[This message is posted on behalf of Andrew Wilson. Members of the blog may occasionally post messages from non-members as a means of generating discussion. Nothing is to be infered about the position of the blogger from this.]
Evangelical text critics believe that the Original Text of the NT was without errors due to a belief in the inspiration of Scripture. Many non-evangelical text critics do not hold to such a position, but not simply because of unbelief in the doctrine of inspiration.
The reason such people hold to the idea that the 'original NT text' may have contained errors is that they have become increasingly disappointed by efforts to satisfactorily ascertain what the original NT text was.
The fault largely lies, I believe, at the feet of the lectio difficilior canon. Because of the lectio difficilior canon, the text critic is frequently confronted with a situation of textual stalemate. On the one hand, s/he is told to prefer the reading that makes better sense in terms of the author's intent, theology and context - the superior reading. On the other hand, the lectio difficilior canon dictates that s/he should prefer the inferior reading. The result - unless other factors decide the matter - is textual gridlock.
I believe that the lectio difficilior canon is the real cause of the problem here. Most standard proofs of lectio difficilior involve 'cherry picking' an instance or two where scribes tried to relieve the NT of a difficulty or improve its sense. Others appeal to 'common sense' ("a scribe would be assumed to have removed difficulties rather than to make them") which is really begging the question, isn't it? (See Scrivener for these two approaches, vol. 2, p. 247; read the entire page).
Can anyone think of a way in which it would be possible to put the lectio difficilior canon to the test?