Michael Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope (my review) is a study on just how “messianic” the Bible is. For only being 190 pages, it covers quite a lot of territory and in this post I’d like to share what he says about the relevance of textual criticism.
Now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll explain myself. The oldest manuscript collection we have of the OT in Hebrew is known as the Masoretic text (MT); however, this is “a post-Christian, Jewish version of the Old Testament” (p36). That is, it dates from after Christ and may have been adjusted in places to defend Jewish concerns and/or defend against Christian early apologists. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is untrustworthy but neither should we accept it uncritically. We actually do have earlier texts such as the Greek-translation (Septuagint aka. LXX) that predate the Masoretic text. Of course, translations are not necessary exact representations of the original either. The work of textual criticism is to determine which text (or combination of texts) best reflect the original.
As an example, Judges 18:30 reflects a concern for Moses’ reputation. Certain manuscripts have “Manasseh”, while others have “Moses”. It seems most likely that a Hebrew n (nun) was added to Moses’ name, to preserve his reputation by keeping him out of this negative story. This textual issue is reflected in our English translations, as the image below shows.
As you can see, the NASB and NKJV chose to follow the Masoretic Text (MT) here, while the ESV translators consider the reading in the Septuagint as better reflecting what was originally written.
Now where things get interesting for Messianic prophecy is that some of these earlier texts actually are “more messianic” than the Masoretic Text! This is how text criticism becomes important for understanding just how messianic the OT really is. To end on a cliffhanger, we’ll look at one example next week.