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Texual criticism. 

There are, of course, many others, about 4,000 in all, of different parts of the New Testament, but the above will give some idea what the most important of the Uncials were like. It is a remarkable overruling of the providence of God that there are so many, especially when compared with the number in the case of other writings.

F.F.Bruce has a good paragraph on this in his "Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?" - "Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar's 'Gallic War' (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant MSS, but only nine or ten are good and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar's day.

Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Livy (59 B.C.- A.D.17), only 35 survive; these are known to us by not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books III-VI, is as old as the 4th century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (a.L.D.100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part.

The text of those extant MSS of his minor works, all descend from a codex of the 10th century. The History of Thucydides (460-400 B.C.) is knoun to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to about A.D.900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (480-425 B.C.). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Horodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals"(pp.16 f.)

In addition to the fact that there are so many MSS it is remarkable that any differences of reading there are (and there are bound to be a number with so many MSS), and any doubtful readings where the original cannot be discovered for certain, concern on the whole, only minor points. They do not throw any doubt on the basic doctrines of our faith.

Professor Lake in his little book "The Text of the New Testament" compares the difference between Classical and Biblical Textual criticism in the following words "In Classical textual criticism the archetype of all extant MSS is often obtainable with comparatively little work, but often is very corrupt.

There is therefore scope for much conjectural emendation. In Biblical textual criticism, on the other hand, it is still doubtful what is the archetype of the existing MSS. But at least we may be sure that is is an exceedingly early one, with very few corruptions, and, therefore, the work of conjectural oendation is very light, rarely necessary and scarcely over possible."

One other point should be mentioned before leaving this section. Objection to the genuineness of the New Testament has been made by unbelievers on the ground that complete MSS have not been found earlier than the fourth century A.D. The explanation for this is quite simple and is found in the use of papyrus.

This, is a very perishable material and will only last in a certain type of climate. As we have seen there are fewer MSS still of secular works. Recently fragments of Papyrus MSS as early as the 2nd century A.D. have been found in places where the climate has been favourable.

d. Textual Criticism.

A great deal has been said about the various types of MSS etc. and it will be as well at this stage to Live a brief outline of the nature and methods of textual criticism.
The object of textual criticism is, as its name suggests, to study carefully all the various MSS in existence and by comparison and investigation to recover so far as possible the actual words written by the writer.

It is a very important part of Biblical scholarship and has, generally speaking, been carried out with painstaking care and absolute honesty and freedom from theological bias and without those strange theories, so often detrimental to the truth of the Word of God,which have been the bane of Higher Criticism. Textual criticise is often called Lower Criticism as contrasted with this other type of criticism.

It can readily be realised that, with the constant copying of the Scriptures, mistakes were bound to occur. This is so oven in printed books, two illustrations of which can be given from our English Bible. One old edition had in Ps.119:161 — "Printers have persecuted me without a cause".
Then again one edition has been called the "Wicked Bible" because the word "not" had been omitted from the seventh commandment. It is a miracle that there are not more errors than there are.
The object of the textual critic, is to remove all the errors and produce as far as possible, the original words.
The task falls into four stages:—

(i.) A study of each individual MS to remove all the obvious errors.

Errors are of two main types, unintentional and intentional. There are four reasonably common kinds of unintentional error:-


Repeating the same words, where one set of the words obviously needs to be deleted.

b.Confusion of words ending the same.

Two words ending exactly the same (e.g. words in our language ending in `ation' ) occur near to each other; in copying the eye jumps from one to the other and a section lying between them, sometimes a whole line, is omitted.

c.Wrong division of words.

There was no separation between the letters in the old MSS, and it was easy for words to be divided incorrectly. For instance in English there can be more than one interpretation of the letters " haveyouseenabundanceonthetable ". The story is also told of an atheist who wanted to teach his little girl his atheism and so hung in his house the inscription -''GOD Is nowhere" but when he asked his little girl to read it, she read "GOD IS now here".


Certain contractions which were used to simplify copying were sometimes misread. The intentional mistakes were far loss frequent and arose mostly through the copyist being familiar with some other text than the one he was copying or in the case of the Gospels, with some harmony he had read. In this case he would sometimes attempt to amend the text, thinking the one he was copying to be incorrect.

(ii) The second stage is the arranging of all these MSS into groups, or families. Those families are arranged according to similar mistakes in each family. Fairly obviously if several MSS all have the same mistakes, they almost certainly came from the same ancestor or archetype, From all the MSS probably three families devolve and from these is discovered what is the original text of these three ancestors.

(iii)The next stage is a comparison of these ancestors. From these an ancestor of the ancestors is arrived at which would be the original text as far as we can get it. In arriving at this ancestor a decision has to be made as to which is the best of two readings, This is done along two lines — which gives the best sense and is most in accord with the style of the writer; a consideration as to how the wrong reading was most likely arrived . These two points are referred to as the reading which is most intrinsically probable and that which is most transcriptionally probable.

(iv) The last stage is not practically important in Now Testament textual criticism. It concerns the conjectural emendation of any passage which still seems corrupt. As was shown in the quotation from Professor Lake given above, there are no important passages in the New Testament which need emendation.

We are quite sure we have the original text, and where there is doubt, it is only a question of knowing which of two readings is the correct one and mostly the differences in readings are on very minor points. No variant readings throw any doubt on the basic doctrines of our faith. The position is not quite the same with the Old Testament text but the subject is too large to deal with here.

e. The miracle of Preservation.

The preservation of our Scriptures as we have them today is a miracle of the superintending providence of God. Some of the following matter has already been mentioned but it is worth summing up the position even at the risk of repetition.

e1.Facts against the Preservation of the Scriptures.

The Necessity of copying the books by hand. Prior to the advent of printing all copies had to be made by hand, the possibility of mistakes was very possible.

e2.The Type of writing used.

Many of the letters were very similar to each other, especially in Hebrew. There were no aids to reading such as punctuation, spacing etc., between words or sentences, and one word often ran over into the next line without any mark to show that it had done so. In addition to this, in order to compress the books into a shorter space, many contractions were used and letters often became smaller and were crowded together at the end of a line. The Persecutions to which Christianity was subjected. Effort upon effort was made to destroy not only Christianity but every sign of its book and teaching.

(ii) Miracles in connection with their Preservation.

Comparatively small number of variations and mistakes.

There are very few substantial variations and, no important doctrine of Christianity is altered by them. The MSS have been copied with amazing care, especially those of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. The fact that our Old Testament Hebrew MSS are not very ancient is conteracted by the care with which they were copied, every letter and every line on every page being counted.

Abundance of the MS and other sources for the text.

This is especially so in the case of the New Testament, for which there are about 4,000 MSS., some of the whole and some of parts. More than 50 of these belong to the first three centuries A.D.. In addition to these there are numberless quotations from the New Testament in the "Fathers" and many "Versions" i.e. translations of the New Testament into other languages.

Recent discoveries.

Some of the 50 mentioned above consist of a very valuable find of papyri recently discovered in Egypt, which go back, some of them, to the very beginning of the second century A.D.. Recent discoveries have also brought to light much new information regarding the language of the New Testament, which has been found to be far more the language of the common people of the day and far less ecclesiastical than used to be imagined.

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