Monday, 8 December 2008

Marty Foord on Theology of Canon

My good friend, scholar, and all around good guy Martin Foord of Trinity Theological College, Perth Australia ( shared some thoughts and interacted with us Tyndale House Text and Canon members on the theology of Canon today.

The issue is how do we know which books should be in the Bible. Marty set the discussion in the context of polemics with Roman Catholics and those of the Orthodox faith who claim a different set of books than Protestants, and for different reasons. This is an important and difficult question. One of our members is from a Greek Orthodox tradition and is constantly having to defend herself against traditionalist in her country who perhaps even accuse her of being a heretic for denying Apocryphal books such as 1 and 2 Maccabees or Judith, etc. Thus, one must ask, How does a person properly argue for the 66 books?

Marty’s basic method in answering the question is to ask, “What does the Bible say about itself?” Sure, 2 Tim 3:16 says that the Bible is inspired, etc., but nowhere does the Bible say that these 39 Old Testament books are in, and these 27 New Testament books are in, but the others are out. However, Marty argues that the Bible does say some things about what books are authoritative and which are out.

Marty’s primary text is John 17 which speaks of Jesus sending the 12 into the world, and having been taught his word. This is bolstered by such passages as Eph 2:20 which refers to God’s household being built on a foundation laid by the apostles, and the passages in the Pauline letters which refer to Paul’s associates as his fellow apostles who co-author the letters.

This is strongly connected to the notion of apostolicity as the basis for what books should be in the canon. If an apostle wrote the book, Marty argued, it should be included in the canon since Jesus says that he has sent the apostles and given them his Word.

Marty seems to reject a closed-canon concept. He says that every generation should reconsider which books are in the canon. He suggested that should a lost letter of an apostle be found, we should, by all means, add it to the Bible, bringing us 67 books.

One of the tests of apostolicity of a book pending consideration is how well it fits with the other apostolic books. If it doesn’t fit what the apostles otherwise say, then it must not have been written by an apostle.

In regard to the Old Testament, Marty argued that since we don’t know the history of the development of the Old Testament Canon, then we should be content to accept the 39 books. When pressed if we should accept the 39 Old Testament books (and not the expanded list of the Catholics and Orthodox), Marty suggested that we must not follow the leading of the Judaism of late antiquity; Jesus condemned those religious leaders for their every evil word. Instead, we must accept the Old Testament which the apostles used.

There were many loose ends, and a number of questions seem obvious. First, I’m not entirely certain that John 17 has much to say about apostolicity. Second, we can only say that the author of Hebrews might have been closely associated with Timothy—but perhaps there is reason to think that Timothy may have lacked certain aspects of apostolic authority; and so we can only conclude that the author of Hebrews was a friend of someone who might have been an apostle. Third, I’m not sure that everything that every apostle ever said or wrote was inspired; maybe the lost Corinthian letter was not divinely preserved simply because God did not inspire it. Fourth, the criteria that an apostle’s writing must not conflict with other apostolic books ends up being circular; plus, what about all the “contradictions” in the Synoptic accounts—perhaps Luke should be out of the canon on the basis that the torn veil is a pre-mortem event while in Matt and Mark it is a post-mortem event? Fifth, the apostolic writings don’t confirm all 39 of the Old Testament books; for example, Esther and Ecclesiastes would be out.

Much more could be said. I’m not sure how all this works out. I am pretty happy with Marty’s assertion that canon is closely connected with apostolicity. I do, however, like the concept that over the first several centuries the church was led by the Spirit into a consensus of which books should be included. Unfortunately, this does make the Old Testament a bit trickier since the Apostles seemed to like the Septuagint text better than the Hebrew text, and by implication, would include the books of the Apocrypha.

Ultimately, we’re still struggling to work all this out. I don’t think we have any pat answers here. But Marty’s connection of canon to apostolicity is important, and he provided us with considerable stimulation. I look forward to future discussions.

Inerrancy, "Contradictions," and God's Perfect Text

My prior blog on inerrancy prompted a question regarding the two accounts of Jairus' daughter. Mark 5:23 has Jairus saying that his daughter was near death, whereas Matt 9:18 has him saying that she was dead. How then can the text be inerrant in the face of such blatant contradiction.

There are so many "contradictions" of this sort in the Gospels. My favourite is the ripping of the veil. In Matthew and Mark, it comes consequent to Jesus' death, while in Luke, it precipitates Jesus' death. In such cases, we moderns are prone to impose our concept of exactitude onto the text, as if the disciples set themselves staged on the two scenes with atomic clocks awaiting to see whether the veil ripped first or Jesus' death occurred first, with wireless walkie talkies to communicate the results.

But I think inerrancy allows for such inexactitudes. If you ask me what time it is, I respond, 8:15, when in fact it might be 8:17:04.

The case of Jairus' statement is a little different. Is Matthew allowed to telescope past Mark's detail of the process of Jairus first saying that his daughter was sick and then consequently being informed of her death? I think so. If I were telling the story and wanted to pare it down to its essentials while maintaining good literary form, would I be allowed to change Jairus' words in order to get to the main point that she was dead? I think so--at least by ancient standards. I think if you asked a first century Jew if Matthew or Mark were mistaken in their reports, I think they would say "No."

In the case of the disparities in the ripping of the veil, Matt and Mark's presentation emphasises a theology of judgment: Israel just killed God's Son, and judgment and destruction is consequently inevitable. In contrast, Luke's presentation emphasises the vindication of Jesus: Jesus cried, "Into your hands, I commit my spirit," and God opens the veil in order to welcome him into the heavenly Holy of Holies.

I'm not sure if there are any theological motivations behind Matt's presentation of the Jairus' story. He may have modified it for literary reasons. Matt constantly reduces Mark's story down to the essentials for literary effect. The process will inevitably produce the kinds of inconcinnities as we find in this pericope.

Ultimately, we must ask, "Is the text exactly the way that God wanted it to be?" By faith, I reply, "Yes."

Friday, 5 December 2008

Bart Ehrman and the Grace of Agnosticism

Having made the assertion in a previous blog that text critics are the nicest people in the world, I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen a couple of glaring exceptions, both involving panel book reviews at Society of Biblical Literature, and both involving Bart Ehrman.

The first exception was at SBL a couple of years ago. Larry Hurtado’s excellent volume on biblical manuscripts as the earliest artefacts of Christianity was presented for review by Prof. Ehrman and three others (Kim Eitzen-Haines and Anne-Marie Vanl.) Prof. Ehrman was perhaps more than forthright. Off the top of my head, I seem to recall that among the issues of contention was Prof. Hurtado’s presentation of evidence for the preferential status of writings which would later receive canonical status, as contrasted with writings which would later be deemed heretical. The vigorous exchange between the two good professors culminated in Ehrman’s explicit accusation that Hurtado was prejudiced by his prior theological commitments to historic Christianity, evoking Hurtado’s telling response that he was not the only panel member with prior theological commitments. This withheld statement screamed loudly the news that Ehrman’s recent publication, Misquoting Jesus was a shameless apologetic against historic Christianity, and precipitated Ehrman’s newest (2008) anti-apologetic work about how the Bible cannot explain the problem of pain.

I witnessed the second exception just last week at the annual SBL meeting in Boston. Again, the context was a panel review, this time of David Parker’s latest work on textual criticism Title. The panel featured perhaps five of the most recognised names in textual criticism: Eldon Epp, Ehrman, Hurtado, and Michael Holmes, and of course Prof. Parker. In this session, Prof. Ehrman was vitriolic and struck me as ungracious, if not outright vicious.

Before proceeding to Ehrman’s review, I should say something about Prof. Epp’s contribution. He briefly described the book, and then quickly moved to a point of contention he has with Prof. Parker. Prof. Parker seems entirely pleased to get beyond text types, but Prof. Epp doesn’t share such a dismissive perspective. He gave an excellent defence of text types, which he describes as being more like textual constellations. We look forward to reading his discussion of the topic in the coming year. Prof. Hurtado also reinforced Epp’s discussion.

After Prof. Epp’s paper, Prof. Ehrman proceeded to heap the highest praise on Prof. Parker, followed by what struck me as a concerted effort to be as insulting as possible. The primary point of substantial criticism was that the book fails to be an introductory text to our discipline, contrary to its subtitle. One gets the impression that if Prof. Parker had omitted the subtitle, Ehrman’s presentation would have been reduced down from 20 minutes to three or four. One or two others mentioned the same thing to me in private, but I found it interesting that instead of conceding the point, Prof. Parker took time in his response to embrace the notion that his book is indeed an introduction.

I should note that if the book is indeed to be read as an introduction, then Ehrman’s criticisms struck me as having the sound of truth in them. In this regard, I found Ehrman’s vitriol curious. At first, his comments seemed witty and good natured, evoking a number of chuckles throughout the large audience. However, after a string of such comments, their more sinister nature seemed in evidence. They seemed designed to ridicule and humiliate, and eventually, many in the audience realised that chuckling to these sorts of cheap shots was unbecoming of academia. Ehrman’s nasty as possible approach to critiquing this work was unnecessary. He could have graciously pointed to the weakness of referring to this volume as an “introduction” without trying to ridicule Parker as dithering and inept. Indeed, one or two of the other panellists mentioned the same criticism, but did so with respect and appreciation for Prof. Parker.

A good example of a stinging and crippling review with class and respect is Gordon Fee’s review of Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption. In this short review, Prof. Fee’s criticism of Ehrman’s work is entirely devastating. However, the destructiveness of Prof. Fee’s criticism is actually rather subtle; one needs to read it carefully to see its power. Most importantly, Fee seems pained to write such a devastating critique. His criticisms are not the sort which are “in your face.” One need not be insulting when critiquing another person’s research.

I was impressed with Prof. Parker’s gracious response toward Prof. Ehrman. I would have been tempted to ignore Ehrman’s critique in its entirety, and spent my time engaging with the other three panellists.

It seems that Prof. Ehrman is destined to continue to sit on future review panels in textual criticism sessions at SBL, simply because he draws a crowd. This may indeed be rather unfortunate. I was told by someone that at least one significant text critic with close professional ties to Prof. Ehrman was quite embarrassed by his performance. Rightly so, and for this reason, one would hope that future reviews will be more disciplined.

One scholar asked if such ungraciousness is simply typical of someone who has made a major paradigm shift from Evangelicalism to agnosticism. The question may be enlightening.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Rhetoric of Inerrancy

Some Evangelicals go out of their way to combat the term inerrancy. As I've said recently, I don't mind Evangelicals not using the term inerrancy, but I think it is problematic for Evangelicals to make the concerted effort to berate the usage of the term.

Usually, Evangelicals who berate the term inerrancy are quick to affirm the Bible as the Word of God. They might even affirm the Bible's "infallibility" (I can't really perceive much difference between the two terms) and "authoritative."

This being the case, their argument against "inerrancy" is problematic. They end up implying that the Bible has errors in it, and this is a problem for people who otherwise have such a high view of scripture.

SBL and Fellowship of the Guild

I attended the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature last week in Boston, and hope to make a few blog posts about it. This post contains some general comments about my experience of the guild.

