What Is the Goal of the New Testament Textual Scholar?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 100 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

This article may be somewhat controversial because many modern textual scholars are not certain that we can get back to the original text. Again, when we use the term “original” reading or “original” text in this publication, it is a reference to the exemplar manuscript by the New Testament author (e.g. Paul) and his secretary (e.g. Tertius)–if he used one–from which other copies were made for publication and distribution to the Christian communities. While this article will focus on the textual criticism process as a whole, its main focus will be the early text of the New Testament, namely, the first three centuries of Christianity. In other words, we will be considering the text of the New Testament from the middle of the first century up to the close of the fourth century C.E.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

TEXTUAL CRITICISM is the process of the textual scholar attempting to ascertain the original wording of the original text. – The Primary Task of a Textual Scholar

Whether it was in commentaries, the footnotes within our Bibles, or from the elder or pastor on Sunday, we have all read or heard something like “the original Greek word …” For example, the original Greek word here is hagiazo, meaning, “to set apart to a sacred use” (Matt. 6:9). The original Greek word here is kleros and is related to the word kleronomia, “inheritance” (Col. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). Perhaps the author or pastor is trying to provide a little Bible background, such as pointing out that the cubit is the original Greek word pechus in Matthew 6:27, which literally means “forearm.” The publication or pastor may be emphasizing the nuances of different words for Christian services, such as the original Greek verb diakoneo (Matt. 20:26). One original Greek verb may emphasize the subjection that is involved in serving, such as a slave (douleuo; Col. 3:24), another could be the sacredness of service (latreuo; Matt. 4:10), while another might be focused on the public nature of the service provided (leitourgeo; Acts 13:2).

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When incorporating a source, the author or pastor may mention something like Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. It will be used to explain the original Greek word, such as epikaleo, which means, “to receive an appellation or surname to call upon, invoke to appeal to.”[1] Paul used this same word when he declared, “I appeal to Caesar!” (Acts 25:11, NASB) A common way of expressing it is, “in the original Greek, this term basically “denotes” (the meaning, especially a specific or literal one) or “connotes (to imply or suggest something in addition to the literal or main meaning).” When Paul wrote about “the mind of the spirit,” he used an original Greek word that denotes ‘a way of thinking’ or ‘mindset.’ The original Greek word for our English transliteration “amen,” connotes ‘certainty,’ ‘truthfulness,’ ‘faithfulness,’ and ‘absence of doubt.’ We can see that getting back to the original word in the original language text can add considerable insight into the Scriptures. Therefore, our getting back to the actual words of the original language that the New Testament Bible author penned is, indeed, the goal of this author.

The importance of the actual words is constantly evident when we examine the text of the original. Let’s look at one example, a story that we all know. On the return trip home after the festivals in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary thought that Jesus was somewhere with the family, so at first, his not being present was no cause for alarm. Three days later, when Mary and Joseph came back to Jerusalem to find Jesus, he was in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them” (Luke 2:44-46, UASV). Other translations read, “Listening to them and asking them questions” (RSV, NASB, ESV, LEB, and HCSB). However, that rendering does not really capture the original language word.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS
Luke 2:46 English Standard Version (ESV)

46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Luke 2:46 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

46 Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.

Luke 2:46 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

46 Then, it occurred, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them.

This was no 12-year-old boy asking questions out of curiosity. The Greek word erotao is the Greek word for “ask,” “question,” and is a synonym of eperotao. The latter of the two was used by Luke and is much more demanding, as it means, “to ask a question, to question, interrogate someone, questioning as used in a judicial examination” and, therefore, could include counter questioning. Therefore, Jesus, at the age of twelve, did not ask childlike questions looking for corresponding answers but was likely challenging the thinking of these Jewish religious leaders. What was the response of those Jewish religious leaders? The account goes on to say, “And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers” – Luke 2:47, NASB.

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What Is Meant by ‘Establishing the Original Text’?

