Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism

By Cox, Steven L. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism


Cox, Steven L., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism. Edited by David Alan Black. Grand Rapids; Baker, 2002, 157 pp., $16.99 paper.

Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism explores biblical textual criticism and introduces current issues in the field of textual studies. This work was based on a symposium held at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC in 2000.

In the first chapter, "Issues in New Testament Textual Criticism: Moving from the Nineteenth Century to the Twenty-First Century," Eldon Jay Epp surveys the history of textual criticism, placing importance on "internal" and "external" evidence and describing especially the rigorous eclectic and the reasoned eclectic approaches to textual criticism. This section explains the establishment of text-types for the purpose of reconstructing "the history of the New Testament text by tracing the lines of transmission back through the extant manuscripts to the earliest stages and then selecting the readings that seem best to represent the earliest attainable level of textual tradition" (p. 35). Epp also surveys and evaluates the critical texts and emphasizes the influence of Westcott and Hort's work on critical editions of the past two centuries.

Michael Holmes in "The Case for Reasoned Eclecticism" defends the reasoned eclecticism approach, which encompasses both internal and external evidence concerning ancient manuscripts. He provides a detailed definition of this text-critical approach and offers a comparison with the other approaches taken by the presenters at the symposium. Holmes acknowledges that the various methodologies "too often attempt to make decisions about specific variations on the basis of a few overarching rules or general guidelines" (p. 89). He argues that "no critical methodology . . . works in a vacuum; it functions only in conjunction with a view of the history of the transmission of the text" (p. 91). Holmes concludes with an established list of points by which one might understand the history of the text.

J. K. Elliott in "The case for Thoroughgoing Eclecticism" seeks to demonstrate the use of only internal evidence to determine a manuscript's trustworthiness. Elliott provides the definition of his methodology (p. 103) and demonstrates how proponents of thoroughgoing eclecticism differ from those following other methodologies, in particular the proponents of Byzantine priority. He cautions that "in many ways the results of the three methods do not differ in all respects [in regard to principle and praxis]" (p. 104). Elliott calls for a consistency in methodology, giving examples of the UBS committee's inconsistency. Elliott also demonstrates the application of thoroughgoing eclecticism with select texts. …

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