Last year, SBL was at San Diego. One text critic who is not an American made a general comment last year about how militarised America is. Of course, he was generalising based upon his experience of San Diego which is a significant centre of military activity in the U.S. This year in Boston, I didn’t see a single military person in uniform. I suppose it is possible that Boston has largely been demilitarised since the days when its harbour was clogged with British warships and citizens were required to provide room and board for Redcoat soldiers.

One thing I’ve learned in the last several years is how gracious text critics are toward each other. There seems to be a genuine camaraderie and eagerness to fellowship with one another. I’ve especially been impressed with how accepting they’ve been of me as a very junior member of the guild. A number of senior members of our discipline have taken a genuine interest in my work and have said or written encouraging things to me. One senior member entrusted me with a paper he presented for the meeting, although he intends to publish it soon, just cautioning me about how I might cite it prior to its publication. Other significant members have seen my blog and gone out of the way to say nice things about it. Another member initiated a conversation with me on a particular issue and was very helpful in pointing out a basic misunderstanding I had of another text critic’s work.

One of my best experiences was on my first day of my first SBL annual meeting in Philadelphia in 2005. I had been out of academia for a dozen years or more and had been completely out of touch with my former associates at Regent College, and so I hardly knew anyone at the meeting. I sat down at a general orientation session coincidentally near a distinguished gentleman who kindly introduced himself to me, and we quickly discovered our mutual interest in text criticism . As it turns out, this was none other than James A. Royse whose chapter on scribal habits in the Holmes-Ehrman volume I had read before, but had forgotten his name. His gracious demeanour toward me is something I won’t ever forget.

Along these lines, I have to mention how text critic Amy Anderson encouraged me during this time. Amy teaches at North Central College in Minnesota and published an important work on a group of manuscripts known as family one. I read this work back in 2005 and zipped off a brief email to her thanking her for such a good quality work. At the time, I was in an interim pastoral ministry and was unsure of my next career move. She promptly replied and helped me see an avenue toward working on a PhD. An important element, she explained, was to attend SBL and to get to know some people. I checked into it, but the cost for non-students was so prohibitive that I simply could not afford to go, especially since I had just had a job change and was financially insecure.

Amy, however, was persistent. About a month before the meeting, she initiated another email exchange, urging that I attend SBL. She talked me into it, and this was one of the best decisions I’ve made. More than that, Amy drew me into her group of students and associates so that I was not a loner at the conference. She even included me in a lunch meeting with David Parker. I hope that I can honour her by having the same encouraging and generous spirit toward others in the years to come.

Since that time, I’ve been privileged to get to know most of the text critics who blog at Evangelical Textual Criticism. This is a special treat and has afforded me many opportunities for serious informal discussion of our guild. They are all very generous and tolerant of me even whenever I spout out stuff about which I know nothing (which is often). I always walk away better informed and feeling like I have an inside track on issues in the discipline.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Inerrancy, Authority and the Original Text

I had a good chat with a long time scholar friend who bristled at the term inerrancy. He does believe in the authority of the Bible, but argued that we should avoid the term inerrancy since we don't have the original manuscripts of the Bible.

But nonetheless, the Bible is authoritative, he assured me.

The problem with this line of argumentation is that it fails to understand that the text is something which is non-physical. The Word of God is "immaterial" and is merely reflected (more or less) in the various manuscripts of the New Testament, depending on the accuracy of the scribe and exemplars. We reconstruct the inerrant Word of God as best we can based upon these material witnesses. The physical manifestation of the text (i.e., the manuscripts) are patently not inerrant--they have errors in them; yet the ultimate reality of God's Word behind the physical manuscripts is perfect.

My friend would not accept this argument of mine, insisting that it is impractical to argue for the perfection of something which has no physicality. So I asked him what is it then that he thinks is "authoritative." He replied, "The Word of God." But I replied, "Do you mean the physical manuscripts, or the real text behind the physical manifestation of the text reflected in the manuscripts?"

This stumped him. Ultimately, if you can't have an inerrant text without the original manuscripts, neither can you have an authoritative text without the original manuscripts.

Of course, for myself, I have no problems with saying that the real text behind that which is physically manifested in the manuscripts is inerrant, and the fact that we don't have the original manuscripts doesn't impact this perception.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Silenced Women of Corinth: The Text Critical Solution

Here is my discussion of the Silenced Women of Corinth passage. As with most of my blog posts, I do not mean to imply that it is a scholarly masterpiece; most blog posts are written off the top of my head. In this case, the article was written for a church community, although it attempts to update the reader on the latest academic discussion--which is on-going.

If I were to re-write it, I would bring into the discussion a paper presented by Jeffrey Kloha at Society of Biblical Literature (Washington D.C., Nov, 2006), arguing that his examples of Western displacements--fragmentary as they are and hardly comparable to redactionary displacement of whole texts--do not make his case. But also, I would soften my own conclusions; perhaps I come across as too certain.

Information about recent developments in the debate is taken from Eldon Epp's Junia: The First Woman Apostle.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Free and Strict Transmission of the New Testament Text

The Alands express in the following paragraph their view that early scribes felt free to improve or paraphrase their texts, and that we have extant manuscripts to prove it:

"Until the beginning of the fourth century the text of the New Testament developed freely. It was a " living text," unlike the text of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was subject to strict controls because (in the oriental tradition) the consonantal text was holy. And the New Testament text continued to be a 'living text' as long as it remained a manuscript tradition.... They also felt themselves free to make corrections in the text, improving it by their own standards of correctness, whether grammatically, stylistically, or more substantively. This was all the more true of the early period, when the text had not yet attained canonical status, especially in the earliest period when Christians considered themselves filled with the Spirit. As a consequence the "Early text" was many-faceted, and each manuscript had its own peculiar character. This can be observed in such early papyri as p45, p46, p66, and so forth. The fact that this was not the normative practice has been proved by p75, which represents a strict text just as p52 of the period around A.D. 125 represents a normal text. It preserves the text of the original exemplar in a relatively faithful form... (69).

