Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Tors-Costa Debate, Part 4


            After the main portion of the Tors-Costa debate was completed, audience-members asked questions, which each debater answered.  Some of the questions were relevant to the announced subject of the debate, and some were not. 

First Question:  What do you believe is the authentic conclusion to the Gospel of Mark?

            Costa went first, stating that the authentic text concludes at verse 8.  The early manuscripts, he explained, end there.  He also noted that although Irenaeus knew verses 9-20, he also cited Acts 8:37, which is not a majority-reading.  Costa them pointed out that some early writers raised questions about the authenticity of verses 9-20, such as Jerome, who said that hardly any manuscripts have it, and Eusebius, who said the same thing.  Costa expressed a desire to know what Mark wrote, not what some scribe wrote.  In addition, he argued, when you look at verses 9-20, it looks like a patchwork of pieces from the other Gospel-accounts, pieced together by a later scribe.
            Costa’s take on the internal evidence then went a little further than one might expect from a conservative professor:  he proposed that in the Gospel of Mark, the apostles are ironically depicted as if they never understand who Jesus is, and that the ending at verse 8 is consistent with that theme.  (Does Costa mean that that Mark wanted readers to conclude that the apostles never heard about Jesus’ resurrection?) Costa also offered an interpretation of Mark 8:22-26 which maintains that the episode – in which Jesus makes a blind man see, after spitting on his eyes, and then laying His hands on him – was intended by Mark to somehow convey that the apostles did not see Jesus clearly.  (Does Costa mean that this is what Mark intended to be his readers’ final impression of the apostles?  If not, then what point is he trying to make?) 
            Tors responded:  “The last 12 verses are certainly authentic.”  He pointed out that verses 9-20 are present in 1,700 manuscripts and missing in only two.  (Gaffe:  they are missing in three (taking damage into account) – though their absence in minuscule 304 is barely worth mentioning.)  The testimony of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is questionable, because Vaticanus has a  blank column after the column in which Mark 16:8 concludes – the only blank column in the entire manuscript (Gaffe:  it is not the only blank column in Vaticanus; there are three others in the Old Testament portion.  But it is the only one that is not the result of a factor that occurred naturally in the production-process.) – as if the scribe knew that more text belonged there.  And in Sinaiticus, (Tors continued,) the original pages containing the end of Mark were replaced long after by a scribe who stretched out his lettering to avoid leaving a blank column.  (Gaffe:  it was the supervisor/proofreader, who did this, not someone long after Sinaiticus was made.)   Regarding Irenaeus, in the first century (Gaffe:  it was the second century) it is not likely that he was wrong; his testimony is joined in the second century by Tatian.  The idea that fourth-century evidence should outweigh this second-century evidence doesn’t fly.          
            The idea that Mark would end at 16:8 does not make sense either.  It doesn’t even seem remotely possible that Mark would intentionally end there.  (Hort agreed with Tors about that.)  Moreover, here we see how historical criticism and rationalistic textual criticism undermine the gospel:  first, Mark is posited as the first Gospel; Q is also posited as source-material for Matthew and Luke.  The rationalistic higher critics say that Q didn’t have a resurrection of Jesus; the rationalistic lower critics say that Mark didn’t have a resurrection of Jesus, and these points are used to undercut the centrality of Jesus’ resurrection.  And regarding the blind man healed at Bethesda (Gaffe:  it was Bethsaida), this is a historical account of a miracle, not some sort of parable about how the apostles perceived Jesus.  (In the course of making this last point, Tors became side-tracked and took up way too much time explaining details about that miracle.)  

Second Question:  (for Dr. Costa)  You said that textual variants do not undermine any significant doctrines.  But doesn’t the removal of Mark 16:9-20 undermine an essential doctrine, specifically, the doctrine that Jesus rose from the dead? 

            Costa answered, “There is a resurrection in Mark 16.”  Three times, Jesus predicts His resurrection.  And in Mark 16, the young man at the tomb announces that Jesus is risen, so in Mark, there is a resurrection.  Mark couldn’t be a Christian if he didn’t believe in the resurrection.  No one can read Mark 16:1-8 and come away thinking that no resurrection has happened.  There is a postmortem appearance that is anticipated in Galilee.  There is a resurrection.

            Tors:  When Jesus appeared to His disciples, they were very difficult to convince.  Even when He shows up, in Luke, they have to touch him.  Thomas insisted that just seeing Him wasn’t enough; he wanted to touch the wounds.  The concept of someone rising from the dead is very difficult to grasp.  To say that He predicted that He would rise from the dead, and that some guy at the tomb claimed that He rose from the dead – that’s a resurrection?  Would you believe that?  Isn’t it more reasonable to think that that guy took away the body?  How can you say there’s a resurrection there?  There’s a claim(One could say that the truth of the predictions is confirmed by the post-resurrection appearances, not the other way around.)    

