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.