The bulk of the paragraph suggests a sceptical view of the transmission of the New Testament text in the early period--that we should be rather glum about the reliability of the New Testament text. However, it might be easy to overlook the penultimate sentence in which the Alands profess that not all manuscripts were so free in their transmission. Quite the contrary, there was a very careful, strict approach to the transmission of the biblical text in the earliest period and that this was "the normative practice."

Some would contest this assertion that strict transmission was the normative practice in the second and third centuries. This is the location of one of the great fronts in current textual criticism.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Text and Canon Papers at Evangelical Theological Society Meeting

This year's theme for the ETS annual meeting is Text and Canon. There are many papers being presented on the issue. I've listed some of them here which I plan to attend.

The ETS annual meeting will be held in Providence RI Wed Nov 19-21, just prior to the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Boston.


9:20 AM-10:00 AM

David Hutchison (Southwestern Baptist

Theological Seminary)

The Next Great Step in New Testament

Textual Criticism

10:10 AM-10:50 AM

John Wei-Ho Wu (Logos Evangelical


Authenticity of the Distinctively Byzantine

Shorter Reading

11:00 AM-11:40 AM

Andrew W. Pitts (McMaster Divinity


A Re-assessment of the Use of Variant-

Units in New Testament Textual Criticism:

Definitions and Boundaries

4:30 PM-5:10 PM

Michael Bird (Highland Theological


The Role of “Canon” in New Testament

Rhode Island Convention Center

Room 556 B


Panel Discussion of Three Views on

the New Testament Use of the Old


Moderator: Kenneth Berding (Talbot School

of Theology)

2:55 PM-3:15 PM

Jonathan Lunde (Talbot School of


Taxonomical Framework

3:15 PM-3:35 PM

Walter Kaiser Jr. (Gordon-Conwell

Theological Seminary)

Single Meaning, Unified Referents

3:35 PM-3:55 PM

Darrell L. Bock (Dallas Theological


Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts, and


3:55 PM-4:15 PM

Peter Enns (Westminster Theological


Fuller Meaning, Single Goal

4:15 PM-4:30 PM


4:30 PM-5:30 PM

Q&A Discussion

Westin Narragansett Ballroom A,

Ground Floor


THEME: New Testament Canon

2:50 PM-3:30 PM

Edward Stevens (International Preterist


The New Testament Canon Formed by

AD 70

Westin Narragansett Ballroom B,

Ground Floor


THEME: New Testament Text

3:40 PM-4:20 PM

Michael Pahl

Scripture and Tradition, Orality and Gospel:

A New Look at an Old Controversy

4:30 PM-5:10 PM

Mike Arcieri (Faculté de théologie

évangélique, Montreal, Quebec)

Complete Listing of All Variant Readings

between the Robinson-Pierpont 2nd ed.

and the Nestle-Aland 27th ed.

5:20 PM-6:00 PM

Richard Taylor (Dallas Theological


On the Use (and Abuse) of a Critical



Rhode Island Convention Center

Room 553 A/B


8:30 AM-9:10 AM

Dean Deppe (Calvin Theological Seminary)

Textual Alterations in the Gospels of the


9:20 AM-10:00 AM

Darrell L. Bock (Dallas Theological




Westin Waterplace Ballroom II,

2nd Floor


THEME: New Testament Text

8:30 AM-9:10 AM

Douglas Huffman (Northwestern College)

A Survey of TextCritical Issues in the

Book of Acts

10:10 AM-10:50 AM

James Sweeney (Immanuel Church)

Did the Gospel of Matthew Use an Early

Form of the Didache as a Source?

Westin Providence Ballroom IV,

3rd Floor


THEME: New Testament Text

8:30 AM-9:10 AM

Abidan Paul Shah (Southeastern Baptist

Theological Seminary)

Rewriting History: An Analysis and Evaluation

of Current Revisionist Approaches to

New Testament Textual Criticism and Their

Impact on New Testament Studies

9:20 AM-10:00 AM

Douglas Estes (Western Seminary—San


John versus the Canon: A Counterfactual

View of the Fourth Gospel

10:10 AM-10:50 AM

Jeff Cate (California Baptist University)

The Angry Jesus in Mark 1:41

Westin Waterplace Ballroom III,

2nd Floor


THEME: New Testament Text

8:30 AM-9:10 AM

Adam Messer (Dallas Theological


Unveiling Patristic Impressions: Theology

and Textual Corruption in Matthew 24:36

9:20 AM-10:00 AM

Timothy Ricchuiti (Dallas Theological


Tracking Thomas: A Text-Critical Look at

the Transmission of the Gospel of Thomas

10:10 AM-10:50 AM

Vern Poythress (Westminster Theological


The Interaction of General Knowledge and

Canon in Appreciating Biblical Narratives,

Illustrated with Luke 5:12-16

11:00 AM-11:40 AM

William Warren Jr. (New Orleans Baptist

Theological Seminary)

Canons, Copies, Communities, and Conflicts:

The Text of the New Testament in the

Second and Third Centuries

Westin Narragansett Ballroom C,

Ground Floor


THEME: Text & Canon

9:20 AM-10:00 AM

Jason Sexton (The University of St.


How Far Beyond Chicago?

