Friday, September 20, 2019

Five Bad Reasons to Use the Textus Receptus

            The Nestle-Aland text of the Greek New Testament is over 95% Alexandrian at points where the Alexandrian and Byzantine manuscripts meaningfully disagree (i.e., where they disagree in both form and meaning, not in mere matters of spelling and transpositions).  This means, among other things, that this modern critical text almost always adopts readings found in a small minority of manuscripts – the “oldest and best manuscripts” that the ESV’s footnotes refer to – and almost always rejects the readings in the vast majority of manuscripts, including the manuscripts upon which the New Testament in the King James Version (and other Reformation-era versions such as Tyndale’s version and the Geneva Bible) was based.
            This poses a problem for some individuals in the Reformed tradition, which in several creeds (such as the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith) affirms that the original Hebrew and Greek text of the books of the Bible have been, by God’s singular care and providence, “kept pure in all ages.”  The New Testament text that the formulators of this doctrinal statement had in mind was not theoretical:  it was in their hands, in the forms of the Textus Receptus which had been published up to that time.  The editions of the Textus Receptus that had been made by Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza had some variations (at Romans 12:11 for example) – but not much. 
            It has been proposed that inasmuch as (a) the Greek text of the New Testament was kept pure in the age of the Reformation, as in all other ages, and (b) the Textus Receptus is pure, it follows that other forms of the text – especially in cases where the form of the text is so thoroughly changed as to mean something that the Textus Receptus does not mean – must be corrupt.  This logically leads to a rejection of the UBS/Nestle-Aland compilation.
            It also leads to a complete embrace of the Textus Receptus, minority-readings and all.  For those who believe that divine authority rests in the original text, and not in readings created by copyists, this is not a good idea.  Here are five reasons why a dogmatically-driven adherence to the Textus Receptus – Textus Receptus-Onlyism, one might say – should be avoided.

ONE:  God has promised to make every word and letter of the original text available to me. 

            There is no divine promise that God will make His exact written words perpetually available to His people on earth.  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” in Matthew 24:35.  Peter likewise affirmed the words of Isaiah:  “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  And in Psalm 12:6, following the statement that the words of the Lord are pure words, Psalm 12:7 says, “You shall keep them, O Lord, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.”  Specialists might argue that the text of Psalm 12:7 has been miscopied or mistranslated, and that the subject of Psalm 12:7 is not God’s words, but God’s people; this is why the NIV, CSB, et al translate the verse differently.  But even if were granted that God will preserve His words forever, why should anyone interpret this to mean anything except that God’s declarations, emanating from an unchanging and eternal God, do not change?
            Greater consideration should be given, when affirming that heaven and earth shall pass away, but the word of the Lord endures forever, that the material which constitutes copies of the New Testament (whether papyrus, or parchment, or paper) is part of the earth which shall pass away.  But more pertinent to the subject at hand is the point that saying “I will always keep My word and I will never forget what I have said” is not the same as saying, “I will make sure all Christians have every word I revealed to the authors of the New Testament in the exact form in which it was first written down.”  The approach of “Confessional Bibliology,” however, seems to equate the two.
            Historically, there is no evidence that the exact words of the Gospels were ever copied with 100% accuracy in a single manuscript.  If we look at the early versions – the Old Latin, and the earliest known form of the Sahidic version, for example – and reconstruct their base-texts, we can see that they were different.  And if we look at the early papyri, we can observe that that they, too, often differ from one another.  Of course, it can be claimed that the early Sahidic version is corrupt because it was based on Greek manuscripts that were corrupt; it was not (the theory runs) descended from the manuscripts of Christians, but from the manuscripts of second-century heretics in Egypt.  So little is known of the state of Christianity in Egypt in the 100s that it is difficult to prove or disprove such a theory.  But let anyone select whatsoever early version of the Gospels, from whatsoever locale, and see if it agrees with the Textus Receptus in all respects.  He will find that it certainly does not.
            Likewise, if we survey all surviving manuscripts of the Gospels, do we find any which contain the exact words found in the Textus Receptus, 100%, without any deviation?  If very late manuscripts which were based on printed copies of the Textus Receptus are set aside, the answer is No.  There is simply no reason to posit that God has ever promised to make every letter of the original text of the New Testament perpetually available to the church on earth; nor is there evidence that God has actually done so, for if we were to collect half a dozen Greek manuscripts of the Gospels, from whatsoever ages and locales, and compare their texts, we would find some differences.

TWO.  If the Textus Receptus was good enough for the formulators of the Westminster Confession of Faith, it’s good enough for me.

