OT Textual Studies

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS Young Christians

Before defining exactly what Textual Criticism is, please see the image below, so you can see that if you hold your mouse over the OT Textual Studies tab, there will be a drop-down box. You can select the area you are looking for and then click on it, where you will find articles.

NOTE: The first five terms of our Glossary of Technical Terms are by Christian Publishing House, and the others are by Dr. Paul D. Wegner.

Textual Critic: a scholar whose goal is to reconstruct from extant manuscripts either the autograph or the initial text of the NT from which all existing copies originated. The methodology is the same in either case. The critic uses mental and computer-based tool sets to decide between variant readings among the manuscripts. There are different schools of thought, which tend to prefer either the early manuscripts with more difficult readings or the later manuscripts exhibiting what has been called the Majority Text.

Textual Criticism: the art and science (some would say only art) of determining the original text from variant readings exhibited by extant manuscripts. At present, a good deal of scientific methodology seems to be used as statistics, and computer processing is heavily employed. At the same time, however, TC is also faith-based (at least among conservative theologians), and the results are arguably impossible to verify. Faith plays a role in the belief by many that God has preserved His word somewhere among extant Greek manuscripts, which makes conjectural emendation unnecessary and unacceptable. As to verification, logic and the genealogical relationships between texts than can be constructed are often very convincing, but sometimes a decision is somewhat tenuous. Some critics would claim that no decision can really be verified, but many theories are accepted today without physical verification on the strength of reasonable probability.

Textual Family: a group of manuscripts that are observed to share common traits. The groups have been distinguished by geography, but textual contamination has cast major doubt on the relevance of that factor (see “Cluster” above). The concept of a family (or sub-family) of manuscripts is certainly relevant, however, and it appears that the old geographic identifiers continue to be used for convenience at least.

Variant Reading(s): differing versions of a word or phrase found in two or more manuscripts within a variation unit (see below). Variant readings are also called alternate readings.

Variation Unit: any portion of text that exhibits variations in its reading between two or more different manuscripts. It is important to distinguish variation units from variant readings. Variation units are the places in the text where manuscripts disagree, and each variation unit has at least two variant readings. Setting the limits and range of a variation unit is sometimes difficult or even controversial because some variant readings affect others nearby. Such variations may be considered individually or as elements of a single reading. One should also note that the terms “manuscript” and “witness” may appear to be used interchangeably in this context. Strictly speaking, “witness” (see below) will only refer to the content of a given manuscript or fragment, which it predates to a greater or lesser extent. However, the only way to reference the “witness” is by referring to the manuscript or fragment that contains it. In this book, we have sometimes used the terminology “witness of x or y manuscript” to distinguish the content in this way.


The following definitions assume the usage of the terms within the context of biblical textual criticism.

Afformative. A letter or combination of letters attached to the end of the main stem of a word.

Alexandrian family. Greek manuscripts thought to be from the region of Alexandria, Egypt.

alphabetic acrostic. A literary structure wherein each successive line begins with the next letter of the alphabet.

amulet. A charm, often inscribed with a magical incantation or symbol, to protect the wearer.

ancient translations. Translations of the biblical texts dating back to the pre-Christian and early Christian eras (e.g., LXX, Syriac Peshitta, Latin Vulgate).

aphaeresis. Absence or loss of a letter in a word.

Apocrypha. Those books (e.g., 1 Maccabees, Sirach, Tobit) regarded by some Christians as part of sacred Scripture but not found in the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

appendix. Supplemental information usually included at the end of a book.

archetype. An original manuscript of which further copies were made.

asterisk (ø). Symbol used by Origen in the Hexapla to indicate whether a specific word or phrase was lacking in the Hebrew text.

author’s deviation. The measure of how consistently a writer uses specific words, verb forms or other orthographic characteristics. Where an author is not consistent, the author is said to deviate from the norm.

autographs. Original manuscripts.

Bar Kochba Revolt. A Jewish revolt against the Romans led by Bar Kochba (lit. “son of the star”) in A.D. 132–135.

Ben Asher. A family that played a leading role in recording and maintaining the Masoretic Text.

Ben Naphtali. A family that played a lesser role (than Ben Asher) in recording and maintaining the Masoretic Text.

bilingual. Expressed or written in two languages.