Rhode Island Convention Center


12:50 PM-1:40 PM



Daniel B. Wallace (Dallas Theological


New Testament Text

Rhode Island Convention Center


1:40 PM-2:30 PM



Charles E. Hill (Reformed Theological


New Testament Canon


Westin Providence Ballroom II,

Third Floor




Moderator: Mike Kruger (Reformed

Theological Seminary)

2:50 PM-3:30 PM

Darrell L. Bock (Dallas Theological


Why Apocryphal Literature Matters for NT

Study: Relevance, Models, and Prospects

—A Look at the Influence of the New

School of Koester-Robinson

3:40 PM-4:20 PM

Charles E. Hill (Reformed Theological


From Codex to Loose-leaf Binder: Some

Recent Trends in Canon Criticism

4:30 PM-5:10 PM

Daniel B. Wallace (Dallas Theological


Recent Developments in NT Textual Criticism

and Why They Matter to Evangelicals

5:20 PM-6:00 PM

Stanley E. Porter (McMaster Divinity


Summary and Evaluation: Toward an Evangelical

Understanding of NT Canon, Textual

Criticism, and Apocryphal Literature


Westin Waterplace Ballroom III,

2nd Floor




9:10 AM-9:50 AM

Jang Ryul Lee (Edinburgh University,


The “Goodness” and “One-ness” of God: A

Study of the Saying in Mark 10:18, “No one

is Good except One, God”

10:00 AM-10:40 AM

Maurice Robinson (Southeastern Baptist

Theological Seminary)

Eclectic Observations regarding the Current

Critical Text


Hilton Providence Hotel

Rosemoor Ballroom North


THEME: Recent Evangelical Works on


Moderator: Leslie Robert Keylock (Evangelical

University and Seminary)

Part I: Recent Popular Works on the

Historical Jesus

9:10 AM-9:25 AM

Grant Osborne (Trinity Evangelical Divinity


Craig Evans’s Fabricating Jesus

9:25 AM-9:40 AM

Daniel B. Wallace (Dallas Theological


Ben Witherington’s What Have They Done

with Jesus?

9:40 AM-9:55 AM

David Turner (Grand Rapids Theological


Darrell Bock and Daniel Wallace’s Dethroning


9:55 AM-10:45 AM

Craig Evans, Ben Witherington III, and

Darrell L. Bock

Responses, Panel Discussion, Questions

Part II: Recent Works on the Life and

Teaching of Jesus

10:45 AM-11:00 AM

Eckhard Schnabel (Trinity Evangelical


Mark Strauss’s Four Portraits, One Jesus:


11:00 AM-11:15 AM

Mark Strauss (Bethel Theological Seminary,

San Diego)

Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd’s The Jesus


11:15 AM-11:30 AM

Graham Twelftree (Regent University)

Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld’s Recovering


11:30 AM-12:20 PM

Mark Strauss, Paul Eddy, and Thomas R.

Yoder Neufeld

Responses, Panel Discussion, Questions


Westin Washington Room, 3rd Floor


THEME: New Testament Canon

9:10 AM-9:50 AM

Alan Kam-Yau Chan (Chinese Christian

Union Church—North)

Canonical Effect of the Hebrew Bible upon

the Literary Formation of the Prologue in

the Gospel of Mark


10:50 AM-11:30 AM

Philip Miller (Dallas Theological Seminary)

The Least Orthodox Reading Is to Be

Preferred: A New Canon for New Testament

Textual Criticism?

11:40 AM-12:20 PM

Samuel Lamerson (Knox Seminary)

Mark 16, Again? Are the Vocabulary and

Syntax Really “Un-Markan”?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Dan Wallace and the Byzantine/Majority Text

Pete Williams interviewed Dan Wallace, text critic and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary ( One question which was asked pertained to the Byzantine/Majority Text Type.

Here's the question and comment from the interview:

PJW: You’ve been known for becoming involved in debates about the Majority Text. How would you explain origins of the Byzantine text?

DBW: That’s an excellent question. We don’t have enough concrete evidence to argue decisively about its roots, but the work of Kurt Aland, Gordon Fee, Bart Ehrman, Michael Holmes, and Tim Ralston has helped immeasurably.

Aland did some nice work showing that the first father to use the Byzantine text qua text was Asterius, one of Lucian’s students. Fee and Ehrman have shown that the Byzantine text just didn’t seem to exist anywhere prior to the fourth century, and that its earliest form is decidedly different from later forms. This also was the point of Tim Ralston’s doctoral dissertation at Dallas Seminary....

My best guess on the origins of the Byzantine text—a view that is constantly being shaped—is that it originated in the early fourth century as a consciously edited text, cannibalizing readings from earlier textforms, even to the point of almost obliterating any traces of one of those textforms (the Caesarean).

But then it took on a life of its own, developing into a growing text that had several sub-branches. Two major recensions were done on it, one in the ninth and one in the eleventh century.

Ironically, the text that Hodges and Farstad produced, and the one that Robinson and Pierpont produced, did not, in every respect, represent the majority until the fifteenth century.

Hort’s threefold argument against the Byzantine text is still a good argument that demonstrates the Byzantine text to be secondary, late, and inferior. Although there are a few leaks in the Hortian boat, it’s not enough to sink the ship.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Do Matthew and Luke Exemplify Early Scribal Activity?

One attempt to peer into the 150 year darkness between the composition of the Gospels and our earlier extant manuscripts asserts that the authors of Matthew and Luke viewed themselves as merely ordinary scribes reproducing their Marcan examplar, rather than redactors producing new gospels. This, of course, assumes the Synoptic theory that Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke "copied" Mark.

