Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Pyromaniac Byzantine Scribes Destroying God's Word? Oh My!
05/28/2007 - Alan KurschnerIn a recent article, I explained the historical facts that before the fourth century there were no distinct Byzantine readings in any Greek MSS of the papyri, majuscules, and other versions as well that would give for us a suggestion or warrant that the Byzantine textual family (or text-type) existed during that time.
Further, the 800-pound gorilla is that there are no Byzantine texts, or distinct readings that would make an argument for such a text-type, used in the voluminous writings of any early church fathers for the first 300 years of church history! The Ante-Nicene fathers cited all the text-types, except the Byzantine. One response by KJVO advocates to this salient fact (which I responded in the article linked above) has been because the Byzantine manuscripts were highly valuable in the early church, they were “used so much that they wore out."
I have responded with asking if the Byzantine text was so "highly valuable that they wore out," then why do we find all of the early church fathers for 300 years using other texts such as the Alexandrian text-type, mix-types, etc., but absolutely no Byzantine texts? If the early orthodox fathers were not using Byzantine texts, then who were? Heterodox teachers and heretics? Who was using these phantom texts? There is no evidence that anyone possessed or used this phantom “popular” and “highly valued” Byzantine text because it was a conflation after the turn of the fourth century.
Rather than just accepting the prodigious historical reality that the Byzantine text did not exist for the first 300 years of church history, another explanation for the silence of Byzantine readings have been offered: After a scribe made a copy of a manuscript, he "destroyed" the exemplar.
Edward Hills argues that because we do not find in the extant manuscripts (with a few exceptions) a direct copy of each other, it must be the case that scribes would destroy the Biblical exemplar after the copy was made. And therefore they argue is the reason why we have no early extant Byzantine manuscripts.
This novel theory is fallacious on a number of levels:
1. This argument would have to assume that only one copy was made every time. This is simply absurd since we know that multiple copies were made from a single exemplar. Especially when you have six to twelve scribes copying from a single scribe reading from one exemplar. I'll let you do the math after multiple centuries of this activity.
2. Related to this last point, D.A. Carson says, "if only one copy were made before the exemplar was destroyed, there would never be more than one extant copy of the Greek New Testament!" (The King James Version Debate, p.48).
3. There is no historical documentation that substantiates this claim, let alone any valid motives that would make this a standard practice.
4. Besides no motives for such a practice, the economic cost for destroying manuscripts (and they were not cheap to produce) would have been an unimaginable thing to do.
5. Which scribes were "destroying" theses manuscripts? Certainly not the orthodox scribes and orthodox church fathers, since the early church used other text-types such as the Alexandrian for their Biblical commentaries, expounding on their orthodox theology, and liturgy.
6. What early Christian scribes would dare think about destroying God's Word given the following warning that would have haunted them, "and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book."
7. Carson asks the question, "Why are there no copies of the Byzantine text before about A.D. 350, and so many from there on? This anomaly, it might be argued, demonstratres that the practice of destroying the exemplar died out during the fourth century. However, neither Hills nor Fuller has argued this, as far as I know, perhaps because they realize Lake did most of his comparative study in this regard on post-fourth-century mansuscripts!" (Ibid., 48.)
8. Lastly, it is special pleading to argue that only scribes who copied Byzantine texts destroyed their texts, and the scribes who copied other non-Byzantine text-types did not, since they have early attestation. This is a most desperate attempt to assume the conclusion of what one is arguing for.
All of this brings us back to the 800-pound gorilla sitting on the KJVO's desk: There are no distinct Byzantine readings in the writings of the Ante-Nicene fathers for the first 300 years of church history that would make an argument for the existence of a Byzantine text-type, not to mention any early versions testifying to it as well.
This latter reason is explained historically in the emergence of the Byzantine text (what is roughly the basis behind the King James Version) as a conflation around the turn of the fourth century in the corner of the Byzantine region. And given the supplanting of the Greek language for Latin in the West, and the expansion of Islam, it explains why Byzantine Greek manuscripts continued to be copied in the Byzantine sector and eventually became the majority Greek text not until the ninth century onwards; and why the early Greek text-types such as the Alexandrian, which is the basis of modern superior translations, were not copied during later times in other areas of the Christian world.
*No manuscripts were hurt in the making of this blog post. Also, the Pyromaniacs have destroyed no manuscripts, Byzantine or other text-type, as far as anyone can prove.