Earlier this week, the following question was addressed at the Desiring God website/podcast: “How can I trust the Bible if there have been so many add-ins, such as Mark 16:9–20 and John 7:53–8:11 and First John 5:7–8?”
John Piper, in his response, not only took for granted that all three of those passages are spurious, but he also linked the validity of his response to the validity of his view that all three passages should be rejected: “If there is a science that can spot these three texts that he mentioned as not part of the original biblical manuscripts, then that same science, in the same way, can perform the same function for all the other passages. There is the answer.”
But Piper’s answer would still be problematic even if commentators and Bible annotators were not seasoning their evidence-presentations with gallons of bias in favor of the Nestle-Aland compilation. It is problematic, first, because although one of the basic axioms of textual criticism is that manuscripts should be weighed, rather than merely counted, the first thing that Piper did, in his reply, was to count manuscripts:
If it were merely a matter of favoring textual variants that are supported by over 80% of the manuscripts, then Mark 16:9-20 would be universally accepted (with support from over 99.8% of the Greek manuscripts), and so would John 7:53-8:11 (with support from 85% of the Greek manuscripts). Clearly, the quantity of manuscript-support is not very important to the textual critics who reject those two passages. In the Nestle-Aland compilation, two readings are in the text even though they have zero support among Greek manuscripts.
When the textual critics who made the Nestle-Aland compilation sat down to do their work, they did indeed have access to the readings of thousands of manuscripts to consult and compare. But they ignored most of them. Most Greek manuscripts closely agree with one another, and this large collection of manuscripts, displaying the Byzantine Text, has been treated as a very large family that descended from a single ancestor-manuscript, and for that reason, their collective weight is regarded as the weight of that ancestor-manuscript. This is why, in the apparatus of the
Greek New Testament (the text of which is the same as the text in the
Nestle-Aland compilation), these hundreds of manuscripts are not listed
individually; they are given a single emblem, “Byz.”
Meanwhile, the flagship-manuscripts of the Alexandrian Text – Vaticanus and Sinaiticus – are consistently listed individually, along with whatever allies for them can be found. And with astounding consistency, when a textual contest occurs between a reading attested by a smattering of Alexandrian manuscripts, and a reading attested by over a thousand Byzantine manuscripts, the compilers of the Nestle-Aland text preferred the Alexandrian reading.
Daniel Wallace, as John Piper mentioned, has claimed that “New Testament scholars face an embarrassment of riches compared to the data of classical Greek and Latin scholars have to contend with.” However, when one examines Wallace’s own approach to the text, it becomes obvious that he believes that in some passages – at the end of Mark, and at Mark 1:41, for example – almost every coin in the royal treasury is counterfeit.
The introduction of a conjectural emendation into the text of Second Peter
3:10 reverses the meaning of the sentence. And consider the contest between ὀλίγως and ὄντως
in Second Peter 2:18. In 1966, ὀλίγως was
adopted and the UBS committee gave it a “C”
ranking, meaning, according to the UBS
Introduction, that “There is considerable degree of doubt whether the text or
the apparatus contains the superior reading.”
Metzger’s Textual Commentary, however,
stated, “ὄντως is far more likely to be secondary than ὀλίγως.” By the time the fourth edition of the UBS
Greek New Testament was printed, the
editors were more confident; the reading ὀλίγως was ranked as an “A” reading –
meaning, according to the Introduction of UBS4,
“the text is certain.” But in NA28, that was thrown out the window: ὄντως appears in the text.
The Nestle-Aland compilation (and English translations that depend on it, such as the
ESV) is not as stable
as John Piper wants it to be. He wants
to assure his listener that the text of the New Testament is not going to
drastically change. Yet he says that 7%
of the New Testament’s text is in question – subject to revision in the event
of new discoveries or a change in the compilers’ views.
There are some important textual contests within that 7%. (By the way, I do not accept the claim that this proportion accurately represents the amount of instability in the New Testament text – but I overlook this detail in the interest of brevity.) Their outcomes are not likely to erase sentences from the Apostles’ Creed, but they definitely have an impact on how one interprets the passage in which they occur. Consider:
● The first half of Luke
23:34 says, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they
do.’” John Piper used these words as Scripture in a sermon he preached on January 27, 2002. (Perhaps he was convinced of their genuineness by “peculiar glory” emanating from them. More about that in a moment.) But in NA-27, these words are double-bracketed, just like Mark
16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. The UBS4
Introduction says that these double-bracketed passages “are known not to be a part of
the original text.” That is not trivial.
● It is difficult to see how the doctrine of inerrancy would survive if the compilers of the Nestle-Aland/
text decided to adopt (as Eberhard Nestle did) the reading of Codex Sinaiticus
in Matthew 13:35, since it says that
Isaiah is the author of Psalm 78. It is
also difficult to see how the doctrine of inerrancy would survive if the NA/ UBS
compilers decided to adopt the reading shared by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (and
some other witnesses) in Matthew 27:49.
It is not my intention here to tour all the textual contests that affect interpretation. I merely mention these few as evidence that any promise that the scientific evidence demands confidence that the text of the New Testament will not ever materially change is poorly grounded as long as the text under discussion allows a few manuscripts to outweigh all the rest. The product of the text-critical methodology that has yielded 28 editions of Novum Testamentum Graece is, and will always be, inherently non-definitive.
That approach does not preclude that in the event of the discovery of several very early manuscripts, the text of the New Testament could change, as we saw the text of Novum Testamentum Graece change significantly in Luke 24 after Papyrus 75 was discovered. The same methodology that presently assigns overwhelming weight to Codex Vaticanus and its Alexandrian allies is likely to assign overwhelming weight to newly discovered early manuscripts. Thus there is no scientific reason to absolutely preclude significant textual shifts.
Such a misapplication of Second Corinthians 4:6 renders textual criticism superfluous and replaces it with subjective contemplation. Many Bible-readers see the glory of God shining through the words, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to all creation.” Many Bible-readers see the glory of God shining through the words, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Advocates of the KJV claim to see the glory of God shining through the Comma Johanneum. Mormons claim to see the glory of God in their Book of Mormon, and Roman Catholics claim to see the glory of God in the book of Tobit, and so forth. I don’t think we really want to make subjectivism the crucial factor in textual contests.
But how else can one answer the listener’s question, as long as one agrees with the methodology of the compilers of the NA/
text? How can one believe that the NA/ UBS
text, in its present condition, is the Word of God, considering that in the
future, its compilers might reject many of its present readings? It’s a question which I leave to advocates of
the NA/ UBS compilation to answer.
|The Byzantine Text