GUY RAZ, host: The story of the resurrection is well-known. As the Book of Mark tells it, on the third day after the crucifixion, Christ rose from his tomb and appeared to various people, including his disciples.
But Bill Warren, a Bible scholar at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, says part of that story, Jesus appearing to the disciples, simply doesn't exist in the earliest Greek manuscripts of Mark.
Now scholars have known about this and other discrepancies for years. But now Warren and a group of his colleagues are putting together a searchable online database that shows how much the New Testament has changed over centuries. And so far, they've come up with thousands of variations. So Bill Warren says, for example, that story told in Mark...
BILL WARREN: We actually have more than one ending in the manuscripts, and then we have some with no ending. So what we think probably happened there is as soon as you see the other gospels with the resurrection stories early in the 2nd century at least, someone says, you know, we need to put some of this material into Mark to round it off better. So it was a very old material. It's just not part of what Mark originally wrote.
RAZ: You also point out a difference in the way that the famous story in the Gospel of John is told. This is the story where Jesus challenges a mob that's about to stone a woman accused of adultery.
WARREN: Right. Yeah, it's traditionally found in John Chapter Seven, and we know it's not an original part of John. The manuscript evidence is overwhelmingly against it.
RAZ: This is the moment where Jesus says...
WARREN: Let any among you who is without sin cast the first stone.
RAZ: Which is probably one of the most famous and well-known sayings attributed to Jesus.
WARREN: Exactly. But the early church canonized books and not stories, and so when they had authentic stories from Jesus in the oral tradition that was circulating, they had to find a way to put it in the text. And so the church is trying to save this story, even though it's not part of John.
RAZ: So this story was probably inserted to John, what, 100, 200 years after?
WARREN: Right. Late second, third century it's probably being put into John. We know for sure it's already there in the fourth century.
RAZ: My understanding is that you found some of these changes in some manuscripts, and then you didn't find these discrepancies in other manuscripts. What explains that?
WARREN: Yeah. We actually have different qualities of copies among the manuscripts. Some are very careful not to change anything on what they are copying, and some probably more or less at the service of the church are trying to clarify the text, and so they're not quite as concerned if they put a word that's better known in place of a word that's not so well-known into the text.
And then very early on, some of these scribes are just Christians who during the daytime have other jobs, and they're trying to make copies of the text. And so they don't have the same sense of how to make a professional copy.
RAZ: What does this mean for believers, for people who recite these stories and have faith in them?
WARREN: Yeah. I think that's part of our commentary is to say we need to be careful that we don't think that an unexamined faith is the ideal. Actually, we would hold that a faith ought to be an examined faith, even to the point of saying we'll look at all the evidence and then we'll figure out what is the best wording for the text and that's what we go with.
RAZ: That's New Testament professor Bill Warren. He is the Director of the Center for New Testament Textual Studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Two epistles from his project will be available at the school's website this coming fall. Bill Warren, thank you so much for taking the time.
WARREN: It's been a pleasure to be with you.