            The discussions of text-critical issues in the Reformation period is often belittled nowadays, as if people in the 1500s and early 1600s had little awareness of controversies involving, for instance, the ending of the Gospel of Mark, or the story of the adulteress in John 7:53-8:11, or the doxology of the Lord’s model prayer in Matthew 6:13.  However, if one were to consider just the comments of one obscure writer of the day – the Roman Catholic scholar Nicholas Zegers – one would see that these textual contests, and many others, were carefully studied. 
            Such research did not suddenly cease when the Westminster Confession of Faith – or any other creed – was formulated and approved by leaders in the Protestant churches.  The Reformers’ belief that the text in their hands was pure did not spur them to stop accumulating evidence (in the form of manuscripts, patristic writings, etc.) that would potentially confirm or challenge specific readings in that text.  James Ussher (1581-1656), an important Protestant scholar of the time, does not seem to have regarded the readings of the Textus Receptus as irrevocable in all respects; as Peter Gurry has observed, Ussher wrote that when it comes to most textual contests, it is clear what the original reading was, but in the cases where  a decision is very difficult, one may maintain indecision without drawing into question any point of doctrine.  Here we may see the application of a less exact, but more realistic, understanding of what was meant by “pure” in the Protestant creeds’ statement about the Greek text:  the point was not that every textual question was settled, or that the Textus Receptus could not possibly resemble the original text more than it already did, but that the still-unsettled points in the Greek text of the New Testament (in which, in some editions, many textual variants were noted) in their hands did not pose any doctrinal danger.
John Mill's 1723 Greek New Testament
- with variant readings.
            In addition, it should be kept in mind that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the main question about Biblical authority was the question of whether or not the Latin Vulgate should be considered authoritative.  The Council of Trent, in the mid-1500s, had advanced a position that the Vulgate was the “authentic” text, and that no one was to dare to reject it under any pretext whatsoever.  This was commonly understood by Roman Catholics to mean that if the time-honored Vulgate meant something different from the text found in Greek manuscripts, the proper conclusion is that the Greek text, not the Vulgate, should be considered defective.  The Protestant reaction against this decree involved the affirmation that the Roman Catholic magisterium does not have the authority to toss out original Greek readings in favor of non-original readings supported by the Latin text.  Roman Catholic scholars responded, in turn, that the Greek text cannot be trusted because – as the Preface to the 1582 Rheims New Testament asserted – the Protestants’ compilations of the Greek text contained poorly attested readings, occasion retro-translations based on versional evidence, and even the compilers’ conjectures, and were “infinitely corrupted.”     

            The Protestant adoption of the Textus Receptus was primarily an answer to the larger question – Vulgate versus Greek – rather than an answer to the various smaller questions concerning variants in the Greek manuscripts.  When Protestant scholars such as Brian Walton, John Fell, John Mill, and Johann Bengel subsequently investigated textual variants, their conclusions were either scientifically accepted, or they were scientifically challenged; no one responded by saying, “What are you doing, heretic; it has all been settled by the Westminster Confession of Faith.”  The Protestant approach to the text has always been based on evidence, not on the decrees of ecclesiastical assemblies.

THREE.  The Textus Receptus always has the evidence on its side.

          Some modern versions of the New Testament, based primarily on the Alexandrian Text, have drawn many readings into question even though the readings are affirmed in ancient patristic compositions and are supported by the overwhelming majority of manuscripts.  This is true of Mark 16:9-20, which is included in over 99.5% of the existing Greek manuscripts of Mark; only two Greek manuscripts end the text of Mark at 16:8 followed by the closing subscription to the book “The end of the Gospel according to Mark,” and in both of those manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) there are anomalies which strongly indicate that their copyists were aware of the absent verses.  Why are the headings in the ESV and CSB about the ending of Mark so vague and imprecise?  Because if they said, “Two manuscripts from the 300s end the text at 16:8; over 1,600 manuscripts support the inclusion of verses 9-20, including Codices A, D, and W, and Irenaeus, around the year 180, specifically quoted Mark 16:19,” the note would not have the effect upon readers that the translation’s note-writers wanted it to have – that is, it would not induce readers to reject verses 9-20.

            Similarly, if the CSB’s footnote mentioned the age and quantity of manuscripts that support the inclusion of “and fasting” in Mark 9:29 – including Papyrus 45 from the 200s and over 99% of the Greek manuscripts – the CSB’s footnote would not have quite the same effect as its present footnote to Mark 9:29, which only mentions that “Other mss add and fasting.” 

            The frustration that some advocates of “Confessional Bibliology” feel, when they discover that the footnotes in the NIV, ESV, and CSB habitually spin the evidence so as to elicit a false impression which induces their readers to adopt an uninformed prejudice against readings in the Textus Receptus, is understandable. 

            However, while it is generally true that in Matthew-Jude, the reading that is found in the Textus Receptus has many more manuscripts in its favor than the alternate reading found in the Nestle-Aland compilation, this is not always the case.  To restate: although most of the time, an overwhelming quantity of manuscripts agrees with the reading in the Textus Receptus, there are some exceptions.  To re-restate:  the Textus Receptus contains some readings which are only supported by a small minority of Greek manuscripts, and some readings for which the Greek manuscript support is negligible, and even a small number of readings which have no Greek manuscript support.
            Consider, for example, the words, “‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.  And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me do?’  And the Lord said to him,” in Acts 9:5-6 in the KJV.  The late Bruce Metzger stated in his Textual Commentary on theGreek New Testament, “So far as is known, no Greek witness reads these words at this place; they have been taken from 26.14 and 22.10.”  Some claims that Metzger made have not aged well, but as far as I know, this one remains valid.  Erasmus added the passage known as Acts 9:5b-6a to correspond to the Vulgate, which supports their inclusion.  But if we answer the question, “Vulgate or Greek?” as the Reformers answered it, in favor of the text found in Greek manuscripts, then we should not claim that every part of Acts 9:5-6 as printed in the Textus Receptus is the original text of the passage.
            And consider the word κοινωνία (koinōnia) in Ephesians 3:9.  This word is in the Textus Receptus, and is rendered “fellowship” in the KJV.  But in the majority of Greek manuscripts, what we find is not the word κοινωνία.  The Byzantine Textform reads, instead, οἰκονομία (oikonomia), which means “dispensation” or “administration.”  Most manuscripts, whether Alexandrian or Byzantine, do not support κοινωνία; they support οἰκονομία.  Pickering’s reconstruction of family 35’s archetype has οἰκονομία in Ephesians 3:9.  Antoniades’ 1904 compilation of the ecclesiastical text has οἰκονομία in Ephesians 3:9.  It should not be difficult to see that the Textus Receptus contains a corruption at this point, and quoting the formulators of the Westminster Confession of Faith will not change that.
            More examples of minority-readings in the Textus Receptus could be considered; there are hundreds of them – in Matthew 7:2, Mark 4:18, Luke 7:31, etc., etc.  (A list of the many differences between the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine Textform is online.)  I do not mean to suggest that textual critics ought to adopt a policy of the-majority-of-manuscripts-is-always-right; nor am I proposing that there is no such thing as a minority reading for which a persuasive case for genuineness can be made.  What I am saying is that some ultra-minority-readings in the Textus Receptus demonstrate that it is capable of improvement as a representation of the original text.

