I have started discussing “intentional” changes of the text of the New Testament – that is alterations found in manuscripts of the New Testament that appear to have been made by scribes who *wanted* to change the text, presumably in order to make it say (more closely) what they wanted it to say. Let me illustrate my discussion by dealing with three of the most interesting textual variants in the Gospel of Mark, one of which is an easy problem to solve, one that is a bit more difficult, and one that has generated a lot of discussion over the years and no firm consensus. This will take a couple of posts.
In a still later post I will talk about the criteria and arguments that scholars typically use in order to resolve these questions. I will be alluding to those criteria and arguments here in my explanations of why one form of the text appears to be what the author originally wrote, and the other form of the text appears to be the scribal change. (It will help me to explain the criteria if first you see them in action.) (Note, in each of these three instances I will be discussing only two forms of the text ,one of which is presumably the “original”; in other textual units there are three or more forms of the text, which makes things even *more* interesting!)
The one textual problem that is fairly easily resolved occurs almost right off the bat. Mark begins by indicating that his book will be “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” and then he launches into a Scriptural quotation (leading up to his introduction of John the Baptist):
“Just as was written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord”… And so on.
There several textual variants in this short passage. Here I’ll point to just one. In a lot of manuscripts, instead of saying that the Scripture quotation (“Behold I am sending,” etc.) comes from the writing of the prophet Isaiah, the quotation is said to be found “in the prophets.” So which is it? Did Mark say the quotation is from Isaiah or from the prophets? He almost certainly said one or the other, but scribes changed it. Which way did they change it, and why?
There are two reasons for being relatively certain about which text is the original and which is altered. The first may have occurred to you, if you have your entire Bibles memorized, as I’m sure so many of you do. The lines “Behold I am sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way” are not found …
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