Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (conclusion)

 

EQUITABLE ECLECTICISM

The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism

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

Additional Principles

Equitable Eclecticism, besides rejecting the theory that the Byzantine Text was formed entirely via a consultation of MSS containing Alexandrian and Western readings, utilizes some additional principles which set it apart from the kinds of textual criticism which produced the revised text and its modern-day representatives:

1.  Textual criticism is a science, not an art.

2.  The text of the New Testament should be reconstructed in its component-parts:  Gospels and Acts and Pauline Epistles and General Epistles and Revelation.  Relationships shown by patterns of readings in one part should not be assumed to exist in the others.

3.  The genealogical descent of a group of MSS from an ancestor-MS other than the autograph is not assumed without actual evidence that establishes links among specific MSS (such as shared formats, shared marginalia, shared miniatures, or readings which conclusively show stemmatic links).

4.  Variants involving nomina sacra are placed in a special class, and receive special attention.

5.  The assumption of preference for the shorter reading is rejected.

6.  If a variant has very sporadic support from witnesses greatly separated by age and textual character, this possibly indicates that the variant was liable to be spontaneously created by copyists, rather than that it was transmitted by distant transmission-streams.

7.  Exceptional intrinsic merit is required for the adoption of variants attested exclusively or nearly exclusively by bilingual MSS in which a Greek variant may have originated via retro-translation.

8.  Conjectural emendations are not to be placed in the text.

Equitable Eclecticism also utilizes principles shared by other approaches.  These principles are all superseded by Principle Zero:  no principle should be applied mechanically.

1.  A variant which explains its rivals with greater elegance and force than it is explained by any of them is more likely to be original.

2.  A variant supported by witnesses representing two or more locales of early Christendom is more likely to be original than a variant supported by witnesses representing only one locale.

3.  A variant which can be shown to have had, in the course of the transmission of the text, the appearance of difficulty (either real or imagined), and which is rivaled by variants without such difficulty, is more likely than its rivals to be original.

4.  A variant supported by early attestation is more likely to be original than a rival variant supported exclusively by late attestation.

5.  A variant which conforms a statement to the form of a similar statement in a similar document, or in the same document, is less likely to be original than a rival variant that does not exhibit conformity.

6.  A variant which involves a rare, obscure, or ambiguous term or expression is more likely to be original than a rival variant which involves an ordinary term or expression.

7.  A variant which is consistent with the author’s discernible style and vocabulary is more likely to be original than a rival variant which deviates from the author’s usual style and vocabulary and the vocabulary which he may naturally be expected to have been capable of using.

8.  A variant which is fully explained as a liturgical adjustment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be thus explained.

9.  A variant which is capable of expressing anti-Judaic sentiment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of such expression.

10.  A variant which can be explained as an easy transcriptional error is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be explained as an easy transcriptional error or as one which would be less easily made.

11.  A variant which appears to have originated as a deliberate alteration is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of originating in the same way.

12.  Ceteris paribus, a variant which does not result in a Minor Agreement is more likely to be original than a rival variant which results in a Minor Agreement.

Closing Thoughts

Christian readers may feel intimidated or exasperated at the realization that the original text of the New Testament can only be fully reconstructed by a careful analysis of the witnesses – a massive and intricate task which currently involves no less than 130 papyri, about 320 uncials, about 2,870 minuscules, and about 2,430 lectionaries,18 plus versional and patristic materials.  The feeling may be increased when one also realizes that even the most erudite textual critics have reached divergent conclusions, and that all conclusions must be subject to the implications of future discoveries.

This may lead some readers to decline to investigate the text, deciding instead to hopefully adhere to whatever text (or texts) they already use.  Such an expedient response is understandable, especially in light of the often-repeated (but false) claim that textual variants have no significant doctrinal impact.  Nevertheless, for those few who are not content to place blind confidence in textual critics, or to posit providential favor upon a particular set of variants on account of its popularity or for other reasons, the best option is to become textual critics themselves, becoming acquainted with the contents of the manuscripts and other witnesses like a traveler who must know his maps.  Such acquaintance will yield a different kind of confidence than untested assumptions can produce.

Yet the comparison to a map is insufficient to describe the Christian researcher’s text of the New Testament.  After we have done our best to conduct research with scientific detachment, the text will be to us not only a map from which additions have been erased and damage has been repaired, but also a pure light, illuminating the path and enlightening the traveler.  With that thought I leave the reader to consider the words of J. A. Bengel, one of the pioneers of New Testament textual criticism:

Te totum applica ad textum:
rem totam applica ad te.

Apply all of yourself to the text,
Apply it all to yourself.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.
October 15, 2010

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Footnotes:
18 – Exact numbers would misimpress, because some items in the lists are no longer extant, and some have been found to be parts of other items also listed.

Footnotes:
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.

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14 thoughts on “Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (conclusion)

  1. Bob Hayton October 27, 2010 / 1:37 pm

    James,

    Thanks again for your work on this. Are you aware of any textual critics or scholars who lean toward an approach similar to Equitable Eclecticism? And would your approach end up with different texts for the Gospels and the Epistles (as in, lining up more closely with the Byzantine text in one and not so much in the other)?

    Thanks,

    Bob

    • James Snapp, Jr. November 5, 2010 / 5:38 pm

      Bob,

      If one were to apply ordinary “reasoned” eclecticism minus the premise of Byzantine dependence upon Alex and West, the resultant approach would be, effectively, something like Equitable Eclecticism. Michael Holmes, who recently released a new Greek NT under the auspices of SBL, might thus qualify as an Equitable Eclecticist — although there are bound to be disagreements at some particular points even among fellow Equitable Eclecticists, just as there are among advocates of the other approaches.

      You asked, “Would your approach end up with different texts for the Gospels and the Epistles (as in, lining up more closely with the Byzantine text in one and not so much in the other)?” Yes. Due to the limits of my resources and time, I have focused almost exclusively on the Gospels, James, and Jude, when it comes to actually reconstructing a full text. But my dabbling in the study of the Pauline Epistles indicates to me that there would be a noticably higher percentage of non-Byz readings in a text of the Pauline Epistles than in the Gospels-text reconstructed via an Equitable Eclectic approach. (I think that P46 has been somewhat underappreciated and I would consider using a “favored MS” technique for the reconstruction of the Pauline Epistles, using P46 as the favored MS where it is extant. But such an intensive project is beyond my means for the time being.)

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

  2. Steven Avery October 27, 2010 / 10:39 pm

    Hi Folks,

    James, what would you say would be the major distinction between the textual analysis you propose and that used by the textual giants of the 1500s, Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza. Both on a conceptual level, and on the results level.

    Shalom,
    Steven Avery

  3. bibleprotector October 27, 2010 / 10:40 pm

    There are two fundamental ideas in this approach which I think can be challenged on spiritual and doctrinal grounds.

    First, is the underlying idea that mammoth amounts of human efforts are required, and that in some future time it will be accomplished; the original text of the New Testament can only be fully reconstructed by a careful analysis of the witnesses – a massive and intricate task. There is no Biblical precedent, no spiritual law, no doctrinal reason stating why great amounts of human effort must be expended into the future in order to only (and note that word “only”!) then actually have accomplished; — After we have done our best to conduct research with scientific detachment, when additions have been erased and damage has been repaired.

    Second, and more basically, is the idea that does not directly state or perhaps even allow a role for God in textual transmission, and assumes the human condition and error are prevalent, even to the present time. The implication of statements given in this method is that error exists, and that error at present has not been eliminated from the presentation of the Scripture, for example, the original text of the New Testament can only be fully reconstructed, or, that all conclusions must be subject to the implications of future discoveries, or, additions have been erased and damage has been repaired.

    We are living hundreds and hundreds of years after the Scripture was completed, yet we are told that the actual word-perfect New Testament is present among the limited amount of copies we have today in Greek, and that apparently no one yet knows what it is (notwithstanding the various conclusions that different scholars have had on how textual issues are resolved).

    I think that anything called science which does not have any apparent role for God in the transmission of Scripture but sets up subjective interpretations of the past, and points to a highly speculative future time when the full text of Scripture shall be recovered (meanwhile assuming that transmission and the present provenance is fraught with error), is actually science fiction. How can such scholars take a prophetic mantle and claim that their method (which admits to past errors in transmission, administered by fallible men in the present, and subject to future alterations) be able to resolve anything?

    The King James Bible onlyist position is derided by some for saying that an English translation is perfect, yet it is apparently quite acceptable for a “scientific” methodology to claim to be able to achieve exactness, which requires artistic, subjective and speculative applications, such as, no principle should be applied mechanically.