FOUR.   Treating the Textus Receptus as if it is the original text resolves the question, “If God inspired the New Testament, why didn’t He preserve it?”.

          The advocates of “Confessional Bibliology” are not the only people who have asked such a question.  Bart Ehrman similarly asks, in Misquoting Jesus, “If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of Scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture?”.  Instead of concluding, with the Confessional Bibliologists, that we must have all of the original text of the New Testament, and that the Textus Receptus is it, and instead of concluding, with Ehrman, that we don’t have all of the original text, and this somehow renders the extant text unreliable, I would start by asking another question in the “Why didn’t God do it like this” category:  why didn’t God ensure that everyone would interpret the New Testament the same way? 
            If we are to ask, “Why inspire the text without guaranteeing its preservation?”, why not also ask “Why preserve its form without preserving its meaning?”.  For it is indisputable that the meaning of a statement matters more than the form in which it is expressed.  So, if God inspired the New Testament text, why didn’t He guarantee that everyone’s interpretation of it would be identical?  If one is going to pose questions at the intersection of textual criticism and the motives of God, I think this is a much better question.  But people can easily see the answer:  it was not God’s will to compel all interpreters to form a specific interpretation.   Similarly, it was not God’s will to compel all copyists to write a specific text, exactly the same in all details.  God’s will for perfect performance in the task of copying and interpreting is no doubt real, but not at the expense of the autonomy of copyists and interpreters. 
            God values human liberty, to an extent.  And why would God deprive copyists of that liberty if He looked forward in history and foresaw that text-critical problems involving manuscripts used by the church would matter as little as they do?  Inasmuch as God always knows the future, why would He not entrust the ship consisting of His inspired words to a crew of fallible copyists, knowing that while the ship’s hull might many times be scratched, and that barnacles would become attached to it, the net effect of the journey upon the cargo would be benign?  This is not to say that there are not some manuscripts with wildly anomalous texts, such as Codex Bobbiensis and the Sinaitic Syriac, but these “stray cat” manuscripts have not had a consequential influence on the church’s text as a whole.

FIVE.  Using the Textus Receptus as my authoritative standard simplifies sermon preparation.

            No doubt, having an authoritative textual standard – any textual standard – simplifies sermon preparation.  The question is, how closely does that textual standard convey the meaning of the original text?  A preacher with confidence in the Textus Receptus may live in the same city as a preacher with confidence in the Sahidic version, and a preacher with confidence in the NIV may live nearby, next door to a preacher with confidence in the Peshitta.  Does their confidence resolve anything?  No; all that has happened is that we have gone from a situation in which manuscripts disagree to a situation in which preachers disagree.  The confidence of preachers does not make the textual questions go away.
            It is one thing to resort to accepting the text that one has received from one’s trusted elders when one is a novice.  It would be another thing to avoid learning about textual evidence and its implications for simplicity’s sake.  How will the textual contests ever be resolved, if every preacher is content to say, “I embrace the text that was handed down to me, and that is that”?   And which congregation is likely to be more confident that its preacher is sharing the Word of God:  the congregation of the preacher who engages the evidence, and develops the skill to make a scientific case for every textual variant that he endorses, or the congregation of the preacher who tells his flock that he is deliberately wearing blinders to avoid doing so?
            No doubt many occasions may come along when a busy preacher or isolated missionary is compelled by circumstances to utilize a New Testament passage without really taking the first proper step of all hermeneutics – confirming what the text is.  But this ought to be a last resort, not a goal. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

John Barton and the Text of the New Testament

            What does John Barton say about New Testament textual criticism, and related subjects, in his new book, A History of the Bible –The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book?  Those who take this volume in hand will require some time to find out:  it is 489 pages long (not counting the extra sections that contain Notes, Further Reading, a bibliography, and indices), and covers the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, and several chapters are devoted to the treatment of the Biblical text in the Middle Ages and later.  
            The path to information relevant to New Testament textual criticism in Barton’s book will take readers through a veritable zoo of theological liberalism.  On the very first page Barton asserts that the Bible is rooted in “folklore and myth.”  In what follows, readers are told: 
            ● In Christianity, “there are absolutely central doctrines, such as that of the Trinity, that are almost entirely absent from the New Testament.” (p. 3)
            ● Moses did not have The Ten Commandments (pages 78-79).
            ● “A rough consensus has arisen among specialists that biblical books are unlikely to go back much before the ninth or tenth century.” (page 32)
            ● The story of the repentance of king Manasseh was invented. (page 56)
            ● Ruth, Jonah, and Esther are “probably fictitious,” (page 56) along with the stories in Daniel 1-6.
            ● Out of the 66 chapters in the book of Isaiah, only chapters 1-8 and 28-31 contain the work of Isaiah. (page 102)  Chapters 24-27 “could be as late as the third century or even the second century BCE.” (page 103)
            ● The book of Acts is “not necessarily by the same author as Luke” (page 162).
            ● The Didache is “at the latest from the very early second century, and so probably earlier than at least some of the New Testament books.” (page 162)
            ● “Paul’s letters, and the other letters in the New Testament, are to be seen as actual letters rather than as inspired Scripture.” (page 413)
            ● Paul’s statement in Romans 5:12 that death entered the world because of sin is “clearly untrue.” (page 428)
            You get the idea:  Barton is a liberal, and his liberalism glows on every page of this book like radiation from a nuclear bomb-site.  Practically from cover to cover, Barton rejects basic beliefs of Christianity.  If you have sought for a volume that could be validly sub-titled, “How Liberals Reject the Gospel,” your search is over.  But that doesn’t mean that the author is not erudite.  John Barton was educated at Oxford, and taught at Oxford for several decades.  He was joint editor of the Journal of Theological Studies from 2004-2010. 
            What, then, can we learn from John Barton regarding New Testament textual criticism and the materials most relevant to the enterprise of reconstructing the original text of the New Testament?  We learn in chapter 12 that “Earlier attempts to establish ‘the original text’ of any book have now largely been set aside.” (page 286)  And we are told, “There is not, and never can be, a text of ‘the New Testament’ as it left the hands of Paul Luke or John:  we have only variants.” (page 286)  This may be the wishful thinking of Barton’s fellow-liberals, but it is not the view of most evangelical researchers in the field.  Don’t expect the existence of evangelical or conservative scholarship to be acknowledged in this book.

