Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
An Introduction to Textual Criticism: Part 9--"Traditional Text" Positions: The Ecclesiastical Text
04/22/2008 - Colin Smith
The Ecclesiastical Text position could be considered, in essence, a variation on the Textus Receptus position described in the previous blog. However, while both agree upon the resulting textual tradition that must be appealed to as the authoritative text, the Ecclesiastical Text position arrives at that point in a very different way.
The main proponent of this position in recent times was Dr. Theodore P. Letis. Letis was a student of Dr. Edward F. Hills, also a staunch defender of the Textus Receptus, though on very different grounds from his protégé. Hills' works include The King James Version Defended! in which he argues that God has providentially preserved His Word in the Textus Receptus.
Dr. Letis' starting point was with the doctrine of verbal inspiration. He argues that the concept of an inerrant autograph was unknown to the Protestant Reformers and the later dogmaticians who wrote the great confessions of the church (e.g., the Westminster Confession of Faith). It is evident that these Protestant Dogmaticians favored a view of inspiration that placed inerrancy in the apographa, or the present, extant text, which for them would be the Textus Receptus. While early Princeton dogmaticians like Archibald Alexander could suggest that the autographs of Scripture may contain error (scribal, not doctrinal), Benjamin Warfield, a later Princetonian, adopted German text critical methodologies and introduced the concept of the inerrant autograph.
Letis suggests that Warfield's reason for turning away from the concept of an authoritative apograph was due to the fact that textual critics of the time were attempting to use the vast quantity of variants in the New Testament to undermine its authority. Instead of appealing to the voice of sixteenth and seventeenth century theologians, Warfield placed inerrancy in the non-extant autographs. This enabled him to engage the critics and perform critical analysis of the variants without assaulting the inerrant, authoritative Scriptures. However, Warfield's solution was, in Letis' view, inadequate, since it did not really address the issue of what the Scriptures originally said. And, indeed, as time progressed, those within text critical circles began to see that the pursuit of the original autograph might be in vain. For those who held to the apographa, it did not matter what the original text said, since the true and authoritative text was the one currently in the hands of the church: the Textus Receptus.
It is upon this basis that Letis builds his position. He believes that by surrendering the Sacred Text to the world for examination as if it were any other piece of literature, the church has forsaken her role as the guardian of the Holy Scriptures. In Letis' words, the Bible "has been lifted from its legitimate matrix within the bosom of the Church and has served countless students as a cadaver in the operating theatres of the world within the alien context of the Academy." The danger of this is that it desensitizes the student from appreciating the Bible as the sacred Word of God. The church alone provides the right context for the proper use of the Sacred Scriptures. The church, argues Letis, has always recognized that it is the "localized and extant edition" of the Scriptures that is the infallible Word, and it is this that should be retained at all costs.
Given that there are no two copies of the Textus Receptus that are identical, Letis acknowledges that text critical principles still need to be applied to arrive at the text to be considered as the authoritative text. Note that for Letis it is irrelevant which readings are "original," or even what the inspired author originally wrote. What Letis is trying to recover is the text that represents the last apographa--i.e., the text of the Protestant Dogmaticians: the Textus Receptus. In order to achieve this, he applies principles enunciated by Brevard Childs under the name of the "Canonical Approach."
As Letis and Childs explain it, the Canonical Approach appears relatively simple. There are two rules: first, the idea of an "original text" needs to be abandoned. Secondly, the reading that should be used is the one that became exegetically and hermeneutically sanctioned (i.e., canonized). Again, the emphasis is put upon continuous, recognized witness from the earliest church, through the Fathers, the versions, and so forth. Only texts that can demonstrate that kind of heritage can be considered a part of the Ecclesiastical Text.
