Biblical criticism is defined as a "discipline that studies textual, compositional, and historical questions surrounding the Old and New Testaments. Biblical criticism lays the groundwork for meaningful interpretation of the Bible." [EB, "Biblical criticism"]
The Major Types of Biblical Criticism
One can criticise the Bible on other grounds too, for example from a psychoanalytic angle, in a comparative attempt, as when the teachings are compared to similar teachings in Daoism or Buddhism - and in other more primary ways, such as: Exegetic, expository - concerned with the meanings of texts. It includes:
Some of these approaches may be combined. For exampel, textual criticism tends to include some of the others, including salient points and observations of exegetic and historical criticism.
"Textual criticism is concerned with the basic task of establishing, as far as possible, the original text of the documents on the basis of the available materials." [EB, "critical methods: textual criticism"]
Hebrew biblical texts that were found at Qumran (then Jordan) and other places west of the Dead Sea made it possible to trace the history of the Hebrew Bible back to the 2nd century BC and to recognise at least three types of Hebrew text. Moreover, a comparative examination of these three indicates that the ancestor of the Masoretic text - in common use - is in the main the most reliable of them. [EB, ibid.]
For the New Testament, the chief text-critical materials are (1) manuscripts of the Greek text, from the 2nd to the 15th century, of which some 5,000 are known, exhibiting the New Testament text in whole or in part; (2) ancient versions in Syriac, Coptic, Latin, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, and other languages; and (3) citations in early Christian writers. [EB, ibid.]
More recently, manuscripts (mainly on papyrus) of the 3rd and even 2nd centuries have been found. They cannot be neatly assigned to any of the types (in the last paragraph), and make the earlier history of the text more problematic. Confronted with this, the Revised Standard Version and the New English Bible are both based on text sources that best seem to suit the context and the author's known style.
Advantages of knowing textual criticism. Textual criticism is part of being educated. For one thing, it seeks to restore texts as nearly as possible to their original form, which lays foundations for interpretation and evaluation. The methods of textual criticism include common sense and methods of historical inquiry.
To study a text or book well, one should know the history of it and learn some of the best principles of textual criticism, so as to get to the mind-sets of the authenticated texts, if possible. Perhaps knowledge of how they were transmitted helps such knowledge.
Textual criticism along with editing texts are instructive. For the general reader the benefits of knowing some textual criticism lies in the escape from taking texts on trust, however bizarre, odd, distorted, debased or unauthentic these texts may be. They need to put faith in revised versions - that are well founded with findings of textual criticism baked into them too.
The task of the textual critic is to detect and, so far as possible, completely undo or reduce the effects of transmitted fallacies and imperfections of traditionally delivered material, aiming at a more cogent and reliable text.
[Source: EB, "critical methods: textual criticism"]
Exegesis: a critical interpretation of the biblical text to discover its intended meanings.
There are different ways of producing such criticism. A given text may yield a number of very different interpretations according to the exegetic presuppositions and techniques used. "The study of these methodological principles themselves constitutes the field of hermeneutics." [EB, "Exegesis"; cf. "The critical study of biblical literature: exegesis and hermeneutics".
Bart D. Ehrman (1955 –) is a leading American New Testament scholar in his field. He has written and edited over twenty-five books, and focuses on textual criticism. [Ehrman showcase, and book annotations]
Burkett, Delbert, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Jesus. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica Online or as a yearly DVD suite. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015.
Ehrman, Bart D. Forged: Writing in the Name of God: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.
Ehrman, Bart D. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.
Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them). New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make it into the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 200
Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
Ehrman, Bart D. Studies in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Ehrman, Bart D., ed, tr. The Apostolic Fathers. Vol. 1 and 2. London: Harvard University Press, 2003.
Ehrman, Bart D. The Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Ehrman, Bart D. The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Friesen, Norm, Carina Henriksson and Tone Saevi, eds. Hermeneutic Phenomenology in Education: Method and Practice. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2012.
Hacking, Ian. Historical Onthology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.
Mantzavinos, Chrysostomos. Naturalistic Hermeneutics. Tr. Darrell Arnold, and the author. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Metzger, Bruce M., and Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restauration. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Mueller-Vollmer, Kurt, The Hermeneutics Reader. New York: Continuum, 1985.
Porter, Stanley, ed. Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament. Leiden: Brill, 1997.
Poythress, Vern S. Science and Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books/Zondervan, 1988.
Schökel, Luis Alonso, with Jose Maria Bravo. Manual of Hermeneutics. Tr. Liliana M. Rosa. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
Smith, Lawrence K. Understanding Hermeneutics. Durham, UK: Acumen, 2006.
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