Page 7 - January 2018 - Truth & Tidings
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are minor variations between manuscripts,   a wide range of scholarly approaches, and
        there are relatively few of significance,   our summary of it will, of necessity, be
        and not one that calls a single doctrine   sketchy and simplistic.
        into question. “Nothing we believe to be   The first stage of textual criticism in-
        doctrinally true, and nothing we are com-  volves the cataloguing of variant readings.
        manded to do, is in any way jeopardized   Scholars  painstakingly  comb  through
        by the variants … The interpretation of   manuscripts – many of which only survive
        individual passages may well be called in   in a very fragmentary state – to identify
        question; but never is a doctrine affected.”    the variants peculiar to that manuscript.
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        It is also vitally important to maintain our   Based on this sort of cataloguing, scholars
        sense of perspective in this context. Textual   have identified a number of manuscript
        criticism is interested in variants, not in   groups, representing different text types.
        agreement. For this reason, when we read   All the members of a particular group tend
        textual criticism, we might easily start to   to share the same sort of variants. Manu-
        think that the Bible is made up of a series   scripts within a group may also be linked
        of contested readings, strung together by   geographically. They may come from the
        a handful of verses on which we all agree.   same area, or chronologically, they may
        In fact, the reverse is true. Variants are   date from the same period.
        the exception rather than the rule. When   The process of cataloguing variants is al-
        we say exception, we do mean exception.   most entirely objective and quantitative. It
        It has been calculated that uncertainty   is a matter of counting, and any two careful
        about the correct reading affects only   counters are likely to get the same results.
        2% of the text of the NT.  The uniformity   Once the variants are catalogued, however,
                             2
        of the Greek manuscripts of the NT has   editors have to decide which reading is
        been further underlined by recent work   more likely to be original. There is a good
        on some very early Biblical papyri found   deal of science involved here. There are
        near Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.  This work has   clearly defined rules and conventions of
                              3
        confirmed the accuracy of the Biblical text   textual criticism, but this sort of editing
        as we have it today.                 always involves finely nuanced judgment
          The existence of variants in the manu-  calls, and, as such, can never be purely
        scripts of Scripture need neither alarm nor   objective. When seeking the original text
        embarrass us, but it does leave us with the   of Scripture, editors will consider a range
        task of cataloguing the variants, and iden-  of external and internal evidence.
        tifying which reading is most likely to be   External evidence is concerned with
        original. Textual criticism is the scholarly   the details of the manuscripts in which a
        discipline that undertakes this important   given reason is found. Here, editors have
        work. It is a complex discipline, involving   to choose between two principles; “earlier
        1  D.A. Carson, The King James Version Debate:   is better” and “more frequent is better.”
        A Plea for Realism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker   These two principles are substantially
        Academic, 1979), p. 56.              opposed because of the ways in which
        2  Daniel B. Wallace, The Majority Text and the   manuscripts have survived. There are far
        Original Text: Are They Identical?, Bible.org.
        3   See the introduction to Charles E. Hill and   fewer extant early manuscripts than there
        Michael J. Kruger (eds), The Early Text of the New   are late, so an editor who decides that the
        Testament, (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2012).  earliest reading is always to be preferred
                                                                   - Continued on p. 11
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