What condition is the early text of the New Testament in? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I want to thank Oxford Press first off for sending a review copy of this book. This is an extremely scholarly work that is a great edition to the Christian apologist’s library and will be monumental to anyone who is seeking to understand textual criticism.
A word of caution however. This work is extremely scholarly and without having a great knowledge of the field, the layman will get lost in many areas. Part II will be exceptionally difficult as it deals with the early text of each of the Gospels, then Acts, then the Pauline Epistles, then the general epistles, and finally Revelation. The information here will be highly helpful, but those without familiarity will be easily lost.
Part 1 is a great benefit as the reader will learn much about the way books and the text were seen in the times of the NT. Most of us don’t think about questions of who will buy books and how the early texts would have been seen by the first Christians, but these scholarly articles will give an excellent look into that world.
Part II as I’ve said goes into the details of the condition of the early manuscripts and how well they’re established. It’s noteworthy to consider that you would not have such a book like this for a work such as Tacitus. Probably the only other work from the ancient world that you could talk much about the copies of the manuscripts that we have to such an extent would be the works of Homer. This should tell us enough in itself about the manuscripts that we have of the New Testament.
It’s important to note in all of this that nowhere in the book do you notice an attitude of hopelessness. There is no great fear I find that maybe we don’t really have an accurate representation of what the NT authors originally wrote. This is in contrast to Ehrman in his popular works. (Although it’s worth noting that in his scholarly works, Ehrman takes a rather different attitude to the reliability of the NT text.)
The final part involves the way the NT was cited in the early church and how those around the NT used the texts. The article on citation I found extremely helpful as we can often make the mistake of assuming that the ancients would want to cite a text the way we supposedly do.
Except many of us don’t even cite the text the way we supposedly do. How often when writing an email or making a post on Facebook or somewhere like that do we simply give a paraphrase of what a passage says? How many times do you hear a sermon where a pastor makes an allusion to a passage of Scripture without quoting it directly but giving what he thinks is the intended meaning.
Much of our modern criticism of the NT as it turns out is based on simply saying “The ancient world did not do things like us, therefore they did not care for accuracy.” The ancients just lived in a different world and in a world where the Scripture would be heard more than read, making an allusion or not using an exact quotation would work just fine.
Then, we move in to how the early text was used by the church fathers and even by Marcion. Part of this section will still be difficult for the layman, but there are benefits to be had and no doubt, the serious scholar of textual criticism will benefit.
I conclude that this is a fine edition to a library. Anyone who is a scholar of textual criticism absolutely must have this book in their library. While it will be difficult for the layman, they too can still get good out of this and hopefully it will drive them to read other works in the field.