Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Review of Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Porter and Pitts)

          Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts recently co-authored an introduction to New Testament textual criticism intended to serve as a “midlevel textbook” somewhat simpler than Metzger’s Text of the New Testament.  In less than 200 pages, their new book covers text-critical materials, methodologies, and related subjects.  Unfortunately it also contains much material with very little relevance to textual criticism, and it is littered with erroneous claims on even the most elementary points.  This renders it unfit for use as a textbook.
          The entire second chapter of Fundamentals (pages 9-32) is about the development of the canon – a worthwhile subject in a survey-course, but not in an introduction to textual criticism.  In the following chapter, Materials and Methods of Classification, the readers is given a lesson in literacy-rates in ancient Roman society, a description of the papyrus-plant, an anecdote about Galen, and so forth.  Writing-materials are assigned to four categories:  papyri, parchment, scrolls, and codices.   
          On page 46, handwriting-categories are listed, but none of them are accompanied by illustrations.  Also stated on page 46:  “Majuscule (meaning “large”) is a square hand with large letters that employs no spacing between the words and is only found in the earlier codices (usually not after the seventh century).”  This claim that majuscule lettering is usually not found after the 600’s is rather inaccurate.  That is a minor inaccuracy, however, compared to the glaring error on page 50, where the authors list the numbers of New Testament papyri, majuscules, minuscules, and lectionaries:  
          Papyri:  128
          Majuscule manuscripts:  2,911
          Minuscule manuscripts:   1,807
          Lectionaries:  2,381
          Total:  7,227

          These totals are always fluctuating, so it is understandable that the authors did not cite the current total number of papyri (134), but, regarding the other numbers, here are the totals supplied by J. K. Elliott (in Novum Testamentum) six years ago:
           Papyri:  126
          Uncials/Majuscules:  320 
          Minuscules:  2,899
          Lectionaries:  2,438 

          The number of majuscules supplied by Porter and Pitts is about 2,580 too high; their number of minuscules is about 1,130 too low, and their number of lectionaries is at least 50 too low.  How they managed to supply their erroneous quantities, and proceed to add them together, without noticing that something was amiss, is a mystery.
          A reader coming to the fourth chapter, The Major Witnesses of the New Testament, might expect that here he will encounter descriptions of the major witnesses of the New Testament.  What is presented, however – after a description of Tischendorf’s contributions involving Codices C, B, and À (Porter and Pitts claim that Tischendorf found the monks of Saint Catherine’s monastery “burning what he identified as the earliest manuscript he had ever seen”) – is basically a concise description of Codex Sinaiticus, and a set of lists.  Eighteen papyri are listed and very briefly described; P66, for example, merits all of 28 words.  P45 and P75 are not included in the list.  This is followed by a list of 14 uncials, similarly treated; Codex W receives 15 words.  Codex D receives six words.  Even less effort is expended on the minuscules; four minuscules are listed individually, as well as family-1 and family-13.  Likewise five lectionaries are listed before the authors move along.  There are no illustrations of minuscules or lectionaries (although there is a picture of a fragment of Psalm 3, and the Great Isaiah Scroll).
          Next, Porter and Pitts take the reader on a short tour of early versions, covering the Diatessaron, the Syriac versions, Latin versions, Coptic versions, the Ethiopic version, and the Armenian version in the course of five pages.  Then, on page 68, the reader is told, “We have had to pass over a number of other versions, such as the Georgian and Gothic.”  Why?  The Palestinian Aramaic version is not mentioned.  Also, Porter and Pitts state that the oldest Ethiopic manuscript “dates from around the tenth century,” which is incorrect; the Garima Gospels has been assigned (and carbon-dated) to the 500’s.
          The treatment of patristic evidence in Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism amounts to little more than a list, borrowed from the fourth edition of Metzger’s (and Ehrman’s) The Text of the New Testament.  Porter and Pitts then name the Epistle of Diognetus as if it is another important patristic writing that frequently cites the New Testament, even though it is of only minimal importance for text-critical purposes.
          Chapter five, Text-Types, beginning promisingly with a clear definition of what a text-type is:  “Text-types share a number of similar readings that are not typical in other families.”  Unfortunately this clear sentence is followed by several others that are likely to elicit false impressions from readers unfamiliar with New Testament textual criticism (that is, readers for whom the book was intended).  Did the Western text really originate at Rome?  Was the Complutensian Polyglot a “Greek-Latin edition” of the Bible?  Was Tischendorf’s 8th edition “the major turning point” away from the Textus Receptus?  Did the Western text emerge “early in the fourth century”?  Do KJV-only fundamentalists support the Byzantine Text?  Imprecision lurks on practically every page of this chapter.  And there is no disguising an aggressive agenda in the authors’ attempt to associate the advocacy of the Byzantine Text with KJV-onlyism:  the authors’ descriptions of the Alexandrian, Western, and Caesarean text-types are framed relatively objectively (though there are some problems here, too), but when the Byzantine text is the subject (or target), the authors detour into theological concerns. 
          The authors appear to be unfamiliar with the actual case for Byzantine Priority (inasmuch as they only respond to “the argument from number” and nothing else), and even more unfamiliar with KJV-onlyism (inasmuch as they refer repeatedly to KJV-Onlyists as if they support a text which disagrees with the base-text of the KJV New Testament in hundreds of translatable points).  If Harry Sturz’s The Byzantine Text-type & New Testament Textual Criticism had not been included in a chapter-bibliography, I would have concluded that the authors must have never seen the data accumulated by Harry Sturz:  the authors state, “The earliest manuscripts of the NT are found among the papyri, and of the 128 currently available, none of them contains distinctively Byzantine readings.”  Sturz showed, to the contrary, that while no early papyrus agrees with the Byzantine text 100%, many distinctively Byzantine readings – that is, readings which are Byzantine, and not Western, and not Alexandrian – have been found in papyri.  I do not know how Porter and Pitts managed to produce a sentence so contrary to facts of which Sturz’s book must have made them aware. 
          After chapter six, in which eight pages are expended to define what a textual variant is, most of the next four chapters is a discussion about text-critical methodology.  In these chapters Porter and Pitts made several mistakes, including the following:
● They attribute The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text to Wilbur Pickering, instead of to Zane Hodges and Art Farstad. 
● They claim that when thoroughgoing (i.e. rigorous) eclecticism is used, “many decisions made according to this methodology reflect late Byzantine readings.”  (Many?)
● They refer to the Nestle-Aland and UBS compilations as eclectic texts, but also affirm (on page 59) that two manuscripts, “Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, are the basis of the modern Greek NT.”  The student-reader may wonder how a compilation built primarily upon just two manuscripts can have a legitimate claim to be called significantly “eclectic.” 

