Is Textual Criticism Skepticism?

Answer: No! Textual criticism is the initial part of philology that is concerned with the identification of textual variance, or different versions, of either manuscript or of printed books, preparing the best version of the text-based on its sources for next philological steps (eg. exegesis) Historically, scribes who were paid to copy documents may have been literate, but many were simply copyists, mimicking the shape of letters without necessarily understanding what they meant. This means that unintentional alterations were common when copying manuscripts by hand. Intentional alterations may have been made as well, for example, the censoring of printed work for political, religious or cultural reasons, but these alterations are marked out of hermeneutics and ideological frame.

The objective of the textual critic’s work is to provide a better understanding of the creation and historical transmission of the text and its variants under a typographic perspective.

Source: Wikipedia

Textual criticism applies when the original manuscripts were lost or does not exist anymore.

Example: All original manuscript of the new testament were already gone, what we have are copies of the originals in more than 5,800 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages (including Syriac, Slavic, Ethiopic and Armenian). The manuscripts contain approximately 300,000 textual variants.

In identifying these variants, scholars used one of the approaches in textual criticism which is eclecticism referring to the practice of consulting a wide diversity of witnesses to a particular original, here, scholars sorted witnesses into three major groups, called text-types. Witnesses refer to the thousands of manuscripts written by the scribes copied from the original.

The text- type groups are;

1.) The Alexandrian text-type (also called the “Neutral Text” tradition; less frequently, the “Minority Text”– Products resulted to these group type were: NIV, NAB, NABRE, Douay, JB and NJB (albeit, with some reliance on the Byzantine text-type), TNIV, NASB, RSV, ESV, EBR, NWT, LB, ASV, NC, GNB, CS.

2.) The western text -type– Product Vetus Latina.

3.) The Byzantine text-type; also, Koinē text-type (also called “Majority Text” resulted in KJV, NKJV, Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, Bishops’ Bible, OS.

So you see, textual criticism was actually applied in the above versions. In the scholarly study, criticism is the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work. These criticisms are bound to happen when you have no original but have too many copies of the said original but with variances. This does not equate to skepticism since it’s already given that there are variances, what scholars are doing now are finding these variances in an attempt to re-create as close as possible to the original

The logic is actually simple:

Suppose, long time ago person A wrote a piece of literary documents, in time, this piece of literary works was copied by Person B, C, D. Unfortunately, it happened that the original was lost and the one retained were the 3 copies. Now, the goal of textual criticism is to re-create the original or at least close to the original at most. This would be easy if all 3 copies are identical but, what if copy B has some wordings that are not or different from copy C or D? If there were only 3 documents, we could simply compare the 3, if copy B deviated from copy C and D. Then, it must be that the copy B was in error.

Now, imagine the above process with more than 5,800 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and 9,300 manuscripts, daunting works right?

But, if you are a skeptic, the tendency is to not trust the 3 just because the original does not exist or one copy is different than the other, here, skeptics already made a conclusion that the documents are not reliable which is not an objective process.

For this reason, I think skeptics somehow became who they criticize. Some skeptics would criticize that one is a fanatic of the bible because they can’t accept the criticism not realizing that, he/she too became a fanatic of skepticism since he/she automatically equate criticism to skepticism without really understanding how criticism is used in the context of scholarly study.

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Textual Criticism of the Bible

Now I understand the importance of textual criticism of the bible, it is indeed significant because apparently, all originals source were lost what we have are early New Testament texts that include more than 5,800 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages (including Syriac, Slavic, Ethiopic and Armenian). The manuscripts contain approximately 300,000 textual variants, most of them involving changes in word order and other comparative trivialities.

These early new testament texts were written by scribes copied from the original sources, since these are copied texts, unintentional and intentional alteration are bound to happen. Textual criticism attempt to find these supposed alterations by scribes. One methodology of textual criticism that scholars used today is eclecticism, which refers to the practice of consulting a wide diversity of witnesses to a particular original.

It’s like say, 10 scribes supposedly copied the original, since the original is not available, instead of picking one as supposedly the closest translation from the original which is impossible to know because there is no point of comparison, scholars would compare the 10 writings of scribes and see which scribes seem to agree with each other.

