Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (part 4)



The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism


Part four of a five part series. See the entire series here.

Competing Analytical Approaches

The Byzantine Priority view may be considered a form of documentary criticism, in which readings from a particular set of witnesses – in this case, Greek MSS displaying the Byzantine Text – are preferred on the grounds that their external support is superior and because their authenticity implies a plausible model of transmission-history.  Essentially the same sort of approach was used by Hort, although Hort regarded the Alexandrian Text as superior (and thus, the early Alexandrian MSS were his favored documents), and proposed a very different model of transmission-history to account for its rivals.

Two other approaches were developed by textual critics in the 1900’s by scholars aspiring to produce an eclectic text, that is, a text obtained via the utilization of a variety of sources.  Thoroughgoing Eclecticism (also known as Rigorous Eclecticism) values the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants as the best means to determine their relationships, effectively rejecting Hort’s axiom.  Even if a reading appears exclusively in late witnesses, if its intrinsic qualities are judged to be better than its rivals, it is adopted, on the premise that its young supporters echo an older text – the autograph – at that point.  Building on the theory that text-types did not stabilize until the 200’s or later, thoroughgoing eclectics resort to the only sort of reconstruction which can be undertaken without appealing to the relationships of text-types:  the relationships of rival variants.  Advocates of this approach tend to be more willing to introduce conjectural emendations, if the emendations possess superior intrinsic qualities to its rival extant variants.

Reasoned Eclecticism (also known as Rational Eclecticism) considers the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants, but also considers the quality of each variant’s sources, their date, and their scope.  The text of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament was compiled using a form of reasoned eclecticism.  However, in its companion-volume, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger’s comments show that the quality of sources tended to be measured according to Hort’s model of transmission-history.  In The Text of the New Testament, Metzger wrote, “Theoretically it is possible that the Koine text” – that is, the Byzantine Text – “may preserve an early reading which was lost from the other types of text, but such instances are extremely rare.”17 As a result, the UBS text varies only slightly from Hort’s text.

An alternative is Equitable Eclecticism, in which the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants are considered, and each variant’s sources, their date, and their scope are also considered.  Equitable Eclecticism begins by developing a generalized model of transmission-history, and estimates of the relative values of the readings of groups, through a five-step process:

? First, the witnesses are organized into groups which share distinctive variants.

? Second, variant-units involving variants distinct to each group are analyzed according to text-critical principles, or canons.

? Third, a tentative model of transmission-history is developed, cumulatively explaining the relationships of the competing groups to one another by explaining the relationships of their component-parts where distinctive variants are involved.  This model of transmission-history utilizes the premise the earliest stratum of the Byzantine Text of the Gospels (echoed by Family ?, the Peshitta, Codex A, part of Codex W, the Gothic version, and the Purple Codices N-O-?-?) arose without the involvement of witnesses that contained the Alexandrian, Western, or Caesarean texts.  Even readings supported by a higher stratum of the Byzantine Text and not by the lowest one are not rejected automatically, inasmuch as some of them may echo extinct text-forms which the Proto-Byzantine Text absorbed as it spread.

? Fourth, values are assigned to groups rather than to individual witnesses.  Less dependence by one group upon another group, as implied cumulatively by the relationship of its variants the rival variants in other groups, yields a higher assigned value.

? Fifth, all reasonably significant variant-units (those which make a translatable difference) are analyzed according to text-critical canons, using all potentially helpful materials, including readings that are not characteristic of groups.  When internal considerations are finely balanced and a decision is difficult, special consideration is given to readings attested by whatever group appears to be the least dependent upon the others in the proximity of the difficult variant-unit.  If no group appears especially independent of the others in the proximity of the variant-unit, the decision depends upon the trained intuition of the critic.

This will yield the archetype of all groups, albeit with some points of instability (at especially difficult variant-units) and with a degree of instability in regard to orthography.

17 – p. 212, footnote 1, The Text of the New Testament. On the same page, Metzger treated the Lucianic Recension as a historical fact.

James Snapp, Jr. preaches and ministers at Curtisville Christian Church in central Indiana. The church’s website includes an introduction to textual criticism and links to other resources, including a detailed defense of Mark 16:9-20. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University (B.A., 1990), where his professors included Lewis Foster, Tom Friskney, and Reuben Bullard, James has studied New Testament textual criticism for over 20 years.


6 thoughts on “Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (part 4)

  1. Bob Hayton October 26, 2010 / 1:39 pm

    Part 5 of this series should post tomorrow.

