Thursday, March 10, 2011

Textual Criticism For Dummies - The Science of Biblical Manuscripts Simply Explained

Where did the Bible come from? Why are there differences in translations? Why are there some missing verses or verses in the footnotes?

These are all questions that relate to the complex discipline called Textual Criticism - the study of the texts and manuscripts upon which our translations are based.

I would commend the first half of John Piper's message on John 7:53-8:11 in which he addresses this complex subject very well.

Here are a few notes:
  • The New Testament was originally written in Greek
  • The first Greek New Testament wasn't published until 1516 by Erasmus
  • For 1500 years, manuscripts were handwritten copies
  • None of the original manuscripts exist but multiple copies are available.
  • There were four kinds of copies: uncials (large caps), minuscules (small caps), papyri, and lectionaries (sections read in worship)
  • There are 322 uncial texts, 2907 minuscule texts, 2445 lectionary portions and 127 papyri for a total of 5,801 manuscripts - all handwritten copies
  • No ancient book comes close to this level of manuscript evidence (for instance, Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars, written between 58-50 BC only has 10 copies)
  • The copies do not all agree but no major doctrine is threatened by the differences
  • The number of manuscripts increases the possibilities of differences but it also increases the means of correcting errors
  • The margin of doubt, according to FF Bruce, in recovering the exact original wording is very, very small
For another great summary on this complex subject, check the article entitled, "The Reliability of Bible Manuscripts" in the ESV Study Bible.


Chris Dean said...

Thank you Pastor for introducing us to Textual Criticism, the study of which I find is a natural outgrowth for those who love and seek to defend the Bible and its origins.

I have learned much about TC from Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries (apologist and debater extraordinaire) who has done a lot of work in this field. A solid, comprehensive overview of TC can be found in his work 'The King James Only Controversy' which brings such to bear in understanding the development of the English canon. The book can be sometimes rather heady, but I still highly recommend this book for the average Christian.

Also, Dr. D. A. Carson has an introductory work on TC, similarly called 'The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism' which I have yet to read, but is bound to be very profitable.

Pastor Mark, knowing your history, you are likely familiar with most of these points already. I look more to learning more from you, so keep these coming! Thank you.

Mark Vroegop said...

Carson's book on the KJV only controversy is fabulous for his careful, thoughtful and pastoral handling of the issue.

Additionally, it dives into the Textual Criticism material in a way that is understandable.

Jill said...

Hahahahaha..."Textual Critism for Dummies..." Thanks, I resemble that remark!!!

Seriously, thank you for posting this... very helpful as I aim to gain better understanding, discernment & love of God's Word and knowledge of "the science of Biblical manuscripts".

I will listen to Piper's message on John 7:53 - 8:11.