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The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism

All other canons — no matter how numerous or how detailed — are simply corollaries or
speci?c examples of these two rules. (The only so-called “critical method” which does not
operate on this basis exception is the Byzantine Priority technique which simply counts noses.
As no editor has ever published an edition based solely on this criterion, we can ignore it.)
Still, as any mathematician will tell you, the general rule may be pretty, but it's usually much
easier to apply speci?c formulae.1 The sections which follow describe some of the better-
known rules for criticism that various scholars have used. Note that, since each is a speci?c
case of a general rule, they should only be applied in the appropriate situation. The
discussion tries to describe the situations in which which each rule applies. I've also tried to
list who ?rst proposed the rule, or who popularized it.2
External Critical Rules (pertaining to manuscripts)
That reading is best which is supported by the best manuscripts. This was the
fundamental tenet of Hort, and has been followed by many others — including even Lagrange
and Weiss, who in theory explicitly rejected it. This is a good rule if all the best manuscripts
support a single reading (i.e. if all the leading manuscripts of all the early text-types agree),
but should not be applied by itself if there is disagreement among the text-types. Still, this rule
may be the ?nal arbiter if all other criteria fail. Also, to apply this rule, one must have a precise
de?nition of the “best” manuscripts. Unless one is Hort, and prepared to follow B/03 blindly,
this rule can be hard to apply.
1. If you want an example, consider this: I learned to add starting in ?rst grade. Thus I was doing arithmetic,
following a speci?c rule, when I was six years old. It was not until I was a junior in college that I was ?rst
exposed to what mathematicians call “The Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic” (that each number has a
unique prime factorization). Thus I learned the speci?c rules a decade and a half before I learned the
general rule. And, to this date, I have never used the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic.
2. The list given here is compiled from a variety of modern manuals, most of which list only the critical canons
accepted and used by that particular author — if they list canons at all. This list attempts to show all the
canons the various authors use, whether I approve of them or not. The list of works consulted includes
Hammond, Metzger (both the Introduction and the Textual Commentary), Vaganay/Amphoux, Kenyon, Aland
& Aland, Black, Lake, and Greenlee, as well as a variety of special studies, most particularly by Epp and
Colwell. I also looked at several Old Testament commentaries, and of course the book by Pickering cited
below. Not all of these books list canons of criticism (indeed, some such as Lake hardly even mention the
use of internal criteria); in these cases I have tried to reconstruct from the examples or from miscellaneous
comments. It will be noted that some of these rules are closely associated with classical textual criticism, but
that others are unique or nearly unique. For example, New Testament criticism does not rely upon
manuscript stemma to the extent that classical studies do. This is largely due to the massive numbers of
Biblical manuscripts (among Classical sources, only Homer is within an order of magnitude of the number of
NT sources), which make true genealogical studies very dif?cult.
The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism