A bit of background information: We do not possess any original copies of the 27 written documents that constitute the New Testament or any of the Old Testament for that matter. What we do have for the New Testament is a lot of manuscript evidence (hand-written copies) and citations from Church fathers. There are many differences between the surviving manuscripts, admittedly most (not all) of these are inconsequential for major Christian doctrine. Because of this, many Christian apologists and conservative scholars often aver it was the original autographs of the New Testament that were inspired by God. It is believed that we can reconstruct them with a high degree of confidence. I wanted to address some concerns with limiting the Inspiration of the Bible to the autographs, a term itself that is complicated but first I want to be absolutely clear on something. God is sovereign and can communicate with us and compose a Bible in whatever fashion He deems appropriate. All at once, in stages, with or without redactors, with one or a thousand authors. Karl Barth wrote, "God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him if He really does." Keep that in mind while reading the next section.
John 20:30-31: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
"Acts presents still another literary problem insofar as it is transmitted in two versions that frequently differ from each other. The text that is usually printed in critical editions of the New Testament is that of the Egyptian uncials from the fourth century (ℵ,B, etc.), whose readings are largely identical with those of the Alexandrian church fathers. Another version is found in the representatives of the Western Text (Codex D and the Old Latin translation) with readings that are supported by the Latin church fathers. This version contains numerous special readings and passages that appear to be "additions." Among these is the famous addition of the Golden Rule to the Apostolic Decree in Acts 15:29. Whether or not one considers the Western text of Acts as secondary, there is no question that it existed already in the 2d century. An interesting suggestion sees this version as either the original text of Acts or as the author's second edition of the book. This could explain the fact that the Western text presents some valuable information that is missing in the Alexandrian version, such as information about places (Acts 12:10; 20:15) and times (Acts 19:9; 27:5). At the same time, other Western readings must be secondary, especially the attempts to adjust contradictions and to enhance the anti-Judaic tendencies of the book. It is therefore more likely that the Western text of Acts is a second edition (by Luke Himself?), but not a degeneration of the original text." [History and Literature of Early Christianity 2nd Edition, pg. 50>The problem of Acts is even more profound. Pervo and Attridge write:
The translator of Acts soon discovers that the conventional text (N-A27/UBS4) represents what its editors view as the earliest recoverable text, based on that reading which best explains the origin of the others, rather than a fully intelligible Greek composition. This is a worthy objective, but it does not provide the translator with a finished product. In part because of the abundance of Greek evidence, these editors are extremely loath to engage in conjectural emendation. They also assign quite limited value to patristic and versional evidence. With both of these views this commentary dis agrees. Caution, unfortunately, has become a prominent characteristic of the standard editions in recent decades.If Luke published multiple versions of his own work, or published his works over time, possibly updating things as new research came in, what on earth is an autograph and how could we ever detect it? Though many scholars are highly critical of the notion that both versions belong to the same author. Not only that but the text of Acts itself is difficult to reconstruct and is "based on that reading which best explains the origin of the others, rather than a fully intelligible Greek composition" rendering appeals to an inspired autograph somewhat mystifying.
. . . The abundance of data from Greek mss. does not exclude primitive corruption, since the base was quite slender until c. 250, a period in which many copies were lost or destroyed as a result of persecutions. A full textual base derived from complete mss. does not emerge until the fourth century ce, at which point editorial activity can be conjectured or identified.
. . . The text of Acts is less secure than that of Luke, for example. At a number of points it appears to be corrupt. Possibilities include 1:2; 2:43; 3:16; 4:25; 5:13; 6:9; 7:46; 9:25; 10:11, 30, 36; 12:25; 13:27-29, 32, 34, 43; 14:8; 15:21; 16:12, 13; 19:13-14, 25, 40; 20:6, 24, 28; 21:15-16; 22:30; 24:19; 25:13; 26:16; and 26:20. These require either conjectural emendation, resignation, or strained efforts to support unlikely readings. Explanations for the difficulties vary. [Hermeneia Commentary on Acts]
"If the reference to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in the penultimate verse is an integral part of the original psalm and not an editorial addition, the text would have to date to sometime after 586 BCE. In any case, the idea of offering God a broken spirit instead of sacrifice looks as though it may have been influenced by the later prophetic literature." [Excerpt From: Robert Alter. "The Book of Psalms." Apple Books]The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Agrees:
The psalmist concludes by looking forward to the rebuilding of the Temple and there inauguration of us cult. These verses are clearly late. Given the allusion in vv 17-19 to a destroyed Temple and an interrupted cult, they are probably not an addition to the ps (as many commentators believe);rather the whole poem is exilic or postexilic.The Jewish Study Bible agrees it was exilic or post-exilic and defends it as follows:
See 2 Sam. ch 12, where Nathan rebukes David for two grave offenses: committing adultery with Bathsheba, and having her husband, Uriah, murdered. Given the tremendous guilt expressed in the psalm, and the specific request to be saved “from bloodguilt” (v. 16), it is understandable that tradition would explicitly connect this psalm to those events.So here we see that a traditional penitent Psalm became attributed to David after it was written.
