Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Interview with Maurice Robinson, Part 1

Dr. Maurice Robinson
        This week at The Text of the Gospels, Dr. Maurice Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Wake Forest, NC) joins us for an interview about the Byzantine Text.  He is known to many as one of the compilers of The New Testament in the Original Greek – Byzantine Textform.   Thanks for accepting my invitation, Dr. Robinson.

Robinson:  I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond to various questions.

Q:  Let’s jump right in.  The Robinson-Pierpont text, the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text, and Wilbur Pickering’s family-35 text are all presented as representations of the Byzantine text.  How different from one another are these compilations?

Robinson:  All three differ approximately 6 to 7 percent from what appears in the Nestle-Aland/UBS critical text, and represent forms of the Byzantine text that vary due to differing theoretical and methodological approaches.  Were I to estimate the degree of difference between any of these basically Byzantine editions, it would probably be only about one-half percent in any paired comparison, given that these all agree in relation to the vast bulk of the NT where the Byzantine Textform basically remains undivided.
          I would not label these other editions “Byzantine-priority,” however, since their underlying methodology allows for some minority group (i.e., far from dominant) Byzantine readings at various points of Byzantine division, whether based on stemmatic preferences (H-F) or by following a minority subgroup within the Byzantine mass (Family 35).  These alternative theories and methods might reflect a general “Byzantine preference,” but they do not in all instances reflect the prevailing agreement reflective of a basic consensus of all Byzantine manuscripts.

Q:  Can you provide a few differences between RP2005 and the BGNT that have an impact on translation?

Robinson:  I really haven’t had any need to compare RP2005 against the Family 35/Kr type of text since no individual Byzantine minority subgroup is determinative in establishing a general consensus text within a Byzantine-priority approach.  While the BGNT does not directly note the differences between the two editions, Pickering’s closely related Family 35/Kr edition does footnote differences between his text and RP2005 (along with various other editions).  I have also seen an English-based list of “clearly translatable differences” that exist “between Kx and Kr/f35” that likely covers most of these variations — but even then, almost all of these are extremely minor in nature, especially when involving word order, synonym substitution, or inclusion/exclusion of short words.

Q:  What is the single biggest difference, outside the pericope adulterae, in the Gospels?

Robinson:  Among the more meaningful instances of inclusion/exclusion between the two texts, consider Luke 22:47, where RP2005 ends the verse with “and he drew near to Jesus to kiss him,” but where Kr/Family 35 adds the harmonization (from Matthew 26:48 and Mark 14:44), “For he had given them this sign, ‘Whomever I should kiss, he it is’” — a reading that according to von Soden is supported among the primary bulk of Byzantine manuscripts (Kx) only in the proportion 1:12, even though thoroughly present among the much later and revisionary Kr group of manuscripts.
          I would suggest such an expansion to be secondary, and not only on external but on transmissional grounds:  had such a lengthy phrase originally been present, no good reason would exist for its omission among the bulk of remaining Byzantine manuscripts (including many much earlier than those comprising Family 35/Kr); further, an original lack of such a phrase readily could impel later revisers to insert such in order to harmonize with the remaining synoptic gospels.

Q:  Several English translations based on the Byzantine Text have been made.  Do you have a favorite?

Robinson:  Most of these translations you speak of are electronic in nature, and readily available on the internet. Of these, the English Majority Text Version (EMTV), based on the Hodges-Farstad Interlinear, and the World English Bible (WEB), based on an updated and textually adjusted form of the 1901 ASV, probably are among the better renderings, although I often might differ regarding the translation of certain words and phrases (just as with most published English translations).

Q:  Do you think there is a potential market in the near future for an English translation based on the Byzantine Text?

