Friday, May 31, 2019

Bill Mounce versus Reality


 
Dr. Bill Mounce
          
In the course of a recent review of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament, Dr. Bill Mounce stated the following:
            “The number one thing that they’re doing that I really like is that they’re giving primary weight to the ancient, the oldest manuscripts – Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus, and some of those older manuscripts.  We all know, in text-critical circles, that those manuscripts are by default more accurate.  They’re closer to the event; there’s been less time for them to be changed; the editors showed less of a propensity to change.  And when I’m reading this, I feel like I’m one step closer to those oldest and most reliable manuscripts.”
            A clearer expression of the axiom, “Older is better” could scarcely be found.
            But is that true?  Today, let’s take a passage from the Gospels – John 2:1-11, which records Jesus’ miracle of water to wine at the wedding-feast in Cana of Galilee – and see whether or not an ancient manuscript is more accurate than a younger manuscript.  Since the Tyndale House GNT happens to be in view, I shall use its text as the basis of comparison.  We let’s compare this passage as it is reconstructed in the Tyndale House edition of the Greek New Testament, and Codex Sinaiticus, and a medieval lectionary – specifically, Lectionary 1963 (the Symeon Stylites Lectionary), which is about 1000 years old.
            As we look at John 2:1-11, keep in mind the difference in the ages of these two manuscripts:  reckoning that the Gospel of John was written around A.D. 90, the copyists in the transmission-line of Codex Sinaiticus had only about 260 years in which mistakes could be made, accretions could be added, lines or phrases could be carelessly dropped, and so forth.  Whereas if Lectionary 1963 was produced around 1100, the copyists in its transmission-stream had about 1000 years in which the same sort of thing could occur.
            By Mounce’s logic, we should expect Codex Sinaiticus to have a far superior form of the text.  We all know this . . . right?  The copyists of Sinaiticus had “less of a propensity to change” – right?  And compared to Lectionary 1963, the copyists in the transmission-stream of Codex Sinaiticus only had a third as much time for changes to occur.  Plus, the copyists of Lectionary 1963 were producing a form of the text deliberately altered and adjusted for medieval church-services.  Surely there is no need to wonder which one contains the more accurate text . . . right?
            Nevertheless let us proceed with the comparison.  The usual ground rules for “Hand to Hand Combat” (used in some earlier posts) will be in play here:  all textual differences will be initially noted.  First-hand readings in the text are the focus.  Variants are “scored” in simple mathematical terms:  one point (+) shall be given for each non-original letter, and one point (-) shall be given for the absence of each original letter.  Movable-nu variants are noted.  Contractions of sacred names, and similar abbreviations, will not be counted as variants.  Transpositions will be mentioned but not counted as variants if there is no other difference.  Also, because one of the witnesses being compared is a lectionary, we shall only begin the comparison after the introductory phrase in verse 1.  After an initial score is tallied, each text will be rescored with itacisms and movable-nu readings removed from consideration. 

Now let’s consider Lectionary 1963’s text of John 2:1-11: 

2:1 – no variations
2:2 – no variations
2:3 – no variations
2:4 – no variations
2:5 – Lect 1963 has legei instead of legh (+2, -1)
2:6 – Lect 1963 transposes to udriai liqinai
2:6 – Lect 1963 transposes (after ex) to keimenai kata ton kaqarismon twn Ioudaiwn
2:6 – Lect 1963 has metritas instead of metrhtas (+1, -1)
2:7 – Lect 1963 has gemhsate instead of gemisate (+1, -1)
2:7 – Lect 1963 has egemhsan instead of egemisan (+1, -1)
2:8 – Lect 1963 has arcitriklinw instead of arcitrikleinw (-1)
2:8 – Lect 1963 has kai instead of oi de (+3, -4)
2:9 – Lect 1963 has arcitriklinos instead of arcitrikleinos (+1, -1)
2:9 – Lect 1963 has eidh instead of hdei (+3, -3)
2:9 – Lect 1963 has fwnh instead of fwnei (+1, -2)
2:9 – Lect 1963 has arcitriklinos instead of arcitrikleinos (+1, -1)
2:10 – Lect 1963 has tote after mequsqwsin (+4)
2:11 – Lect 1963 has epoihse instead of epoihsen (-1)
2:11 – Lect 1963 has thn before archn (+3)
2:11 – Lect 1963 has efanerwse instead of efanerwsen (-1)

            Thus in John 2:1-12, Lect 1963 has a rough score of +21 and -18, yielding a total of 39 letters’ worth of deviation from the original text as represented in the THEGNT.  Most of these differences are trivial.  When itacisms and movable-nu variants are removed from the equation, three deviations remain:

2:8 – Lect 1963 has kai instead of oi de (+3, -4)
2:10 – Lect 1963 has tote after mequsqwsin (+4)
2:11 – Lect 1963 has thn before archn (+3)

            The amount of non-trivial variation in John 2:1-11 in Lectionary 1963 consists of a total of 14 letters’ worth of deviation (i.e., 10 non-original letters are present, and four original letters are absent) compared to THEGNT.  Not one of these readings is a medieval novelty.  Codex A (from the 400s) also has kai instead of oi de in 2:8, and Codex A also has tote in 2:10. (Both of those readings are found in the majority of Greek manuscripts.)  Meanwhile Codex Sinaiticus (À) shares thn before archn in 2:11.  (This, too, is the reading of the majority of Greek manuscripts.)   

