Re: Textual Criticism.

From: Paul S. Dixon (
Date: Wed Oct 22 1997 - 21:10:35 EDT

On Wed, 22 Oct 1997 14:13:56 -0400 (EDT) writes:
>On a post recently (I'm sorry, but I'm not sure now which one), matters
>Textual Criticism were being discussed. Now I took a course in Seminary
>this, and remember, in broad outline, much of what was taught. Are there
>Experts in the field who can run through the basics for us
>in the field? I'm sure I could buy any of a number of books on the topic
>study but both my time and my cash resources are very limited.
>For example, it would seem to make sense that the older a manuscript is,
>closer it is to the original (having presumably undergone fewer copyings
>therefore subject to fewer changes, either intentional or unintentional
>the part of scribes). But does this mean that a 3rd Century manuscript
>necessarily more accurate than a 9th Century manuscript or later at a
>given reading? What other considerations, besides dates, must be taken
>accountin deciding on variants between these?
>Also, I remember about manuscripts being grouped into families based
>upon similarities in variants; but I don't remember which families were
>considered better (if such a word could be used in this connection) than
>What about this?
>I recall being taught about variant readings being easier or more
>difficult to explain than others, but not necessarily upon what basis a
>reading might be easier to explain than another.
>I can understand if this is too much to ask for anyone to go into here.
If I
>must buy and read a book, I'll just have to start saving. Also, I
>been participating in this list for all that long. If these matters have
>thoroughly discussed already, perhaps someone could point me in the
>right direction in finding these in the Archives, etc.
>Thanks and God bless.
>Rev. Craig R. Harmon

Aw, shucks. I ain't no expert, but if you're waiting for Metzger to pipe
up, then we could be in trouble (I thought he passed away not too long
ago, but, I could be wrong).

Here are the guidelines I was taught and consider the best:
1. The age (of the manuscripts) is important, but not determinative in

2. What is at least equally important is the distribution weight, that
is, if a particular reading is supported by older manuscripts from
different textual families (the more, the better, the families being:
Alexandrian, Caesarean, Western, Byzantine), then that is more
significant than a reading supported say by the majority of manuscripts
but all from the same text family, like the Byzantine. The reason for
this should be obvious. Errors can be introduced early on and can be
replicated ad infinitum within the same family. But, if the reading is
supported by ancient manuscripts from different textual families, then
the likelihood of error should be reduced.

3. The reading that best explains the origin of the others is
preferrable. This makes sense if we understand how errors were
transmitted (many ways, of course). For example, the Byzantine family is
typically characterized by a smooth, longer reading of the text. This
makes senses if we understand the tendency of scribes to add things for
clarification, or to smooth out difficult readings.

There are other considerations, to be sure, but these probably are the
three most important, as I learned them. I think it also reflects the
majority position of evangelical seminaries today. If this involves
circular reasoning, then let's talk about it.

Paul Dixon

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