Answering John MacArthur on the Ending of Mark

Recently, Dr. John MacArthur finished preaching through the New Testament (after nearly forty years). His last sermon covered the biggest controversy in the world of textual criticism: the ending of the Gospel of Mark. Dr. MacArthur sided with the majority of careful Christian scholarship and defended the position that Mark ends his Gospel at vs. 8. In the sermon (available to watch on Youtube), he gives a brief survey of textual criticism, the various manuscript types, and the evidence for and against the ending of Mark.

As I listened to MacArthur’s sermon, I winced at his handling of the textual evidence. He painted the picture in rosy kind of way, making the evidence in favor of his position seem insurmountable. In reality, the picture is quite different from the reality, and this question is one that should not be decided so cavalierly. It isn’t black and white and a simple matter of going with the ancient manuscripts on this point. The issue is much more complex than that. At the end of the day, I think MacArthur takes the correct position (I could still be persuaded otherwise, however), but at the very least he should be more transparent with the evidence. I understand wanting to instill faith in the Scripture and wanting to help people have confidence in textual criticism. Bending the truth (at least in the way you present the evidence) doesn’t help, however.

Pastor James Snapp, who is a proponent of equitable eclecticism and has studied long and hard on the issues surrounding textual criticism, has answered John MacArthur in a series of three 13-14 minute YouTube video clips. James is a frequent commenter around here, and doesn’t always agree with every position that I personally have taken. But he is fair minded and tries to go where the evidence takes him. He does a good job marshalling the evidence for the inclusion of Mark 116:9-20 and explains numerous errors that Dr. MacArthur made in his sermon.

Not every error is equally damaging, and not all the evidence that Snapp presents is convincing. I walked away from Snapp’s series with more questions about this matter which I intend to research further, but I am not completely convinced that the majority of Christian scholarship is just completely duped on this point. Snapp doesn’t explain how the various alternate endings of Mark arose, and that is a matter to explore. Why would anyone chop off the ending of Mark and keep the rest of his Gospel? What’s so special about the ending?

Regardless, I wanted to make you aware of Snapp’s rebuttal and post his video clips below. Snapp is very fair and charitable toward Dr. MacArthur, and presents a perfect example of how to engage in a disagreement honorably and respectably.

Has anyone else seen some kind of response or additional elaboration from MacArthur’s church on this question? Or do any of our readers have additional thoughts to share on this matter? Please join the discussion in the comments below.

Jack Moorman on Revelation 16:5

In the recent James White — Jack Moorman debate on King James Onlyism, White brought up Rev. 16:5 as containing a phrase in the King James Version with no manuscipt support at all. It was added on the basis of conjectural emendation, he claimed. Several times in the debate he went back to that point, and Moorman kept saying he dealt with it already in one of his books.

Well, here’s the only section in Jack Moorman’s books that I know of which deals with Rev. 16:5. This is from When the KJV Departs from the So-Called “Majority’ Text: with Manuscipt Digest by Jack A. Moorman (published by The Bible for Today, Collingswood, NJ 1988). This is from pg. 102. I’ve tried to reproduce the format as shown in his book (my copy is the second edition).

Revelation 16:5
AV        which art, and wast, and shalt be
HF CR                                    … the Holy One


The KJV reading is in harmony with the four other places in Revelation where this phrase is found.
1:4 “him which is, and which was, and which is to come”
1:8 “the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty”
4:8 “Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come”
11:17 “Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come”
Indeed Christ is the Holy One, but in the Scriptures of the Apostle John the title is found only once (1 John 2:20), and there, a totally different Greek word is used. The Preface to the Authorised Version reads:

“with the former translations diligently compared and revised”

The translators must have felt there was good reason to insert these words though it ran counter to much external evidence. They obviously did not believe the charge made today that Beza inserted it on the basis of “conjectural emendation”. They knew that they were translating the Word of God, and so do we. The logic of faith should lead us to see God’s guiding providence in a passage such as this.

[AV = Authorized Version/King James Bible, HF = Hodges/Farstad Majority Text, CR = Critical Text (specifically the NA26/UBS3)]

When I first encountered this reasoning for maintaining the King James reading, I was troubled. He lists no witnesses except for Beza’s text. At the time, I was still of the KJV only persuasion, the TR Only variety. I wondered why Moorman disagreed with E.F. Hills a learned King James Version defender who admitted that Rev. 16:5 was a conjectural emendation. Later I learned that Beza actually tells us in his textual notes that this is a conjectural emendation inserted based on his presumption that John would be consistent with other similar phrases (which Moorman quotes above).