            Now let’s look at John 2:1-11 in Codex Sinaiticus.  This famous manuscript is one which Dr. Mounce described as “by default more accurate” and as one of the “oldest and most reliable manuscripts.”   In his view, Codex Sinaiticus is a “wonderful, wonderful manuscript – the most important copy of the Bible that we have.”

2:1 – no variations
2:2 – no variations
2:2À has oinon ouk eicon, oti cunetelesqh o oinos tou gamou eita instead of usterhsantos oinou (+41, -13)
2:3À has oinos instead of oinon (+1, -1)
2:3À has estin instead of exousin (+2, -4)
2:4 – no variations
2:5 – no variations
2:6À does not have keimenai (-8) (The word is added above the line)
2:7À has kai at the beginning of the verse (+3)
2:8À has arcitriklinw instead of arcitrikleinw (-1)
2:9À has arcitliklinos instead of arcitrikleinos (+2, -2)
2:9À has arcitriklinos instead of arcitrikleinos (+1, -1)
2:10À does not have autw (-4)
2:10À has de after su (+2)
2:10À has thn before archn (+3)
2:11À has prwthn after Galilaias (+6)
2:11À does not have autou after docan (-5)
2:11À transposes to oi maqhtai autou eis auton

            Thus in John 2:1-11, Codex Sinaiticus has a rough score of +61 (i.e., 60 non-original letters are in the text) and -39 (i.e., 39 original letters are not in the text), for a total of 100 letters’ worth of deviation compared to the THEGNT.  When itacisms and transpositions are removed from the equation, ten variants remain:

2:2 – Sinaiticus has oinon ouk eicon, oti cunetelesqh o oinos tou gamou eita instead of usterhsantos oinou (+41, -13)
2:3 – Sinaiticus has oinos instead of oinon (+1, -1)
2:3 – Sinaiticus has estin instead of exousin (+2, -4)
2:6 – Sinaiticus does not have keimenai (-8) (The word is added above the line)
2:7 – Sinaiticus has kai at the beginning of the verse (+3)
2:10 – Sinaiticus does not have autw (-4)
2:10 – Sinaiticus has de after su (+2)
2:10 – Sinaiticus has thn before archn (+3)
2:11 – Sinaiticus has prwthn after Galilaias (+6)
2:11 – Sinaiticus does not have autou after docan (-5)

            Thus the amount of non-trivial variation in John 2:1-11 in À consists of a total of 93 letters’ worth of deviation (i.e., 58 non-original letters are present, and 35 original letters are absent) compared to the THEGNT. 
            To restate:  when we consider all variants, even trivial ones, Lectionary 1963 has 39 letters’ worth of deviation from the THEGNT.  With trivial variants set aside, Lectionary 1963 has 14 letters’ worth of deviation compared to the THEGNT.  Meanwhile, the text from the copyist of Codex Sinaiticus has 100 letters’ worth of deviation compared to the THEGNT if trivial variants are considered, and if trivial variants are set aside, Codex Sinaiticus has 93 letters’ worth of deviation from the THEGNT. 

            An additional consideration:  tote in verse 10 is widely attested, and could easily be skipped by accident if a copyist’s line of sight shifted to the following to- in the next word, ton.  If tote is regarded as original, then the amount of non-trivial deviation in Lectionary 1963 drops to 10 letters, and the amount of non-trivial deviation in Sinaiticus rises to 97 letters.  No matter how you slice it, John 2:1-11 in Codex Sinaiticus has more than five times as much corruption than Lectionary 1963.

            Dr. Mounce’s notion that the age of a manuscript is a sure measure of the accuracy of its text, however reasonable it sounds, is manifestly untrue. 
            Readers who rely on the Tyndale House edition of the Greek New Testament for their knowledge of textual variants, however, will be blissfully unaware of the embarrassing plethora of scribal corruptions in the “earliest and most reliable” manuscripts.  In John 2:1-11, the textual apparatus of the THEGNT has exactly zero variant-units.  The apparatus of the THEGNT quotes no patristic writings, no ancient versions, and no lectionaries.  (Based on the list of witnesses in the introduction to the THEGNT, it appears that lectionaries were not even consulted during its compilation.)
            A more detailed apparatus could make difficult for Dr. Mounce to maintain his claim.  Specifically, a more detailed apparatus could include enough information to challenge the claim that the text of John 2:1-11 in Sinaiticus is “most reliable,” and “wonderful,” and accurate by default, and demonstrate instead that in John 2:1-11, the copyists in its transmission-stream had introduced five times the amount of corruptions, in a third of the time, compared to the text in an ordinary medieval lectionary. 



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


1 comment:

CC said...

This a magnificent analysis and perfect example of the blunders in Sinaiticus. Thanks for doing this