Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Heroes of Evangelical Textual Criticism (NT)

If this is to be a blog/forum in 'evangelical textual criticism', then who would we think of as the best representatives of this outlook? In NT text criticism it is probably fair to say that a kind of pietist approach combined, to some extent, with a distancing from standard historical critical positions has characterised quite a few NT text critics in the last two centuries. But in terms of personal allegiance to historic evangelical theology, building their text criticism on the foundation of historical evangelical theology, and making real advances in textual criticism two scholars stand out.


  1. I'm not the best on history, so some of these are going to be more recent: Bengel, Tregelles, Burgon, Scrivener and Warfield. They're a mixed group, and Burgon was not evangelical. He did, however, have an enviable passion for the integrity of the text. Scrivener and Warfield were probably the ones who (in the context of textual criticism) least wore their theological convictions on their sleeves. Tregelles' churchmanship may have pushed him too much towards mere antiquity. Burgon's churchmanship made him lay a great (and wrong) stress on the church fathers and versions.

  2. Well in my view, Warfield did nothing significant in the field of textual criticism. Perhaps he did clarify some points of evangelical theology in relation to the original text, but that was nothing new.
    Burgon was conservative so obviously has connections, but doesn't fit the category 'evangelical' (important though he was).
    Scrivener may be worth discussing.
    But Bengel and Tregelles are the two who fit the criteria.

  3. I would agree that Warfield did little by way of research within textual criticism. However, he has had a profound effect on attitudes to textual criticism in the current evangelical constituency. This is also the importance of Burgon (Burgon and Warfield were very close in their views of scripture). If we look at effect on church constituency then Bengel, Warfield and Burgon seem to me to have had the biggest effect, followed by Tregelles, who had some effect within the Brethren, and lastly by Scrivener. Bengel is the only one who had a major effect both in the general academy and the church.

  4. Thanks Pete,

    Two questions and an observation:

    1. Warfield ... has had a profound effect on attitudes to textual criticism in the current evangelical constituency.

    I'd be interested to know what you are thinking of here.

    2. How would we determine 'effect on church constituency'? and what would it mean once we had?

    3. Tregelles had a critical role in academic textual criticism via his influence on Hort.


  5. Measuring Warfield's effect is very difficult, since even if he had published nothing on textual criticism it is certain that many within his constituency would have reached the same conclusions that he did. However, Warfield was the premier theologian of the early twentieth century among the Reformed evangelical constituency, and his favourable, though qualified, acceptance of the scholarly consensus of his day as far as textual criticism was concerned undoubtedly would have persuaded many minds against a more reactionary stance. There is discussion about the relationship between Warfield and the popularity of the doctrinal qualification of the scriptures as 'inspired as originally given' (or similar formulations). I haven't done my homework to see how much is in this.

    I would be interested to hear more of Tregelles' effect on Hort.

  6. How about Bruce Metzger? He has several books that survey modern critical work (esp. transmission and early manuscripts), and also has been involved on the translation side of things.

    Some have credited him with holding back the tide of liberalism with the NRSV which is not strictly text critical work, but does reflect a concern for some of the things that have been posited here as "evangelical distinctives."

  7. I had previously thought that Metzger was probably the glaring omission from my list of 5. He certainly has done a lot of good in calling textual critics to a more documentary approach and thereby restraining more speculative elements within the discipline. He is also evangelical in the broader use of the term, though clearly not historic evangelical (or classic evangelical) in his view of scripture. He's done a lot of good, and we can learn much from him, but at some stage our ways will part. The NRSV certainly does still contain some speculative rejections of the documented text, e.g. 'kiss his feet' in Psalm 2:11, for 'kiss the son', where one feels that they are tipping the Psalm away from a Christological meaning.