"For example, the point being made in Heb. 10.5-9 depends on the Septuagint reading of Ps. 40:6-8, which says: "A body you have prepared for me" rather than the Hebrew original, which reads: "you have given me an open ear." The same is true of the quotation of Ps. 16:10 in Acts 2:26-28. Whereas the Hebrew speaks of God keeping the faithful servant from the "pit," the Septuagint translation speaks of keeping the "Holy One" from "corruption," a change that lies at the heart of the point Peter is making in this sermon. The prophecy of Jesus' resurrection depends on the Septuagint translation, which is again different from the Hebrew original. When Paul quotes "Scripture" in Rom. 4:3, what he quotes is closer to the Septuagint than to the original Hebrew version of Gen. 15:6." [Biblical Inspiration, pg 64]
As in Gen. 1.26-30, humans are the climax of creation (contrast Job 17.17-18 and ch 26). "'Elohim" is properly translated as divine; this explains why people are adorned ... with glory and majesty, typically divine qualities. The tradition that "'elohim" should be rendered here as angels (LXX, Tg., Radak) is the result of the discomfort of depicting humans as too God-like-a discomfort not shared by this psalmist.Is the Hebrew autograph inspired or the Greek mistranslation? Both? Did God inspire the original Hebrew autograph and then inspire an author to utilize a mistranslation of it in the NT? Why is the NT not using the Hebrew "autograph" if that is the inspired version? Not only that but NT authors changed the Septuagint to fit their needs: Isaiah 40:3 reads: "A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.""
"The gospel writers, in order to make use of the passage for their purpose, had to disregard the original content and change the person of the pronoun from first to second. The list of such examples might be greatly increased.” [The New Testament Writers’ Interpretation of the Old Testament Source: The Biblical World , Aug., 1911, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Aug., 1911), pp. 92-102 ]We see that scripture itself quoting a Greek translation that is different from the Hebrew original but they also make changes to its working to fit their needs. Scripture is used plastically and applied to new situations at will.
The frame-story (Chapters 1 and 2, concluded in Chapter 42) is in all likelihood a folktale that had been in circulation for centuries, probably through oral transmission. In the original form of the story, with no debate involved, the three companions would not have appeared: instead, Job would have been tested through the wager between God and the Adversary, undergone his sufferings, and in the end would have had his fortunes splendidly restored. A passing mention in Ezekiel 14:14 and 19 of Job, together with Noah and Daniel (not the Daniel of the biblical book) as one of three righteous men saved from disaster, reflects the presence of a Job figure--perhaps featuring in the same plot as that of the frame-story--in earlier folk tradition. The author of the Book of Job, however, has either reworked an old text or formulated his own text on the basis of oral tradition, using archaizing language. There is an obvious effort in the frame-story to evoke the patriarchal age, though in a foreign land with non-Israelites, but the neat symmetries of formulaic numbers and the use of prose refrains resemble nothing in the Patriarchal Narrative in Genesis." [The Wisdom Books]
"Second, the views of suffering--as we will see in greater detail-- are also very much different from one another, depending on whether you are reading the short story or the poetic dialogue. The short story is unambiguous about why Job is suffering: God is putting him to the test to see if he will remain faithful even when things go badly for him (through the machinations of the Satan figure). But that is not the view found in the poetic section, where Satan is not mentioned, a test is not referred to, and the need to remain faithful in the midst of pain and misery is not in view. In the poetry we learn that there is in fact no way we can understand why there is suffering, and that it is an affront to God even to pursue the question. Suffering is a big mystery. And God can do anything he wants. He is not to be challenged." [Blog Post:The Two Books of Job 2013]
Now, if the goal of textual criticism is to recover the most likely "original" text, what in actuality is the object of textual critics' research-a text of the gospels that is somewhat earlier than but very likely similar to the text of the earliest manuscripts, or a text of even earlier and now largely lost predecessor forms of these gospels? In other words, textual critics face two or more questions rather than one: first, a prior question as to which Mark (or John, or Corinthian letters, or Ephesians, etc.) is "original, "followed by the more traditional inquiry as to which variant readings of a particular work are "original. "More clearly than before, the multivalence of the term "original text" emerges and confronts textual critics with its complexity. [The Multivalence of the Term "Original Text" in New Testament Textual Criticism Author(s): Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 92, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 245-281]
