Monday, 15 June 2015

Key notions defined series: 13. Textual criticism

Having completed my main review of the New Testament (and some Old Testament) texts, cataloguing almost 500 passages, I am "celebrating" that milestone by publishing a part of the paper that helps me in the weighing of these texts, which is currently entitled Chapter 2: Key Notions Defined. It is also an opportunity for me to tidy up these definitions. Here is the next one, this time with footnotes (I have no idea why sometimes Blogger includes and excludes them):

Textual Criticism

This is essentially the study – I would even say a science – of establishing the most likely original text written by the author via the painstaking examination of masses of manuscript data. Its necessity flows from the following two facts:
  • We have no originals manuscripts
  • The copies we have all differ

In fact, the extant Greek manuscripts alone currently number close to 6000, and most evangelical or conservative scholars are not troubled by the large number of differences (I will not scare the reader with the agreed approximate number), as the vast majority of these are considered to be of no importance. However, there are passages where textual variants affect meaning, and some of these also concern the scriptural justification of Fourth Century Trinitarianism. Furthermore, these kinds of variants are no longer considered by textual critics to be all accidental.

For example, does John 1:18 say “the only begotten God”, “only begotten God”, “the only begotten Son”, “only begotten Son of God”, or “the only begotten”? In total there are no less than thirteen different variants depending on the manuscript you are looking at[1]. This verse clearly got up several copyists noses! Copyists are not machines – they are believers, followers of Christ, as Philip M. Miller is careful to note as he references to the late “giant” of textual criticism, Bruce Metzger:

“Metzger, while wrestling with the difficulties alterations raised in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, likewise noted the suppression of doctrinally difficult words, and secondary improvements ‘introduced from a sense of reverence for the person of Jesus’[2] [3].

This seemingly technical section will become relevant when we treat one passage in Chapter 7.

[1] P.M. Miller, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic and Apocryphal Evidence, p. 73 lists the manuscripts concerned. The most attested source (which of course does not necessarily mean the original) is “the only begotten son
[2] Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 200, note on John 11.33
[3] P.M. Miller, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic and Apocryphal Evidence, p. 64

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