Review: Truth in a Culture of Doubt

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In a world saturated with skepticism and doubt, there remains few books that are more important and helpful than Truth in a Culture of Doubt by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Darrell L. Bock, and Josh D. Chatraw. This conservative trio seeks to critically examine the claims of one of today’s leading skeptics, Bart D. Ehrman, and provide a rational defense of biblical Christianity and the reliability of the Bible. The result has given Christian leaders one of the most noteworthy books for equipping the church to engage the culture in recent times.

The book is comprised of five chapters. Each chapter seeks to tackle Ehrman’s challenges to Christianity or the Bible one by one. Chapter one, “Is God Immoral because He allows suffering?” begins the conversation with a look at several of Ehrman’s claims arising out of his book God’s Problem. Köstenberger, Bock, and Chatraw address claims such as “the Bible’s explanation of suffering and evil are not satisfying” and “the God of the Bible is immoral, and therefore, he doesn’t exist.” The interaction of the authors is well suited for those wrestling with such claims and helpful and informative for those who don’t but are engaging with those who do. Chapter two, “Is the Bible full of irresolvable contradictions?” addresses an onslaught of common attacks on the unity of the Bible.

Chapter three, “Are the biblical manuscripts corrupt?” does an excellent job getting to the heart of Ehrman’s skepticism and examining how his skeptical presupposition flavor his reading of the evidence. Chapter four, “Were there many Christianities?” dismantles Ehrman’s repackaging of the Bauer Thesis. This is familiar ground for the authors, especially Köstenberger who authored The Orthodoxy of Heresy (Crossway, 2010) with Michael J. Kruger. Chapter five, “Are many New Testament documents forged?” the issue of authorship is addressed, and done so with a keen awareness of the underlying issues that bolster the skeptical claims of Ehrman and others. This final chapter is among the most beneficial for those familiar with the conversations that take place in the public sphere.

There are a number of helpful features of this book that make it especially useful for Christian leaders and those seeking to assist others to engage better with skeptical challenges to the Bible. For example, each chapter concludes with a handful of discussion questions to facilitate group reflection. Moreover, each chapter opens with a brief list of the claims addressed within the chapter, and the chapter proceeds to address each claim one by one. This organization is especially helpful for quick reference. Speaking of quick reference, the book concludes with a glossary of terms, a quick response section, and a general index. The quick response section provides short answers to each of the claims treated more fully in the chapter—an indispensable addition to an already useful book.

Truth in a Culture of Doubt by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Darrell L. Bock, and Josh D. Chatraw is a book that deserves a spot on the bookshelf of all serious students of the Bible. Those who engage with culture and have yet to engage with this book are likely ill-equipped for such task. Köstenberger, Bock, and Chatraw have provided a clear, concise, and calculated resource that will strengthen your faith and equip you to present truth in a culture of doubt. It comes highly recommended!!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Review: Perspectives on the Ending of Mark

19093968Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views edited by David Alan Black is a tour de force into one of the most significant textual variants in the New Testament. Each of the chapters included in this volume originated from a conference entitled “The Last Twelve Verses of Mark: Original or Not,” held April 13-14, 2007, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. For those familiar with the textual issues surrounding Mark 16:9-20, the enlisted contributors (Daniel Wallace, Maurice Robinson, J. Keith Elliott, and David Alan Black) inevitably stand within two major persuasions (as the title of the conference suggests) with varying degrees of distance between them.

Maurice Robinson and David Alan Black both argue that Mark 16:9-20 is the original ending of the Second Gospel. Still, of the two contributors, it is likely that the reader will find Robinson to have provided a much more persuasive presentation than Black. Robinson provides interaction with ancient sources concerning the Long Ending (LE), analyzes the vocabulary of the LE, displays an interesting set of parallels between various sections of the Second Gospel (1:32-39; 3:14-15; 6:7-13; 7:24-8:38) and the LE, and closes with fifteen points of conclusion concerning the originality of the LE. However, in my opinion, for many readers, while they may find the chapter by Robinson helpful, they will likely remain unconvinced by the external evidence witnessed in the earliest manuscripts.

