Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Book Review: Myths and Mistakes


            In Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, a group of scholars presents fifteen chapters focused on some persistent misconceptions about subjected related to New Testament textual criticism.  A chapter-by-chapter review is fitting, due to the diffuse nature of the subjects that are covered.  
              
FOREWORD (Dan Wallace)

            Dan Wallace is, at the moment, known for initiating one of the biggest pieces of misinformation ever spread pertinent to New Testament textual criticism:  his claim (in a debate with Bart Ehrman on February 1, 2012) that there is a manuscript of the Gospel of Mark from the first century.  Having already issued an apology for that fiasco, Dr. Wallace is perhaps especially qualified to warn readers against the dangers of gullibly believing unverified claims such as the ones addressed in this book.  He lists some of the propagators of some of the book’s target-claims, including Craig Evans, Philip Comfort, and Michael Kruger.  Wallace also seems a bit less ambitious about the primary task of New Testament textual criticism – the reconstruction of the original text – than one might expect; he seems content with a compilation that is “good enough.”

CHAPTER ONE:  INTRODUCTION (Peter Gurry and Elijah Hixson)

            The authors of this chapter (who are the editors of the whole book) point out that when wacky and bizarre claims are made by those who misrepresent the New Testament text’s reliability, the proper response is not to defend it with equally unjustifiable claims.  Atheist Robert Price is mentioned as one example of a victim of sloppy apologetics.  Apologists’ sloppiness may be due to, or consist of, three factors:  (1) the use of outdated data, (2) abused statistics, and (3) selective use of evidence.  Several pages focus on this last source of inaccuracy as shown by false claims about “First Century Mark” and the Dead Sea Scroll fragment 7Q5.
            The authors are perfectly clear about what they regard as the primary task of New Testament textual criticism.  Contrary to some European scholars who aspire to reconstruct an early text, or who approach textual variants as hints of various historical doctrinal controversies, Gurry and Hixson, following the example set centuries ago by Johann Bengel, affirm that “The nature of God’s Word requires us to seek out its original form to the full extent of our God-given abilities” (p. 21).  Following an overview of the contents of each chapter, they summarize the purpose of the book:   to keep the truth from being supported by falsehoods.
           
CHAPTER TWO:  MYTHS ABOUT AUTOGRAPHS (Timothy N. Mitchell)

            Did the original documents of the books of the New Testament last for centuries after their texts were initially produced?  Craig Blomberg and Craig Evans have encouraged folks to answer, “Yes,” but in this chapter, Timothy Mitchell make a strong case against using such a claim in any argument for the reliability of the text of the New Testament.  Along the way, he explains that in ancient times, there was some fluidity about the exact nature of “autographs” – compositions could be circulated unofficially in unfinished forms, prior to their formal publication.  A statement from the rhetorician Quintilian is used to demonstrate this, and augmentation is provided by evidence from the second-century writer Galen.  Mitchell also presents a composition preserved in two papyri – a petition to the Egyptian prefect Publius Ostorius Scapula – to show that composition-production sometimes occurred in stages.  However, Mitchell makes no clear connection between the process by which that composition was produced, and the method in which any particular New Testament book was produced. 
            Mitchell addresses the notion that Paul’s epistles were produced in sets of identical twins – one copy being sent to Rome, Corinth, Galatia, etc., while the other copy was kept in the possession of Paul or a colleague.  This scenario would make it easy for an early copyist to acquire excellent exemplars of Paul’s letters to copy.  Mitchell, countering Craig Evans’ claim to the effect that Paul followed a custom of making a copy of every epistle he wrote, insists that it is “quite possible” that Paul did not make twin-copies of letters such as his letters to Timothy and Titus.  (In addition, it is precariously speculative to assume that the customs of an acclaimed writer such as Cicero would be observed by Paul in prison.)
            Mitchell argues very effectively that when one considers the harmful effects of climate, persecution, wars, natural disasters, and other factors, it would be unwise to attempt to build a case for the reliability of the New Testament case on the assumption that the autographs of New Testament books lasted for centuries.  As stated in the Key Takeaways of this chapter, “It is unlikely that the New Testament autographs still existed and influenced the text by the time of our earliest copies.”           

