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Response to Misquoting Jesus V

In chapter 4 of Misquoting Jesus, The Quest for Origins: Methods and Discoveries (pp. 101-125), Ehrman moves to important but slightly less engaging material. This chapter is important in laying out the basic history of textual criticism, and how Biblical scholars began the move from the corrupt Textus Receptus to a better critical text.

Many of the debates these scholars engaged in over the centuries are similar to debates that still continue today. Even though it is well established that there are numerous textual variants, people still try to create ad hoc arguments for why the text behind the KJV is the best text, or why one can somehow ignore all these variants.

The key element of this chapter is the discussion of Westcott and Hort’s textual methodology and where it differs from modern practices. Westcott and Hort are unduly blamed for many elements of modern textual criticism. It is appropriate to grant them a substantial place in the history of textual criticism, and to give them credit where credit is due. They pulled together principles from the work of others, brought them to completion, and produced an excellent critical text.

Their substantial work is often used in ad hominem attacks on the modern text, as though by proving Westcott and Hort to be unorthodox in some way, one could prove that modern eclectic texts such as UBSIV or NA27 are also of no value. First, of course, such an ad hominem attack is clearly unjustified especially when all the building blocks are available for study. Only someone without the ability to deal with the substantial evidence available would resort to an ad hominem attack under the circumstances.

Second, while Westcott and Hort were pioneers in the science and art of textual criticism, their methods have been considerably refined and improved, so that saying a modern eclectic text is essentially like that of Westcott and Hort is inaccurate. Ehrman outlines the differences at the end of this chapter (123-125).

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