Philology is alive and well, though it does not go by that name anymore. When philologists focus on the Bible, the results are usually unsettling for those who believe this collection of disparate writings to be the handiwork of God. For some, philological analysis of the Bible can lead to disbelief.
This certainly was the case for one young believer who trained as a philologist, examined the earliest manuscripts for all the New Testament books, and finally declared: “I cannot believe that when God decided to write, he did not understand grammar or know how to spell.” That philologist, descended from a long line of Lutheran ministers, was Friedrich Nietzsche.
Quips aside, those interested in the history of biblical writings, variants of those writings, and changes to those writings should read Bart Ehrman‘s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Given the controversy and criticism of this book from certain interested corners, I expected it to be much more damning than it actually was.
I came away from Misquoting Jesus thinking that what are considered major textual problems do not seem like that big of a deal; but then again, I have no stake in tendentious debates over abstruse matters of doctrine. What Ehrman’s book (and others he has written) demonstrate is that Christians who believe biblical texts to be the inerrant word of God occupy some highly unstable terrain.