When I realized that I did not want to spend my life as a text-critical technician – collating and classifying Greek manuscripts – it became obvious to me the way to go.   Textual critics at the time generally understood that there were two major tasks in the discipline: to establish the original text (that is, the text in the words written by the actual authors, as opposed to the changes of the text made by later scribes) and to write the history of its transmission (seeing how it had been modified over the years in different times and places).   And I realized that through no tragic fault or brilliant plan of my own, I had been trained to do both things: the first requires substantial expertise in exegesis (the interpretation of texts), and the second requires a knowledge of early Christian history.   These were the two areas I had focused on in my graduate training, in all those years when I wanted, instead, simply to be trained in reading manuscripts.

I think it is widely *under-appreciated* by textual critics (still today) just how vitally important the role of exegesis is in establishing what an author wrote.   This will take a bit of explaining, over a couple of posts.

Suppose you have a verse that is worded in two very different ways in various ones of the surviving manuscripts.  How do you decide which of the two ways is how the author originally wrote the verse, and which is a change committed by a scribe?    Scholars appeal to all sorts of evidence, each one important.   Here are some criteria that have been appealed to over the years.   These criteria are typically divided into two categories: those dealing with external evidence (those look at which manuscripts support one reading over the other) and the other dealing with internal evidence (looking at which reading is inherently superior for one reason or another).   I’ll deal with the former in this post, the latter (where exegesis comes into play) in the next.

External Evidence

  1. The number of manuscripts that support one reading or another. You might think at the outset that this would be the most important factor – if lots of manuscripts have one of the readings and only a few have the other, then the majority should win, right?   Well, not actually.  Here’s why.THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don’t belong yet, GET WITH THE PROGRAM!!!