Reasons for Variants
Variants can be of several kinds. The copyist may have misseen or misheard a word, producing a simple spelling error, or perhaps a different word. For example, in Eph 4.32 (cf. 5.2), the variants alternate between the pronouns “us” and “you.” In Greek these two words are quite close (hemin and humin), differing by only one letter, and when pronounced aloud they are almost indistinguishable. In other places, the copyist' eye may inadvertently have skipped a phrase or sentence, thereby leaving out a sequence of words. In Sir 30.11–12 , for example, some manuscripts omit two lines ending “… in his youth,” possibly because the immediately preceding line also ends “… in his youth” and the copyist picked up after the second occurrence, omitting what came in between. Conversely, the copyist may inadvertently have gone over a phrase twice, producing a repetition. Although it may be difficult to determine when these errors took place in particular instances, there is nothing complex about them, and many variants are of this kind.
Sometimes, however, copyists seem to have tried to improve the text they were reproducing. They might have done this in several ways. They may have tried to “correct” a word or phrase that was unacceptable for one reason or another by substituting a more acceptable word or phrase. At 1 Tim 5.16 , for example, the text reads “believing woman,” and the translators' note says that some manuscripts have “believing man or woman,” others “believing man.” Here the translators have chosen the variant that is the most unusual, assuming that a copyist would more likely expand the phrase, or substitute “man” for “woman,” rather than the reverse, in a cultural context that tended to treat women as less important than men. Copyists might also have been aware of a similar passage in another biblical book, and tried to make the passage they were copying conform to that. For example, Lk 11.2 , the beginning of the Lord' Prayer, has variant readings that are probably an effort to make it conform to Mt 6.9 . Copyists might also have tried to make the text support a particular theological view or belief. For instance, at Deut 32.8 , some manuscripts read “according to the number of the sons of God” (NRSV “the gods,” a paraphrase), while others read “according to the number of the sons of Israel” (NRSV “Israelites”). There is general agreement that the second variant was introduced by a scribe trying to avoid a polytheistic wording. Copying a manuscript was not necessarily just a mechanical process, but could involve deliberate changes for a number of reasons.