In order to help the reader better grasp the way in which this approach to textual criticism works practically, Letis provides an entire chapter in his book The Ecclesiastical Text dedicated to the investigation of the notorious variant in John 1:18, monogenh.j qeo,j (monogenes theos). This is the reading as it stands in the Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek New Testament. However, there are two other prominent readings: o` monogenh.j qeo,j (ho monogenes theos), and o` monogenh.j ui`o,j (ho monogenes huios). While monogenh.j qeo,j and o` monogenh.j qeo,j are both found in early Egyptian manuscripts, the latter, o` monogenh.j qeo,j, is rejected on the basis of lack of patristic and versional support. The question then becomes which of monogenh.j qeo,j and o` monogenh.j ui`o,j is the correct reading. With regard to these two, Letis notes that both can trace their readings back to an early date, but while monogenh.j qeo,j is found among very early Syriac versions, the Latin, and other versions from a variety of places, o` monogenh.j qeo,j is found primarily in the writings of Valentinian Gnostics.
Letis goes on to demonstrate how the reading monogenh.j qeo,j would lend support to Gnostic interpretations of John's Prologue, and attempts to show that Gnostic Coptic manuscripts could have had influence upon the text of the extant Greek manuscripts of John from Egypt. In the end, he concludes that while monogenh.j qeo,j certainly has the support of the earliest evidence, because this early evidence is from the hands of Valentinian Gnostics, there is good chance that they altered the text to suit their theological needs. By the time of Nicea, he believes that the church in both her Eastern and Western expressions had rejected this reading to be sure that no Gnostic or Arian interpretations could be applied to this passage. According to the Canonical Approach, therefore, o` monogenh.j ui`o,j would stand as the correct reading at this point since it is clearly the reading accepted by the church.
Proponents of other text critical positions tend to see the Ecclesiastical Text view as simply either the Textus Receptus position, or a Majority Text/Byzantine-Priority text position, hence it does not appear to get much specific attention in works addressing textual criticism. This means that those who oppose the Ecclesiastical Text position rarely address some of its specific nuances. For this reason, I would like to offer some points for consideration.
First, from the perspective of the Christian scholar, there must be agreement with Dr. Letis that the text under review is nothing other than the sacred Word of God. As such, it must deserve the respect of the critic. This fact does not necessarily change the practice of textual criticism, but it should most certainly keep the scholar focused on the goal of his work: restoring God's Word in its fullness to His people. In light of this, should the scholar be most concerned about whether the text he reads is the text that was held by the Byzantine church through to the time of the Reformation, regardless of the accuracy of that text (presumably under the impression that the Eastern church was somehow exempt from heresy and error), or whether the text is as close as can possibly be discerned to the words God originally inspired? To suggest that, for example, the earliest readings of John 1:18 resulted from the influence of Valentinian heretics is to assume that such a reading can only be understood from a Gnostic mindset. Surely the same could be said of John 1:1? It is obvious even in our own day that passages of Scripture that plainly communicate Christian truth are perverted and distorted by cults and critics to say whatever they want them to say. Isn't it perhaps just as possible that the tradition reflected in Letis' text demonstrates a reaction to potential misunderstanding based on a faulty hermeneutic? There are plenty of examples in the extant manuscripts of "conjectural emendation," where the scribe has altered the text based purely on what he thought it ought to say, since the way it reads, to his mind, could be taken the wrong way. I am not suggesting this is certainly the case with John 1:18, but I submit that this scenario is at least as likely as the one Letis put forward.
Second, the question over the search for the autographa raises the issues of inspiration, authority, and one's doctrine of the church. Did God inspire the authors of Scripture, or did God inspire the church to produce His Word? Did God invest the original versions of the various books and letters that comprise the New Testament with divine authority, or did He invest that authority in whatever version of the Greek text the church of the Reformation decided was authoritative? Outside of a fiat ruling by the church based solely on tradition, upon what basis would the church determine that this one particular text is inspired? It is simply untrue to say that the original readings are not extant, and on that basis determine that a search for them is a search in vain. Since the Lord has been gracious to preserve such a host of witnesses to the text of the New Testament, there is a wealth of evidence available, and it is among the extant evidence that scholars can find the original readings. Modern textual scholars can pick up a critical edition of the Greek New Testament and know for certain that between the text and the apparati, he is looking at the Word of God as the Lord originally inspired it. The work of the textual critic is not to look outside of the text to see which readings the church has traditionally accepted. This is, I suggest, to invest in the church the kind of authority proposed by Roman Catholicism, and is hardly the mindset of a good Protestant! The text molds the church, not the other way round. Rather, the work of the textual critic is to use all the evidence the Lord has provided, both within history and within the manuscripts themselves, to determine which of the readings best reflects the text that God originally inspired. The fact that all manuscripts agree somewhere between 80-90% of the time demonstrates that the Lord has already given a firm foundation. But to trust that even the godliest of men throughout church history have infallibly preserved the text of the New Testament is, in the opinion of this writer, optimistic to the extreme. This is not a low view of the church, but a Biblical view of man.