Third Question:  (for Dr. Costa)  I am an accountant, with many textbooks.  The ones I use a lot get crumpled up; the rarely used ones stay in good shape.  So, is it possible that the Majority Text manuscripts – the “embarrassment of riches” – are descended from earlier manuscripts that are no longer around because they were worn out by regular use, whereas those others – like Sinaiticus, which Tischendorf says that he found as the monks were burning the leaves – survived because they were less-used, and were less-used because they were considered unreliable?

            Costa:  First, Metzger’s phrase “embarrassment of riches” refers to all New Testament manuscripts, not just the Majority Text manuscripts.  (But if one takes them out of the picture, is the remainder still plausibly described as embarrassment of riches?  For it is almost invariably followed by a declaration of how many New Testament manuscripts there are, as we saw in Costa’s opening statement.)  The Byzantine manuscripts were better preserved because they were protected and “regulated” in the Byzantine Empire, safe from the Islamic hordes. 
            About Tischendorf:  “Tischendorf did not say that he found Sinaiticus in a trash bin.”  That is a myth.  He tells us that he saw something in the monastery, and they brought him Sinaiticus, which was covered in a red crimson cover.  It was covered in “a beautiful crimson covering.”  “It was not something that was being thrown out.”  That’s a common myth.  (Super-gaffe:  Costa has been misled by James White, who is very similarly mixed up about how Tischendorf claims to have discovered Sinaiticus.  Costa is describing Tischendorf’s 1853 visit to St. Catherine’s Monastery; it was in 1844 that Tischendorf visited, and it is during that visit – he claimed – that he found pages of Codex Sinaiticus in a basket, as the monks were about to discard them into the fire.  (Tischendorf’s story is highly dubious, and at St. Catherine’s monastery it is maintained that the monks were certainly not about to burn the pages.  But Tischendorf most definitely claimed that this is how he first encountered pages from Codex Sinaiticus, and anyone who still imagines that James White’s (and Tony Costa’s) version of events is well-informed can read about Tischendorf’s 1844 visit, and his 1853 visit, in Tischendorf’s own account.)             
            Costa proceeded to blame “the Muslim hordes” for the loss of many non-Byzantine manuscripts.  He pointed out that although the map that Tors had shown pictured the Byzantine Empire as it existed in the year 600, it didn’t show the impact of the Islamic invasions that happened later.  Instead of seeing things in the year 600, Costa said that he would like to know, “Where are these Byzantine text-types (plural??) in the first 300 years of the church?”.  (Since Costa had just proposed that “the Muslim hordes” destroyed thousands of manuscripts during their conquests of Byzantine territory, the means to supply a strong response was practically served up to Tors on a plate, but the opportunity was not taken.) 
            Tors responded:  Tony is missing the point about the Byzantine Empire.  If the Alexandrian manuscripts were so superior and so numerous in the 300’s, then why wasn’t it the Alexandrian Text that was spread throughout the Byzantine Empire from the end of Roman persecution in the early 300’s, to the beginning of the 600’s?  Nothing would prevent that, if it had been the case. The assumption that the Alexandrian Text was dominant in that period is opposed by the evidence.  
            You can’t just go by the number of manuscripts that have survived, (Tors continued) because the survival of early manuscripts is very rare.  Early Alexandrian papyri survived because papyrus is fragile and vulnerable to decay.  And in Egypt, most of these “best manuscripts” (via his inflection, Tors implied “so-called”) come from garbage heaps in Oxyrhynchus, where their owners had torn them up and thrown them out into the garbage.  
Fourth Question:  (for Tors)  In Luke 4, a passage from Isaiah 61 is quoted by the Lord, but when we look at the passage in Isaiah, it is different from what is seen in Luke.  So where is the poison:  in Luke, or in Isaiah?  How do you decide which one is correct?  If Jesus’ quotation is correct, is the Masoretic Text wrong?    

            Tors:  This isn’t really a question about New Testament textual criticism.  My understanding is that the Hebrew text used in Jesus’ day was more similar to the Septuagint than the Masoretic Text is, and ancient manuscripts such as the texts from Nahal Hever [especially a scroll-fragment of the Minor Prophets] prove that.  
            Regarding the poison, I’m not blaming textual criticism per se.  It’s the method of textual criticism that elicits mistrust in the authority of Scripture, because it conveys that the original text has errors.  Darwinism and historical criticism, combined with a method of textual criticism that says that the original reading is the one that has errors in it, contribute to this doubt.  Even though people try to explain away the errors in the text as if they are not errors, eventually people are going to conclude that the text has errors.  And this makes people lose confidence in the text; this leads to the erosion of Biblical authority.   

