Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Conservative Introduction To Biblical Transmission And Textual Criticism

  • Defining The Issues:
          -The Bible documents the creation of the world, fall of man, God calling the Nation of Israel to be His people, His plan of redemption, and the means of redemption. It records the rise and fall of various governments. The Bible was written over a period of 1,600 years by approximately 40 authors.
          -The term "canon" is defined as standard or rule of faith. Therefore, the collection of books which comprise the Bible are to function as the spiritual measuring stick of discernment for the Christian church. 
          -The historic Christian position in regards to the Bible is that it is inspired revelation from God. The Bible proclaims itself to be a product of divine inspiration (John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:16). It contains both human and divine fingerprints.
  • How The Old Testament Canon Was Established:
          -The formation of the Old Testament canon began with God inscribing the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. Moses was commanded by God to pen down the words of the Law so as to provide the Israelites a rule or faith or standard of judgement.
          -Evidence that Old Testament revelation gradually expanded over time is the fact Old Testament authors recognized other authors. For example, the Prophet Daniel makes mention of the books documenting how the Lord spoke to Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2). The twofold division of the Law and prophets points to the Old Testament canon (Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 16:29-31). The threefold division of the Law, prophets, and the psalms also signifies the complete Hebrew Old Testament (Luke 24:44). This demonstrates the overall consistency within the Old Testament writings.
          -"On the other hand, much of the Bible, in particular the historical books of the old testament, are as accurate historical documents as any that we have from antiquity and are in fact more accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories. ‘These Biblical records can be and are used as are other ancient documents in archaeological work. For the most part, historical events described took place and the peoples cited really existed." (
          -"No longer are there compelling reasons to assume that the history of the canon must have commenced very late in Israel’s history, as was once accepted. The emergence in Mesopotamia, already in the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE, of a standardized body of literature arranged in a more or less fixed order and with some kind of official text, expresses the notion of a canon in its secular sense…The Old Testament as it has come down in Greek translation from the Jews of Alexandria via the Christian Church differs in many respects from the Hebrew Scriptures…It should be noted that the contents and form of the inferred original Alexandrian Jewish canon cannot be ascertained with certainty because all extant Greek Bibles are of Christian origin." (
  • Primary Ancient Witnesses Consulted In Reconstructing And Verifying The Text Of The Old Testament:
          -The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered near Wadi Qumran, are the earliest known extent Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. Codex Leningrad is the earliest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Old Testament, dated around the timing of the eleventh century and reflects Masoretic tradition. Other important ancient witnesses supporting the accurate preservation of the Old Testament Scriptures would include the Samaritan Torah, the Greek Septuagint (LXX), and the Aramaic Targums.
  • How We Can Know That The Old Testament Has Been Accurately Transmitted:
          -The Jews carefully preserved the writings that they deemed to be of canonical status. Any texts and scrolls that were reputed to have the unique characteristic of divine inspiration were kept in the temples, under the intense care and supervision of the priests who ministered and the scribes. In short, the concept of canonicity was known to the Israelites. Moreover, Near Eastern scribal practices in religious and political contexts involved meticulous preservation of important documents. Manuscripts would be copied. Manuscripts would be revised. They were compared, and examined letter per letter. The Jews no doubt venerated the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus, the closed and standardized text of the Old Testament has been passed down to us in excellent condition.
          -"Many of the prophets did not speak as recognized leaders of the nation. When we read their strong criticism of many of the leaders of the people, we find it hard to imagine how any nation would accept such books as part of its national treasure. It is a phenomenon that can hardly be paralleled in any other nation. Nor was there any lack of attempts to dispute the authority of the prophets during their lifetime." (Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question, contributor Allan A. MacRae, p. 223)
          -"The care of the Talmudic doctors for the text is shown by the pains with which they counted up the number of verses in the different books, and computed which were the middle verses, words, and letters in the Pentateuch and in the Psalms. The scrupulousness with which the Talmudists noted what they deemed the truer readings, and yet abstained from introducing them into the text, indicates at once both the diligence with which they scrutinized the text, and also the care with which, even while acknowledging its occasional imperfections, they guarded it. Critical procedure is also evinced in a mention of their rejection of manuscripts which were found not to agree with others in their readings; and the rules given with reference to the transcription and adoption of manuscripts attest the care bestowed upon them. The Talmud further makes mention of the euphemistic Keris, which are still noted in our Bibles, e.g. at 2 K. vi. 25. It also reckons six instances of extraordinary points placed over certain words, e.g. at Gen. xviii. 9; and of some of them it furnishes mystical explanations." (William Smith, A Dictionary Of the Bible Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, p. 651)
  • The Establishment Of The New Testament Canon:
          -The New Testament Scriptures were being read and circulated even as the apostles lived (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Revelation 1:10-11). Consequently, it can be affirmed that the New Testament canon was being established in the middle to the later end of the first century. Most conservative scholars agree that the 27 books of the New Testament were completed by the end of the first century, with the epistle of James being the first and Revelation being last in order of completion. Some, however, argue that Revelation was written earlier than AD 95.
          -22 out of 27 books of the New Testament were received as canonical by the end of the second century. The four gospel accounts and the Pauline corpus were never seriously disputed. The books of Hebrews, James, 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, and Revelation were questioned for a time. That point shows us the early Christians did not accept any random texts claiming to be of apostolic origin but instead scrutinized them, which bolsters our confidence that we have the rightful books in the New Testament canon. The lack of citation of 2 John, 3 John, and Jude from early patristic writers may be explained by their shortness. Factors used in the canonization process would include the dating, authorship, theology, and level of circulation of writings in the church. The New Testament canon was crystallized through church councils.
  • Primary Ancient Witnesses Consulted In Reconstructing And Verifying The Text Of The New Testament:
          -The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament available are papyri, some of which can be dated as early as the second century.
          -Leather parchment eventually replaced papyrus because the material was more durable. 
          -Codex Vaticanus is significant because it contains the entire New Testament. Another manuscript which contains most of the New Testament is Codex Sinaiticus. 
          -There are ancient Syrian, Coptic, and Latin translations which enhance our understanding of the New Testament autograph manuscripts. Those came about as a result of intense missionary work in the early church.
  • Why Textual Variations Exist In Greek New Testament Manuscripts:
          -Causes of unintentional scribal alterations in manuscripts would include poor eyesight, faulty inspection, mistakes in memory, spelling errors, and wrongly viewing inserted marginal notes as corrections of the text.
          -Causes of intentional scribal alterations in manuscripts would include attempts to update archaic grammar and spelling, clarify or harmonize more obscure texts, and protect important doctrines. An example of scribes attempting to protect doctrine (in this case it would be the Trinity) would be the insertion of "God" into 1 Timothy 3:16 rather than "he."
  • Most Textual Variations Can Be Resolved:
          -Most manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments have differences in spelling or grammar that do not pervert the meaning of the text.
          -There are textual variants among manuscripts that read synonymously. For instance, there are manuscripts that render the same passage of Scripture with Christ's name as being "Lord Jesus" or "Lord Jesus Christ."
          -There are textual variants that can readily be ignored due to seeming outright irrational or found in poor quality manuscripts.
          -The New Testament documents alone are almost one hundred percent textually pure. They have much earlier and wider source attestation than any other document of antiquity. Not one variation among the manuscripts comes close to harming an article of Judeo-Christian tradition.
  • Defining What Textual Criticism Is:
          -The purpose of textual criticism is to accurately convey what was written in the inspired original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible. This process of refinement involves sifting through all the available manuscript data. That is the science of biblical textual criticism.
          -Biblical criticism has been separated into two main categories: higher and lower criticism.
          -It would seem to be common sense procedure to inspect the oldest manuscripts in existence to better reconstruct the original text of the New Testament rather than a harmony of medieval manuscripts. There would be less of a possibility of the former being corrupted because less time passed between the beginning of the church and their production.
          -Textual criticism should be opposed when there are humanistic or anti-supernatural motivations involved. It should be done on the presupposition that the Bible is divine revelation.