Byzantine family. Greek manuscripts thought to be derived from the region of Byzantium, the seat of the Eastern Church from the fourth century onward.

calligrapher. One who specializes in writing with pen and ink.

canon. A religious tradition’s authoritative collection of books of the Bible.

chiasm. A literary structure with inverted parallel lines. In a chiastic four-line structure, the beginning and end lines and the middle two lines are parallel [a b b’ a’ pattern].

circulus. A small circle placed above a word in the Masoretic Text to indicate a related note in the Masorah parva (“little masorah”) at the side of the page.

codex. A manuscript bound in book form.

colophon. A note at the end of a manuscript, usually presenting facts relating to its production.

compilation. A collection of writings.

conflated readings. Two readings that have been combined.

conjectural emendation/reading. An attempt to reconstruct the original form of a particular detail in a biblical text, usually occasioned by something missing from the extant textual witnesses or by a difficulty in the extant readings.

copyist. One who copies a manuscript.

correction/change. The conscious effort on the part of a copyist to change the text in minor or major details.

corruption. A departure from the original text due to a copyist’s mistake or alteration.

critical edition. A published edition of a biblical text accompanied by a textual apparatus that allows comparison of details in the text with other textual witnesses. Usually a distinction is made between diplomatic and eclectic editions.

cursive. Manuscripts written in cursive handwriting (similar to small letter script in English).

daghesh. A dot in the middle of a Hebrew letter.

Dead Sea Scrolls. Manuscripts found at Qumran, on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

Decalogue. The Ten Commandments (lit. “ten words”).

defective writing. Hebrew written without matres lectionis.

dialect. A regional variety of a particular language with distinct differences from the standard language.

diplomatic edition. A modern edition of a biblical text faithfully representing an early, known manuscript; in contrast with an eclectic edition, which is a compilation of the best readings from all known texts. A diplomatic edition generally includes an apparatus with variant readings.

dittography. A letter or word that has been mistakenly written twice.

Ebionites. An early Jewish Christian sect considered heretical by the early Christian fathers for, among other things, their particular adherence to Jewish law and their defective Christology, which apparently denied the preexistence of Christ.

eclectic edition. An edition of the biblical text that attempts to reconstruct the original text by combining the best readings from all known sources into one text. An eclectic edition generally also provides a critical apparatus of variants, often with editorial evaluation.

ellipsis. A missing word or phrase in a text or the three consecutive dots (…) used in a modern edition to indicate the omission.

emendation. A change suggested by the editors of a biblical text but not having textual support.

encyclical letter. A letter intended to be circulated among a group of churches.

euphemistic change. The substitution of a milder term for an unpleasant or offensive one.

external evidence. Evidence concerning a variant from other manuscripts or versions.

facsimile. An exact reproduction of a manuscript.

final Masorah. A collection or summary of information about the Hebrew text (i.e., how many verses are in the book, the location of its midpoint).

fission. One word that has incorrectly been separated into two.

folio. A folded sheet of paper yielding two pages in a book.

fusion. Incorrect word division that results in two words being joined into one.

genizah. A storage room in a synagogue, particularly for keeping worn and retired sacred manuscripts.

gloss. An explanatory note added to a text.

Gnosticism. A heretical teaching that emphasized that matter is evil and that special knowledge (gnōsis) is given only to particular people.

Haggadah. Rabbinic statements that illustrate the Hebrew Scriptures.

hapax legomenon. A word that occurs only once within the Old Testament or New Testament.

haplography. The omission of a letter or word, usually due to a similar letter or word in the context.

harmonization. Modification of a passage to make it agree with another.

harmony of the Gospels. A work that weaves all four Gospels into one continuous narrative.

Hellenism. Greek influences.

hermeneutics. The philosophy of interpreting texts, or the rules or principles used to interpret Scripture.

Hexapla. A six-column work compiled by Origen (about A.D. 230–245) and arranged so that the Hebrew text could be compared to the Greek texts known at that time.

homoioarkton. A copyist’s omission caused by two words or phrases that begin similarly.

homoioteleuton. A copyist’s omission caused by two phrases that end similarly.

homophony. The substitution of a word for a similar sounding word.

insertion. A word or phrase inserted into a passage.

interdependence. Texts that are related to one another.

interlinear. A translation (often literal) that lines up the translation under each word or phrase of the biblical text, or between the lines.

internal evidence. Evidence relevant to a text-critical judgment that is derived from within the text in question.

intrusion. A text that has elements of another text inserted into it.

ipsissima verba. The “actual words” (of a writer or prophet, etc.).

Karaites. A Jewish sect originating in the eighth century A.D. that denied talmudic-rabbinical tradition.

Kethib, Qere. For questionable readings of the Hebrew Bible, scribes used a Kethib (“that which is written”) notation to designate the actual reading of the text and a Qere (“that which is to be read”) notation to signify what the scribes believed to be the proper reading.

lacuna (pl. lacunae). A hole or gap in a manuscript.

leaf. A page (usually a folio) from a book that may be written on both front and back.

lectionary. A book or list of specific biblical passages to be read on particular dates in the church’s calendar.

lemma (pl. lemmata). The biblical text (word, phrase, verse) quoted and referenced in a text-critical notation, a biblical commentary, concordance or a lexicon.

linguistics. The academic discipline of studying language.

liturgical. Pertaining to the liturgy (rites prescribed for public worship) of the church.

majority text. Using the majority of extant Greek manuscripts to determine the correct reading of the Greek text.

majuscule (uncial). A Greek manuscript (from the fourth century B.C. on) written in capital letters, or uncials.

manuscript. A handwritten text.

marginal Masorah. Notes written within the side margins of the Hebrew Bible discussing textual traditions in the biblical text.

