The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration,

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman (4th ed. Oxford University Press 2005).

If I come across a copy of this book in a thrift store I will buy it to give away; I think it is a good book to give to anyone. And so I was pleased to find a PDF of the whole 2005 edition on because I found I had given my last copy away.

It is an especially valuable tool for use in discussing matters connected with the Received Text and the King James Version of the Bible, and therefore handy for pastors or other church members who may get involved in that discussion. But it is valuable for the preachers for their own understanding of where their New Testament came from and how it should be translated into sermons.

Every translation of the New Testament has come from a large number of copies of original documents transmitted in various forms over many years and Part One of the book includes illustrations of some of these copies showing the variety in what they look like.

The second part deals with the history of how scholars have examined differences which appear in copies of the same document whether it was a letter or a gospel and that process of comparison and evaluation. Known as text criticism, it is a term which has been associated with disrespectful dealing with the Bible at different times, but is an important discipline.

For those who believe that controversies in the church are to be settled by appealing to the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek as revelation from God, this process which considers which of the copies seem most authentic will have to be part of the way the New Testament operates in the church and appreciated as a necessity. Probably the most important chapter is the last in the final part of the book. It outlines the basic criteria for the evaluation of variant readings and considers the process of using internal and external evidence which may be available and finally gives some examples with selected New Testament passages.

Compared to the length of the other chapters which give the historical background to the manuscripts, more space could have been given to these last ones about weighing them up on the evidence. But because this gets more technical, it requires some knowledge and skills than are not available to as many people; but the understanding of what is needed and how it can be done can be found here. So when a footnote in the Bible says something about other manuscripts, or if two translations are very different, people at church don’t have to become anxious about it, but they can get a better idea of what might have happened by reading this book or getting help from someone who has read it and can explain what the footnote is about.

Lynsey Blakston, Geelong RPC

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