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The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism

The Textus Receptus had a text that was fairly typical of the manuscripts of its time, and
for the ?rst century or so of its existence no one worried much about its text. But in the
early seventeenth century the Codex Alexandrinus arrived in England from the Middle
East. This produced a sensation, since it was a very old (?fth century) manuscript which
often disagreed violently with the Textus Receptus. Suddenly scholars began to realize
that there were different forms of the New Testament text.
It was not until 1831, however, that Karl Lachmann (1793–1851) published the ?rst
Greek testament not based on the Textus Receptus. Lachmann's edition differed from
the Textus Receptus at thousands of points, some of them signi?cant. His text came
under immediate and intense attack. Yet almost every Greek edition since Lachmann's
time has been closer to his text than the Textus Receptus. The reason was that textual
criticism was beginning to come into its own, and the Textus Receptus no longer
appeared adequate.
The Practice of Textual Criticism
But why was the Textus Receptus inadequate? Although it was based on late
manuscripts, and Lachmann's text on early manuscripts, both are based on actual
readings. They simply adopted different readings at points of variations. So why is
Lachmann right and Erasmus wrong? How do we decide which reading is original?
Scholars have given many names to their answers, and they apply them in different
ways. But fundamentally they use two tools: “Internal Evidence” and “External
Internal evidence (sometimes called “Transcriptional Probability” or the like) is based on
logic: “Which reading best explains the others?” It asks questions like, “Is there an easy
way for this reading to have been converted into that one?”
External evidence is based on the manuscripts. It looks for the reading based on the
“best,” earliest, or most manuscripts.
Let's show what we mean by looking not at the Bible but at a famous passage from
Shakespeare — Hamlet, I.ii.129 (approximately; in my Yale Shakespeare, it's I.ii.133).
This is one of the key soliloquies. You've probably heard the ?rst line as
O that this too too solid ?esh would melt
It so happens that there are three early witnesses to this passage, and none of them
read it in the above form. The ?rst quarto, the earliest published form of the passage,
gives it as
The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism