Theology: The Scriptures (CRITICISM)

Please read 2 Timothy 3:1-17 as an introduction to this study.


Criticism — we all know what that stuff is. That is how we get back at someone without them knowing it. Criticism is telling someone off without the danger of a black eye. There are two types of criticism: Higher and Lower. Higher is when you get the pastor and teachers. Lower is when you get the janitor. Both are valid criticism but neither is proper.


Now that we have that out of the way we can move on. In the Bible we have criticism. We want to take some time to consider this subject.


A conservative, old preacher was riding on a train next to a liberal theologian. They had been discussing the Bible and its trustworthiness. The conservative man began reading in the Old Testament. When he came to the crossing of the Red Sea he was so thrilled that he said aloud, “AMEN”. The liberal ask him what he had read to cause him to say “Amen”.


The conservative related the story of God opening up the Red Sea. The liberal said, “OH NO. we know that isn’t the Red Sea, but it is the Reid Sea further north. It’s only a marsh and about six inches deep.”


“Oh”, said the conservative somewhat disappointed. He returned to his reading. A little later, he in excitement said, “Praise be to God.” The liberal said, “Well what now?”


The conservative replied, “Wow, God Just Drowned Pharaoh’s Army In Six Inches Of Water”.


Some today say the Bible is a bunch of stories. Some today say the Bible is a bunch of myths. Some today say the Bible contains “SOME” truth.


I say today: That the Bible has no error. That the Bible is trustworthy. That the Bible is reliable. Our study will primarily deal with the New Testament though all of these things are true of the entire Bible.


The term criticism comes from the Greek word “krino” or to judge. It is the study or evaluation of information to prove it valid or invalid. There are several types of criticism in the religious realm. In Biblical Criticism there are two divisions. Historical which is at times called Higher and Textual which is also termed Lower. We will stick to the Higher/Lower terms as they are more popular today, I believe.


Biblical Criticism: “Science or art of studying the text, authorship, date, and meaning of various parts of the Bible.” (Kauffman, Donald T.; “The Dictionary Of Religious Terms”; Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1967)


It is the process by which information is studied to attempt to show the original words of the original manuscripst. The person involved in this study uses all sources of information available to him to make his determination. He attepmts to discover not only the original terms, but in some cases the author, date, etc. of the work.


1. Higher Criticism: “Biblical criticism principally concerned with sources, writers, dates, and order of the various documents in the Bible. It seeks to apply scientific, historic, and literary principles to Scripture.” (“Dictionary Of Religious Terms”)


Miller mentions that higher criticism “seeks to determine the age (date), authorship, composition, sources, character and historical value of the documents, as judged by internal evidence. This is done chiefly by a study of the documents themselves, although it does not hesitate to make use of the sciences of history, geography, ethnology, and archaeology. It deals with the contents of the Scriptures, and is concerned with the questions of canonicity, genuineness, authenticity, and credibility of the books of the Bible. . . .” (Miller, Revelation H.S.; “General Biblical Introduction”; Houghton, NY: The Word-Bearer press, 1937, p 13, 14)


2. Lower Criticism: “Lower criticism is concerned principally with actual manuscripts and the original text of Scripture.” (“Dictionary Of Religious Terms”)


Webster states, “criticism concerned with the recovery of original texts esp. of Scripture through collation of extant manuscripts”


Miller: “seeks to determine the exact and correct text of the Scriptures as it existed in the original documents, when freed from the errors, corruptions, and variations which have come into it during the long process of copying and recopying. It deals with the text. It is sometimes called lower Criticism.” (Miller p 14)


Q. What type of Criticism are we going to be covering if we are trying to decide which text of many is the best? Hopefully we will be studying “Lower” or “Textual Criticism”.


We must distinguish between the good Higher Criticism of the conservative movement, and the improper destructive higher criticism that the liberal theologians have given us. This includes the JEPD theory which teaches that there were four different authors for the book of Genesis. They also attribute different Old Testament books to authors and dates that allow for the Bible to have been written by men, rather than being the inspired Word of God.


A brief look at where our Bible came from might be of assistance to the study.


We need to realize that we have no original manuscripts today. We have many parts of copies which we have assembled our Scriptures from. These copies come to us from many sources and by many methods.


1. Papyrus: Papyrus was the pith of a reed that was beaten and flattened and prepared so that men could write on it. It was laid in strips, then a layer of strips going perpendicular to the previous strips was placed on, and they were stuck together with sticky water. They were then dried, smoothed and used. These come to us from the 2nd-4th century and are the earliest witnesses we have.


