It is not that simple. When I look at the methods used by some textual critics to present their cases against Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, I don’t see a lot of detached, disinterested balance in how the evidence is handled. Instead, authors often mold and manipulate the evidence so as to produce one-sided propaganda, and important evidence for the opposite position never gets mentioned. As an example, just look in the NET Bible’s notes about John and try to find any mention of the testimony of Jerome and Augustine about that passage. Look in the
“Here is the reason we may have strong confidence that the science of textual criticism is successful in discerning the original wording of the manuscripts: There are over 5,800 Greek manuscripts.”
In other words, the text-critical method that is used by the editors of the compilation that John Piper uses (i.e., the NT base-text of the
When the medieval Byzantine manuscripts are treated as descendants of a single early edition of the text, numbers mean nothing, and thus the claim that the New Testament has “1,000 times the manuscript data” as the average Greco-Roman author, while true, is pointless. The Nestle-Aland compilers favor earlier manuscripts, especially early Alexandrian manuscripts. Maurice Robinson provides a sobering observation: “Even if the text-critical evidence is extended through the eighth century, there would be only 424 documents, mostly fragmentary. In contrast to this meager total, the oft-repeated apologetic appeal to the value and restorative significance of the 5000+ remaining Greek NT
If John Piper used a text that he considered to be historically authenticated by virtue of the massive support of its contents in Greek manuscripts, then he could confidently assure his listeners that there is no likelihood of significant changes in its contents: the readings that are supported by the overwhelming majority of Greek manuscripts today will be supported by the overwhelming majority of Greek manuscripts until Judgment Day. However, as Bill Mounce has confirmed, John Piper uses a text that he considers to be critically authenticated through the analyses of the Nestle-Aland compilation-committee (which presently includes David Trobisch, a member of the
John Piper should not convey that the Nestle-Aland compilers will never change their minds about significant, translation-impacting textual variants. Some of the thirty-two changes introduced in the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland compilation have an impact on translation. (Textual changes in the 28th edition were limited to the General Epistles – the rest of the text is the same as it was in the 27th edition.)
John Piper also wants the passages that constitute that unstable 7% to be inconsequential. This seems about as realistic as saying that if a person has 100 dollars, and knows that 93 dollars are genuine, but he is not sure about the remaining seven dollars, he has nothing to worry about; he is free to claim that he has 100 dollars, and may use every dollar as if it is genuine without hesitation.
What would happen to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth if compilers decided (as Von Soden did) to adopt the reading in Matthew 1:16 in the Sinaitic Syriac: “Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begot Jesus who is called the Christ”?
● In Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29, does it have no impact whether or not Jesus said that a particular kind of demon will not be exorcised except by prayer and fasting?
● In Mark 7:19, does Jesus refer to a bodily function, or does Mark comment that Jesus thus declared all meats kosher?
● Does it make no difference to interpreters whether Mark 1:1 does (as in the
● Does it have no theological impact whether Acts 20:28 refers to “The
● Is it likely that the same message will be preached from the opening verses of the Epistle of Jude regardless of whether the fifth verse refers to “The Lord” (Κυριος) or “Jesus” (Ιησους) or “God Christ” (Θεος Χριστός)?
● In the angelic proclamation in Luke 2:14, did the angels say, “And on earth peace; goodwill toward men,” as the vast majority of manuscripts (and the KJV, NKJV, and MEV) say, or “And on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (as the
How, then, can one confidently maintain that the compilation that one can hold in one’s hands contains nothing but the original text? Piper’s solution: ask if you see “the peculiar glory of God shining through those words and confirming to your own mind and heart that these are the very words of God.” That is a spectacularly bad idea.
In the meantime, I close with an observation and a suggestion. First: scientifically speaking, the Byzantine Text does not have the instability problem that the Nestle-Aland text has. Even at points where the Byzantine Text is unstable – where there is no clear-cut majority reading – the options are limited to known variants with significant manuscript support. Meanwhile the Nestle-Aland compilation is susceptible to the introduction of readings which are presently unknown in Greek manuscripts. (Of course one could argue that this aspect of the Nestle-Aland text is not a bad thing – if a large second-century papyrus manuscript of the Gospels were discovered tomorrow, wouldn’t you want the compilers to pay attention to it?)
|The Byzantine Text|
Second: theologically speaking, I suggest that most Christians, instead of insisting on confidently possessing the exact form of the text of the autographs, should be content to possess the message that was conveyed by the original text. (This is how almost everyone, except Greek-readers, encounters the New Testament’s message. It was even the attitude of copyists of New Testament manuscripts; they routinely used abbreviations and contractions, thus altering the text’s form but not its message.)
And while the Byzantine Text does not constitute the exact form of the original text, the advocates of the Nestle-Aland compilation relentlessly insist that the textual differences between the Byzantine Text and the Nestle-Aland text do not affect the general message. Everyone thus seems to agree that the message conveyed by the Byzantine Text is the definitive message of the original text, even if the form of the words conveying that message is not always the original form. So, in response to the listener’s initial question, I would say that it does not require very much faith to confidently believe that no future discoveries, and no valid methodology, will ever introduce material into compilations of the New Testament text that conveys a significantly different message than what is conveyed by the Byzantine Text.