Saturday, December 10, 2016

New Coptic Evidence for Mark 16:15-18

          If you’ve already carefully read Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20, then you may recall that in the list of patristic witnesses supporting the passage, there was one called The Enthronement of the Archangel Michael.  Even though this short book was composed before the year 600 – and is thus older than several other witnesses which are routinely cited when the subject of the ending of Mark is addressed – it is not mentioned in the lists of witnesses in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, nor in the Nestle-Aland compilation, nor in the notes in the New English Translation.  Bart Ehrman does not mention it in his descriptions of the evidence pertaining to the ending of Mark; nor did Bruce Metzger, his mentor, who authored the influential (but obsolete) A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.         
A page from a manuscript of
The Investiture of the Archangel Michael
          The tendency to ignore The Enthronement (also called the Investiture, or Institution) of the Archangel Michael – a tendency exhibited by almost all English-writing commentators on the Gospel of Mark – may now be remedied by the availability of an English translation by Anthony Alcock of the Sahidic text of this composition.  As Alin Suciu recently noted at his blog, The Investiture of the Archangel Michael was translated into several languages and dialects in ancient times but it was probably composed in an Egyptian language.       
          This implies that sometime before bishop John of Parallos (c. 540-620) wrote his criticism of heretical books, including objections against The Investiture of the Archangel Michael, someone in Egypt borrowed verbiage from Mark 16:15-18 when constructing the closing narrative of this text – and this implies, in turn, that at that time, copies of Mark were circulating in Egypt that contained verses 9-20 of chapter 16. 
          Because the composition-date for The Investiture of the Archangel Michael is centuries earlier than the production-dates of Armenian and Old Georgian manuscripts that are often mentioned by commentators as witnesses against the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20, The Investiture of the Archangel Michael should be mentioned in any future commentaries’ discussion of the ending of Mark that mention those versional copies, lest the authors risk being accused of cherry-picking the evidence deliberately as so many of their predecessors have done accidentally.   
          The author of The Investiture of the Archangel Michael covered a variety of topics, ranging from the rebellion of Satan (the story in this text resembles one that was known to Muhammad, and which is echoed in the Quran in surah 7:11-18) and the promotion of Michael to take Satan’s place, to the benefits of acts of piety done in the name of Jesus and Saint Michael, especially when they are done on the annual feast-day of the archangel Michael (the 12th of Hathor in the Coptic calendar).  Along the way, the author utilized Matthew 26:29, Acts 3:6 (with the variant “rise and walk”), and Matthew 13:16, as well as the Gospels’ narratives about the death of John the Baptist.  And in the 20th chapter, the author makes extensive use of Mark 16:15-18, depicting Jesus telling His apostles the following:
Another manuscript
of the Investiture text.
See the Morgan Library's website
for the full-color image.

“Now then, my disciples, go forth into the world and preach the four gospels and the sweet teaching that I told you when I was teaching. . . . . Everything you eat, pray over it first, because everything is purified by prayer.  Everything you embark on, pray first before you do it and preach the gospel to all creation.  The one who believes and receives baptism will not be slighted.  These signs will be revealed to those who believe.  They will cast out demons in my name.  They will speak other languages.  They will seize serpents in their hands.  Even if they drink poison, it will do them no harm.  They will place their hands on the sick, who will be healed.” 


          A clearer utilization of Mark 16:15-18 could hardly be asked for.  It should be noted that the text which the author used included the variant “in their hands,” showing that his text of Mark likewise contained this phrase at the beginning of Mark 16:18.  This little detail suggests that the author was using a form of the text of Mark that was indigenous (because this reading tends to be found in the Alexandrian form of Mark 16:18), not something newly arrived from a locale where the Byzantine Text was in use (because the Byzantine Text does not have “And in their hands” in Mark 16:18).
          Anthony Alcock is to be thanked for this new English translation of The Investiture of the Archangel Michael.  May the news of its existence be shared with, and by, future commentators!


  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Defend Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 This Christmas

          Are you looking for a Christmas present for someone who rejects, or is unsure about, Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11?  Do you know a preacher, seminary professor, student, or apologist who would enjoy spending a winter evening delving into detailed research involving manuscripts, patristic testimony, and internal evidence pertaining to the two most significant textual variants in the New Testament?
          If so, this Christmas may be the perfect time to provide your friends with resources to help them become thoroughly informed about these two passages.  A Fresh Analysis of John 7:53-8:11: With a Tour of the External Evidence is on sale now at Amazon – available as a Kindle e-book – for 99 cents.  The 2015 edition of Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20 is also on sale for 99 cents.  Previews of both books can be read at the Amazon website.  
          In A Fresh Analysis of John 7:53-8:11, I advocate the theory that in the early church, a specific passage was selected to be read annually on Pentecost, consisting of John 7:39-52, with John 8:12 attached to give the passage a positive concluding flourish, and the intervening verses (7:53-8:11) were skipped because they were considered thematically alien to the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church.  As a result, in a very early copy that was used in church-services by a lector (Scripture-reader), marks or notes were put in the margin, instructing the lector to skip from the end of John 7:52 to the beginning of John 8:12. This manuscript was then used by a copyist who was unfamiliar with the annual use of the text at Pentecost, and he interpreted the marks to mean that he, the copyist, should skip from the end of 7:52 to the beginning of 8:12, and that is exactly what he did, and thus the passage was lost in an influential transmission-line.  A substantial appendix at the end of A Fresh Analysis of John 7:53-8:11 describes major and minor witnesses for, and against, the passage.
          Here is a summary of the Table of Contents of A Fresh Analysis of John 7:53-8:11

PREFACE
EXTERNAL EVIDENCE:  
(1) Early Greek Manuscripts                                     
(2) Early Versions 
(3) Lectionaries                                                         
(4) Writings of the Early Church 
(5) Marks that Accompany John 7:53-8:11 or 8:3-11 in Some Copies 
(6) Notes About John 7:53-8:11 in Some Copies     
(7) Variations in the Location of the Passage   
(8) Augustine’s Theory of Excision

INTERNAL EVIDENCE:  
(1) Vocabulary                                                           
(2) Linguistic Style 
(3) The High Number of Variants in the Pericope Adulterae 
(4) The Continuity of John’s Narrative With or Without the Pericope Adulterae

FIVE MISCELLANEOUS CONCERNS 
CONCLUSION
Appendix:  A Tour of the External Evidence

          In Authentic:  The Case for Mark 16:9-20I advocate the theory that Mark was interrupted as he was writing Mark 16:8, and his colleagues finished the otherwise unfinished narrative by attaching a brief summary about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances that Mark had already written. Only after the narrative was thus completed did people begin to make copies of the Gospel of Mark for church-use. Thus, Mark 16:9-20 should be regarded as inspired, authoritative, canonical Scripture, just as the last two chapters of Proverbs are regarded as inspired, authoritative, canonical Scripture even though they were not added by the main author of Proverbs.  Along the way I demonstrate that many claims that have been spread by commentators and various other writers (including some Bible-footnote-writers) about this passage and the evidence pertaining to it are incorrect.
          Here is a summary of the Table of Contents of Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20:

PART ONE: EXTERNAL EVIDENCE:  
(1)  External Evidence from the 100’s 
(2)  External Evidence from the 200’s 
(3)  Chapter 3: External Evidence from the 300’s 
(4)  External Evidence from the 400’s 
(5)  Some External Evidence from the 500’s and Later 
(6)  External Evidence with the Double-Ending 
(7)  Lectionary Evidence 
(8) Phantom Evidence

PART TWO: INTERNAL EVIDENCE
(9)  “Ephobounto Gar”
(10)  The Vocabulary and Style of Mark 16:9-20
(11)  Evidence of the
Independence of Mark 16:9-20

PART THREE: PROPOSED SOLUTIONS
(12)  Four Theories about How the Ending was Lost
(13)  Why Mark 16:9-20 Was Excised in
Egypt
(14)  Closing Thoughts

APPENDICES
(1)  The End of Mark and the Synoptic Problem
(2)  A
Response to Dan Wallace’s Chapter in Perspectives on the Ending of Mark


          Also available at Amazon as Kindle e-books, and also 99 cents, are The Letter of James – Translation, Commentary, and Greek Text, and Assorted Essays on New Testament Textual Criticism.  Assorted Essays (though marred by typographical errors and font-glitches where some non-English terms occur) supplies two of my own essays and eight notable public-domain resources; here is its Table of Contents:
(1)  Equitable Eclecticism: The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism by James Snapp, Jr. (2010)
(2)  The Common Origin of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus by J. Rendel Harris (1893)
(3)  Selections from The Criticism of the New Testament (1902 – The St. Margaret Lectures)
(4)  Two Lectures on the Gospels by F. C. Burkitt (1901)
(5)  A Defense of “in the Prophets” in Mark 1:2 by James Snapp, Jr. (2010)
(6)  Selections from The Palaeography of Greek Papyri by Frederic G. Kenyon (1899)
(7)  Some Thoughts on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament by George Salmon (1897)
(8)  The Freer Gospels and Shenute of Atripe by Edgar Goodspeed (1909) 
(9)  Selections from Praxis in Manuscripts of the Greek Testament by Charles Sitterly (1898)
(10)  The 1897 Oxford Debate on N.T. Textual Criticism, in American English.

My response to Reza Aslan’s book Zealot is also available as an e-book, for $1.50 – Jesus: Zealous Savior of the World.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

James White and the Ecclesiastical Text - Part 2

          Today I am briefly wrapping up my consideration of James White’s recently expressed objections against the Ecclesiastical Text advocates’ approach to the text of the New Testament.  Among the most prominent of his objections in the second half of his video-lecture is the objection that the Ecclesiastical Text contains Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, and one of those two passages [39:17] “is not found in a manuscript prior to the fifth century.”  This objection has three (at least) problems:
          ● Heavy dependence upon early manuscripts contradicts the often-mentioned notion of an “embarrassment of riches” of New Testament manuscripts.  It involves the frequent rejection of the testimony of the vast majority of Greek manuscripts in favor of the testimony of only about a dozen Greek manuscripts (or less, depending on which passage is being addressed).   
          ● Heavy dependence upon early manuscripts sets the stage for a probability-based objection against the integrity of the text.  Suppose that we possessed a manuscript of chapters 1-10 of the Gospel of John that was produced in the 100’s.  If we gave this manuscript special weight due to its age, and reckoned that it contains ten unique readings that are original, then we could deduce that its non-extant pages probably also contained ten or eleven unique readings that were original.  And, if it is granted that there were ten (or 20 or 30) other manuscripts in the 100’s of equal importance which are no longer extant, then the loss of dozens and dozens of original readings may be extrapolated. 
          ● Heavy dependence upon early manuscripts unrealistically minimizes the input from ancient patristic sources, from versional sources, and from groups of manuscripts for which it is reasonable to assume an ancient line of descent.  In addition, because the early papyri have survived primarily due to the low-humidity climate of Egypt, heavy dependence upon early manuscripts effectively puts blinders on textual researchers, so that they focus on the text in Egypt, although there is no strong basis for the theory that the text in the manuscripts from Egypt in the 100’s-300’s was the same text being used in other locales.  

          When White referred to Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, he was guilty of cherry-picking the evidence that he chose to mention to his listeners, but in the interest of brevity I will move along to the rest of his comments about the Ecclesiastical Text, or Confessional Text, position.  At one point, he quoted a statement that said, “the doctrine of Scripture is being attacked by unbelieving academia,” and responded by asking, “What is ‘unbelieving academia’?”.   
          It’s a fair question – but perhaps White should answer it concretely rather than rhetorically.  By White’s standard of orthodoxy, were Roger Omanson and Bruce Metzger believers?  What about Stephan Pisano and Carlo Martini?  And what about David Trobisch, who is presently listed as a member of the Nestle-Aland compilation-committee and as a member of the secularist Center For Inquiry?  If White feels as if some criticisms are aimed in his direction, perhaps he should consider who he is standing beside, and consider whose compilation-work it is that he is defending.       
          White would argue, I suspect, that if a compilation is indeed the original text of the New Testament, it doesn’t matter if the devil himself endorses it, because its authority is inherent.  What White seems to fail to see is that Confessionalists believe this, too (at least the ones with the best case for their position).  They just also believe (as adherents to the Westminster Confession) that God has not inspired a Greek text that means one thing, and let His church collectively use a Greek text that frequently means something different, that is, a text that was impure. 
          What White calls a “poisoning the well” tactic is a logical implication of the Confessionalists’ belief that the Greek text of the New Testament has been kept pure in every age, because if the Greek text used in the Reformation-era is pure, then a text that frequently means something different is not pure, and therefore is not the original text.  Granting that manuscripts attesting to the Reformation-era text of the New Testament are lacking from the 100’s and 200’s, that need only mean that such manuscripts from those centuries have not survived, which one would not expect any manuscripts to do outside Egypt in light of those regions’ higher humidity-levels (and other factors such as waves of Roman persecution).
          In the late 300’s, a text-form closely resembling the Confessional Text (not perfectly identical to it, but resembling it rather than the Alexandrian Text) was in use in multiple locales – which is just what one would expect if (a) the Ecclesiastical Text very closely resembles the original text, and (b) the New Testament manuscripts spread “all across the known world,” as White states that they did.  We would see a relatively uniform text in use in multiple locales.  Yet White habitually rejects readings in the New Testament text that have widespread attestation, in favor of readings attested primarily in the local text of Egypt.
          Finally, White asserted that the Confessional Text position renders it impossible to resolve text-critical questions.  This is simply untrue.  Confessionalists resolve text-critical questions; they just do so in a way that White apparently does not consider valid.  Confessionalists take it on faith that the Greek text used in the Reformation-era means what the text of the autographs meant.  The acceptance of this premise reduces the amount of meaningful variation in the manuscript-record exponentially, so as to remove readings that are distinctly Alexandrian, Western, or Caesarean from contention if they yield a meaning that diverges from the meaning of the Confessional Text.        
          While this leaves some unanswered questions where two or more rival variants convey the same meaning, such points of instability are also present in the Nestle-Aland compilation, so if White were to insist that this is a small weakness in the Confessional Text position, it must be acknowledged that it is a much larger weakness in his own position, which favors a compilation that, after 100 years, remains provisional and tentative.  For example, the compilers of NA28 rejected a variant in Second Peter 2:18 that previous NA-compilers had regarded as “certain,” and in Second Peter 3:10, the NA28-compilers adopted a variant that is not attested in any Greek manuscript.
          White’s advocacy of the Nestle-Aland compilation means that he runs the risk that the Greek compilation that he regards as the original text today will be changed in the future by David Trobisch & Company, and the edition published tomorrow will say something that today’s edition does not say.   The Confessionists run no such risk.  While their approach is thoroughly unscientific, it is not difficult to see its theological appeal.    


Monday, November 21, 2016

James White and the Ecclesiastical Text - Part 1

          Recently, apologist James White (of Alpha & Omega Ministries) made some comments about the Ecclesiastical Text approach to the text of the New Testament in a video-lecture.  In this post I offer a response.  First, however, it is important to know what the Ecclesiastical Text approach is, and to an extent, that means knowing what the Ecclesiastical Text approach is not:  it is not a text-critical technique.  The text recognized as authoritative by advocates of the Ecclesiastical Text approach is not established primarily via the analysis of the relative strengths of external and internal evidence supportive of rival variants.  
Paragraph 8 of Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession (1646)
          Instead, Ecclesiastical Text advocates seek to establish the New Testament text via the application of the premise that the Greek text of the New Testament preserved by the church is pure and authoritative.  This premise is primarily dogmatic rather than scientific.  Because its fundamental premise is virtually identical to what is stated in the eighth paragraph of the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of 1646, and because the term “Ecclesiastical Text” has been treated in the past as a synonym for “Byzantine Text,” perhaps a more appropriate and more focused moniker for this approach would be “Confessional Text,” because it emanates from part of a formal creed.  I will take the liberty of using this term here, and the term “Confessionalists” for its advocates.
          By affirming that the Greek text of the New Testament has been kept pure in all ages by God’s singular care, Confessionalists greatly simplify the task of establishing the New Testament text, because if the text is pure in every age, it is also pure in any age, and thus what was used by the church in the age of early Protestantism (in the 1500’s and early 1600’s) sets a sufficient standard, if not for the exact form of the text regarded as authoritative, then at least for the authoritative meaning of the text.  Thus the text-critical enterprise facing Confessionalists is so small as to be almost trivial, consisting of decisions between rival variants which convey the meaning of the Greek text that was in use in the Reformation-period.
          Against that position, James White objects that if one is going to say that a text is established via church use, then one needs to ask, “Which church?”.  However, which church, before the Reformation, ever endorsed White’s favorite compilation – a Greek text without Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, Luke 22:43-44, Luke 23:35a, etc.?  A Confessionalist who advocated the Nestle-Aland compilation would be compelled to admit that if such a Greek text is pure, then the Greek pure text was used somewhere in Egypt for a few centuries but later, the churches everywhere else, and in all other centuries, used something else – but thus the Westminster Confession’s affirmation is denied, because such a Greek text is not attested to be in use by the church in all ages. 