Well, since that time, I’ve come to see this as one of the clearest errors in the King James Bible and the Textus Receptus. Neither accepted version of the Textus Receptus contains this error. The 1550 Stephanus edition, prized in England as “the standard”, and the Elzevir’s text of 1633 preferred on the continent (of Europe), both do not contain this reading. Update: Actually the 1550 Stephanus, the standard in Europe, does not have Beza’s reading. The 1633 Elzevir’s text does, but the earlier 1624 Elzevir’s and all later Elzevir’s editions (1641-1678) go back to the Stephanus reading. I am unclear as to how much more preference was given to the 1633 text over the 1624, edition. H.C. Hoskier says the 1624 text is better, see Appendix C of his A Full Account and Collation of the Greek Cursive Codex Evangelium here). None of the previous English versions that the KJV translators referred to had this reading. The Latin didn’t have it either. In another post I have detailed the only possible, barest shred of evidence, a citation in one Latin commentary which may contain this reading. Beza is ignorant of that commentary however.

My point in bringing this up here is to show that I’m not so certain that Moorman has really dealt with this text. This is circular reasoning at its worst. This mentality belies the motivation behind many KJV Onlyists, which I believe White correctly pinpointed in the debate. It is the desire for a standard text. That’s a commendable desire, but it doesn’t excuse sloppy handling of evidence. By the way, this doesn’t mean that the TR isn’t a great text (most TRs don’t have this error). It also doesn’t impugn the Majority Text, as it obviously doesn’t have this reading.

Now I’m ready to stand corrected if in later copies of this book, Moorman actually added more evidence or took out his circular arguments. But at least in this version of the book, his arguments were quite poor indeed.

Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (conclusion)



The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism


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

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.

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.

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.

Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (part 3)



The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism


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

Competing Greek New Testaments

In the late 1800’s, Westcott & Hort’s Greek text of the New Testament faced several obstacles. First was the popularity of the Textus Receptus, which, as the base-text of the King James Version, had the status of an ancient landmark in English-speaking countries, regardless of how carefully attempts were made to demonstrate that its Reformation-era compilers, or some stealthy editors in ancient times, were the real landmark-movers. This obstacle was cleverly surmounted by Eberhard Nestle. In 1898, the Würrtemburg Bible Society published the first edition of Novum Testamentum Graece, an inexpensive Greek New Testament which was designed to compete with the edition of the Textus Receptus which was being widely disseminated by the British and Foreign Bible Society. The leaders of BFBS apparently had not been fully convinced by Hort’s 1881 Introduction. The Greek text of Novum Testamentum Graece was based on the revised Greek New Testaments which had been compiled by Westcott & Hort, by Constantine von Tischendorf, and by Richard Weymouth.

Nestle wrote an enthusiastic recommendation of this handy Greek New Testament; his brief review appeared in the Expository Times in June of 1898. He pointed out how “disgraceful” it would be to continue to circulate Erasmus’ errors in Rev. 17:8 and Rev. 22:19-21. He invited the British and Foreign Bible Society to begin to circulate Novum Testamentum Graece instead of the Textus Receptus. In 1904 the British and Foreign Bible Society began circulating the fourth edition of Novum Testamentum Graece. By that time, it became known that the editor of the 1898 edition had been none other than Eberhard Nestle.

As that was happening, a scholar named Hermann von Soden was in the process of compiling a grand edition of the Greek New Testament which textual scholars expected to become definitive, superseding all previous editions. But when von Soden’s Greek New Testament was released in 1902-1911, it was found to be extremely cumbersome, and it was flawed in various ways. Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece was on hand to fill the vacuum, so to speak, and it has done so ever since.

But should it? According to Kurt and Barbara Aland, the 27th edition of NTG differs from the early text compiled by Eberhard Nestle “in merely 700 passages.”11 Considering the high number of variant-units involved, this implies that the text of the Gospels in NA-27 and UBS-4 is essentially the same text that was published by Eberhard Nestle in the early 1900’s. It is as if the papyri and the implications of their contents (not to mention the research into early versions, the revisions of patristic writings, and other significant discoveries and research undertaken in the 1900’s) have been treated as if they did little but confirm the revised text, whereas in reality they shook the foundational premises that had been used by Westcott and Hort.

