“The Oldest and Best Manuscripts”? — Summary

This is a summary (for the sidebar menu) of a series of posts on a common phrase in modern Christian literature — “The oldest and best manuscripts say.”  (This wording is also in the margin or study notes of many Bibles published in recent times).

The “oldest and best manuscripts” phrase is based on modern New Testament Textual Criticism (NTTC).  This ongoing series (another article coming soon) addresses some assumptions of NTTC, and why I no longer accept its assumptions nor its conclusions.

Note:  I do not recommend spending a lot of time in this area.  Becoming expert in ancient manuscripts may do more to gender strife than to increase righteousness, love, and peace.  But believers can find their faith weakened by words undermining confidence in the Bible in their hand, so I see value in presenting another side of the story with occasional posts.  I have more to say, but will write very infrequently on the topic.

Not Like Any Other Book — How I learned NTTC from a godly and highly respected textual scholar.  How despite appreciating the ministry of godly men, I began to doubt their teaching of NTTC as a reliable guide to identifying the true text of Scripture.

Is the Oldest Manuscript Really Best?  — One of my longest posts (you’ve been warned! :)) but also one of the most popular.  A little time-travel to get the mindset of second-century Christians, challenging the standard “oldest is best” viewpoint — and a strong challenge to our often lackadaisical attitude to the precious Word of God.

The “Pericope Adulterae” and the Oldest Manuscripts — How the story of the woman taken in adultery, from John 8, is actually very damaging to the “oldest is best” assumption, because it shows that the evidence from the oldest manuscripts available today is a tiny and very incomplete picture of the Bible which Christians used through the years.

The “Oldest and Best” Wording — To describe manuscripts as “oldest and best,” from a strictly logical perspective, is flawed if not directly misleading.  “Some of the oldest manuscripts just aren’t very good.”

Textual Criticism’s Worst Assumption — “Very early New Testament scribes weren’t careful.”  This horrible assumption comes out in multiple quotes by Fenton John Anthony Hort — but relies on rejecting the Biblical doctrine of the canon of Scripture.  His work and philosophy still drives much of NTTC.

The “Best Manuscripts” are Sloppy Copies (???) — “Welcome to the manuscript version of the sinner’s excuse!  ‘Sure, I’m bad, but no worse than the guy next door.'”  The “worst assumption” underpins the worst rule, never stated but frequently applied, that it doesn’t matter if a scribe did sloppy work, it can still make the “best manuscripts” list.

I Guess Oldest is Only Best When We Want it to Be —  “When your theory is immune to evidence, you are always right.”  Modern textual criticism relies on the work of a man who was inconsistent in how he interpreted the data, playing a sort of manuscript leap-frog, so that oldest is only best when it fits your theory.

So Everyone Could Use It — A quote from Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, is illustrative of the attitude of believers to Scripture.  F.J.A. Hort, in his theory, describes an attitude towards Scripture which believers would not recognise.

Unprovable Historical Textual Assumptions — Three different approaches to the history of the New Testament text.  Which I hold, which one I’m presenting in these posts, and why.

Daniel Wallace, the New New Testament, and Authority — A response to an excellent article by Daniel Wallace, the leading evangelical textual scholar.  He properly raises the question of authority in regard to a newly published book — but that question of authority applies to his work, too….

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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