Bart continues in today's Blog post:
" Most textual critics back when I started (and probably still today) considered the variants found in our manuscript (that is, the changes from the original, at least so far as we can judge) to be simply chaff to be discarded on the way to finding the kernel of wheat in the pile. What mattered was the original reading (the wheat). Everything else was simply an alteration of the text, a corruption (the chaff.
I came to think that this simply did not have to be the case. The alterations were interesting in and of themselves. They should be studied not simply to help us know what the authors originally wrote, but also to see how (and why) scribes changed the text the way they did.
That may not seem inherently interesting at first (in fact, it did not usually seem interesting for many centuries), but it was, and is, interesting to me. Here is one reason why: we have very little primary source material for what Christians were thinking and believing in the second and third centuries. All of our sources that do survive from the period were written by the very best educated, most highly placed, elite Christians. We are really handicapped in knowing anything beyond what these sources tell us about Christian beliefs and practices.
What if we uncovered another set of sources not written by such highly educated elites? Sources that could reveal information about Christianity during the period. That would be *terrific* for our understanding of Christianity in the period.
And I came to realize that this is precisely what we have in the manuscripts of the New Testament. The people who copied them were of course more highly educated than most people. But they weren’t the very upper-crust of the literary elite. If we could detect their interests, concerns, problems, practices, and beliefs, it would enable us to learn more about a period of great interest, the time between the NT writings and the conversion of Constantine, and then the empire, in the fourth century. That could be really interesting. Or so I thought. And continue to think."