By: Andrew K. Bobo
Textual criticism is a complicated field. New Testament manuscripts were written on three different materials, copied over the course of 15 centuries, and each scribe has unique handwriting. The sheer mass of materials is staggering, with over 5,300 Greek manuscripts scattered across 250 different institutions worldwide. The study of these manuscripts has gone through a series of revolutions since the advent of the printing press. Beginning with Erasmus, there has been a steady stream of printed Greek New Testaments. The early 18th century saw the first inclusion of a textual apparatus to list and discuss variants. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were abuzz with discussions of new manuscript finds. The Western world first became aware of the major biblical codices and the New Testament papyri during this time, pushing back the date of our earliest attestations by almost a millennium.
Even more recently, digital tools have once again fundamentally changed our field. Text-types, the 20th century’s dominant paradigm for understanding transmission history, have now come into question. A new approach, the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, is a complicated but promising way forward. Beyond these methodological questions, our study of the manuscripts themselves can now be done in tremendous detail from anywhere in the world, something never imagined in any previous period. On top of all these intricacies, textual critics also employ a jargon that is undecipherable to the uninitiated. For instance, our field employs an unusual number of acronyms for institutions, important publications, and manuscripts (e.g., INTF, CSNTM, ECM, CBGM, IGNTP, NA, UBS, SBL, THGNT, RP-MT, NTTS, NTTSD, NTS, ANTF, P46, GA 1739, PA, etc.).
Despite the complexity, few graduate students beginning in biblical studies feel bewildered by New Testament textual criticism. This is because most have no idea that it even exists. We all tend to take our printed, edited texts for granted, not realizing the work that lies behind them. Beginning students usually ignore the cryptic symbols, letters, and numbers at the bottom of their Greek New Testaments (called a “textual apparatus”), which represent the readings various important manuscripts have.
But when students take our internship, the abstract letters and numbers become real artifacts in living color that can be read, studied, and enjoyed. Leigh Ann Thompson, one of CSNTM’s interns for 2018–2019, described her experience: “There’s a whole world of biblical scholarship that I didn’t even know exists, much less the impact that it has on the texts we read and the materials that our pastors and leaders study. I’ve learned much about the importance of critical thought and thorough research. Even more, I’ve grown to be more thoughtful about my own faith.” Another intern, Ben Min, put it this way: “The internship exposed me to the wider world of biblical studies by introducing us to the best scholars and their works.”
Leigh Ann Thompson, Zack Skarka, and Ben Min—Research Assistants in the 2018–2019 internship cohort
Through a foundational set of readings and seminar discussions, we work through the methods, questions, and materials of textual criticism. We also guide students as they do original research in our field and prepare it for possible publication and presentation. We hope that the internship is the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of knowledge about the text of the New Testament.
For many of our interns, the passion that develops during their internship turns into a career. Many have pursued doctoral studies in textual criticism, and several have become leading experts in the field. Zack Skarka, a 2018–2019 intern, is headed in the same direction: “This internship helped me develop a love for biblical research in general and textual criticism in particular. This fall, I will begin doctoral studies at the University of Birmingham in textual criticism, fully confident that I am doing what I was made to do.” A former intern, Peter Gurry, received his doctorate in textual criticism from Cambridge University. He is now a professor of New Testament at Phoenix Seminary, co-edits the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, and has already produced several important scholarly publications, including a comprehensive study of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method mentioned above.
In exciting ways, the internship’s graduates have already begun to bear the fruit of careful study. In the forthcoming book Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, a group of young scholars have provided accurate research about our field in order to correct popular misunderstandings. Several former CSNTM interns made important contributions, including Gurry, who is a co-editor, and both CSNTM’s Assistant Executive Director, Rob Marcello, and Research Fellow, Jacob Peterson, are contributors. The book exemplifies the cycle that our internship is intended to replicate. Students like Peter, Rob, and Jacob were trained in textual criticism through our internship. They then went on to further doctoral study. Now, they have not only produced scholarly works for other textual critics, but they are also doing the difficult job of translating that work for general readers who have pressing questions about the text of the New Testament. CSNTM digitizes materials and makes them available for study, but we also believe we must train a new generation of scholars to carry out that study. Our internship is where that happens.