Papias, early in the century, is actually cited by Eusebius as preferring oral to written traditions about Jesus: 'Ί supposed that things out of books did not profit me so much as the utterances of a voice which liveth and abideth.' In such a context, it is unlikely that written texts can have been free from alterations or additions from trusted oral sources. For example, may not a saying received at one remove from an eye-witness have been more highly estimated than the version of Luke, whose authorities were, as he himself confesses, other written accounts? [The Living Text of the Gospels pg 203-204]Judging by modern standards, many Christians played fast and loose with the Old Testament, including the New Testament authors themselves at times. Why would we not expect Christian authors and preachers to do the same with the New Testament Gospels and Epistles which were not yet even afforded the full status of sacred scripture? We already have two examples of what a text like Mark could turn into within a few decades. It might be my imagination but for each book of the Bible I get the impression that some Christians envision a single author set out, sat down and wrote down whatever God told him to in some sort of "one and done" approach to inspiration. For the Gospels maybe the traditional names each one is attributed to is viewed as the author. This would be the "autographical" text that many would deem inerrant and infallible. While it would probably be accurate for certain eistles and works of that nature, the textual record and careful study of the Biblical books themselves does not lend itself to such a simplistic view. Of course, the redaction of our Biblical works or compilations of smaller sections of them do not need to be attributed to deficient or imperfect authorship. God may have composed what he did in stages for the benefit of the individual persons and communities who first received these works -- or for whatever reason he deemed appropriate. After all, the Holy Spirit was present and Jesus was alive and well (he was resurrected if you missed it). Christian prophets were receiving proclamations and commands from the Lord and the Church was growing and learning. Correct doctrine and the Orthodox view were still being hashed out and would be for hundreds of years as was the issue of what sources should be accepted as authoritative and which ones heretical. Before a text becomes popular enough and authoritative, full-fledged scripture it will be the most fluid and susceptible to editing. We must always remember that while we believe the Bible was written for us in its final canonized form, none of it was written to us and this process took time. A continued and softer process of inspiration over a "one and done" autographical approach might be preferable given the nature of many Biblical works. J. N. Birdsall wrote:
if we must cope, pending more satisfactory resolution, with a text containing many variations, some unresolved, in what position are we in our use of scripture in theology, and in the life of the church? I suggest that a way forward is to treat our knowledge of scripture as knowledge of scripture within the church, and not only as a foundation document separate from the church. The variations will then be treated as themselves part of the scripture, showing us not only the original, but the church's understanding of it. [Yextual Criticism and New Testament Studies: An Inaugural Lecture (Birmingham, 1984)]I am not sure exactly what that would look like but it might be an avenue worth pursuing. I know the Catholic Church canonized the Vulgate, a late 4th century translation of the Bible by Jerome as its official Latin version during the council of Trent. There is a new Vulgate that was updated in 1979 but relying on and canonizing an extant version of the Bible for which we have ample sources seems favorable since we are not reliant on the reconstruction of hypothetical texts we do not have and whose appearance we ultimately can't be certain of. For sure, the surviving textual corpus of the New Testament (including translations and patristic citations) is comparably extensive and we can probably have a good degree of confidence in a reconstruction of a very early form of much of our New Testament but by claiming inspiration of the "autographs" we are claiming as authoritative a combined set of documents that no single person ever collectively possessed and for which in the first 100-150 years of their existence there is scant textual evidence for. We have to extinguish a fire of our own making. As seen above, a careful analysis of many Biblical works muddies the waters when it comes to defining what an "autograph" actually is. Obviously in the case of Job or the Gospel of John, its the final redaction and extant canonical form of these works that theologians will claim is the autograph. Though to be honest, it is the general canonical form of all the works that is ultimately what is inspired. Rather than looking for hypothetical originals that may or may not have all existed in the manner we suppose, maybe we should simply attempt to reconstruct the best readings of the extant canonical texts of the third-fifth centuries. This is what the church canonized regardless of what any first-century autographs may have looked like. The church and various Christians were using texts with divergent readings as sacred Scripture and it is difficult to imagine inspiration outside the context of community. Paul Achtemeier writes:
"if Scripture is to be understood as inspired, then that inspiration will have to be understood equally in terms of the community that produced those Scriptures. Inspiration, in short, occurs within the community of faith and must be located at least as much withing that community as with an individual author. . . .
"The anonymity of Scripture may thus be intimately tied to the fact that Scripture's origin lies far more within the community than to an individual, and may indeed bear witness that inspiration is to be understood in a broader sense than simply as an inspired individual producing inspired books." [Inspiration and Authority]