          Several errors, oversimplifications, and facile arguments are in the closing chapters; to enumerate them all would be wearisome but here are a few:
● When Porter and Pitts address Bart Ehrman’s concerns about orthodox corruptions, particularly in the case of Luke 22:43-44, they do not bother presenting the relevant external evidence, but casually concede that the text is not original.  This is a rather shallow way of doing things.
● When addressing Ehrman’s treatment of First John 4:2-3, Porter and Pitts cavalierly dismiss the reading that means “loosened,” on the grounds that it is “obscure and late,” ignoring the patristic evidence for this reading’s early existence.
● Porter and Pitts list 10 words that appear in Mark 16:9-20 but nowhere else in Mark, and present this as evidence that “there is no cohesion between the lexical items in the long ending of Mark and the Gospel of Mark as a whole,” as if they are oblivious to the observations of Bruce Terry and other researchers who have pointed out that in another 12-verse portion of Mark, there are at least 20 words that appear there, and nowhere else in Mark, significantly weakening the vocabulary-based argument.   
● Porter and Pitts seems to contradict their own text-critical approach when, in a brief and imprecise discussion of the well-known variant-unit in First Timothy 3:16, they casually posit that “It was probably the case that ος was substituted for the nomen sacrum θς accidentally.”  (Do they realize that they are rejecting a reading ranked “A” by the UBS compilers?)
● On page 151, Porter and Pitts state that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 “have very little manuscript support.”  When I read this, I was tempted to toss the book into the trash.  Mark 16:9-20 has over 1,600 manuscripts in its favor, as well as widespread and early patristic support; only in Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and 304 (a damaged medieval copy in which the Byzantine text of Matthew and Mark is interspersed with commentary) does the text of Mark stops at 16:8.  And John 7:53-8:11 is contained in at least nearly 85% of the Greek manuscripts of John, that is, 1,495 Greek manuscripts..

          Chapter 11 briefly reviews the history of the printed text of the Greek New Testament.  Here, too, Porter and Pitts make mistakes, such as repeating the tall tale about Erasmus promising to include the Comma Johanneum if a Greek manuscript could be found that contained it, and so forth.  The essay by Henk de Jonge that dismantled this tall tale was published in 1980.  It has been available on the internet for years.  The observation that Porter and Pitts are still unaware of that article 35 years later does not instill one with confidence that they are well-informed on the subject they have undertaken to teach. 
          Chapter 12 consists of a lesson about how to use the UBS and Nestle-Aland compilations, and decipher the apparatus – which is rather superfluous, inasmuch as the same instructions are in the introductions of UBS4 and NA27.  (The instructions in UBS4 and NA27 are better; Porter and Pitts fail to mention some things, such as the kephalaia-numbers in the inner margin of NA27.)
          Chapter 13, Text and Translation, does not directly pertain to New Testament textual criticism, so one may wonder what it’s doing in this book.  Some of this chapter restates what one finds on pages 137-139 (compare page 139 – “It was from Erasmus’ text that the Authorized Version (later known as the KJV) was translated in 1611” – to page 182 – “It was from Erasmus’ text that the AV NT was translated in 1611.” – thus twice making a somewhat inaccurate claim, inasmuch as the KJV’s base-text is closer to Beza’s 1598 edition.)   Perhaps the authors simply wanted to recommend gender-inclusive language (on page 187) – and obviously at this point we have left the fundamentals of New Testament textual criticism far behind.  Or perhaps they wanted to recommend (on page 184) that translators should remove passages – specifically, John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20 – that have “very little manuscript support.”  (Very little?  Only 85%, and 99.9%, of the Greek manuscripts!)  Of course if text-compilers and/or translators were to really remove readings with very little manuscript support, the result would resemble the Byzantine Text very much more than it would resemble the text which Porter and Pitts seem to currently favor.
           If you are looking for an accurate, balanced, detailed introduction to the fundamentals of New Testament textual criticism, look elsewhere.  This book should never have been published in such flawed condition.

[Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism, cited here for review purposes, is © 2015 Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts, and published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.  All rights reserved.]