As you sit in your church pew during the coming Advent season, it’s likely you will read Jesus’ birth story. As you read Matthew’s account of the wise men coming to worship Jesus, you may discover that neither Mark nor Luke includes the story in his Gospel account. And you may ask Why?

In asking this question, you have become—probably without even knowing it—a redaction critic. This is not in the technical sense of studying the original Greek text for parallels and word origins, but you are “redacting” in the broad sense, asking the same questions biblical scholars ask about the Bible and how it has been produced:

• Did Matthew, Mark, and Luke somehow use each other’s reports in telling their stories? (Most scholars say yes.)

• How did the gospel writers choose the material to include in their accounts? Why did only Matthew tell about the wise men?

• Why do other accounts, like the Sermon on the Mount, differ in some of their particulars?

These are common questions that scores of Sunday school classes wrestle with every Sabbath day.

Yet there is something slightly disquieting about being called a redaction critic. A sixth sense tells us that becoming a “critic” of the Bible is not position A on the chart of orthodox Bible study methods. And the term “redaction,” or even its synonym, “editing,” does little to salve the consciences of those of us who believe we have a Bible proclaiming a very personal revelation from God. Can we believe in an error-free, inspired biblical text and still be redaction critics?

Biblical scholars are asking that question frequently. The exclusion of Robert Gundry from the Evangelical Theological Society last year, at least in part because of his misuse of redaction criticism, has made it a question that ...

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