The marketplace for Greek New Testaments in the early 1900’s rapidly became crowded: Bernard Weiss, Alexander Souter, and J. M. S. Baljon made compilations which rivaled Nestle’s.12 F. H. A. Scrivener’s editions of the Textus Receptus remained in circulation. Thomas Newberry’s 1870 Englishman’s Greek New Testament – a fine interlinear edition of the Textus Receptus which featured a presentation of variants adopted by textual critics prior to Westcott & Hort (Griesbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford, and Wordsworth) – also remained in print. The public generally had to choose between either a Greek text similar to the 1881 revision of Westcott & Hort, or the Textus Receptus. Greek New Testaments which were used as the base-texts for English translations tended to have the highest and longest-lasting popularity in English-speaking countries.

In 1982, Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad published a compilation called The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text. As its name implies, this text was intended to consist of the readings shared by the majority of Greek MSS. Hodges and Farstad proposed that the Alexandrian Text is a heavily edited, pruned form of the text, while the Majority Text is much better, inasmuch as “In any tradition where there are not major disruptions in the transmissional history, the individual reading which has the earliest beginning is the one most likely to survive in a majority of documents.”13 The work of Hodges and Farstad was the basis for many text-critical footnotes in the New Testament in the New King James Version, which was published around the same time under Dr. Farstad’s supervision.

A similar work was released in 1991 by Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont, called The New Testament in the Original Greek According to the Byzantine/Majority Textform. A second edition was published in 2005. Rejecting any notion of defending the Textus Receptus (which differs from the Byzantine Text at over 1,800 points, about 1,000 of which are translatable), Robinson and Pierpont regarded the Byzantine Text as virtually congruent to the original text. A disadvantage of the Byzantine Text is that its component readings are whatever the majority of Byzantine MSS support; almost no analytical attempts to reconstruct the relationships of variants within the Byzantine tradition are undertaken since the question is usually settled by a numerical count.

In some respects, Hodges & Farstad and Robinson & Pierpont have paved a trail that was blazed in the 1800’s by John Burgon, who opposed the text of Westcott & Hort. Burgon’s aggressive writing-style sometimes overshadowed his argumentation; nevertheless some of his views were vindicated by subsequent research. For example, Hort asserted that “even among the numerous unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes,”14 but Burgon insisted that the opposite was true. Burgon’s posthumously published Causes of Corruption (1896) even included a sub-chapter titled “Corruption by the Orthodox.” Almost a century later in 1993, a variation on Burgon’s theme was upheld by Bart Ehrman in the similarly titled book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. As a result, though Ehrman exaggerated his case in many respects, no textual critics now consider Hort’s assertion to be correct.

Many scholars and interested bystanders, noticing that the weaknesses of several of Hort’s key premises and assertions have been exposed, have been willing to consider the model of transmission-history proposed by the supporters of the Byzantine Textform – but not many have decided to embrace it. Some have irresponsibly associated it with the novel American fundamentalist doctrine of King James Onlyism. Others have rejected it because, despite detailed lists of principles of internal and external evidence in Dr. Robinson’s essay The Case for Byzantine Priority,15 the quality which usually determines the adoption of a variant in the approach advocated by Robinson is its attestation in over 80% of the Greek MSS. Patristic evidence and the testimony of early versions are not included in the equation of what constitutes the majority reading. Distinctive Alexandrian variants, Western variants, Caesarean variants, and even minority readings attested by the oldest Byzantine witnesses (such as parts of Codices A and W) have no chance of being adopted; generally, whenever a variant is supported by over 80% of the Greek MSS, it is adopted.

The validity of such an approach depends upon the validity of the premise that the transmission of the text of the Gospels was free from “major disruptions.” However, major disruptions have had enormous impacts upon the transmission of the text. Roman persecutions and Roman sponsorship, wartime and peacetime, dark ages and golden ages – all these things, plus innovations and inventions related to the copying of MSS, drastically changed the circumstances in which the text was transmitted, and while all text-types were affected by them, they were not all affected to

the same extent, as a review of history will show.16 Greek fell into relative disuse in Western Europe; Constantinople became the center of eastern Greek-speaking Christendom; Islamic conquests squelched the vitality of the transmission-streams in regions where Islamic rule was imposed; copyists in or near Constantinople invented more efficient ways to copy the text. Such historical events completely invalidate results that are based on a transmission-model that assumes the non-existence of such disruptions.

