I do crossword puzzles in ink. This drives my mother-in-law nuts. Especially when I’m at her house doing her crossword. She uses a pencil. I think what really bugs her is that I don’t really have the crosswording cred to puzzle in pen. When she makes a mistake, she politely erases it and no one is the wiser. When I make a mistake, I crudely try and reform the errant letter into the proper shape. I end up with bold “O’s” that looks suspiciously like “D’s” and “M’s” that may have once been “A’s”. I make mistakes. It’s no biggie.
I’m copying the New Testament by hand and I’m using a pen. I figure that if I’m super deliberate about every jot and tittle, I shouldn’t have any mistakes. It’s copying, right? It’s different than a puzzle where I’m having to figure out what to write. All I have to do is look at a word and then replicate that word. My four-year-old who can’t read can at least copy words. I know because I’ve seen her do it. When I sit down to work on the copying, she gets out “Hop on Pop” and a piece of paper and starts her own copying project. It’s really quite cute.
Maybe that’s why it happened. Maybe I was distracted because both my girls were at the table with me as I’m trying to concentrate on a seemingly simple task. Maybe it was due, in part, to their incessant narration of their lives that seems to issue forth from their mouths with little to no cognitive awareness on the part of their ears. Whatever the reason, I messed up. And it wasn’t the kind of just-boldly-transform-that-wrong-letter-into-a-misshapen-right-one kind of mess up. It was the you-wrote-the-same-word-two-times-in-a-row-you-idiot-idiot kind of mess up. Check it out:
Right there at the end of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew I wrote “and angels ang came and attended to him.” Man, that’s frustrating! That got me to thinking about the transmission of Scripture. Before Herr Gutenberg, it was all hand copied. How were errors in transcription handled? What if, unlike mine, they weren’t caught? Could our Holy Scriptures have been significantly changed over centuries of sloppy, distracted copiers like me?
I consulted one of my favorite primers on Biblical Hermeneutics, Gordon D. Fee’s and Douglas Stuart’s “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.” They write briefly of textual criticism (read that again, we’re not talking about bad-mouthing your spouse’s cuddling ability), or the science of making sense of little errors or discrepancies in ancient manuscripts. They say there are external evidences, which have to do with the condition, age, and other things relevant to the manuscript itself, and internal evidences, which deal more with copyist mistakes. Regarding internal evidences they write:
When translators are faced with a choice between two or more variants [places where the manuscripts differ], they usually can detect which readings are the mistakes because scribal habits and tendencies have been carefully analyzed by scholars and are now well-known. Usually the variant that best explains how all the others came about is the one we presume to be the original text. (p. 37)
That makes me feel a little better. It seems that the people who copied these things back in the day took their copying seriously and the people who translate them take their work seriously, and anything that doesn’t look right is scrutinized until a consensus is reached as to what the error is, where it came from, and what the most faithful was to move on is. I guess none of these guys work from home with their little girls at the table. Good for them.