Daniel Wallace and J. Keith Elliot both argue that Mark 16:9-20 is not the original ending of the Second Gospel. Similar to that witnessed above, I believe that the reader will find Wallace to have provided a much more persuasive presentation than Elliot. I would submit that the contribution by Wallace is worth admission alone. Wallace begins by delineating the inevitable existence of presuppositions when approaching this issue and provides a personal story of how his personal presuppositions had to be challenged before he was able to best analyze the data. The chapter by Wallace is also the most helpful chapter of the book by way of explanation of the textual issue. For Wallace, both the external and internal evidence suggest that the last twelve verses of Mark are indeed not original to the Second Gospel—a conclusion that Wallace skillfully guides the reader to recognize as the most likely scenario.

Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views concludes with a helpful summary by Darrell Bock. Indeed, Bock unashamedly sides with Wallace on the matter of the ending of Mark but does an excellent job evenhandedly outlining the implications of each of the preceding chapters. It must be stated here that the chapters by Black and Elliott are certainly worth reading, but are likely to find little outside adherence. In fact, in my opinion, this volume could have been more helpful had it actually eliminated Black and Elliott altogether and provided more interaction between Robinson and Wallace. The lack of direct interaction between the positions was a major downfall in my opinion, and had it been included, in my opinion, this volume would have been much better for the end user.

The lack of interaction that many readers have come to appreciate from the Perspective series is unfortunate—especially given the nature of the discussion and the inclusion of two peripheral views that could have been easily eliminated. Still, the contribution of Maurice Robinson and Daniel Wallace are well worth the cover price of this volume. If you are interested in textual criticism and/or looking to teach or preach from the Gospel of Mark, the issues detailed in this volume will need to be addressed, and I am confident that Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views edited by David Alan Black will provide you with much food for thought. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Review: The Canon of Scripture

51rTNoZf4HL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce is nothing short of a landmark publication on the subject of the biblical canon. It received two 1990 Christianity Today Awards including The Readers’ Choice Award and The Critics’ Choice Award, as well as a 1989 ECPA Gold Medallion Award. Nowadays, while many readers may be too easily willing to write off The Canon of Scripture as outdated and stale given the current landscape of biblical scholarship, the interaction therein by Bruce still provides much to be commended and praised.

The book covers both the Old Testament and the New. Still, only about one-third of the book is dedicated to the Old Testament. This is largely due to the fact that the Old Testament was a settled canon by the time of the New Testament, as seen in the testimony of Jesus and the apostles. Bruce states, “Our Lord and his apostles might differ from the religious leaders of Israel about the meaning of the scriptures; there is no suggestion that they differed about the limits of the scriptures” (p. 28). Bruce’s treatment of the Old Testament is brief, detailed, and overall helpful, but some Protestant readers may be uncomfortable with his handling of the Apocrypha.

The majority of the book is dedicated to the New Testament canon, and Bruce’s interaction with various Church Fathers therein is commendable. Bruce rightly recognizes that “authority precedes canonicity” when it comes to the New Testament documents (p. 123). In other words, the New Testament documents were already considered canonical prior to the recognition of such because of their authority, not vice versa. Still, Bruce offers six criteria in which the recognition of such books would be considered canonical by the early Church: (1) apostolic authority, (2) antiquity, (3) orthodoxy, (4) catholicity, (5) traditional use, and (6) inspiration (p. 256-269). Bruce’s treatment of the New Testament is much more detailed than the Old, and it is here that the primary usefulness of the book remains for the contemporary reader—especially Bruce’s interaction with the Church Fathers.

The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce is a classic work on the canon of the Old Testament and the New. The comprehensive scope of the book and Bruce’s knowledge of the landscape is certainly commendable, and the detail and clarity therein will only work to benefit the reader. Those familiar with the issues surrounding the canon of Scripture should be well-acquainted with Bruce already, but for those seeking to enter into the conversation The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce is a mandatory stop. It comes highly recommended regardless of the publication date!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The Making of the New Testament

11230776The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon (Second Edition) by Arthur G. Patzia is a thoroughly revised, expanded, and updated edition of his classic textbook on the origin, collection, copying and canonizing of the New Testament documents. Nearly everything that was previously praised about the first edition has remained here. However, to the benefit of the reader, Patzia has made several needed changes to this second edition, including revised and updated documentation and interaction with more recent works on the subject material.

