Paul D. Wegner, A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 334 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8308-2731-5. $19.00.
In a follow-up volume to his informative The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible (1999), Professor Wegner provides a handbook on OT and NT textual criticism. As was the case with his earlier contribution, this volume is clearly written, includes photographs (B&W), charts, tables, schematics, fairly and squarely covers the issues under discussion, is reasonably priced and is soundly evangelical in orientation. Although he does not cite him, nonetheless Wegner echoes B. B. Warfield when he says: "careful examination of these manuscripts ["texts up to two thousand years old"] has served to strengthen our assurance that our modern Greek and Hebrew critical texts are very close to the original autographs, even though we do not have those autographs" (301).1
Writing from the position of "reasoned eclecticism" (240), Wegner takes us on a tour of the manuscript treasures from the Ketef Hinnom amulets (tiny silver scrolls containing Num. 6:24-26 and Dt. 7:9, dated 725-650 B.C.) to the lavish Aleppo (ca. 930 A.D.) and Leningrad (1008 A.D.) Codices, with a stopover at Qumran and the plethora of manuscripts discovered there beginning in 1947; from P52 (papyrus fragment of John 18 dating from ca. 125 A.D.) to (4th century A.D.) Codex Sinaiticus (Tischendorf's fabulous discovery) and Vaticanus (also 4th century A.D.) by way of the stupendous 20th century discoveriesChester Beatty, Bodmer and Nag Hammadi papyri. All the manuscript finds and families are reviewed making this handy volume a quick reference guide for students and pastors alike. One could not do better than to have Wegner's bookin fact, both of his bookson the shelf.
Our volume is organized canonicallyOT to NT. An introductory chapter defines textual criticism (23-43); then we have two chapters on transmission of biblical texts (44-86). Next are detailed chapters on the OT (87-203) and NT (205-97). The whole is neatly summed up in the "Conclusions" (298-301). A very intelligent "Glossary" (302-10) follows, supplemented by name, subject and Scripture indices (314-34). However, the subject index is not thorough or complete. For example, the Oxyrhynchus papyri are discussed on page 182, but there is no entry for Oxyrhynchus either under "O" in the subject index or under "papyrus". In our age of computer generated indices, this is a major blunder on the part of the publisher. Double entry indices (or cross reference varieties) are a cinch in our digital age.
It is easy to get lost in the trees of textual criticism and forget that the history of the transmission of the Hebrew and Greek texts provides us with a lovely forest. Ninety percent of the Hebrew OT shows no "significant variation" (25). The UBS Greek NT displays variants in ca. 500 out of 6,900 wordsa mere 7% of the NT text. In other words, more than 90% of the OT and NT text is without controversy. (As Edwin Yamauchi has observed: classicists, eat your heart out!) In neither the OT nor the NT does any doctrine central to the Judeo-Christian faith stand or fall. The reliability of the OT and NT Scriptures has been and continues to be established and confirmed by the science of textual criticism.