            What else can we learn?  We learn the following:

            (1)  Papyrus 73 contains “large sections of Luke and John.” (page 286)
            (2)  Codex Bezae contains “not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament in Greek”  (page 288)  but – on the same page – Codex Bezae “contains the Gospels and Acts,” but – on page 444 – Codex Bezae is “a fifth-century manuscript of the whole Bible in Greek and Latin.”
            (3)  “There are 196 extant uncial codices.” (page 288)
            (4)  When editors of modern printed Greek New Testament prepare critical texts, “This is often mainly a matter of intuition.” (page 290)
            (5)  “People in the early Church usually believed that Jesus was, like God himself, omniscient.” (page 292)
            (6)  “Many papyri” support the non-inclusion of John 7:53-8:11.  (page 294)
            (7)  The story of the adulteress “is present only in very few manuscripts.” (page 294)
            (8)  “There is an eleventh-century Gospel manuscript (1,333) that places it [i.e., the story of the adulteress] at the end of Luke.” (page 294)
            (9)  “The Peshitta Old Testament was probably translated directly from the Hebrew, and the New Testament from the Greek, in the second century.” (page 305)
            (10)  Regarding the Comma Johanneum, “We would now probably think of it as coming from the early second century CE.” (page 407)
            (11)  “There are several thousand New Testament manuscripts from the first few centuries CE.” (page 285)
            (12)  In the world in which lectionaries were made, page-numbers did not exist.  (page 289)
            All of these statements from John Barton’s book are incorrect or hopelessly garbled.  In real life:
            (1)  Papyrus 73 is a small fragment that contains text from Matthew 25 and 26; it has no text at all from Luke and John.  Barton probably meant to refer to P75.
            (2)  Codex Bezae is a damaged codex which contains most of the Gospels and Acts, and a page with text from Third John.  It is certainly not a copy of the whole Bible.  Even a beginner in the field of New Testament textual criticism should know this as naturally as he recognizes his home-country on a map.  
            (3)  There are over 300 extant uncial codices, although many of them are very fragmentary.  Barton’s claim of 196 indicates that he has been working with some very obsolete data, which the most basic online search would remedy.  A complete beginner relying on Wikipedia could do better.
            (4)  Editors of critical texts do not mainly rely on intuition; Barton’s claim is absurd and backwards.  Editors apply scientific guidelines, or canons, to the evidence, and only in remarkably close contests is intuition – or, one might say, experienced instincts – employed.
            (5)  The claim that early Christians believed that Jesus knew everything cannot survive a plain reading of Mark 13:32. 
            (6)  The UBS textual apparatus’ entry for John 7:53-8:11 lists exactly two papyri as witnesses for the non-inclusion of this passage:  Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 75.  This is not “many papyri.”       
            (7)  Barton’s claim that the story of the adulteress is “present only in very few manuscripts” is hilarious in light of the presence of the passage in over 1,400 manuscripts.  The estimate that the story of the adulteress is present in about 1,500 Greek manuscripts, and absent in about 300 Greek manuscripts, is not far off.  One can only wonder how many of Barton’s students at Oxford have absorbed his fiction and spread it to their congregations.
            (8)  Minuscule 1333 has John 8:3-11 (not 7:53-8:11) inserted after the end of Luke, but contrary to the impression given by Barton, it is neither presented as part of the Gospel of Luke nor as a “floating” anecdote.  As I have shown, the passage was inserted so that minuscule 1333 would include the lection for Saint Pelagia’s Day (Sept. 8), and before the text of John 8:3 begins, there is an ordinary lection-title, “ek tou kata Iw.,” that is, “from the [Gospel] of John.” 
            (9)  The Peshitta, which initially included only 22 books of the New Testament – Second Peter, Second and Third John, Jude, and Revelation were excluded – was not produced in the 100s.   For well over a century, most Syriac specialists have viewed the Peshitta as a form of the text that did not clearly emerge until the late 300s or 400s.   
            (10)  Barton is free to suppose that the Johannine Comma existed in the early 100s, but that is a fantastically unrealistic view.  Its earliest attestation in Latin is from the late 300s (in an inexact form); as a Greek reading it is practically non-existent until the late Middle Ages when it was retro-translated from Latin and inserted, with variations, in a few Greek manuscripts.  (Regarding the claim that the Johannine Comma was cited by Cyprian in the mid-200s, see this post.)  Furthermore, Barton has misquoted the text:  he states that First John 5:7 says “There are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one,” but a glance at the actual reading would have been enough to inform him that passage refers to “the Word,” not “the Son.”   
            (11)  While there are several thousand New Testament manuscripts, most of them are medieval; fewer than 100 are “from the first few centuries CE.” 
            (12)  Page-numbering existed in medieval manuscripts and in ancient manuscripts, as anyone who has studied them can attest.

