Maybe not Dr. Howe, but does 92% average stability support the idea that the New Testament can be relied upon as the inherent and infallible Word of God? 8% instability is about one in twelve, or the odds of rolling a four with a pair of dice in a game Monopoly. Imagine you are the battleship and you are sitting on Atlantic Avenue, but instead of landing on Go to Jail if you roll a four, you land on Go to Hell. You go to hell because there was a one in twelve chance that a verse necessary to properly understand the doctrine of water baptism had been miscopied by an early scribe and you were sprinkled when God wanted you dunked.
When an airline mechanic is checking out an airplane, I want him to be working from schematics and diagrams produced by the plane's manufacturer. I don't want him working from some lecture notes that were recopied several times before he got hold of them. 92% stability isn't going to cut it. The original autographs of the books of the Bible are purported to contain the rule of God for man's faith and life. Properly understanding and applying its teachings determines whether a person spends an eternity in bliss or torment. I wouldn't expect any Christian to get on an airplane with those odds, and I don't see why any Christian would expect me to chance my eternal fate on them.
Apologists tout the notion that no essential Christian doctrines are put in jeopardy by any of the known variants. What about the unknown variants? The 92% stability rate that Dr. Howe cites was based on comparing a sample of second and third century manuscripts to later manuscripts. What about books for which early manuscript evidence is lacking, like Galatians. Even if we accept that 92% stability between the autographs and our present texts, we have no idea where the unknown variants occur.
Of course the apologists respond that the truly essential teachings do not depend on any single verse, but are supported consistently throughout the scriptures. Is this true though? Don't extremely important theological points often depend on a single passage or even a single word? If that passage can only be assigned 92% confidence, what happens to inerrancy and infallibility?
For example, belief in the inspiration of the New Testament relies heavily, if not exclusively, on 2 Peter 3:15-16:
Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brotherHad Peter not referred to Paul's letters as "scripture," Christians would have little if any basis for claiming that the New Testament holds itself to be on a par with the Old Testament as inspired scripture.
Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same
way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain
some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people
distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
As far as I know, there may well be no significant known variants in the early manuscripts of 2 Peter, however, some might consider the book itself to be one big variant. Most modern scholars doubt that Peter wrote either of the epistles attributed to him, but 2 Peter has been in doubt since the first known reference. This occurs in Eusebius' Eccleiastical History written at the end of the third century where he lists it among the "disputed" writings rather than the "recognized" ones. Athanatius included in his Festal Letter of 367 A.D., but the Syrian Christians never accepted it as part of their canon. Somehow, I think the confidence level for the entire book would have to be considerably less than 92% before even considering the possibility of scribal errors.
There is nothing unusual about important doctrines resting on a single ambiguous passage. As I noted in a post last week, the evangelical Christians argument that the New Testament supports capital punishment seems to rest entirely on Romans 13. While their reading of that passage strikes me as more than a little strained, I suppose the odds that the scribes altered the meaning of this passage isn't going to bother anyone who isn't already bothered by the rate of mistakes made by prosecutors and jurors in death penalty cases.
Sometimes a key theological point can rest on a single word. In a post several months ago, I noted the significance that Gary Habermas attaches to Paul's use of the Greek word "historeo" in Galatians 1:18 which describes his meeting with Peter and James in Jerusalem three years after his conversion. According to Habermas, it is this word choice that ties what Paul believed and taught to the the original eyewitnesses to Jesus' life and ministry. I personally don't find his argument terribly persuasive, but even if I did, roll a four and this may be one of those verses that was corrupted by one of the early scribes. The earliest surviving manuscript of Galatians dates from 150 years after Paul wrote it--a lot of trips around the Monopoly board.
The Bible may well be the best attested text in antiquity, but that really isn't saying that much when it purports to be the source of absolute truth on every topic it touches.