The Text of the New Testament: Resources for Discussion

This Saturday an event is being held in Chicago regarding the text of the New Testament and Lutheran theology. I was asked to participate, and after much discussion and hesitation I reluctantly agreed. My goal in this event is to bring clarity and especially faithful theology to bear on this topic. I recognized that this is an esoteric field, one which is easily misconstrued (especially by critics of Christianity). However, I believe that this work is essential as we seek to live by the Word made flesh and by His Word written, both for our instruction and so that we might have certainty concerning the things which we were taught (cf. Luke 1:4).
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Several people have contacted me over the last couple of weeks asking for bibliography on this topic and specifically a list of my publications, hence this post.

To get a sense for the numbers and types of differences among the manuscripts of the New Testament, there is a helpful Wikipedia page (But keep this in mind: there is a reason that Wikipedia is free). I will specifically discuss Mark 1:2, 1 Corinthians 2:4, and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in my presentation, so I encourage you to look at the readings in those passages.

A comprehensive summary of “Recent Developments in New Testament Textual Criticism” was published by H. A. G. Houghton in volume 2 of Early Christianity (2011). A pre-publication version is available here. This articles offers notes on current issues in the field and an extensive bibliography.

Regarding the 28th edition of the standard edition of the Greek New Testament, the Novum Testamentum Graece published in 2012, I was requested to write an overview for the Logia blog, which is available here. Several of the issues pertaining to this edition and textual criticism in general may be found there.

My curriculum vitae is available here. A few specific writings to which I would draw attention, in particular if you plan to attend the event in Chicago:

  • I wrote a paper on issues arising from New Testament textual criticism which was delivered at a Lutheran Concerns Association meeting in January 2015: “Manuscripts and Misquoting, Inspiration and Apologetics.” This was specifically aimed at the lay reader, not pastors or specialists. If you are not familiar with the field of textual criticism and with the necessity of this field, please read this paper. I will be referring to pages 3-6 and pages 9-16 in my presentation on Oct. 15. You may watch video of my presentation from that conference.
  • The popular press frequently seeks to denigrate the truth of the Bible. This brief piece, published in the online LCMS Reporter, was written by me to respond to a January 2015 Newsweek article “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin”: “Commentary: ‘News’week on the Bible.”
  • I’ve also been involved in a few video projects on this topic. The most directly relevant is “The Bible on Trial: Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” DVD/video series, Lutheran Hour Ministries, 2011. I would especially encourage people to watch this one-hour video. A new 2016 video on Luther and the Reformation, which discusses issues surrounding the authority of the Bible, is “A Man Named Luther, Part 2: The Moment.”

I will likely post the text of my presentation on this site in the next couple of days. But if you’re interested in this topic, then I’d encourage you to do a bit of review on the topic first. Even better, if you are able then pull out your Greek New Testament and read it (including the apparatus).

Regarding issues pertaining to the differences among the New Testament manuscripts, I repeat here my summary from the Jan 2015 LCA presentation linked above (first bullet point, p. 15):

  1. “The view that the Bible has been significantly changed and altered has become embedded in our western pop-culture environment. This challenges the confession that the Scriptures are inspired.
  2. Inspiration is not “provable” as an empirically demonstrable event. Nevertheless, the argument that the differences among the manuscripts invalidates their authority can be shown to be a false deduction because:
    1. The church has always been aware of the differences in the manuscripts, and nevertheless confessed them as inspired and has been able to teach faithfully from them, regardless of which manuscript or printed edition was in use.
    2. The Scriptures are consistent within themselves; the passages where there are differences in readings that affect meaning are able to be compared with other passages that teach the same thing but are not affected by the differences.
    3. The numbers of manuscripts and the consistency of their readings belie the argument that wild and significant alterations to the text were common. This area in particular is not (in Bentley’s words) “fairly presented” by opponents of Christianity.
    4. The NT manuscripts in particular show evidence that they retain features that were of significance only to the original audience and setting, thereby demonstrating strong links back to the original copies.
    5. Recent discoveries have pushed the evidence for the NT text back earlier and earlier; the pattern of readings found in these manuscripts confirm and sharpen recent reconstructions of the text. These have not been highlighted in popular reports.
  3. Very close study of the individual words of the text will continue to result in some changes in wording. But we can rely both on the promises of Christ and the witness of the manuscripts themselves that the text is sufficiently firm for faithful teaching and life in Christ.”

That last line is drawn from LCMS theologian Franz Pieper, who stated nearly a century ago what is still true today: “What the Church lacks in our day is not a reliable text of the Bible, but faith in the sufficiently reliable text.”

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