CHAPTER THREE:  MATH MYTHS (Jacob W. Peterson)

            In this candidly written chapter, Jacob Peterson warns against casual appeals to quantities of manuscripts as if the number of copies ensures the accuracy of their text.  Along the way, he warns against making the mistake of describing the number of manuscripts in an overly precise way:  an assortment of very good reasons renders it unwise to do so; perhaps chief among them is that although 323 items have been given a majuscule number, “forty-one have been stricken from the Liste,” and if one takes other factors into consideration, the number of verifiably extant majuscule (i.e., uncial) copies “drops to 261.” 
            Peterson argues in favor of weighing manuscripts rather than counting them, echoing a maxim popularized by Metzger.  In a series of informative charts, Peterson shows the dangers of appealing to “New Testament manuscripts” in general as if they all support specific readings; it is superfluous to appeal to hundreds of copies of the Gospels as if they support a textual variant in the Epistle of James.  Likewise it is not necessarily helpful, even when zeroing in on Gospels-manuscripts, to assume that all Gospels-manuscripts are extant at every point; many are fragmentary. 
            Those who would argue that the most-copied Greek reading is statistically the reading most likely to be original might find some shortcomings in parts of Peterson’s arguments.  He seems to be approaching the question from the perspective of someone who knows that he advocates readings with very thin attestation (he describes Hort’s 1881 compilation as “a very good and reliable text” on p. 67), and who thus wants to reduce the force of arguments from number and scope.  However, all readers may benefit from his advice to describe the manuscript evidence accurately, setting aside sensationalistic claims in favor of more judicious references to 5,100-5,300 manuscripts, with an awareness of the extent of their contents.   

CHAPTER FOUR:  MYTHS ABOUT CLASSICAL LITERATURE (James B. Prothro)

            In this chapter, James Prothro very specifically takes aim against claims that have been propagated by F. F. Bruce, Stanley Porter, Bruce Metzger, and others, regarding the relative advantages possessed by those undertaking the reconstruction of the New Testament text compared to those undertaking the reconstruction of the texts of other ancient compositions.  Like Peterson in the previous chapter, Prothro advises against pursuing exact numbers when describing manuscript-evidence – in this case, manuscripts of non-Biblical works.   He also demonstrates that to cite past generations’ estimates of the number of manuscripts of non-Biblical works is an appallingly bad idea.  One example: don’t boast that there are only 643 manuscripts of Homer’s Iliad.   Metzger mentioned that quantity in 1963, but Prothro mentions that a 2001 research-paper on the Iliad described “1,569 papyri.”  Likewise, past researchers (and some present ones – looking at you, Porter and Pitts) have terribly misrepresented the chronological distance between some authors of antiquity (Herodotus and Thucydides) and the production-date of the earliest copies of their works. 
            Prothro advises readers to ensure that when they compare the attestation for the New Testament to the attestation for other ancient works, they use up-to-date data.  In addition, the limits of such comparisons should be acknowledged:  having better attestation is not the same as having incontestable attestation, especially when one adopts and defends variants that are opposed by over 90% of the extant manuscripts of a particular New Testament book (which advocates of the Nestle-Aland compilation routinely do). 

CHAPTER FIVE:  DATING MYTHS, PART 1 (Elijah Hixson)

            Norman Geisler (†) and Philip Comfort are not to be trusted when production-dates of early manuscripts are concerned.  Also, Papyrus 52 is not as important as many researchers (such as Karl Jaroš, Philip Comfort, and Carsten Peter Thiede (†)) have made it seem.  These are two of the main points of this chapter, and Hixson supports them very competently.
            Hixson points out that assigning production-dates to New Testament manuscripts is often difficult.  Sometimes a colophon in a manuscript helpfully mentions the manuscript’s production-date; sometimes the conditions in which a manuscript was found imply chronological parameters for its production; sometimes manuscripts are written in scripts which had short periods of popularity.  But often we must be content with approximations.       
            Hixson may approach P52 a bit too mathematically at one point, when he argues that even if P52 could be assigned precisely to 125, it would only prove that this particular part of the Gospel of John was in Egypt at that point; it would still be possible that the Gospel of John as we know it was yet to be produced.   This reminds me of a joke about a physicist and a mathematician who were in an airplane that flew above a flock of sheep:  the physicist, upon returning to his home, made a note that he had flown over a flock of white sheep.  The mathematician, upon returning home, made a similar note, stating that he had flown over a flock of sheep that were white on top.
            Hixson recommends avoiding narrow date ranges – but he proceeds to say that “fifty years is the smallest acceptable window for a date range assigned on paleographic grounds” (p. 108).  That is still too small.  Reckoning that (a) a copyist could be active for 50 years, and (b) a copyist’s handwriting tended to remain basically the same throughout his career, and (c) we do not know how old the copyist was when he produced any particular manuscript, we ought to allow 50 years on either side of an estimated production-date.  Hixson basically agrees with this in his Key Takeaways, affirming that “a range of seventy-five to one hundred years is typically more preferable.”  The same sentiment is reaffirmed in his statement that “The responsible date range of P52, probably our earlier manuscript, is AD 100-200, and a few scholars even extend that range into the 200s.”  (Although I would contend that P104 has just as good a claim to the title.)