11 – p. 20, The Text of the New Testament: “In its 657 printed pages the early Nestle differs from the new text in merely seven hundred passages.” This is comparable to the difference between the 25th and 27th editions of NTG, which differ in the Gospels at over 400 places.

12 – After the publication of Weiss’ Greek text, Nestle used it instead of Weymouth’s to arbitrate between the texts of Westcott & Hort and Tischendorf.

13 – p. xi-xii, Hodges & Farstad’s Introduction, 2nd ed.

14 – p. 282, § 369, Hort’s Introduction.

15 – Robinson’s essay serves as an appendix in the second edition of the Robinson-Pierpont text.

16 – As Kirsopp Lake wrote in his little book The Text of the New Testament, the ideal textual critic must possess “a complete knowledge of all the bypaths of Church history.”

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.

Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (part 2)



The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism


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

Competing Models of Transmission-History (continued)

In addition, discoveries about the texts in the papyri, in early versions, and in early parchment codices have contributed to the erosion of one of the most empirical aspects of Hort’s approach:  the proposal that conflations in the Byzantine Text demonstrate that it is later than the Alexandrian Text and the Western Text.  In 1897, Edward Miller objected that eight conflations cannot justify the rejection of the entire Byzantine Text.6 They may be comparable to recently minted coins dropped in an ancient well.

Dr. Walter Pickering, in Appendix D of his book The Identity of the New Testament Text, showed that an apparent conflation exists in ? at Jn. 13:24 (where the Alexandrian Text has ??? ????? ???? ???? ??? ?????, the Byzantine Text has ???????? ??? ?? ???, and ? has ???????? ??? ?? ??? ???? ?? ??????, ??? ????? ???? ???? ??? ?????).  A conflation appears to occur in B at Eph. 2:5 and at Col. 1:12 (where the Western Text has ?????????, the Byzantine Text has ??????????, and B has ????????? ??? ??????????).  In D, a conflation appears to occur at Acts 10:48 and John 5:37 (where the Alexandrian Text – supported by P75 – has ??????? ????????????, the Byzantine Text – supported by P66 – has ????? ????????????, and D has ??????? ????? ????????????), among other places.

The papyri have supplied direct evidence against Hort’s belief that apparent conflations imply that the text in which they are found must be late.  In P53, the text of Mt. 26:36 seems to read ?? ??, where the Byzantine text has ?? and the Alexandrian Text and Western Text have ??.  Papyrus 66 reads ?????? ??? ????? at Jn. 10:19 (agreeing with the Byzantine Text), where the Alexandrian Text has ?????? ????? and

the Western Text has ?????? ???.  Similarly, P66 reads ????????? ??? ????? at Jn. 10:31 (again agreeing with the Byzantine Text), where the Alexandrian Text has ????????? ????? and the Western Text has ????????? ???.  The appearance of such readings in very early MSS forces the concession that they do not imply that the text in which they appear is late; instead, they prove that an early text can appear to include conflations.  Nevertheless some modern-day textual critics still appeal to Hort’s list of eight Byzantine conflations as if it demonstrated that the entire Byzantine Text was secondary.7

Ironically, as the papyri-discoveries destroyed Hort’s transmission-model, they also tended to exonerate Hort’s favored text of the Gospels, the Alexandrian Text, by demonstrating the high antiquity of the Alexandrian text of Luke and John.  Papyrus 75, in particular, possesses a remarkably high rate of agreement with B, showing that the Alexandrian Text of Luke and John was carefully preserved in the 200’s, and thus alleviating the suspicions of some earlier scholars that the Alexandrian Text was the result of editorial activity in the 200’s.

The correspondence between Papyrus 75 and Codex B was interpreted by some textual critics as a demonstration of the antiquity and superiority of the entire Alexandrian Text.  Kurt Aland compared the situation to sampling a jar of jelly or jam:  a mere spoonful is enough to show what is in the rest of the jar.8

However, although the agreement between P75 and B proves that the Alexandrian Text of Luke and John is not the result of scribal editing conducted in the 200’s, it did not prove that Alexandrian readings are not results of earlier scribal editing.  Theoretically, if the Western Text could develop in the period prior to the production of P75, so could the Alexandrian Text.  Papyrus 75 proved that the Alexandrian Text of Luke and John is very early; it did not prove that Alexandrian readings are not the result of very early editorial activity.9