Masada. A large flat-topped mountain along the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea where Herod built a fortress/palace. Jewish zealots took over this site in a battle with the Romans in A.D. 70.

Masorah. Literally “tradition,” referring to a body of notes on the textual traditions of the Hebrew Old Testament compiled by scribes during the first millennium A.D.

Masorah magna. Textual traditions too lengthy to appear in the Hebrew Old Testament’s margins and collected instead in a Masoretic handbook.

Masorah parva. Scribal notes (mainly orthographic notations) along the outside margin of the text of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Masoretes. A group of Jewish scribes from about a.d. 500 to 1000 who systematically protected the Hebrew Bible from textual corruption.

Masoretic handbook. A book with lengthier scribal textual notes than could be recorded in the margins of the Hebrew Bible.

Masoretic Text (M, mt). Sometimes called the “received text,” strictly speaking it is a medieval representative of a group of ancient texts of the Bible that at an early stage was accepted as the sole text by a central stream in Judaism. Earlier forms of the text type are named proto-Masoretic. In the first century A.D. the proto-Masoretic text was unified and became the standard Hebrew text.

matres lectionis. Latin for “mothers of reading”; refers to the consonants that represent certain vowel sounds that were added to the Hebrew text to aid in pronunciation before the development of vowel points.

Megilloth. The five scrolls (Esther, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations and Ecclesiastes) that were read on Jewish holidays.

metathesis. The reversal in order of two letters or words.

metobelos (, , ) (pl. metobeli). Symbol(s) in the Hexapla used by Origen to indicate whether a specific word or phrase was in the Hebrew text.

midrash. Jewish exegesis, or commentary, on Scripture.

minuscule. A manuscript written in cursive letters.

monograph. A scholarly publication on a single, well defined topic.

monophysitism. The view that Christ had only one nature—a divine one—not a human nature, even though he had a human body.

morphology. The study of the patterns of word formation in a particular language, including inflection, derivation and composition. For example, Qumran morphology includes the study of the lengthening of endings, such as independent pronouns, pronominal suffixes, second-person plurals and adverbial endings.

movable print/type. The raised letters arranged in a printing press that could be taken out and reassembled to print another page.

Naḥal Ḥever. A wadi, or dry river bed, flowing toward the Dead Sea and dotted with caves, a few of which yielded manuscripts.

obelos (, , ) (pl. obeli). Symbol(s) in the Hexapla used by Origen to indicate whether a specific word or phrase was in the Hebrew text.

original text. The completed literary composition (commonly known as the “final form of the text”) that was accepted as authoritative by the scribes.

orthography. The study of the rules and conventions of spelling. For example, Qumran orthography includes many matres lectionis to facilitate the reading.

ostracon. A piece of broken pottery used as writing material, much like scrap paper today.

paleo. Means “old” or “ancient.”

paleo-Hebrew script. The script of Hebrew manuscripts preceding the Assyrian (square) script.

paleography. The study of ancient writing.

palimpsest. A manuscript that has been reused after earlier writing has been erased or scraped off.

papyrus (pl. papyri). Writing material made from reeds of a papyrus plant or the manuscripts written on this material.

parablepsis. “Faulty seeing” or oversight resulting in scribal error.

paraphrase. A loose translation conveying the main meaning of a text; not a literal word-for-word translation.

parchment. Writing material made from calf, goat or sheep skin.

pesher. Jewish method of interpreting Scripture by applying a biblical text directly to a current situation.

philology. The study of language, including grammar, orthography and paleography.

phylactery. Small boxes containing Scripture portions and worn by Jews on the forehead and the back of the hands. The Scripture portions themselves.

plene writing ([lit.] “full writing”). A word in which the matres lectionis are written.

polyglot Bible. A Bible that has several (usually ancient) versions arranged side by side in columns.

potsherd. A piece of broken pottery, occasionally used as writing material.

primary translation. A translation made directly from the Greek (New Testament) or Hebrew (Old Testament) texts.

proselyte. A convert to a religion.

provenance. The place of origin of a manuscript.

pseudepigrapha. Jewish writings from the period 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 falsely ascribed to biblical characters.

qere. A marginal note indicating a correction to the Masoretic Text.

qere perpetuum. A word that is always corrected even though marginal notes only sometimes call attention to it.

Quinta. Origen’s fifth column in the Hexapla.