This attempt to peer into the darkness also assumes the earliest Christian scribes typically would not have reproduced their exemplars in a careful, exact manner, but rather would have felt free to elaborate and otherwise modify their texts to create something more befitting their own needs and circumstances. This extremely loose approach to the scribal task, according to this theory, has given us the two new Gospels of Matthew and Luke, not to mention the few gospel manuscripts which contain non-canonical stories and sayings.

Proponents of this view probably would attach many caveats to their theory and state things more cautiously. Perhaps they would suggest that the processes involved in producing Matthew and Luke are merely analogous to the freedom with which the earliest scribes perceived in reproducing the earliest Christian writings.

All of this stands opposed to the view that early scribes were very faithful to their exemplars and intended to reproduce them with exacting accuracy, although scribes also felt obliged to correct some readings against one or more other copies at their disposal. It also stands opposed to the notion that the authors of Matthew and Luke were self-consciously producing new and differing accounts of the Jesus story, each having its own unique theological emphases quite distinct from Mark's Gospel.

This issue, then, is yet another issue to be addressed in the text and canon debate.

My PhD Proposal: Codex Schoyen 2650 (mae-2)

Versional specialist Tjitze Baarda (Free University, Amsterdam) wrote of the Schøyen codex that it "presents us with a most intriguing version of Matthew, and therefore it should be studied carefully to establish the place which it takes in textual history…. I entertain the hope that this enigmatic text will become the object of a careful investigation in the near future. It might be an appropriate research object for a dissertation of someone who is interested in the relation of the Greek text and the early translations of the New Testament in general and the Coptic versions in particular" (NT 46.3, p.306).

Codex Schøyen 2650, the recently discovered (1999) Coptic manuscript of Matthew's gospel, is extraordinary for its great antiquity (300-350 C.E.), and sensational for its unusual text which may differ from canonical Matthew. Its editor, the late Hans-Martin Schenke, claimed it reflects a Hebrew or Aramaic Matthew derived from a Greek Vorlage unlike any other extant manuscript. His conclusions would have a wide range of consequences for Matthean studies, including the formative development of the gospels.

Some of these conclusions were questioned on methodological grounds by Baarda. While Baarda emphasized that his criticisms could only speak to the small portion of text which he examined (Matt 17:1-9), he urged that a full review of the entire manuscript be undertaken.
Even if some of Schenke's conclusions go too far, ms. Schøyen 2650 remains a potentially important witness to the text of Matthew. The great antiquity of the codex gives it automatic significance. Further, it may reflect one of the earliest attempts to translate Matthew into Coptic, and give indication of the latitude a translator might deem appropriate. Moreover, the publication of ms. Schøyen 2650 necessitates reconsideration of the development of the Coptic versions. A thorough understanding of the Schøyen codex and the place of the Coptic versions will probably become increasingly critical as Egypt continues to be the primary source of new manuscript discoveries.

Therefore, I propose to analyze ms. Schøyen 2650 in the hopes that codicological, papyrological, and textual data will assist in explaining its unusual text and its role in transmission history. This analysis will be achieved by a comparison of ms. Schøyen 2650 with other Coptic versions and manuscripts, and with the translation dynamics of other early versions, with a particular sensitivity to textual variation in the whole manuscript tradition. Ultimately, the project will be designed to make ms. Schøyen 2650 and the Coptic versions more helpful in establishing the text of Matthew, and address implications regarding the formative history of Matthew's gospel.

The Text of Micah

I don't dabble much in Old Testament Textual Criticism--mostly because I don't know anything about it (except for Wurstein's The Text of the Old Testament which I read 15 years ago and don't remember anything I read.

OT text criticism is a different world altogether from NT textual criticism. Bruce Waltke, an evangelical Old Testament exegete, built his scholarly career after establishing himself as an Old Testament text critic. He did his Harvard PhD on the Samaritan Pentateuch. I studied under him, but never took any of his text criticism classes (same with Fee!).

I'm reading Waltke's commentary on Micah currently. Fantastic read. He lays out some basic text critical data. In the New Testament, we have 5500+ Greek manuscripts and about 15,000+ manuscripts of ancient versions. Nearly every verse of the New Testament shows some variation (mostly minor, but many major) in the tradition.

The situation is completely different in the Old Testament. For Micah, we get the Masoretic text letter for letter from a manuscript called the Leningrad Codex--it is rather late--dating to 1010 A.D. Hebrew manuscripts of Micah prior to this are few and far between. However, found in one of the Dead Sea Scroll caves (Cave 5) was a scroll of Micah now known as Mur 88 or Mur XII. It was written about the time of the Second Jewish Revolt (132 A.D.). Incredibly, as Waltke points out, "[It is] virtually identical with the [Masoretic text = Leningrad Codex = BHS]; its nine [!!!] variants from the 1600 words of [Micah] are incidental." Waltke then lists them--all of which are nothing but minutiae (sometimes less than a jot or tittle).

The other ancient sources which attest to the text of Micah are:
  1. 23 fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls cache, known as 1QpMic
  2. A disputed number of fragments which comprise the Dead Sea Scrolls document 4QpMic or 4Q168.
  3. Ancient citations of Micah in the Zadokite Documents
  4. Septuagint (the Greek translation of Micah--but the text form is different from Masoretic text type)
  5. A Greek translation--Kaige-Theodotian--closer to the Masoretic text type
  6. Aquila's Greek translation (c. 130 AD)--even closer to the Masoretic text
  7. Syriac
  8. Old Latin
  9. Latin Vulgate
  10. Aramaic targums

As can be surmised, our attestation for Micah is extremely thin compared to any New Testament writing--although the Dead Sea Scrolls date earlier than any of our New Testament manuscripts. But what is amazing is how well preserved the Masoretic text is when compared between the 130 A.D. Qumran manuscript and the 11th century Codex Leningrad.

