The recent discussions of Romans 5:1 and of Ulrich Schmid’s (very good) proposals about the textual history of Romans raise an issue worth thinking about a bit more: precisely what is it that we are attempting to recover? The traditional answer of the discipline is, of course, “the original.” But in giving this answer, I don’t think the discipline has given sufficient attention to the matter of how we envision the path from the original to the textual tradition. Let me illustrate the issue I am trying to raise with an example from 1 Corinthians, in light of the work of E. Randolph Richards (e.g., Paul and First-Century Letter Writing [IVP, 2004] 218-221), who proposes that Paul retained copies of (some of his) letters, and this personal collection is the source of the Pauline corpus. If one grants for the sake of argument Richard’s point, this means that the Corpus has as its source copies of the individual Pauline letters, the original in each case having been sent off to the designated church. Given the realities of the copying process, it is highly unlikely that the retained copy was identical to the letter sent. If so, then it is possible that the “earliest recoverable stage of the manuscript tradition” is one (or possibly more) stage short of the letter sent to the church—and preserves the errors of that first copy. Perhaps this explains 1 Cor. 6:5, “to judge between (ana meson) his brother”, where two parties, not just one, ought to be mentioned; Zuntz terms this phrase “an unexampled and unbelievable way of speaking; in short, a corruption” (Text of the Epistles, 15).
In short, I think the tendency has been to assume that “original” = “archetype”, and it is this assumption that I wish to question. It may be in some cases that the two are identical, but such a conclusion ought to be argued, rather than simply assumed. And if there are (as I think) cases where the two are not identical, then it may be necessary to rethink the role and place for emendation in the process for recovering the original.