Textual Criticism

    The reliability of the Greek text we use for Bible translation is central to our study of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Since textual criticism is the process used by Bible scholars to determine the exact words written by the original authors, a study of textual criticism is important. It is only as we understand how the Greek text was reconstructed so many years after it was written, that we can determine whether or not it is a faithful reproduction of the words written by the apostolic authors.

    Before we go further, let's look at a succinct definition of textual criticism from "All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial". On page 318 the authors say, "Textual criticism is the method used for reconstruction and restoration of the original Bible text."

    (There is a great difference between textual criticism and higher criticism. Textual criticism is concerned with the reconstruction of the original text. Higher criticism is a literary study of the Scriptures. Higher criticism has often been used to discredit the reliability and inspiration of Scripture. Textual criticism, however, is an important ally of those who love Scripture and desire to know what Jehovah said in the Bible.)

About this Page

    This page will give you a great deal of information regarding textual criticism. Some of the material is taken from our published books which are found in the Downloadable Books section on this site. However, most of the material will come from web site links. There is a surprising amount of material on the web concerning textual criticism. If you wish to do your own search, go to www.google.com and use textual criticism new testament for the key words. However, to simplify your task, we have organized topics relating to textual criticism under the headings below.

    We have used material from other sites in the paragraphs below. Full credit is given through the links in the paragraphs. When using the material which comes from other publishers or web sites, please remember that it is protected by their copyrights.

I. A General Introduction to Textual Criticism:

What is Textual Criticism?

Textual Criticism Illustrated With an English Text When you get on the www.earlham.edu site, click on the Exercise in Textual Criticism icon (icon number six from the left).

Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts

    Read through the Glossary and its annotations for explanations of many of the important terms and concepts on which textual criticism is based.

II. Specific Issues in Textual Criticism:

    All the material in this section is taken from www.earlham.edu. Go to their site for more complete explanations.

Paleography is the study of ancient writing. It technically involves the analysis of the handwriting (script) of the ancient manuscripts. The paleographer studies such things as the angles of strokes, density of ink and its composition, and the general style as compared with other handwriting. By comparing handwriting styles and other features of a manuscript, the paleographer may be able to date a manuscript.

Manuscript Replication The task of writing was primarily the occupation of professional writers generally known as scribes. In order to preserve an aging and deteriorating document or to make an additional copy, a scribe was employed to copy the contents of the original onto a new surface. A single scribe most likely read aloud to himself as he copied from the exemplar (the original) to the new document. In a scriptorium, there could be a group of scribes who make multiple copies as a lector (reader) reads the exemplar for them to duplicate.

Transmission Errors The identification of transmission errors may help determine the relationship of one manuscript to another or, even more importantly, determine the textual variant which most likely represents the reading of the original manuscript. The work of the copyists of the NT was, on the whole, done with great care and fidelity. It has, in fact, been seriously estimated that there are substantial variations in hardly more than a thousandth part of the entire text (an estimate by Fenton J. A. Hort).

Unintentional Variants Scribal errors created variants in the textual tradition. One type is referred to as unintentional variants. Some errors seem to have been caused by a visual difficulty during the copy process. Others by difficulties in correctly hearing the words when the text was being copied by a number of scribes as a lector (reader) was reading.

Intentional Variants However, some scribal errors occurred intentionally. These occurred when inappropriate attempts were made to "correct" a text's spelling or grammar, or when an attempt was made to reconcile the text to current theological beliefs.

    Consult the Glossary and its annotations for more terms and concepts regarding textual criticism.

III. Useful Links to Textual Criticism Topics:

The Final Result; a More Accurate Text A number of Bible passages are listed. You can click on an individual passage to see how the best reading of the text was derived from variant manuscripts.

A Catalog of Early Manuscripts

Papyri and Codices Manuscripts

Inspiration and Textual Criticism

Codex Vaticanus B/03

Papyrology and the Dating of the New Testament

New Manuscripts Found in 1975

Textual Criticism in the Field of Bible Evidence

IV. Textual Criticism Links and Resource Pages:

Papyrology Reference Links

TC Links: Other Sites Dealing with Textual Criticism

Textual Criticism Resource Pages

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