Page 6 - January 2018 - Truth & Tidings
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n 1482, a German bishop placed a large   didn’t make sense to him, or might expand
            order for liturgical texts with a local   the original to make its sense clearer. With
        Iprinter. The records of this transaction   so many potential sources of witting and
        have survived, and allow us to see that   unwitting variation, it should be clear that,
        the printer was not only paid for the work   even with great care, for anything other
        and materials involved in the printing, but   than the shortest and simplest of texts, no
        was also handsomely recompensed for the   two copies would be identical.
        work involved in carefully proofreading   The realities of scribal transmission are
        each text. Painstakingly, each book was   not just historical curiosities. They are
        compared to the original, even though   relevant and important for anyone who
        every text in a given printing would be   reads the Bible, which is the product of
        identical to every other text in that print-  centuries of manuscript transmission. We
        ing. At this distance, it is impossible for us   no longer have the autographs, the original
        to tell whether the bishop was the victim   texts of Scripture as they came from the
        of sharp practice on the part of the printer,   hands of the apostles or their amanuenses.
        but it is clear that he failed to grasp the   Instead, we have apographs, thousands of
        significance of the new technology of print,   copies, dating from the first centuries of
        which allowed hundreds – or even thou-  Christianity right through to the birth of
        sands – of identical copies to be produced   printing. While the autographs of Scripture
        with unprecedented speed and efficiency.  were inerrant, these copies are subject to
          It is easy to spot the bishop’s mistake,   the whole range of scribal errors.
        but we ought not to feel superior. We have   For some believers, this fact is disturb-
        been brought up with the concept of an   ing. Living in the print age, we are condi-
        exact copy – even of a “lossless copy” in   tioned to have certain expectations about
        this digital age. These concepts are only   how texts are transmitted, and the idea
        possible as a result of the technologies of   that variation exists between manuscripts
        print and digital transmission, which allow   of Scripture might seem to undermine
        objects to be reproduced with great ease   the certainty and reliability of divine
        and consistency. For centuries, reproduc-  revelation. These feelings are comprehen-
        ing text could only be done by manually   sible, and we ought not be dismissive or
        copying manuscripts and, as the bishop   disparaging of those who feel like this.
        of Freising knew, manuscript copying   However, we need to remember that we
        required careful and meticulous proofing.   cannot second guess divine sovereignty.
        Scribes were skilled and experienced, but   Had He wished, God could have given us
        they still made errors. Sometimes these   the Scriptures without any human involve-
        errors were inadvertent. A scribe might   ment. As He did on Sinai, He could have
        repeat words, for example, or allow his eye   reached down and written His work on the
        to get ahead of his hand, and skip some   rocks, but He chose not to, and we cannot
        words. Sometimes, he might incorporate   doubt the wisdom of His choice.
        a marginal annotation into the body of the   We must also realize that the existence of
        text, or replace what the text actually said   manuscript variations does not, in fact, un-
        with what he thought it said. On other oc-  dermine the certainty and reliability of di-
        casions, changes were deliberate. A scribe   vine revelation. God has seen to it that His
        might attempt to “correct” a sentence that   Word has been preserved, and, while there

        6    TRUTH kTidings   January  2018
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