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Textual Criticism
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What do we have? By one count, about 5000 texts. Several are from within 200 years of the originals, but these are typically fragments or small portions. Within 400 years we have some fairly extensive manuscripts. Compared to other ancient texts, this is actually pretty good.

Textual criticism is the process of comparing and assessing the various manuscripts to decide what is the most likely wording of the original text. While manuscripts vary, in most cases, the differences do not affect the meaning of the passage in any major sense.

Some cases where textual issues impact interpretation include:

sq Various longer endings to Mark. Generally regarded as not original, but, if not, they create interesting issues in understanding the seemingly abrupt ending of Mark.
sq Luke 22:19-20. The long vs. short text of Jesus' speech at the last supper. The longer text supports a view of Jesus' death as being for forgiveness of sins, a view not otherwise supported in Luke.
sq John 7:53-8:11. The woman caught in adultery. Jesus' 'go and sin no more' sounds so authentic, but the text is doubtful.
sq A list of textual issues in Luke
Resources:
Bart D. Ehrman, Text and Interpretation: The Exegetical Significance of the "Original" Text (Up 11/3/06; posted 4/29/03)

David Trobisch, The Oldest Extant Editions of the Letters of Paul, 1999. (Up 11/3/06; posted 4/29/03)

sq Bible Research section on Textual Criticsm of the Greek New Testament. (Up 11/3/06)
Last updated 11/3/06; first posted 11/5/00; © 2006 John P. Nordin