(It seems to me that the person who wishes to uphold the Westminster Confession while advocating the Nestle-Aland compilation must reckon that whether one includes, or excludes, two 12-verse passages in the Gospels, and whether one includes, or excludes, over a dozen other one-verse or two-verse passages, and regardless of how one decides hundreds of variant-units involving contests between different phrases and different words, it all yields no meaningful effect on the purity of the text.  However, if one were to concede this point, then why insist on pursuing a technically exact form of the text at all, if it is granted that the text that is observed to have been used in the Reformation-era is pure?)

          When it comes down to it, James White believes that the decisive factor when considering whether or not a specific variant is authoritative Scripture is not a matter of which congregations used it, but is, instead, a matter of what was in the autographs before the church began to perpetuate their contents.  I concur with such a view – but I do not see how one can believe that, and believe that the Nestle-Aland compilation extremely closely resembles the original text, and believe that via God’s singular care and providence, the form of the Greek text of the New Testament has been kept pure in all ages.
          White’s preference for the Nestle-Aland compilation answers his Which church? question for him, because the Nestle-Aland compilation, at points where the Alexandrian Text disagrees with the Byzantine Text, is at least 98% Alexandrian.  A little over halfway through his video-lecture, White asserts that the individuals who made the early papyri did not have Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11in their manuscripts.  To those who are familiar with the testimony of the papyri, the problematic nature of White’s heavy dependence upon this assertion is demonstrated two ways:
          ● First:  if the papyri are to be given a decisive role, then why doesn’t White adopt their readings at the many points where they disagree with the Nestle-Aland compilation?  Is White willing to accept all of the readings found in P45, P46, P66, and P72 that disagree with the Nestle-Aland compilation?  Surely White, like any sane well-informed person, would answer “No,” because those papyri have so many singular readings.  So it is unrealistic to say, “We appeal to the papyrus court!” and think that this is sufficient; nobody considers the testimony of the early papyri, in and of itself, to be decisive.  Furthermore, to what early papyrus manuscript of Mark 16 is White referring?!  Surely he is aware that no such papyrus is extant. 
Bear in mind that Irenaeus quoted Mark 16:19,
and Jerome stated that the story about the
adulteress was found in many manuscripts,
both Greek and Latin.
          ● Second:  why does White treat the papyri as if their testimony echoes a variety of locales?  Or to put it another way:  how does White, or anyone, know what was at the end of Mark 16, or in John 7-8, in papyrus Gospels-manuscripts that were used outside of Egypt in the 100’s?  The early papyri are exclusively from Egypt. This is a mere side-effect of Egyptian low-humidity climate, which is especially friendly to papyrus-material. One might as well say, “Let us make our textual decisions on the basis of which manuscript experienced better weather,” or, “We should adopt the readings found in the best manuscripts, by which I mean, the ones which were made the farthest to the south.”
          By rejecting the testimony of other locales, White focuses on essentially one locale’s text – a text used in Egypt – to answer the “What church?” question.  His approach assigns a crucial role to the churches in Egypt, as if one cannot ascertain the original text without their input.  But we know next to nothing about the Egyptian congregations in 100-200, and even less about the historical connection between those congregations and these particular papyri. 
So:  if no one locale's text is decisive,
then why does the Nestle-Aland compilation
heavily favor Alexandrian readings
even when they stand virtually alone?
          This creates an apparent inconsistency with something that White says later in the video-lecture.  Although White says that the mechanism that God used to preserve His Word was the sudden spread of the text to multiple locales, so that the transmission of the text was never under the control of any one group, when it comes to deciding textual contests, White almost always favors the text from one particular locale, namely Egypt, thus introducing the exact opposite mechanism.  Although White claims to employ an eclectic approach to the evidence, he endorses a compilation which is, in the Gospels, Acts, and Pauline Epistles, 98% Alexandrian.
          Confessionalists believe that the Greek text used in the 1500’s is a sufficiently pure representation of the contents of the autographs.  White believes that a Greek text used in early congregations in Egypt fits that description.  It is generally easy (except where the Confessional Text contains readings for which there is minimal support, and which convey a different meaning than their rival or rivals) for Confessionalists to maintain their view that a text closely resembling the Confessional Text has been in use in all ages; they need only grant that there is a lack of evidence for the existence of that text’s use in the early centuries of Christendom (which is true about any New Testament text in the early centuries of Christianity in a lot of territory outside Egypt).  It is not so easy, however, to maintain that the Greek Alexandrian Text has been preserved in all ages in any reasonable sense, inasmuch as there is abundant evidence that a different Greek text – the Byzantine Text – was used instead, as attested by at least 85% of the extant Greek New Testament manuscripts.        