Part 10: "Traditional Text" Positions: Byzantine Priority--coming soon...
A Reader's Hebrew Bible Release
04/20/2008 - Alan KurschnerZondervan has released its anticipated A Reader's Hebrew Bible, the counterpart to their New Testament Reader's Bible. I picked up my copy this past week and it is splendid. I will be replacing my BHS that I bring to church with this one since it gives glosses in the footnotes and other convenient features. Some of the most conspicuous features include:
- By eliminating the need to look up definitions, the footnotes allow the user to read the Hebrew and Aramaic text more quickly, focusing on parsing and grammatical issues.
- Complete text of the Hebrew and Aramaic Bible using the Westminster Leningrad Codex (4.4)
- Footnoted glosses of all Hebew words occuring one hundred times or less (twenty-five or less for Aramaic words)
- Stem-specific glosses for verb forms (Qal, Piel, Hiphil, and so forth)
- Glosses derived from HALOT and BDB.
- Ketib/Qere readings both noted in the text and differentiated appropriately.
- Proper names occurring one hundred times or less are printed in gray scale for immediate recognition.
And did I mention it is pretty? A handsome Italian Duo-Tone binding, and a nice large font size so you won't have to go blind reading Hebrew.
An Introduction to Textual Criticism: Part 8--"Traditional Text" Positions: Textus Receptus and Majority Text Only
04/19/2008 - Colin Smith
Textual scholars are unanimous in their agreement that textual criticism applied to the extant manuscripts is necessary if the original readings of the New Testament are ever to be fully recovered. Those who hold to the view that only the King James Version of the Bible is the normative text of the church cannot be considered among rational, textual scholars. This position posits a 17th century English version as the only infallible Word of God, and is, therefore, based more on tradition, misinformation, and conspiracy than on real scholarly textual research.
Precisely how textual criticism should be applied, particularly with regard to the types of evidence discussed previously, and which manuscripts should form the basis of the reconstructed New Testament are hotly disputed issues. There are two broad categories into which the diverging views can be placed: the "Traditional Text" views, and the "Eclectic" views. Within the Traditional Text views, there are those who hold to a Majority Text position, those who hold to the Textus Receptus, those who hold to an Ecclesiastical Text, and those who hold to Byzantine Priority. All of these essentially look to the manuscripts of the Byzantine family as the basis for the New Testament text. Their differences lie both in how they arrive at their final text, and in the reasoning behind their choice of this particular family. Within the Eclectic views, one finds those who are Thoroughgoing, and those who are Reasoned. The difference between them is in the degree to which the principles of Eclecticism are applied.
Traditional Text Positions
There are a variety of positions with regard to the Greek text behind the New Testament that can be identified by their common allegiance to the Byzantine text type. Of these positions, there are four that should be mentioned: the Textus Receptus position, the Majority Text position, the Ecclesiastical Text position, and the Byzantine-Priority position. In this article we shall examine the first two of these, leaving the others to subsequent articles.
Since the term Textus Receptus has been applied to a variety of Greek New Testament texts over the years, it could be legitimately asked, "which Textus Receptus?" For those who hold this position, the text in mind is the text of Erasmus and the Elzevirs--the text that was eventually used by the King James Bible translators. While it is of the Byzantine text family, this edition of the Textus Receptus is not representative of the entire Byzantine text type. Indeed, many advocates for other Traditional Text views distance themselves from the Textus Receptus due to its many variations from the majority of other Byzantine texts. Given that it includes Erasmus' translation of the last six verses of Revelation from Latin into Greek, and for the rest is based on a relatively small collection of manuscripts, there are some quite unique readings in the Textus Receptus that are not found elsewhere, even among other Byzantine manuscripts.
