A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible

By Paul D. Wegner
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2006). 334 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 140-142

Most books on textual criticism focus exclusively either on the OT or the NT. Wegner’s volume, however, examines the history, methods, and results of textual criticism with regard to both testaments. For the OT, A Student’s Guide is more comprehensive and analytical than Ellis Brotzman’s Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (Baker, 1993), even though both are aimed at the beginning student or informed layperson. Brotzman’s volume is distinctive because he illustrates the methodology of textual criticism by discussing all of the material variants in the Book of Ruth. On the NT side of things, Wegner’s depth and breadth of coverage compares favorably with J. Harold Greenlee’s Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 2nd ed. (Hendrickson, 1996). Wegner excels in his insightful categorization of the different philosophies of textual criticism, his bibliographies for each major topic, and the work sheets and instructions giving the student direction for initiating the process of textual criticism (OT: 120-34; NT: 227- 49). “Further Reading” lists occur 40 times at the conclusion of each topical discussion. Some sources occur repeatedly in these lists, because they cover a wide range of topics.

Some of the book is standard fare for volumes dealing with textual criticism: definitions and examples of unintentional and intentional transmissional errors (44-57), a history of the transmission of the text (58-86), and a history of key manuscripts, versions, and editions (OT: 89-119, 140-203; NT: 207-28, 256-65; both: 267-97). Wegner’s work stands out, however, in dealing with both testaments. An abundance of helpful tables, illustrations, and text samples make the material accessible for readers (like this reviewer) who are visual learners. The volume contains 77 figures, 22 tables, and 3 maps placed strategically within the text in close proximity to the corresponding discussions they illustrate. One of the most helpful tables covers “Perceived Goals of Old Testament Textual Criticism” (31, Table 1.1). Six separate goals have been set by various OT text critical scholars. Each goal is described and scholars who adhere to that goal are listed. For some readers it will come as a shock that so very few OT text critics seek to establish the author’s ipsissima verba.

One of the fascinating benefits of a volume covering textual criticism for both testaments is a discussion of the differences between OT and NT textual criticism (26-29). The two sciences differ due to the vast difference in the transmissional histories, as well as different starting points for practitioners. Throughout, Wegner maintains a sanely conservative stance, as evidenced in his preference for the “Reasoned Eclectic method” in NT textual criticism (221).

Wegner concludes that, for the OT, a “high regard for Scripture, devotion to detail and providence have p reserved over the millennia a text that is remarkably reliable” (89). In regard to the NT, the relatively small number of material variants “underscores how accurate our Bibles actually are” (231). He reiterates these conclusions in the final chapter (298-301), then provides readers with a practical “Glossary” (302-10) and indexes for names, subjects, and Scripture references (314- 34).

In spite of the overall excellence of this volume and its great value in providing students and laypersons with a user-friendly, understandable, and instrumental presentation of textual criticism for both testaments, it does have its flaws.

Incompleteness, inconsistency, inaccuracy, and inequality crop up on occasion like unwanted weeds in the middle of a wonderful garden. Incompleteness: Although the author provides sources in a footnote (75 n. 51) regarding the current debate over a potential new approach to the purpose of Kethib-Qere’ readings in the margin of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, he fails to reveal that the new approach understands the Qere’ as a warning no t to be led away from the Kethib (see the review of John Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Text [Westminster/John Knox, 1997] in TMSJ 14/1 [2003]:108-9). In the description of one Qumran Isaiah scroll (1QIsa; 91-92), the author does not inform the reader that lengthy (not just single-word) corrections appear written between lines and even down the margins (as at Isa 40:7-8). The table for major abbreviations in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) and Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) correctly lists the meanings for pc Mss, nonn Mss, and mlt Mss, but fails to list the different quantities and the one additional abbreviation (permlt Mss) that applies to the Books of Samuel (117, Table E1.1, incorrectly labeled as T able 4.1 on this one page). The bibliography for the Masorah (118-19) omits the valuable work of Page H. Kelley, Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford, The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Eerdmans, 1998). Commentary series especially helpful for identifying textual issues, gathering textual evidence, and offering a solution should include the International Critical Commentary (249).

Inconsistency: In the text (63, 143) Wegner cites Emanuel Tov’s second edition of Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress, 2001) stating that 35 percent of Qumran biblical manuscripts demonstrate affinity to the proto-Masoretic Text. However, in a chart (67, Table 3.1), he gives the figure as 60 percent (based upon an older unrevised work by Tov).

Inaccuracy: Discussing the textual variant at Gen 1:7 in the textual apparatus of BHS, Wegner asserts that the “editors of the BHS” suggest an addition (52, 114). Actually, “editors” should be “editor,” since Genesis was edited by Otto Eissfeldt in 1969, according to the reverse of the BHS title page. Another inaccuracy is due to a typo in references to “8HevXIIIgr” (200, 201) that should be “8HevXIIgr.”

Inequality: Wegner does not grant equal treatment to both testaments. This volume slightly favors OT textual criticism over NT criticism. True, the OT’s history and transmission are over a longer period of time and are often more complex. However, readers will be left wondering why an equivalent history of NT textual history is not divided up into at least two major periods: AD 100-1500 and 1500- present. For the OT, the author provided nearly nine pages of transmissional history from AD 100 to the present (70-78), while only two full pages for the same period of NT transmissional history (80-82). On the other hand, Wegner presents two completed worksheets for a NT example (Eph 1:1; 250-51, 252-53; cp. 228), but he provides no completed worksheet for an OT example (134).

As far as this reviewer is concerned, this volume will become required reading for OT textual criticism courses that he teaches. Future revisions will iron out the first edition’s problems and keep the book in use for years to come. For that, teachers, students, pastors, and informed laypersons will be grateful.