Digital Hammurabi: Textual Criticism (2): Methodology

Yesterday I posted a link to the first video in the series by Digital Hammurabi on textual criticism. In the second video, Dr. Bowen goes over the methods and rules textual critics use when evaluating the various manuscripts of a biblical text. For example, generally speaking, the more difficult reading is preferred because of the tendency of scribes to correct what they perceive to be errors in a text.

One example given in Stanley Porter’s and Andrew Pitts’ book Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is from Acts 20:28 where we read, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (ESV). If you look at the critical apparatus of NA28 you will notice a note that shows that some manuscripts read “church of the Lord [tou kuriou]” rather than “church of God [tou theou].” Which reading is most likely the original?

One of the most substantial reasons that [theou] is preferred to [kuriou] here is that it is the more difficult reading and therefore can explain the origin of the variant [kuriou]. It is plausible that a scribe would correct the text from “God” to “Lord” since it may have raised questions in certain scribes’ minds how God has blood. It would seem much more natural to talk about the church being purchased with the Lord’s own blood rather than God’s blood. The question may be considered negatively as well. Why would a scribe change the text from what would seem very natural (Lord) to the more (seemingly) unnatural (God)? Therefore, reading “God” here would be more difficult for the scribe and, therefore, is more likely to be original.1

Bowen goes over some of the other rules in this video so you should take a look. And if you haven’t subscribed to his YouTube channel, you should probably get on that.


1 Stanley E. Porter & Andrew W. Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 117. As a side note, the NRSV renders the ending of Acts 20:28 as “the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” This is an example of translating a verse based upon an interpretation of what it means rather than what the Greek reads. The Greek word for “son” (huios) does not appear in Acts 20:28. Rather, the phrase dia tou haimatos tou idiou literally says “through the blood his own.” Whose own? Well, the antecedent seems to be God (theou).



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