A recent comment on another question demonstrated a common perspective, namely that textual criticism is usually a bad thing when interpreting scripture (some would even go so far as to say that it is always a bad thing, such as those who insist that Textus Receptus is an inerrant manuscript compilation). Several questions have already been asked on this site dealing with redaction criticism, historical criticism, and the difference between higher and lower biblical criticism. This question is concerned specifically with textual (lower) criticism's proper role in biblical hermeneutics, if any. When attempting to understand an author's intent in biblical writings, we must face the facts that:
- The original autographs no longer exist, so extant (known, existing) copies are often used to make a determination.
- Various copies of surviving ancient manuscripts differ in their actual wording due to scribal errors that crept in through the process of copying and re-copying.
- Many manuscripts only contain incomplete sections of the original.
- Thousands of extant manuscripts (of varying textual content) dating from the 3rd century to the 16th century must be considered.
- Manuscript evidence suggests different textual traditions that developed geographically over time, which must also be factored into the process.
While many have argued that higher criticism and redaction criticism are problematic when accompanied with radical skepticism, what role should textual (lower) criticism play when interpreting scripture? Is it possible to be intellectually honest and reject all forms of textual criticism, or is even this lower form of biblical criticism harmful to the translation process? Why or why not?
While this statement does involve opinion, please also include examples from scripture, history and/or manuscript evidence to strengthen your response. Also, please keep responses on topic concerning lower criticism. There are other great questions already on this site addressing other forms of criticism.