I was just reading a post by Bill Mounce on the Koinonia blog (to see it click here.) He offers a simple and graciously toned introduction to textual criticism set in the context of a natural question raised by folks in the church . . . “why is verse 4 missing in my Bible?”
Some textual critical questions would probably only be asked by people already heavily interested in the subject with apparatus in hand. These kinds of questions may intrigue us, but usually shouldn’t find their way into the pulpit! However, if people in the pew are looking at their Bible and asking a textual critical question, then we need to offer help. Just a few brief thoughts in light of Bill’s good post:
1. Textual criticism can be explained relatively simply. People probably don’t need to know about every textual family, how to pronounce homeoteleuton, or the full rationale behind lectio difficilor potior.
2. Textual criticism can be explained with grace. This area of study can really stir up the tension, especially between adherents to different textual families. Such tensions won’t help if shown from the pulpit. Be gracious to people who disagree with you on Majority Text vs Critical Text issues. Often you’d be fighting an unseen opponent anyway since people in the same church often tend to use the same version of the Bible (and most of these without any real understanding of text critical issues underlying the options)!
3. Textual criticism should be explained at the right time. Just because you’re enjoying a textual critical excursion in your personal study, or even in your sermon preparation, doesn’t mean the people are needing a dose of it. But when a verse is missing and they are wondering, or when you’re going through Mark or John and you get to the square bracket sections, then is probably a good time to offer some explanation.
4. Textual critical explanations should build trust in our English Bibles. This has to be paramount. What have you gained if you’ve showed off your knowledge, perhaps won a debate against an opponent not present, but undermined the confidence of every listener in their English Bible?