Where the world comes to study the Bible

Appendix Two -- Textual Criticism

This subject will be dealt with in such a way as to explain the textual notes found in this commentary. The following outline will be utilized

I. The textual sources of our English Bible

A. Old Testament

B. New Testament

II. Brief explanation of the problems and theories of “lower criticism” also called “textual criticism.”

III. Suggested sources for further reading

I. The textual sources of our English Bible

A. Old Testament

1. Masoretic text (MT) - The Hebrew consonantal text was set by Rabbi Aquiba in a.d. 100. The vowel points, accents, marginal notes, punctuation and apparatus points started being added in the sixth century a.d. and were finished in the ninth century a.d. It was done by a family of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes. The textual form they used was the same as the one in the Mishnah, Talmud, Targums, Peshitta, and Vulgate.

2. Septuagint (LXX) - Tradition says the Septuagint was produced by 70 Jewish scholars in 70 days for the Alexandria library under the sponsorship of King Ptolemy II (285-246 b.c.) The translation was supposedly requested by a Jewish leader living in Alexandria. This tradition comes from “Letter of Aristeas.” The LXX frequently was based on a differing Hebrew textual tradition from the text of Rabbi Aquiba (MT).

3. Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) - The Dead Sea Scrolls were written in the Roman b.c. period (200 b.c. to a.d. 70) by a sect of Jewish separatists called the “Essenes.” The Hebrew manuscripts, found in several sites around the Dead Sea, show a somewhat different Hebrew textual family behind both the MT and the LXX.

4. Some specific examples of how the comparison of these texts have helped interpreters understand the Old Testament

a. The LXX has helped translators and scholars understand the MT

(1) the LXX of Isa. 52:14, “As many shall be amazed at him.”

(2) the MT of Isa. 52:14, “Just as many were astonished over you.”

(3) in Isa. 52:15 the pronoun distinction of the LXX is confirmed

(a) LXX, “so will many nations marvel at him”

(b) MT, “so he sprinkles many nations”

b. The DSS have helped translators and scholars understand the MT

(1) the DSS of Isa. 21:8, “then the seer cried, Upon a watchtower I stand. . .”

(2) the MT of Isa. 21:8, “and I cried a lion! My Lord, I always stand on the watch tower by day. . .”

c. Both the LXX and DSS have helped clarify Isa. 53:11

(1) LXX & DSS, “after the travail of his soul he will see light, he will be satisfied”

(2) MT, “he shall see. . .of the travail of his soul, He shall be satisfied”

B. New Testament

1. Over 5,300 manuscripts of all or parts of the Greek New Testament are extant. About 85 are written on papyri and 268 are manuscripts written in all capital letters (uncials). Later, about the ninth century a.d., a running script (minuscule) was developed. The Greek manuscripts in written form number about 2,700. We also have about 2,100 copies of lists of Scripture texts used in worship that we call lectionaries.

2. About 85 Greek manuscripts containing parts of the New Testament written on papyrus are housed in museums. Some are dated from the second century a.d., but most are from the third and fourth centuries a.d. None of these MSS contain the whole New Testament. Just because these are the oldest copies of the New Testament does not automatically mean they have fewer variants. Many of these were copied rapidly for a local use. Care was not exercised in the process. Therefore, they contain many variants.

3. Codex Sinaiticus, known by the Hebrew letter א (aleph) or (01), found at St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai by Tischendorf. It dates from the fourth century a.d. and contains both the LXX of the OT and the Greek NT. It is of “the Alexandrian Text” type.

4. Codex Alexandrinus, known as “A” or (02), a fifth century Greek manuscript which was found in Alexandria, Egypt.

5. Codex Vaticanus, known as “B” or (03), found in the Vatican’s library in Rome and dates from the middle of the fourth century a.d. It contains both LXX of the Old Testament and Greek New Testament. It is of “the Alexandrian Text” type.

6. Codex Ephraemi, known as “C” or (04), a fifth century Greek manuscript which was partially destroyed.

7. Codex Bezae, known as “D” or (05), a fifth or sixth century Greek manuscript. It is the chief representative of what is called “The Western Text.” It contains many additions and was the main Greek witness for the King James translation.