2. Uncial manuscripts: Uncial manuscripts were parchments in book form from the 4th to 10th century. They were developed around the city of Pergumus. These manuscripts were written in all capital letters with each letter formed separately.


3. Minuscule manuscripts: Minuscule manuscripts are the largest group existent today, and are from the 9th century and following. These were written with all small letters.



4. Lectionary manuscripts: These are the 2nd largest group of manuscripts, and are arranged in units for church purposes. They would be similar to responsive readings of today.

5. Codex: This is a manuscript that is in book form rather than in roll form. To date there are around 5000 different manuscripts that the critic’s must deal with. Some of these are only small portions of copies of the scriptures.


When you compare a Biblical text in one group with another group there may be differences found between the manuscripts. Some are only transposed letters, some are misspelled words, and some are verses that are missing in some of the manuscripts. These differences are called variants.


Some would suggest that the above paragraph indicates that the Bible has errors. No, that is not what I said. There are differences. The variants have been studied by men that are knowledgeable of the languages, and they have decided on those manuscripts that are best in the case of each and every variant. There are no doctrines that are compromised in any of these variants.


If all 5000 manuscripts are compared with one another there are about 200,000 variants in all. The 200,000 figure seems large however let me illustrate. In one case there is a verse that is in only four manuscripts. If you do the comparing of all to the four you have many variants already.


H.S. Miller states concerning this number, “Each manuscript is compared with one standard and with each other, and the number of variations are found; then these sums are added together, and the result is given as the number of variant readings. Each place where variations occur is counted as many times as there are distinct variations in it, and also as many times as the same variation occurs in different manuscripts. This sum also includes all variations of all kinds from all sources, even those which are peculiar to a single manuscript of small importance and those which are of such minor importance as the spelling of a word.” (“General Biblical Introduction” p 282, 283)



Of all of these variants there are only about fifty of any significance. Among these significant variants, there are none that affect any doctrine. The doctrines involved are clearly taught elsewhere in the Scripture, so if you tore all of these significant variants from the Bible, you would not eliminate or change any doctrine.


Today there are two main texts which are used in translation work. These are the Textus Receptus and the Critical text. Most scholars would use one of these two or a combination of the two.


The Critical text has produced most of our current translations and paraphrases. The Textus Receptus is the basis for the King James Version.


There is a great debate concerning which text is the proper text. Some feel that the Textus Receptus is the inspired text, and that the Critical text is heresy. The other side of the coin is that the Critical text is the best text to use, but most using it do not feel that it is inspired and the Textus Receptus is not. They would feel that both texts are resultant from the inspired originals and that the Critical text is the closest to the originals.


This debate is one of the saddest of our day. It is splitting good fundamental churches. Pastors are declaring that the King James is the only Bible. One of my students told me that the New American Standard Bible was of the Devil. He told me that was the Bible that the Cults use. When I told him that the cults also use the King James, he realized the foolishness of his statement.


The King James Only people are often quite divisive in their comments, while being quite caustic in their attacks on those that disagree with them.


A plea for sanity, fairness, logic, and Christian love is needed.


When these two texts are compared with one another there are only 5000 variants between the two. These variants are all minor and they change no doctrine whatsoever. Many are variations of only a letter or two. Some are misspelled words. A very few include a verse or two.


Mark 16:9ff is one of the largest variants to my knowledge. The passage may or may not belong in Scripture. Even in its variance the text does fit both with the Chapter and the whole of Scripture, and may well be a part of scripture.



Remember, No Doctrine Is Changed. Many of the new translations list these variances for us in the side or footnotes.


Variants Examined: Let us look at some of these variants and how they may have come to exist.




1. Errors of sight: These errors may have come because of poor sight on the part of the copier, or the light in which he was attempting to work. You must understand that this copying was done a few years before Franklin went kite flying. They had no electricity. There may well have been problems with the manuscript that the man was working from. There may have been aging, or staining which distorted the original information.


As an example of how sight can affect your perception translate the following phrase. Have You Ever Seen Abundance On The Table. There are two very logical translations. Have you ever seen a bun dance on the table, or Have you ever seen abundance on the table. This is how the uncial texts look. They are all capital letters with no punctuation, nor spacing.


2. Interruptions: Have you ever been interrupted when copying something, returned to your work and found that you went back to the wrong place? This is a common occurrence even in our own day.