(The questioner spoke up again, but this was a minor breach of protocol.)
            Costa:  I agree with John about the current decline in morality.  A lot of that has to do with the Enlightenment.  But the problem is deeper than that. Even when we had a text of Scripture that everyone believed was absolutely reliable, there were still heresies.  Now then: I have issues with John’s view on the Septuagint.  (Tors had given Costa a golden opportunity to point out a contrast between his statement, You can’t just go by the number of manuscripts that have survived, and the statistical case that Tors had used earlier, but this opportunity was not taken.)

Fifth Question:  (for Tors)  In cases where there is a difference in meaning between the Old Testament Hebrew text, and a quotation in the New Testament, how would you ascertain the original reading of the Old Testament passage?

            Tors:  If there’s a difference between the Masoretic Text’s reading and a quotation by Jesus, I would suspect that there is an error in the Masoretic Text.  That doesn’t mean the Old Testament has a flaw; it means that the scribes who transmitted the Old Testament text made an error, like the scribes who made the manuscripts that the NIV is based on.        

            Costa:  “I think what John said would seriously undermine the reliability of the Old Testament.  The Greek Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint as their Old Testament text. Jerome and Augustine had a disagreement about which should be considered authoritative:  Jerome used the Hebrew text but Augustine favored the Septuagint.  This has really hit a nerve.  If John applies the same methodology to the Old Testament that he advocates for the New Testament, we are in big trouble.  (Costa’s straw man reappears; if the baker bakes a can of gasoline ....) This is very, very serious.  Most quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament agree with the Septuagint word-for-word. 

At this point, moderator Johnny Yao-Chung Chao ended the debate, mentioning that the planned time-limit had been exceeded.  After thanking the audience and those who assisted, he closed with prayer, thanking God for His Word and for the information received in the course of the debate, and asking that it will be used in a way that will promote the unity of the church, and the fulfillment of our mission to make disciples.


         One could wish that the debate had maintained a tighter focus in its second half.  Nevertheless, from start to finish, Tors presented his view on the announced subject far more effectively than Costa presented his view. Costa repeatedly got his facts mixed up. (His “family 33” mistake was particularly bad; his confident dismissal of Tischendorf’s story about Sinaiticus can be blamed on James White, whose book was obviously his source.)  Costa’s go-to objection (about the danger of using a Majority Reading approach on the Old Testament text) was merely a straw-man argument.  Tors won this debate, and it was not close.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Tors-Costa Debate, Part 3

             As the Tors-Costa debate about rival methods used to compile the text of the New Testament reached its third stage, peripheral subjects took the spotlight.  Quite a lot of time was consumed by a discussion about whether or not Matthew referred to a statement in Zechariah 11 as if it was a statement from Jeremiah; Costa argued that this was indeed the case, while Tors insisted that nothing requires such an interpretation and that it is better to regard the statement as something that Jeremiah literally spoke rather than wrote.  Costa responded to Tors by claiming that the words cited by Matthew are “an exact quote from Zechariah in the Septuagint.”  (It certainly is not an exact quote.)
            (The discussion about Matthew 27:9 barely touched the main topic of the debate – it came up as part of Costa’s argument that the Alexandrian reading in Mark 1:2 is not an error – so I will not dwell on it further.  Things spun further and further away into apologetics-related questions, such as why a rabbit is considered to be a cud-chewer, and why bats are classified as birds, and why a whale is called a fish – all with the purpose of showing that it would be unfair to impose modern standards of accuracy (such as Linnaean zoological categories) upon ancient writers.   Tors seemed completely willing to affirm this general point; he simply denied that it was ever an ancient custom to attribute one person’s writings as the work of someone else.)
            Thankfully the discussion veered back toward the main subject when Tors asked Costa if he was concerned about the instability of the Nestle-Aland compilation.  Costa didn’t seem to have an answer to this problem, except to say that the compilers are doing the best they can, and that the Byzantine Text is also unstable. 
            There was then a brief disagreement about whether the Byzantine Text is indeed unstable; Costa basically said that he would explain it to Tors later, and they moved on.  (Tors may have missed an opportunity here.  What Costa pictured as instability in the Byzantine Text is more like stable indecision:  at some points there is no majority reading (i.e., the textual contest has more than two rivals represented by significant amounts of manuscripts).  But a textual road that occasionally splits in two (like a highway that is occasionally divided) is not unstable.  Meanwhile, the Nestle-Aland compilation is more like a road that is constantly unmade and remade, sometimes taking the traveler in a different direction than before (as we see in the 28th edition in Jude verse 5, Second Peter 3:10, etc.). 
            Next, Costa abandoned the announced subject of the debate by asking Tors if he would be willing to use the Majority Reading approach for the Old Testament.  In the process of asking the question, Costa mentioned that the New Testament quotes predominantly from the Septuagint.  Tors replied that he does not grant that the New Testament writers quoted from the Septuagint – and this began a long detour.  (The thing to see is that Tors’ basic answer was in the negative; the data for the Old Testament is very different and a Majority Reading approach would be difficult to apply.)  
            Costa considered it “alarming” that Tors would deny that the New Testament writers quoted from the Septuagint.  In the course of the next several minutes of the debate, Costa offered examples of the New Testament writers’ use of the Septuagint, and provided examples of disagreement between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, such as in Psalm 22:16.   And suddenly Costa declared that if a Majority Reading approach were to be applied to the Old Testament manuscripts, “serious problems” would result – “In fact, we’re going to be delving very closely to Marcionism.  Where Marcion simply threw out the Old Testament and said, ‘We don’t need the Old Testament.’”  