    “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20).

    • Nazaroo October 28, 2010 / 6:15 pm

      Dear Bibleprotector:

      I have to confess I was struck with insight on reading your last sentence, the quotation of 1st Tim 6:20.

      While many other verses used by those defending the purity and providential preservation of the Bible text have been criticized by detractors, I think your novel quote here is unassailable. This appears to be because of the key expression, “that which is committed to thy trust“.

      While other verses might have some alternate intent or application meant by the original human author (i.e., psalms etc.), this quotation appears to me unambiguous.

      that which is committed to thy trust can mean nothing other than the Holy words of God in the Scriptures and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

      I cannot imagine any credible objection to your application of this verse to the New Testament, even if Paul originally only meant his own letters and oral teachings (his gospel) given with love to Timothy.

      You’ve got a winner there.

      peace
      Nazaroo

  4. Nazaroo October 28, 2010 / 4:18 am

    Dear James:

    Allow me to have a go at your new set of additional “canons” of TC, in the interests of tightening it up, and weighing the consequences:

    1. Textual criticism is a science, not an art.

    Right out of the starting-gate, we have a ‘canon’ which brings to the forefront one of the perennial problems of all canon-lists: distinguishing real, practical and scientific guides, from mere wish-lists.

    We can agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment expressed here in number one, but its clear also that no practical, deterministic rule has been articulated, that could steer the would-be textual critic away from “bad art” and toward good science. Until some meat is put on its bones, this skeleton will remain inanimate, and a ‘wish-list item’, as attractive as its intent may be.

    For these others, allow me on the fly to add a concise phrase that expresses I believe your meaning:

    2. (The ‘Book by Book’ Principle): The text of the New Testament should be reconstructed in its component-parts: Gospels and Acts and Pauline Epistles and General Epistles and Revelation. Relationships shown by patterns of readings in one part should not be assumed to exist in the others.

    I think what you mean is that:

    (a) Each NT book had an independent history of transmission before they were gathered together, first into collections of letters (Paul), and gospel collections (4 together), and then into the “Great Bibles” of the 4th century. and,

    (b) Most of the important variants occurred in this critical period of independent transmission, and therefore must be retraced and undone (reversed) separately for each book.

    This is a very reasonable argument, but needs the support of historical evidence, of course, and this evidence needs to be tied to specific readings and variation units.

    3. The genealogical descent of a group of MSS from an ancestor-MS other than the autograph is not assumed without actual evidence that establishes links among specific MSS (such as shared formats, shared marginalia, shared miniatures, or readings which conclusively show stemmatic links).

    We are not sure what the purpose of this new ‘canon’ is, other than to limit speculation about ‘lost ancestors’. We think that evidence of shared ancestors and genealogical interdependence (or mixture) will be for the most part based upon “Agreement in Error” techniques, essentially reliable tests like groups of shared instances of homoioteleuton, and these will outweigh marginal notes or added chapter headings etc.

    4. Variants involving nomina sacra are placed in a special class, and receive special attention.

    Those who have spent serious efforts treating these separately and in isolation (recently for instance Dr. Hurtado etc.) will heartily agree with you here, but other than making friends with authors, how do you justify separating these variants from others, when they may very well indicate genealogical relationships and help to date text-types and groups of readings?

    5. The assumption of preference for the shorter reading is rejected.

    Again a great suggestion, but it could be expressed better and more usefully in a form like that offered by Royse here:

    http://adultera.awardspace.com/SUPLEM/Royse-ScribalHabits.html#r05

    6. (Coincidental Agreement should be searched for and identified.) If a variant has very sporadic support from witnesses greatly separated by age and textual character, this possibly indicates that the variant was liable to be spontaneously created by copyists, rather than that it was transmitted by distant transmission-streams.

    It is agreed that textual critics should keep their eye out for such cases. But no criteria or tests for same are here offered. How can one judge or measure quantitatively for instance the “distance” between two witnesses, given the principle that greater distance means greater likelihood of coincidence?

    7. (Always suspect readings of Bilingual MSS): Exceptional intrinsic merit is required for the adoption of variants attested exclusively or nearly exclusively by bilingual MSS in which a Greek variant may have originated via retro-translation.