Bible translations like NIV, NASB, NWT, ESV, KJV, NKJV, these versions but not limited to the mentioned versions were actually translated considering textual criticism but, depending on their text-types, a verse can either be missing from the version compare to another version like say, NIV vs KJV, they belonged to different text-types groups hence, applying textual criticism, some verses in KJV is not found or change in NIV.

So now you know what is textual criticism. It is not the equivalent of textual skepticism. The skepticism perspective of analyzing the Bible is an attempt to find flaws within the accuracy of the texts and compilation of the Bible in an effort to damage its theological and/or authoritative credibility. Click here.

It’s a skewed prejudice belief to think that textual criticism suggests doubt to the reliability of the bible. Textual criticism does not just apply to the bible, it applies to all other classical texts whereby original texts were lost, like the classical text of Plato, Aristotle, William Shakespeare. Click here.

Actually, since this is the case, God must have known that this will happen, originals will be lost and scholarly men will have such methodology so that, they can come up with different bible versions that have differences. To solve the differences, the bible internally also came with a solution to established matter that seemingly not in harmony. This solution was written in 2 Corinthians 13:1 saying, every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses, meaning, in the case of the bible versions differences due to different text-types, one may compare one version to another few other versions in the ratio of 3:1 so that, when 3 or 6 or 9 and so on agree with each other compared to just 1 or 2 or 3 and so on then, the established version of that particular text must be the majority.

Check the link to read:

How to treat different bible version

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What is the difference between I know and I believe?

I know implies certainty

I believe implies probability, could be or could be not. This causes endless debate.

In regards to the content of bible, whether it was plagiarises or not, whether the author is really the author, whether Jesus is really a historical figure or a myth. These do not fall to “I know” rather fall to “I believe”, the fact that scholars are still debating to date, that would mean there are opposing probability that likely happened.

For us common folks who are not in their field, we simply pick side depending on our biases.

It’s a delusion to think that you know what you know now because these scholars or experts on this field sensibly explained it and so you agree on it. What actually happened, before you picked that scholar as your anchored reference, something within you, perhaps experience or influence of someone cause you to lean towards the analysis of that scholar and once you fully decide that this is it, you now tend to search information that confirm to that choice then reject those information that contradicted it, confirmation bias.

This phenomenon applies regardless of which side you pick.

If you are not aware of your own psychology, you tend to be arrogant thinking that what you know is in certainty when you actually only believe that what you know is in certainty. Because of this, your core self is telling you that you are right and the other is wrong, when in fact what is happening is that, you only believe that you are right and the other you believe to be wrong. This is happening regardless of which side you choose to be but, if you are conscious that what you hold is a belief, you tend to simply share your perspective without throwing ad hominem.

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Can The Bible be the Measure of Truth?

Answer: The bible is not per se the measure of truth rather, the measure is your thought/understanding towards it. When we read the bible, what we do is project our thought to what we think the verse is saying, ultimately, the measure of truth is your wisdom. Biblically, this wisdom should be nourished and helped by the Holy Spirit, if not, you are unable to make sense of it accurately and coherently.

One may read the bible, measured it to be true and able to explain it sensibly because his thought/wisdom with the help of the Holy Spirit made sense to it, therefore, accept it to be true.

One may read the bible and measure to be not true and reject it because his thought/wisdom alone did not made sense to it therefore, not accept it to be true.

One may read the bible but relies heavily on whatever that has been taught to him by someone else. Then, accept it to be true because he/she trust that what has been taught to him/her is the truth without thoroughly checking it.

So, which one are you?

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How is truth determined?

Screen Shot 2020-02-15 at 7.48.05 PMAbsolute truths are determined by empirical data. It is the empirical data that confirm whether one is an absolute truth or not.

It is a fact that we observe using our senses and gather data from these but, the gathered data by our senses may only be what it appears but not at all the reality.

Example: The sun from our perspective on earth moves from east to west. This is the data that our eyes can gather.

If you live 500 years ago, the evidence gathered would be empirically true based on the definition of empirical that is- based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

But then, a person with a higher perception appeared and challenged what has been commonly accepted to be empirical at that time, he postulated that the sun is fixed and where you stand is the one moving.

