A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results

By Brotzman, Ellis R. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2007 | Go to article overview

A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results


Brotzman, Ellis R., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results. By Paul D. Wegner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006, 336 pp., $17.00 paper.

Paul Wegner has provided teachers and students with a clearly written and wonderfully illustrated introduction to the practice of textual criticism of the entire Bible. (Most recent treatments focus on either OT or NT.) He introduces his topic with an example from each testament where modern versions vary in their handling of variant readings: (1) How many men were killed when they looked into the ark (1 Sam 6:19)? (2) How should the Lord's Prayer read in Luke 11:4? These two passages quickly whet the reader's appetite for the why and how of textual criticism.

The author organizes his book in four major parts. Parts one and four deal with general issues. Part two deals with the OT, and part three with the NT. Chapter 1 gives a basic introduction to textual criticism. The author discusses a variety of ways to understand the goal of textual criticism, from restoring the original composition to restoring all literary editions of the OT (see the table on p. 31). He articulates well the basic differences in the practice of textual criticism in the OT (fewer manuscripts, but better ones) as compared with the NT (more manuscripts, but not as carefully preserved).

Chapter 2 discusses the copying errors that may be observed by examining variant readings. Scribal errors are categorized as either unintentional or intentional. In each case, an example is given from the OT, and then the same error is illustrated in the NT. This way of presenting possible copying errors will have the advantage of reinforcement for the student, but this advantage may be offset by the student's having to read the same chapter twice in two different courses. The author often includes examples of similar "scribal" errors that occur in English, and this will be very helpful for students.

The final chapter in the first part of the book deals with the history of the transmission of the biblical text. The first part covers the OT and describes the history of copying practices during five time periods. Prior to 400 BC, the focus is on four questions: the language and script in which the OT was written; the issue of continuous writing (i.e. without spaces between words); the kinds of materials that were written on; and who maintained these texts in this period. From 400 BC-AD 100 there were two competing tendencies: preservation of the text and revision of the text. The author mentions three kinds of revisions: change from the archaic script to the square script; change of spelling; and change of grammar. From AD 100-500 there was a more standard form of the OT text that was transmitted by the Tannaim and the Amoraim. From AD 500-1000 the Masoretes transmitted the text they had received and added vowel points, accent marks, and their own careful notes. The transmission of the NT text is covered more briefly in two time periods-prior to and after AD 100. The discussion emphasizes the kinds of materials used for copying and the level of discipline in the copying process (less discipline in the first two centuries, but greater discipline beginning in the fifth century). …

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