It appears that the main motivation behind promoting the Textus Receptus as the true Greek text behind the New Testament is theological. Often its supporters refer to it as the text of the Reformation, as if the integrity of the text is reliant upon the supposed use of the text by those great men of God who led the Protestant Reformation. However, Dr. James White in his book The King James Only Controversy clearly demonstrates that there is insufficient evidence that the Reformers specifically promoted the use of the Textus Receptus over and above other streams from the Byzantine family (see page 69). Hence, while this is an interesting position, it is not one that is widely held, especially among the majority of textual scholars.
As the name suggests, the basis of the Majority Text position is that the key factor for determining the original text of the New Testament should be quantity of manuscripts. Since the Byzantine text type is by far the majority report, and has been since the ninth century, it comes as no surprise that the Majority Text is a Byzantine family text.
While Dean Burgon could not strictly be classified as a Majority Text advocate, he clearly utilized similar argumentation when defending the Byzantine text against the Westcott and Hort text. He expressed amazement that out of 1,000 Greek manuscripts 995 copies of the New Testament that have been around for centuries would be considered untrustworthy, and the reliability of the text would be carried by a handful of manuscripts that were unknown to the church until relatively recently. Would the truth of the text of Scripture reside with a vast multitude of manuscripts that have a remarkable level of agreement, or with a handful of manuscripts that cannot agree with one another most of the time? Burgon was also very skeptical of the popular text critical principle that witnesses should be weighed not counted. He wondered if it is possible to weigh every codex, version, or church Father, or whether every critic is competent to perform such a task. Burgon insisted that number is a vital criterion for determining the originality of a reading. If number would make a difference in a jury vote, he argues, why not when determining the original text of the New Testament, especially when the manuscripts in question cover a broad range of geographical regions.
Modern advocates of the Majority Text position also use stemmatics, or a genealogical method of tracing a reading's textual history, to determine the antiquity of a particular text. Zane Hodges, the main proponent of this method, describes it as a method whereby "a valid stemma [has] the power to explain the descent of the readings in a natural way" (Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad, The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, p. xxv, quoted in Daniel Wallace, "Some Second Thoughts on the Majority Text," available on-line at http://www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/89c3.htm). The higher up the stemma a reading appears, the more likely it is to be original. Also, each stemma should be demonstrably the father of multiple readings, which appear only below the stemma.
Finally, proponents of the Majority Text position are apt to view their particular line of textual transmission as the only pure and, therefore, correct line. All other lines are considered unorthodox or heretical. Arguments based on a doctrine of divine preservation are often articulated to defend the idea that God has preserved this particular stream of the text, and this is evidenced by the vast quantity that still exists to this day. See, for example, the comments by Wilbur Pickering in his book, The Identity of the New Testament Text, as quoted by Daniel Wallace, "The Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical?" Bibliotheca Sacra 148 (April 1991): 152-158. This paper is also available online at http://www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/91B2.htm.
Part 9: "Traditional Text" Positions: The Ecclesiastical Text--coming soon...
An Introduction to Textual Criticism: Part 7--The Task of Textual Criticism: Weighing the Evidence
04/15/2008 - Colin Smith
When faced with the overwhelming task of evaluating the many New Testament manuscripts to determine the original reading of any passage, the textual critic must start with basic ground rules by which the various readings must be considered. These rules have developed over the last two hundred years, and are, more or less, adopted by textual scholars across the board. They take into consideration both internal factors (context and style, for example), and external factors (text type, age, and agreement with other versions or with early church fathers, for example). While textual scholars agree over the need for such canons, they differ over which canons should be use, or which carry the most weight.
There are three main factors that should be considered when assessing the external evidence for a reading. First, there is the date of the reading. This may not necessarily be the same as the date of the manuscript in which the reading is found. A manuscript might be relatively late, but contain a text that was copied from a very early manuscript. As Bruce Metzger notes, there are some late minuscule manuscripts that are now recognized as containing a text earlier than some of the later uncial texts. While the age of a reading is only one of many evidences that would contribute to its final assessment, a reading that cannot be traced back into the early days of the manuscript tradition is unlikely to be original.