CHAPTER SIX:  DATING MYTHS, PART 2 (Gregory Lanier)

            Readers of the online TC-Journal may recall Dr. Lanier’s 2016 essay on Matthew 21:44, in which he argued for the non-genuineness of that verse.  Here, he investigates a common assumption:  the myth that the younger the manuscript, the worse its text – or, to put the axiom in reverse, the older the manuscript, the better its text.  Lanier establishes that the Byzantine Text – which is not the same as the Textus Receptus – is a pretty good form of the text of Acts and the Epistles:  the undivided Byzantine Text, he observes, fully agrees with the Editio Critica Maior “94% of the time.”  (This is a somewhat slippery statistic; the ECM remains heavily Alexandrian; there are simply very many points at which some MSS disagree with both the Byzantine Text and the flagship representatives of the Alexandrian Text.)
            Lanier also openly concedes a point which Dan Wallace has seemed hesitant to acknowledge:  “P45, P46, and P66 share over one hundred readings with the Byzantine tradition against the early majuscules” (p. 116).  And, “A multitude of Byzantine readings go back as far as the 200s.”  And (quoting Klaus Wachtel), “The high agreement rates connecting these witnesses demonstrates that a large body of text was safely transmitted from the very beginning of its transmission through the Byzantine period to today.”
             After pointing to manuscripts 1739 (and related MSS), 1582 (and related MSS), and 2138 (and related MSS) as examples of relatively late manuscripts preserving relatively early forms of the text, Lanier considers some scribal treatments of three famous textual variants:  John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and Luke 22:43-44.  Unfortunately Lanier does not seem to notice that some of the scribal notes he mentions are related – for instance, the short note about Mark 16:9-20 in MSS 15, 22, 1110, etc., is the same note found in 1, 205, etc., except it has had the part about the Eusebian Canons removed, almost certainly because the Canons had been expanded, so as to include vv. 9-20, by the time they were produced.  This may be overlooked in a chapter that is not focused on that particular passage.  But surely Lanier’s statement that Family 13 manuscripts transferred Luke 22:43-44 into the text of Matthew “for reasons unknown” is wrong.  This was done for liturgical reasons related to how the passages were read at Easter-time, as one can see by consulting the lectionary-apparatus found in the margins of many manuscripts.
             
CHAPTER SEVEN:  MYTHS ABOUT COPYISTS (Zachary J. Cole)

            Some claims that have been spread by Bart Ehrman virtually beg for clarification – and in this chapter, they get it.  Were early copyists of New Testament texts typically enthusiastic amateurs, lacking the training necessary to replicate the contents of their exemplars?  Cole investigates the quality of Christian copyists’ work up to the time of Constantine, and straightens out some common misinterpretations of statements made by C. H. Roberts.  Cole offers a straightforward view:  in that period, being a professional scribe did not necessarily make one competent at copying, and not being a professional scribe did not make one incompetent.       
            Cole cites Alan Mugridge’s 2015 study, Copying Early Christian Texts:  A Study of Scribal Practice, to bolster his case that most copyists of most Christian texts were competent.  He also mentions specifically P45, P46, and P75 as examples of manuscripts written by competent scribes.  (One might ask, then, why the texts of P45 and P75 are so different.)  After concluding that most early New Testament manuscripts “bear the marks of trained and capable scribes,” though, Cole acknowledged that there were exceptions, and he mentions two of them:  the scribes of P72 and P47.  The scribe of P66 has escaped.
            Cole then builds a case against the myth that scribes of New Testament manuscripts were typically “freewheeling.”  This case has three points:  (1) a comparison of many MSS filters out quirk-readings, (2) the flagship manuscripts of the Alexandrian Text express scribes’ intent to make careful, accurate copies, and (3) textual variants in our extant MSS do not support the idea that scribes habitually abandoned their exemplars.
            Each one of these points invites challenge: 
            ● It is not so easy to filter out quirk-readings from the Alexandrian Text if one has pre-decided that a few Alexandrian manuscripts outweigh hundreds of Byzantine ones.  Although Cole insists that our knowledge of the text of the New Testament “is not based on the witness of one or two manuscripts,” there are places in the Nestle-Aland text where that is exactly what it is based on.
            ● When one observes the 3,036 disagreements between Vaticanus and Sinaiticus in the Gospels, it is difficult to maintain that both manuscripts exemplify a high level of scribal accuracy.  Milne & Skeat’s description of Scribe B of Sinaiticus are a needed wake-up call:  “The habits of B [i.e., Scribe B] are difficult to describe in moderate language; still more difficult is it to understand how a scribe so careless and illiterate came to be chosen for such a manuscript.  He seems to have had no firm visual impression of Greek, so barbarous and grotesque are the forms which his misspellings can present to the eye, and with such utter inconsistency does he sway from correct to incorrect.  His aberrations extend over the whole field.”
            ● Cole states that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 are in doubt, and thus pose problems (if they are rejected) for the idea that copyists never supplemented their exemplars with additional materials.  (John 7:53-8:11 is supported by about 85% of the Greek manuscripts of John, and Mark 16:9-20 is supported by over 99% of the Greek manuscripts of Mark.)  But this is also the case for practically all Byzantine readings opposed by Alexandrian rivals, of which there are many.
            Finally, something must be said about Cole’s presentation of John 5:4.  Cole observes that this reading is in Codex Alexandrinus, but not in earlier manuscripts such as P66, P75, Vaticanus, and Sinaiticus.  By consulting this early textual evidence, Cole says, “we can see that John 5:4 appears to be an explanatory gloss by a later scribe.”  What Cole does not say is that Tertullian, in his composition De Baptismo, mentions that “An angel used to do things when he moved the Pool of Bethsaida.  Those who complained of ill-health used to watch out for
him, for anyone who got down there before the others, after washing had no further reason to complain.”  This implies that either a tradition or a textual variant encapsulating what is stated in John 5:4 was already circulating not only later, but before the production of
those manuscripts.  
            Cole’s case for the competence of early scribes is strong, but his case for the fidelity of scribes cannot be applied in the same way to scribes in both the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-streams.                

