Thursday, April 02, 2015

Variants and Matt Slick

I'm listening through a variety of episodes of the "Bible Thumping Wingnut." Despite the very low quality stuff on theonomy in a few of the recent episodes (I don't see the point to correct these errors - there are plenty of other folks doing that and being ignored), there are some good discussions on a variety of topics, particularly when Matt Slick addresses atheists/agnostics. However, in Episode 44, when asked about textual variants, our brother Matt dropped the ball, so I want to take the opportunity to correct this point.

Matt took the position that if an article (a word meaning "the") is dropped in a copy, and then that typo is copied by five further scribes in their respective copies, that's six variants. Matt's not right - that's not how it works. That would be a variant with six witnesses.

The reason the number of variants is so high is because of the large number of hand copies, but not because each copy of each typo is counted as a variant. Instead, it's because there are numerous possible misspellings for many words, particular for words with a "movable nu" (similar to the difference between "a" and "an" in English) and numerous variants in the order of words.

In any event, to answer the bigger question about whether we can know what the original was, there are tools for reconstructing the original text from copies containing variants. While there are a few different ways of doing this, they all yield substantially the same text at most points. (see Dr. White's excellent discussion here).