We must be careful here because, as Dr. Maurice Robinson correctly points out, where there are only a few manuscripts, it makes sense that there will be fewer attestations to original readings. Hence, a lack of evidence for a reading in the earliest centuries of the manuscript tradition may simply be due to the lack of witnesses in that period of time (see Maurice Robinson's "The Case for Byzantine Priority," online paper available from http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol06/Robinson2001.html). However, there should be witnesses to that reading at a reasonably early date.
Second, consideration should be given to the geographical spread of the manuscripts that agree with a given reading or variant. If manuscripts from distant and diverse locations support a particular variant, that variant may have a greater claim to authenticity, since it is unlikely that these manuscripts could have been copied from one another. It is possible, however, that the manuscripts in question share a common ancestor, which would significantly diminish their claim to independent testimony.
Finally, the manuscript in question must be assessed in terms of its genealogy. Manuscripts that originate from the same source and maintain a close affinity to their sister documents need not be considered independently. The recognition of such family groupings can help the textual critic to reduce the number of manuscripts that need to be examined, and recognizing family traits in a manuscript can alert the critic to the nature of the text. Textual critics of different viewpoints may have a tendency to apply this principle according to their particular persuasions. For example, the identification of a manuscript as Byzantine might indicate to a scholar who favors Byzantine manuscripts that this is one to trust. However, that same identification might make a scholar who does not share this view of the Byzantine text family very wary of the manuscript--indeed, some might dismiss the manuscript out-of-hand on this basis alone. Naturally, this tendency should be guarded against most strongly.
Hort divided internal evidence into two main types, transcriptional and intrinsic. Transcriptional evidence pertains to the habits of scribes: things scribes were prone to do in the course of transcribing manuscripts. This would also include the kind of scribal errors discussed in a previous article, as well as more the more deliberate acts of copyists. Intrinsic evidence refers to the consideration of the author's style and the context in which he wrote: of all the possible variants, which is the author most likely to have written given his character, his style, his environment, and his background, as far as these things can be ascertained? Numerous rules have been proposed and refined over the years based on these considerations. What follows is a brief presentation of some of the more significant of these rules.
The chosen reading must be able to explain the existence of the variant readings.
There can hardly be any dispute that of all the internal principles, this one is of paramount importance. Variant readings did not appear out of nowhere; they all originated as a result of misreading, misunderstanding, or not liking the original word. The reading that can be shown to have given rise to all the variants is clearly the original reading.
Preference is given to the more difficult reading.
This principle is based on the assumption that a scribe would not normally substitute a common word for a rare word, or a clear reading for an obscure one. While this principle is usually true, and it is highly regarded amongst textual critics, it can be argued that the term "difficult" is often applied subjectively. For example, Acts 20:28 speaks of the church of God, "which He purchased through His own blood" (NASB). Many manuscripts however have "Lord" instead of "God." One might assume that "God" is the more difficult reading since this might imply that God (assuming this refers only to the Father) has blood, and that it was He and not the Son that died on the cross--the ancient heresy of patripassionism. In this instance "Lord" would be more acceptable since it implies Jesus, who certainly did shed His own blood for the church. The problem of using the principle of the most difficult reading here is that it assumes that "God" was a difficult reading for the original author. Yet, for the person who understands Trinitarian doctrine, and the way words are used by the New Testament authors as a whole, neither "God" nor "Lord" really presents any great theological difficulty. In the midst of the Christological debates of the third and fourth century, this passage may well have found itself thrust into the spotlight. Under these circumstances, the fact that this reading persisted, and that it did so in a variety of locations, would be of significance. But notice at this point that other factors are being brought to bear upon the reading (i.e., history and transmission) to test the theory. In other words, it is clear that this principle should not stand alone when used to give testimony to the veracity of a particular reading.
Maurice Robinson further qualifies this principle by recognizing that scribes often wrote nonsense, but other scribes rarely copied nonsense. Hence, a legitimate difficult reading would be copied into successive generations, but mere nonsense would not last beyond a few generations.
Preference is given to the reading that fits the style of the author.
