Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Post On Textual Criticism

I was reading a post by Jeremy Meyers over at his blog "Redeeming God." He's got some good description of textual criticism in the post. You can read it here. He does write one thing that I want to point out:
"All I am saying is that no matter how much Greek you know, there will always be people who know more than you, and will say that your theology is wrong because you don’t know enough. Even world-class Greek scholars like Comfort 'one up' other world-class Greek scholars by saying that the others didn’t understand the tendencies of the scribes who copied the texts."
It's interesting. It's true we will never know it all, none of us, this side of heaven. There's always someone who will know more, usually lots more, than we ourselves know about any given topic. And  we need to be careful and humble in the work we do as exegetes. Nevertheless, comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge are not prereqs for studying the biblical texts. Thankfully!

The one thing that I would say about Meyers' last couple of paragraphs is this type of work in exegesis isn't just something that "scholars" have to deal with. Textual issues matter for us all. And we should really give people in our local churches a grid by which they can work through these issues on their own. What are you going to do in Matt. 5:22 with the word εἰκῇ for example? Whether or not that word is present or not totally changes what Jesus is saying! Meyers writes, "If you want to know what the Bible says, just study it, read it, pray over it, and ask God to guide you by the Holy Spirit." He's right. I just think when we say "just study it" that such study includes textual analysis.

By the way, the Amazon page for Comfort's book has this subtitle for the text: "An up-to-date commentary on all the significant manuscripts and textual variants of the New Testament." All is a really, really big word. I bet there might be one significant textual variant not discussed in the book. Maybe two. You know what, maybe three.


  1. My own humble perspective on TC is that unless a variant radically changes the meaning of the text, I don't mention it when I preach. Also, I look at how the modern translations deal with the variant. If they all agree, I don't mention it when I preach. However, if there is disagreement among the modern translations I may address it as I'm preaching the passage.

    I recently preached from Mark 16:15-16. Because this is a disputed section of Scripture, I used Matthew 28 to flesh out the passage.

    Honestly, I'm still trying to determine how much time to spend on TC in my studies. I find myself agreeing with Jeremy at the end of his post.

    1. Tom, I share the same struggle you have when it comes to textual criticism. I appreciate your comment a lot. Our task when we are teaching is to make known the meaning of the text, something that we can do without delving into textual matters and getting those in our local churches lost in the manuscripts. With that said, though, I think we do our people are real disservice in local churches when we don't even introduce them to a very significant aspect of New Testament exegesis. This is something I think we could cover well in a few weeks of a Sunday School class (provided we have people that go to Sunday School). When we at least walk through the transmission of the New Testament text, it frees us up to point out to those we teach in larger settings that this is one of those issues. It doesn't happen all of the time, and it especially doesn't scream off the page like the ending of Mark. But when it does matter for the interpretation, as it does in Matt. 5:22, it helps if we can just slip in a line or two to an informed congregation . . . something like, "Hey, beloved. Remember when we talked about those New Testament manuscripts and how some of them read differently in places? Well, this is one of those places, and my own understanding of the matter is that the reading we find in our New King James Version is more likely what Jesus actually said." And then you just read that and move on in explaining what the text means.

      I'd love to hear more about what you think on this, Tom.