Qumran. An archaeological site located on the northwest side of the Dead Sea and the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Rabbinic Bible. A copy of the Old Testament made by rabbis that generally includes masorahs, Targums and Jewish commentaries.

reading. A variant of a text.

reasoned eclecticism. The approach to textual criticism that uses a balance of internal and external evidence to determine the most plausible original reading of a text.

recension. An editorial revision of a literary work that by definition should show a conscious effort to change an earlier text systematically in a certain direction. Such characteristics include expansionistic, abbreviating, harmonizing, Judaizing or Christianizing tendencies. Some scholars argue that the Masoretic Text, Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch represent recensions that had reached their present form after various stages of editing and textual manipulation.

rigorous eclecticism. The approach to textual criticism that relies exclusively on internal evidence to determine the most plausible original reading of a text.

sacrosanct. To be so sacred as to be inviolable.

Samaritan Pentateuch (sp, @). An ancient text of the Torah written in a special form of early Hebrew script and preserved by the Samaritan community. Its basis was a Jewish text, to which the Samaritans added a thin layer of ideological and phonological changes.

Samaritans. The people who lived in Samaria, or the area of the northern kingdom of Israel, after its defeat in 722 B.C.

scribal notations. Any of the notes or aids that scribes added to the text (e.g., vowel points, accents).

scriptio continua. Continuous writing with no breaks between words.

secondary translation. A translation made from a translation of the Greek (New Testament) or Hebrew (Old Testament) text. Thus a translation of a translation.

sectarian. Relating to or characteristic of a sect.

semantics. The study of the meaning of words.

siglum (pl. sigla). Designations or symbols for specific biblical manuscripts.

sôp pasûq. Symbol signifying the end of a verse.

square script (or Assyrian script). Hebrew script in which most of the consonants have a square-like shape.

stabilize. Having to do with the standardization of the Hebrew text.

standard deviation. The degree to which an author diverges from consistently translating a specific Hebrew or Greek word into another language in the ancient versions.

standardize. To remove any variations from a text.

supralinear. Written above the line.

syntax. The way in which words are put together to form phrases, clauses or sentences.

targum (pl. targumim or targums). Aramaic translations or paraphrases of Old Testament books (lit. “interpretation”).

tertiary translation. A translation of a secondary translation (or a translation of a translation of a translation).

text critic. A person who examines the variations between biblical manuscripts and versions in order to determine the most plausible original reading of a text.

texts from the Judean Desert. A broad term for Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts (biblical and nonbiblical) that were copied or composed between the mid-third century B.C. and A.D. 135, and discovered in the Judean Desert between 1947 and 1956. The Dead Sea Scrolls are among these texts.

textual apparatus/notes. A feature of a critical edition consisting of a collection of readings, or variants, from manuscripts or ancient versions that deviate from a central text. These variants are correlated with the text by means of a notation system.

textual criticism. The process of evaluating variations between biblical manuscripts and versions in order to determine the most plausible original reading of a text.

textual family. A group of manuscripts that are related in that they are copies from the same or similar manuscripts.

textual variant (see variant reading). The details of which texts are composed (letters, words) are “readings” and, accordingly, all readings that differ from the accepted text as central are usually called variant readings, or variants. The term is not evaluative but refers to the existence of a deviation between the accepted text and another text.

textual witness. The various sources that represent different forms of the biblical text. For the Old Testament these include the Masoretic Text, the Hebrew Vorlage of the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the texts from the Judean Desert, biblical quotations in ancient texts and other miscellaneous sources.

textus receptus. Literally “received text,” a standardized form of the biblical text that has come down through the transmission process.

Tosefta. Explanatory material that was added to some copies of the Mishnah.

transmission. The process by which a text was “transmitted” over the years by repeated copying.

uncial. Uppercase, or majuscule, letter or a manuscript written in these letters.

unpointed. Hebrew writing that lacks vowel points.

Urtext. Original text.

variant reading. Any difference between two or more manuscripts of the same text.

vellum. Fine-grained writing material made of calfskin, lambskin or kidskin.

vernacular. The common language of a region or country.

version. An ancient translation of the Bible or a portion of the Bible.

Vorlage. The manuscript from which a scribe copied a text.

vowel point. A symbol representing a vowel sound that appears above or below a Hebrew consonant. These were not added to the Hebrew Bible until the period A.D. 500 to 900.

Wadi Murabbaʿat. A steep ravine with a river bed flowing from the Judean Desert to the Dead Sea. Some caves in this ravine were found to contain manuscripts.

Western family. Greek New Testament manuscripts believed to derive from the Western region of the church.

Western readings. Readings that follow the Western family of texts.

zealots. A Jewish revolutionary movement of the first century A.D.

Zoroastrianism. A Persian religion founded in the sixth century B.C. and characterized by the worship of a supreme god Ahura Mazda.[1]

[1] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 302–310.

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