  1. Hiya Jesse. I hope that your family is well during this ...shall we say difficult time we are living in. Overall i'd say its a very well put together article. Theres only about a handful of things that i'd like 2 mention about this article but itll have 2 wait till i get off work. My lunch is over.

  2. The first thing that I want to mention is just speculation I guess, when you mentioned that Moses wrote the Pentateuch I would definitely agree with that as it is quite indisputable, however do you suppose that God wrote the first chapter of Genesis and Adam wrote the next few chapters and his descendants wrote down the remaining chapters of genesis and so on until the time of exodus? Anyway you also mentioned that the law, psalms, and prophets make up the entire OT canon. Where does proverbs, Job, Esther,etc fit in? I guess I am being nitpicky there. I agree with you that the concept of canonicity was known to the Israelites, people like to say that the Catholics gave us the bible but putting books together isn't the same as creating the words in the books is it? I also I wanted to say that I agree with this quote " … It should be noted that the contents and form of the inferred original Alexandrian Jewish canon cannot be ascertained with certainty because all extant Greek Bibles are of Christian origin." I'm sure that you are already aware that I disagree with texual criticism, the part about reasons for intentional scribal alterations to the text for the purposes of protecting important doctrines or harmonizing obscure passages just doesn't sit well with me. If God preserved his words the doctrines shouldn't need protecting and just because certain people do not understand "obscure" passages it doesn't give them the right to change the text. wouldn't you agree. It's called prayer and God will show you what it means. Anyway I agree that in regards to the majoirity texts that it is almost 100 percent textually pure although that is just a matter of faith as I personally haven't hade the privlidge of examining them myself. I have made a massive update on my word of God article about two weeks ago or so but have decided on scheduling the publish date until a few more weeks from now, be sure to check it out ok. I know that we both support the preservation of scripture to some extant and that we both acknowledge that there are bible corruptions out there such as the clear word bible by SDA and NWT by the JW's. Anyway it's good to see you Jesse and I hope to see your thoughts on my Article of the Spiritual Gifts Saturday. Till next time, have a blessed day.

