Friday, September 12, 2008

Textual Criticism in a Nutshell

C Michael Patton @ reviews the elements of textual criticism. He covers:

What is Textual Criticism?

Are there errors in the manuscripts?

How significant are the variants?

How do text critics make their decisions?

1. Date.

2. Geographic Distribution.

3. Number of manuscripts.

The harder reading is usually closer to the original.

The shorter reading is usually closer to the original.


In the end, I believe because of the faithfulness of many text critics who tirelessly endeavor in this field, we can be more than confident that the Bible we read today accurately represents the original, even if it does not do so with technical perfection. The message of Scripture has been preserved due to men of the past whose names we do not know and because of men of the present who work with these men of the past to hand us the word of God in a reliable form.

1 comment:

James Snapp, Jr. said...

It's an okay introduction; the good elements echo Metzger’s “Text of the NT,” sometimes phrase-for-phrase. But things are not really as simple as one might think if all one had to go on was that blog-entry. I’m a little concerned that readers at P&P will learn just enough accurate material to be dangerous.

(Plus, his description of Mark 16:9-20 is a big fat lie, but that’s a sub-issue.)

Some thoughts I had as I was reading:

– The number of variants that = insertions drawn from margin-notes is really pretty small.

– The influence of the Diatessaron was a major impetus for variants. This should be mentioned.

– The # of variants in the NT MSS is probably over 500,000, not between 300,000 and 400,000. But it depends a bit on what one calls a “variant” (for instance, are two different kinds of abbreviations of the same sacred name really a variant?).

– Some non-original variants, if adopted, would have a significant doctrinal impact. For instance, if the Alexandrian text’s gloss at Mt. 27:49 is adopted, the doctrine of inerrancy would be jetissoned, inasmuch as Jesus cannot have been speared both before and after His death. The Sinaitic Syriac’s text of Matthew 1:16, if adopted, would significantly undermine the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. The variant at II Peter 3:10 has a doctrinal dimension. If the shorter readings of the Western Text of Lk. 24 are adopted, while Mk. 16:9-20 is rejected, and some Western readings in Acts 1 are adopted, then the NT basis for the doctrine of the *bodily* Ascension of Christ would be significantly lessened. If the Western text of Acts were adopted, numerous points (such as the contents of the Apostolic Decree in 15:29) would change, resulting in some theological adjustments.

Plus, some variants have a profound *interpretive* impact, even if the impact is not strictly theological. For instance, some commentators have approached the Gospel of Mark with the premise that Mark intended from the outset to portray Jesus as the Son of God. But when the phrase “Son of God” is removed from Mark 1:1 (as it is in some manuscripts, and in the TNIV, though retained in the ESV’s text), the foundation of that approach is significantly eroded. Also, some commentators think that Jude, Jesus’ half-brother, could not have possessed a high Christology, and interpret his epistle working from that premise. So if the variant “Jesus” is adopted in verse 5 of Jude (as it is in the ESV text), then commentators who adhere to the premise that Jesus’ own half-brother could not have a high Christology will tend to assign authorship to someone else.

I comment about some mistakes in Patton's post in more detail, and more bluntly, over at the TC-Alternate Yahoo! discussion-group.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.