Robinson:  Indeed I long have held that there is a significant market for a Byzantine-based formal-equivalence English translation, and I would strongly support publishers who might see fit to develop and market such, who might even be willing to adapt existing translations such as the NASV, NKJV, or ESV to an alternate Byzantine edition that could be marketed alongside their current holdings based on the critical text or TR.  Even beyond that, I would strongly support a new, committee-based, formal equivalence translation from the Byzantine Textform that could be published and marketed in hard copy, and thereby fulfill the original desire of Hodges and Farstad regarding both the NKJV and HCSB — intentionally sidetracked along the way by their respective publishers.
          As an aside, I suggest that the ESV committee severely errs in now declaring their current translational form to be a “permanent text edition.”  That procedure guarantees an eventual extinction or readership departure from the ESV as (1) the English language or syntactical understanding might change, and (2) particularly where the ESV critical text base might require alteration due to new textual theories or discoveries (one need only consider what changes CBGM might require in future NA/UBS editions — changes which all other translations based on the critical text will accept and follow, but apparently not the ESV).

Q: How do you resolve variant-units where there is no strong majority?

Robinson:  The easiest answer is this:  where the Byzantine Textform is sharply divided, one obviously cannot appeal solely to external testimony in order to establish the most plausible original reading. Resolution of intra-Byzantine division requires consideration of internal evidence as such might relate to the various readings found among the Byzantine witnesses at those points (several such internal evidence principles are mentioned in “The Case for Byzantine Priority”).

Q: Are the rest of us putting the books of the New Testament in the wrong order?

Robinson:  Based on what appears among the earlier manuscripts, this most definitely is the case. The RP2005 text reflects that early order, where Acts is immediately followed by the General Epistles, then the Pauline Epistles (in which Hebrews divides the church letters from those to individuals), and then Revelation.
          The RP2005 arrangement of the NT books is not new; the same order appears in Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott-Hort, and von Soden, and remains far more historically based and thematically logical than the familiar but later ordering that derives more from Latin and TR traditions than anything else.

Q:  In “The Case for Byzantine Priority you state, “Whenever possible, the raw number of MSS should be intelligently reduced.” How would you reply to a proposal to boil down the weight of the copies of Theophylact’s Gospels-text to the weight of their archetype, seeing that the various Byzantine subtypes can be grouped “according to their hypothetical archetypes”

Robinson:  Regarding the Theophylact manuscripts, my PA collation data suggests that the Theophylact commentary along with its quoted biblical text jointly derive from a common archetype.  That base tends to prevail among nearly all Theophylact manuscripts, and thus the multiplicity of Theophylact manuscripts (approximately 125) really says little or nothing beyond the text of its original archetype.

Q:  Do you mean that just as we tend not to count individual copies of the Vulgate, we should not count individual copies of clearly identifiable Byzantine sub-groups?

Robinson:  Regarding the various Byzantine subtypes, those with relatively limited support almost certainly derive from their own separate sub-archetypes characterized by their differences from the primary majority bulk of Byzantine documents. This is not to say that their existence is of no value, but that whatever presence a particular Byzantine subgroup might have would represent only the limited degree of popularity that specific line of transmission represents (this in terms of copying frequency and historical preservation).

Q:  If someone were to compile the text via a mathematical formula, adopting whatever reading was favored by a majority of archetypes (not just text-types, but also Byzantine sub-groups) and base-texts of early versions rather than by a majority of manuscripts, wouldn’t the resultant compilation differ at some points from the Byzantine Textform?

Robinson:  Obviously, the RP text offers no “mathematical formula,” but only a basic transmissional consensus approach. Thus I would not recommend a “majority of archetypes” methodology to replace the general consensus found amid the mass of Byzantine manuscripts.  Indeed, were some “majority of archetypes” method to be followed (whether limiting the sub-archetypes to Byzantine or otherwise), the resultant text necessarily would differ at various points from the prevailing consensus that represents the dominant line of Byzantine transmission.

Q: Even though you state in “The Case for Byzantine Priority” that “Manuscripts still need to be weighed and not merely counted,” it has been claimed that the Byzantine Priority view seeks to establish the text by “counting manuscripts.” What do you say in response?

