Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Tors-Costa Debate, Part 4


            After the main portion of the Tors-Costa debate was completed, audience-members asked questions, which each debater answered.  Some of the questions were relevant to the announced subject of the debate, and some were not. 

First Question:  What do you believe is the authentic conclusion to the Gospel of Mark?

            Costa went first, stating that the authentic text concludes at verse 8.  The early manuscripts, he explained, end there.  He also noted that although Irenaeus knew verses 9-20, he also cited Acts 8:37, which is not a majority-reading.  Costa them pointed out that some early writers raised questions about the authenticity of verses 9-20, such as Jerome, who said that hardly any manuscripts have it, and Eusebius, who said the same thing.  Costa expressed a desire to know what Mark wrote, not what some scribe wrote.  In addition, he argued, when you look at verses 9-20, it looks like a patchwork of pieces from the other Gospel-accounts, pieced together by a later scribe.
            Costa’s take on the internal evidence then went a little further than one might expect from a conservative professor:  he proposed that in the Gospel of Mark, the apostles are ironically depicted as if they never understand who Jesus is, and that the ending at verse 8 is consistent with that theme.  (Does Costa mean that that Mark wanted readers to conclude that the apostles never heard about Jesus’ resurrection?) Costa also offered an interpretation of Mark 8:22-26 which maintains that the episode – in which Jesus makes a blind man see, after spitting on his eyes, and then laying His hands on him – was intended by Mark to somehow convey that the apostles did not see Jesus clearly.  (Does Costa mean that this is what Mark intended to be his readers’ final impression of the apostles?  If not, then what point is he trying to make?) 
            Tors responded:  “The last 12 verses are certainly authentic.”  He pointed out that verses 9-20 are present in 1,700 manuscripts and missing in only two.  (Gaffe:  they are missing in three (taking damage into account) – though their absence in minuscule 304 is barely worth mentioning.)  The testimony of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is questionable, because Vaticanus has a  blank column after the column in which Mark 16:8 concludes – the only blank column in the entire manuscript (Gaffe:  it is not the only blank column in Vaticanus; there are three others in the Old Testament portion.  But it is the only one that is not the result of a factor that occurred naturally in the production-process.) – as if the scribe knew that more text belonged there.  And in Sinaiticus, (Tors continued,) the original pages containing the end of Mark were replaced long after by a scribe who stretched out his lettering to avoid leaving a blank column.  (Gaffe:  it was the supervisor/proofreader, who did this, not someone long after Sinaiticus was made.)   Regarding Irenaeus, in the first century (Gaffe:  it was the second century) it is not likely that he was wrong; his testimony is joined in the second century by Tatian.  The idea that fourth-century evidence should outweigh this second-century evidence doesn’t fly.          
            The idea that Mark would end at 16:8 does not make sense either.  It doesn’t even seem remotely possible that Mark would intentionally end there.  (Hort agreed with Tors about that.)  Moreover, here we see how historical criticism and rationalistic textual criticism undermine the gospel:  first, Mark is posited as the first Gospel; Q is also posited as source-material for Matthew and Luke.  The rationalistic higher critics say that Q didn’t have a resurrection of Jesus; the rationalistic lower critics say that Mark didn’t have a resurrection of Jesus, and these points are used to undercut the centrality of Jesus’ resurrection.  And regarding the blind man healed at Bethesda (Gaffe:  it was Bethsaida), this is a historical account of a miracle, not some sort of parable about how the apostles perceived Jesus.  (In the course of making this last point, Tors became side-tracked and took up way too much time explaining details about that miracle.)  

Second Question:  (for Dr. Costa)  You said that textual variants do not undermine any significant doctrines.  But doesn’t the removal of Mark 16:9-20 undermine an essential doctrine, specifically, the doctrine that Jesus rose from the dead? 

            Costa answered, “There is a resurrection in Mark 16.”  Three times, Jesus predicts His resurrection.  And in Mark 16, the young man at the tomb announces that Jesus is risen, so in Mark, there is a resurrection.  Mark couldn’t be a Christian if he didn’t believe in the resurrection.  No one can read Mark 16:1-8 and come away thinking that no resurrection has happened.  There is a postmortem appearance that is anticipated in Galilee.  There is a resurrection.

