To start the New Year we have the following contribution by James E. Snapp, Jr., on a subject that is of central concern to this blog.
Textual criticism, like most branches of science, resists theological classification. The term "evangelical textual criticism," used to describe the analytical task of reconstructing the original text of the Old Testament and New Testament books, may seem like merely a secondary name for the textual criticism of the books upheld as holy Scripture by evangelicals. However, four distinct features of the text-critical approach used by evangelicals, taken together, separate evangelical textual criticism of the books of the Bible from some other kinds of textual criticism.
1. An evangelical textual critic approaches the text with a sense of religious reverence. He understands his task as a basic exegetical step, establishing and confirming words which God, through human agents, provided for the guidance of the church.
2. An evangelical textual critic approaches his task as a restorative enterprise rather than a creative one. He aspires to add nothing to the original text, and subtract nothing from it. Evangelical textual criticism is a science, not an art. Conjectural emendations are entertained only where the extant readings are manifestly unoriginal. The evangelical textual critic, when presenting Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Biblical texts intended to represent the original text, formats any conjectural emendations in the margin or apparatus-notes. He never places a conjectural emendation within the text.
3. An evangelical textual critic defines the original text of a document -- that is, in normal language, the original text of book or book-set -- as the contents of the document in the form in which it was first issued (as something distinct from whatever sources it may have had). He acknowledges that authors, revisors, editors, and arrangers may have contributed to the production of a document, while also acknowledging that whatever textual alterations occurred subsequent to the initial issuance of the book as a distinct document constitute unoriginal, uninspired, and unauthoritative material.
He also accepts the possibility that the initial issuance of some documents involved multiple autographs, and regards the contents of each autograph as original, inspired, and authoritative, even where differences of sense among the multiple autographs occurred. He may, when reconstructing the archetype of such a document, present closely contested readings within a variant-unit not as rivals but as brothers, both of which may be regarded as part of the initially produced message.
4. An evangelical textual critic harbors the belief or expectation that the doctrinal message of the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts through which God has communicated to the church in many places, and for many years, is not materially different from the doctrinal message of the autographs. This belief or expectation accompanies, but should not interfere with, the text-critical task.