Textual Criticism

Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration

My dear friend Lori left a comment that I would like to respond to. She asks, "Can you give a brief definition of New Testament textual criticism?" Textual criticism is the discipline of examining various manuscripts of a document (we are here concerned with the NT) to determine the correct reading that the author intended. There are two main ways one is to do this. (1) External evidence. Because there are thousands of Greek Manuscripts (MSS), one must evaluate them to see which one or ones is the correct reading. This is by no means an easy task, and we must thank the Lord that there have been many who have done much of this task for us. According to Metzger and Ehrman, There are 5735 important Greek MSS. This breaks down as following:

Majuscule (Uncials)…………………..310

Total 5735(1)

This external evidence breaks down into what are know as text types. Text types are the styles of writing that characterize each family of MSS. These are Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine. External evidence looks at the manuscripts and their style to determine what a correct reading is. Also one may look at the deletion and addition of words by scribes in different MSS.

(2) Internal evidence. This discipline looks at the internal evidence of the documents to determine what the correct reading may be. One looks at the author's style, grammar, and the likes to see if what is written is characteristic of an author's style.

This is all very preliminary and without years of studying and research. I am indebted to David Black, Bruce Metzger, Bart Ehrman, and my Greek Professor Dr. William Varner for all that I know about this field of study. I really enjoy this field and hope to study more of it in the future.

One quick example of textual criticism is found in the famous passage in Rom 5.1. The text reads: "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" In most English translations there is a footnote that reads let us. This is variant reading to "we have". The reason for this is that in some MSS the text reads εχωμεν and not εχομεν. The difference is that the first is a subjunctive (possibly a hortatory) and the second is in the indicative mood, thus we have peace. What is the correct reading? One has to look at the external and internal evidence to decide which reading is the correct one. From what I remember, the external evidence favors εχωμεν and the internal evidence favors εχομεν.

Well Lori, I hope that I helped you in some small way with your question. Thanks for asking it.

There is a good blog that deals with issue like this called Evangelical Textual Criticism. Check it out.

Footnote (1): Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th Ed., pg. 50, (Oxford Press: New York) 2005.


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