The Making of the New Testament is divided into seven major sections: (1) The Literary World of the New Testament, (2) The Gospels, (3) The Pauline Literature, (4) Other New Testament Literature, (5) The Criteria of Canonicity, (6) Writing, Copying & Transmitting the New Testament Manuscripts, and (7) Textual Variants & The Practice of Textual Criticism. Beyond these seven major sections, Patzia also provides five useful appendixes relating to the making of the New Testament: (1) Canon of the Old Testament, (2) Significant Leaders of the Early Church, (3) Early Canonical Lists of the New Testament, (4) Later Canonical Lists of the New Testament, and (5) Early Manuscripts Containing the New Testament. Like the material found throughout the volume, the appendixes have been both updated and revised.

The Making of the New Testament is an excellent resource for anyone who has ever pondered questions about how books and documents were produced in the first century, the motivation of the early Christians to write Scripture, why there are four Gospels instead of one, who decided and what criteria was used to choose the New Testament documents, and much more. Patzia has packed the book with a number of excellent graphs, charts, tables, and illustrations to illuminate the material for the reader. These are helpful even for those familiar with the subject matter of the book. Patzia also does an incredible job providing examples for the reader to better connect the material to the New Testament. This is especially helpful in his interaction with The Synoptic Problem, Source Criticism, Writing New Testament Manuscripts, and various aspects of Textual Criticism. Lastly, the Glossary and Selected Bibliography provide the reader with an excellent point of reference for immediate and further study.

The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon by Arthur G. Patzia has been a well-received and widely used textbook for over two decades. Patzia is clear, concise, and informed in his interaction and communication of the issues related to the making of the New Testament. Those looking for an up-to-date introductory summation of the various disciplines related to the making of the New Testament will do well in acquiring this volume. It comes highly recommended to readers with all levels of interest and familiarity, but especially pastors and laity looking to ground their faith in something of substance and communicate it more clearly.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Codex Sinaiticus

26206717Codex Sinaiticus is easily one of the most important ancient documents ever discovered. Much work has been done over the last several decades to bring this fourth-century manuscript to the world, including a project to photograph and digitize the entire codex to be made available online for use of both scholars and laity alike. Because of the sheer availability of the manuscript, courtesy of The Codex Sinaiticus Project, the advances in the study and analysis therein have been everything but fruitless—as seen clearly in the recent publication of Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript edited by Scot McKendrick, David C. Parker, Amy Myshrall, and Cillian O’hogan.

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript is an overflowing reservoir of distilled scholarship. The roster of contributors to this volume is akin to the who’s who list of textual studies, both Old Testament and New. The contributors include Harry Gamble, Emanuel Tov, Rachel Kevern, Albert Pietersma, Eldon Jay Epp, David Trobisch, Klaus Wachtel, Juan Hernandez Jr., Peter M. Head, Amy Myshrall, Dan Batovici, David C. Parker, T. A. E. Brown, and many more. Each scholar has contributed within an area of expertise or specialization concerning the codex, and each of the twenty-two essays fall into one of five major sections: (1) historical setting, (2) the Septuagint, (3) early Christian writings, (4) modern histories of Codex Sinaiticus, and (5) Codex Sinaiticus today.

Every page of this volume is littered with detail and each article possesses equal footing with regards to usefulness. However, there were a number of standout articles that I found especially helpful and a number of features that I found useful within this volume. In regards to the latter, I was really surprised by the quality of the publication. The book itself is clothbound with thick pages and numerous high-quality photographs. There are also a number of useful charts and illustration throughout that really help to connect the content of the volume to the reader. This is especially the case in Rachel Kevern’s article on the reconstruction of quire 17 folio 1 and Amy Myshrall’s article on the presence of a fourth scribe, among others.  In regards to the former, some of the standout articles include “Codex Sinaiticus: An Early Christian Commentary on the Apocalypse” by Juan Hernandez Jr. which contains an excellent discussion surrounding the book Revelation in Sinaiticus and an appendix that charts out all the textual variations therein, “Codex Sinaiticus: Its Entrance into the Mid-Nineteenth Century Text-Critical Environment and Its Impact on the New Testament Text” by Eldon Jay Epp, and “The Presence of a Fourth Scribe?” by Amy Myshrall.

