Daniel B. Wallace told me about a very revealing seminar he has conducted dozens of times on this topic. On Friday night, he has volunteer “scribes” copy a document. In all, six generations of copies are produced. All the scribes make mistakes – intentionally and not. In fact, the resultant copies are significantly more corrupt than the manuscript copies of the New Testament. This short document can have hundreds of variants.
The next morning, other volunteers try to reconstruct the wording of the original text while the scribes remain silent. The earliest copies are hidden. After two hours, these amateur textual critics come up with what they think the original text said. Sometimes there are doubts, but they are minor – for example, is the original word “shall” or “will?”
Then they compare their findings with the original. After doing this seminar 50 times, amateur sleuths often get the original wording exactly right – and the essential message of the original is always intact. Get this: they’ve never missed reconstructing the original text by more than three words. In fact, they’ve been off by three words only once. Often spontaneous applause breaks out!
So here’s the lesson: if amateurs untrained in “textual criticism” can reconstruct a text that’s terribly corrupt and do it that fast, isn’t it likely that those trained in textual criticism can do the same with the New Testament?