Developments in Textual Criticism and the Münster Colloquium

25 years ago, people were writing articles about the death of textual criticism, as if everything that could be said about the field had already been said.

Now, we are experiencing some important developments in various aspects of the field. Specifically, we are facing a major attack on the reliability of the transmission of the text, as well as a new method behind the publication of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament text.

Last week, the Institute for New Testament Text Formation Research (INTF) held a major colloquium in which about 55 of the very best text critics were present. If you care to know, I'm talking about people such as Eldon Epp, Larry Hurtado, Barbara Aland and all the Münster people, David Parker and the Birmingham [England] people, the Tyndale House people, Dan Wallace, Bill Warren, Tjitze Baarda and the Amsterdam people, Joel DeLobel, Paul Foster, David Trobisch, Maurice Robinson, Michael Holmes.) No, Bart didn't come.

I was the junior-most member present. I was entirely star-struck, but all the legends of the field were so gracious and warm and welcoming. We all stayed at a hotel which had a couple of lounges which were conducive to sitting down and chatting over coffee, even to the late hours of the evening. We had our meals together too. These personable conversations were so good that the conference was worth attending even if you didn't attend any of the sessions.

Early on, it became obvious that a good number of people think that the transmission of the text from about 80 C.E. to 170 C.E. was so wild and erratic that we will never be able to backtrack from our oldest manuscripts (late second to early third century) to the "original" text.

My PhD project focuses on this particular issue as it is reflected in one particular "wild" manuscript which is one of the oldest manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel.

The other major issue is the new method for assessing textual variation being used by the INTF which produces the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament text. This is THE critical text which serves (more or less) as the basis for all our recent translations of the New Testament, as well as most commentaries.

INTF has developed a computer program which charts the relatedness of a given textual variant to other variants in the same variant unit. They call it the Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), although some people are simply calling it the Münster method. The method is probably too complex for me to understand, let alone explain. In fact, one of the concerns is that so few outsiders understand it well enough to be able to critique it. Nonetheless, the Nestle-Aland 28th ed will be corrected against it in the Catholic Epistles (i.e., James-3 John) when it comes out in 2010.

An interesting result of the Münster method is that it is finding more and more individual Byzantine readings to be more plausible. This accords well with the general flow of textual criticism over the last 20 or 30 years. I should hasten to say that this does nothing to help out the theory of the priority of the Byzantine text, but simply reinforces the notion that one cannot dismiss a reading simply because it is Byzantine.

One would have thought that Maurice Robinson--one of the world's only Byzantine priortists--would have been pleased to hear that the Münster method was pushing for more Byzantine readings. I talked to him about the issue on several times. Prof. Robinson has to be one of the very nicest, most engaging, and most interesting personas in all of textual criticism.

If I understood him correctly, Prof. Robinson says that he has read every article written by Gerd Mink (the brains behind the Münster Method) whether in German or in English. While many were hesitant to accept the method on the basis that they really didn’t understand it, Prof. Robinson was stating that he opposed the method precisely because he did understand it. He claimed that if he were to feed his presuppositions into the computer’s programming, the Münster method would spit out a Byzantine Priority schema.

To be sure, Prof. Robinson often has a way of seeing the otherwise overlooked elephant in the room. However, condemnation from one corner of the room probably is not enough to dismiss the Münster method. It will be interesting to see how people like Dan Wallace (Dallas Seminary), Bill Warren (New Orleans Baptist Seminary), the Tyndale House people, and Epp and Holmes react to it in the coming years. David Parker and Birmingham seem to be solidly behind the method.

One wonders if all this will lead to a competing edition of the Greek New Testament.

For a more robust review and discussion of the colloquium, go here and to the blog posts prior to it:

For Münster's own introduction to CBGM, go here:

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Not Your Father's Textual Criticism

Eldon J. Epp, in his inaugural address as president of the Society of Biblical Literature (Nov, 2003), highlighted the new era of textual criticism which now opens up all kinds of problematic areas, but especially the controversial issues of canonicity and the state of the biblical text during the first two or three hundred years in which we have extremely few extant manuscripts. He writes,

"Our discipline, to be sure, has its technical aspects, but it remains primarily an art, and therefore it is for neither the perfunctory, nor the inflexible, nor the unimaginative, nor the tender-minded; and above all it is not the safe harbor that for so long and by so many it has been perceived to be. And "this"--as the saying goes--"is not your father's" textual criticism, but an entrance into a brave new world, with provocative challenges and captivating promises!"

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Inspiration and Authority and the Case of the Adulterous Woman Pericope

William O. Walker who is nearly on the verge of interpolating the Apostle Paul out of existence altogether (Interpolations in the Pauline Letters) concludes his book by saying something like, Just because Paul didn't write 1 Corinthians 13, or Romans 1:17-2:29, or 1 Cor 11:3-16 doesn't mean that it's not authoritative.

Indeed, Walker explicitly says that all of those many passages in the Pauline epistles which he thinks were not penned by Paul are nonetheless canonical and authoritative. Thus, for example, we might surmise that although he believes that Paul didn't write the silenced women passage (1 Cor 14:33-34), he still believes that we should obey the dictates of the spurious passage.

This is a remarkable take, and reflects an extreme view of "canonical criticism" (cf. Brevard Childs' approach to biblical interpretation) and effectively does away with textual criticism. Why bother with textual criticism if you're going to make everything authoritative, even if the original inspired writer didn't write it?