Robinson:  By its very nature, the Byzantine Textform in its aggregate does represent the vast numerical majority of manuscripts; therefore “number” is one component within Byzantine-priority theory, but hardly the sole element (even Burgon suggested seven different data categories to be necessary for establishing the text). Within Byzantine-priority theory, transmissional factors are far more significant than mere number, as even Scrivener had suggested.
          Compare a parallel example: were one to advocate a theory of “Alexandrian-priority” or “Western-priority,” intending to establish a putative archetype of those forms of text from its extant representatives, “number” alone would not be the primary factor. The published research of Heimerdinger and Rius-Camps in relation to their view of “Western priority” demonstrates the point.  Similarly, claims of mere “nose-counting” reflect a gross over-simplification and offer little more than a misleading caricature of the more thorough and reasonable case being advocated.

Q: Can internal evidence ever overrule the external evidence when over 95% of the manuscript-evidence is in agreement? Is there any reading in the Byzantine Textform that you can identify as a case where this has happened?

Robinson:  The short answer is no, and that specifically because of the nature of Byzantine-priority. Put simply, one cannot be consistent in advocating a valid form of Byzantine-priority (or even Alexandrian-priority) while rejecting the dominant consensus of that text-type. While some might prefer a more general “Byzantine-preferred” position and thereby feel free to depart the Byzantine at various points on the basis of external or internal considerations (e.g., united versional or patristic testimony differing from the Byzantine, or internal criteria considered strong enough to override any external consensus), the resultant theory and praxis no longer would be “Byzantine-priority,” but a less-than-exclusive “Byzantine-preference” or even some sort of “Equitable Eclecticism.”
          I do not suggest, however, that internal criteria are invoked only where the Byzantine Textform is sharply divided and they are neglected where the mass of Byzantine manuscripts agree. Rather, internal criteria can and should be utilized in every instance of variant reading, either to confirm and defend the external data (when basically united) or to assist in determining the best reading where the Byzantine manuscripts are seriously divided). This is specifically what Dan Wallace has suggested Byzantine or majority text supporters should do, and is the intent of the Textual Commentary I currently am working on (two years in, with many more to go given that more than 3000 variant units need to be discussed).

(To be continued)



  1. Thanks for this informative interview.

  2. As always, I am amazed at Dr. R's knowledge and ability to articulate his position on Byzantine priority. He alone makes a case for Byzantine priority that is far more intricate than just counting manuscripts! I look forward to his textual commentary with a bit of trepidation, as he nearly sways me to his viewpoint in short articles like this blog interview.
    James, thank you for making the effort to reach out to Dr. Robinson. I hope more critics who don't ascribe to Byzantine priority will view this interview.
    I can't wait for the next part.


  3. This is actually a question:
    If someone were to compile the text via a mathematical formula, adopting whatever reading was favored by a majority of archetypes (not just text-types, but also Byzantine sub-groups) and base-texts of early versions rather than by a majority of manuscripts, wouldn’t the resultant compilation differ at some points from the Byzantine Textform?

  4. White Man,
    Thanks for pointing that out. Format adjusted accordingly.

  5. Thanks for this.

    MAR: 1. Internal criteria never overrule majority; 2. internal criteria should be used in every variant to to confirm or defend the external.

    Me: are there places where the internal criteria would overrule the majority if the method let them?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. James, what is the definition of "archetype" and "putative archetype" as he uses it in this article?

  8. "putative archetype" = a theoretically reconstructed archetype
    "archetype" = the text that normally would be accepted as such apart from a particular need for theoretical reconstruction.

  9. Too bad the "Modern Literal Version" which is 2005 based was not mentioned.

  10. I have a couple of possible corrections to accents in Dr. Robinson's Greek New Testament that I would like to share with him, but I am not sure how to contact him. If I am mistaken and the text is indeed correct as is, please let me know.

    Mark 11:26 - οὖκ > οὐκ
    2 Corinthians 1:15 - ἔχῆτε > ἔχητε