Because the terms original and autograph are used interchangeably, it can cause confusion at times if not differentiated. The Autograph (self-written) was the text actually written by a New Testament author, or the author and scribe as the author dictated to him. If the scribe was taking down dictation (Rom. 16:22; 1 Pet. 5:12), he might have done so in shorthand.[2] Whether by shorthand or longhand, we can assume that both the scribe and the author would check the scribe’s work. The author would have authority over all corrections since the Holy Spirit did not move the scribe. If the inspired author wrote everything down himself as the Spirit moved him, the finished product would be the autograph. This text is also often referred to as the Original. Again, the terms autograph and original are often used interchangeably. Sometimes textual critics prefer to make a distinction, using “original” as a reference to the text that is correctly attributed to a biblical author.  This is a looser distinction, one that does not focus on the process of how a book or letter was written. Once more, the term “original” reading or “original” text in this blog is a reference to the exemplar manuscript by the New Testament author (e.g. Paul) and his secretary (e.g. Tertius) from which other copies were made for publication and distribution of the Christian communities.

Some readers may find it disconcerting that ancient copies of the New Testament are not inspired, and hundreds of thousands of variations crept into them over the first fourteen centuries. This is not the complete picture, however, because we have the next five centuries of restoration work done by hundreds of textual scholars around the world. If asked, “Are our copies inspired, without error?” the short answer would have to be no. But what if we have the exact representation of the original?

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

If we can get back to what was written in the original 27 books that were first published, would we not have a copy of the inspired original? We know that 2 Timothy 3:16 informs us, “all Scripture is inspired by God,” meaning that the actual words in the autographs were a product of inspiration. Moreover, the inspired authors were as 2 Peter 1:21 informs us, “men [who] spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Nevertheless, if dictation were the process of composition for some of the New Testament books, they would have still needed to be checked for scribal errors, because the amanuensis, i.e. the author’s scribe (secretary), was not moved along by Holy Spirit in the same sense. Therefore, the author would review the dictated draft if he used a scribe, making any corrections necessary. After that, the scribe would make a corrected copy, which if approved by the author, would become the officially published edition, and would have been signed by the author. In the final analysis, a textual committee e.g. NA28/UBS5 has the potential to give us the exact wording of the original, and would, in essence, be giving us the restored edition of the original.

Today we have a storehouse of external evidence: original language manuscripts, versions, apostolic quotations, and lectionaries that take us ever closer to the recovery of the original. Textual scholar Paul D. Wegner, author of A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible, has addressed this for both the Old and the New Testaments:

Careful examination of these manuscripts has served to strengthen our assurance that our Modern Greek and Hebrew texts are very close to the original autographs, even though we do not have those autographs. (2006, 301)[3]

The traditional goal of scholars within textual criticism has been to get back to the original through the practice of applying the rules and principles of textual criticism. These rules and principles go back to the early textual scholars such as Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812),[4] Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf (1815-1874), Brook Foss Westcott (1825-1901, Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), Frederick G. Kenyon (1863-1952), Kirsopp Lake (1872-1946), Eberhard Nestle (1851-1913),[5] and his son Erwin Nestle (1883-1972).  Kurt Aland (1915-1994) is the lynchpin between the older generation of textual scholars and modern textual scholarship. Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007), Ernest Cadman Colwell (1901-1974), Jacob Harold Greenlee (1918-2015), Gordon D. Fee (1934- ) and Philip W. Comfort (1950- ) join Aland, among many, many others.

J. Harold Greenlee wrote, “Textual criticism is the study of copies of an ancient writing to try to determine the exact words of the text as the author originally wrote them.”[6] This is the fundamental thought found in almost all introductory-intermediate textbooks on textual criticism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The traditional approach was to look at all of the evidence, internal (largely contextual) and external (e.g. dating); however, the priority or weight in determining the original reading was given to the oldest reliable manuscripts, which also display the harder readings, contributing to their trustworthiness. Most modern critical texts were the product of this approach. However, the Alands and others have shifted the emphasis to internal evidence,[7] as opposed to external evidence.[8]

There seems to be a correlation in the many different fields of biblical studies that should not be easily or quickly dismissed as conspiratorial.

