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  These principles are all superseded by Principle Zero:  no principle should be applied mechanically.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.

Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (part 4)

 

EQUITABLE ECLECTICISM

The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism

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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.

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

Author:
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)

 

EQUITABLE ECLECTICISM

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.

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Footnotes:
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.”

Author:
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.