Turning Robot Frankenstein Back Into a Rabbit
The value of textual criticism in the process of exegesis in ministry context
Ever play “Paper Telephone?” If not, you are really missing out! For real: Google it. If you have, then you know how much fun it can be and also how ridiculous the ending can be! In “Paper Telephone” you write down a saying on a piece of paper and then pass it on to the next person. That person draws what you wrote then hands it to the next person. Then that person writes what they think the previous person drew and then hands it to the next person… and so on, and so on. Once the paper has made it all the way around the circle, you stop and read what the final message says. As you can imagine, it is usually not very close to the original message… unless you have some great artist friends! I have seen “Rabbit” turn into “Robot Frankenstein!”
Now, imagine that same concept with thousands of writers over 2,000 years and in different languages. Ok, not exactly as bad as “Paper Telephone” but you get the idea! Can you see the importance of textual criticism when it comes to Biblical exegesis? We need to make sure that what we are reading and teaching is as close as possible to the original message!
As Blomberg jokes, textual criticism sounds a lot “like students complaining about their reading assignments.” It sounds like a pretty boring task, doesn’t it? If you asked anyone to help you with some Biblical textual criticism, you might find yourself alone! However, as Blomberg also points out, “The arduous yet rewarding work of painting the larger pictures of historical and literary contexts paves the way for the exegete’s next task of determining the original meaning of a biblical passage.”
For instance, the majority of Bible students falsely think that the various translations are “different translations of the same Greek words,” but in actuality, they are the “variations among the many Greek manuscripts we have of the New Testament.” That may seem like an insignificant detail, but it has big ramifications considering that we have “over 5,600 Greek manuscripts” and “no two manuscripts of the Greek New Testament are identical.”
It is vitally important for any serious Biblical student to know why there are different translations and what the differences are between all those translations. It is also vitally important to understand when a lexical analysis would be beneficial and how to perform one. In short, a little understanding of textual criticism goes along way.
“Reading the Bible can seem like listening to one side of a phone conversation or reading an e-mail addressed to someone else.” It’s true that sometimes we may feel like “eavesdroppers.” However, modern readers need to remind themselves of the time, culture, and place of the original writers and recipients. “The natural human tendency to interpret all things according to one’s own location, culture, and worldview poses a threat to good biblical interpretation.”
Textual criticism is valuable in a ministry context by rounding our your overall knowledge of any given Scripture. It also gives you the confidence that what you are teaching is as close as possible to the original message. Granted, many of your hard-found results may never be spoken from the pulpit… directly. But, the fruits of your labor have the possibility to season your entire message. We can rest assured that we don’t have any Robot Frankensteins.
 Craig Blomberg and Jennifer Foutz Markley, A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010), 1.
 Ibid., 117.
 William Mounce, Greek for the Rest of Us: Using Greek Tools without Mastering Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 251.
 Ibid., 257.
 Ibid., 253.
 Craig Blomberg and Jennifer Foutz Markley, 63.
Blomberg, Craig, and Jennifer Foutz Markley. A Handbook of New Testament Exegesis. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010.
Mounce, William. Greek for the Rest of Us: Using Greek Tools without Mastering Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course NGRK 505 Greek Language Tools