Irrelevant Arguments and the So-called Tenacity of the Tradition

A couple of posts ago I promised to deal with an argument sometimes used by those who believe we can know with good certainty what the original text of the New Testament books said.  This is the argument called the “tenacity of the tradition.”  If you recall, the argument is prefaced on the very interesting phenomenon that whenever papyri manuscripts are discovered – say from the third or fourth Christian century – they almost *never* contain new variant readings that ...

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What Is the “Original” Text?

In my debates with other scholars about whether we can know (for certain) (or at they sometimes put it, with 99% certainty) what the original words of the New Testament were, I always argue that we cannot “know,” and they argue we can.   Let me explain one reason that I find their position highly problematic by dealing with a broader issue.  What exactly *is* the original text of a document?  If we can’t agree on that very basic and fundamental ...

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Arguments that We Have the Original Text

When I have public debates with scholars over whether we can know the original text of the New Testament or not, I stake out the claim that we cannot, and they stake out the claim that we probably can.  Part of my argument is always the one I started to outline in the previous post.   If we take something like the Gospel of Mark, our first complete manuscript of Mark is 300 years after Mark was first produced and put ...

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Contradictions and Silly Claims by Textual Critics

A couple of posts ago I mentioned a comment that I used to make (and still would be happy to make) that rankled some of my colleagues and has led some of my conservative evangelical critics to claim that I’m contradicting myself and can’t figure out what to think.   Or, rather, they claim that I present one view to scholars and a different view to popular readers in order to sensationalize the truth in order to sell books, presumably so ...

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Ruffling the Feathers of My Fellow Textual Critics

I seem to get under the skin of a lot of my fellow textual critics.  Or at least a lot of them find my views somewhere between troubling and irritating.   That became most clear when I published my book Misquoting Jesus.   From what I can gather, the most common complaints about the book were about its perceived “tone.”  Some scholars thought that I made the situation of our manuscripts to be worse than it really is.  I, on ...

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A Variant in Mark 1:1 — Accidental or Intentional?

I have been talking about different kinds of changes made in our surviving New Testament manuscripts, some of them accidental slips of the pen (that’s probably the vast majority of our textual variants) and others of them intentional alterations.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to stress is that at the end of the day it is, technically speaking, impossible to know what a scribe’s “intentions” were (or if he had any, other than the intention of copying ...

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An Intentional Change in Mark 15:34

I have started giving some instances of what appear to be “intentional” changes made by scribes, as opposed to simple, accidental, slips of the pen.  In my previous post I pointed to an example in Mark 1:2, in which scribes appear to have altered a text because it seems to embody an error.   If I’m wrong that this is the direction of the change – that is, if the text that I’m arguing is the “corruption” is in fact the ...

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Illustration of a Textual Change: Did Mark Make a Mistake?

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 ...

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Accidental Scribal Changes

As I stressed in my most recent post, the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of differences among out surviving manuscripts (and versions, and patristic citations) are of very little or no importance in trying to establish what the authors of the NT originally wrote.   There are others that matter, and matter a lot.  Those tend to be the ones that are the most interesting.   But there are many, many more differences that are easy to detect and of ...

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