CHAPTER EIGHT:  MYTHS ABOUT COPYING (Peter Malik)

            Of all the chapters in this book, this one may be the most not-for-beginners.  Malik takes readers on a wide-ranging tour of corrections in manuscripts, ranging from P66 and Codex Sinaiticus to minuscule 61 (famous for its inclusion of the Comma Johanneum, but also notable on account of many corrections and alternative-readings in its margins) and even to the Egerton Gospel.       
            Malik brings an It’s-Not-So-Bad diagnosis to the work of the copyist of P66.  The scribe’s initial work needed hundreds of corrections, and this was seen by E. C. Colwell as evidence that the copyist was inattentive; on the other hand, considering that the scribe reviewed his own work and made those hundreds of corrections, this may be seen as an indication that he was trying, albeit in multiple steps, to make an accurate copy – using more than one exemplar in the process.   Jumping ahead over a thousand years, GA 61 displays, if not scribal interest in correcting the main text of the manuscript, at least a desire to preserve, in the margin, some alternative readings, particularly in Revelation 1-4.   
            Jumping back to P66, Malik engages Bart Ehrman’s claim about three specific variants, in John 10:30, 19:5, and 19:28.  In each case, Malik argues, what Ehrman has interpreted as deliberate doctrinally motivated tweaking is explained more plausibly as a symptom of scribal inattentiveness.  Perhaps Hanlon’s Razor should become a text-critical guideline.
            Mark 1:1 in Codex Sinaiticus, and a reading in the Egerton Gospel, are then briefly considered, but frankly the chapter would be better without them;  the variant in Mark 1:1 in Sinaiticus is considered in more detail later (in chapter 10), and the entire discussion of the reading in the Egerton Gospel seems, to me, rather speculative.   
           
CHAPTER NINE:  MYTHS ABOUT TRANSMISSION (S. Matthew Solomon)

            In this chapter, Matthew Solomon – who has made a complete collation of all known Greek manuscripts of the book of Philemon – uses his experience with the text of Philemon to unteach an idea which is not so much an explicitly taught myth as it is a common assumption:  the idea that the textual apparatuses found in the UBS and Nestle-Aland editions of the Greek New Testament convey a full picture of the amount of textual variation in the extant manuscripts.  Along the way, Solomon introduces readers to the collation-process, and to a series of variants in the text of Philemon and factors which may have elicited them.
            After pointing out that we do not have very many early Greek copies of Philemon – only nine from before c. 700 (of which only three are complete).  And “Only about 4 percent of the manuscripts we have for Philemon date to before the year 900.”  Solomon consistently favors readings from earlier manuscripts, and explicitly regards the text of most manuscripts of Philemon as “a later text.”  (Readers who just finished watching Lanier kill the myth of “Older is Better” in chapter 6 might wonder why it is still moving here in chapter 9.)  In his discussions of textual contests in v. 2 (ἀδελφη, “sister” versus ἀγαπητη, “beloved”), v. 7 (χαραν γαρ πολλην εσχον, “Because I have great joy” versus χάριν γαρ εχομεν πολλην, “Because we are very thankful”), and v. 12 (non-inclusion of προσλαβου, “receive [him],” versus inclusion), the reading attested by a large majority of manuscripts is rejected.  However compelling Solomon’s reasoning for the minority reading may be, a bit more balance – a bit more deliberation – would have been welcome.
            Solomon briefly describes certain kinds of variants and the factors that elicited them:  the addition of some small words served to benignly separate (or connect) different phrases.  In other cases, small words were added to render the clear meaning of the text even more clear.  Solomon points out that at the end of verse 20, some MSS read εν χω (in Christ), most read εν κω (in the Lord), and a few have neither reading.  Considerations of some other readings in Philemon can be found elsewhere, in Solomon’s 2015 SBL presentation Textual Variants as Commentary:  Philemon as a Test Case.                               
            Some readers may take issue with Solomon’s assertion that the text of Philemon is uncertain (i.e., possibly something other than what is adopted in NA28) in only two places.   But his detailed approach is valuable, even where it could have benefited from more consideration of versional evidence (which has almost all been rendered invisible throughout the discussion).  Finally, readers are sure to benefit from seeing the question, “What was the motive for this variant?” at work in Solomon’s analysis.  Perhaps a bit more attention should have been given to P139, the fragment of Philemon which was published at the same time as the papyrus formerly known as “First Century Mark.”