3. Lack Of Sleep: Have you ever been writing and fallen asleep? I quite often keep writing, however it makes little sense. In fact at times when working on the computer, I have fallen asleep and kept typing. It is quite a shock to look up at the screen and see nothing but gibberish. It’s a possibility that copyists did the same thing.


4. Error Of Hearing: At times one person would read the Scripture slowly, while several other men wrote down copies of what was read. Some Greek words are pronounced nearly the same yet are spelled differently and mean something completely different.


5. Errors Of Memory: As he was coping the copyist might have transferred a phrase, but inadvertently lost part of the phrase as he transferred it. I have at times been writing and had someone say something.



I am shocked when I return to recheck my work and find that some of their words had crept into my paper.


6. Sloppy Copy Work: When copying from sloppy work there could be mistakes made.


7. Skipping A Line: This is especially easy when two lines end the same way. (Especially the same word or syllable.)


8. Repeated Words: Omitting a word that appears twice in a verse can be easy, as is the addition of a word making it appear twice when it shouldn’t.


9. Using Memory, Rather Than Sight: When copying a familiar text the copier might have relied on his memory for what he put down, and made mistakes.


10. Mistakes: In copying the genealogy of Christ one man didn’t realize his original was in columns and he copied across the page. Thus virtually no father had the right son.


11. Errors Of Judgment: When problems were incountered, it would be possible to misinterpret the evidence and make corrections when they were not needed and vice versa.


12. Transposition Of Letters, Syllables Or Words: These are easy mistakes to make even in our good light, and with our modern computers.


13. Boredom: Boredom of copying over and over could cause great problems of lack of attention, eye strain, etc..




These would be changes that the men made, believing that they were correcting someone else’s previous error.


1. Grammatical Changes: It has been of interest to me in my own writing. I have very poor grammatical skills so at times check my work with a computer grammar checker. I have been amazed at the high rate of grammar errors that I find in Scripture quotes. It is not that the Scripture is poorly written, but that the laws of grammar have changed.



Many of these copies were hundreds of years removed from the original Scriptures.


2. Liturgical Changes: Some of these changes came because someone wanted to make it fit into the services. This would be in the lectionaries.


3. Harmonizing Changes: Some copiers seemingly tried to harmonize the Synoptic Gospels by changing small things so that the three gospels would be in agreement. (Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in some of their passages, though they are different in some of their details. This is not due to errors of copiers, but from difference of view of the authors.)


4. Doctrinal Changes: To strengthen what was already there to make their own doctrinal position look better. 1 John 5:7 might be the result of this. This text only appears in four of the 5000 texts that we have.


In short, Any Mistake That We Today Can Make, They Could Have Made In Their Copying.




Internal Evidence: These are some of the principles that are used in determining which version of a text is used in translation work.


1. The shorter reading is often the preferable reading. The shorter version would be the preferable due to the fact that any additions and most changes would extend the original sentence. Colossians 1:14 contains the term blood in the King James but not in modern translations. It is felt that this was in the King James as a result of someone trying to harmonize this verse with Ephesians 1:7 where “blood” does exist.


2. The harder the reading the more preferable the reading. During the copying some of the Scribes wanted to simplify the text so it was easier to read. John 3:16 in some manuscripts does not have the term “begotten”. The King James and the New American Standard Bible have it but the New International Version doesn’t. (John 1:18 is also listed in relation to the term “begotten”.)


3. The reading from which the other readings in a variant could most easily have developed is often preferable.



4. The reading that is most characteristic of the author is often preferable.


External Evidence: The critics collated and compared 5000 manuscripts plus 13,000 pieces. These pieces of information they divided into three families of texts.


1. The Alexandrian Family: These were found around Alexandria, Egypt. (These are the most reliable to the critical text people.)


2. The Western World Family: These portions were from Europe.


3. The Byzantine Text Family: The majority are in this family. These come from the East and are the minuscule texts. (The critical text people feel that these are the poorest available.)


Bernard Ramm mentions that we should never build ANY doctrine on a questionable text. Indeed, we should probably never rely heavily on one verse for a doctrine, unless the text is very easily understood as to meaning.


This introduces you to the realm of criticism, but you must understand there is also criticism for the Old Testament as well with it’s own differences. We won’t get into Old Testament criticism. There are good works on this subject readily available.


You need to understand as well that the men that work in this field devote their lives to their study and work. It is not something which you can pick up from some theology book.[1]



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