In the first part of this series, we looked at the problem of chronological snobbery in the arguments against the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. In the second, we looked at the problem of artificial expansion –the exaggeration of the record to make things sound worse than they really are. In this post, I want to address a third line of reasoning used against the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts:
Through the copying and recopying of the New Testament manuscripts, scribes intentionally inserted and removed text to support their theology.
This claim that the scribes who copied the Scriptures made changes to support their theology reduces to nothing more than an ad hominim attack against the scribes themselves –assuming motivations that might, or might not, be there, to explain why the scribes did something, rather than proving they actually did what is being claimed. We’re arguing, here, over the motives and character of the scribes, rather than over the facts as they exist in the manuscript evidence.
What does the evidence actually say?
Why isn’t there a lot more variation among the manuscripts if this is true? There are a ton of different branches of Christianity; why isn’t there a different version of the Scriptures for every major branch of Christianity? Why didn’t the Eastern Church just modify their copies of the Scriptures so the Scriptures support the doctrine of the procession of the Spirit only from the Father, and why didn’t the Roman Church modify the Scriptures to directly support the eternal virginity of Mary, or the doctrine of Purgatory?
Instead of a record of a series of councils arguing over what the Scriptures do say, why don’t we have a series of councils arguing over what the Scriptures should say? Instead of a wide array of manuscripts from a variety of traditions that all support the same basic doctrines, why don’t we have a record of one branch of Christianity trying to destroy all the copies of the Scriptures held and copied by other branches of Christianity?
Why are there alternate gospels and other writings, if this is true? Why wouldn’t the Gnostics simply take the Gospel of Matthew and modify it to their liking, rather than write entirely new gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas, to support their claims?
In the end, the claims the skeptics make against the Scriptures don’t hold up to the evidence.
Yes, we can trust the manuscripts of the New Testament.