How We Got the Bible: The Text of the New Testament

In chapter 8 of the book, Lightfoot discusses textual criticism. What it is, a few of its basic rules, and the types of mistakes made by ancient scribes.

There are two types of textual criticism. Higher criticism, which studies authorship, dating, and historical value of Biblical documents, and lower criticism, which studies "the available evidence to recover the exact words of the author's original composition." Lower criticism is the focus of this chapter.

Lighfoot then describes the two types of scribal errors:

1. Unintentional errors:  Mistaking one word for another or confusing words of similar sound, the omission of a word because it appears at a corresponding point several lines above or below in the manuscript, or explantory notes in the margin of the manuscript somehow ending up as part of the main text are some examples.

2. Intentional errors:  Lightfoot writes, "We ought not think these insertions were made by dishonest scribes who simply wanted to tamper with the text." The majority of the time, these additions were attempts by the scribes to "correct" the text or bring about a better understanding of it.

Three basic rules of lower criticism are as follows:

1. Most of the time the more difficult reading is to be preferred. This is because scribes usually sought to simplify the text when copying.

2. The quality of witnesses is more important the the quantity. For example, if thousands of manuscripts support a certain reading, but they are of late date and contradict the early unicals, than this reading should not be accepted.

3. When studying parallel texts such as the Gospels, different readings are to be preferred. The Gospels all present Jesus as the Son of God, however, each individual author had descriptions of him and his sayings which used different words. These differences were usually, intentionally or unintentionally, harmonized by scribes.

Lightfoot ends this chapter by stating, "Because textual criticism is a sound science, our text is secure and the textual foundation of our faith remains unshakable."

Stand firm in Christ,