Textual Criticism

09 Mar

I am not a fan of this exercise and there are two important reasons why. First, it is a field that does not follow biblical teaching on how to discern and learn the word of God and second, it leaves the word of God vulnerable to human subjectivity. The field’s very purpose, getting back to the original words written in the bible, clues us in to these two important reasons.

There are other problems that come with this field and the are; first, arrogance. That man alone can find God’s original words using a secular field of research and rules; second, this field assumes that God has not already preserved his word nor has kept his promise to do so; third, it assumes that secular works provide information on how God used certain words and terms.

These are but a few of the problems I see in this field and as I go through a few quotes from the book, The Text Of The Old Testament by Ernst Wurthwein I shall point out a few more reasons why I do not accept or recommend this field for use in biblical studies.

#1. When we read a modern book, printed from a manuscript prepared by the author himself and produced under his own supervision, we can study it with confidence that its text represents the author’s intention in its wording and even in the details of its punctuation. we can be sure of the text we read. (pg. xiii)

Let’s put aside the obvious insult against God here as the author is saying that we cannot be sure of the Bible or God’s intentions when he wrote it through human authors. This quote exemplifies the arrogance I alluded to earlier as textual critics set themselves up as judges of God and his word.. Textual criticism reminds me of the group The Jesus Seminar, whose members cast votes on different sayings of Christ and whether he actually said them or not.

Those words quoted above automatically assume that God has not fulfilled his promise and that the modern world is sans God’s actual words. It also assumes that God needs the help scholars to render his word to the people and then preserve it for posterity. This is getting biblical work off on the wrong foot.

#2. many errors may be due to carelessness, especially if the copyist is a professional scribe who works rapidly and becomes casual, and who further may not be familiar with the subject of the text being copied. (pg. xiii)

This also displays modern scientific arrogance in its assumption that the ancient world had no quality control to monitor the work done or the people doing the work. It is a gross assumption without any merit whatsoever as it also leaps to the conclusion that ancient people did not take pride in their work or cared about their profession reputations.

That author obviously forgets that the professional scribe would want to do the best job possible in order to continue working to support their families. The excuses modern people make about the quality of ancient works are astoundingly illogical and ridiculous. Granted ancient people were not perfect and they did make mistakes which is why I would propose the theory that the manuscripts we have today that, for the most part, provide the majority of our textual record are made up of what are called ‘seconds’.  The term seconds simply means imperfect quality, did not meet the inspectors  criteria for public or professional viewing and are relegated to the garbage heap or some secondary market.

I would propose that the manuscripts that made the grade were used so much that they were worn out long before time could preserve them in some fashion. I will use the word propose because so many of our ancient biblical collection is made up of fragments so it is hard to say what quality their complete document was graded.

By this proposal I am saying that we need to be careful about how we analyze the errors and then adjust scriptures to fit our conclusions about the biblical text. The quoted word above also assume that every manuscript or fragment we have is a product of true believers who did not alter their faith and pursue alternative beliefs. This leap of faith can be detrimental to the biblical text as it allows for erroneous teachings or ideas to enter God’s word.

From Chapters 1-10, the author just addresses the materials available and the different manuscript versions or remains. I will just take an odd quote or two from those pages as that material is mostly just informing the reader of what is available today and who had what in the ancient world. In reading the pages I just got the simple idea that the author was really just talking about how different groups in the ancient world wanted the scriptures in their own languages, mush like we do today when our missionaries go on the mission field

That author laments about the discrepancies found in the different biblical texts but fails to provide a good analysis of the inability to translate directly into different languages from the Hebrew of Greek.  I found that surprising given his linguistic ability.  Of course the Bible is going to sound or look a bit differently in different languages because each language has its own grammatical rules and very few line up word for word or sentence for sentence.

#3. Most probably the Jews gradual adoption of the Aramaic language, the lingua franca of the Ancient Near East, was followed by their adoption of the Aramaic script, so that by inference it was in this script that the sacred writings were first written and only eventually in the square script which developed from it. (pg. 2)

I have talked at length about this issue and the improbability of it but there are other issues here that come through if one is not looking to closely. These quoted words are implying that the Bible was not written until after the exile of the Jews, which is impossible as we know scripture was given to Moses at Sinai, long before Aramaic possibly came into existence or was known by the Israelites. We also know that other scriptures were written long before any real outside influence was placed upon the Jewish people.

So we must ask, in what language did Moses and these other biblical authors really write in? Most likely it was the Hebrew language they grew up with and developed over the centuries. Moses would have been well versed in Hebrew and Egyptian so we can only surmise which language he wrote in but I would probably go with Hebrew because he was writing for the Hebrew people who had retained their own language.

#4. The Masoretic material was transmitted orally at first… (pg. 30)

These kind of statements simply drive me up a wall as there is no evidence supporting such thinking anywhere. This is just a faulty assumption about the ancients and their work, education and linguistic abilities.

#5. The earliest translations of the Scriptures in written form…were pioneer undertakings accomplished without adequate tools (lexicons, etc.) (pg. 54)

This is another blind declaration that drives me crazy.  We have ancient lexicons from many different caches of manuscripts uncovered during archaeological digs. To say that the early translators worked without proper tool sis foolhardy and misleading.  The ancients would know what types of information would be needed to do translation work for they would have had to use such tools in their diplomatic work. Such a statement above is just an argument not only from silence but ignorance as well.

#6. Scribes were generally not meticulous copyists but enjoyed considerable freedom in their choice of words and grammatical details. Further, the fact that scribal centers were widely scattered tended to promote the development of local traditions. No attempt seems to have been made to revise or standardize the text. (pg. 87)

Another declaration without support or fact that makes me annoyed or upset at the author. The insult towards the ancients is just looming here and ignores any input from God at all and says that he had no hand in preserving his own text. This quote can be answered by the words of #2 above.  I am not a fan of the theory that there were actual scribal centers. What he seems to be describing are local public schools who educated the people so that they could do their own copying of texts.

His last line is a bad assumption as some people may have only been writing a paraphrase to make a point, a lot like what I do from time to time on this website.  it is really wrong to make such assumptions about the ancient people because we are not privy to their intent or circumstances so we cannot only guess as to their intentions when they wrote the manuscripts.


I am going to make a change. I am going to split this work into two and deal with the rest of the faulty thinking behind textual criticism in two parts. There is just too much information to include in one complete piece.  Part two will be up in a bit, after a brief rest on my part.

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Posted by on March 9, 2015 in academics, Bible, education, history, science, theology


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