To be continued.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Kloha-Montgomery Debate - Final Thoughts

          John Warwick Montgomery, in his recent debate with Jeffrey Kloha, raised a concern that the thoroughgoing eclectic method tends to destabilize the text, risking the production of a “Designer New Testament.”  Montgomery criticized Kloha for stating, “We now have a text of the New Testament that makes no claim to being fixed and stable, for it is subject to continuous improvement and change.”  But anyone can read the introduction to the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland compilation and read a similar statement from the compilers themselves:  “This text is a working text (in the sense of the century-long Nestle tradition); it is not to be considered as definitive, but as a stimulus to further efforts toward defining and verifying the text of the New Testament.” 
          Kloha cannot be faulted for mentioning that parts of Novum Testamentum Graece are unstable, unless one is willing to imply that the editors of the NA-text are also at fault.  Montgomery acknowledged that thoroughgoing eclecticism “doesn’t differ greatly from reasonable eclecticism,” by which he meant to refer to reasoned eclecticism, the term which is used to describe the method of New Testament textual criticism that has yielded the base-texts of the ESV, HCSB, NLT, NIV, etc.  Montgomery may not realize it, but most of his objections apply to the Nestle-Aland-28 compilation too.  In the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland compilation, the text of First Corinthians differs from the 25th edition at 24 places (not including instances where brackets were either added or removed).  These are actual changes to the compilation.  So when Kloha recommends a few more changes, why is this a problem? 
          Similarly, compared to the text of NA-25, the compilers of NA-27 introduced ten changes into the text of the first five chapters of the Gospel of Luke.  Montgomery has raised no objection.  But when Kloha suggests one more change – “the main illustration” of why Montgomery considers thoroughgoing eclecticism problematic – Montgomery called it a threat to inerrancy.
          Montgomery and Kloha both want Christians to be able to read their New Testaments with confidence that they are reading the Word of God, not man-made corruptions.  The difference (or, the main difference) is that Montgomery recommends that when the external evidence overwhelming favors one variant against its rival variant(s), there is a simple way to settle the contest:  “Go to the best text, for goodness’ sake.”  But this is circular.  The best text is the correct text – the reading that is the same as the original text – and that is precisely the question:  at this particular point, which reading is the best?   It simply would not make sense to say, “To discover what is the best text of Luke 1:46, go to the best text of Luke 1:46.”  Yet that is the essence of the method that Montgomery seems to propose.
          The thoroughgoing method employed by Kloha may reveal points of instability in the text which reasoned eclecticism might not (because a reasoned eclecticism might not consider variants with very poor external support to be significant).  This raises a question:  how is a method that increases (however slightly) the number of uncertain or unstable points in the text consistent with the goal of increasing readers’ confidence that the text is the Word of God? 
          The answer is when thoroughgoing eclecticism favors readings which have very poor external support, or even no Greek manuscript-support at all (as in the case of Kloha’s suggested reading in Luke 1:46), the method invites uncertainty which future discoveries and future research might vindicate.  This is preferable to the alternative of feeling certain about specific readings that future research might show to be scribal corruptions.  Thoroughgoing eclecticism yields a loss of confidence at some specific points where other methods do not – but this is more than compensated for by the net gain in confidence for the rest of the text, where external and internal evidence interlock.
          The uncertainty that thoroughgoing eclecticism invites at specific points in the text has been occasionally vindicated, yielding a compilation that more accurately resembles the form of the original text.  For example, Erasmus suggested that the original text of James 4:15 was και ζήσομεν και ποιήσομεν even though the Greek manuscript evidence available to him supported και ζήσωμεν και ποιήσωμεν.  Subsequently, manuscripts became available that had the reading that Erasmus had suspected was correct, including Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Sinaiticus.  The Nestle-Aland compilation now reads και ζήσομεν και ποιήσομεν (although most Greek manuscripts read και ζήσωμεν και ποιήσωμεν).  Erasmus also suspected that the final phrase in John 10:26 in his manuscripts (“as I said to you”) was an interpolation.  The Nestle-Aland compilers agree, along with Papyrus 75, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus.
          Erasmus and/or Theodore Beza expressed several other suspicions, including the following:

● In Matthew 3:4, the original text might have referred to wild pears, αχκράδες, instead of ακρίδες, locusts.
● In Matthew 28:17, the original text, written in uncial lettering with no spaces between the words, might have said that the apostles did not doubt (ουδε εδιδασταν) rather than that some doubted (οι δε εδιδασταν).
● In First Corinthians 6:5, the Vulgate might echo the original text better than the Greek manuscripts.
● In James 1:11, the original text might have read πορίαις instead of πορείαις, because “in his abundance” fits the context better than “in his pursuits.”
● In James 4:2, instead of “You commit murder” (φονεύετε) Erasmus proposed that James wrote φθονειτε in light of the mention of jealous desires in verse 5.

          Similarly, Hort mentioned 60 New Testament passages where he suspected a “primitive corruption” had resulted in a scenario in which no extant manuscripts display the original text.  My point is not that all of these suspicions are justified; rather, it is that what Montgomery condemns in Kloha’s work as dangerous and reckless has been an aspect of New Testament textual criticism for over 400 years.

So:  Is The Text Plastic?
From one of Dr. Kloha's slides.

