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The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism


An Introduction to
New Testament Textual Criticism
Adam scriveyn, if ever it thee bifalle
Boece or Troylus for to wryten newe,
Under thy long lokkes thou most have the scalle,
But after my makyng thow wryte more trewe;
So ofte adaye I mot thy werk renewe,
It to correcte and eke to rubbe and scrape,
And al is thorough thy negligence and rape.
— Chaucer
Why Textual Criticism?
Chances are that you've played the game “Telephone” some time in your life.
“Telephone” is the game in which a group of people gather around in a circle. One
person thinks up a message, and whispers it to the next person, who whispers it to the
next person, and so on around the circle, until you reach the end and the ?nal person
repeats the message aloud. The ?rst person then states the original message.
The two sentences often cannot be recognized as related.
Even if you haven't played “Telephone,” you must have read a book or a magazine
which was ?lled with typographical errors. And that's in a case where the typesetter has
the author's original manuscript before him, and professional proofreaders were
engaged to correct errors.
Now imagine what happens when a document is copied, by hand, tens of thousands of
times, long after the original manuscript has been destroyed. Imagine it being copied by
barely literate scribes standing (not sitting, standing) at cold desks in bad light for hours
on end, trying to read some other scribe's barely legible handwriting.
Imagine trying to do that when the words are written in all upper-case letters, with no
spaces between words, and you're writing on poor-quality paper with a scratchy reed
pen using ink you made yourself.
Because that's what happened with all ancient books, and with the New Testament in
particular. Not all scribes were as bad as the secretary Chaucer poked such fun at in the
quote above, but none were perfect — and few had the New Testament authors looking
over their shoulders to make corrections.
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The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism
 
 
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