Textual Criticism and the Hebrew Bible

1962620703_ce815aff15I have five loves in terms of study and scholarship: theology, rabbinics, New Testament, Second Temple Jewish literature, and Hebrew Bible studies.

You might not know it from Messianic Jewish Musings, but my greatest area of competence is actually in Hebrew Bible. It was my field of graduate study (M.T.S. from Emory University), the concentration of my undergraduate studies (I started at Georgia Tech in engineering but moved on to Moody Bible Institute for a B.A. in Bible and Theology), and I have a published thesis in the field of Hebrew Bible (

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7 Responses to Textual Criticism and the Hebrew Bible

  1. mchuey says:

    Having released two survey workbooks (one on the Apostolic Scriptures and another on the Tanach), I am very pleased to see this subject matter being discussed in a Messianic context. Few in our faith community are informed as to how complicated the composition of various Biblical books can be, and most especially the debate over Mosaic authorship of the Torah. Moses obviously didn’t write about his own death, nor would he have called himself the most humble person who ever lived. But this does not mean that he did not oversee the principal composition of the Pentateuch.

    One of the things that not enough people observe in the Biblical text itself is that most of the (at least, traditional) Biblical authors did not actually “write” their own texts, but they had secretaries do it for them (i.e., Romans 16:22).

    I am encouraged to see that this subject matter will be moving more toward the Center, and away from some of the “jot and tittle” teachings that have taken us away from the larger message issues of Scripture. Likewise, to be emphasized there are more textual witnesses of the books of the Bible than any other ancient document(s) in world history. That is something we can praise God for!


  2. judahgabriel says:

    Hey guys.

    Great post.

    What do you say to people who are “100% Bible-only” thumpers? You know, the folks that say you should have only a Bible and skip all the stuff built around the Bible?

    I got an email from a dear Jewish friend (a Jewish Christian, not a Messianic), and he basically said we should drop our Judaisms and our Christianities and go just with the Bible. Here’s a snippet of what he said:

    “From what God has shown me, a gathering of followers of Yeshua Messiah should have in their possession:

    1. Bibles containing both Tanakh & Brit Chadasha

    From what God has shown me, as He has led me to seek out the origins of specific practices, a gathering of followers of Yeshua Messiah should not have in their possession the following. Please keep in mind, I have proof from the rabbis of Judaism who have presented where all this extra non-Biblical anti-Messiah deception comes from. Here you go:

    1. Six Pointed Star/Magen David/Jewish Star (Kabbalah & Free Masonry)
    2. Kippahs (Talmud)
    3. Tefilin (Talmud)
    4. Siddurs (Books of Rabbinic Liturgy)…figure it out
    5. Shabbat Candles (Kabbalah)
    6. Havdalah Candles (Kabbalah)
    7. Talmud
    8. Mishna
    9. Gemarah
    10. Kabbalah
    11. Chumash with Rabbinic interpretations of the Tanakh

    And so on.

    My question is, does textual criticism of the Bible play a role when talking to such people who are 100% Bible-only people? How do you guys handle such people?

    • Judah:

      The older I get, the less time I want to spend with people who pontificate like the guy you are talking about. Now, if we’re having a friendly conversation and someone brings such stuff up in a friendly way, fine. If they come to attack and say, “I’m more of a purist than you,” no way. Don’t let the door hit your tukhes too hard.

      If we’re having a friendly conversation, I might say: “Let’s consider your argument. All you need is a Bible, food, clothing, and shelter. Who needs money or toilet paper or linoleum? I thought you were a purist.” But seriously, I might say that the idea of traditionless religion is nonsense and even the plainest vanilla religious group has stuff besides the Bible. I mean, this guy is even against lighting candles. Is he against the extra-biblical notions of prayer common in evangelical Christian circles (bow, close eyes, every meeting must start and end with prayer, end all prayers with “in Jesus’ name,” etc.)?

      Furthermore, I would say to him: strictly speaking, I don’t need a Star of David or Talmud to worship God. But my life is poorer without them. What God provides I feel free to use in ways that honor and please him.


    • Judah:

      Also, textual criticism affects an argument like the one this guy put forward in this way: the Bible, even if you assume the King James English is perfect and without fault, has gaps. It does not tell us everything. Tradition fills in. If you are Christian: how are you going to have Communion (Lord’s Supper)? With just the Bible, you will have no idea.


  3. mchuey says:

    Textual criticism is a discipline that tries to determine, given the available data that we have, what the original reading of a Biblical text was. NT textual criticism follows similiar procedures that are used in determining what the reading of a Greek classical text was. (No other document in the history of the world is as widely attested for as the Greek Apostolic Scriptures.)

    The kinds of things your friend has listed seem to be more of an over-reaction to some errant streams found in Judaism. I do not know anyone outside of a “conspiracy” circle that legitimately argues the Star of David to be pagan. Similiarly, resources like the Mishnah and Talmud are most certainly used in Christian exegesis (just consult a technical commentary, and you’ll see the appropriate references) for us to understand the world of ancient Judaism.

    I may not be a fan of the Kaballah, but the individual above has just made some very broad strokes for a very diverse Judaism. Let us take some notes from this, and not draw similiar conclusions about the diversity of Christianity, the role the Church Fathers, or how Ancient Near Eastern history and/or classicism may similiarly factor into our understanding of theology and the diversity of the Biblical world.


  4. judahgabriel says:

    When I first read my friend’s email, I immediately thought back to your myth of tradition-less religion post, Derek. (However, I didn’t send him to that post because I think it would have only angered him.)

    I am trying to understand the tendency to throw off all traditions and go only with the Bible. It sounds right at first, but get right down to the details, and it’s not so clear cut. As you said, Derek, we end up creating our own traditions to fill the gap.

  5. judeoxian says:

    The canon of Scripture relies on tradition. The translation of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words relies on tradition. Historical context relies on tradition. Understanding English words relies on tradition. Having a Bible without an Apocrypha is itself a tradition.

    Thinking you can interpret the Bible free of tradition is itself a religious tradition (and a misguided one at that).

    Tradition is unavoidable. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “which one”?

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