          Kloha stated in the debate that he regrets using the word “plastic,” even though that term fits the Nestle-Aland compilation at hundreds of points.  A better term is “uncertain,” helping readers understand that thoroughgoing eclectics do not aspire to creatively shape the text; their goal is reconstruction. 
          There is something in the King James Version’s preface, The Translators to the Reader, that is highly applicable here (though it was initially written about margin-notes that supplied alternative meanings, rather than alternative readings).  Referring to cases where a term (especially rare terms referring to plants and animals) could mean more than one thing:  “Fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, and if we will resolve, to resolve upon modesty with S. Augustine, (though not in this same case altogether, yet upon the same ground) Melius est dubitare de occultis, quam litigare de incertis, it is better to make doubt of those things which are secret, than to strive about those things that are uncertain.”  And:  “As it is a fault of incredulity, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no less than presumption.  They that are wise, had rather have their judgments at liberty in differences of readings, than to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.”
          A similar desire – that one’s judgment may be at liberty, where a contest between two rival variants is difficult to decide, and the textual critic is unsure if the original text is one or the other (or a conjecture) – means that when one affirms Biblical inerrancy, one will not be 100% certain about the form of the text that one is affirming to be inerrant.  But why should that be problematic, when we routinely grant that we are less than 100% certain about the meaning of the text, often even when its form is certain?  In addition, a compilation dogmatically affirmed to be 100% flawless (as some affirm about the Textus Receptus) is incapable of being refined by future discoveries and analysis, whereas a compilation compiled by the principles of thoroughgoing eclecticism, with resultant points of instability, is more readily refined so as to resemble more accurately the authoritative original text.
           Certainty about the original text is good.  Certainty that something that is not the original text is the original text is bad.  Injudicious use of thoroughgoing eclecticism (for example, inserting a reading with no Greek manuscript support into the text, as the compilers of NA28 have done in Second Peter 3:10) risks decreasing the former, but to prohibit thoroughgoing eclecticism would be to risk the latter.  I consider it better to allow textual critics to be free to support the readings of small minorities of witnesses (which is very frequently done by the compilers of NA28) and to suggest conjectures, rather than to treat “the best texts” as if they are always the best, even in specific cases where they may not be. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Kloha-Montgomery Debate - Some More Thoughts

          In the recent Kloha-Montgomery Debate, John Warwick Montgomery described thoroughgoing eclecticism as incompatible with the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.  What is thoroughgoing eclecticism?  Jeff Kloha, quoting J. Keith Elliott, described it as “the method that allows internal considerations for a reading’s originality to be given priority over documentary considerations.”  An illustrative example of thoroughgoing eclecticism in practice can be found in Kloha’s essay, Elizabeth’s Magnificat,” in the 2014 volume, Texts & Traditions:  Essays in Honour of J. Keith Elliott (beginning on page 200).
          In that essay, Kloha offers a cumulative case for the theory that the original text of Luke 1:46 had neither the name “Mary” nor “Elizabeth” but only “And said” (Και ειπεν).  This would imply, as I mentioned in the previous post, that (1) all the known Greek manuscripts of Luke contain a scribal corruption at this point, and (2) it was Elizabeth, rather than Mary, who spoke the Magnificat.
 
A page from Codex
Vercellensis (late 300's)
        
The external evidence that Kloha amasses, though sparse, has considerable weight.  In two copies of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book 4 (7:1), the Magnificat is attributed to Elizabeth, although in other copies, and in Book 3 (10:2), the Magnificat is assigned to Mary.  If these two copies accurately preserve the text of Irenaeus’ composition then they appear to echo the text of Luke 1:46 in Irenaeus’ text of Luke 1:46, at least in one manuscript known to him in the mid/late 100’s.  A few Old Latin manuscripts likewise support the presence of Elizabeth’s name in the text of Luke 1:46 – including Codex Vercellensis, a manuscript which, according to an ancient tradition, was made by (or under the supervision of) Eusebius of Vercelli in the 370’s.  (If that is so, then this witness is only slightly younger than the famous Codex Sinaiticus.) 
          In addition, in Jerome’s Latin translation of Origen’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke, we find this statement from Jerome embedded in the comments on Luke 1:46:  “In a certain number of manuscripts, we have discovered that blessed Mary is said to prophesy.  We are not unaware of the fact that, according to other copies of the Gospel, Elizabeth speaks these words in prophecy.”
          A little-known contemporary of Jerome named Nicetas of Remesiana (335-414), who read both Latin and Greek, and who was known for his hymn-writing, attributed the Magnificat to Elizabeth.    