Nor did P75 prove that the Byzantine Text is less ancient than the Alexandrian Text.  As a surviving example of a text used in Egypt in the early 200’s, P75 does not constitute evidence about text-forms used elsewhere.  The most significant evidence for the absence of the Byzantine Text prior to the 300’s is the lack of patristic testimony for its use, but this is largely an argument from silence.  The natural destructive effects of humid climates upon papyrus-material, allied with Roman persecutors who sought to destroy Christian literature, silenced a large proportion of the Christian communities of the first three centuries of Christendom.  According to Hort’s theories, when these communities adopted the Byzantine Text in the 300’s and 400’s, they embraced a new, imported text of the Gospels, setting aside whatever they had used previously.  A plausible alternative is that they simply continued to use their own local texts which consisted primarily of Byzantine readings.

The discovery of the papyri led some textual critics to advocate an undue emphasis upon the ages of witnesses, resulting in a lack of equity toward non-Egyptian variants.  Because the Egyptian climate allowed the preservation of papyrus, the oldest copies will almost always be copies from Egypt.  To favor the variant with the oldest attestation is, in many cases, to favor the variant in the manuscript that was stored in the gentlest climate.  But this is no more reasonable than favoring the variants of a manuscript because it was found closer to the equator than other manuscripts.  Certainly when two rival variants are evaluated, and the first is uniformly attested in early witnesses, while the second is only found in late witnesses, the case for the first one is enhanced.  But to assign values to witnesses according to their ages without considering factors such as climate is to introduce a lack of equity into one’s analysis.

The papyri-discoveries elicited another interesting development.  Pioneering scholars such as Griesbach had organized witnesses into three main groups – Western, Byzantine, and Alexandrian.  Each group, characterized by consistent patterns of readings, was considered a text-type, and MSS sharing those special patterns of readings were viewed as relatives of one another.  (Hort had divided the Alexandrian group into two text-types, calling its earlier stratum the “Neutral” text, supported by ? B.)  Following analysis by Kirsopp Lake, the Caesarean text of the Gospels was added.  But the evidence from the papyri indicates that even in a single locale (Egypt), the text existed in forms other than those four.

One example is Papyrus 45, a fragmentary copy of the Gospels and Acts from the early 200’s (or slightly earlier).  In Mark 7:25-37, when P45 disagrees with either B or the Byzantine Text or both, P45 agrees with B 22% of the time, it agrees with the Byzantine Text 30% of the time, and 48% of the time it disagrees with them both.  Such departures from the usual profiles of text-types has led some textual critics to reconsider the existence of early text-types, arguing instead that the text in the 100’s and 200’s was in a state of fluctuation.10 A plausible alternative is that some of the papyri attest to the existence of some text-types which became extinct, without implying that the Western, Byzantine, and Caesarean text-types did not exist prior to the 300’s.

6 – See Miller’s comments about conflation in The Oxford Debate and the general assent given to them by his fellow debaters, including William Sanday.

7 – For example, Dr. Dan Wallace, in his 2010 online essay The Conspiracy Behind the New Bible Translations.

8 – See p. 58 of Aland & Aland’s The Text of the New Testament, English translation by Errol Rhodes.

9 – Bruce Metzger granted that most scholars “are still inclined to regard the Alexandrian text as on the whole the best ancient recension,” on p. 216, The Text of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (1992), emphasis added.

10 – The most famous textual critics to do so are Kurt and Barbara Aland, who proposed a new classification-system of MSS into Categories, listed by numbers, rather than by text-type names.

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.

Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (part 1)



The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism


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


The Danger of Circular Analysis

The textual criticism of the Gospels is a scientific task which has two goals.  The primary goal is the reconstruction of the text of each Gospel in its original form, that is, the form in which it was initially received by the church.  The secondary goal is the reconstruction of the transmission-history of the text.  In order to apply Hort’s axiom, “Knowledge of documents should precede final judgment upon readings,” these two goals should be pursued simultaneously.  The consideration of individual variant-units should never be completely detached from the question of the relative values, or weights, of the witnesses, or from the question of how groups of variants became characteristic readings of text-types.  Accurate text-critical judgments will assist in the estimation of the relative values of witnesses, and in the reconstruction of the text’s transmission-history.  Likewise, accurate assignments of relative value to the witnesses, combined with accurate reconstructions of the text’s transmission-history, will assist specific text-critical decisions.

