Review of David Allan Black’s New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide


I was first exposed to David Allan Black’s New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide in a second semester Greek class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Revisiting this helpful work has been profitable, not only because its extremely succinct approach thrusts readers into the world of textual criticism’s purposes, materials, history and methods (Ch. 1-2), but also because even beginners can begin doing textual criticism immediately after reading Chapter 3. By the end of the book readers know how to read the apparatuses in their critical Greek New Testaments and how to make at least an informed comparison of textual variants, aided by the immensely helpful worksheet for doing textual criticism (Appendix 3). Black does not sacrifice technical detail for the sake of brevity, for he wisely appends a list of NT error types (Appendix 1) and a list of text types and groupings (Appendix 2), both essential items to the task at hand.

I am mainly grateful for Black’s treatment of principles of internal and external evidence, modern approaches to NT textual criticism (Ch. 2), and actual examples of the work taken from several Bible passages (Ch. 3), which are the main contributions of the book. But besides the fact that this guidebook is masterfully designed to speed students into the content of the field of textual criticism, the hidden value of the work is its pastoral tone, practical design, and redemptive undercurrent.

A Pastoral Tone

Throughout the guidebook, Black clearly shows that he is motivated by a desire to help (young) pastors understand more about the textual issues underlying the NT for the sake of better ministering to their congregations. For instance, in Black’s preface, he recalls a young pastor who had to face King James Version fanatics and requested help in answering textual problems. Black maintains that he “wrote this book for people like that young pastor.”[1] This concern with preaching and teaching is prevalent throughout the book.[2]

A Practical Design

The practice questions as the end of each chapter, worksheet in Appendix 3, the helpful illustrations and diagrams (Ch. 1, 3), and especially the apt examples designed to highlight important points, are all features that make Black’s guidebook highly practical. For instance, when pointing out how the ancient majuscule style of writing can affect interpretation, Black recalls the “story of the atheist who wrote on the chalkboard ‘GODISNOWHERE,’” only to be corrected by a little Girl’s interpretation of “God is now here!”[3] Examples such as this make the principles Black teaches hard to forget.

Redemptive Undercurrent

One of the reasons I enjoy Black’s writing is his refusal to separate the academic from the redemptive-theological. That is, Black is one of few scholars who do not let distanciation from their area of expertise stifle their ardor for God. For instance, the question as to why no autographs have survived to this day is met with Black’s assertion that “a sovereign God designed it that way.”[4] It is hard to imagine many scholars resisting the urge to launch into academic speculation when this question is posed, but it is equally hard to accept any genuine believer as being unsatisfied with the answer Black gives. Christians should agree that textual criticism, being a venture partly occasioned by the absence of autographs, is a God-ordained endeavor. In another instance, Black assures readers that as variants are accepted and rejected “a doctrine that is affected by textual variation will always be adequately supported by other passages.”[5] Black would not grant this assurance unless he were deeply committed to God’s sovereign preservation of divine redemptive revelation.

Among reasons I suspect that this 20 year old book is still being assigned to students are not only its immensely clear, succinct and helpful content, but also its pastoral tone, practical design, and redemptive undercurrent.


Black, David Allan. New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994.


[1] David Allan Black, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 7.

[2] ibid., 12.

[3] ibid., 21.

[4] ibid., 12.

[5] ibid., 25.