The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism HTML version
Canons of Criticism
Use the Canons of Criticism * Footnotes
Although detailed methods vary, there are really only two ways to edit a Bible text. One is to
majority of manuscripts, the text found in B/03). This may be useful, and may ?t the
publisher's assumptions, but it hardly constitutes editing. Its's more an exercise in reading an
The only other way is some form of eclecticism — picking and choosing between readings.
And, unless one is content to print a chaotic text, choosing between readings requires some
sort of guidelines. These guidelines are the “canons of criticism.”
Outline of the Canons
Different editors have listed different rules, and applied them in different ways. Some have
listed dozens of criteria,1 others only a handful. No matter how many rules they list, all fall into
one of two categories: Internal criteria (pertaining to the logic of readings) and External criteria
(pertaining to the manuscripts containing the readings). Thus there are only two fundamental
I. The External Canon: MANUSCRIPTS ARE TO BE WEIGHED AND NOT COUNTED.
II. The Internal Canon: THAT READING IS BEST WHICH BEST EXPLAINS THE OTHERS.
1. Von Mästricht's 1711 edition — arguably the ?rst to include rules for criticism — listed forty-three canons! Most
of these are not what we would today call “criteria”; they are observations about (often attacks on) scribes, or
methods for deciding what is or is not a variant. But they are historically important, since both Wettstein and
Bengel were in?uenced by them.
It should be noted, however, that the ?rst real study of textual criticism from the modern standpoint is that of
Wilhelm Canter in 1566. Syntagma de ratione emendandi scriptores Graecos outlined many classes of
errors, and probably in?uenced Bengel at least.
The best summary of the history of criteria is probably Eldon J. Epp, “The Eclectic Method in New Testament
Textual Criticism: Solution or Symptom,” printed in Eldon J. Epp and Gordon D. Fee, Studies in the Theory
and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (Studies and Documents 45, Eerdmans, 1993). The
extensive section on canons of criticism begins on page 144. The history shows clearly how much of the
theory of criticism goes back to Bengel; see especially the summary on page 148.
The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism