KJV Only Debate Blog Interviews Dr. Maurice Robinson, pt. 3

This is the third and final installment of our interview with Dr. Maurice Robinson, co-editor of the The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform (Southborough, MA: Chilton Book Publishing, 1991, 2005). Continuing from part 2….

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10. What would you see as the future for the Majority Text position? What needs to happen for it to have a greater impact on the wider church?

I expect the Byzantine-priority position to maintain itself, at least at the current level of acceptance. I would hope that, over time, more people might become convinced that a thoroughly integrated theory of transmission needs to underlie any text-critical endeavor — and such a theory is severely lacking in current modern eclectic praxis. As for the wider church, the matter depends on God’s people who comprise that body. Should the laypeople become convinced that the modern critical texts, the currently applied praxis of textual eclecticism, and translations based upon such are deficient, then perhaps the popular appeal of the Byzantine or majority text position will grow; if not, matters will continue much as they currently are.

One thing I would like to see (and I mentioned this in a paper presented at the end of May 2010 in Montreal, at a Canadian Bible Society sponsored conference on Text and Translation) is a greater number of footnotes added to modern translations regarding translatable textual variants, and to present these with some real specificity as to the nature of the manuscripts or texttype that support a given variant. Beyond this, I really would like to see existing NT translations (e.g., NASV, ESV, NKJV) appear in two editions: one reflecting the eclectic Alexandrian-based text (as current), and the other reflecting a Byzantine-based text (with text-critical footnotes adjusted to match each situation).

11. Speaking closer to home, would you say the Majority Text should influence students and pastors today? If so, how?

As Günther Zuntz stated in 1942, regardless of acceptance of the Byzantine-priority position, one really should “profitably pause to glance at the only universal Greek text of the New Testament that ever existed” (JTS 43 [1942] 25-30). For more than a millennium, this form of text indeed was the “universal text” of the Greek-speaking world, a circumstance that did not come about without good reason. I suggest the major reason to be transmissional considerations leading to a generally consistent and regular perpetuation of the canonical autographs, with little or no major alteration beyond limited and minor scribal variation occurring sporadically among only a limited number of manuscripts.

12. Along these lines, what Bible translation would you recommend for general church use? Are any good quality English translations available that use the Majority Text?

At the present time no printed English translations of the Byzantine Textform exist, although the KJV and NKJV (both based on the TR) would come close. The NKJV comes closer, assuming that one follows its “M-text” footnotes scattered throughout, although these are by no means totally comprehensive regarding all translatable differences between the TR and the Byzantine Textform. As for unpublished electronic English translations of the majority text, there exist Zeolla’s ALT (Analytical-Literal Translation), Johnson’s WEB (World English Bible), and Esposito’s EMTV (English Majority Text Version), of which the latter remains the most readable without being overly literal.

I personally would welcome a good quality (readable formal-equivalence) printed English translation of the Byzantine Textform. I also would like to see a good interlinear based on the Byzantine Textform (either project of which I would be pleased to work on and/or supervise). The primary obstacle to both projects (at least for me) remains the need for funding and support of such.

13. Thanks again for your interacting with us on these points, Dr. Robinson. Could you help our readers know where we can find a copy of the Majority Text that you edited? And would you speak briefly on how it differs with the Hodges/Farstad edition that preceded it?

The Robinson-Pierpont edition is The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, available in hardback from various online sources or in case lots of 12 from the publisher (www.chiltonpublishing.com). Individual copies can be obtained from me within the USA at a low cost that covers only publishing plus postage and handling.

As for the differences from Hodges-Farstad: these are relatively minor in nature and in quantity small (somewhere around 220 differences total). Apart from the Revelation and the Pericope Adulterae passage in John, our differences reflect a varying choice where the Byzantine manuscripts are significantly divided. Due to their methodology, H-F in certain instances invoked manuscripts from non-Byzantine texttypes in order to determine their numerical “majority” reading. In Revelation, H-F chose to utilize a genealogical method similar to that of Westcott and Hort, accepting as primary a small subgroup that does not always reflect the more dominant Byzantine Textform (represented by the union of the Byzantine Q and A? groups). In the Pericope Adulterae, H-F follow the group termed “?6” by von Soden, primarily on the basis of internal criteria; our text in that pericope follows the “???5” group, primarily due to the relative antiquity of the ?5 tradition, but also with regard to transmissional probabilities regarding the variants in question.

14. Do you have plans for any future editions?

Glad you asked: the newest edition (a Reader’s Edition) has just appeared: The Greek New Testament for Beginning Readers: Byzantine Textform. This volume contains our 2005 text, but with lexical definitions and parsing information on each page for all NT root forms occurring 50 times or less in the NT. It also has an appendix that covers definitions and parsing information for all forms occurring more than 50 times (the Zondervan and UBS Reader’s editions only cover words occurring 30 times or less, and lack the appendices covering all other definitions and verbal forms). This hardback volume was prepared by Jeffrey Dodson (in consultation with me) over the past five years; it is published in hardcover by VTR (Verlag für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft), Nürnberg, Germany, but is speedily available in the USA and Canada from Amazon and other online marketers with the price (both retail and discounted) being parallel with that of the softcover NIV-based Reader’s Edition from Zondervan.

15. We can find you contributing from time to time over at Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, is there any additional online home where we can read more of your work? And are there any additional resources or websites you’d like to refer interested readers to for more information on the Majority Text?

To the first question, the answer is no, I generally do not post at other sites by deliberate choice. First, I am too busy to blog (and I don’t Tweet, Twitter, or Text either); second, I am generally disappointed by the nature and tone of most online text-critical or translational comment blogs, particularly since the KJVO writers tend to monopolize or hijack virtually all discussions, and I have no interest in dealing with what I consider illogical sophistry, conspiracy theories, and agenda-driven propagandistic blather. I have posted (rarely) on the Yahoo Byzantine Text discussion list, but almost exclusively on the ETC blogsite. I do have a couple of articles and reviews available online through the electronic TC Journal, but that’s about all.

As for other resources, I would recommend that anyone interested in the Byzantine or majority text issue begin historically with the various 19th century authors who defended a greater proportion of Byzantine readings than any others, without having the KJV as some sort of touchstone. These in various degrees include John W. Burgon, Edward Miller, F. H. A. Scrivener, and S. W. Whitney, as well as the French writer J. P. P. Martin. After digesting that material, I would move to reading the more modern authors on the subject such as the various material from Zane Hodges, Wilbur Pickering, Andrew Wilson, and myself. Not to be neglected, however, are the writings of those representing the opposite position, many of whom are addressed within the pages of the writers mentioned above; this particularly includes the Westcott-Hort Introduction volume.

16. Would you have a particular book or two that you would recommend as a good one-book introduction to the Byzantine-Priority position?

There really is no “book” out there on that specific topic (though a collection of my various articles, ETS presentations, and essays is currently in the works, but this won’t be ready for a couple of years). At this point, the best I can recommend is for people to read the Introduction to the 1991 R-P Gk NT edition and also the “Case for Byzantine Priority” appendix to the R-P 2005 edition (available here).

I should also add bibliographically that for a good overview of the “majority text” position, one really needs to read the various articles by Zane Hodges in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society that appeared in the late 1970s (Hodges’ other articles in Bibliotheca Sacra in the 60s, 70s, and 80s are also helpful in this regard, although not as precisely to the point as the JETS articles).

And of course, for Pickering’s position, one needs to read his Identity of the New Testament Text (preferably his 3rd edition, available on the internet) as well as his JETS articles from the late 1970s.

Editor’s Note: I have tracked down the entire series of articles on the Greek Majority Text that were published in JETS in the late 1970s. They are available online (in .PDF format) and I give the links below. Also, Pickering’s book is available online in readable format here (bit I’m unsure if it is his 3rd edition).

We want to thank you Dr. Robinson for your work in the area of textual criticism which is a blessing to us all. Thanks too for taking the time to interact with us here in our little corner of the world wide web.

Thank you for inviting me to this interview. I hope it will be beneficial to all your readers, particularly since the subject matter involves the word of God, a situation for which the establishment of textual accuracy remains most important.

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For additional reading, check out the following links:

KJV Only Debate Blog Interviews Dr. Maurice Robinson, pt. 2

This is the second installment of our three part interview with Dr. Maurice Robinson, co-editor of the The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform (Southborough, MA: Chilton Book Publishing, 1991, 2005). Continuing from part 1….

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6. Getting back to the Majority Text, opponents of the Majority Text point out the relative lateness of Byzantine readings compared to older readings in the Alexandrian or other text types. How would you respond to the idea that older readings, all things considered, are necessarily better?

Were this really a true principle, then we should be preferring Western readings over Alexandrian (as even Westcott and Hort acknowledged), since the Western readings clearly have a documented earlier pedigree than the Alexandrian, whether from Old Latin MSS or patristic quotations. Obviously neither Westcott and Hort nor even most eclectically based modern critical texts follow that particular route (a few textual critics mostly in France in fact do advocate Western authenticity). In addition, it is generally recognized among all schools of thought that at least some later MSS in fact do preserve earlier texts. This principle usually is limited by critical text partisans to include only those later MSS that tend to agree with their favored earlier MSS, but the principle should apply equally; and if so, there is no reason why the later Byzantine MSS (or those of even the late 4th and early 5th centuries) should not similarly be considered to have preserved a much earlier form of text with (at least) second-century roots. This becomes a greater issue, given that many non-Byzantine partisans have allowed that virtually all significant readings were in existence during the second century — this in effect reflecting what Sturz and Colwell have claimed. Also — as Sturz has shown — numerous Byzantine readings that were dismissed by Westcott and Hort as “distinctively” Byzantine (maintaining W-H’s definition of such in light of material then available to them) do appear in early papyri that were unknown to W-H. Further, as Burgon and Miller had claimed (confirmed by more precise recent research), a large number of Byzantine readings exist among early fathers in a proportion that does approach 2:1 (cf. Hannah’s tabulation of quotations by Origen in 1 Corinthians). So a case can be made regarding the likely early character of the Byzantine Textform; the desired missing piece yet to be discovered (should such ever occur) is merely an early papyrus with a clearly Byzantine text.

7. On a somewhat related note, would you say a respect for the history of church usage, plays heavily into your decision to opt for a Byzantine priority?

Not that I would give great credence to the particular doctrinal views of the Greek Orthodox Church any more than I would those of the Roman Catholic Church — but I do recognize that it was primarily through each of these channels that the Greek and Latin Vulgate texts of the NT were preserved. Accepting that historical factor, I would suggest that a healthy respect for church-based preservation and transmission of the sacred texts should weigh heavily in relation to text-critical theories and praxis.

8a. Some of us have read a bit of the writings of men like Dean John Burgon, Frederick Scrivener and even Edward Freer Hills. Would you claim such men as forebears of the Majority Text position?

I would not consider anyone whose primary agenda was the defense of KJV exclusivity or primacy to be in any manner a forerunner of the Byzantine-priority or majority text position, but rather to reflect a more recent and less-than-scholarly development. This is the situation with Hills, who — regardless of all his former training and apparently favorable comments regarding the Byzantine or majority text — is never willing absolutely to reject any KJV reading derived from a minority of Greek manuscripts (or even no Greek manuscripts whatever!). Through scholastic sophistry similar to that applied by most other KJVOs, Hills ultimately defends every aspect of the KJV and its underlying text, regardless of where the factual data might point. Like most other KJVOs, Hills also ignores the methodological dichotomy whereby he on the one hand claims Byzantine superiority while on the other hand he denies such in favor of minority or unsupported readings — this demonstrates a KJVO mentality quite clearly. Burgon and Miller, on the other hand, freely critiqued certain translational and textual aspects of the KJV, even while urging its retention for Anglican Church use until such time as various textual and translational matters were more firmly decided (conservative textual criticism in the 19th century was very much undetermined and in flux). Scrivener was even more bold, openly departing much more from the KJV and its underlying text, but not always in the Byzantine direction. Scrivener basically allowed for the originality of various non-Byzantine minority readings taken from other texttypes; such was not the case with Burgon or Miller. Similarly, S. W. Whitney in the 19th century also defended the Byzantine reading in most cases (more so than Scrivener), but here and there even Whitney chose to abandon the Byzantine reading for one found in minority texttypes. In this light, the real forerunners of the current majority text or Byzantine-priority position remain Burgon and Miller and (in his earliest work) J. A. Scholz.

8b. If the Greek text you helped edit were available to these men, would you think they would support your efforts?

I think that for the most part Burgon and Miller would agree heartily, given the evidence from their own writings, especially Burgon’s comments as to places where the TR/KJV text was deficient or erroneous. Such appears not only in his major works, but also as shown in his Textual Commentary on Mt 1-14, where he anticipated both the H-F and R-P texts regarding places of variation away from the TR in more than 95% of the actual cases. Scholz similarly would likely fall into the same category. Scrivener and Whitney, on the other hand, would today continue to hold a differing opinion in some cases.

9. Could you speak to how modern scholarship in general, and evangelical scholarship particularly, has received the Majority Text? Is it helping to further productive debate?

For the most part modern text-critical scholarship remains content with the predominantly Alexandrian-based reasoned eclectic method and its resultant UBS or Nestle text (even though those texts are determined more on external than internal principles). Here and there, of course, eclectic-based journal articles and commentaries occasionally defend some Byzantine as well as other non-Alexandrian readings, but not to a degree that would significantly alter the Alexandrian character of the critical text favored overall. The scholars who have accepted the Byzantine-priority or majority text position remain few, and many of these do not primarily teach or practice in the text-critical arena. In contrast, far more laypeople seem to favor the Byzantine or majority text position than those in academia, although their support continually is clouded by the overly vocal KJVO partisans, who tend to drown out the various voices of reason on this issue.

The very fact that the Byzantine Textform has been published (electronically and in hard copy) helps to spur further inquiry and debate (see, for example, Dan Wallace regarding the likely originality of the Byzantine “shorter readings” as well as the acceptance of some previously rejected Byzantine readings by the INTF in Münster). Overall, however, the Byzantine-priority position remains unconvincing to most scholarly readers (through no fault of my own, I trust). Yet, had the H-F or R-P editions never been published, I wonder whether the greater credence now assigned to some Byzantine readings by eclectic critics really would have occurred.

This interview will conclude tomorrow with part 3.

KJV Only Debate Blog Interviews Dr. Maurice Robinson, pt. 1

We are thrilled that Dr. Maurice Robinson, co-editor of the The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform (Southborough, MA: Chilton Book Publishing, 1991, 2005), has taken the time to answer some questions about his views on textual criticism. He represents the Byzantine-Priority view, which is more popularly known as the “Majority Text” position. But I’ll let him explain more fully.

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1. For starters, could you give us a little background about yourself and your scholarly career? What piqued your interest in textual critical studies?

I began studying Greek on my own while in college in the mid-to-late 1960s. I first became aware of the existence of variant readings by the footnotes in various English translations as well as in Berry’s Interlinear. This led to further examination of the field of NT textual criticism by means of the various handbooks (Metzger and Greenlee in the earliest stages). While in the M. Div. program here at Southeastern Baptist Seminary (1971-1973), I studied deeply in the field, and earned 16 semester hours in Independent Reading and Research in relation to developing a method for textual grouping of MSS that at that time represented an advance beyond Colwell. This same methodology was applied to my later (1975) Th. M. thesis, “Textual Interrelationships among Selected Ancient Witnesses to the Book of Acts.“ During this time I was privileged to have advanced private tutelage under Kenneth W. Clark, then emeritus of Duke University (Clark also served as guest supervisor and examiner for my Th.M. thesis). Some two years later, I began doctoral study at Southwestern Baptist Seminary under James A. Brooks, completing the Ph. D. in 1982 with a dissertation on “Scribal Habits among Manuscripts of the Apocalypse.” My work in textual criticism since 1976 has concentrated on the Byzantine Textform, particularly in collaboration with William G. Pierpont, with whom I co-labored until his death in 2003.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Robinson currently serves as Senior Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

2. That leads us to the question, what exactly is the Majority Text (MT)? How would this compare to Dean Burgon’s idea of the “traditional text”?

