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New Testament Textual Criticism and the True Significance of the Variants - By Wildcat

New Testament Textual Criticism and the True Significance of the Variants - By Wildcat

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Published by Gilbert Hanz

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Published by: Gilbert Hanz on Aug 29, 2011
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08/01/2013

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New Testament Textual Criticismand the True Significance of the Variants
Wildcat
 
OUTLINE
 I.
 
G
eneral Text-Critical Issues
 A.
 
The Living Text
 B.
 
B
etween Autograph and Earliest MSS
 C.
 
Conjectural Emendation & The Tenacity of Textual Variants
 D.
 
P
laying the
P
ercentages
 II.
 
Variants that Affect Crucial Christian Doctrines
 A.
 
Mark 16:9-20
 B.
 
Luke 22:17-20
 C.
 
J
ohn 1:18
 D.
 
I
J
ohn 5:7-8
 III.
 
Appendix I: On the Reliability of Oral Tradition
 IV.
 
Appendix II: Three Implicit Indications in the
G
ospels of 
J
esus¶ Divinity
 A.
 
J
esus as
P
re-Existent
 B.
 
J
esus as
Wisdom
Incarnate
 C.
 
J
esus the Son of Man
 
INTRODUCTION
 For many years since the internet debates have been unfolding (and for centuries prior to theinternet age), Muslims and Christians have been grappling with the all-important matter of the integrity (or lack thereof) of the Biblical text. In light of recent attacks on the integrity of the Biblical text, especially the New Testament, this essay seeks to examine the implicationsof the textual variations that exist in the New Testament manuscript tradition.In response to Islamic accusations of Biblical corruption, Christians commonly tout the greatquantity of New Testament manuscripts (MSS) that have been discovered (i.e. approximately5,750 Greek MSS; perhaps as many as 24,000 total MSS when including translations intoLatin, Syriac, Coptic, etc. ± this number includes both partial and full manuscripts ± aquantity virtually unparalleled by other ancient documents) and the relatively short amount of time that exists between the composition of the original documents and the earliestmanuscripts (again, compared with other ancient documents). While there is a very largenumber of textual variations among the extant manuscripts, a very high percentage of theoriginal text is recoverable from an analysis of the currently-available MSS, and in almostevery case (save perhaps for a few), the original reading is believed by textual critics to be
 
extant among the known textual variants. Most importantly, it remains the case that no major Christian doctrine is in doubt as a result of the textual variations.
New Challenges
 Within the past few years, either the significance of the above assertions or the assertionsthemselves have been challenged. The general integrity of the text has especially been calledinto question since New Testament textual critic Bart Ehrman has popularized his scholarshipregarding the New Testament manuscripts (especially in his widely-sold "Misquoting Jesus").Additionally, Muslim polemicists have published several articles utilizing materials takenfrom Ehrman as well as other NT textual scholars in order to discredit the integrity of the New Testament text. Here are links to a few that are representative: [
1
], [
2
], [
3
], [
4
].Before proceeding with our critique of the approaches taken by such polemics, we canconcede some credit where it is due. Contrary to most polemics regarding issues relevant toChristianity we find from critics (whether it is from Muslims, atheists, anti-missionaries,etc.), Muslim polemicists have managed to piece together a substantial amount of scholarly,thought-provoking material in their articles on NT textual criticism. Accordingly, they utilizethe relevant sources, i.e. legitimate New Testament scholars, particularly textual critics.Finally, I think it is even fair to state that their polemics demand Christian apologists do morehomework on this crucial subject in order to counter the new challenges that have arisen.Merely pointing out the great wealth of NT manuscripts in existence and stating that noChristian doctrine is in doubt from the variations that exist is no longer adequate, by itself, to properly address the important issues that have been raised. Now, let us proceed with adiscussion of some of the issues.On the surface, certain statements found in works like Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" as wellas quotations from scholars found in the recent spate of writings from Muslim polemicistsgive the impression that the New Testament has been corrupted to the point of hopelessness.Consider the following, for instance:"Scholars differ significantly in their estimates²some say there are 200,000 variants known,some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more! We do not know for sure because, despiteimpressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all.Perhaps, as I indicated earlier, it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms.There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the NewTestament." (Ehrman 2007; 89-90)While seemingly impressive at surface-level, another New Testament textual scholar tellswhy, in direct response to the above paragraph, this does not cause NT textual critics to hitthe proverbial panic-button:"That is true enough, but by itself is misleading. Anyone who teaches NT textual criticismknows that this fact is only part of the picture and that, if left dangling in front of the reader without explanation, is a distorted view. Once it is revealed that the great majority of thesevariants are inconsequential²involving spelling differences that cannot even be translated,articles with proper nouns, word order changes, and the like²and that only a very smallminority of the variants alter the meaning of the text, the whole picture begins to come intofocus. Indeed, only about 1% of the textual variants are both meaningful and viable. Theimpression Ehrman sometimes gives throughout the book²and repeats in interviews²is that
 
