Book Notice: Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. 400 Pages. $40.00 (paperback).

Since the startling popularity of Bart Ehrman’s bestselling Misquoting Jesus (2005), the discipline of textual criticism has been wedged in the crossroads between New Testament studies and Christian apologetics. While Ehrman’s skepticism about the text of the New Testament deserves a thorough response, Elijah Hixson (junior research associate in New Testament Text and Language at Tyndale House, Cambridge) and Peter J. Gurry (assistant professor of New Testament and co-director of the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary) point out that the renewed interest in apologetics has created a fresh host of problems—a proliferation of myths, mistakes, and misinformation that has surfaced from a very technical discipline within the field of biblical studies. The upshot of the current predicament is that “the Bible is discredited by the very people who think they are defending it” (20). Hixson and Gurry, along with a team of New Testament textual critics, address these concerns head-on by providing a much-needed corrective for scholars and apologists alike.

In the Introduction, Hixson and Gurry indicate that the myths and mistakes can generally be classified into three groups: outdated information, abused statistics, and the selective use of evidence. Some of the most common myths include: “There may be as many as 400,000 variants in the New Testament”; and, “We have a first-century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark.” To address these and other concerns, the contributors follow a general pattern of identifying the most spurious myths on a given topic, providing a broad overview of the most current research, and offering constructive suggestions in dealing with the subject matter more accurately.

With this in mind, the book is organized into three broad sections: the first dealing with the manuscripts, the second with the process of copying, and the third with translation, citation, and canonization. In the first part, contributors tackle myths about the autographs, the number and dating of manuscripts, and comparisons with classical literature; in the second part, myths about the copyists, transmission, and variants; and in the final part, myths about patristic citations, the canon, and translations.

Overall, the editors have assembled an exceptional team of scholars to address these issues. They are upfront about their approach to the task of textual criticism and maintain that in every age “God has given his people a text that is more than reliable enough to know the saving work he has accomplished through Jesus Christ” (20). Despite the surge of misinformation, Hixson and Gurry emphasize that the last several hundred years of research should increase our confidence in the recovery of God’s inspired words. While Myths and Mistakes is not an introductory textbook, it serves as an invaluable resource and supplement to introductory literature on New Testament textual criticism. Even more, while grounded in solid scholarship, Myths and Mistakes is written at a very accessible level. In this respect, pastors and those with a general interest in apologetics will especially want to refer to this book for the most up-to-date research in the field.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Jimmy Roh, Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Content Manager of the Center for Biblical Studies.


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