8. The NT MSS can be grouped into three, possibly four, families that share certain characteristics.

a. Alexandrian text from Egypt

(1) P75, P66 (about a.d. 200), which record the Gospels

(2) P46 (about a.d. 225), which records Paul’s letters

(3) P72 (about a.d. 225-250), which records Peter and Jude

(4) Codex B, called Vaticanus (about a.d. 325), which includes the whole OT and NT

(5) Origen quotes from this text type

(6) other MSS which show this text type are À, C, L, W, 33

b. Western text from North Africa

(1) quotes from North African church fathers, Tertullian, Cyprian, and the Old Latin translation

(2) quotes from Irenaeus

(3) quotes from Tatian and Old Syriac translation

(4) Codex D “Bezae” follow this text type

c. Eastern Byzantine text from Constantinople

(1) this text type is reflected in over 80% of the 5,300 MSS

(2) quoted by Antioch of Syria’s church fathers, Cappadoceans, Chrysostom, and Therodoret

(3) Codex A, in the Gospels only

(4) Codex E (eighth century) for full NT

d. the fourth possible type is “Caesarean” from Palestine

(1) it is primarily seen only in Mark

(2) some witnesses to it are P45 and W

II. The problems and theories of “lower criticism” or “textual criticism.”

A. How the variants occurred

1. inadvertent or accidental (vast majority of occurrences)

a. slip of the eye in hand copying which reads the second instance of two similar words and thereby omits all of the words in between (homoioteleuton)

(1) slip of the eye in omitting a double letter word or phrase (haplography)

(2) slip of the mind in repeating a phrase or line of a Greek text (dittography)

b. slip of the ear in copying by oral dictation where a misspelling occurs (itacism). Often the misspelling implies or spells a similar-sounding Greek word.

c. the earliest Greek texts had no chapter or verse divisions, little or no punctuation and no division between words. It is possible to divide the letters in different places forming different words.

2. intentional

a. changes were made to improve the grammatical form of the text copied

b. changes were made to bring the text into conformity with other biblical texts (harmonization of parallels)

c. changes were made by combining two or more variant readings into one long combined text (conflation)

d. changes were made to correct a perceived problem in the text (cf. I Cor. 11:27 and I John 5:7-8)

e. some additional information as to the historical setting or proper interpretation of the text was placed in the margin by one scribe but placed into the text by a second scribe (cf. John 5:4)

B. The basic tenets of textual criticism (logical guidelines for determining the original reading of a text when variants exist)

1. the most awkward or grammatically unusual text is probably the original

2. the shortest text is probably the original

3. the older text is given more weight because of its historical proximity to the original, everything else being equal

4. MSS that are geographically diverse usually have the original reading

5. doctrinally weaker texts, especially those relating to major theological discussions of the period of manuscript changes, like the Trinity in I John 5:7-8, are to be preferred.

6. the text that can best explain the origin of the other variants

7. two quotes that help show the balance in these troubling variants

a. J. Harold Greenlee’s book, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, p. 68:

“No Christian doctrine hangs upon a debatable text; and the student of the NT must beware of wanting his text to be more orthodox or doctrinally stronger than is the inspired original.”

b. W. A. Criswell told Greg Garrison of The Birmingham News that he (Criswell) doesn’t believe every word in the Bible is inspired, “at least not every word that has been given to the modern public by centuries of translators.” Criswell said: “I very much am a believer in the textual criticism. As such, I think, the last half of the 16th chapter of Mark is heresy: it’s not inspired, it’s just concocted...When you compare those manuscripts way back yonder, there was no such thing as that conclusion of the Book of Mark. Somebody added it...”

The patriarch of the SBC inerrantists also claimed that “interpolation” is also evident in John 5, the account of Jesus at the pool of Bethesda. And he discusses the two different accounts of the suicide of Judas (cf. Matt. 27 and Acts 1): “It’s just a different view of the suicide,” Criswell said. “If it is in the Bible, there is an explanation for it. And the two accounts of the suicide of Judas are in the Bible.” Criswell added, “Textual criticism is a wonderful science in itself. It is not ephemeral, it’s not impertinent. It’s dynamic and central...”

III. Manuscript problems (textual criticism)

A. Suggested sources for further reading

1. Biblical Criticism: Historical, Literary and Textual, by R.H. Harrison

2. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration by Bruce M. Metzger

3. Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, by J. H Greenlee