7 Reasons to Love Textual Criticism
Yesterday I was on an atheist forum and was amazed at what I saw. These atheists were discussing how the text of the Bible had changed so much that there was no way anyone in their right mind would believe it. They were even going so far as to question the very existence of Jesus as a historical figure. Why? Well, from their point of view the testimony of the Scriptures is unreliable since the manuscripts that the stories come from were corrupted and, therefore, beyond rational belief. They brought up many points of textual criticism made by Agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman.
#1 The Enemies of the Gospel Know Textual Criticism
You see, Bart Ehrman knows about textual criticism. In fact, he is the only person in the history of the world to write a bestselling book about this subject. But his conclusions are irresponsible, imbalanced, and outright wrong. But, as I saw on the forum, most Christians have never studied the subject so it becomes a prime target for atheists to attack. After all, if there are so many errors, changes, and lies about the story of Jesus presented in the text, where do we turn to to get the Gospel?
#2 Because of All the People Who Have Died for the Bible
During the early forth-century Christianity suffered its worst time of persecution yet. Emperor Diocletian set out to destroy Christianity completely. The focus of this persecution was on the clergy, church buildings, and the Christian Scriptures. The Roman persecutors believed that if they destroyed all Scriptures, then Christianity would eventually fall.
Thousands of Christians across the empire were rounded up and placed in prisons. Eusebius writes that prisons were so filled with Christian leaders that ordinary criminals were crowded out, and had to be released. Many were killed, being burned alive. Others lost limbs, eyes, and ears. But what is certain is that these Christians suffered such pains so that we could have the Scriptures. They believed that the very words of the Bible are worth giving up their lives for.
Textual criticism is the science and art of reconstructing the very words that saints of the past have died for. We should love textual criticism because, like those who have died for the Bible, we love the text of the Bible and every word is important.
#3 Correcting Misconceptions about the History of the Bible
Have you ever heard someone say that the scribes who copied the Bible never made any mistakes? That they counted the words of each line, wrote in a certain color ink, and burned the manuscript if there was ever a single mistake? Well, this is not really true.
There are so many things that I have believed and even taught that were not true. Please forgive me, but this is true. Often, I have wanted Christianity to be true so badly that I believed anything that confirmed my prejudice. This was not responsible at all. Dan Wallace taught me very early that we are seekers of the truth, not prejudice. And we have to be honest with the evidence, even if it does not support our faith.
The great thing about studying textual criticism is that, when all is said and done, our faith is strengthened a great deal. While the story about the scribes above may not be true, we don’t need it to be confident in the Bible. There are so many ways we can test the manuscripts and discover which best represents the original.