  3. Hello Justin,

    Authorship as a concept in Moses' time included what we would call an editor or compiler. I am fine with the idea of Moses doing a variety of duties and not personally writing every word.

    The perspective that you bring up regarding the authorship of Genesis is also acceptable, but in the end is theoretical only. Here is an article on the Pentateuch and Mosaic authorship:

    I should point out that the author bringing up two documents based on different names for God is outdated scholarship.

    The psalms was a first-century naming for the section of the Old Testament now known as the writings, which would include the books of Proverbs, Job, and Esther.

    If you disregard altogether textual criticism, then you cannot have the King James Version of the Bible because it is a product of that discipline.

    We are indebted to the work of scribes because if they did not pen additional manuscripts, then we would have no Bible today at all. Those unnamed Christians most certainly did not mess with the text at their own whim and prayed continually to God as they worked.

    We both support the idea of God preserving the Scriptures, but disagree on the means by which that has been done.

  4. The Genesis Record, by Henry M. Morris, states the following:

    It also is significant that, although the Book of Genesis is quoted from or allied to at least two hundred times in the New Testament…in none of these references is it every stated that Moses was the actual author. This is especially significant in view of the fact that Moses is mentioned by name at least eighty times in the New Testament, approximately twenty-five of which refer to specific passages attributed to Moses in the other books of the Pentateuch.

    While this evidence is not conclusive, it does favor the explanation that, while Moses actually wrote the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, he served mainly as compiler and editor of the material in the Book of Genesis….

    It is suggested in this commentary, therefore, that Moses compiled and edited earlier written records handed down from father to son via the line of the patriarchs listed in Genesis. That is, Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah, and others each wrote down an individual account of events which had occurred in his own lifetime, or concerning which he in some way had direct knowledge. These records were kept…in such a way that they would be preserved until they finally came to Moses’ possession. He then selected those that were relevant to his own purpose (as guided by the Holy Spirit), added his own explanatory editorial comments and transitional sections, finally compiled them into the form now known as the Book of Genesis.

It is probable that these original documents can still be recognizedly the key phrase: “These are the generations of….” The word “generation” is a translation of the Hebrew toledoth, and it means essentially “origins,” or, by extension, “records of the origins.” There are eleven of these divisions marked off in Genesis:
    [Genesis 2:4 God]
    [Genesis 5:1 Adam]
    [Genesis 6:9 Noah]
    [Genesis 10:1 Noah’s sons]
    [Genesis 11:10 Shem]
    [Genesis 11:27 Terah]
    [Genesis 25:12 Ishmael]
    [Genesis 25:19 Isaac]
    [Genesis 36:1 Esau]
    [Genesis 36:9 Esau in Mount Seir]
    [Genesis 37:2 Jacob]

    Assuming that these toledoth divisions represent the original documents from which Genesis was collected, here is still the question whether the specific names are to be understood as subscripts or as superscripts, or some of each. Are they headings applied to the material following, or closing signatures of that which precedes?

    The weight of the evidence suggest that the respective name attached to the toledoth represent subscripts or closing signatures. The events recorded in each division all took place before, not after, the death of the individuals named, and so could in each case have been accessible to them. The main difficulty with this view is that most of the portions that would be assigned to Ishmael and to Esau under this formula hardly seem appropriate for them to have written. However, this problem can be avoided by assuming that “the generations of Ishmael” constituted a small subdivision within the broader record maintained by Isaac, and finally transmitted by him. Similarly, the “generations of Esau” may have been appropriated by Jacob in his own larger account later transmitted under the heading “the generations of Jacob.”

  5. Continuing from previous comment:
    If this explanation is correct, then the Book of Genesis can be divided into nine main subdivisions, as follows:

    “The generations of the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1–2:4). This section, describing the initial Creation and the work of the six days, has no human name attached to it, for the obvious reason that no man was present at the time to record what happened. It must either have been written directly by God Himself and then given to Adam, or else given by revelation to Adam, who then recorded it.
    ”The book of the generations of Adam” (Genesis 2:4b—5:1)….
    “The generations of Noah” (Genesis 5:1b—6:9)….
    ”The generations of the sons of Noah” (Genesis 6:9b—10:1)….
    ”The generations of Shem” (Genesis 10:1b—11:10)….
    ”The generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:10b—11:27)….
    ”The generations of Isaac” (Genesis 11:27b—25:19)….
    ”The generations of Jacob” (Genesis 25:19b—37:2)….
    ”The generations of the Sons of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2b—Exodus 1:1)

    (In each of these subdivisions Morris gives explanations.)