixteen hundred years with the New Testament. During this time relatively few variant readings ensued, and when they did they were remarkably harmless: a word doubled appearing twice in a row, a variant spelling, Jesus versus Messiah, etc.
Such longevity of literature is without precedent in history. Even with the advent of modern technology the accuracy of Scripture remains an accomplishment without equal. It has been observed that more variant readings exist in Shakespeare’s documents than in the thousands of ancient biblical transcripts. This is a feat made possible only by God’s providential care.
Yet, the eminent Greek scholar and textual critic, Dr. Hort, calculated that substantial variations, among the some 5,300 partial or compete extant New Testament Greek manuscripts, were so rare that only one word in a thousand summoned a critic’s attention. Rather than alarming, there is something very reassuring about the textual variations (or the comparative lack of them), in these many manuscripts. Furthermore, if we simply neglected to read all the variant passages, the Gospel message would not be affected, nor would any doctrine of our theology. For us to squabble over benign variant passages is unwarranted and unwise. To do so over subsequent translations into a second language is even more imprudent.