Theosophical Encyclopedia

Biblical Criticism

The study of issues surrounding the texts, composition and history of the Bible.

TE 2 Biblical Criticism Gutenberg Bible
Gutenberg Bible

A meaningful interpretation and study of the Bible must assume that the texts are correctly identified, dated, copied, transcribed, and translated. How do we know, for example, that the Gospel of Luke is actually written by Luke and not by someone else? How do we establish the dates when the various books were actually written? Which one is more accurate – the modern Hebrew Tanakh or the Greek Septuagint Old Testament (which added books not found in the present Hebrew Bible)? Are some Bible verses interpolated by scribes and which were not in the originals? Are the meanings of certain words understood differently twenty centuries ago as compared to their meanings many centuries later? Are the historical accounts in the Bible accurate?

Since disparities found in these matters will affect how the Bible is read, translated and understood, the critical examination of the circumstances with which the Bible has been written and transmitted to the present has become a necessity. This whole field of inquiry has been called Biblical Criticism. It includes the following aspects:

Textual criticism is the attempt to identify the most original and authoritative texts. For example, the Greek Septuagint Old Testament was the most widely available scripture during the first few centuries of our era. Its list of books however did not tally with the original Hebrew Tanakh. Disagreements as to which is the more authoritative led to existence of different Bibles today – those that include and do not include Apocryphal books.

Philological criticism studies the grammar and vocabulary of the languages used by the Bible to arrive at a better understanding of the meanings intended by the words used.

Literary criticism is the attempt to identify the style of writing used in order to identify the date and authorship of the text. Form criticism is the attempt to identify the kind of writing of the Bible (song, narrative, parable, history, etc.) to enable us to determine how to interpret its contents.

Tradition criticism is the analysis of how books of the Bible refer to earlier traditions, particularly oral traditions and accounts prior to their having been put down in writing.

Historical criticism means an analysis of what is factual or not factual in the books of the Bible, based on internal consistency, external documents, archeological research and other forms of verification.

Redaction criticism. Redacting means editing or preparing something for publication. Thus redaction criticism is an analysis of the editing or insertion of editorial comments in the scriptural verses.

Biblical criticism forms an important foundation of biblical exegesis (exposition) and hermeneutics (or the principles of interpretation).

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