Lectio Deficillior

In the world of Bible translation we find tons and tons of different manuscripts of the Bible to sort through, each with their own differences and similarities from the Scribes who copied them. Some of the differences might be human errors, like when you’re trying to copy a paper you have in front of you by typing it onto your computer. You might look down at the paper, then up at the computer, and then back down at the paper—but when you return to the paper, you might have accidentally skipped a few words without noticing it.

But other times these differences might be on account of the Scribe using his knowledge to correct something he was reading that he thought was an error made by the copyist before him. When we come across these differences, Bible translators are left trying to figure out which reading is the original one so they can get the most authentic reading possible. Enter the technique of Lectio Deficillior. Bible scholar Michael Heiser explains the idea well:

Now, that’s Latin, and in English that means “the more difficult reading.” So the idea here is that, when you have two variants—variant A [and] variant B—the one that is the more difficult is the one that is to be preferred. Now, you might say, “Well, why? How does that make sense?” Well, it’s because a scribe would tend to simplify something in the text rather than complicate it. A scribe would tend to make things easier rather than more difficult. And so, when you have different readings, the more difficult one is the one that’s going to be preferred because that probably is more original. It hasn’t been tampered with, so to speak, by a scribe. (Logos Mobile Ed, NT281)

Tonight I bring this technique up as an analogy. There are a lot of different teachings on the Bible out there, many of them quite opposed to one another. As I was thinking this over tonight, Lectio Deficillior came to mine as a good technique to test what you’re taught.

For example, if someone gleans from the Bible that Christians are to be peacemaking pacifists while another gleans that we can kill and fight, I’d suggest a good test to be, “Which lesson is the more difficult one to live out?” This will help us see which view sounds more humanistic and which one sounds more like Jesus; for Jesus is often (if not always) teaching us the harder way to live by the Spirit rather than the easier way to live by the flesh. And if we’re teaching the easier way, we might be watering down or trying to simplify what was originally said. We might be putting our own spin on it.

Of course it’s hard to apply this principle universally to every teaching—all analogies are imperfect. But it may still be a helpful place to start.

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