            Other misleading statements about New Testament manuscripts abound in Barton’s book, made barely palatable by the addition of “possibly” or “perhaps.”  For instance, Codex Vaticanus is said to be “possibly” a Roman manuscript, although no basis for this is provided, and on the same page Codex Vaticanus “comes from Egypt.”  Codex Sinaiticus (almost certainly made in Caesarea) is said to be written “perhaps in Rome.”   Frankly, confusion is on display almost every time Barton attempts to go into detail about any New Testament manuscript, which fortunately does not happen much outside of chapter 12.             
            Barton does not need textual criticism to create tendentious justifications to reject the teachings of the Bible.  To Barton, “When we have established the oldest reading available to us, we should not delude ourselves that we have therefore got back to . . . what the author originally wrote.”  (page 292)  What this means in practice is illustrated by a comment he makes on page 425 about Matthew 28:19, where Jesus instructs His disciples to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  This passage that is overwhelmingly supported by ancient manuscripts and early patristic citations; yet Barton says:  “This passage is widely suspected of being a later addition to the Gospel,” and (on page 327) “Many scholars think this command has been added in the light of the later doctrine of the Trinity.”  Thus skepticism becomes its own foundation.  He might as well have said, “My friends and I at Modern Church just don’t want to believe that.”  For someone who has studied the Bible as a career, Barton certainly seems eager to find excuses to ignore (and replace) its teachings.
            Once there was a time when being taught at Oxford, and teaching at Oxford, commanded respect.  Nowadays it demands suspicion – not only of heresy, but of a lack of basic competence.  John Barton’s embarrassing failure to grasp basic data about the materials relevant to New Testament textual criticism is a demonstration of this sad fact.

A History of the Bible – The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book? by John Barton is Copyright © John Barton, published by VIKING, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, first published in Great Britain by Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Luke 9:23 - Taking Up the Cross

            There is something in Luke 9:23 that is not found in Matthew 16:24 or Mark 8:34.  In all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus delivers His saying about taking up the cross shortly after Peter made his famous confession, recognizing that Jesus is the Christ.  And in all three, Jesus says that whoever wishes to follow Him ought to deny himself.  But when it comes to taking up the cross, Luke 9:23 includes a little phrase that Matthew and Mark did not mention:  καθ’ ἡμέραν – “daily.”
Luke 9:23 in Codex Alexandrinus.
             Or does it?  In most Greek manuscripts in which Luke 9:23 is extant, καθ’ ἡμέραν / “daily” is not in the text.  Here we have one of those unusual occurrences where the Textus Receptus (the KJV’s base-text), instead of agreeing with the Byzantine reading (which is supported by most manuscripts), agrees with the Alexandrian Text.  
            Let me say that again:  in Luke 9:23, the longer reading is opposed by most Greek manuscripts, but it was adopted in the Textus Receptus, and it is also supported by Papyrus 75, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus.  The longer reading is also supported by the Peshitta, and the Gothic version, and Codices A K L M W Π, and by Cyril of Alexandria (Sermons 50 and 51).  Gregory the Great used the longer reading in his Homily 32 on the Gospels.
            This situation poses a problem for the widely-circulated model of the text’s history in which there are two distinct transmission-lines – one from Antioch, perpetuating the Textus Receptus, and one from Alexandria, producing the base-text of modern versions such as the ESV).   Some KJV-Onlyists use that model to give the impression that the Textus Receptus is supported by the majority of manuscripts; however, while that is generally the case (at least, in Matthew-Jude), it is not always the case.  Things are not really that simple.  In the case at hand, instead of seeing the “Antiochan” transmission line support the reading in the Textus Receptus, and the Egyptian text support some other reading, the situation is reversed.  The inclusion of καθ’ ἡμέραν in Luke 9:23 is just one of many readings in the Textus Receptus that are only supported by a minority of Greek manuscripts, and which cannot plausibly be considered to have an advantage in terms of either their popularity or their scope of influence in the Greek-speaking churches.
            To emphasize:  in Luke 9:23, the Textus Receptus agrees with the Alexandrian Text and disagrees with the Byzantine (Majority) Text.