I was a little disappointed by the use of endnotes. But, at least, the notes are found at the close of each chapter as oppose to the book. Still, given the amount of information found in the notes, I think footnotes would have been a more appropriate choice. Apart from the endnotes, each article closes with a bibliography that, like the endnotes, contains an abundance of useful information for the attentive reader.

Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript is a fascinating work of scholarship. From the binding of the book to the content therein, it is clear that tremendous care was taken to produce a volume that would retain its usefulness and influence for many years to come. The content is technical in nature and clearly directed towards an academic audience, but that doesn’t mean that it is useless for the interested laymen. If you are looking for the most recent and up-to-date interaction with this important biblical manuscript from today’s leading textual scholars this volume cannot be overlooked. It comes highly recommended and would be well-worth the investment.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

22522806Philip W. Comfort is a noted scholar, author, and editor. Comfort has a Master’s degree in English Literature/Greek from Ohio State University and Ph.D. in Theology from Fairfax University. More recently, Comfort completed his second doctorate under noted textual critic Jacobus H. Petzer at the University of South Africa. He has taught at several academic institutions, including, Wheaton College, Trinity Episcopal Seminary, Columbia International University, and Coastal Carolina University. Currently, Comfort is senior editor of Bible reference at Tyndale House Publishers. He is author or co-author of numerous books, including The Origins of the Bible (Tyndale, 2003), The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Tyndale, 2001), New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Tyndale, 2008), and Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (B&H Academic, 2005). Most recently, Comfort released the much needed and highly appreciated, A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament (Kregel Academic, 2015).

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament seeks to bring the reader behind the underlying text of the Greek New Testament. It is here that Comfort carefully guides the reader through the ever-changing landscape of manuscript evidence that presently make up the critical editions of the Greek New Testament. The book opens with a canonical listing of early New Testament manuscripts. The list is sorted in canonical order and provides a helpful up-to-date glance at the earliest papyri and codices discussed within the commentary section of the book. In Chapter one, Comfort provides a brief introduction to the manuscripts and text of the New Testament, as well as a detailed discussion regarding the use of the nomina sacra (also see the Appendix article). If the reader has previously read Comfort’s former book, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (B&H Academic, 2005), much of this section will be a review. But, if this is the first interaction with this material it is an essential starting point. This is especially true with the section on nomina sacra, as the commentary that follows interacts with this phenomenon often.

In Chapter two, Comfort provides a lengthy annotated list of New Testament manuscripts. This chapter will prove to be an excellent reference guide for the student and teacher. Comfort provides the reader with an up-to-date bullet pointed list for each significant New Testament manuscript and details the location of discovery, text found in the manuscript, the present location of the manuscript, date and explanation of dating method, as well as the textual character of the manuscript itself. At 83 pages, the annotated list alone is well worth the price of the book. The remainder of the commentary focuses on the relevant passages of the New Testament and comments on characteristics of the manuscripts themselves—where they agree and disagree, where the scribe uses the nomina sacra if significant and what manuscripts used it, where textual expansion or interpolations may have been involved and why, etc. This section is why most of the reader will have purchased the book, and for good reason. The commentary itself is brief, judicious, and well-informed.

I have read and enjoyed almost everything that Comfort has written. I appreciate the intentionality behind his work to bring the complexities of textual criticism to an understandable level. This is important for readers of all background and occupation. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament continues this legacy well and the reader is certain to appreciate the care taken to make this a reality. Also, as stated above, I think the annotated list of New Testament manuscripts is a welcomed addition to the commentary. This is assuredly not the only place such list could be found if the reader is interested, but Comfort’s list is up-to-date and extensive in its discussion. Not to mention, it makes a quick reference much more beneficial as the reader works through the commentary for any particular passage being studied. On the other hand, I was disappointed by the use of endnotes rather than footnotes. Of course, this is a personal preference and will not hinder the continual use of the commentary, but I know that I am not alone in this preference. Footnotes are much easier to consult and make the reading experience more enjoyable for the attentive reader. Nevertheless, at least the endnotes are located to the rear of the chapter rather than the book.