  2. Nazaroo October 28, 2010 / 1:35 pm

    An observation I have to make regarding terminology in the first half here of Part IV, is as follows;

    Even though we seem to have some lucid observations regarding the different approaches and ‘styles’ of TC currently practiced,…

    (see for instance The Text of the NT in Contemporary Research,
    Ehrman/Holmes, ch 21, Reasoned Eclecticism:Holmes, p 331:

    textual critics and writers still seem incapable of using intelligent descriptive terms for these methods, as opposed to self-promoting nonsense:

    When critics say “Thorough-Going/Rigorous Eclecticism“, they really mean (sans advertising) Eclecticism by Deference to Internal Evidence.

    When they say “Rational/Reasoned Eclecticism“, they really mean (sans claims) Eclecticism by Appeal to Textual Evidence.

    Its better to just cut the B.S.

    In both cases, its individual textual critics, engaging in “pick-and-choose” selective use of various evidences, hence “eclecticism“.

    As to the validity of either approach in a comprehensive and scientific system of Textual Criticism, the answer is that it is subjective and error-prone. Either ‘technique’ or approach can only be a small part of an organized and prioritized system of applying various techniques and methods, to achieve a final goal.

    No wonder James Snapp Jr. wants to abandon both of these recent approaches as inadequate, and substitute a more conservative and scientific approach, incorporating the best of previous attempts, while avoiding the obvious errors and shortcomings.


  3. Nazaroo October 29, 2010 / 4:54 pm

    Before analyzing James Snapp Jr.‘s proposed system of NT TC, we are obliged to say a few words in appreciation.

    It takes a fair amount of courage to stand up and expose your own view of how to do NTTC before the whole world, for critique and even ridicule, knowing that almost all readers will be either unfamiliar with it or have their own views, and thus be predisposed to be hostile, regardless of its merits.

    Secondly, it is far easier to criticize something than to come up with a solution, especially to difficult and complex historical puzzles, and so our own analysis has an unfair advantage from the starting-gate here. We can only promise to “go second” if the opportunity arises, to allow fair play and counter-critique, for what thats worth.

    Third, what is the real goal? Surely not to discourage or run interference to any progress in this field, as God knows we need to advance. Our comments must be taken as working with Mr. Snapp toward a common goal: truth via a more scientific methodology. It is in the spirit of further refinement and improvement that any criticisms must be seen, and not be taken or used to detract from Mr. Snapp’s substantial positive insights (deservedly to his credit), or to frustrate progress.

    Finally, we must preface everything we write after this point, with our longstanding observation of Mr. Snapp’s vast knowledge of the subject and historical materials, his balanced and even-tempered treatment of facts and opponents (which in our view hasn’t been seen since the original F.H.A. Scrivener).

    Mr Snapp’s respect and care for others, their views and opinions, his kind and patient manner in handling opponents, we can only characterize as legendary, and this is no exaggeration in an environment (the internet) where the opposite mode of operation is the norm.

    Mr. Snapp’s calm and kindness is so notorious, that we very depend upon it, in daring to critique his personal views, and hope to our shared Lord and Shaper of our faith, that we don’t personally hurt or offend Mr. Snapp in any way as we somewhat ruthlessly sift through the issues with a thoroughly skeptical scientific approach.

    We pray Mr. Snapp fully understands what is at stake, and so will appreciate our “give-no-quarter” analysis, for the express purpose of allowing no fuzziness of thought or reason to creep in unawares.

    We utterly count on Mr. Snapp knowing that as true scientists we deny modern skepticism as an attitude, and absolutely rely upon open open-mindedness in its stead.

    We are fully aware, as is Mr. Snapp, that these two have switched places in modern “pop-science”, namely that most people now think that a skeptical attitude is a scientific one. This is utterly false.

    What has happened, for those with the acumen to observe, is that the truly skeptical method has been replaced by a gullible method, while an Open-Minded Attitude has been replaced by a skeptical attitude. This reversal is the very antithesis of good science, and we will do our utmost to avoid both the notions and the methodology of this modern “scientism”.

    This is our preface to the careful and caring approach we take to Mr. Snapp’s thesis.

    yours in Christ,

  4. Nazaroo October 29, 2010 / 5:46 pm

    What is Wrong with NT TC?

    We are happy to announce, that Mr. Snapp has it right. He has indeed pierced the befogged ocean with his searchlight, and with the help of our clearer terminology, we can articulate exactly what Mr. Snapp‘s insight has exposed.