            Is there any way that the Byzantine reading here could be original?  Consider the following:
            ● The Byzantine reading in Luke 9:23 is shorter than its rival.  There are still some textual critics who routinely teach their students that the shorter reading is to be preferred (although if one examines how editors have applied that flawed and obsolete principle, they might as well have said, “prefer the shorter reading unless it is Byzantine”).   
            ● The Byzantine reading maintains agreement among the Synoptic Gospels.  To some scholars, this is a point against the reading; the argument being that a scribal tendency to harmonize the accounts led to the deletion of καθ’ ἡμέραν so that all three parallel-passages would be identical.  But this raises two questions:  first, if  (a) καθ’ ἡμέραν is original, and (b) copyist typically expanded the text, as detractors of the Byzantine Text typically assume, then why didn’t scribes seeking to harmonize the parallel-passages simply insert καθ’ ἡμέραν into Matthew 16:24 and Mark 8:34?  We do not see such an insertion (at least, not on any scale) in these passages, nor in Mark 10:21 where the invitation to take up the cross appears in most manuscripts (but not in À B C D).  And, second, reckoning that Luke was dependent upon Marcan material, where did Luke get the idea to add καθ’ ἡμέραν?
            ● The longer reading could have been created as a means of interpreting the phrase “take up your cross” through the lens of Paul’s words in First Corinthians 15:31, where καθ’ ἡμέραν appears at the beginning of the verse.   John Burgon advocated this explanation, describing the Textus Receptus’ reading here as a “spurious accretion.”  Burgon also pointed out (in Causes of Corruption, pages 176-178) that Chrysostom connected the two passages; however, a consultation of Chrysostom’s Homily 5 On the Statues, part 14 shows that the passage that Chrysostom cites there is not Luke 9:23, nor one of its parallel-passages; it is Matthew 10:38, where, as far as I know, καθ’ ἡμέραν never appears in any Greek manuscript.  
            Jerome, in Epistle 127, To Principia, On Marcella, part 6, connects First Corinthians 15:31 and Luke 14:27 – but as he quotes Luke 14:27, it is with the Latin equivalent of καθ’ ἡμέραν included, and he states that this is how the verse appeared in the ancient copies; a quotation will be illustrative:
            Marcella . . . often quoted with approval Plato’s saying that philosophy consists in meditating on death – a truth which our own apostle [i.e., Paul] endorses when he says:  for your salvation I die daily.  Indeed, according to the old copies our Lord himself says, Whoever does not bear His cross daily and come after me cannot be my disciple.” 
Luke 9:23 in a Byzantine minuscule.
            Amy Donaldson, in her 2009 dissertation Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings Among Greek and Latin Church Fathers, proposed that Jerome implied via his reference to “the old copies” that other copies existed in his day which omitted Luke 14:27.  Although there are nowadays copies extant that do indeed omit Luke 14:27 (Codex M, Γ, 2*, 69) due to parableptic error (skipping from μαθητής at the end of verse 26 to μαθητής at the end of verse 27), it seems to me more likely that Jerome was thinking of a contest between the presence and absence of “daily.”  Affirming this, Jerome says in his Commentary on Matthew, in a comment on Matthew 10:38, “In alio evangelio scribitur, Qui non accipit crucem suam quotidie,” that is, “In another Gospel, it is written, he who does not take up his cross daily.”  (The focus of these comments is Luke 14:27, but they might be considered relevant to the question about the text of Luke 9:23, for they seem to indicate that a scribe expanded Luke 14:27 by adding the word “daily,” and what would motivate a scribe to do this, if not the presence of “daily” in Luke 9:23?)
            ● Although the ancient codices that represent the text used in Egypt favor the inclusion of καθ’ ἡμέραν, there are witnesses of almost the same age for the shorter reading.  Not only is the Sinaitic Syriac among the witnesses which weigh in for the shorter reading, but so are several Old Latin copies, including (according to Burgon):  
            b, VL 4, Codex Veronensis, late 400s
            c, VL 6, Codex Colbertinus
            e, VL 2, Codex Palatinus, 400s
            ff2, VL 8, Codex Corbeiensis secundus, 400s
            q, VL 13, Codex Monacensis (a.k.a. Codex Valerianus), 500s or 600s.
            The thing to see, regarding these witnesses, is not only their relatively early production-dates, but that they echo a text (or texts) translated into Latin sometime before the Vulgate.  That is, readings upon which they widely agree are echoes from the 100s-300s.  To this testimony is added the voices of Codices C X Δ E F G H S U V Γ Λ and, as already mentioned, most minuscules.  The margin of the Harklean Syriac version, from 616, chimes in too; “daily” is in its text but a note affirms that this is not found in all manuscripts.
            Codex Bezae, meanwhile, along with the Old Latin codices Vercellensis (late 300s) and Rehdigeranus, is sidelined from this particular context:  due to parableptic error (involving a skip from one “and” to another), the entire phrase between “deny himself” and “and follow Me” has dropped out of their text.
            And, as Willker observed, Codex Vaticanus has a ¨ symbol alongside the line where καθ’ ἡμέραν is in the text; this symbol signifies a scribe’s awareness of a textual variant in the line which it accompanies; the date at which such symbols were added to Codex B, however, is unknown.
            ● Hort noticed that the Western Text has a penchant for expansion; this consideration elicited Hort’s theory of Non-Western Interpolations, which specially affected Hort’s compilation in Luke 24.  Hort’s preference for short Western readings had a heavy impact and it influenced the Revised Standard Version.  That is why, if you take in hand a copy of the Revised Standard Version, you will not find the following:
            ► The phrase “of the Lord Jesus” in Luke 24:3,
            ► The words “He is not here, but has risen” in Luke 24:6,
            ► Any of Luke 24:12,
            ► Jesus’ words of peace in Luke 24:36,
            ► Any of Luke 24:40,
            ► Luke’s statement that Jesus was carried up into heaven in 24:51, or
            ► The word “And they worshiped Him” in 24:52.  
            The discovery of Papyrus 75 elicited a reversal on the part of the experts who made the RSV, and most of these readings were put back into the text in the New Revised Standard Version (but not the one in 24:3).  Subsequently, the producers of some younger versions have done an excellent job of letting their readers forget how different their version’s textual grandfather was in Luke 24; the Christian Standard Version, for example, has plenty of footnotes in Luke 24 but none of them mention these textual variants.  Similarly in the Tyndale House edition of the Greek New Testament, only one of these seven variants – the Western Text’s failure to mention Jesus’ ascension – is covered in the textual notes.
            But I digress; the thing to see is that the Western Text, or at least an early form of it, represented by the Sinaitic Syriac and several Old Latin manuscripts, resisted its tendency toward embellishment, and maintained the shorter reading in Luke 9:23.  Thus an argument in favor of the shorter reading in Luke 9:23 could include the same points that Hort made for the Western Non-Interpolations (a case which persuaded most of the editors of the RSV for a while),
            However, Burgon’s intriguing idea about καθ’ ἡμέραν being an insertion by an early scribe cannot withstand the force of the variety of the external evidence in which καθ’ ἡμέραν is confirmed.  We face a textual tree which has most of its fruit on a single branch (the medieval minuscules); another branch has the same fruit.  But on both of those branches, and on several other branches, there is a different fruit.  Grafters have been at work.  In this case I think we are obligated to favor the reading which is supported, not by the most fruit, but by most branches of the tree.  This means that harmonization-by-deletion occurred in Luke 9:23 in the Old Latin and Byzantine text-lines (and in the Sinaitic Syriac text), and that the longer reading in Luke 9:23 (supported by the earliest stratum of the Byzantine Text, by the earliest manuscripts which attest to the Alexandrian Text, by the Vulgate, by the Gothic version, by the Peshitta, by some of the Old Latin, by and the Armenian version, etc.) should be adopted.  

