“History of the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament” Metzger & Ehrman pp. 272-299
Metzger and Ehrman begin with a discussion of the difficulties of establishing the original text of the New Testament documents. Since there are 27 different books in the New Testament and they differ in authorship, time of composition, original recipient, and many other features, every book must be treated individually. Early Christian literature is also challenging to deal with due to its means of dissemination. Metzger and Ehrman also suggest problems arising with the text at an early date, when on p. 275 they say, “The earliest copyists would not have been trained professionals who made copies for a living but simply literate members of a congregation who had the time and ability to do the job. Since most, if not all, of them would have been amateurs in the art of copying, a relatively large number of mistakes no doubt crept into their texts as they reproduced them.” This statement, of course, is self-refuting. Amateurs who chose to do something which they are able to do, being literate, and who have adequate time to devote to the task are unlikely to make a large number of errors. However, Metzger and Ehrman do observe that early copies tend to diverge from one another more widely than later copies, presumably due to improvements in the quality of copyists.
Copies of the New Testament text seem to divide into various text types. The “Western” text, where it shows individuality, tends to paraphrase, occasionally harmonizing information from other similar sources and occasionally inserting or omitting words, clauses, or sentences. The “Alexandrian” text tends to be highly consistent, but also tends to make “improvements” in the grammar or style of the original. The “Byzantine” text has a tendency to be very smooth and lucid, without harshness in the language. It seems that editors chose among variant readings to make the smoothest and most readable text possible.
Modern text critics have examined text transmission for six chief areas other than identification of the most reliable reading. Metzger and Ehrman discuss the study of text transmission and its relationship to doctrinal disputes, Jewish-Christian relations, oppression of women, apologetics, asceticism, and use of magic or fortune-telling.
While we can gain insight into a world of issues through study of textual transmission, I am reminded by this chapter that the primary reason to study the text of the New Testament is to see how God has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus. All other issues, such as tracking what different scribes did to a text in order to defend their points of view, are secondary.