Everyone's A Critic

by Aaron

At a recent Gospel Class I was asked what I thought about “textual criticism.” I gave a short, some would say dismissive, answer because textual criticism has been used as an excuse in recent decades to try and destroy our faith in the reliability of scripture and it irritates me.  All the way back in the 1800’s Charles Spurgeon had to deal with it in what was known at the time as the “downgrade controversy.”
The reason someone asked the question at the Gospel Class was not to cause problems, it was simply that they heard about it and wanted to know what it was/is. I thought I would write up this short blog post so you all could have a better understanding of definitions and terms.
First, textual criticism is not just aimed at the scriptures, but any work of antiquity; it simply seems much more focused and pronounced in our day towards the scriptures.
Textual criticism is also called "lower criticism" and it is supposed to mainly concern itself with the identification and removal of what are known as "transcription" errors in the texts of manuscripts. Essentially, at times, ancient scribes would make errors, or alterations, when copying manuscripts by hand. A textual critic should seek to reconstruct the original text (the "autograph") as closely as possible. The objective would be a manuscript that most resembles the original.
Historical criticism is also called "higher criticism" and it is supposed to establish the authorship, date, and place of composition of an original text. It is also supposed to investigate the origins of ancient texts in order to understand the world behind the texts.
In the 18th century these criticisms came together and formed "Biblical criticism." Historical criticism began in the 17th century and gained popular recognition in the 19th and 20th centuries. The perspective of the early historical biblical critic was rooted in the Magisterial Reformation. At that time their studies were free from the influence of traditional interpretation.
But instead of seeking truth, as originally intended, most criticisms today seek to destroy the word of God for no seeming purpose except to try and discredit it. Today many people who are claiming to be scholars are simply skeptics with axes to grind because they refuse to believe in the supernatural as revealed by the scriptures. Today, in regard to the bible, we have source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, tradition criticism, canonical criticism, and dozens of other "isms" all trying to destroy the word of God as we know it.
The criticisms today have gone beyond wanting to know the context of a text or the most reliable text, they have gone to trying to discredit a text. Honestly, the scriptures we have today are the most reliable of any document known to man. We can trust the transcription, translation, and transmission. The question is, do we trust the God who gave them to us?