I haven’t talked about the manuscripts of the NT for a while, and thought I should return to it for a couple of posts. This is a topic many people didn’t know anything about and certainly didn’t know they should *care* about until probably the past 15-20 years. But now it’s one of the issues I get asked about all the time.
When I was doing the research that led up to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (published in 1993), I came to see that the variations of our manuscripts were important not only because they could tell us what the original writers actually wrote in the books that later became the New Testament, but also because they could tell us about what was influencing the anonymous and otherwise unknown scribes who produced the copies of these books in later times.
For a variety of good reasons scholars have long thought that most of the intentional changes of the text (that is, the alterations that scribes made on purpose – at least apparently on purpose – as opposed to simple scribal mistakes) were made sometime in the first two hundred years of copying (one good reason for thinking so: the vast majority of changes found in late manuscripts already can be found in early ones; later scribes might *reproduce* a variant they had found, but they are less likely to have *created* one). If these changes were indeed made intentionally, then the scribes who made them must have had a reason for wanting to make them. They were consciously changing their texts in places.
They weren’t doing that in millions of places, but in some, here and there, and sometimes in key passages. Sometimes they made changes for fairly obvious reasons, among which are the following (these have long, long been noted by textual scholars):
- If the text scribes were copying appeared to contain a contradiction with another text in the Bible, they would often “correct” it.
- If the text had…
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