At that time, two opposing theories emerge that can’t be both true, there should only be one answer, either the sun is moving or where you stand is moving. The opposing theory that challenges the first one gathered empirical data that are not commonly observed or not easily perceived by anyone, i.e calculation, experimentation that common people may not be able to grasp leveling up on what is empirical.

The second theory backed up with empirical proof was proven to be of no doubt correct, meanwhile, the first one is stuck with what can only be observed by naked eyes which came out to be what it appears only but not the actual reality.

That is how truth is determined – by a series of postulations that should be backed up with empirical data beyond basic observation. If a postulation happens to have no backed up empirically, it would remain an opinion no matter how sensible it is.

Now, let us apply the above in biblical research.

Say, the case on the Gospel of Mark.

Let’s resolve:

Was the Gospel of Mark really not an eye witness account of Mark, was it even Mark who wrote it? 

Click this link to read further.

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Does the Measure of What is Objective Relies Heavily on Our Subjective Thought Capability?

Absolute truth will remain to be true whether you exist or not.

But, what happens if you are unable to perceive that truth accurately?

Example: From our perspective, the sun moves from east to west, this is what our eyes can observe hence, the data gathered.

What happens if you rely solely on what your eyes had gathered? From your perspective, the sun do moves from east to west, this is empirical in a sense that, you verified it by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

What if you are unable to understand all other explanation about why the sun is fixed and it does not really move although it appears to move, what will be your empirical truth? Is it that the sun moves from east to west?

If it is the case, although in reality the sun does not really move, since you are unable to understand it, the reality you know will be different and so, you think in the best of your ability that you hold an objective truth that the sun does move based on what you observe since it does appear to be moving, meanwhile, you treat other with opposite understanding as a mere opinion and subjective since you can’t grasp their explanation.

Having said the above, therefore, it is a fact that your ability to see objective reality is directly proportional to your subjective ability to understand reality. Ultimately, the measure of what is objective relies heavily on our subjective thought capability.

Yes! Objective truth remains objective no matter what but if you are unable to recognize it, you will mistake it to be a mere opinion hence, in your mind, what is a fact becomes opinion and vice versa.

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Was the Gospel of Mark really not an eye witness account of Mark, was it even Mark who wrote it?

Screen Shot 2020-02-15 at 3.55.37 PMWhat are the empirical pieces of evidence at hand?

Exhibit A: Christian engages in storytelling, an oral tradition about Jesus

Exhibit B: At that time around 66-70AD, some eyewitnesses on the life of Jesus were still alive to tell the tales.

Exhibit C: There was a person named Mark who lived between 5 – 68 AD at that time.

Based on the above empirical data, we can derive the following cases of possibility interpretatively.

Case 1: That because of this oral tradition, one man of unknown identity- could be Mark or not, decided to write the story which he did not really witness first hand, this writing was called the Gospel of Mark. This postulated theory can be in-depth in the field of paleography study. 

Case 2: One of the people (Mark) who witness first hand the life of Jesus contributed through His account the chain of storytelling about the life of Jesus and later wrote it without crediting himself as the writer although, external evidence can show that it was his writing. This postulated theory too can go in-depth under the field of paleography study.

Notice that based on the empirical data, it produces two opposite theories that contradicted from each other suggesting a further investigation to see what really happened, the two possibilities cannot be both true. The question becomes, what empirical data do we need so that we can definitely know which theory is true?

To allege that it was not Mark or that it was Mark, we have to have a basis of comparison between the gospel of Mark and Mark’s any original writing specimen and that is what we need, an original specimen of Mark’s writing so that an expert can study it using paleography, then whatever the outcome, it can be compared with the Gospel of Mark to see the difference. Here, the result will either confirm cases 1 or 2 empirically. But, the question is, do we have that evidence?

Answer: No!

And so for now, we are stuck with 2 postulated opposing theories obtained from the empirical data, neither can be proven empirically which comes down to a choice of what to believe, either Case 1 or Case 2. Whatever your choice, it does not really matter but, be aware that regardless of your choice, it’s not empirically proven thus, a BELIEF.

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