Seminary students unfamiliar with New Testament textual criticism may learn a lot from Textual Criticism of the Bible, by Amy Anderson and Wendy Widder, recently published by Lexham Press. (The same volume includes an introduction to the textual criticism of the Old Testament – but since my research-specialty is in New Testament textual criticism, this review is not intended to address the portions about the Old Testament; this review does not cover the third chapter, which concentrates on the textual criticism of the Old Testament.) Novices should be cautioned, however, that they would learn just enough to be dangerous if they were to stop with this book.
In chapter 1, a scant eight pages are sufficient to define textual criticism, to describe the distinct goals of textual criticism, and to illustrate the need for its existence. Readers will notice here the authors’ use of the novel term “Ausgangstext,” defined as “the ancient form of the text that is the ancestor of all extant copies, the beginning of the manuscript tradition.”
Chapter 2, An Overview of Textual Criticism, includes a helpful tour of examples of different kinds of scribal corruptions, from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Haplography, parablepsis, conflation, glosses, metathesis, and harmonizations are among the error-inducing mechanisms that are covered. (Conflations are incorrectly described as “common” in the Byzantine Text on p. 117.)
Readers who approach this chapter expecting to learn about the excellence of Codex Vaticanus may be surprised at some of the examples given: although Alexandrian readings are favored in Mark 1:2, Luke 23:17, Luke 24:53 and I Tim. 3:16, readings found in Vaticanus in John 17:5, Mark 3:16, Acts 19:34, and First Thessalonians 2:7 are presented as examples of scribal errors. (I think. The authors seem undecided in some cases; in the discussion about Mark 3:16 on page 24, it is not easy to tell which reading is preferred by the authors.) In most cases, external evidence is only frugally described; a paragraph on John 5:3-4, for example, fails to mention Tertullian’s support for the passage.
Although several mistakes in the text of Codex Vaticanus are used as examples of scribal errors, the appeal to “the oldest and best manuscripts” is made repeatedly in this chapter, and “the oldest and best manuscripts’ can safely be understood to mean “Codex Vaticanus and whatever happens to agree with it.” Readers might wonder how it is that the best manuscripts contain some of the worst errors.
Similarly some readers may feel misled by the following statement on pages 12-13: “Those variation units that affect the meaning of a biblical text are found in the footnotes of any good English Bible. Even these variants do not affect doctrine or theology.” This is misleading on two levels. First, it is misleading because the textual footnotes in most English translations are minimal: consider that the NASB has only one textual footnote in Jude; the ESV has one; the CSB has five; meanwhile, the number of meaning-affecting textual differences between the Byzantine Text and the Nestle-Aland compilation in Jude is twelve. Do the authors think that the NASB and ESV and CSB are not good English Bibles? Second, it is misleading because textual variations that affect doctrine exist. For example, the doctrine of inerrancy would be wrecked if the reading found in Matthew 27:49 in “the earliest and best manuscripts” were to be placed in the text.
The chapter concludes with a brief review of basic principles of textual criticism, and fortunately this includes the key principle that that the reading that best explains the origin of its rivals is to be preferred. Unfortunately it also includes the idea that “The reading found in the oldest manuscripts” should be preferred; this canon should be reworded to include not only manuscripts, but all forms of external evidence, and it should be qualified by mentioning that this canon gives an edge to evidence found in Egypt, inasmuch as the low-humidity climate there allowed papyrus to survive longer than elsewhere.
Worse than this, however, is the authors’ endorsement of lectio brevior (prefer the shorter reading). Only readers careful enough to consult the footnotes will notice a heavy qualification that this principle has been challenged and empirically reversed in research on some early manuscripts by James Royse. No means are offered by which to verify the authors’ assertion that lectio brevior is nevertheless a valid criterion for later documents; recent research by Alan Taylor Farnes indicates that the authors are wrong, and that even in later manuscripts neither the length nor the brevity of a reading should be used as an indicator of genuineness.
