A Brief Look at Textual Criticism in Exegesis

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  1. In what ways is an understanding of textual criticism valuable in the process of exegesis?
  2. Why is textual criticism valuable in a ministry context?
            Before we can attempt to answer either question we must first understand what textual (lower) criticism is. Blomberg says, “Simply defined, textual criticism is the practice of comparing the various copies of a work in order to determine, as best as possible the exact wording of an original text that is either undiscovered or no longer exists.”[1]Now with a working definition at hand we can begin forming reasons why understanding this practice could be valuable in the process of exegesis. It is not a practice that is unfamiliar to us as exegetes, because do we not choose to pick up differing translations to compare them and see where the differences lie.
            Textual (lower) criticism is doing the same thing just with older manuscripts and such, so therefore it makes the case stronger that we should be able to trust what we are reading because it is being so meticulously picked at in an effort to get to the best translation or rendering. Even in the less carefully copied NT, textual criticism can be fairly confident of restoring the text to its near-original purity.[2]  We can accept the NT because:
The manuscripts of the New Testament are numerous, but so are the variant readings. Consequently, the science of textual criticism is much more crucial in the restoration of the New Testament text. There are a total of 3,157 Greek manuscripts containing part or all of the New Testament, excluding 2,209 catalogued lectionaries dating from the second century onward. Hence, whereas the fidelity of the Old Testament is based on relatively few but good manuscripts, the integrity of the New Testament is derived by a critical comparison of many manuscripts that are of poorer quality (i.e., they possess more variant readings).[3]
It is with this knowledge that I am comfortable examining the Scriptures given to me and trusting that God is still behind it. How can we argue with the mere number of a given manuscript, while it may not be like those of the OT I chose to trust the sovereignty of God that the word we have is his.
            Pertaining to the second question Blomberg gives us a very clear and concise answer when he responds, “Ignorance of textual criticism will become a more serious obstacle for pastors or teachers when they are unable to answer parishioner’s questions about how the text has come to us in the forms in which we have it, or about why different modern-language translations opt for different textual variants.”[4]Having an understanding of textual criticism will not only boost the confidence of the leader in the word of God but will allow him to pass that confidence on to those under his tutelage. We can have that degree of confidence because as it stands, more than 99 percent of the Greek NT can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt.[5]   


            [1]Craig L.Blomber,and Jennifer Foutz Markley. A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010)2.
            [2] G. J. Wenham, “Biblical Criticism,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary(Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 139.
            [3] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Rev. and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 466.
            [4]Blomberg, Handbook. 26.
            [5]Ibid. 26.
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