Challenge: Diversity of Evidence Prevents Us from Knowing What Was Written

This week’s challenge is from an Atlantic article on the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.:

In copying an earlier text, a scribe missed a word here, misread another there, or decided to correct obscure grammar and word choices and clarify what he saw as the true meaning of the text. Whether you classify the differences among the many fragments of the New Testament as mistakes, well-intentioned clarifications, or corruptions, the sheer diversity of the evidence makes it awfully difficult to discern what the authors of the Bible actually wrote down.

Does the diversity of Bible manuscript evidence prevent us from determining what was originally written? How would you explain textual criticism to a friend who posted this claim on Facebook? Let us know how you would answer this objection, and come back to the blog on Thursday to hear Brett’s response.

(If you’d like to learn more about textual criticism—i.e., how we determine what was originally written—see this free course by Dan Wallace on iTunes U.)

[Update: View Brett's video response. Explore past challenges here and here.]


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Amy K. Hall