Each New Testament author exhibits a distinctive writing style that is evident from words or phrases they seem to favor. This principle simply states that of a given number of variants, the original is most likely to be the one that fits the authors style. Those variants that use words or phrases that the author has not used either in this work, or in other extant writings, are probably not original. There is some controversy over this principle since, once again, it is open to subjectivism, and it is also reliant upon incomplete sources. For example, it is clear that Mark uses the phrase kai. euvqu,j (and immediately) very regularly; it is one of the stylistic traits of Mark's Gospel. However, this principle might appear to ignore the fact that Mark could well choose to vary his style. For some reason, he may want to deviate from using this phrase at a certain point, and it is just as possible that a later scribe changed the reading to kai. euvqu,j assuming that this should be the original reading. It can also be argued that since Mark's Gospel is the only evidence of Mark's writing style extant, it is impossible to be certain of his style. Once again, this principle should not be the sole determining factor for the originality of a reading, but it should be one of the factors that are considered.
Readings that are clear attempts at harmonization are to be rejected.
The emphasis here needs to be placed on clear. There is debate over the extent toward which scribes tended to harmonize passages. It is argued that harmonization occurred with such inconsistency that one should be careful when using this principle as a deciding factor. Some scholars may see the mere hint of a harmonization as a reason to discredit a reading. Such tendencies ought to be resisted, and only the most obvious harmonization should be rejected on the grounds of this principle.
Scribal habits must be considered when evaluating a reading.
This principle states that the textual critic needs to examine the scribe's style from the point of view of common scribal habits, such as transcriptional errors, harmonization, or expanding names out of piety. Included in this last category is the expansion of Jesus to Jesus Christ, or the Lord Jesus Christ. If the manuscript in question appears to reflect one or more of such phenomena regularly throughout the text, then it is possible that many, or all, of these readings are not original.
Part 8: "Traditional Text" Positions: Textus Receptus and Majority Text Only--coming soon...
An Introduction to Textual Criticism: Part 6--The Challenge to the Received Text
04/12/2008 - Colin SmithConstantin von Tischendorf was an industrious and prolific textual scholar. He expended much energy hunting out manuscripts, publishing more than any other scholar had before him, along with a number of editions of the Greek New Testament. His total number of publications exceeds 150, most of which relate to Biblical criticism. Tischendorf's life's ambition was to seek out the earliest Biblical manuscripts available, and with them reconstruct the original text of the New Testament--something he regarded as a sacred task. Between the first and second editions of his New Testament text, while visiting the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai, he noticed some parchment leaves in a wastebasket. When he examined them he recognized the text as coming from the Greek Septuagint written in an early uncial script. According to Tischendorf, these parchment leaves were to be used for lighting the monastery oven, though, as Dr. Daniel Wallace has suggested, this might just be Tischendorf's embellishment to make himself sound more of a rescuer than a thief. Tischendorf warned the monks that the parchment was too valuable to use for kindling, a warning he was to regret issuing when he returned a few years later to find the monks cautious and unwilling to disclose anything further about their manuscripts. When Tischendorf made a third visit to the monastery in 1859, he presented the steward with a copy of the Septuagint he had recently published. The steward remarked that they had something similar and brought him a manuscript covered in a red cloth. When Tischendorf examined the manuscript, he discovered it to be that manuscript he had been longing to see all this time. It contained most of the Old Testament, the entirety of the New Testament, and a couple of other early Christian writings previously known only either in a different language or by title. He spent the entire night examining it, and eventually, after much negotiation and diplomacy, managed to procure the codex for the Czar of Russia. After the Russian revolutions, the codex was sold to the British government and it resides to this day in the British Library. This codex, named Sinaiticus after the place where Tischendorf found it, was dated to the fourth century making it the earliest complete New Testament extant today.
Early manuscript finds like this led to the publication of Greek New Testaments by people such as Lachmann and Tregelles that were not dependent at all upon the Textus Receptus, but drew their evidence directly from these earlier manuscripts. In 1881, an edition of the Greek New Testament appeared that was, by far, the most significant edition of the Greek New Testament to date: The New Testament in the Original Greek, by Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. Unlike their predecessors in the field, Westcott and Hort did not collate manuscripts for this text. They used existing manuscripts, but refined their predecessors' critical methodology. The most significant contribution, and the one that was to have the most lasting effect was that Westcott and Hort gave scholarly, critical reasons for considering the so-called "Syrian" text (the text behind the Textus Receptus) a late and untrustworthy text. This position (and many of their arguments) has carried forward to this day, such that this is now the position of the majority of textual scholars. They also refined the identification of text types.
