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TIME FOR TRUTH
THE BIBLE > CHAPTER 10

The Scriptorium

Copying Scriptural manuscripts in ancient times was a tedious and arduous task. All copies had to be made by hand. The work was slow and fatiguing, requiring the utmost of mental concentration. Also, the work required much physical endurance. Scribes often held their copies on their knees or stood to do their copying.
 
In the early years of the Christian church, copies were made by individual Christians. But later, as Christianity began to spread throughout the world, the need for additional copies of Scripture increased greatly. Consequently, a new method was devised to make it possible to produce multiple copies of Scripture at the same time.
 
The Scriptorium was a room where a reader would read the Scripture aloud, word by word, to a number of scribes who would then write it down as it was read to them. Although the work was hard, the scribes took great care to write down what they heard accurately, conscious of the importance of their task for posterity.
 
Not one ancient manuscript is exactly like another; all have “variants” or differences. After all, all ancient manuscripts were copied by hand, and no human hand is perfect. 
 
What kind of mistakes are there in the ancient manuscripts? Only small and unimportant ones, the kind one makes when copying something. For instance, since many ancient manuscripts were copied by dictation, their errors are mostly attributable to mistakes in hearing, such as “b-r-e-t-h-r-e-n” being misspelled “b-r-e-t-h-e-r-n.”
 
All Biblical scholars agree that the vast majority of textual variants are “trivialities,” small and unimportant differences that do not affect in any way the true meaning of Scripture. Besides, with thousands of ancient manuscripts to compare with one another, textual variants are easily detected and corrected.
 
The first kind of mistake found in the ancient handwritten copies of the Scripture is called an Exemplar. This mistake occurred when a scribe, looking back at the text he was copying, skipped a word, phrase, or even line, due to his eye catching a similar word or similar ending somewhere else on the page.
 
The second kind of mistake found in the ancient handwritten copies of the Scripture is called a Harmonization. This mistake occurred when a scribe inadvertently substituted a particular phrase from a familiar passage of Scripture for a phrase that was similar in another passage, but not exactly the same. An example of this is Ephesians 1:2 and Colossians 1:2. 
 
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This familiar Pauline salutation was adopted as a familiar Christian greeting in the early church. 
 
In Colossians, however, Paul only writes, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” A scribe copying Colossians 1:2 may think, “Ah, I know this one!” As a consequence, he would write the whole phrase as he was accustomed to hearing it, adding the extra, “and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or perhaps the scribe would look back at the text he was copying and notice that it didn’t say, “and the Lord Jesus Christ.” “That’s strange,” he would conclude, “it should say that. The guy who copied this last must have missed it. I’ll fix it.” As a result, he mistakenly put in the extra words.
 
Truly, textual variants, caused by two common scribal errors—the Exemplar and Harmonization—resulted in nothing more than trivial differences in ancient copies of the Scripture. These mistakes are small and unimportant. They in no way affect the true meaning of Scripture. In addition, these mistakes are easily detected and corrected when comparing the thousands of ancient manuscripts with one another.
 
In light of all of this, we can be assured today that the Bible we hold in our hand retains the true meaning of the Scriptures in their original manuscripts. God has truly and miraculously preserved His Word to our present-day!