Religious Essays

Why so many Variants of Variants in the Greek Text of the New Testament?

Papyrus 75, the Oldest Surviving Fragment from the Gospel of Luke (175 CE – 225 CE)

 

        Without carefully castigating this field as a whole, irrespective of my view on the historicity of the “scribal variants” that are indentured for this ‘most recent’ edition of the Greek New Testament, I only opine one grievance: I am So tired of exegetical commentators bowing before the almighty critical edition of Nestle-Aland and dutifully giving reasons why its text is better than its variant readings. If the committee itself was divided on so many passages, why isn’t this reflected in the exegetical commentaries? Answer: they don’t dare disagree with NA! First off, scribal habits largely depend on the text in question! Example: if the scribes text has a list of 5(Greek) words, they have a mischievous way of getting rearranged or omitted completely(or substituted). If a particular text is difficult to copy, they (usually)take extra care to copy it more accurately(in most cases). (Some texts which you’d think need some help for theological reasons, for example, show no variations at all!)

        It should be obvious (and yet it is only so if you have thought long enough about it) that it is impossible to know with any degree of certainty how a variant was created unless we know the circumstances under which it was written, e.g.: dictation or not; scriptorium or not; how many exemplars were available to the copyist; lighting conditions; familiarity with the language; condition of the material and/or ink of the exemplar(s); or what variants were in the exemplar(s). Without knowing these things, we can’t know the history of any variant. (IT WAS ENORMOUSLY EXPENSIVE TO COPY BIBLICAL TEXTS IN THE ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL WORLDS!)

        For example, if two different copyists (I’m not calling them scribes because they might not have been) copied from a now non-extant exemplar that contained either a singular variant or an unclear reading, and both copyists produced variants as a result, we would not know the original variant or mis-read text that gave rise to these two other variants. All we are left with is different readings at a particular point in the text, with no knowledge of the origin of those readings, but instead only theories.

        My point is that any theory we may have as to how and why a variant in an extant New Testament mss was created is missing a lot of basic information, and any choice regarding variants in NA28 or any other critical edition is based on a large number of possibly unwarranted assumptions that are used to determine which of the ‘canons’ of TC (and there have been many over the centuries) are applicable. (If there is a string of nouns with seemingly random occurrences of the article, articles will get swapped around. If a text is asyndetic, conjunctions tend to get added. You see this a lot in our English Translations!) IT IS TIME THAT ALL OF THE OMISSIONS ARE INCLUDED IN ALL THE GREEK VERSIONS OF SCHOLARSHIP WORKS!

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