The question raised by Mike Holmes on this blog on 2 March is indeed one we ought to consider well. I wish to offer another side to this same question with the hopes of some profitable discussion which will not veer off course on the thread.
Mike’s problem concerned emendation, but mine is more basic. What I am interested in is how literary criticism can be used by evangelical textual critics and theologians alike in the pursuit of establishing and preserving ‘the Word of God.’ (Tov: “Literary criticism deals with…the stage of development of the biblical books, whereas textual criticism operates within the second stage, that of the books’ copying and transmission.”) The evangelical positions on Scripture have insisted on the autographa, but I wonder if we would really want them if we could get them! For example, LXX and Qumran scholars have argued that LXX Jer and 4QJerb,d reflect an earlier version of Jeremiah, and MT is a second version that is more expansive than the first. For the sake of argument, let us grant the point made (it is compelling enough anyway) and ask then, would we really want that ‘first edition’ of Jeremiah if what we have come to know of the ‘canonical’ Jeremiah is what we have in MT? Another: do we really want the actual autographa of the Pentateuch (from Moses himself???), in which Moses’ death would not have been recorded at the end of Deuteronomy (not to mention other such cases as place name updates)? Are we not more interested in the finished form of the book?
So then, how do we work with literary criticism as evangelicals who believe in Divine revelation? Is it wrong for us to ‘allow’ for the literary development of a book of Scripture, or must we insist on an 'original' that came from the hand of the inspired author? To me at least, there seems to be room in our doctrinal definitions for some sort of ‘canonical’ starting point, rather than the unknown, and perhaps undesired, autographa.