          Montgomery argued, “The fact that these authorities are earlier than the authoritative Greek texts (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, early to mid 4th century) is hardly a strong argument for the Elizabeth attribution, since they are non-Greek versions/translations and contradict the Greek texts.”  Montgomery thus does three things:
(1)  he decides that in this case, an older witness should be given less weight than a younger witness,
(2)  he decides that a non-Greek witness should be given less weight than a Greek witness, and
(3)  he decides that patristic evidence is less important than manuscript evidence. 
          Via all three points, Montgomery employs internal evidence as the means by which to gauge the relative weight of the components of external evidence – that is, Montgomery is resorting to a consideration of internal factors even though he proposed that one should “only use the internal considerations where they’re absolutely necessary.”  Why should the second-century composition of a Greek-writer such as Irenaeus, be given less weight than two manuscripts produced 150 years later?  Why should Latin evidence be minimized, unless one can show that it was derived from some non-Greek source or was the result of mistranslation?  Why think that a Latin translator detoured from the meaning of his Greek text?  Why assume that the manuscripts used by a patristic writer in the late 300’s (Nicetas) would be less accurate than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus?  Why should manuscripts known to Jerome be considered lightweight? 
          Perhaps there are sound answers to all these questions – but to downplay them because they imply that “the Greek texts” contain a scribal corruption is to pretend as if our present situation (in which all the Greek manuscripts affirm that Mary spoke the Magnificat) is the same as the situation in the 300’s and 400’s.  However, the external evidence indicates that if we were to situate our perspective in the fourth century, we could not so easily settle the question via a cavalier appeal to “the Greek texts” because the Greek manuscripts at that time did not all agree in Luke 1:46.  We can either ignore this external evidence (as if disagreement with the Nestle-Aland compilation is a sufficient reason to consider a reading incorrect), or else we can analyze it and evaluate its possible implications.
          Dr. Kloha has taken the second option, in a somewhat tentative way, declaring at the outset of his essay that he was making a suggestion about the text of Luke 1:46.  He reaffirmed this at the debate, stating, when answering a question about his everyday treatment of Luke 1:46, that he never even brought up the text-critical question when teaching lessons from Luke chapters 1-2:  “My judgments by themselves,” he stated, “are not decisive.”     
         This is a longstanding conservative approach to conjectural emendations – Greek readings imagined by the textual critic, which the critic suspects to be original, but which are not extant in any manuscript.  Ever since the 1500’s, scholars have made calculated guesses about hypothetical readings which are capable of explaining extant rival readings, especially in passages where such hypothetical readings interlock well with the context.  For example, Erasmus suspected that the original text of James 4:2 might have said “you are jealous” (φθονειτε) instead of “you commit murder” (φονεύετε), in light of the reference to jealousy in 4:5.  (This theory seems to have been adopted by Luther when he made his German translation.) 
          Theodore Beza, similarly, was convinced that in Revelation 16:5, the original text referred to the “One who is, and who was, and shall be,” even though the final phrase is not found in Revelation 16:5 in any Greek manuscript (although it recurs elsewhere in Revelation, such as in 1:8).  Beza’s reasoning apparently was persuasive to the translators of the King James Version, for this conjectural reading is echoed in the KJV’s text of the verse. 

          One would think that Dr. Montgomery, having recommended that textual critics should “only use the internal considerations where they’re absolutely necessary,” would far prefer the conservative approach in which a textual critic may express some conjectural emendations, but does not put them in the printed text, instead deferring to the extant Greek manuscript evidence.  But no.  When observing that Kloha did not insist on advancing his theory about Luke 1:46 as more than a detailed suggestion, however plausible, Montgomery stated, “I find it absolutely disingenuous when you will not follow through on what you wrote in your own article.  If you believed in that article that the better reading, the better text, for the Magnificat, was Elizabeth, you have no business in the world just ignoring the problem now.”
          Suppose, however, that Dr. Kloha, or any textual critic, resolved to turn the Sunday School lesson-hour into a lecture about every textual variant-unit that he considered worth re-examining.  When would the actual lessons ever be taught?  Sunday-school lessons are Sunday-school lessons, and instructors who are aware of many textual issues routinely ignore them, to avoid needlessly throwing their students into the deep end, so to speak.  It is simply more efficient to reserve textual issues to venues specifically focused upon them, unless a specific question is raised.        
          Dr. Montgomery then continued:  “Or it may be, Dr. Kloha, that you give papers in non-confessional contexts that really work very well in those contexts, and then when you come to us, we get this litany of orthodox Lutheran fathers which is supposed to give the impression that the kind of work you’ve done is consistent with Biblical inerrancy.  It isn’t!  It isn’t!”
          At that point, it seems to me, shrill declaration usurped argument.  For not only was Kloha very clear from the first page of his essay that his suggestion is a suggestion, but it should also be perfectly obvious that his suggestion does not imply that Luke made any error.  Furthermore, it is contradictory for Montgomery to claim that Kloha’s suggestion is a grave danger to Biblical inerrancy, one moment, and the next moment, call the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland compilation “a good Greek New Testament.”  For what Kloha has only suggested, the Nestle-Aland compilers have implemented in Acts 16:12 and in Second Peter 3:10:  in both of these passages, a reading has been placed in the text which has no Greek manuscript support.
          Yet the Dr. Montgomery who called Dr. Kloha’s approach inconsistent with Biblical inerrancy is the same person who said that the variants between NA28 and the Textus Receptus are “not materially different from what you’re reading today.”  I remind the reader that those differences consist of over 1,000 translatable points, including the inclusion or exclusion of whole verses, in the Gospels alone.  Does it seen even-handed to observe a change in the printed text from “shall be burned up” to “shall not be found” in Second Peter 3:10, and a change from “Lord” to “Jesus” in Jude verse 5, and a change from “name” to “cause” in First Peter 4:16 (to give just three examples) and say that these differences in the text are “not materially different,” but when Dr. Kloha makes a suggestion about one word, he has done something “on the periphery,” something different than what the compilers of NA28 have done? 

One of Dr. Montgomery's slides.
(I have to agree that Dr. Kloha has indeed done something different:  he has suggested that a reading without Greek manuscript-support is original, while the compilers of NA28 have not merely suggested such a reading; they have inserted such a reading into the text!  Yet Dr. Montgomery looks at Dr. Kloha’s suggestion and concludes that his approach is too subjective and has the consequence of rendering Biblical inerrancy impossible, and then he looks at the work of the compilers at Muenster and says that they seem to be moving toward a more objective approach, “and this is all to the good.” ?!?!) 