 Readers are invited to double-check the data in this post.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Text & Canon Institute - News and Views

Dr. Peter Gurry

            Special guests are here today:  Dr. John Meade and Dr. Peter Gurry, of Phoenix Seminary in Arizona.  They are here to share some information about the Text & Canon Institute, which was officially founded in January of 2019.  Thanks for joining us.

JM/PG: Our pleasure.

TTotG: A profile of the Text & Canon Institute is already online.  Have there been any changes since then?

PG: Since we launched, we have started two major initiatives.  The first is a scholarship and mentoring program for Phoenix Seminary ThM students who are interested in doing doctoral work in areas related to the text and canon of the Bible.  TCI Fellowship provides a scholarship of up to $10,000 toward the ThM degree and gives opportunity to work closely with me and Dr. Meade as we direct the Institute and carry out its mission.  Our first fellow is Clark Bates who is working with New Testament minuscules.
            We also announced a major conference that I’ll say more about below.  We’ll have another major announcement this fall that will be of particular interest to scholars across a range of sub-disciplines. So, stay tuned and sign up for our newsletter.

Dr. John Meade
TTotG:  I noticed that in in the announcement of the founding of the Institute, Phoenix Seminary’s Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Bingham Hunter, said, “The Institute is well positioned to defend the reliability of the biblical text and foster the church’s confidence in the books of sacred Scripture.”  Would one be correct in assuming that the Text & Canon Institute approaches textual criticism from a conservative perspective, taking for granted that the original text is divinely inspired and inerrant?

PG: Yes, although I wouldn’t just call it the conservative perspective, but rather the historic perspective of the church.  Also, we try not to take anything for granted around here!  From our vantage, the historic view of the Bible’s inspiration is not a hindrance to good, historical work but a strong motivation for it.  We believe that God can and certainly does work apart from human agency, but he often works through it.  Just as Scripture’s inspiration is God’s word given through human languages and words, so we should not be surprised to see both divine and human elements in the Bible’s subsequent transmission and canonization.

TTotG: There’s not a lot of online data about Phoenix Seminary.  Could you tell us more about it? – How many professors are there on campus; what is the average class-size; that sort of thing?

PG: I don’t know what the official average class size is, but in my experience it’s around 15.  We have a resident faculty of nine that we supplement with various visiting professors and adjuncts. Historically, the seminary began its life as an extension of Western Seminary in Portland and in the 1990s, became independent.  We have had several campuses over the years but recently moved into our permanent home here in Scottsdale.  
            Theologically, we are interdenominational but on the conservative side of the big tent of American evangelicalism. Our faculty is definitely “baptistic” but many of us are not Baptists.  Largely, we grew out of the Bible church movement that sprung up in the early part of the last century.  Phoenix itself is interesting in that it has never been dominated by one major Protestant denomination in the way places in the South or Northeast have been.  So, we are not a hotbed of Methodists, Baptists, or anything else.  In fact, the religion with the single biggest footprint here is probably Mormonism due, in large part, to our proximity to Utah.

TTotG: I’m unfamiliar with the geography involved:  technically, is Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, rather than Phoenix?  Or are Scottsdale and Phoenix the same place?

PG: It can be confusing.  The seminary is in Maricopa County which includes Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, etc.  The county as a whole is quite large and is the fastest growing in the U.S., with a population of over 4 million.  Technically, the seminary is in Scottsdale which is next door to the city of Phoenix.  Because many people outside the area think of all of Maricopa County as being Phoenix, we often talk about the seminary as being in Phoenix even though locals know we are located in Scottsdale.

TT: Does the Text & Canon Institute have any on-campus territory of its own?  If a patron were to donate, say, a Megillah-scroll, or a Book of Hours, or a lectionary-page to the Institute, would there be a place to store it or to put it on display?

PG: Sure. As part of Phoenix Seminary, we have full access to the seminary’s Biblical Research Center which houses the largest, privately-owned, theological library in Arizona.  If anyone wants to make such a donation, get in touch!

TTotG: Considering that Wayne Grudem teaches at Phoenix Seminary, would it be fair to say that Phoenix Seminary is the center of the ESV universe?

PG: No. I think the center, if there is such a universe, is in Wheaton, IL at the headquarters of Crossway Bibles, the publisher of the ESV.  We do tend to be fans of the ESV around here — but not uncritical ones.

TTotG: What’s happening at the Text & Canon Institute in February of 2020?  A conference of some sort?  Is the program all arranged?

PG: Sacred Words is the Text & Canon Institute’s inaugural church oriented conference, happening Feb 21–22, 2020 in Phoenix. (Phoenix is lovely in February!) It’s an opportunity to learn from internationally known speakers about how the Bible has been copied, collected, and confessed as God’s word.  Somewhat uniquely, we have speakers covering the text and canon of the whole Bible rather than just the NT as is often the case in these types of events.  To do that, we’ve brought together a great lineup of North American Evangelical scholars to help the church understand how she got her (Protestant) Bible.  The speakers are Dan Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary), Peter Gentry (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Stephen Dempster (Crandall University), Jeff Cate (California Baptist University), Darian Lockett (BIOLA University), Anthony Ferguson (Gateway Seminary), and Tim Mitchell (University of Birmingham, UK).  In several cases, I know that speakers will be presenting the results of very recent research. So, it’s not to be missed if you can make it.

