There is one particularly interesting 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.”  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 we did not already know about from later manuscripts, of say the seventh to fifteenth centuries.  Instead, the readings of these early manuscripts re-appear in later manuscripts.

The conclusion that is sometimes drawn, then, is that that tradition is “tenacious.”  That is to say, later manuscripts did not invent their variant readings, but in almost every instance replicated variant readings that they got from earlier manuscripts.   And one corollary that is sometimes drawn, then, is variant readings do not disappear but continue to be replicated in later witnesses.   If that is the case, then the “original” readings almost certainly still survive somewhere in the manuscript tradition.  The task of textual criticism, then, is simply to figure out which or our surviving variant readings is the original.

This certainly sounds like a convincing argument, and it’s no wonder that so many people find it compelling.  I myself, however, do not, and I would like to explain why.

Unlock 4,000+ Articles Like This!

Get access to Dr. Ehrman's library of 4,000+ articles plus five new articles per week about the New Testament and early Christianity. It costs as little as $2.99/mth and every cent goes to charity!

Learn More!