I have been reading some of the writing and watching some debates and lectures of a popular agnostic professor of Religious Studies named Bart Ehrman. He specializes in New Testament textual criticism and the point of pretty much all his books (and it seems he’s kind of been rewriting the same book with a slightly different emphasis over and over) is that if you look at the variants between the oldest copies of the New Testament, it seems that what he called “proto-orthodox” scribes altered the texts to suit their theological views. For example, he says that Luke 2:33 has older variants “You are my son; today I have generated you” as opposed to “You are my son in whom I am well pleased”, and that scribes changed the text because the former could have suggested an adoptionist viewpoint, which held that Christ was not always the son of God (and likewise, God), but simply received God’s authority or power, like Moses or David.
Ehrman thinks this is quite a big deal, and indeed it was this sort of thing that made him start to lose his faith (he claims he was some sort of liberal Christian for about 15 years after leaving evangelical fundamentalism and only became an agnostic from grappling with the problem of evil - which I honestly doubt, but I suppose we have to take him at his word). In fact, he eventually came to the conclusion that Luke, Mark, and Matthew (the oldest Gospels) don’t posit Jesus as divine at all, and that what we call orthodoxy is a later interpolation. I think it all hinges on the question of whether those variations that Ehrman sees as intentional attempts to shape doctrine where really so, and not something he is reading in to them. Ehrman also seems to believe, though he claims it is only an opinion and not an object of scholarship, that if the New Testament were inspired, God would have miraculously preserved the originals - though what he means by “preserved” is very difficult to figure out, because he doesn’t think this miracle would be any greater than what medieval Jews accomplished this without a miracle as their transmissions of texts were always exact. So it sounds like he’s talking about the process of copying, rather than a miraculous preservation of the original text like it was the incorruptible body of a saint. So I somewhat question his motives - did he first come to question the scriptures because some of the textual variants suggested, to him, that they were deliberately altered to reinforce “proto-orthodoxy”, or did he come to question them because there were any variants at all and he didn’t believe inspired scripture should have any variants. That is to say, did he only pursue this line of thinking to back up what he admits is just his “opinion”, something that is leveled at many critical scholars of his work (with the their opinions being the inspired status of scripture).
This is probably the most important point I’m going to mention in this post, and the one I hope the more learned can answer. It seems to me that almost all of Ehrman’s critics and those engaging with him in debates are Evangelicals. I have yet to find a single response from a Catholic scholar or theologian on the topics he brings up, and indeed it seems that the only believers in the field of textual criticism are Evangelicals. Why is this the case? I understand that, because Protestants err with the doctrine of sola scriptura, defending the text may seem more important to them - but I don’t understand why it shouldn’t be a matter of some concern to Catholics. I can imagine that some will say that the Church is the primary thing, not scripture - but what Ehrman is basically saying is that the “proto-orthodox” - basically “the Church” altered the earliest texts of the Bible in order to fit their views. I can also imagine that some might even think such a thing could be justified, since the Church is the arbiter of scripture, not the other way around, and that might be right - but I don’t think that could be right if, as Ehrman claims, these were significant alterations that attempted to change the meaning of the text as it originally was to something completely different. You would need to at least argue that the originals did not carry the implication of unorthodox meaning, and that those scribes were simply reinforcing the meaning they already knew was there in neutral passages. The main thing is that it would seem at least that this is an issue that Catholic thinkers and scholars should be engaging with - and if they won’t be in the near future, then I wish someone could explain why not.