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament by Philip W. Comfort is an excellent commentary that was birthed out of a noble desire. It brings the reader into unchartered territory for most commentaries and unearths a goldmine of riches within the New Testament manuscripts themselves. This is a much needed and highly appreciated work. If you are a student, pastor, teacher, or interested laity, Comfort has yet again delivered an essential resource for your growing library. It will no doubt be off my bookshelf often.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism

2113111Paul D. Wegner is the Director of Academic Graduate Studies Program and Professor of Old Testament Studies at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Wegner has a M.Div. and Th.M from Trinity Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Kings College, University of London. Prior to his position at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Wegner taught at Moody Bible Institute for roughly thirteen years in the Bible department and Phoenix Seminary for about eleven years as Professor of Old Testament. Wegner has written numerous articles in the field of biblical studies and textual criticism, authored several books, including, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible (Baker Academic, 2004), Using Old Testament Hebrew in Preaching: A Guide for Students and Pastors (Kregel Academic, 2009), and contributed study notes for Habakkuk, Daniel, and an article on the reliability of the Old Testament for the highly acclaimed ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2008). Wegner has consistently shown himself to be a competent scholar with a clear passion for bringing many of the conversations of the scholarly community in an accessible form to the classroom and pulpit.

A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism: It’s History, Methods, and Results (IVP Academic, 2006) is a unique and accessible introductory guide through the trenches of the complexities that characterize the study of the textual criticism of the Bible. It is unique in that Wegner effectively covers both the Old Testament and New Testament in a single volume, and does so in tremendous detail. It is accessible in that Wagner is continually sensitive to the technicalities that often plague the conversations by building a language barrier between the expert and laity. This doesn’t mean that Wegner avoids the technical terms that the reader needs to know, but rather he explains and illustrates them in a way that cultivates understanding. The book opens with a general introduction to the study of textual criticism, including the definition and importance of the study itself, the explanation of the various transmissional errors that occur in the Bible (i.e. homophony, haplography, dittography, etc.), as well as the transmission of the biblical texts themselves. The learned reader may be tempted to merely skim over this introductory section assuming little benefit, but this would only result in the bypass of one of the most helpful sections of the book. The novice readers will want to spend as much time here as possible, and mastery is recommended. Wegner provides a host of examples and illustrations as he sets the stage for the more detailed investigation ahead.

The second and third sections of the book detail specified attention to both Old Testament and New Testament textual criticism. Both sections are thorough in examination and extremely user-friendly. In regards to the Old Testament, Wegner walks the reader through the history of Old Testament textual criticism and the methods with which such practice is best practiced. After walking the reader through Wegner provides two specific examples of how textual criticism works in practice, 1 Chronicles 6:40 and Hosea 7:14. Wegner closes the Old Testament section with a sizeable discussion on various sources closely associated with Old Testament Criticism. The same format is provided with regards to the New Testament textual criticism section. Here Wegner guides the reader through the history and practice of New Testament textual criticism and provides specific examples from Ephesians 1:1 and Romans 15:7. Subsequently, the discussion is directed upon the sources of New Testament textual criticism—the biblical papyri, uncial manuscripts, and minuscule manuscripts.  With these two sections, both Old Testament and New Testament juxtaposed with one another the reader can quickly distinguish the difference between the two disciplines. Wegner also aids in this effort. The book closes with a look into other relevant text for the task of textual criticism, including early translations of the Old Testament and New Testament. The keen reader will certainly appreciate the inclusion of this section into the overall aim of the book, as some of these early versions of the biblical text become imperative the task at hand.

