Transmissional Errors


Having discussed what some of the significant manuscripts for TC are in both OT and NT, now we need to know what are the kind of issues that occur in TC. What mistakes are scribes likely to make? Why are any two manuscripts likely to differ?

Broadly, there are two types of errors that occur in manuscripts: accidental and deliberate. Rather obviously accidental errors are those that a scribe makes without intention. Maybe they accidently miss a word when copying, or they spell a word incorrectly. Also rather obviously, the deliberate errors are those that scribes make on purpose. Maybe they thing the scroll they are copying from is wrong – so they make a change. Or they think the grammar is wrong, so they correct it. Some more detail (based on pp44-54 of Wegner’s book):

Unintentional Errors

Mistaken letters can occur (especially in Hebrew) where some letters look remarkably similar (like resh ר and dalet ד)

Homophony is the replacement of one word with a similar sounding word. Imagine you are writing down some words that are being read aloud. The speaker says “read” and you write “red”. The same can easily happen in both Greek and Hebrew.

Haplography is the omission of a letter – like missing the double ‘nn’ from questionnaire.

Dittography is the opposite of haplography – adding an extra letter in. “Dinner” instead of “Diner.”

Metathesis is changing the order of words or letters – like getting i and e the wrong way round.

Fusion is incorrectly joining two words together: “handout” instead of “hand out.”

Fission is the opposite: incorrectly separating two words: “grand child” instead of “grandchild.”

Homoioteleuton is omitting a word or phrase because it ends similarly to another word or phrase in context. Scribes copied from one manuscript to another. As their eyes constantly flicked back and forward, they easily jumped to the line or word that ended similarly to the one they were copying, therefore causing words or phrases to be omitted.

Homoioarkton is the same as above, but it relates to words or phrases that begin similarly, rather than those that end similarly.

Intentional Changes

Changes in spelling or grammar when the scribe though there were mistakes.

Making things clearer and taking out mistakes (like in Mark 1:2-3 where some MSS clarify that the quote is from ‘the prophets’ rather than just Isaiah).

Harmonisation occurs especially in the gospels where scribes felt that two accounts should be identical so sometimes grammar or details are changed.

Euphemistic changes occur when the scribes felt that original text could be more palatable.

Theological changes occur when scribes felt the theology of the original manuscript needed to be clarified.

Additions and glosses occur as scribes seek to explain and clarify the text.

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