Hermeneutics: Liberal to moderate Bible scholars use the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, which is subjective (based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.), which is dependent on the mind or on an individual’s perception. Conservative Bible scholars use the historical-grammatical interpretation method of biblical interpretation, which is objective, which is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

Bible Translation Philosophy: Liberal to moderate Bible scholars use dynamic equivalent, interpretative Bible translations, such as the CEV, TEV, GNT, NIV, NRSV, NLT, and so on. These translations with their translation committees take the literal translation and then alter it (go beyond what was written) to give the reader what they believe the Bible author meant in place of the actual words. Conservative Bible scholars prefer literal translations, such as the KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, ESV, LEB, CSB, UASV. However, it should be noted that there is a watering down of even the so-called literal translations, with their essentially literal and optimally literal translations

The English Standard Version (ESV) is an “essentially literal” translation of the Bible in contemporary English. Created by a team of more than 100 leading evangelical scholars and pastors,” which had William (Bill) Mounce as their chief translator, who also moved onto the translation committee of the New International Version. He is a serious advocate for the dynamic equivalent translation philosophy. “The [Christian Standard Bible] CSB was created using Optimal Equivalence, a translation philosophy that balances linguistic precision to the original languages and readability in contemporary English.” Optimal Equivalence sounds like code for dynamic equivalence philosophy, not literal translation philosophy. The idea of balancing being accurate and faithful to the original language texts with the readability of the modern reader means that the translation committee is going to take over the job of the reader and determine what is readable. The meaning of a word is the responsibility of the interpreter (i.e., reader), not the translator. Bible readers need to be given what God said by way of his human authors, not what a translator thinks God meant in its place, so as to make it easier.

Textual Criticism: Liberal to moderate Bible scholars are trying to use the art and the science of textual criticism to get back to the earliest text possible. The conservative Bible scholars are trying to get back to the original text.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Currently, there are literally hundreds of textual scholars, translation scholars hermeneutical scholars, and apologetic scholars trying Battle for the Bible, for they realize without knowing what the original words of the original text were; then, there is no way to accurately translating the Scriptures, interpreting the Scriptures, or defending the Scriptures. As Hill and Kruger put it,

While the complexities in recovering the original text need to be acknowledged, that is a separate question from whether the concept of an original text is incoherent and should therefore be abandoned as a goal of the discipline. Unfortunately, these two questions are often mingled together without distinction. Although recovering the original text faces substantial obstacles (and therefore the results should be qualified), there is little to suggest that it is an illegitimate enterprise. If it were illegitimate, then we would expect the same would be true for Greek and Roman literature outside the New Testament. … Recognizing the historical value of such scribal variations need not be set in opposition to the goal of recovering the original text. These two aspects of textual criticism are complementary, not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is only when we can have some degree of assurance regarding the original text that we are even able to recognize that later scribes occasionally changed it for their own theological purposes. Without the former we would not have the latter. – The Early Text of the New Testament

See the Full Article Here: Is It the Original or the Earliest Text of the New Testament?
A MUST READ: See also How to Count Textual Variants

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[1] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1152.

[2] “The usual procedure for a dictated epistle was for the amanuensis to take down the speaker’s words (often in shorthand) and then produce a transcript, which the author could then review, edit, and sign in his own handwriting. Two New Testament epistles provide the name of the amanuensis: Tertius for (Romans 16:22) and Silvanus (another name for Silas) for 1 Peter 5:12” Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 06.

[3] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove 2006), 301.

[4] J. J. Griesbach is the one who really laid the foundation for the rules and principles for New Testament textual criticism.

[5] In 1898, Eberhard Nestle published a significant handbook of textual criticism, and in 1898 published the first edition of a Greek New Testament under the title Novum Testamentum Graece cum apparatu critico ex editionibus et libris manu scriptis collecto. The text of this Greek New Testament was a combination of the editions of Constantin von Tischendorf, The New Testament in the Original Greek of Westcott and Hort, and the edition of Richard Francis Weymouth. Wherever two of these three editions agree, this was the preferred reading by Nestle.

[6] Greenlee, J. Harold (2008). The Text of the New Testament, From Manuscript to Modern Edition (p. 2). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[7] Internal evidence is evidence that comes from the text itself, such as the reading from which the others most likely arose is probably the original, and the harder reading is to be preferred.

[8] External evidence is manuscript evidence: its date, geographical location, and relationship to other known manuscripts. Textual scholars generally prefer the readings supported by the Alexandrian family of witnesses. The Byzantine family of manuscripts tends to be rejected because of its being less trustworthy, but most critics now grant that it should still be considered.

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