Some people (conservative Christians who don’t like my scholarship) maintain that I’m not a historian, a view I find very odd since virtually all of my scholarship (for well over twenty-five years) is historical. I address the question in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, along with a question that many readers will find more interesting (since it’s more germane to anything), of whether Paul and the Jerusalem church were on the same page theologically or if there were tensions between them.
If you have any questions you would like me to address in a future Mailbag, let me know!
In a debate online a Fundamentalist friend said you were a textual critic and not an historian. I said you wore both hats. Do you also consider yourself a historian?
Anyone who thinks I’m not a historian simply has never read any of my books – including my books on textual criticism! The vast majority of my books are not even about textual criticism, but about the history of early Christianity (first to fourth Christian centuries). I haven’t done much scholarship in textual criticism over the past fifteen years or so, but even when I was active in that field, I approached the task historically. That made me pretty unusual – OK, highly unusual – in the field. To explain that I need to define some terms, since my sense is that most people don’t really know what the term “textual criticism” actually means (and so they say something like “you’re *only* a textual critic!!).
New Testament textual criticism is the discipline that attempts to establish what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote and how their words came to be modified over the course of their transmission as they were copied, by hand, for centuries. Textual criticism is *not* the literary analysis of texts, the study of what they mean. It is the *reconstruction* of the texts, determining what the texts originally said. That makes textual criticism different from exegesis (the latter of which attempts to understand what a text means, once the textual critics establishes what the text says).
The irony, though, is that to know what the texts originally said …
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