    Again, a great “headsup”, but how can such a task be reliably accomplished without vast expertise in both languages? This is a daunting specialist-field.

    8. (No Conjectures): Conjectural emendations are not to be placed in the text.

    While most conservative critics would agree with this sentiment, no specific rules are here offered which would help distinguish “pure conjecture” from the inevitable text-critical judgments that must be tainted with some degree of ‘conjecture’.

    Michaelis long ago observed that the very act, all textual critical activity and judgment involves a lot of conjecture, and that the idea of a ‘conjectureless’ TC was a fantastic myth. Study of his comments and observations on this subject is an essential exercise.

    peace
    Nazaroo

  5. Steven Avery October 28, 2010 / 4:59 pm

    Hi Folks,

    Nazaroo has a good point that trying to nail down “conjectural emendation” can be very much like jelly to a tree (his idea, my words). Beza especially was critiqued for some amount of conjectural emendation (a specialty analysis of Jan Krans) yet when you look at the actual verses the complexities arise. In short, it is very different proposing a “primitive corruption” conjectural emendation against overwhelming textual evidence (in the manner of Hort) that is rather nonsensical … and another to look at a few ultra-nuanced transmissions (especially in Revelation) where the language and grammatical structure and consistency issues are very intense, and the extant evidence very split.

    Now if it sounds like I am sharing with you from the existing Reformation Bible theory, and proposing that it makes full sense … yep ! 🙂

    Shalom,
    Steven Avery

  6. Nazaroo October 30, 2010 / 8:55 am

    Now I’d like to turn to your Main List of 12 “canons” (rules) by which you envision NTTC (Equitable Eclecticism) can be carried out.

    The first striking thing is your opening qualifier:

    Equitable Eclecticism also utilizes principles shared by other approaches. These principles are all superseded by

    Principle Zero:

    No principle should be applied mechanically.

    Thus at the starting-gate, we see that unlike most textual critics in the past, but in a way similar to Mr. Robert B.Waltz, creator of the online Encyclopedia of NTTC:

    http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/

    There, Waltz also constructs a similar “Two-Tier” System, in which the canons (rules, principles) are not only separated into two groups, but each group becomes ruled by an overriding “canon” of its own.

    To quote Waltz,

    Thus there are only two fundamental canons:

    I. The External Canon: MANUSCRIPTS ARE TO BE WEIGHED AND NOT COUNTED.

    II. The Internal Canon: THAT READING IS BEST WHICH BEST EXPLAINS THE OTHERS.

    All other canons — no matter how numerous or how detailed — are simply corollaries or specific examples of these two rules.

    http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/CanonsOfCrit.html

    We won’t analyze Waltz‘s precarious structure here. We only bring it out to show that other textual critics have also perceived the need for at least some kind of hierarchy for these canons, in order to deal with cases in which they conflict.

    Mr. Snapp also perceives quite well the problem that arises when rules and supposed “probabilities” give conflicting evidence for the true reading.

    His own solution however, is not to provide any rigid hierarchy generally, but to leave this choice in the hands of the supposed expert textual critic. Hence his own simple and general “two-step” hierarchy, with

    Principle Zero:

    No principle should be applied mechanically.

    It seems clear from this peculiar expression that the power as it were, and the judgment, is in the hands of the critic.

    As a scientist, Mr. Snapp must understand why I object to such a rule and new world order, in which textual critics compete using the most convincing and articulations (i.e., debating techniques).

    In short, its not science.

    For a truly scientific system, the choices should be based almost entirely on the scientific and historical facts as far as they can be ascertained, and not influenced at all by the bias or opinion of the critic, no matter how experienced or trustworthy.

    Everyone should be using the same equations, based on the best that scientific analysis can construct, and they should all be getting the same answers.

    As it stands however, in Mr. Snapp’s “system”, we see no mechanism which would protect the world from the caprice, bias, in short, the idiosyncracies of the textual critic.

    In fact, we see the opposite: We see the textual critic enthroned as the “expert” to whom all ‘mechanical’ (scientific) choices must defer.

    Mr. Snapp’s system teeters on the brink of idolatry.

    We anticipate that Mr. Snapp will naturally object, that the “Five Step Method” expounded in the previous post will ensure that the caprice of individual critics will be reigned in and constrained.

    But that is the very thing to be demonstrated.

    We would naturally expect that in a purely sensible world, all textual critics will, when confronted with Mr. Snapp’s system, more or less instantly recognize its self-evident brilliance, and via peer-review, eventually adopt it unanimously, ringing in the new era of scientific “Equitable Eclecticism“.

    But I think there is room here and perhaps a duty, for James to at least attempt to make a case on this point, that his “Five-Step” plan can and will ensure that future NTTC will be deterministic, scientific, and free of bias and possible abuse.

    peace
    Nazaroo

  7. Nazaroo November 3, 2010 / 5:24 pm

    A Glance Back at the Additional Rules

    I would like to make one more note here:

    Rule 5 of the “Additional” list is an inversion, or negation of an old rule or canon, namely,

    ‘Prefer the Shorter Reading.’ (Griesbach’s Canon).

    This rule, after nearly a whole century of careful, detailed research, has naturally turned out to be nonsense. Its great that most textual critics today recognize it as worthless, and its probably safe to say at this point, that this “Canon” is in the doghouse.

    In fact, I can’t help but notice a parallel, in that excessive application of this “canon” to the detriment of all others, and even common sense, is precisely how Hort sabotaged his own scheme of dethroning the Textus Receptus.

    Now, like the proverbial Judas, who resigned by hanging himself, this canon has also been put to rest.

    Oddly, James Snapp Jr. has here retained a remarkable 12 Canons to carry on the work of Textual Criticism, just as if they were the very Twelve Apostles.

    I suspect, viewing over the list, that the replacement for Judas is probably number 9:

    9. A variant which is capable of expressing anti-Judaic sentiment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of such expression.

    This appears to me to be the ‘new kid on the block’ in this list, although probably all of them have been suggested in one form or another in the past by their various promoters.

    But unfortunately, not only is this list poorly ordered, in terms of similarity, subject-matter and application, no hierarchy is in sight, and no way of arbitrating between them has been offered by James.

    This is not a small matter, for even a quick glance reveals that these “canons” can easily fall into opposition:

    For instance, take 5. and 7.:

    ——————————————–
    5. A variant which conforms a statement to the form of a similar statement in a similar document, or in the same document, is less likely to be original than a rival variant that does not exhibit conformity.

    7. A variant which is consistent with the author’s discernible style and vocabulary is more likely to be original than a rival variant which deviates from the author’s usual style and vocabulary and the vocabulary which he may naturally be expected to have been capable of using.
    ——————————————–

    We naturally ask, how can we know “which is consistent with the author’s discernible style and vocabulary”, without taking note of “the form of a similar statement in a similar document, or [later] in the same document”???

    5. says reject such similarities, while 7. says retain them!

    And this not simply a rare exception or unusual example: the rules as worded plainly contradict one another, always.

    If James is going to argue that these will be applied to different variation units, or documents, where is the real canon, that tells us when and which?

    This should make it plain that although no hierarchy or clear description of limitations, application and scope has yet been offered, one is definitely and absolutely needed.

    to be continued…

    Nazaroo

  8. James Snapp, Jr. November 4, 2010 / 8:29 am

    Just posting a comment to see if the Comments are working again.

    JSJ

  9. James Snapp, Jr. November 4, 2010 / 8:34 am

    Woohoo!

    Today is packed. Tomorrow’s looking full too. But I’ll try to reply to some comments about the Equitable Eclecticism series as soon as feasible.

    Naz, I doubt if I will be able to address all of your concerns here; you presented quite a bombardment of points and the comments-section here is probably not the best venue in which to address them; in my experience that kind of discussion simply diffuses the longer it continues. But there are a few specific things that I will focus upon in a planned reply. Please stay tuned.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Nazaroo November 4, 2010 / 7:45 pm

      I have assisted mr. scrivener in creating a special review page of your article, and this will be properly indexed and hypertexted for convenience.

      If you want or need to add any comments or changes, just post your updates here or on TC-Alt, and mr.scrivener will add them to the webpage.

      peace
      Nazaroo

  10. Malcolm November 4, 2010 / 11:23 am

    Greetings all,

    I have but one simple question. I suppose it is a reality check type question. Can one read any particular stanndard edition of the Bible Iin English or not) and come to a saving knowledge of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    On another note I think Jim’s presentation and proposals would benefit from cumbersome footnotes and examples and illustrations.

Comments are closed.