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Textual Criticism: Day 2


Interested in textual criticism? I’m happy to have read through Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman’s book, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (4th Edition). The back of the book states it is a manual for textual criticism. I would agree, and like most manuals you will not find yourself rolling on the ground laughing, but rather pouring another cup of coffee (or in my case tea).

Whether new to the field of textual criticism or a frequent visitor to the apparatus, I believe this book has something for everyone. If you're new to textual criticism this is a great resource to start with. It begins with the basics of creating the ancient books from papyri to the life of ancient scribes. From there, Metzger and Ehrman give a brief synopsis of important manuscripts and the different versions (Syriac, Armenian, Latin, etc.). This is followed by an overview of the history of textual criticism, and then into modern methods.

Although considered a manual, the book provides short historical summaries of various events that make up the history of the New Testament. I was slightly envious of Tischendorf’s manuscript adventures. In the mid 1800s, Tischendorf went in search of biblical manuscripts. At one monastery he discovered that ancient biblical manuscripts were being used to stoke the fires of an oven! I was grateful to learn more about Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, the Textus Receptus, but wish more people were familiar with the backstory.

According to Metzger and Ehrman, “To teach another how to become a textual critic is like teaching another how to become a poet. The fundamental principles and criteria can be set forth and certain processes described, but the appropriate application of these in individual cases rests upon the student’s own sagacity and insight”(p.305). That being said, this book is loaded with information, and like all great manuals Metzger and Ehrman provide a “how-to” portion to help anyone new to the field. For example, they walk through specific verses and the options provided in the apparatus. They discuss the different variants and how to logically determine which variant is most likely closer to the original.

I’m grateful to have read through this book as it has cleared up many questions and given me so much more clarity. I’m still new to this step in the exegetical process, but I have more confidence to take a step into the NT apparatus with Metzger and Ehrman’s book nearby.

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