of wholesale uncertainty about the original wording, a view that is far more radical than heactually embraces." (Daniel Wallace; [
Source
], accessed 11/30/08)And so, while such sound bites regarding textual variations in the New Testament aretechnically true, it is what is NOT said in these works that assault the integrity of the NT text(such as the important qualifying-remarks by Daniel Wallace) that paints a very misleading portrait for the reader.Of course, many textual variations in the manuscript record
are
important and
do
involvevital Christian doctrines. Such variations are utilized by Muslim polemicists in order to castdoubt on the overall integrity of the text. In what follows we seek to discuss a few of the mostsignificant textual variations and the significance they play for the
overall debate,
not onlyfor the question of Biblical corruption but also for that of the historical foundationsunderlying important doctrines. This article will
not 
serve as an introduction to the science of textual criticism, but simply will seek to clarify three important issues: 1) what the evidencetells us of the overall state of the NT text; 2) how variants affecting certain importantdoctrines impact the theology of the New Testament
text 
as a whole; and 3) how suchvariants affect the
historical 
foundations upon which these doctrines are based.What this article ultimately hopes to demonstrate is the following: 1) Despite the issues raised by both non-deliberate and deliberate corruptions of the New Testament text, we may speak of the NT text as generally well-preserved; 2) Crucial Christian doctrines that lead to much of the impasse between Christian and Islamic theology are not negated either textually or historically by textual variants; and 3) The results require Muslims to either a) assert a degreeof corruption of the NT text that not only is out of sync with the evidence that does exist, butalso to which not even the most radical of NT textual critics would concur, b) redefine whatMuhammad meant when he referred to ³the Gospel´ (e.g. a non-canonical document?) andwhat theological and historical foundations exist to make such a redefinition intellectuallyfeasible, or c) reinterpret Islamic theology (somehow) to accommodate the relevant Christiandoctrines with which it is currently at odds.The reader should note that there are certain facts alluded to in the internet articles we listedabove with which we are not in fundamental disagreement, such as the fact that only a smallminority of the existing thousands of manuscripts are used by textual critics to determine theoriginal text, that translations of the Greek text and materials found in patristic writings areonly useful as supplementary (rather than primary) resources in terms of determining theoriginal text, and that, despite a few claims to the contrary, there is not good evidence for manuscripts to be dated to the 1
st
century. We do not take issue with their arguments/criticisms regarding these matters and so obviously will not be attempting to refutethem.
THE LIVIN
G
TEXT
 Our earliest manuscript that contains the whole New Testament is dated to the 4th CenturyA.D., though there are a number of partial manuscripts which contain substantial portions of some NT books from the period of about 200 A.D. Daniel Wallace notes that the twelveearliest manuscripts, which date to no later than about the early 3
rd
century (i.e. withinapproximately 150 years of the time of original composition), contain about 43% of the NewTestament (Wallace 2008; cf. discussion in time slice 22:00 ± 23:00; see also
here
for a brief 

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