CHAPTER TEN:  MYTHS ABOUT VARIANTS (Peter J. Gurry)

            In this chapter Peter Gurry wrestles with what is surely the most widespread myth in New Testament textual criticism:  the idea that textual variants have no effect on Christian doctrine.  Almost from the outset, he grants the point that “Some variants . . . really do touch on important doctrines” (p. 193).  After hashing out an estimate of the number of textual variants in existence, though, he only discusses a few in detail, pointing out along the way that in some passages, readings which only exist in the minds of textual critics have been seriously proposed to be the variant that best accounts for all their rivals.
            Mark 1:1 – involving the presence, or absence, of “Son of God” – and Luke 23:34 – involving the presence, or absence, of Jesus’ prayer for the forgiveness of His crucifiers – and John 1:18 – involving the contest between “only begotten Son” and “only begotten God” – are used to illustrate the point that some the results of some textual contests make a large impact upon how one interprets particular passages.   However, these are probably not the best examples that could have been chosen; the textual decisions that are made regarding Mark 1:41 (where, in the base-text of the 2011 NIV, Jesus becomes angry, rather than compassionate), Matthew 27:49 (where the Alexandrian Text supports a form of the text that starkly contradicts the narrative in John 19), and First Corinthians 14:34-35 (which some textual critics regard as an insertion made by scribes) have heavier impacts. 
            A small point that Gurry makes on p. 206 may need to be revisited:  after listing 25 New Testament passages that contain textual variants that affect interpretation, he states, “There is no attempt to hide these variants,” considering that “They are plainly visible right in the footnotes of most any modern English translation.”  But upon taking in hand my 1995 New American Standard New Testament, I find textual footnotes for only nine of the listed passages (Mk. 16:9-20, Luke 11:1-4, John 5:3-4, 7:53-8:11, Romans 16:24, Ephesians 1:1, Second Peter 3:10, and Jude 5 – and 1 Thess. 2:7, which was surely what was meant, rather than 2 Thess. 2:7).  In addition, in all major English translations, the textual footnotes are hopelessly vague and imprecise; in the Christian Standard Bible’s footnotes, for example, “Other mss” might refer to 99% of the manuscripts in existence, and “Some mss” might refer to a single manuscript (cf. the CSB in Mark 1:41 and 9:29).  Furthermore, another 25 passages could be listed which contain significant textual variants, but which usually receive no footnote in major translations.
            Gurry’s chapter is worthwhile for its balanced demonstration that while no basic Christian doctrine stands or falls on the outcome of one specific textual contest, the outcome of some textual contests has an impact on the doctrinal message of specific passages.  He may downplay the degree to which this is the case when he says that only “a few dozen” variants affect the meaning of the text, and “some of these” are theologically important.  However, his brevity is understandable, for it would require another large book to adequately analyze all of the passages that have their meaning altered by a textual variant. 
            Finally, Gurry’s contention that “no doctrine is in jeopardy because of a serious variant” is somewhat open to question.  Some variants (in Matthew 1:7-8, Matthew 1:10, Matthew 27:49, Mark 5:1, Mark 6:22, Luke 1:26, Luke 4:44, and Luke 24:13, for example) seem to express historical or geographical errors, and the inerrancy of a compilation of the Greek New Testament would seem to depend on which reading is adopted in those cases.
           
CHAPTER ELEVEN:  MYTHS ABOUT ORTHODOX CORRUPTION (Robert D. Marcello)

            Orthodox scribes corrupted the text of the New Testament – but what was the extent of that corruption, and how difficult is it to undo with competent use of our available resources?  That question is explored by Robert Marcello, the Assistant Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.  Marcello considers Hort’s view regarding orthodox corruption – which was thoroughly incorrect – and proceeds to identify two manuscripts with texts that show unusually high amounts of doctrinally motivated corruption:  Codex Bezae and P72.  The thing to see is that the specific corruptions in D and P72 are unusual.  The scribes of the texts in these two manuscripts exhibit a level of recklessness that is not typical; thus their quirky readings can be filtered out with relative ease.
            Marcello then focuses on two textual variants which have been accused of being doctrinally-motivated corruptions – in Matthew 24:36 and John 1:18 – and argues that in both cases, the reading that aligns with orthodox theology can be defended as the original reading.  (Marcello thus disagrees with the Tyndale House GNT regarding what John 1:18 originally said.)   In the case of the contest in Mt. 24:36, Marcello relies on some earlier research undertaken by Dan Wallace, the Executive Director of CSNTM.         
            In general, Marcello does an adequate job of grounding readers in the reality that most copyists did not aspire to depart from their exemplars.  The sensationalistic claims made by Kurt Eichenwald are justly dismissed as sensationalistic and ridiculous; the claims of Bart Ehrman, while much more sane, also contain many exaggerations and assumptions; Marcello describes them appropriately as “overplayed.”  He helpfully points readers to Wayne Kannaday’s work for more information.  
            A small fault in this chapter is the lack of any mention of John Burgon’s contribution to the subject of orthodox corruption; Marcello states (p. 218), “Ehrman ought to be credited with opening wide the door to the discussion of orthodox corruption,” but it was Burgon who, long before Ehrman was born, wrote a full chapter titled “Corruption by the Orthodox” in his posthumously issued book, The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels.   

CHAPTER TWELVE:  MYTHS ABOUT PATRISTICS (Andrew Blaski)

            The first part of this chapter is sharply focused, and makes its point with positively vivid force:  the often-repeated claim that the text of the entire New Testament, except for eleven verses, can be reconstructed from quotations embedded in early patristic writings is groundless.  Despite being spread by Bruce Metzger, Bart Ehrman, Norman Geisler, and others, this claim is false.  It is not just false; it is not conceivably close to being true.  If you have spread this false claim, stop!
            The second part consists of a nuanced tour of patristic evidence and the methods by which it should be analyzed.  Blaski informs readers that patristic support for a textual variant may have different levels of strength, ranging from explicit quotations maintained in all copies of a patristic composition in the language in which it was written, to mild allusions in some copies of a translation of a patristic composition.  In addition, patristic writers sometimes made composite quotations, sometimes quoted from a Gospel without identifying specifically which Gospel was being quoted, and sometimes merely gave the gist of some passages.  In addition, some patristic writers borrowed from the works of earlier writers, and some later writers’ works have been misidentified as the works of earlier writers.
            Before a patristic statement can be cited for or against a specific textual variant, its authenticity and degree of clarity must be established.  If this is the only point readers take away from this chapter (and vow never to spread the false claim that practically the whole New Testament can be extracted from early patristic quotations), it will be worthwhile.
            There is however one statement Blaski makes which should be reconsidered.  On page 249, he states the scriptural quotations in letters written by Cyprian in the mid-200s “appear almost always to agree with the text preserved in the Old Latin manuscript known as VL 1 (Codex Bobiensis; k).”  Perhaps Blanski is echoing some inaccurate statements made previously by Metzger and Ehrman (whose Text of the New Testament he mentions as a source in a footnote); they wrote that the quotations in Cyprian’s letters “agree almost always” with the form of the text preserved in k.  But when one consults the 1886 Old Latin Biblical Texts II, in which the text of k is compared to Cyprian’s quotations, one finds on page lxii the summation of a comparison of Cyprian’s quotations from Matthew, and k’s text:  they agree in 97 readings, but disagree in 44 readings.  No comparison is possible past Matthew chapter 15, for Codex Bobiensis is not extant after Matthew 15:36.  As for the text of Mark, Codex Bobiensis is not extant for Mark 1:1-8:7, and Cyprian appears to quote only sparingly from the remaining chapters:  Wordsworth-White list a total of less than 25 verses from k, and they certainly do not all agree with Cyprian’s quotations; nor do they come close to doing so.  

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:  MYTHS ABOUT CANON (John D. Meade)

            In this chart-heavy chapter, John Meade opposes the minor myth that if copyists included a book in the same codex that contained major New Testament books (such as the Gospels, and/or Acts and the Epistles), it meant that the copyists regarded that book as authoritative, canonical Scripture.  Such an assumption does not have much of an overall effect, for the number of New Testament manuscripts which contain both canonical and non-canonical books is very small; nevertheless Meade goes into great detail in the course of testing the theory. 
            He finds – after a consideration of various canon-lists from various eras, and a somewhat superfluous review of New Testament manuscripts made before the 700s – that mere inclusion in a codex that contained canonical books does not mean that a book in the same codex was necessarily considered canonical.  This conclusion, I am confident, is correct, but the evidence Meade uses to justify it seems problematic:  referring to Gospels-manuscripts made before the 700s, he states (p. 266), “Most of these multiple-book codices contain only two or three books,” and “A relative few codices evince the four-Gospel collection,” but this is almost entirely merely the effect of incidental damage over the years; if a majuscule had the Eusebian Canons and Sections, it almost certainly had all four Gospels when it was initially produced. 
            Also, although Meade states, “In Greek manuscripts, there is no evidence of a noncanonical Gospel being joined to a canonical Gospel” (p. 270), there is more than Greek manuscripts to consider; a Coptic apotropaic amulet from the 600s or 700s (Brit. Lib. Or. 4919(2)) contains the opening words taken from Matthew 1:1, Luke 1:1, John 1:1, and Mark 1:1, but also, before them all, a phrase from the legendary letter from Jesus to Abgar.  It might be worthwhile to ask if superstition – in this case, the idea that a particular composition was lucky, or somehow conveyed divine protection – was ever a factor in the inclusion of some compositions in the same collections that contained canonical New Testament books.
            In any event, Meade makes an adequate case for resisting the assumption that inclusion in a codex with canonical books implied that another book was also canonical.  A little common sense ought to lead one to the same conclusion; Eusebius’ letter to Carpian (explaining how to use the Canons and Sections), chapter-lists, book-summaries, Paul’s itinerary, and other supplemental materials are in many manuscripts, but nobody ascribed apostolic authority to them simply because they were in the codices.
            (On page 266, a chart lists “1043” as a manuscript that contains text from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This is lectionary 1043.)

CHAPTER FOURTEEN:  MYTHS ABOUT EARLY TRANSLATIONS (Jeremiah Coogan)

            This chapter gets off to a rocky start.  Jeremiah Coogan (Ph.D. candidate, Notre Dame) opposes the claim that there are 25,000 New Testament manuscripts, if we consider copies made in any language; he asserts that this estimate is “far too large.”  However, his assertion is not easy to prove, inasmuch as the jury is still out, so to speak, regarding exactly how many Latin copies of the Vulgate exist, and how many Armenian New Testament manuscripts exist.  Some readers may want to set that issue aside and re-start with Coogan’s uncontroversial explanation of the nuances involved in the use of versional evidence.
            Not all versions are created equal.  A version that is itself a translation of another version tends to be less useful than a version made directly from the Greek text.  In addition, some languages are simply not built to convey some idioms and nuances.  When such factors are taken into consideration, however, versional evidence can provide important support for textual variants – especially the early Latin, Syriac, and Coptic versions.  Manuscripts in these languages are the focus of most of this chapter – which is unfortunate; other versions get almost no attention, and their origins are only blurrily described:  “By the late fourth century,” Coogan states, “most or all of the New Testament had been translated into Gothic, Ethiopic, and Armenian” (p. 284).  But this is not quite right where the Armenian version is concerned; its initial production occurred in the first few decades of the fifth century.
            After describing the Old Latin version(s), Coogan describes the Vulgate, stating that Jerome used as the basis for the Vulgate Gospels an Italian form of the Latin text, and revised it “toward a Greek text with strong similarities to Codex Sinaiticus (01)” (p. 286).  (Some readers might want to test that claim, for which Coogan offers no support.)  The Latin transmission-stream(s) are then briefly described – but for this material, readers are advised to put down this book and pick up Hugh Houghton’s The Latin New Testament. 
            Syriac manuscripts are described next, and Coogan reviews not only the Old Syriac and the Peshitta, but also the Philoxenian and Harklean versions; inasmuch as the Harklean version was made in the early 600s, this renders the lack of attention given to the Armenian and Georgian versions inexplicable.
            Finally the Coptic version is considered, along with manuscripts written in various Egyptian dialects.  Not enough attention is given to the impact of revisions upon the Coptic text.
The descriptions of Middle Egyptian manuscripts are too brief to allow new readers any hope of appreciating their potential significance.                 
            This chapter disappoints.  Coogan proposes that apologists ought to merely say that there are “a few thousand versional manuscripts” but he seems unable to prove that there are less than 20,000 such manuscripts.  What is the point of replacing a myth – if myth it be – with a guess?  In addition, important aspects of versional evidence, such as the close affinity shared by the early Sahidic version and the text of Codex Vaticanus, have been left unmentioned.        

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:  MYTHS ABOUT MODERN TRANSLATIONS (Edgar Battad Ebojo)

            This chapter does not seem to remedy any myth; instead, Edgar Ebojo (who may already be known to some readers due to his research on Papyrus 46) explains some of what is involved in the work of modern translations of the New Testament. He candidly affirms that many translations are being attempted by people who do not have training in either textual criticism or the Biblical languages; these individuals, it seems, must depend heavily on resources such as Unitarian Roger Omanson’s A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament. 
            Ebojo states that the first challenge for translators is to decide which text to translate; after mentioning a few recent editions, he focuses on the United Bible Societies’ compilation and confirms that “Unless there is a strong clamor from the churches they serve, the default is always the UBS-NA text” (p. 309), due to the stipulations of an agreement between the UBS and the Vatican’s Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. 
            (This might provoke two different reactions from readers:  first, it may be surprising to see such a candid affirmation that the promotion of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament is to a large extent a Roman Catholic enterprise.  Second, it may be surprising to see that the resolve of UBS representatives to use the Nestle-Aland compilation as a base-text can be vetoed by the strong clamor of local churches.)
            UBS’ guidelines allow translators a degree of freedom to make on-the-spot adjustments to their base-text, but they are to be limited to readings with “A” or “B” ratings.  (This guideline ought to be revisited, inasmuch as NA28’s own editors abandoned an “A” reading.)  Special consideration is often given to passages which are double-bracketed in the NA text itself:   Mark 16:9-20, the Shorter Ending of Mark, Luke 22:43-44, Luke 23:34a, and John 7:53-8:11. 
            Ebojo spends some time addressing the question the helpfulness of footnotes which mention textual variants and alternative renderings.  Toward the end of this part of the chapter, he raises an important question:  if footnotes are not intelligible, are they helpful?  Do novice Bible-readers discern what is meant when a footnote says, “Some ancient authorities” support this or that reading?  (I would contend that 99 out of 100 Bible-readers do not really grasp what such footnotes mean, because the annotators use the same terms to refer to vastly different things.)
            A short section then turns to features of the text that have had historical significance:  nomina sacra (Mark 1:1 is mentioned, again), itacisms (Romans 5:1 is mentioned, again), and accents.  In the course of discussing accents, Ebojo offers a brief (but interesting) review of different approaches to Romans 16:7:  was Junias a man or a woman?  One can answer the question by accenting the name one way, or another.     
            Two statements in this chapter may need slight adjustments.
            First, on p. 213, as Ebojo discusses the pericope adulterae, he raises a question about how helpful it is to point out in a footnote that the passage has been found in other locations such as “after Jn 7:36 or Jn 21:25, or after Lk 21:38 or Lk 24:53.”  Such notes are certainly unhelpful, for they do not inform the reader that the Pentecost lection begins at Jn 7:37; nor are readers informed why this is significant.  Even more unhelpfully, readers would be misinformed by such a note, inasmuch as no manuscript has John 7:53-8:11 after Luke 24:53.  The only manuscript which has part of the pericope adulterae at that location is GA 1333, and, as explained elsewhere, it is a secondary addition, extracted from a lectionary. in that manuscript:  John 7:3-11 was added there, with the lection-title “From [the Gospel of] John” and a heading stating that the passage was to be read on Saint Pelagia’s feast-day.  It was added on this page simply because the page happened to be blank. 
            Second, on the same page, Ebojo briefly mentions that while translators “seem to have decided long ago that the Gospel of Mark must not end with Mark 16:8,” a question remains as to “which of the six narrative endings to conclude with.”   The problem with this statement is that there are not “six narrative endings” of Mark after verse 8.  There are two:  verses 9-20, attested by Irenaeus in the 100s (in Book 3 of Against Heresies he quotes 16:19 and states that he is citing from near the end of Mark’s Gospel), and by over 1,600 Greek manuscripts of Mark, and the “Shorter Ending,” attested in Greek in a total of six manuscripts, all of which also include at least part of the usual 12 verses.  Framing the evidence as if there are six different concluding narratives to choose from is like having three empty picture-frames, 1,600 pictures of your dog, one picture of your cat, six pictures of your dog and cat together, and one picture of your dog and a chew-toy, and concluding, “I have six pets.”

            In general, each chapter of Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism has something worthwhile to offer to the reader.  This book does not address all the text-critical myths that need to be addressed.  Truckloads of misinformation in KJV-Onlyist materials have been avoided.  Bundles of misinformation from apologists such as James White, Matt Slick, Dan Wallace, Ben Witherington III, John MacArthur, the Got Questions website, the Defending Inerrancy website, etc., have been ignored.   Some passages with significant and interesting textual variants, such as Matthew 13:35, Mark 9:29, Romans 1:16, I Cor. 10:9, and Hebrews 1:3, are not explored or even mentioned.  But one has to start somewhere. Myths and Mistakes is a good start.



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

6 comments:

David Mac said...

Hey there, Dr. Snapp! Thank you for the review, I am very much enjoying this book as well. Just curious, though - what are some of the errors that come from Apologist James White? I'm not disputing your assertion, I just happen to listen to him every week and wondered what TC missteps he is making. I don't really know enough (yet, I'm pursuing ThM and PhD studies in the area of NTTC so hopefully that will change) to discern when something is false, overstated, or what have you.

Thanks in advance!
- David

James Snapp Jr said...

David Mac,
Just use the search-bar at the top of the page here at The Text of the Gospels, and several posts about misinformation that James White has invented and/or promoted should appear in several posts. Perhaps one especially notable error is his claim (in both editions of "KJV-Only Controversy") that Tischendorf did not find pages of Codex Sinaiticus in a basket at St. Catherine's monastery.

Timothy Joseph said...

David MAC,
Or just realize that James Snapp, like all of us, has a particular view of TC and he disparages those who disagree with him.
Tim

James Snapp Jr said...

Timothy Joseph,
I consider my treatment of James White's error-fests much much gentler that what they deserve. If you find mistakes in my corrections of his inaccurate claims, please let me know.

Daniel Buck said...

David Mac,
James Snapp Jr is a pastor, not a doctor. For whatever that's worth.
Timothy Joseph,
Disparaging those with whom one disagrees--what an excellent example you have provided.

David Mac said...

Thank you for your responses, gentleman. I will bear them in mind.