Griesbach had, at the end of the eighteenth century, divided the various New Testament manuscripts into five or six groups based on his study of the transmission of the New Testament text. He eventually reduced these groups to three, and named them according to what he believed to be their region of origin: Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine. Inasmuch as the manuscript in question contained readings similar to others in one of these groups, it was assigned to that group. Westcott and Hort broadly agreed with Griesbach's identifications except that they re-named the Byzantine group the "Syrian" text. They believed that the textual evidence demonstrated the Syrian text to be the latest of the text types, containing what they called a mixed text. That is, the text often contained readings of other types conflated together to produce a smooth text. They considered this to be evidence of the work of a later editorial hand (or hands) on the text, sometime around the fourth century. In light of this, they were convinced that there were no Byzantine manuscripts prior to the fourth century, and the textual evidence at that time supported this claim. They dismissed the Syrian text as more fitted for cursory perusal or recitation than for repeated and diligent study.
Along with the Syrian text, Westcott and Hort recognized the Western text, which, while an ancient and popular form of text, was characterized by paraphrase and a dangerous fondness for assimilating similar passages to destroy any meaningful differences between them. They also identified the Alexandrian text, which they considered to be one that is polished in style and more precise in syntax--hallmarks of revision to the text. Despite this, the Alexandrian text was thought to be early and an important witness to the original manuscripts.
The best text type, according to Westcott and Hort, was by far what they called the Neutral text. This text was the most free from later stylization, harmonization, or any other kind of editorial corruption. Hence, this text type is, by their estimation, the closest to the original text of the New Testament. For Westcott and Hort, Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Codex Vaticanus (B) are the best representatives of this text type; every reading of these codices was to be given weight and none rejected lightly. When Aleph and B agree on a reading, especially when they agree against the other text types, unless there is very strong internal evidence to suggest otherwise, Westcott and Hort said that reading must be accepted as original.
While Westcott and Hort contributed greatly to turning the tide of opinion against the Textus Receptus, the Textus Receptus was not without its defenders. Among those defenders, the most notable of this time was probably John William Burgon, Dean of Chichester. Metzger characterizes Burgon as a leading champion of lost causes and impossible beliefs, but it is wrong to dismiss Burgon lightly. He was certainly a scholar of the New Testament text and, unlike many who would take his position today, had a lot of first-hand experience examining the manuscripts in question. Burgon was not so much an advocate of the Textus Receptus as he was a critic of Westcott and Hort and a defender of the much-maligned Syrian text type. Contrary to Westcott and Hort, he considered this text type to be the "traditional" text and was not prepared to let Westcott and Hort cast aspersions on the text which, as he believed, was the text used by the church from the beginning, without a fight.
Burgon is often criticized for the belligerent nature of his argumentation, however one must bear in mind that he believed he was fighting, against growing popular opinion in favor of his opponents, for the preservation of the Word of God. The character of a man's scholarship and the weight of his arguments should not be lightly dismissed because of the emotive way in which he may feel obliged on occasion to express them. Besides, Burgon's work is not as full of this kind of pugnaciousness as some portray, and it is not nearly as vitriolic as some of his modern-day followers. There is a scholarship to his work that demands respect and attention, even by those who disagree with him most strongly. Along with Burgon opposing Westcott and Hort were F. H. A. Scrivener, who also rejected their dismissal of the Syrian text, and George Salmon, who believed that more consideration should be given to the Western text type.
Westcott and Hort's "Neutral" text was absorbed into the Alexandrian text by later scholars, and their Syrian text became more commonly referred to as the Byzantine text. Aside from this, their approach was largely adopted by the scholarly community, and the vast majority of Greek New Testaments published since their time have been based on their work. Their attitude towards Aleph and B has been modified by later scholars to account for the numerous significant finds of early New Testament manuscripts. Aleph and B still have pride of place, but their readings are not always so readily accepted in the face of earlier and better readings now available. As will be noted later, the hallmark of the position taken by most modern textual scholars is not one that holds to a couple of manuscripts regardless of the evidence, but rather one that is constantly informed by the facts of the evidence, and does not allow tradition and theological speculation to cloud the task at hand: the recovery of the original text of the New Testament.
