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L425 Biblical Textual Criticism: The New Testament

ASSIGNMENT: Read Aland, pages 280-337

The essential tools for work in New Testament text criticism (as well as those for Old Testament text criticism) are:

1. a concordance. The text critic (and exegete) must make frequent use of a good concordance. In this way the exegete will be able to see how words are used in other portions of the text and will thus be able to better determine the original text.
2. a dictionary (or Lexicon). The exegete must know the meaning of the word before he or she can determine if it makes sense in its context.
3. a grammar. The student must know the grammar of the language in which he or she is working in order to determine corrections that scribes may have made for grammatical reasons.
4. a synopsis. In New Testament studies it is important to make use of a synopsis of the Gospels. Scribes sometimes harmonized one Gospel with another, and use of a synopsis can help the student see how and where this has happened.
5. commentaries. The exegete would do well to examine how others have understood the text.

With these tools in hand, the student is well armed to pursue the practice of text criticism. The general rules for textual criticism have been indicated earlier in the course. Now the specific rules which pertain to New Testament criticism will be given.

1. Only one reading can be original. Though this might seem unnecessary to say there are still exegetes who think that text criticism is unimportant. Yet when we recall that the author of a text could only write one original, then we have to try to find that original using the tools we have at hand.
2. Only the reading which best satisfies the external and internal criteria can be original. That is, only the oldest and best attested reading can be original.
3. External criteria are the most important. That is, the oldest manuscripts are more important than the youngest.
4. Internal criteria are less important than external.
5. The Greek tradition is more important than the versions.
6. Manuscripts should be weighed, not counted.
7. Certain text families are superior to others. For example, texts from the Alexandrian family are superior to texts from the Byzantine family.
8. The most difficult reading is the more probable reading. This because scribes would correct grammar rather than confuse it.
9. The text critic must maintain constant familiarity with the text; or, practice makes perfect.

Now, to illustrate these principles, we will examine some New Testament texts where we can practice what we have learned.

We will look specifically at texts which have been determined to be secondary -- and thus verses that are in the KJV but which have no support from the earliest and best texts. This means that these verses have been added by scribes in order to clarify or explain the text. The student must look at his or her Greek New Testament in order to examine the evidence. One text will be fully explained, and the student will then be enabled to examine the other evidence.

Matthew 17:21. First, the editors indicate a variant by using a small footnote sign that looks like a t with a dot in it. There are many different footnote marks, all which are explained in the introduction to the text. Then the student will see the verse number in brackets. Then the verse or word in question is found. Then the manuscript evidence is given. The editors simply present the evidence and leave it to the exegete to make his or her own decision.

Other verses which are absent from the oldest texts but present in the KJV (which is, by the way, based on the Byzantine family of texts):

Mt 18:11, Mt 23:14, Mk 7:16, Mk 9:44 and 46, Mk 11:26, Mk 15:28, Mk 16:9-17, Lk 17:36, Lk 23:17, Jn 5:3b-4, Acts 8:37, Acts 15:34, Acts 24:6b-8a, Acts 28:29, Rom 16:24 and others.

If the student looks at his Greek New Testament he will notice that at the bottom of every page there are variants listed. Most of these are minor or insignificant. Others are major and very significant. The student must learn the methods of text criticism and then practice, practice, practice the art of text criticism.

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