Book Review: How We Got The Bible

How We Got The Bible, by Neil R. Lightfoot

As there is much I have to criticize about this book, and much to find fault with in its presuppositions and assumptions regarding textual criticism, it is worthwhile to comment at least on some aspects in which this book is worthwhile and areas where the author can be praised.  The author takes the Bible seriously and his scholarship, such as it is, as a means of bolstering in his readers faith in the veracity of the Bible.  Despite wading ultimately unsuccessfully in textual criticism because of his own biases, the author is correct in noting the small area under debate between various textual traditions and the absence of any substantial points of doctrine in those debated areas, and the fact that the large number of variants to be found relates to the fact that there are simply so many copies of the Bible to begin with, and so many examples of human frailty to be found in the collection and transmission of biblical truth through the copying of texts in widely separated areas of the Mediterranean basin.  The book also manages to present a viewpoint that is within the line of the contemporary consensus regarding the Westcott-Hort text, a certain hostility towards the Byzantine text tradition most notably upheld in the Textus Receptus, and in a bias for the untrustworthy Alexandrian tradition [1], and therefore although the book manages to present a view that strongly defends the importance of the Bible, it fares badly as far as its own specific comments within its study of the Bible.

The slightly more than 200 pages of this book are divided into eighteen mercifully short chapters.  The author begins by talking about the making of ancient books as scrolls or codices and the birth of the Bible, specifically the New Testament but also the trifold division of the Hebrew scriptures, before moving immediately into trouble in talking about the manuscripts of the New Testament, the Sinaitic manuscript and others, and manuscripts of special interest to the author–mostly of the Alexandrian textual family.  The author discusses the text of the New Testament, the significance of textual variations, or more usually the lack thereof, the task of restoring the New Testament text for someone of his ilk, the importance of manuscripts from the sand, where the accidents of nature appear to have preserved unrepresentative and dubious texts of many kinds, the text of the Old Testament, ancient versions, questions of canonicity, the apocryphal books, the English Bible to 1611, and recent translations.  The author closes with a statement that the Bible will not pass away, a fair statement of fact, although mercifully this author’s words will pass away without very much notice or fanfare at some point in the future.

In reading this book, it is clear that the author has a particular viewpoint whose defense requires a certain amount of inconsistency in approach.  The author comes from a part of the Hellenistic Christian world that desires to reject the authority of the Catholic Church, partly by criticizing the English translations based on the Vulgate and partly based on critiquing the Alexandrian textual tradition that led to the writing of the apocrypha that were accepted by Catholics despite lacking factual truth or genuine biblical basis.  Yet while rejecting the Alexandrian textual tradition as far as the Old Testament is concerned, the author wishes to defend that same tradition against both the pre-Vulgate Western texts as well as the Syriac texts that form the basis of the Byzantine text and ultimately of the textus receptus that forms the basis of the King James Version and other related Bibles.  The author is clearly here a supporter of the RSV, NRSV, NIV, and other related families, and his efforts at supporting a particular textual family are certainly open and transparent, but far from accurate.  It remains, though, for there to be a recent solid M-text apparatus that would serve as a counter to the current one trumpeted by the author, though.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: How We Got The Bible

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