In this thread I am discussing why it matters that there are so many variants in our surviving manuscripts of the New Testament. It does not matter because there are any “fundamental Christian doctrines” at stake, per se, but for other reasons. As I sketched in my previous post, it should matter for anyone who believes that God gave the very words of the Bible, since the facts that we don’t *have* the original words in some cases and that in many other cases the words themselves are in doubt, should call that belief into question. (I should point out that with the Hebrew Bible we are in MUCH worse shape in knowing what anything like the “original” — whatever that might be – was. The textual situation there is really quite dire.)
The second group that the variants should interest would include just about anyone — whether scholar, student, or general reader – who is interested in knowing what the various authors of the Bible had to say about this, that, or the other subject. I would assume that this group would include almost every member of this blog.
One of the fundamental insights of modern scholarship is that the different authors of the Bible all have different points of view, perspectives, theological investments, opinions, ways of looking at things. The Bible is not ONE thing. It is lots of different things. Just sticking with the New Testament: Matthew’s understanding of Jesus is very different from John’s; John’s is very different from Luke’s; Luke’s from Paul; and so on. The understanding of the ongoing importance of the Jewish law and the relationship of Christians and Jews is different, depending on whether you are reading Matthew, John, or Paul. The understanding of how one is put into a right relationship with God (be saved”) differs significantly between Matthew, Luke, Paul, and James. And so on and on.
And so the differences of these books matter. You can’t simply lump them all together and derive “the” teaching of the New Testament – on many, many issues.
But that means that it really matters what each individual author has to say. If it WERE the case that the “lumped-together” view was all that mattered, then textual variants would be far less interesting and important. If Mark can be shown to say one thing in a particular passage that is at odds with Luke and Matthew, then a “lumped-together” view would smooth over the differences. But letting each author have his own perspective, point of view, and theology means that if textual variants are taken seriously, the *differences* among the authors actually become more profound and significant.
Here are just some examples of places that it matters….
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