I have slowly been moving through Misquoting Jesus (this is due to school and the likes) and have enjoyed what I have read thus far. I have learned a lot about textual criticism and manuscript history; in fact it is a good introduction to the area of textual criticism. I just finished reading chapter five, "Originals Matter". In the first half of the chapter, Dr. Ehrman gives us the "methods that scholars have devised to identify the 'original' form of the text (or at least the 'oldest attainable' form) and the form of the text that represents a later scribal alteration"(1). Ehrman lays out for us the methods that text critics use to determine the correct reading of a text. The two types of methods that scholars use are external and internal evidence.
"Arguments based on external evidence have to do with the surviving manuscript support for one reading or another. Which manuscripts attest the reading? Are those manuscripts reliable? Why are they reliable or not reliable"(2)? These are the questions that one must try to solve when faced with a variant.
In helping us come to the correct reading, Ehrman cautions us from simply "counting noses"(3). That is to say, we cannot simply count how many manuscripts contain a certain reading and conclude that because it is found in this many manuscripts it must be the original reading. To help us see understand, Ehrman gives us the following illustration:
Suppose that after the original manuscript of a text was produced, two copies were made of it, which we may call A and B. These two copies, of course, will differ from each other in some ways – possibly major and probably minor. Now suppose that A was copied by one scribe, but B was copied by fifty scribes. Then the original manuscript, along with copies A and B, were lost, so that all that remained in the textual tradition are fifty-one second-generation copies, one made from A and fifty made from B. If a reading found in the fifty manuscripts (from B) differs from a reading found in the one (from A), is the former necessarily more likely to be the original reading? No, not at all – even though by counting noses, it is found in fifty times as many witnesses. In fact, the ultimate difference in support for the reading is not fifty manuscripts to one. It is a difference of one to on (A against B). The mere question of numbers of manuscripts supporting one reading over another, therefore, is not particularly germane to the question of which reading in our surviving manuscripts represents the original (or oldest) form of the text(4).
Another consideration is the age of the manuscripts. That is, which reading is attested to by oldest manuscripts. Again, because a reading is found in the oldest manuscript does not always mean that it is the correct one.
Well, I need to go to sleep now. I will continue this post and review as time permits. Have a blessed resurrection Sunday. Let us rejoice in the Lord for His death for our sins and his victory in resurrection.
"[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification" Romans 4.25.
(1) Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperCollins: 2005), pg. 127.
(2) Ibid, pg. 128
(3) Ibid, pg. 128
(4) Ibid, pg. 128