Since 1947 (discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls/DSS at Qumran), our confidence in the reliability of the transmission of the Hebrew OT has been exponentially augmented. Since 1979 (discovery of the 8th-7th century B.C. Ketef Hinnom amulets), higher critical fundamentalists of the Pentateuch have been embarrassed by the existence of so-called P (`Priestly Writer') and D (`Deuteronomist') texts pre-dating the Exilic and Josianic eras. Since 1920/1934 (acquisition and publication of P52), Harnackian liberals have been chagrined by a fragment of John's gospel which is extant well in advance of their pet theorythat the fourth gospel is a late 2nd century A.D. product from the post-Polycarp church of Asia Minor. How many other pet theories of liberal scholarsever reconstructing the Hebrew and Greek texts based upon their evolutionary or developmental (they call it "trajectories") hypotheses of the origin of religious textshave crumbled with the most recent manuscript discoveries. Who would have imagined, in the heyday of German and American liberalism, that Qumran would revolutionize the study of the text of the Hebrew Bible (and that by essentially reinforcing traditional and conservative premises) making the textual apparatus of Kittel's famous Hebrew Bible even more of a farce than it was on publication? And who would have dreamed (Tischendorf, eat your heart out!) that the NT papyrus discoveries of the 20th century would confirm in the main the established text of the NT (Westcott and Hort)? Oh yes, there are diehards who refuse to concederadical revisionist post-liberals and egghead King James only types. But the weight of the primary evidence has passed by these blind leaders of the blind and we possess superb text critical editions of both the OT (Stuttgartensia; or the forth-coming Biblia Hebraica Quinta, two fascicles of which have been released) and the NT (either Nestle-Aland or UBS). Is it possible to project future spectacular discoveries? Indeed, this is pure speculation. But put yourself back in the text critical world of 1946 and imagine ("What hath God wrought"!) the first news dribbling out from Jerusalem about a Bedouin boy's rock throwing on the west shore of the Dead Sea.
Inevitably, Wegner must confront the theories which have been manufactured to account for the profusion of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Are there many versions of the Hebrew Bible? Were these diverse versions edited, shaped, theological skewed by schools of scribes and copyists? Is there a simple Hebrew Vorlage to the Massoretic Text (MT); or are there many Hebrew text precedents to our modern Hebrew Bible? Does the Septuagint (LXX) represent a separate stream of Jewish tradition diverse from that of the MT tradition? And what of the NT? Are the Alands right about the primary documents; or does the nod go to Bruce Metzger and the editors of the widely accepted UBS text?
In assessing these questions, we encounter the bell weathers of OT and NT text criticism. Especially Emmanuel Tov for the Hebrew text and the Alands and Metzger for the Greek text. Tov's monumental work (Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible [1992/2001]) imposes higher criticalnot just text criticaltheories upon the origin of the Hebrew Bible. His sophisticated theory of the origin of the Hebrew text is steeped in the theological manipulation of the post-Exilic Jewish community. In other words, Tov has joined historical tradition criticism (Traditionsgeschichte) with textual criticism. His book is a masterpiece of amalgamation, but it is also an insidious assault on the notion of an authoritative autographa. Wegner is alert to this danger, discounting "both Emmanuel Tov and Bruce Waltke [who] have argued that there may be several original forms of a biblical text" (32). Our author continues to maintain that there is one form of the text which became canonical (37)an essentially evangelical position which asserts and defends a definitive autographa ("God-breathed" text).
However, let us keep in mind the number of erstwhile theories about the origin and evolution of the texts of the Hebrew OT and Greek NT that have gone up in smoke in the last century with the DSS and NT papyri finds. Let us therefore resolve to say only what may be objectively stated given the present state of the actual manuscript evidence. Let us eschew theories of manuscript origins for the hard, cold data of the manuscripts themselves. Let us remember how many "assured results of scientific criticism" are in the ash can of history, bringing wry smiles to later true scholar's lips and the wrinkled brow expostulation, "What were they smoking?" More text critical theories for the "true origin" of the Vorlages have been advanced and abandoned than Carter's has little pills. So enough already!! Stick to the facts and say no more than the actual data indicates! Leave the theorizing to the whimsies of the liberal higher critics and restrict textual criticism to what is evident before the eyes. Who knows? in 50 or 100 years (if the Lord tarries), we may have even more exciting manuscript discoveries dating from the 5th century B.C. (for the Hebrew OT) and the 1st century A.D. (for the Greek NT).
In the meantime, Wegner provides a safe and sane path through the myriadic abundance of OT and NT manuscripts. May his tribe increase and flourish!!
James T. Dennison, Jr.
1 For Warfield's comments on the "substantially autographic text," see his An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1886) 12, 14; "The Inerrancy of the Original Autographs," in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (1973) 2:580-87, esp. 584; and citations in The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary (1946) 162-63, 194-95.