Textual Criticism is a necessary enterprise for the Church. Since the very beginning, men (women are off the hook here as for the longest, women simply weren’t allowed even power to pull stunts like these) have tried to change the Scriptures, what some of us call the Word of God.
Jeremiah is a case study in textual criticism. In Greek, we have a different order for Jeremiah than we do in Hebrew and a few missing passages, etc… While that is an oversimplification of the issues, we can look at Jeremiah historically and see the changes and abuses that have been applied to it by various knowns and unknowns. I say ‘knowns’, because even within Jeremiah’s work we find two sections which call attention to scribal additions and attempts to either change or remove the prophet’s own words, and not stopping there, the same to the Torah.
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes Has made it into a lie. (Jer 8:8 NASB)
We can read not just Jeremiah, but Ezekiel and Ezra to see the great strides in preserving the Law from the lying pen of the Scribes. Here, Jeremiah fully recognizes that people have sought and even (temporarily) added to or took away from the original text. However, it wasn’t just the Torah which faced these things, but the scroll of Jeremiah’s words which faced attacks.
When Micaiah told them about the messages Baruch was reading to the people, the officials sent Jehudi son of Nethaniah, grandson of Shelemiah and great-grandson of Cushi, to ask Baruch to come and read the messages to them, too. So Baruch took the scroll and went to them.
“Sit down and read the scroll to us,” the officials said, and Baruch did as they requested. When they heard all the messages, they looked at one another in alarm. “We must tell the king what we have heard,” they said to Baruch. “But first, tell us how you got these messages. Did they come directly from Jeremiah?”
So Baruch explained, “Jeremiah dictated them, and I wrote them down in ink, word for word, on this scroll. You and Jeremiah should both hide,” the officials told Baruch. “Don’t tell anyone where you are!”
Then the officials left the scroll for safekeeping in the room of Elishama the secretary and went to tell the king what had happened. The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll. Jehudi brought it from Elishama’s room and read it to the king as all his officials stood by. It was late autumn, and the king was in a winterized part of the palace, sitting in front of a fire to keep warm. Each time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king took a knife and cut off that section of the scroll. He then threw it into the fire, section by section, until the whole scroll was burned up.
Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard. Even when Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah begged the king not to burn the scroll, he wouldn’t listen. Then the king commanded his son Jerahmeel, Seraiah son of Azriel, and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest Baruch and Jeremiah. But the LORD had hidden them. After the king had burned the scroll on which Baruch had written Jeremiah’s words, the LORD gave Jeremiah another message. He said, “Get another scroll, and write everything again just as you did on the scroll King Jehoiakim burned.
Then say to the king, ‘This is what the LORD says: You burned the scroll because it said the king of Babylon would destroy this land and empty it of people and animals. Now this is what the LORD says about King Jehoiakim of Judah: He will have no heirs to sit on the throne of David. His dead body will be thrown out to lie unburied– exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.
Here then is the simple truth – men had attempted to destroy the word of God, but in doing so, it was still preserved by God,
I will punish him and his family and his attendants for their sins. I will pour out on them and on all the people of Jerusalem and Judah all the disasters I promised, for they would not listen to my warnings.’” So Jeremiah took another scroll and dictated again to his secretary, Baruch. He wrote everything that had been on the scroll King Jehoiakim had burned in the fire. Only this time he added much more! (Jer 36:13-32 NLT)
We know that during the Diocletian Persecution, it wasn’t just the Christians who were destroyed by Rome, but the Scriptures as well. What could be saved were secreted away, and protected. While we may hurl vile insults and the Codices found in and around Alexandria, we hardly know the full story of those who may very well have given their life to protect it. Yes, textual criticism is important, because as we know from Scripture itself, humanity’s predilection is to modify and destroy what confronts it.
Further, we have to make sure that our brothers and sisters in God do not fall by the way side because they do not feel like they can trust the bible, or create doctrines to cover this feeling and do more harm than good.