Chapter 4 – Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism – serves the same purpose as similar sections of Bruce Metzger’s The Text of the New Testament, describing early scholarship in the field (beginning with patristic writers, and continuing to the present day) and manuscripts, versions, and patristic evidence. Some significant researchers, and some significant witnesses, have been left unmentioned. Bengel and Griesbach are mentioned, but not Bentley and Scrivener. Codices Π, Κ, and Σ receive no special attention.
Readers will learn on page 116 that the early papyri demonstrate a “careful scribal tradition” but when they read page 127 they will also learn that in the early papyri, “errors and changes” may be “fairly common.” This might confuse beginners who may not understand how the best manuscripts can be riddled with mistakes.
It was a little disappointing that Amy Anderson, who has done some detailed research about family-1, did not say more about this cluster of manuscripts; there is not even a list of its core members. Its text has received a slight chronological upgrade, although the confidence with which it is made has not: whereas Metzger described it as a text which appears to go back to the third and fourth centuries, here the agreements of minuscules 1 and 1582 are considered likely to be the text of the archetype of the group, which is thought to represent a text from the third century.
Very little is said about lectionaries, and nothing is said about amulets, and nothing is said about conjectural emendations – just the opposite of what should have happened, considering the significant research on these subjects that has occurred since Metzger wrote his introduction.
Versions are given surprisingly little attention – so little that one can only imagine that the authors foresee that their readers are likely to have Metzger’s book about versions on the shelf; otherwise they will not learn anything about the Gothic, Armenian and Georgian versions, or the Peshitta, in this chapter, except that they exist. The description of the Sinaitic Syriac and Curetonian Syriac should be changed, lest readers conclude that these manuscripts, rather than the texts they contain, are “possibly dating back to the early third century.”
In a brief review of modern editions of the Greek text of the New Testament, a bias in favor of the Nestle-Aland compilation is not entirely concealed; the Nestle-Aland compilation is called “eclectic” even though it is very heavily Alexandrian. Metzger’s chapter From Griesbach to the Present is superior to the too-concise review here in all respects except one: Anderson is up-to-date, and includes sections on the Byzantine Textform compiled by Robinson and Pierpont, the SBLGNT compiled by Michael Holmes, and the Tyndale House edition of the Greek New Testament. (It is only via a quotation from the preface to the Tyndale House compilation that Samuel Tregelles is mentioned at all in this book; he (like Scrivener and Burgon) was completely passed over in the section on New Testament textual criticism in the late seventeenth century to the present.)
The Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform is mistreated in this book. First, the authors associate it with KJV-Onlyism, even though Dr. Maurice Robinson, co-editor, has plainly dismissed KJV-Onlyism as a flawed position. Second, rather than utilize statements from advocates of Byzantine Priority (except for a 24-word quotation from Hodges and Farstad), the authors have turned to Philip Comfort and Daniel Wallace to describe it. This is patently unfair (especially because the essays by Wallace on the subject – mentioned in a footnote – contain more than their fair share of specious reasoning and mistakes).
It did not go unnoticed that the authors mention, on page 148, that in the Tyndale House edition (2017), the books of the New Testament are arranged in the order Gospels-Acts-Catholic Epistles-Pauline Epistles – Revelation. Why was this not also said about the 2005 Byzantine Textform, which also arranges the text this way? I cannot help wondering, Did the authors not bother to read the Byzantine Textform enough to notice? Similarly, the authors mention that the SBLGNT is online – but so is the Byzantine Text; why was this not mentioned?
Continuing: readers are told (p. 121) that the discovery of the papyri “provided scholars with new evidence to confirm or refine Westcott and Hort’s findings.” Perhaps a more candid description would add, “and refute,” inasmuch as Hort’s assumptions that distinctly Byzantine readings are all late, and that conflations imply lateness, and that some shorter readings in Codex D (Western Non-interpolations) are original, were opposed by the data from the early papyri (see Sturz, The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism, for details).
As chapter 4 concludes, the authors take readers on a tour of selected variant units, and this section serves (as its sub-title indicates) as a lesson in How To Do New Testament Textual Criticism. Along the way, readers are introduced to the various symbols that can be found in the Nestle-Aland compilation (such as º and □ and ┬). The main variant-units covered are in Ephesians 1:1, John 3:32, Mark 1:2, First Thessalonians 2:7, Luke 4:4, Revelation 1:8, and Romans 5:2.