When first embarking on my studies in New Testament, I was naively swayed to take a similar view of canon. For example, I would argue that although John's Gospel did not originally include the story of the woman caught in adultery, it is nonetheless authoritative since it was in our canon of scripture. Way back then, I mentioned this to Gordon Fee once, and he quickly got me straightened out: if the original inspired author didn't write it, it doesn't belong in the canon.

But as I recently hashed out Walker's argument with a text critic, the issue of the Adulterous Woman pericope came back up, with a different twist. Again, most New Testament scholars would deny that this was an original part of John's Gospel. However, many of them would affirm that the story reflects a true historical incident.

Here's my point: If the story is a true historical event (and I think it probably is), then Jesus' teaching in the story is absolutely authoritative, even though it is not canonical. So, we may excise John 8 and the story of the adulterous woman from canon, but assuming its historicity, the irony is that since Jesus did indeed say, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone," we must obey his teaching, even if it is not the inspired word of God!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Textual Variation in the Divorce Passages

Text critics have always found lots of work to do in the Jesus sayings dealing with divorce. More recently, however, the difficulty of work has increased significantly, with serious ramifications for our traditional view of Canon. This comes as a result of David C. Parker's short book, The Living Text (1997).

Here is Eldon Epp's explanation of the issue:

"[Another] more poignant example in its relevance to anguishing life situations concerns the twenty-some [emphasis added] variants in the four passages on divorce/remarriage in the Synoptic Gospels. Parker's analysis of this complex array shows that some variants concern Jewish, others Roman provisions for divorce; some condemn divorce but not remarriage, while others prohibit remarriage but not divorce; some variants describe adultery as remarriage, others as divorce and remarriage, and others as marrying a divorced man; and some variants portray Jesus as pointing to the cruelty of divorcing one's wife--thereby treating her as if she were an adulteress, though she was not--perhaps with the outcome of establishing her right to remain single, yet without affirming that the divorcing man commits adultery. Some variants, therefore, are concerned with the man, others with the woman, and still others with both. Sometimes the divorcing man commits adultery, sometimes not; sometimes the divorced or divorcing woman commits adultery, sometimes she is made an adulteress, sometimes she commits adultery if she remarries, and finally, sometimes a man marrying a divorced woman commits adultery" ("The Oxyrhynchus New Testament Papyri: 'Not without honor except in their hometown'?" JBL 123 (2004) pp. 7-8 [cf. rpt in Perspectives on New Testament Textual Criticism: Collected Essays, 1962-2004, pp. 745-746]).

In this light, must we despair of ever finding out the original text in Matthew, Mark or Luke? I'm not sure what the answer is, but the task before us is much more complicated now than it was 20 or 50 years ago. In our present situation, not only are we dealing with the issue of the New Testament text, but also with the New Testament Canon. We're facing major issues which beg for a resolution so that we don't give up the discipline to despair.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Digging up Manuscripts without Getting Your Fingernails Dirty

It's really odd where you might find New Testament manuscripts.

Prof. Wallace told me earlier about discovering several manuscripts stashed away at a small town public library in Greece.

Today I found out about one of his manuscript discoveries at a...HIGH SCHOOL!!! Incredible.

Dr. Head told me today about an important complete New Testament (a witness to F13, i.e., family 13) housed in a county records office north of here about 100 miles.

While Gordon Fee was teaching at Gordon-Conwell near Boston, someone opened an old book in the library and found an uncatalogued Greek New Testament manuscript.

One text critic tells the story of a famous scholar in charge of one of the U.K.'s more prestigious universities. The staff were doing an annual inventory of the ancient manuscripts, but they couldn't find one important papyrus manuscript. None of them wanted to tell the head guy because he was known for his temper. So they looked, and looked again and again, searching everywhere for the papyrus.

Finally, they had to give up the search, and admit to the head guy face to face that they had lost the manuscript.

They went to his office and confessed to not being able to find it. The professor looked at them, and then a lightbulb went off in his head. He got up from his seat, went to the corner of the room, lifted up the corner of the carpet and picked the manuscript off the floor. (I guess the manuscript needed some flattening out.)

Monday, 18 August 2008

Photoshooting Tregelles

Dan Wallace of Dallas Thelogical Seminary is here at Tyndale House, Cambridge now. He founded an institution whose mission it is to photograph as many ancient biblical manuscripts as possible to make them available on the web. He's here to take pictures of manuscripts housed in the 100+ libraries in Cambridge and the university.

His Cambridge expedition, however, begins with a photo shoot of an 1860s print edition of a Greek New Testament, in particular, Tregelles' text. From my earlier postings, people might recall that our current critical edition of the Greek New Testament (i.e., Nestle Aland) is often said to be a "Hortian" text--of the famed Westcott and Hort. However, some have recently argued that the text behind the Nestle-Aland edition is more of a Tregellian text. Thus, Tregelles' Greek New Testament is being recognised as being more and more important. It is less extreme in its commitment toward Codex Vaticanus, and is a marginal step or two closer toward the Byzantine text.

The photoshoot is very complicated, requiring a four man team. It requires exacting work in various aspects. Prof. Wallace invited me to watch. I looked over his shoulder at his computer as the images lined up against a grid. He was kind enough to say things like, "Look at this, Jim," and "Check this out, Jim."

Interestingly, the copy of Tregelles' Greek New Testament belonged to perhaps the greatest evangelical biblical scholar of the 20th century, F.F. Bruce, and is now in the possession of Codex Sinaiticus scholar Dirk Jongkind, who is fellow here at Tyndale House. When the images are made available on the web, you will be able to turn the cover and see his handwritten name at the top of the first page.

Great work Dan! We are all your debt.

Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts