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.)