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 it’s also not that I think we all agree on everything now. We don’t. There are still lots of textual variants that are up for grabs. But they will continue to be up for grabs unless either our evidence or our methods change. And neither has changed drastically for decades. Yes, we do find new manuscripts, especially early manuscripts, all the time. But these almost never change our minds about much of anything.
And so a number of my readers have asked: Why Then Bother? That is, why bother to become a scholar in a field that is almost certainly not going to produce a better product than the one that has already been produced?
I myself have wondered about that question. Let me be the first – the very first! – (well, OK, others have said it before me…) – to say that…
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