Part 7: The Task of Textual Criticism: Weighing the Evidence--coming soon...
An Introduction to Textual Criticism: Part 5--The Received Text
04/08/2008 - Colin SmithThe first official (i.e., sanctioned by the Pope) printed Greek New Testament appeared as part of the Complutensian Polyglot, a multi-lingual, multi-volume work. Although it was planned as early as 1502, was complete by 1517, and received Papal sanction by 1520, it was not published until 1522. While the Polyglot was in the process of being finished and sanctioned, a Roman Catholic Dutch humanist scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, who, possibly with the encouragement of his publisher Johann Froben, produced an unofficial edition of the Greek New Testament in 1516. Erasmus' work was fraught with problems. It is possible that Froben knew of the impending publication of the Polyglot and hurried Erasmus to finish his work to beat it to publication. As a result, the work contained many typographical errors. If this were not enough, Erasmus was unable to locate any single complete New Testament manuscript upon which to base his text; hence he had to compile his text from several manuscripts. All of his manuscripts were relatively late (from the tenth to the twelfth century), and the only manuscript he had of Revelation was missing its last page, leaving him no alternative than to translate these six verses from Latin into Greek. Given the fact that study of Greek was still relatively new in the West, and that Erasmus had no other text to work from, it is not surprising that this bold move generated a number of words that are unknown in any other Greek text, let alone New Testament manuscript.
Erasmus published five editions of his Greek New Testament, the second of which was used by Martin Luther for his German translation. For the fourth edition, in recognition of the superior text contained in the Complutensian Polyglot (which had been published by that time), Erasmus made corrections in about ninety passages.
Although Erasmus' text was flawed, the fact that it was the first on the market, and that it was relatively inexpensive, secured its position as the text of the Greek New Testament for hundreds of years. While other editions followed at the hands of able scholars (Robert Estienne (Stephanus), Theodore Beza, and the Elzevir brothers who coined the term "Textus Receptus," or the "Received Text," as part of their marketing literature), they all to some extent reproduced the work of Erasmus. Indeed, to this day, when people refer to the Textus Receptus, or the "Received Text," they are invariably referring to Erasmus' work.
From the time of Stephanus' edition (1550) until 1881, Erasmus' text was refined and corrected according to manuscript finds from museums and libraries, quotations from the Early Church Fathers, and different language versions as they were available. Scholars also began the practice of making note of places where the published text varies from other manuscripts. Over time, these footnotes containing variant readings would evolve into elaborate apparati by which the armchair textual critic could evaluate the chosen readings for himself without having to examine hundreds of manuscripts. Modern editions of the Greek New Testament (such as the Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Societies texts) contain such apparati at the bottom of each page of text.
While the majority of the manuscripts in use up to 1881 were late miniscules, there were some notable codices available to scholars of the day. Theodore Beza had in his collection what has come to be known as Codex Bezae, a fifth century codex of which there are 415 pages extant containing the Gospels, Acts, and the Catholic Epistles in Greek along with a Latin translation. Also in Beza's possession was Codex Clarmontanus, of which 533 pages are extant. This is a sixth century codex containing the Pauline Epistles. While the value of these manuscripts is a matter of controversy today, they were probably superior to many others that were available to Beza. However, he chose not to make much use of them since they deviated too much from the standard text of the time. A reference to a manuscript made available by the Pope to the editors of the Complutensian Polyglot suggests that the famous (or infamous, depending on one's perspective) Codex Vaticanus was also known at that time.
During this period, some brave scholars actually departed from the Textus Receptus in their editions of the Greek New Testament. With an increase in manuscript discoveries, texts came to light from earlier periods that gave some scholars reason to question some of the previously accepted readings. These scholars were certainly a minority, and it took two events at the end of the nineteenth century to finally break the dominance of the Textus Receptus: the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, and the publication of Westcott and Hort's Greek New Testament.
Part 6: The Challenge to the Received Text--coming soon...