Monday, August 22, 2011

How do we Define a Biblical Autograph?

As the Bible was handed down to us and copied by hand, certain mistakes crept in to the text. Sometimes the copyist would accidentally skip a line or write another word that sounded similar. The goal of textual criticism is to determine, based on these variations in the copies, what the original said. If something doesn't appear in the Greek manuscripts until the 10th century, for instance, we can safely assume it was not present in the original.

But how do we define "original" or, for the technical word, autograph? At what point was a book complete? The Gospel of John did not contain the story of the woman caught in adultery in the earliest manuscripts. As a matter of fact, the earliest manuscripts that do contain it are not unanimous in where the story should go. Some place it after John 7:52 (like our Bibles do), but others place it at the end of Luke or John, as kind of an appendix. Most Evangelical scholars today would say this story is not part of the original autograph, even though they would agree it is most likely a true story about the life of Christ preserved in Christian tradition. Yet some books, such as Psalms and Proverbs, were not written all at once. There were revisions, edits, or compilations evidenced, since the time gap between the earliest and latest Psalms is well over 700 years, and Proverbs 25:1 indicates the book was not completed at least until over 200 years after Solomon.

So, how are we to define the biblical autograph in a consistent way to justify some compilations in the Old Testament while rejecting others in the New? Check out my new post at sbcIMPACT! to find out.

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