Interpolations and Scribal Glosses
What's the difference? Well, there are some differences, in the mechanisms, the intent of their creators, and the form and size of the phenomena.
I. Scribal Glosses
A Scribal Gloss begins life as a marginal note. It is not a textual correction, nor is it intended by its original author to be inserted in the text. It is usually meant to inform the examiner of the manuscript of some background or history of a reading, its interpretation, or perhaps a cross-reference. But whatever its educational purpose, it was meant to stay in the margin.
The problem is that textual corrections by a proof-reader are also often written as marginal notes, and so are actually meant to be incorporated into the text, and into any subsequent copies made from it. The two items often look very similar in size, format and content. As a result, all marginal notes are vulnerable to be taken as textual corrections, whether they were meant as such or not.
So then the true "Scribal Gloss" is neither a pure accident, nor is it intentional.
It is a two-step process:
1. an existing marginal note,
2. a misunderstanding of its purpose by a 2nd party.
As such, it cannot occur without a Scribe or copyist, attempting in good faith to correct the text as per standard practices. It is not then malicious or agenda-based, nor a result of any theological bias.
But it can be done by any copyist, and happen anytime there is a marginal note vulnerable to misreading in a master-copy. Unlike deliberate editing, such 'accidents' are likely to be more frequent, since the potential exists only when there is a marginal note in the master prone to misinterpretation. (Most copyists are just copyists, not editors, and limit their activities to basic corrections from a master). Scribal glosses are also limited by the skill and comprehension of the copyists, which work toward preventing same.
Finally, we must note that they are also very practically limited also in size and nature. John chapter 21, the Ending of Mark (16:9-20), and the Pericope Adultera (John 7:53-8:11) are most certainly not bumbling 'scribal glosses' (see below).
We have found only one absolutely certain case of a real 'scribal gloss', in the MS GA-3 (12th cent.) at 2nd Cor. 8:4, but we saw that certain textual critics had extrapolated from that flimsy basis the characterization of a whole text-type, and a resuling 'TC Canon'. (See our previous post here.)
True Interpolations however are an entirely different animal. They arise, not randomly, or from the hand of simple copyists, but rather they come from editors with an agenda, concerned to promote an entrenched view or position, usually on a theological matter.
(We may ignore for our purposes here minor 'corrections' of spelling, synonyms, or geographical alterations based on the knowledge or mindset of bolder copyists, which will usually be very short.)
They may be added to support or strengthen a theological idea under debate in the era in which they are inserted into the text. They may be, like the more harmless marginal note, explanatory insertions. They often involve the addition of more than a keyword; usually a whole phrase or clause, meant to uphold or clarify a doctrine.
Most importantly, they are a one-step process, a bold hijacking of the text in one fell strike.
Such brazen actions were executed by rare and peculiar persons, not ordinary scribes. They would typically be heretics, like Marcion (c. 200 A.D.) with a significant following, or church leaders given significant powers, like Jerome (c. 400 A.D.).
To be effective, such alterations would have to be copied extensively and have a convincing appearance of genuineness. Fabrications by heretics would have to be crafted carefully, and variations adopted by church leaders would usually have to have some kind of prior support among previous older copies or traditions already existing.
Example: 1st John 5:7
One obviously famous suspected interpolation, believed even by many pious Christian leaders and scholars, is 1st John 5:7. Leaving aside the arguments pro and con (internal grammatical evidence, early references etc.), the most interesting thing about this 'interpolation' is that it is again, like the scribal gloss above (2nd Cor. 8:4), the only example of its kind.
1. It is difficult to imagine how it could have been dropped from the majority of MSS of nearly all ages, regardless of how it came to be omitted.Thus it stands as perhaps the best of all possible examples of a real, deliberate, theological interpolation of the first kind.
2. It is difficult to imagine it being added by a heretical faction, since its apparent intent is to support Trinitarian beliefs.
3. It is easy to see how this could have been added late in the game by zealous Trinitarians, with subsequent little impact on the main lines of transmission of the NT.
But therein is the very problem. Like its cousin (2nd. Cor. 8:4 in GA-3), it stands so embarrassingly alone in its credibility and its features, that we must ask, how can the exception justify the rule? The same premise and "Canon" is at stake:
Premise: 'The Byzantine Text is heavily interpolated.'
Canon: 'Prefer the shorter reading.'
Textual critics have been telling us for over a century that the Traditional text (Byzantine, Majority, Syrian, or whatever name) is a heavily interpolated, glossed out, inflated text. But the only evidence of this is one paltry, late example of each main type of insertion.
(We will not here discuss the only other offering from Hort, the infamous "Western non-Interpolations". The name alone tells us of the artificiality of that imaginative construction!)