I've got a feeling this post may get an old friend to respond. We'll see. Its basically a simple question. When dealing with the area of textual criticism, what is preferable in order to best reconstruct the original text, many copies or only a few? If there are many copies, inevitably there will be more diverse readings because inevitably human copiest errors creep in when you are hand-copying something. The more copies, the more opportunity for error and the more variant readings (but also the more copies that share something in common, the more likely it is that what they share comes from the original).
With fewer copies you would have fewer variant readings (because there has been less of an opportunity for error to creep in) but you also have less assurance that the portions that those copies share would have come from the orginal text. It seems to me that when someone criticizes the Bible for it's so-called "numerous variant readings" (which I address in an article on the website, and which I do not believe are really nearly as severe as critics make it seem), they set up a standard by which they will never be satisfied. Are there going to be copyist errors? Of course. And the more copies you have, obviously the larger number of errors you will find (because there is more opportunity). But most textual critics will tell you this is actually a strength of the Bible (specifially the New Testament) because a greater number of copies enables us to find more commonalities and reconstruct the original to a greater degree. So what is the alternative? Less copies? Would this please the critic? Not likely, because then they could argue that there is an inadequate sample from which to draw any conclusions about the original text.
So what is better, many copies or only a few? If the former, you have to take the inevitable variants with the number of copies, but you also have to realize that these variants are a direct result of the large number of copies, which actually makes us MORE able to reconstruct the original text, not less.