According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, “tinker” means, “to make small changes to something, especially in an attempt to repair or improve it.”
At this point in the game, are the modern evangelical text-critics merely tinkering with the New Testament? I ask this question because of how the argument seems to be framed by the modern evangelical text-critic. Consider the following arguments.
Proposition 1: Nothing major is affected by the variants currently represented in the N/A 28.
Proposition 2: The original words of Scripture are contained in either the text or apparatus. If that worries you at all see P1.
Conclusion: We have all the words of the original and where we are unsure if the original word is in the text or apparatus nothing major is at stake.
Certainly, modern evangelical text-critics would think themselves to be repairing or improving the Greek New Testament. It is unclear if that is indeed the case and equally as unclear as to the standard by which such a repair or improvement is measured especially given certain Christian precommitments regarding what the Scripture says about itself. What is more, given the above propositions and conclusion it seems by the modern evangelical text-critic’s own admission that their work is only in minor things and in making minor changes. In sum, the modern evangelical text-critic seeks to repair or improve the Greek New Testament via the relatively minor things.
This seems to be the very definition of a New Testament textual tinker.
On the flip side, if the modern evangelical text critic admits that they are still making major changes to the Greek New Testament thus inferring the need for a professional, then something meaningful and substantive is in the balance. But if there are truly meaningful and substantive changes to be made thus necessitating a trusted captain at the helm, then it seems to me that Proposition 1 loses most of its bark and bite. Indeed, there very well may be major truths [however that is determined] at stake thus the necessity for professionals and not tinkers.
Perhaps this argument would be sufficient for a Bart Ehrman type who sees the text-critical work mostly done unless we achieve some Dead Sea Scroll level discovery at some point in the future. Perhaps the evangelical text-critic on the other hand would not accept this argument that they are merely tinkering with the text. And why? Because they believe themselves to be on the way to finding the original words of the inspired word of God. In this sense, their work is major work, but then of course they run into a whole other kind of hornet’s nest of objections. Consider the following:
Proposition 1′: Because the aim of modern evangelical text criticism is to find the original inspired words of the New Testament, every word is major in that each word of God is meaningful and substantive.
Proposition 2′: The fact that we are unsure in many places whether the original word of God is either in the text or apparatus [assuming it is in either of those two places] is a meaningful and substantive lack of assurance because one is God’s word, and the other is not, or perhaps a third unknown option is.
Conclusion’: Because we are unsure whether God’s original words are in the text or apparatus [or in some third place] meaningful and substantive [i.e., major] things are at stake and as such call for a professional and not a tinkerer to sort all this out.
1.) Either the textual improvements made by modern evangelical text-critics are minor and thus their work is a work of tinkering.
2.) The textual improvements made by modern evangelical text-critics are major thus the New Testament continues to endure major changes by professionals.
Conclusion: If (2), then the claim that we currently have the words of God in all major ways seems unfounded.
So, which will it be? Are you tinkers or are we still looking for the Scriptures in major ways?