It seems to me that nothing that Dr. Kloha wrote in his essay, or expressed at the debate, poses a problem for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.  I am not persuaded by his meticulously researched suggestion that there was no proper name in the original text of Luke 1:46, but if someone were persuaded by it, that person would not be obligated to declare Luke to be in error; it would only follow that copyists made a mistake.  
          There is, it seems, only one subject of the debate yet to address:  the question of the “plasticity” of the New Testament text.  God willing, that will be the subject of my next post.



Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Kloha-Montgomery Debate - Some Thoughts

          On October 15, John Warwick Montgomery and Jeffrey Kloha engaged in a debate about the theological implications of the text-critical method known as thoroughgoing eclecticism.  However, while Dr. Kloha seems to have intended to describe thoroughgoing eclecticism and explain how it is consistent with conservative Lutheran theology (including the doctrine of inerrancy, which Dr. Kloha specifically affirmed), Dr, Montgomery seems to have approached the debate with the goal of questioning Dr. Kloha’s role as a Lutheran professor, asking, “How realistic is it that someone with his biblical orientation teach future pastors of that church body?”
Dr. Jeffrey Kloha
(Concordia Seminary, St. Louis)
            Inasmuch as Kloha affirms the doctrine of inerrancy, and is, as far as I can tell, doctrinally a Lutheran’s Lutheran, what is it that caused Montgomery to accuse Kloha of promoting a text-critical approach that is “deadly,” and which poses “great dangers” for the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy”?  My impression is that Montgomery’s accusations are completely based on Montgomery’s misunderstanding of Kloha’s positions, Montgomery's misunderstanding of thoroughgoing eclecticism, and Montgomery's inaccurate ideas about text-critical praxis in general.      
            Montgomery’s misunderstanding of text-critical praxis in general is evident in the first of four recommendations that he made:  “Refuse to tolerate textual philosophies that employ internal (stylistic) criteria as the preferred standard for the choice of readings.”  At the debate, Montgomery insisted that he does not object to the utilization of internal evidence – as long as the external evidence is primary.  But one might as well say that one does not object to data as long as one does not analyze it. 
            Let’s take a closer look at two of Kloha’s treatments of the New Testament text which Montgomery found objectionable.  It is not easy to find actual critiques of Kloha’s work in the first six pages of Montgomery’s paper; there are multiple warnings, but not until page 7 do we get a glimpse of a sample of what is being warned against:
            ● Kloha rejects the Alexandrian reading of First Corinthians 7:33-34, which, Montgomery states, is “based on the foundational MSS P15 B P.”  Bruce Metzger, in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971), noted that the variant-unit at the beginning of I Cor. 7:34 had a “D” ranking – meaning that the United Bible Societies’ compilation-committee acknowledged “a very high degree of doubt concerning the reading selected for the text.”  When you observe that the compilers themselves harbor “a very high degree of doubt” about this passage, you might wonder why Montgomery has not accused them of falling into a methodological ditch, as he has accused Kloha.  Montgomery’s approach causes the copyist of Papyrus 46, and the copyists of over 95% of the Greek manuscripts of First Corinthians, to join Kloha in that ditch; they, too, do not have the same text of I Cor. 7:33-34 that is in the NA/UBS compilation.              
            Furthermore, when one consults these three “foundational MSS” in I Cor. 7:33-34 – as Kloha did in painstaking detail in his dissertation, reviewing not just one, or four, but eight Greek variant-units within these two verses – one observes that they disagree with each other in these two verses.  Codex B, for example, does not have the words τα του κοσμου (“of the world”).  So which one of these three disagreeing manuscripts does Montgomery consider “foundational” in this two-verse passage?  And how does he intend, I wonder, to make a case that its readings are “archetypal” without giving internal evidence a decisive role in his considerations? 
            ● Kloha advocates a view which, if accepted, would mean that “no pastor should preach I Corinthians 8:6 as if it were the Word of God,” or so Montgomery claimed.  In real life, however, Montgomery has misquoted and densely misunderstood Kloha’s statement (in his dissertation, Part Two, p. 717), “only after a highly-developed Trinitarian theology took hold could the addition at 8:6 have been made.”  Montgomery misquoted this sentence by replacing the word “at” with the word “of.”  Compounding his error, he then concluded (which he would never have done if he had carefully read Kloha’s comments about I Cor. 8:6 in the section in Part One that focuses upon the passage) that Kloha meant that I Cor. 8:6 is not an original part of the text.          
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery
          Montgomery then stated:  “It is clear that Kloha agrees here with Bart Ehrman:  “As Ehrman has argued, at least some passages of the NT manuscripts have been altered in light of the christological controversites with which the scribes presumably, would have been familiar.”  Montgomery also agrees with Ehrman, at least a little; he just did not realize it at the debate.  For the “addition at [not “of”] 8:6” refers to an interpolation, found in a handful of manuscripts, adding a reference to the Holy Spirit (και εν Πνευμα Αγιον εν ω τα παντα και ημεις εν αυτω).  Nobody, including Montgomery, regards this variant as part of the original text of First Corinthians 8:6.  Clearly, Montgomery is barking up the wrong tree.           
            But what about Kloha’s analysis of Luke 1:46?  Kloha has offered a text-critical case that the original text of Luke 1:46 had no proper name after “And said” (Και ειπεν), which would mean, (1) all the known Greek manuscripts of Luke contain a scribal corruption at this point, and (2) it was Elizabeth, rather than Mary, who spoke the Magnificat.  Somehow this single variant-unit became the focus of much of the Kloha-Montgomery debate.  I intend to take a closer look at that, and at thoroughgoing eclecticism, in my next post.