The precise definition of terms depends on whom you ask. Our term “Byzantine Textform” is specifically distinct from the terms “majority text” or “traditional text,” since it restricts matters to only that Textform, even though the results closely overlap the other theoretical positions. From our perspective, the Byzantine Textform in most cases does represent a “majority text,” and equally should be considered the “traditional text” as transmitted through the centuries. Had there been no question of readings with less than near unanimity in every place of textual variation, no real distinction would exist regarding these terms. However, in many variant units the MSS comprising the Byzantine Textform are divided, so in such cases statements regarding “majority” or “traditional” status necessarily must be qualified. In the end, however, our Byzantine Textform edition agrees more than 99% with the Hodges-Farstad “majority text” edition or Pickering’s electronic “Family 35” edition; the same holds in about the same proportion with readings Burgon or Miller specifically favored as part of their “traditional text” approach.

3. Now that we know what the MT is, can we ask the more fundamental question: Why? Why produce another Greek text? Why wouldn’t the Textus Receptus or the modern critical Greek text (NA27) be sufficient?

One as easily could ask why the Latin Vulgate was not sufficient in the time of Erasmus. The issue remains the Reformation principle, “ad fontes!” The proper and primary intent of NT textual criticism is to establish as closely as possible the autograph or canonically transmitted form of the text of any given book within its original language of revelation. One therefore should endeavor to recognize the most accurate form of the canonically transmitted text for each of the NT documents as a necessary prelude to exegesis, translation, hermeneutics, and proclamation. If the existing Greek text editions — whether TR or Alexandrian-based critical texts — do not achieve that goal because of what we (and even other eclectics at points) consider faulty premises and methodologies, then further research and editing remains necessary. Apart from this, there exists a real text-critical divide among the TR, the Byzantine Textform, and the modern critical editions, each of these being based on a different model (the TR being somewhat less than fully Byzantine and the critical editions being mostly Alexandrian). At some point within this division a more precisely defined text necessarily exists, which we consider to be the Byzantine.

4. Not to have you repeat your previous answer, but what in your opinion would be the single greatest argument you have against the modern critical text position?

The primary issue remains a regionally localized minority texttype, only sporadically transmitted through scribal history in contrast to the vast majority of Greek MSS consistently perpetuated over the centuries in the primary Greek-speaking region of the Eastern Mediterranean world (modern southern Italy, Greece, and Turkey). From that region versional texts necessarily are absent and patristic quotations really are lacking prior to the fourth century; yet as soon as writing theologians appear in that region, they are using what appears to be a well-established Byzantine text. An additional problem affecting modern critical editions is a form of eclecticism that even in short passages of text (single NT verses or less) introduces a sequence of words that can be demonstrated as having no actual existence in any ancient MS, version, or patristic quotation prior to their modern (19th or 20th century) creation; this point is documented in my recent article, “Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the `Test-Tube’ Nature of the NA27/UBS4 Text: A Byzantine-Priority Perspective,” in Stanley Porter and Mark Boda, eds., Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009, 27-61).

5. On a similar note, and feel free to skip this question if you’d prefer, but would you have an opinion as to the single greatest argument against the priority of the Textus Receptus (or as we around here would call this view: the King James Only position)?

I do not get involved with nor engage in debate with those holding to the so-called KJVO position. Those who choose to defend a particular translation as “perfect” or in some cases as “the only accurate” English version are welcome to their belief, but in reality these have no real interest in determining the original Greek or Hebrew readings, particularly if such might require correction either to their preferred English text or to the Greek TR or Hebrew Masoretic texts decreed “by faith” to underlie that particular English text. In effect, their only interaction with text-critical issues seems to be to attack or question those who differ from their predetermined position; thus it is difficult if not impossible to engage in meaningful dialogue with those whose mind is already made up and who in actual practice allow a relatively late English translation to become the final arbiter of the original Greek or Hebrew autographs. I would make a distinction, however, even while not accepting either position, between those who are KJVO and have no need whatever for the Greek of the NT and those who are TRO and are at least willing to appeal to the underlying Greek for exegetical insight.

This interview will pick back up tomorrow with part 2. The final part should be up Wednesday.