is Textual Criticism?
Dr. Herbert Samworth
people mean by "textual criticism"? Does it mean that
people criticize the Bible? How can I learn more about it?
these questions, it is important to remember that before the invention
of printing in the 15th century, all books, including the Bible,
were hand-copied. These copies were called manuscripts. Because
the Scriptures were God's Word, people recognized the importance
of copying them accurately. However, it was inevitable that the
scribes would not copy the manuscripts without some variations.
The differences in the manuscripts are technically called textual
variants. It would be rare, however, that the differences would
be the result of a deliberate change by the scribe. Rather, the
variants occurred because of scribal inattention, the skipping of
lines, a misunderstanding what the text actually said, etc.
the textual variants were noted by the corrector and the correct
reading inserted in the margin of the manuscript. Although the scribes
sought to keep the text accurate, the number of textual variants
increased with the number of manuscripts.
might ask why didn’t the scribes correct the text by comparing
it with the original. Unfortunately, the original copies, called
autographs, have not survived. In addition, the manuscripts
copied from these originals, technically known as the apographs,
were not in agreement. Realistically, there are no two manuscripts
of a common text that agree exactly.
was possible to print the Greek New Testament, the editor would
collect the available manuscripts. If there were a number of textual
variants in a given verse, he chose to print what he thought was
the correct reading. Textual variants were not included in printed
Greek New Testaments until the Robert Stephanus edition of 1550
included them in the margins.
first printing of the Greek New Testament, many more manuscript
copies of the Greek text have been recovered. Textual criticism
attempts to choose the textual variant that appears to be the closest
to the original meaning of the author.
criticism is not an attack on the Scriptures. If it is done correctly,
it reinforces our confidence in the Word of God. The New Testament
has been copied so accurately
that only one word in a thousand is in dispute and not one major
doctrine of the Bible is affected. We can be confident that we have
the Word of God!
following books deal with the subject of textual criticism. I am
listing them in the order in which they should be consulted.
Neil R. How We got the Bible. Third Edition.
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2003.
This is an excellent book on the formation
of the English Bible. It covers such diverse topics as New Testament
manuscripts, the text of the New Testament, significance of the
textual variants, etc. While this is not a book on textual criticism,
it incorporates the subject into the larger framework of the transmission
and translation of the Biblical text through the centuries until
the present. Be sure to secure the third edition of this work as
five additional chapters have been added that deal with subjects
such as the Greek uncial manuscripts and the papyri. This is an
excellent place to start.
Edward F. The King James Version Defended.
Fourth Edition. Des Moines, Iowa: Christian Research Press, 1984.
As can be gleaned from the title of the book,
Dr. Hills is an advocate of the King James Bible and its underlying
Greek text known as the textus receptus or the received
text. While defending his preference for the King James Version,
he seeks to base his arguments on sound scholarship as well as ardent
piety. This is the best book to appear in defense of the King James
James B., ed. From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man:
A Layman's Guide to How We got the Bible. Belfast,
Northern Ireland: Ambassador International, 1999.
This is a book whose title accurately describes
its contents. Surprisingly, it was written by a group of fundamentalists
who advocate a principled and irenic approach to the question of
textual criticism. Its value comes not only from the serious scholarship
demonstrated in its chapters, but also from the spirit in which
it has been written. As can be expected for books that occupy a
mediating position, it has received its share of criticism. Some
believe the authors have capitulated to the critics of the King
James Version while others are convinced they have not gone as far
as they should have in embracing the results of textual studies.
This is a book that deserves to be better known. A serious reading
can only help the reader as it both raises and answers issues associated
with textual criticism.
Bruce Manning. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration. Third Edition. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1992.
This is a book written by an acknowledged
master in the field of textual criticism. Dr. Metzger, Emeritus
Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, has
given us a model book on the issues relative to the text of the
New Testament. While Dr. Metzger writes in a gracious manner, he
is a decided advocate of what is commonly known as the critical
text of the Greek New Testament. One should not be surprised
at this because he was one of the editors of the United Bible Societies
edition of The Greek New Testament. There is not another
book that covers the field with the same degree of scholarship as
this book. It is no wonder that it has been in print since the first
edition was published in 1964. It has been used as a textbook in
numerous seminaries and graduate schools. Many have been introduced
to the principles and history of textual criticism from its reading.
While it is not an easy book to digest from a summary reading, it
will abundantly repay the serious student.