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Why Do Translators Include Passages They Know Are Not Original?

Based on what I have said about the textual variant of 666 and 616 in the book of Revelation, several readers have asked a distantly related question.  Here is how one of them phrased it:   QUESTION: If the biblical scholars know with certainty that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7.53-8.11 were added by later scribes, why are they still in the modern bibles, that is, why are they not *completely* removed? I know these verses were removed in the RSV but added back in the NRSV.   RESPONSE: This is a great question.  On one level it doesn’t make sense.  If textual scholars go to all the trouble of trying to figure out what the “original” text of the New Testament was, and they decide that some passages were not originally there in the originals, why do translators (who are often themselves the textual scholars who have made these decisions!) include such passages in their translations? The problem is exacerbated by looking carefully at what translators have done, because strictly speaking they are not consistent.  [...]

2020-04-03T01:49:38-04:00November 8th, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Knowing the “Original” Text — of the NT or of Isaiah. Weekly Readers’ Mailbag July 17, 2016

How can we absolutely know whether we have the original words of the New Testament?  And weren’t books of the Old Testament edited progressively over time, so that their texts were even more fluid than those of the New Testament?  These are the two questions I address in this week’s Readers’ mailbag.  If you have a question you would like me to address, let me know!   QUESTION “So that there are some places where specialists cannot agree on what the text originally said, and there are some places where we’ll probably never know.”  I’ve both heard – and read – you saying the above on multiple occasions, and I’ve always wanted to ask: if we ‘don’t have the originals, or even copies of the originals, or even copies of copies of the originals’, as you often say, then why do you say ‘there are [merely] some places where we simply don’t know what the original text said’?  If we don’t have the originals (or copies and so on), then we don’t REALLY know what [...]

Why Bother With Anything *Except* the “Original” Text??

In this post I would like to tie a couple of strings together that have been more or less hanging.  In a couple of earlier posts I asserted my view that we were probably as “close to the originals” of the New Testament writings as we are ever likely to get, that barring some spectacular new discoveries (such as the original themselves!) or some fantastic changes in method, we simply are not going to be able to know whether we are right or wrong in the textual decisions we have made about which among the many thousands of textual variants (most of which are completely insignificant and meaningless, but some of which are very important indeed) are probably original and which are later scribal alterations. It’s not that I think we must now have the original text.  I don’t think we be sure.   But I also don’t think we will come to know how close we are to the original any better in the future than we do now -- unless something drastically changes. And [...]

Complications with Finding an “Original” Text

I have been asked to comment on whether we can get back to the “original” text of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and I have begun to discuss the problems not just of getting *back* to the original, but also of knowing even what the original *was*.   In my previous post I pointed out the problems posed by the fact that Philippians appears to be two letters later spliced together into one.  And so the first problem is this: is the “original” copy the spliced together copy that Paul himself did not create?  Or is the “original” the product that Paul himself produced – the two letters that are not transmitted to us in manuscript form any longer, to which, therefore, we have no access (except through the version edited by someone else)? But there are more problems.   Here I’ll detail them, in sequence as they occur to me. In what I am going to be saying now, I will simplify things by assuming that – contrary to what I’ve been arguing – Philippians is [...]

What Would Be the “Original” Text of Philippians?

I have begun to answer a series of questions asked by a reader about the textual history of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In my previous post I explained why some critical scholars maintain that the letter was originally two separate letters that have been spliced together.  That obviously makes the next question the reader asked a bit more complicated than one might otherwise imagine.  And it’s not the only complication.   Here is the reader’s next question: QUESTION:  Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original?  RESPONSE:  First off, my initial reaction that I gave a couple of posts ago still holds.  I’m not exactly sure what the reader is asking.  If he’s asking whether a copy of the original letter to Philippians is itself an original of Philippians, then the answer is no.  It is not the original.  It is a copy of the original.  Big difference.   But what if this copy was exactly like the original in every single respect – [...]

Are There Two Letters to the Philippians?

In my previous post I answered, in short order, a series of questions that a reader had about the “original” text of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I will now take several posts in order to address some of the questions at greater length.  Here was the first one:   QUESTION:  Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? The short answer is Yes – it is one of the undisputed Pauline letters.  The longer answer is, well, complicated.  Scholars have long adduced reasons for thinking that this letter of Paul was originally *two* letters (or parts of two letters) that were later spliced together into the one letter we have today.  I explain the reasons for thinking so in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  Here is what I say there.  (If you want to follow the argument particularly well, I’d recommend reading the short letter of Philippians, and then reading what follows by looking up the passages referred [...]

2020-04-03T16:53:20-04:00June 11th, 2014|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Do We Have the Original Text of Philippians?

QUESTIONS:  Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original? Assuming there were errors made by the person(s) who copied the original letter of Paul to the Philippians, would you agree that the first copy even with some errors still had the original context of the first letter.  If you do agree, then is it totally accurate to say that we don’t have the original letter of Paul written to the Philippians? Don’t you think that it’s more accurate to state that we do have the original but it has been altered to some degree?  Has the letter to the Philippians written by Paul been altered so much that we can’t really know what the original proclaimed? RESPONSE: These are great questions.  They have the benefit of making very concrete some of the things that I have said, in general terms, about the textual tradition of the New [...]

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