A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism: It’s History, Methods, and Results is an essential resource for anyone interested in the underlying investigation of the Bible. Not only because the discipline of textual criticism, in general, is imperative to the preaching and teaching of the Bible, as Wegner makes clear, but he has labored to make the study accessible and comprehendible to the reader. Apart from the goldmine of information provided within the sections briefly described above, Wegner has also included relevant bibliographic material for further reading at the end of each section. Moreover, each section in the book is littered with helpful illustrations and photographs to better engage the reader with the groundwork taking place. Lastly, for quick reference Wegner has included a healthy 10-page glossary for relevant terms and an exhaustive name and subject index. If you are looking for an introduction to the complex world of textual criticism from a trusted and reliable source then A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism is a book you should not overlook. Wegner has skillfully gathered a wealth of imperative information and presented it with judicious care and attention for the student of Scripture. If you are a pastor, teacher, student, or interested laymen, I couldn’t recommend this resource enough. It will encourage and enhance your understand and confidence in the Bible.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Encountering the Manuscripts

1167940Philip W. Comfort is senior editor of Bible reference at Tyndale House Publishers and a noted scholar in the field of biblical studies and textual criticism. Comfort has a Ph.D. in Theology from Fairfax University and a second doctorate degree earned under noted textual critic Jacobus H. Petzer from the University of South Africa. Comfort has taught at several academic institutions, including Wheaton College, Trinity Episcopal Seminary, Columbia International University, and Coastal Carolina University. He is author or co-author of numerous books, including The Origins of the Bible, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Tyndale, 2008), and the subject of the current review, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism.

Encountering the Manuscripts is the effort of several years of detailed examination of every early New Testament manuscript prior to AD 300 (viii). For Comfort, the result of this work has led to the publication of The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (with David Barrett), New Testament Text and Translation Commentary, and Encountering the Manuscripts. The first volume represents a joint effort to reconstruct the earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. The second volume represents Comfort’s longstanding desire to aid the overall conversation around the relationship between textual criticism and English translations of the Bible. This third volume focuses more narrowly on the most significant New Testament manuscripts from the vantage point of paleography and textual criticism.

According to Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts attempts: (1) to explore scribal participation in the production of the earliest New Testament writings; (2) to provide an annotated list of all significant Greek manuscripts and early versions; (3) to assign dates for the earliest New Testament manuscripts; (4) to examine the use of the nomina sacra in the early New Testament manuscripts; (5) to present the history of textual variation in the early centuries of the Christian church; (6) to explore various methods of recovering the original wording of the Greek New Testament and assess the New Testament manuscripts as to their textual groupings and their influence on New Testament textual criticism; and (7) to offer concrete examples for the praxis of textual criticism, and in so doing to identify how the papyri influenced the text of the Greek New Testament (viii).

The field of New Testament textual criticism is full of complexities and technical nuances. This is evident by the sheer number of introductory material being produced and even more evident when the bulk of that introductory material reads more like a dissertation than an introduction. While Encountering the Manuscripts isn’t going to diverge very far from that current trend, Comfort does an excellent job guiding the reader through the complex issues in such a way to bring about an understanding of the material. In fact, I would say with confidence that he does this much better than most introductions that  I have encountered. Still, the reader should be prepared to undergo and partake in a journey through a fairly complex conversation. The journey may be difficult, but the destination is more than desirable.

There are a number of excellent sections in this book that I found to be particularly helpful. First, the sections that address the topic of paleography (or the dating) of the New Testament Manuscripts are sure to be received as a highpoint for many readers. Comfort does an excellent job explaining the process and procedure that accompanies the task of paleography. Some readers may find his ascribed dates contestable, but Comfort provides ample explanation to support his conclusions. Second, the discussion that surrounds the nomina sacra (sacred name) in the New Testament manuscripts is indispensable and worth the price of the book alone. Lastly, the inclusion of a chapter devoted entirely to the praxis of New Testament textual criticism accommodates a much-needed sense of practical application. This allows the reader to experience some practical benefit from the long journey in which they just embarked on.

Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism by Philip W. Comfort will inspire readers to engage the New Testament text through cultivating a closer sense of interaction and familiarity with the manuscripts themselves. It is from this realization that the reader is able to better understand and utilize the tools of textual criticism. From the careful and comprehensive explanations provided throughout the book, to the visible firsthand familiarity with the manuscripts themselves, Comfort has provided an excellent introduction to the field. I think readers of all backgrounds and interests will find great benefit in this book. It is technical but readable, intricate but informative. If you are a student of the New Testament, a pastor, or a teacher, then I would recommend that you prepare room for this book to find a new home on your bookshelf—sooner rather than later.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.