As I have indicated, my PhD dissertation was written in the field of textual criticism, with a focus on the patristic evidence; my topic was the quotations of the Gospels found in the writings of Didymus the Blind, a famous teacher/theologian who was active in Alexandria Egypt in the middle and at the end of the fourth century. Possibly by explaining what the dissertation was I can help show why patristic evidence can be so valuable for understanding the history of the transmission of the text of the NT.
I have already shown how Patristic citations can help us determine if a variant reading (that is, a way of wording the text that differs from the way it is worded in other witnesses) may well be original (thus my posts on Luke 3:22). That is obviously one of the most important goals – many would argue that it is THE important goal, or even the ONLY important goal, though I think this is too extreme – of textual criticism, namely, to know what the author originally wrote given the fact that we have different versions of the original words. But there are other goals, and one of them has to do with how that original text came to be changed over time.
It is important to know when, where, and why the text got changed for several reasons. One is that if you don’t know how it got changed, then you can’t very well tell which variant readings are the changes and which are the original. In particular, if it is possible to determine that in, say, one particular place and time, the text was preserved relatively intact without significant changes, then isolating the form of the text in that time and place will take us a long way in helping to know what the originals looked like.
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