A brief explanation of the problems and theories of "lower criticism" or "textual criticism."


A. How the variants occurred

1. inadvertent or accidental (vast majority of occurrences)

a. slip of the eye

(1) in hand copying which reads the second instance of two similar words and thereby omits all of the words in between (homoioteleuton)

(2) in omitting a double letter word or phrase (haplography)

(3) mental error in repeating a phrase or line of a Greek text (dittography)

b. slip of the ear in copying by oral dictation where a misspelling occurs (itacism). Often the misspelling implies or spells a similar-sounding Greek word.

c. the earliest Greek texts had no chapter or verse divisions, little or no punctuation, and no division between words.  It is possible to divide the letters in different places forming different words.

2. intentional

a. changes were made to improve the grammatical form of the text copied

b. changes were made to bring the text into conformity with other biblical texts (harmonization of parallels)

c. changes were made by combining two or more variant readings into one long combined text (conflation)

d. changes were made to correct a perceived problem in the text (cf. Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 146-50, concerning Heb. 2:9)

e. some additional information as to the historical setting or proper interpretation of the text was placed in the margin by one scribe but placed into the text by a second scribe (cf. John 5:4)

B. The basic tenets of textual criticism (transcriptional probabilities)

1. the most awkward or grammatically unusual text is probably the original because scribes tended to make the texts smoother

2. the shortest text is probably the original because scribes tended to add additional information or phrases from parallel passages

3. the older text is given more weight because of its historical proximity to the original, everything else being equal

4. manuscripts that are geographically diverse usually have the original reading

5. attempts to explain how variants could have occurred (this is considered the most important tenet by most scholars)

6. analysis of a given biblical author's literary style, vocabulary, and theology is used to decide probable original wording

The UBS4 Greek text used in most academic settings is an eclectic text pieced together from many ancient Greek manuscripts.  Most scholars assume that more than 97% of the original wording of the Autographs has been achieved.


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