Dear Church Family,
In the adult Sunday school class, we have been studying “The Word of God Written” using a DVD series entitled How We Got the Bible by Timothy Paul Jones. And, we have been supplementing the DVD lessons with teaching and discussion to hopefully delve more deeply into each of the topics addressed in the DVD series. This past Sunday, we had one of those supplemental lessons in which we dealt with the topic of “textual criticism.”
For those unfamiliar with the discipline of textual criticism, it is defined by Dr. Jones simply as, “The analysis of various copies, fragments, versions, and translations of a text with the goal of recovering the wording of the original manuscript in its final form.” Basically, New Testament textual critics analyze the over 5,600 different copies of manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament texts that have been preserved and discovered since the original writing of the New Testament. Because we don’t have the original documents penned by the original authors, textual critics use these copies to determine what was written in the original documents – and usually they are able to do this with great amount of certainty.
So, why might understanding at least some of the basic principles of textual criticism be important for Christians? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are three reasons for which knowing how we got the Greek New Testament upon which our English translations are based is important: (1) it will increase your confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, that our modern texts and translations are indeed accurate; (2) it will help you to answer the attacks of uninformed skeptics, or at least to understand why they are uninformed; (3) it will help you understand why some might erroneously embrace the King James Version as the only legitimate English translation – it is a legitimate translation, but certainly not the only legitimate one.
It would be difficult for me to give an explanation of the details of textual criticism in this email, and as I mentioned in the class on Sunday, I am far from being an expert myself. However, in the class, I gave an introductory overview which I think will be helpful in understanding the basic issues of this discipline – especially if you both listen to the audio recording and download the handout (fyi, the handouts for the Sunday school lessons are available through the “bulletin” link in each audio entry). So, if you weren’t able to attend the class, but are interested in this topic, I recommend reading and listening to what we covered in the adult Sunday school class this past Sunday.
Of course, there are many articles and books which give much more thorough explanations; however, to better understand the issues involved in textual criticism and why there are differences in the texts that we have, I recommend James White’s book, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? Don’t let the title of the book fool you; White’s book covers much more than the debates surrounding the King- James-only controversy. It is also a very readable and understandable explanation of the development of Bible translations, why there are differences between the texts and translations, and the hard work that textual critics have done over the years as a service to the church.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch