Friday, January 30, 2015

The Text of Reasoned Eclecticism: Is It Reasonable and Eclectic? Part Three of a Four-Part Response to Dan Wallace

Internal Evidence

            I now turn to Wallace’s comments sub-titled Internal Evidence.  In this section, Wallace tends to misrepresent the Byzantine Priority position as it is currently framed by its chief advocate, Maurice Robinson.  Wallace cited Michael Holmes to support the idea that majority-text advocates “object quite strenuously to the use of the canons of internal evidence.”  Meanwhile in the real world, Robinson candidly affirms in The Case for Byzantine Priority:  “The basic principles of internal and external evidence utilized by Byzantine-priority advocates are quite familiar to those who practice either rigorous or reasoned eclecticism.”  Robinson proceeds to list and describe eight principles of internal evidence!23 
            As much as Wallace might wish that Byzantine-priority advocates disregard internal evidence, that is simply not true.  Rather, Byzantine-priority advocates (and other textual critics with a dislike of propaganda disguised as textual commentary) object to inconsistent applications of internal evidence which are primarily steered, not by the internal evidence as it exists for specific variant-units, but by a model of transmission-history that precludes, or sets ridiculously high hurdles against, the authenticity of Byzantine readings.  In other words, textual critics who believe, as Wallace appears to believe, that the Byzantine Text did not exist until after 300, will approach the internal evidence accordingly, and will consider the most crucial internal aspects of the evidence to be whatever results in the rejection of the Byzantine reading.
            Wallace invited readers to consult Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament to see how internal evidence was used in the United Bible Societies’ compilation-committee decisions to accept one reading over another – especially when the adopted reading was given an “A” rank, which means that the compilers regarded the adopted text as “virtually certain.”24   With apologies for lengthening this composition – Invitation accepted.  Let’s consider four “A” readings from the Gospel of Mark.  (These are not the best examples of the extreme lengths to which the UBS compilers have taken internal evidence as a means to reject Byzantine readings, but as a response to the invitation to use only A-ranked readings, they will have to do.)

Mk 1:14 – Against evidence from the Byzantine Text, the Vulgate, the Gothic version, the Peshitta, and codices D and W (among others – see the textual apparatus for further details) that supports the inclusion of της βασιλείας, Metzger argued for the Alexandrian non-inclusion of the phrase.  The longer reading, he claimed, “was obviously made by copyists in order to bring the unusual Markan phrase into conformity with the much more frequently used expression “the kingdom of God” (cf. ver. 15).”  On the other hand, however, it could be argued from internal evidence that the longer reading is more consistent with Markan style, because nowhere else in Mark does the phrase “gospel of God” appear.  Metzger’s idea requires that somewhere in the ancestry of diverse witnesses such as D, W, the Peshitta, and the Vulgate, they were all influenced by some copyist’s intentional insertion – whereas all that is required to produce the shorter reading is an accidental error that resulted when copyists’ line of sight drifted from the τ in της to the τ in του.

Mk 1:34 – Agreeing with external evidence from the Byzantine Text, the Vulgate, the Old Latin copies, the Gothic version, and the Peshitta, Metzger conceded that the longer reading in the Alexandrian text (Χριστον ειναι, read by Codex Vaticanus, L, and f1) was an addition, by which copyists harmonized the text in Mark to the text in Luke 4:41.  There would be no reason for copyists to omit the phrase, if it had been present originally, but it would be a natural expansion.

Mk. 7:4 – Agreeing with external evidence from the Byzantine Text, the Vulgate, D, the Old Latins, the Peshitta, the Gothic version, and Origen, Metzger conceded that the Alexandrian reading ραντισωνται (supported by B, À, and the Coptic version) was an alteration introduced by Alexandrian copyists.  (This is given an “A” certainty-rank in UBS-2, but in Metzger’s Textual Commentary it has a “B” rank.)

Mk. 9:29 – Against evidence from P45, the Byzantine Text, codices A, D, W, L, f1, the Old Latin copies, the Vulgate, the Peshitta, and almost everything else, Metzger argued that the shorter reading (supported only by À* B, 0274, one Old Latin copy (Bobbiensis), one Old Georgian copy, and Clement) was original, and that the phrase “and fasting” was the invention of copyists.  Apparently neither Metzger nor Wallace25 could perceive that copyists were troubled by a reading which could be interpreted to suggest that Jesus could not have cast out a particular kind of demon unless He had first fasted, even with the earliest (P45) and most diverse evidence (from multiple locales) pointing the way.    

Mk. 11:26 – Against evidence from the Byzantine Text, almost all the Old Latin copies, the Vulgate, the Peshitta, and the Gothic version, Metzger rejected the inclusion of verse 26, supposing it to be an insertion based on Matthew 6:15, even though its correspondence to that verse is loose.  This is an instructive example of favoring external evidence over internal evidence, because Metzger noticed that it would have been very easy for copyists to skip verse 26 if their line of sight drifted from the words τα παραπτωματα υμων at the end of verse 25 to the exact same words at the end of verse 26, but did not consider this internal consideration to be persuasive against the Alexandrian witnesses.  Metzger argued that the shorter reading is in “early witnesses that represent all text-types,” although the same thing can be said about the longer reading, which is supported by Byzantine, Western, and Caesarean witnesses).      

These four samples indicate that internal evidence can be a very slippery thing, and that its force often depends upon the extent to which the textual critic is willing to engage his imagination to devise explanations for the origination of whatever reading is least consistent with his model of the text’s transmission-history.  Were we to explore Metzger’s Textual Commentary in detail, we would see that very frequently, the UBS compilation-committee attributed longer readings to scribal creativity where the shorter reading is attributable to scribal carelessness – especially when the shorter reading is Alexandrian.26 

Only when the Alexandrian reading is longer (as in Mark 1:34), or when the Alexandrian reading is so obviously secondary that no amount of ingenuity can plausibly salvage it (as in Mark 7:4), does internal evidence seem to have the ability to outweigh Alexandrian external evidence.  Metzger and his fellow UBS committee-members were not alone in their consideration of the length of rival variants as an internal consideration by which to judge between them:  the canon, “prefer the shorter reading” has been a major text-critical canon for a very long time, and in the late 1800’s and throughout the 1900’s, it was appealed to very frequently as a pivotal consideration, resulting in the rejection of very many longer Byzantine readings, in favor of shorter Alexandrian readings.  When the Byzantine Text has the shorter reading – as it does hundreds of times, for example in James 4:12 (“and Judge” is not in the Byzantine Text) and Jude v. 25 (“through Jesus Christ our Lord” is not in the Byzantine Text) – the compilers seem to have no problem recognizing parableptic errors, but when the Alexandrian Text has the shorter reading, the theory of first resort is that the longer reading originated with copyists.27

Not only is this inconsistent, but it defies the analysis which James Royse provided of the text of some early New Testament papyri, showing that the copyists of those manuscripts tended to make more omissions than additions, at a proportion of three omissions for every two additions.28  This tends to altogether invalidate the “prefer the shorter reading” canon, and indicates that every variant-unit that has been decided on the basis of that internal consideration ought to be revisited.

- Continued in Part Four - 



23 – Of course Wallace could not anticipate, in the 1990’s, what Maurice Robinson would write in 2001.  But it is 2015 and Wallace’s article remains online, spreading false impressions about the nature of the view of the leading proponents of Byzantine Priority. 
24 – See page x of the introduction to the second edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament:  “The letter A signifies that the text is virtually certain.”
25 - See the NET’s note on this variant-unit:  “a good reason for the omission is difficult to find.”
26 – See Dennis Kenaga’s Skeptical Trends in New Testament Textual Criticism for additional critiques of inconsistencies in Metzger’s use of internal evidence. 
27 – The treatment of Matthew 12:47, which is absent in À and B and the Sahidic version (et al), is an outstanding example of pro-Alexandrian compilers’ reluctance to recognize parableptic omissions in the Alexandrian text.  Internal evidence has prevailed, but just barely.  Although the cause of a parableptic error is obvious – verses 46 and 47 end with the same word, λαλησαι – the UBS compilers assigned it a “C” rank (meaning that they harbor a “considerable degree of doubt” about the adopted text) and, echoing Nestle’s earlier treatment, bracketed the verse (to emphasize that the enclosed words have “dubious textual validity”).  
28 – See James R. Royse’s painstakingly prepared Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri, released in 2008.  

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