Did Scribes Intentionally Doctor Scripture?

One of Dr. Ehrman’s most well-known claims about the New Testament textual tradition is that scribes intentionally modified the text for theological reasons. He suggests that it is not just that you have accidental changes in the New Testament tradition, you also have intentional ones. His claim suggests that these intentional ones are motivated by a sort of theological agenda, or axe to grind, or doctrinal bias. The scribes are supposedly not satisfied with the way the text looks; so they want to change the text, and therefore change the doctrine.

Dr. Ehrman has made that claim at numerous points. The quick answer to the question, “Did scribes ever change the text for doctrinal reasons”, is yes. They did. No doubt, Dr. Ehrman is correct that there are certain instances in the New Testament scribal tradition that we can see a scribe change the text, probably for a theological purpose. That is not what is in dispute though.

What is in dispute is what those instances do to the overall integrity of the textual tradition. Does it impugn our ability to know what the original writer actually said? The trick behind Dr. Ehrman‟s claim is that he makes a lot of „hay‟ out of these theological changes, but in order to know they are theological changes requires him to know that they were not originally in the text in the first place. Once he says that they were not originally in the text, then their relevance for reestablishing what the original text must have been goes away. They do not have much effect at the end of the day. Whether a text was changed for wanting to preserve a clear picture of the virgin birth or to protect the deity of Christ, if we know those are scribal additions, then we can work our way back to the original text and what it actually said. Intentional theological changes, at the end of the day, do not affect the integrity of the New Testament.