This section is unsatisfactory in several ways:
● First, lectio brevior continues to be used as if it is a valid premise.
● Second, parts of this section just restate what has already been stated: compare for example page 45 – “The reading that best explains the origin of the other readings is probably original” – with page 158 in this section: “If you can explain how one variant led to the occurrence of the other variants, that variant is the most probable Augsgangstext.”
● Third, the section is not really a lesson in how to do textual criticism; it is a lesson in how to let Bruce Metzger posthumously do your textual criticism. For example, in the portion about Mark 1:2, witnesses that are not mentioned in the Nestle-Aland or UBS apparatuses are treated as if they do not exist. Variants that are not mentioned in the Nestle-Aland or UBS apparatuses are treated as if they do not exist. An appeal is made (on behalf of the Alexandrian reading) that “the citing habit of ancient times” account for the reading “in Isaiah the prophet,” without anything to verify that ancient citation-habits actually do this. The authors attempt to excuse the reading “in Isaiah the prophet” by theorizing that Mark “may not have had any access at all to copies of OT books.” Seriously? Finally, the authors propose that “It is much more difficult to imagine a later scribe changing τοῖς προφήταις to τῷ Ἠσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ” – but there is an abundance of evidence that copyists tended to make citation-sources more specific, not more generalized – supplying a prophet’s name (and in some instances the wrong name) when the reference in the original text was non-specific.
● Fourth, the authors misrepresent some witnesses as if they are members of textual groups to which they do not really belong. For example, as the authors discuss the variant-unit in Luke 4:4 they state that the reading chosen by the Nestle-Aland editors is “supported by the Syriac Sinaiticus, Sahidic, and part of the Bohairic. This group is mainly related to the Alexandrian textual stream.” The Sinaitic Syriac (I do not know why they described it as the “Syriac Sinaiticus,” which is correct but old-fashioned) is, however, not Alexandrian; as Metzger states in The Text of the New Testament, “In general the Old Syriac version is a representative of the Western type of text.” This error is compounded when the authors proceed to argue that “only one textual group is represented” in favor of the shorter reading.
● Fifth, although the authors recommend consulting Metzger’s Textual Commentary and commentaries in which the commentators give special attention to text-critical issues, there is no special mention of Wieland Willker’s superior (and free) Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels, nor of Reuben Swanson’s multi-volume New Testament Greek Manuscripts, in which the exact words of important Greek manuscripts are lined up horizontally and compared line by line, giving readers access to much more data than what is presented in the Nestle-Aland and UBS apparatuses. Robert Waltz’s online Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism and Alan Bunning’s Center for New Testament Restoration have also gone unmentioned.
Readers may find useful the inclusion of a list of Resources for Further Study at the end of each chapter. Strangely, David Alan Black’s New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide and Philip Comfort’s Encountering the Manuscripts are in the list in chapter two and in chapter four – with two different descriptions. J. Scott Porter’s 1848 Principles of Textual Criticism is in the list for chapter 2; readers may find it interesting that J. Scott Porter was also the author of Twelve Lectures on Unitarianism, in which he attempted to use textual criticism as a weapon in his battle against the doctrine of the deity of Christ; meanwhile Scrivener’s A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament has gone unmentioned.
The glossary at the end of the book is helpful, but it would be more helpful if it included a few more entries, and did not display a slight bias in favor of the Alexandrian Text.
In closing: while Anderson and Widder’s book is ten times better than the recently escaped Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism by Porter and Pitts, it may serve readers best as an update to Metzger’s Text of the New Testament than as a stand-alone introduction, generally echoing the same pro-Alexandrian approach and assumptions. New Testament researchers with access to Metzger’s Text of the New Testament and the online materials by Wieland Willker and Robert Waltz may consider it superfluous.
P.S. The word “critic” is missing in line 10 on page 43. Also, contrary to the list on page 140, minuscule 1424 is no longer housed in
Chicago; it was returned to Greece in
P.S. The word “critic” is missing in line 10 on page 43. Also, contrary to the list on page 140, minuscule 1424 is no longer housed in