            Tors:  When Jesus appeared to His disciples, they were very difficult to convince.  Even when He shows up, in Luke, they have to touch him.  Thomas insisted that just seeing Him wasn’t enough; he wanted to touch the wounds.  The concept of someone rising from the dead is very difficult to grasp.  To say that He predicted that He would rise from the dead, and that some guy at the tomb claimed that He rose from the dead – that’s a resurrection?  Would you believe that?  Isn’t it more reasonable to think that that guy took away the body?  How can you say there’s a resurrection there?  There’s a claim(One could say that the truth of the predictions is confirmed by the post-resurrection appearances, not the other way around.)    

Third Question:  (for Dr. Costa)  I am an accountant, with many textbooks.  The ones I use a lot get crumpled up; the rarely used ones stay in good shape.  So, is it possible that the Majority Text manuscripts – the “embarrassment of riches” – are descended from earlier manuscripts that are no longer around because they were worn out by regular use, whereas those others – like Sinaiticus, which Tischendorf says that he found as the monks were burning the leaves – survived because they were less-used, and were less-used because they were considered unreliable?

            Costa:  First, Metzger’s phrase “embarrassment of riches” refers to all New Testament manuscripts, not just the Majority Text manuscripts.  (But if one takes them out of the picture, is the remainder still plausibly described as embarrassment of riches?  For it is almost invariably followed by a declaration of how many New Testament manuscripts there are, as we saw in Costa’s opening statement.)  The Byzantine manuscripts were better preserved because they were protected and “regulated” in the Byzantine Empire, safe from the Islamic hordes. 
            About Tischendorf:  “Tischendorf did not say that he found Sinaiticus in a trash bin.”  That is a myth.  He tells us that he saw something in the monastery, and they brought him Sinaiticus, which was covered in a red crimson cover.  It was covered in “a beautiful crimson covering.”  “It was not something that was being thrown out.”  That’s a common myth.  (Super-gaffe:  Costa has been misled by James White, who is very similarly mixed up about how Tischendorf claims to have discovered Sinaiticus.  Costa is describing Tischendorf’s 1853 visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery; it was in 1844 that Tischendorf visited, and it is during that visit – he claimed – that he found pages of Codex Sinaiticus in a basket, as the monks were about to discard them into the fire.  (Tischendorf’s story is highly dubious, and at St. Catherine’s monastery it is maintained that the monks were certainly not about to burn the pages.  But Tischendorf most definitely claimed that this is how he first encountered pages from Codex Sinaiticus, and anyone who still imagines that James White’s (and Tony Costa’s) version of events is well-informed can read about Tischendorf’s 1844 visit, and his 1853 visit, in Tischendorf’s own account.)             
            Costa proceeded to blame “the Muslim hordes” for the loss of many non-Byzantine manuscripts.  He pointed out that although the map that Tors had shown pictured the Byzantine Empire as it existed in the year 600, it didn’t show the impact of the Islamic invasions that happened later.  Instead of seeing things in the year 600, Costa said that he would like to know, “Where are these Byzantine text-types (plural??) in the first 300 years of the church?”.  (Since Costa had just proposed that “the Muslim hordes” destroyed thousands of manuscripts during their conquests of Byzantine territory, the means to supply a strong response was practically served up to Tors on a plate, but the opportunity was not taken.) 
            Tors responded:  Tony is missing the point about the Byzantine Empire.  If the Alexandrian manuscripts were so superior and so numerous in the 300’s, then why wasn’t it the Alexandrian Text that was spread throughout the Byzantine Empire from the end of Roman persecution in the early 300’s, to the beginning of the 600’s?  Nothing would prevent that, if it had been the case. The assumption that the Alexandrian Text was dominant in that period is opposed by the evidence.  
            You can’t just go by the number of manuscripts that have survived, (Tors continued) because the survival of early manuscripts is very rare.  Early Alexandrian papyri survived because papyrus is fragile and vulnerable to decay.  And in Egypt, most of these “best manuscripts” (via his inflection, Tors implied “so-called”) come from garbage heaps in Oxyrhynchus, where their owners had torn them up and thrown them out into the garbage.  
Fourth Question:  (for Tors)  In Luke 4, a passage from Isaiah 61 is quoted by the Lord, but when we look at the passage in Isaiah, it is different from what is seen in Luke.  So where is the poison:  in Luke, or in Isaiah?  How do you decide which one is correct?  If Jesus’ quotation is correct, is the Masoretic Text wrong?    