    In the recent past, textual critics have tended to either one extreme or the other, either uncontrolled conjecture (eclecticism favouring internal evidence, e.g. Kirkpatrick), or else a crude and literal conservativism (eclecticism favouring external evidence e.g. Hort).

    In fact, the situation as it has evolved is even worse: typical critical Greek NT texts are rife with both mistakes. Not only does the pendulum swing wildly back and forth as we move from critic to critic, but also from Variation Unit to Variation Unit. The plethora of variations between critical texts exposes both problems plainly.

    When we unduly favour “internal evidence” (arguments of plausibility from vocabulary, syntax, literary style etc.) we fall into the trap which most sensible critics acknowledge is to be avoided, namely unsupported conjectures.

    When we unduly favour “external evidence” (MSS, text-types, dating etc.) we operate without full use of our minds, because like it or not, the textual and historical evidence cannot and will not organize and explain itself. It is a disorganized, damaged, confusing mess, which desperately needs historical context and interpretation, organization and explanation. We are now operating “mechanically” and mindlessly.

    The best analogy, and one of which I think Mr. Snapp will approve of, is that of a ship’s captain, attempting to pilot a large and valuable vessel through dangerous waters. Excessive errors in any direction will surely sink the ship and whole enterprise.

    We only need look at the Titanic and the Exxon Valdese to grasp the results of operating without proper training and/or without a map of the reefs. Modern critical editions can be likened to what happens when you try to sail without a plan, a map, or a set of reliable emergency procedures. Their similarities show where they have run aground on the larger and cruder jags of the reefs, and their differences show the undisciplined wavering of those at the helm without a map or even a compass.

    No doubt the documented extremes above cover a lot of the mistakes of the last century, and Mr. Snapp rightly wants to insist we avoid both of them.

    In his view, what is required is an intelligent method of properly re-mapping the reefs, while carefully steering the ship away from either grounding itself on the shores of bad MSS or floundering on the high seas of subjectivity.

    Clearly what we need is a really basic but reliable map (a history of transmission) and a tried and true Navy Manual (a set of disciplined procedures for every contingency). And what’s more, we need a trained and experienced captain to apply these with intelligence, and safely navigate us through NT waters.

    It then boils down to this: Has Mr. Snapp clearly articulated a detailed methodology by which we can secure the map, steer the ship and arrive at the original NT?

    Or, has he pointed at least to the basic principles by which we can construct the tools and skills we need to accomplish at least the internment task of a working NT, while we continue to discover and collate new MSS, and learn more about NT Greek?

    …to be continued,

  5. Nazaroo October 29, 2010 / 11:24 pm

    ..Before moving on to Mr. Snapp’s current proposal, which he has christened “Equitable Eclecticism“, we will do well to dwell upon the two previous versions just a moment longer:

    The issue, as we hope Mr. Snapp will agree, is not whether internal evidence is intrinsically better than external, or that some absolute and static weighting of these two types of evidence is even possible.

    The problem rather is when we should rely more upon internal evidence/arguments, and when we should rely more upon external evidence/arguments. For of course, each type of variant (accidental/deliberate, identifiable/unknown), even each Variation Unit, requires a customized treatment which conforms to and adequately manages the available evidence, both internal and external.

    Thus its not sufficient to hear and assess general arguments and statistical trends concerning various types of evidence and the “canons” which should rule over them. What is required is precisely that elusive “seasoned experience” that comes from real familiarity with the evidence and arguments, and longstanding study of documents and theories.

    Its what makes the difference between the ideal captain, and the mere “1st Mate”, Leutenant, or even cabin-boy.

    But we cannot in the face of the gravity of the priceless value of the New Testament as a basis of all Christian religion and wisdom, allow it to be steered by any individual, no matter how skilled or experienced. We must make sure that whatever methods we test, prove, and finally adopt, are always open to full disclosure and public inspection, peer-review, modification with new discovery.

    Without the added public system of general scientific standards and peer-review, we can have no faith or trust whatever in any system, regardless of its reasonable appearance, its credentials, its consonance with current evidence, and its prestigious support.

    Christians must insist on the most rigorous standards imaginable and possible, in allowing the consideration of any alterations of the precious deposit of teaching and truth contained in our Holy Scriptures. Whatever doctrinal disputes may arise between denominations, charismatic leaders, and prophetic disclosures, all true Christians must stand unitied in defending the current text once delivered to the saints and now in possession of the collective Body of Christ. Even extreme Roman Catholics and Protestants can agree upon this much.

    Whimsical tampering by academics hardly committed to the truth and importance of the Holy Scriptures must be wholly dismissed as mischief.


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