How does textual criticism affect your faith?

The Cape Town Commitment states,

We love God’s Word in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, echoing the joyful delight of the Psalmist in the Torah, ‘I love your commands more than gold… Oh how I love your law.’ We receive the whole Bible as the Word of God, inspired by God’s Spirit, spoken and written through human authors. We submit to it as supremely and uniquely authoritative, governing our belief and our behaviour. We testify to the power of God’s Word to accomplish his purpose of salvation. We affirm that the Bible is the final written word of God, not surpassed by any further revelation, but we also rejoice that the Holy Spirit illumines the minds of God’s people so that the Bible continues to speak God’s truth in fresh ways to people in every culture.

That’s our conviction. And we have to ask, what is the Word of God?

We receive the Bible through manuscripts - the original author wrote God’s word down on something, right? These materials included wooden tablets, clay tablets, papyrus, leather, and parchment (animal skins).

But those original documents no longer exist. All we have are copies of the originals. And these copies have different words on them. So scholars called textual critics invest their entire careers thinking about what the original document said in light of the copies that we have.

As Dr. Peter Gurry writes,

Textual criticism is that discipline that tries to recover the original wording of a work whose original documents have now been lost. Since no original document survives for the New Testament and since the existing copies disagree with one another, textual criticism is needed for all twenty-seven books. Since we cannot study, teach, and apply the Bible if we don’t know what it says, textual criticism—whether we know it or not—plays a foundational role in pastoral ministry.

Gurry summarizes the fidelity with which the text was preserved,

In fact, most of us have been reading substantially the same Greek New Testament for two thousand years thanks to careful scribes. And rather than being an impediment to faith, modern textual criticism actually supports it. Even Marcus Borg, a New Testament scholar who is far from being an Evangelical Christian, has written that “with only a few minor exceptions, we can be confident that the Gospels and the New Testament as a whole reliably report what was originally written.”

Still, we lack ‘the original autographs’ (the original texts written by the Biblical authors).

What difference does it make to the Christian faith that we don’t have the original documents?


I always like to point out that even if we had the original autograph signed and dated it doesn’t mean that it is true, it just means that it is the original.
We would still be faced with the main problem, is the story true.
Thoughts, comment.


@jimmy, I think that’s an important point. Textual criticism isn’t the only point of evaluation for discerning if Christianity is true.

At the same time, if the work of textual critics makes it clear that we lack any connection to the original autograph, then that question is moot? If we don’t know what Matthew originally wrote, if for instance there were serious and substantial contradicitons in the manuscript tradition, then we’d have a much harder time assessing his document.

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To me, it is all about Faith. I do not know how the entire Christian faith feels about not having the original documents. To me, it doesn’t matter. I still have the Word. :heart:

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I know God gave us freewill, and for a good reason. However, I just can’t believe He allowed freewill when it came to His Word. Why would He allow man to tarnish the very Words that will give us Eternal Life? He loves us, and wants all of us with Him. John 3:16. :slight_smile:



I love your passion for God and his word!

Your post makes me think about it this way: what is that evil seeks to destroy? What’s good.

Creation? We see pollution, deforestation, overfishing, habitat destruction, and more.

Humanity? We see men and women degraded and abused. Racism, sexism… war, famine… it’s impossible to list it all.

God’s word? It doesn’t surprise me that it would also be affected by human limitations and even outright evil. People have sometimes destroyed Biblical manuscripts, resulting in a tragic loss of information. As monks copied them, even for the glory of God, they did so faithfully, but they also got tired, made mistakes, and overlooked essential details.

The work of textual critics helps us to see where that ordinary human fallibility came into the process - or even intentional wrongdoing. For instance, at some point, a scribe added to 1 John verses 5:7-8.

Dr. Bill Mounce discusses the history. He states:

But these verses in 1 John were not written by John, and it would be better to base doctrine on words that we know were written by the New Testament authors.

  1. The words occur in only eight Greek manuscripts, four in the text and four in the margin. The oldest of these manuscripts is from the tenth century, the others from the fourteenth century and later.
  2. The Comma Johanneum was not in Erasmus’ first or second edition, nor in the three manuscripts he used to edit his own text.
  3. They are not quoted by any of the early Greek Fathers until the fifth century, who would have certainly used them in their defense of the Trinity if the words were authentic.
  4. The words are absent from ancient translations.
  5. The words first appear in a fourth century Latin treatise, Liber apologeticus.
  6. They are not present in the Latin used by Tertullian, Cyprian, or Augustine.
  7. They are not in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate but were added in the ninth century.

So how did these words get into the Bible? Erasmus clearly states that they were not original, but due to church pressure he added them from a suspected forged Greek manuscript in his third edition of the Greek New Testament. This edition was basically the basis for the KJV.

What an important discovery! Someone forged an addition to God’s word and pressured Erasmus to add it to his Greek New Testament. Of course, this is just one example. But, through the exacting labor of textual critics, we can understand what is original to the Bible - and where it has been distorted through the centuries.