            Tors:  This isn’t really a question about New Testament textual criticism.  My understanding is that the Hebrew text used in Jesus’ day was more similar to the Septuagint than the Masoretic Text is, and ancient manuscripts such as the texts from Nahal Hever [especially a scroll-fragment of the Minor Prophets] prove that.  
            Regarding the poison, I’m not blaming textual criticism per se.  It’s the method of textual criticism that elicits mistrust in the authority of Scripture, because it conveys that the original text has errors.  Darwinism and historical criticism, combined with a method of textual criticism that says that the original reading is the one that has errors in it, contribute to this doubt.  Even though people try to explain away the errors in the text as if they are not errors, eventually people are going to conclude that the text has errors.  And this makes people lose confidence in the text; this leads to the erosion of Biblical authority.   

(The questioner spoke up again, but this was a minor breach of protocol.)
            Costa:  I agree with John about the current decline in morality.  A lot of that has to do with the Enlightenment.  But the problem is deeper than that. Even when we had a text of Scripture that everyone believed was absolutely reliable, there were still heresies.  Now then: I have issues with John’s view on the Septuagint.  (Tors had given Costa a golden opportunity to point out a contrast between his statement, You can’t just go by the number of manuscripts that have survived, and the statistical case that Tors had used earlier, but this opportunity was not taken.)

Fifth Question:  (for Tors)  In cases where there is a difference in meaning between the Old Testament Hebrew text, and a quotation in the New Testament, how would you ascertain the original reading of the Old Testament passage?

            Tors:  If there’s a difference between the Masoretic Text’s reading and a quotation by Jesus, I would suspect that there is an error in the Masoretic Text.  That doesn’t mean the Old Testament has a flaw; it means that the scribes who transmitted the Old Testament text made an error, like the scribes who made the manuscripts that the NIV is based on.        

            Costa:  “I think what John said would seriously undermine the reliability of the Old Testament.  The Greek Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint as their Old Testament text. Jerome and Augustine had a disagreement about which should be considered authoritative:  Jerome used the Hebrew text but Augustine favored the Septuagint.  This has really hit a nerve.  If John applies the same methodology to the Old Testament that he advocates for the New Testament, we are in big trouble.  (Costa’s straw man reappears; if the baker bakes a can of gasoline ....) This is very, very serious.  Most quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament agree with the Septuagint word-for-word. 

At this point, moderator Johnny Yao-Chung Chao ended the debate, mentioning that the planned time-limit had been exceeded.  After thanking the audience and those who assisted, he closed with prayer, thanking God for His Word and for the information received in the course of the debate, and asking that it will be used in a way that will promote the unity of the church, and the fulfillment of our mission to make disciples.


         One could wish that the debate had maintained a tighter focus in its second half.  Nevertheless, from start to finish, Tors presented his view on the announced subject far more effectively than Costa presented his view. Costa repeatedly got his facts mixed up. (His “family 33” mistake was particularly bad; his confident dismissal of Tischendorf’s story about Sinaiticus can be blamed on James White, whose book was obviously his source.)  Costa’s go-to objection (about the danger of using a Majority Reading approach on the Old Testament text) was merely a straw-man argument.  Tors won this debate, and it was not close.


Ken Ganskie said...

Thanks James for the past posts on the debate. I wish I could have attended. It sounded like a lively exchange.

So, when are you going to debate James White and Daniel Wallace on this topic? It would be a great help to the body to hear someone who understands and can clearly present the other side of the debate (i.e., the non-alexandrian priority side) in a informed, coherent manner as you have done on this blog.


Ken Ganskie

Daniel Buck said...

"Gaffe: they are missing in three (taking damage into account) – though their absence in minuscule 304 is barely worth mentioning."
I'm tired of this on-again, off-again use of 304 on the Marcan ending. What's the latest evidence, and is it actually conclusive?

James Snapp said...

Daniel Buck,
See my blog-post that focuses on 304, with special attention to the ending.

Basically, 304 is a commentary-manuscript in which the text of Mark is interspersed with the commentary-material. Its text of Mark ends at the end of 16:8 and after this there is a little verse that conveys that the book is finished. On the other hand, the commentary-material is drawn extensively from the earlier commentary by Theophylact, whose commentary included comments on Mark 16:9-20.

Plus, the text of Mark in 304 is essentially Byzantine. See the post for details.