TTotG: Has any new research been completed on the text of the Harklean Group?  How far back do you think it goes?

PG: I think the text of the Harklean Group goes back to Thomas of Harkel and his translation finished in 616.  Obviously, it has to go back before that since that text came from the Greek manuscripts he had available near Alexandria.  But how much earlier, we can’t say.  As for new research, the most recent is my own in relation to the Catholic Letters, the edition of Mark  completed by Samer Yohanna, and the edition of Revelation by Martin Heide.  Personally, I think it’s about time we started a project on a critical edition of the entire Harklean New Testament.

TTotG: You are probably best-known to our readers on account of your work in New Testament textual criticism, but the Text & Canon Institute also focuses on Old Testament textual issues. Will the Institute address some of those issues – for instance, [turning to John Meade], if the apostles regarded the Septuagint’s form of the book of Jeremiah as canonical, why shouldn’t we?

JM: Yes, the TCI focuses on matters related to Old Testament textual criticism also.  We hope to dedicate a colloquium to the topic of Jeremiah’s text and the apostles’ and early church’s reception of that book.

TTotG: In terms of specific passages, what three New Testament textual contests that are currently unsettled would you most want to be firmly resolved? (Top three?)

PG: Luke 23:34; Mark 16:9-20; and the one I’m currently working on:  Ephesians 5.22.

TTotG: And in the Old Testament?

JM: The David and Goliath Narrative (I Samuel 16-18); Isaiah 53:8; the tabernacle instructions (Exodus 35-40).

TTotG: Turning to Old Testament textual issues: at what point would you say the text of the Torah ceased to be produced in transit, from redactor to redactor, and became sacrosanct, traveling strictly from scribe to scribe?  Was it sacrosanct as soon as the ink was dry, or did each generation that transmitted it feel free to adjust and expand it, or something in between?

JM: There’s little doubt that later redactors edited the books of Moses, since it’s pretty clear that Moses did not record the story of his own death (Deut. 34).  Probably, scribes still recognized the sacrosanct character of the Torah, even as they were finalizing its form.  When this happened is difficult to pinpoint, although I think the references in Chronicles (ca. 400 BC) to the Torah of Moses strongly suggest a long-standing collection similar to the one we possess.  The Greek translation of the Torah (ca. 280 BC) shows a stable work (though see the major differences in Exodus 35-40). The books of Jubilees and Reworked Pentateuch from Qumran could possibly be interpreted as “rival Pentateuchs,” but more likely is the case that these works were viewed as commentaries, rewritten bibles, or revelatory exegeses on the already established Torah of Moses.

TTotG: How do you feel about some of the large numbers in the Old Testament?  For example, when we see references to 600,000 Hebrew men in the days of Moses, should we reckon that this was literally the case?  Or should we assume that the historical quantity has been miscopied by scribes and was originally 60,000?  Or something else?  

JM: I’m not sure I understand the full import of your question.  Perhaps, there’s miscopying.  But a better solution is that Hebrew ’elep in these contexts probably means something like a “military company” or “clan” in the sense of a subgroup within tribes.  The word can indicate the number 1,000 especially when referring to a unit of weight (cf. I Samuel 17:5 with Goliath’s coat weighing some 5,000 shekels of bronze), but in some contexts like I Samuel 17:18, Jesse is simply asking David to take supplies to the captain of his brothers’ troop or military company, maybe 10 or more men — not 1,000 fighting men.  
            In several military scenes in the OT, this meaning is far better than 1,000s.  One finds it difficult to imagine Joshua leading a stealth ambush at night of 30,000 against an already much smaller Ai (Joshua 7:3) in Joshua 8.  Probably, Joshua’s 30,000 warrior men of valor should be understood as 30 troops, perhaps containing 10 to 12 men in each for a total of around 300 men.  So, Moses is probably leading out 600 troops of ten or so men for a total of 6,000 men with somewhere between 12,000-24,000 women, children, and others, totaling 24,000-48,000 slaves leaving Egypt.  This fits other descriptions that Israel was a small and insignificant people as Deut. 7 says.

TTotG: Dr. Gurry, I don’t know your text-critical approach to conjectural emendations, but, if you were making a compilation of the Greek New Testament, and you could put one or two or three conjectural emendations in the apparatus, what would they be?

PG: Oh goodness, I don’t know offhand.  I can say that I am open to conjecture in principle but in practice I haven’t come across any that finally convince me.  Although the NA28’s conjecture in II Peter 3:10 has its charms.

TTorG: Dr. Meade – Same question, but in regard to the Old Testament text.

JM: I don’t have a list of conjectures that I like.  Generally, I think the original wording is found in our manuscripts.

TTotG: Finally, while the “text” part of “Text & Canon Institute” is justified in light of emerging public awareness of the field of textual criticism, is “Canon” a real concern?  I’m not getting a sense that American evangelicals are clamoring for reevaluations of the Biblical canon.  What am I missing?

PG/JM: If by “reevaluation,” you mean are evangelicals open to removing books from the Protestant canon, I would say no.  But our experience is that many evangelicals have little or no knowledge about the history of the Bible they trust.  When they realize that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox (and other ecclesial bodies) have different books in their Bibles, they naturally have questions.  When you add popular conspiratorial understandings of the process of canonization to that mix, then I would say that the “canon” of Text & Canon is easily justified from the perspective of the person in the pew.  Of course, at the academic level, all sorts of questions about canonization are in need of pursuit.  A further point goes back to an earlier question about different textual forms of Jeremiah and whether there was a canonical form(s) of the book.  So, yes, text and canon are more closely linked conceptually, historically, and theologically than most people realize.

TTotG: Thanks for sharing your insights and news.