However, the textual critic who proceeds on such grounds must vigilantly avoid circularity.  After observing, on analytical grounds, that certain witnesses seem to consistently contain the best readings, a textual critic might be tempted, from that point onward, to abandon the initial approach which led to that premise, and proceed to use the premise itself to justify a tendency to adopt the readings of those witnesses.  Similarly, a textual critic who notices that a group of witnesses tends to contain the worst readings might be tempted to reject the remainder of the testimony of that group of witnesses.  If a textual critic proceeds to build on both such premises, the premises will virtually determine the results of the rest of the analysis.

Competing Models of Transmission-History

The model of transmission-history adopted by a textual critic has a strong effect upon the values which a textual critic assigns to the testimony of groups, and therefore also upon the final evaluation of variants.  In this respect, the approach which I advocate – Equitable Eclecticism – resembles the approach used by Hort.  However, Equitable Eclecticism yields an archetype which is significantly different from the Revised Text produced by Westcott & Hort, and from the modern descendants of the Revised Text, chiefly the text of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.  This is because research and discoveries subsequent to Westcott & Hort have required the adoption of a transmission-model significantly different from the one used by Hort.

Hort, building on foundational premises developed by previous investigators, reasoned that the Byzantine Text was essentially the result of a recension consisting of variants drawn from MSS with Alexandrian or Western readings; Byzantine variants were derived from the Alexandrian Text, or the Western Text, or both, or, in some cases, came into being during the recension.  Hort therefore rejected all distinctive Byzantine variants.  After the dismissal of the Western Text as the result of scribal creativity, embellishment, and a general lack of discipline (with the exception of a smattering of readings), the Alexandrian Text remained as the only text-type which could possibly be regarded as the depository of the original text of the Gospels.

Hort’s endorsement of the Alexandrian Text was not absolute, but it was so strong that he openly stated that variants shared by the Alexandrian Text’s two flagship codices (B and ?) “should be accepted as the true readings until strong internal evidence is found to the contrary,” and “No readings of ?B can safely be rejected absolutely,”1 while “All distinctively Syrian” – that is, Byzantine – “readings must be at once rejected.”2

Such exceptional favor given to the Alexandrian Text, and such categorical rejection of Byzantine readings, were natural implications of Hort’s model of transmission-history in which the Western Text was derived from the Alexandrian Text, and the Byzantine Text was derived from both the Alexandrian Text and the Western Text.

However, Hort acknowledged that such a clear-cut genealogical model would be out of place if a transmission-model persistently involved readings which all had some clearly ancient attestation.3 This very thing was subsequently proposed by textual critics in the 1900’s.  Eminent scholars such as E. C. Colwell, G. D. Kilpatrick, and Kurt and Barbara Aland maintained, respectively, that “The overwhelming majority of readings,” “almost all variants,” and “practically all the substantive variants in the text of the New Testament” existed before the year 200.4 Nevertheless the Hortian text has not been overthrown.  Only slightly changed, it has become entrenched in NA-27 and UBS-4 as the primary, and nearly exclusive, Greek New Testament used in seminaries.

With the discovery and publication of Egyptian New Testament papyri in the 1900’s – beginning with Grenfell and Hunt’s work at Oxyrhynchus, and continuing to the present day – Hort’s  claim that the Alexandrian readings have a demonstrably greater antiquity than their rivals has eroded.  Harry A. Sturz collected and categorized dozens of distinctive Byzantine variants which were supported by at least one early papyri.5 Sturz’s data does not vindicate the entire Byzantine Text (and we should not necessarily expect papyri found in one locale to attest to readings in a text from other locales), but he persuasively demonstrated that Hort’s main reason for rejecting distinctive Byzantine readings was unsound.  According to Hort’s transmission-model, none of the early distinctive Byzantine readings listed by Sturz should exist.  The fact that they obviously did exist, even in papyri found in Egypt, demonstrated that the Byzantine Text may, at any given point, attest to an ancient distinctive reading.

~continued in part 2
1Introduction, p. 225, § 303. Although Hort used the terms “Neutral” and “Syrian” I have adopted the normal, less tinted nomenclature.
2Introduction, p. 119, § 169.
3Introduction, p. 286, § 373.
4 – As cited by James Ronald Royse in Scribal Habits in Early Papyri, p. 20, from Colwell’s Method in Establishing the Nature of Text-Types, p. 55, and Kilpatrick’s The Bodmer and Mississippi Collection, p. 42, and Aland & Aland’s The Text of the New Testament, p. 295.
5 – See the lists in Sturz’s 1984 book The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism.

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.