Textual Criticism- part 1

11 Nov

My attention was drawn to a post about the KJV only mentality that is out there. The post eventually came about to the topic of textual criticism and having studied that topic, what the author was saying was of some interest to me. You can catch the whole article here:

The trouble was that these texts didn’t always match perfectly, and indeed had many discrepancies…refers to were simply scholars trying to piece together the most authentic of all of the Greek texts available to get the closest to the original. And yes, they used scholarly methods rather than simply relying on divine inspiration or going with what they wanted the texts to say to determine which texts were most authentic.

In studying textual criticism one sees a lot of questions arise in their minds. Not about the validity of scripture but concerning the validity of the process of these ‘scholarly methods’ employed by scholars.

In that quote the question that comes to mind for me originates with the word ‘authentic’.  Which definition of ‘authentic’ are the scholars using to determine which passages to rely upon and which to discard?

Is it the one where the manuscript (ms.)  or manuscripts (mss.) are dated correctly and are the actual work of some ancient person in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or even 4th centuries? Or is the definition being used to say that the ms. was written by an actual true christian who followed God’s leading in his work pf copying the text?

I doubt it is the latter as in my studies, that idea has never been addressed. I make this distinction because like the modern world, the ancient one was full of people who did not accept the Bible as written and set out to write their own version. We know this because we have record of Marcion doing just that. He eliminated books because he didn’t like them and focused on the Pauline works (see Kenneth Scott Latourette’s History of Christianity vol.1 pg. 133)

Just like today where cults alter the biblical text to fit their views (see the Jehovah’s Witnesses Translation and others), the ancient world practiced the same things. This reality brings about the question of the quality of the ancient NT mss. being used to ‘update’ God’s word.

Since scholars do not question the motives or authorship behind the fragments and mss. they use one wonders if they are not importing mistakes into God’s word every time they publish a new version of the Bible? It is not like these mss. come with a label that states ‘published by Marcion’s and it may be hard to ferret out the beliefs of those who copied the texts but it does throw into question the ‘scholarly methods’ being used and how good they are really.

Yet that isn’t the only question that comes to mind when one studies textual criticism. The next one comes from Paul D. Wegner’s book, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible and on page 29 he writes:

Since no autographs are available today of either the Old or New testaments, the general task of the text critic is to get back as close as possible to those autographs.

The first question that comes to mind on that issue is,’If we do not have the originals how can we verify that we have come close to what they are saying? I should mention that the word ‘autograph’ is being used to mean the original book written by the man God used to pen His words.

We have no way of verifying if a modern text is correct or not or if new mistakes have been written in during this modern process,. The word of God is now placed into the field of subjectivism allowing any person to use their opinion on what God originally wrote.  it is dangerous ground to place God’s word.

Other questions that arise are similar to ‘How do we know we are using the correct ancient texts given the assumptions being made by scholars?’  We all know what assuming does and why is it being used in the scholarly world is beyond me. Believers are not in the assuming business.

One assumption is the idea of editors being used to compile all scriptures and that they had a free hand in changing what God wrote. On page 30 of the same book, Mr. Wegner states:

It is most likely that an editor later changed it so that his readers would understand which city was being indicated.

If that were the case, then why are not modern scholars updating the names of biblical cities to match their modern labels in order for modern people to  understand which city is being indicated? probably for the same reasons the ancients didn’t edit God’s word–There are warnings from God about doing that very act.

There are more questions to be addressed and those will follow but if we cannot use faith and believe that God has preserved His word for all people for all time, then we have lost the rudder to our little ship and are drifting in all directions and have no set course.

Scholarly methods are not infallible or are they the only option available. More to come

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Posted by on November 11, 2012 in theology


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