(Confession:  at this point I kind of stopped taking Costa seriously – not just because he left the announced topic of the debate, but because he resorted to such a flagrant “straw man” argument.  It was like listening to someone criticize a baker’s baking-technique by saying, “How can you say that your baking method is correct?  Would you treat a can of gasoline the way you treated those cake-ingredients?  Ladies and gentlemen, if we were to treat a can of gasoline the way he treated those cake-ingredients, we would have serious problems.  We would be acting like an arsonist.  Therefore there is something wrong with his baking method.”)

            Tors then asked Costa a question about an Islamic debater who frequently declares that the New Testament text is unreliable:  if the Majority Text was used as the authoritative text, how much weaker would that Muslim’s case become?  Costa answered that it didn’t matter, because the Muslim would still resort to a “divide and conquer” approach, taking advantage of whatever disagreements he could find among Christians. 
            Tors replied that Costa had not really answered the question.  Then Tors’ cell phone rang, momentarily interrupting the debate.  Tors reframed his concern:  the Muslim apologist typically focuses on readings in the critical text that are supported by a small number of manuscripts, such as at the ending of Mark – and then the moderator announced that it was time for closing statements.


            Tors went first, and with an anecdote about a scientist who tragically died due to coming into contact with two drops of a toxic chemical, proposed that although the differences between the Majority Text and the critical text are small in terms of quantity, they are extremely important.  Like those two drops of poison, the errant readings in the critical text are fatal to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, and this has contributed to a spiritual decline in the church.  Combined with historical criticism and Darwinism, the rationalistic approach to textual criticism that presumes that scribes freely and frequently altered the text is a destructive method. 
            Apologists attempt to explain why the errors in the critical text are not errors, and (Tors continued) some people find their explanations persuasive, but many others see through them.  This could be avoided if we used a valid method to reconstruct the New Testament text, namely, the Majority Reading approach.  Tonight we have seem that the approach that was used to produce the critical text is built on sand – the canons are wrong and the foundational assumption that scribes freely altered the text is wrong.  What can you do about it?  Stop buying the Bibles that have errors in them.

            Costa went second, and declared that the spiritual decline that is going on is not happening because more churches are using versions based on the Nestle-Aland text; it is happening because people are spiritually dead.  Man is a rebel.  That is the problem. Look at Bart Ehrman (a well-known atheist who was previously Episcopalian) – he became apostate because he was puzzled by a passage in the KJV, in Mark 2, about what happened “in the days of Abiathar the high priest.”  There are answers, but that is what it did for Bart Ehrman, and guess where it was found?  It was found in the King James Bible.  
            (Costa is mistaken again.  Ehrman (in his book Misquoting Jesus) describes his experience, and says that it happened in the course of his study of the Gospel of Mark at Princeton Theological Seminary, in a class taught by Cullen Story.  Ehrman quotes the crisis-eliciting phrase twice.  The form in which it appears in the KJV is, “in the days of Abiathar the high priest.”  He quotes it as “when Abiathar was the high priest,” which more closely resembles the NRSV (though the NRSV does not have “the”).  And I don’t think anyone would deny that the critical text was the go-to compilation at Princeton when Ehrman attended.) 

            Costa then gave his personal testimony as the final evidence in his case for the reasoned eclectic method.  He has been following the Lord for 40 years. Using the critical text has made him a stronger, more confident Christian.  He knows that the word of the Lord endures forever. 
            Textual variants (Costa continued) do not affect any of the cardinal teachings of the Christian faith, either in Byzantine manuscripts, or in Alexandrian manuscripts.  The method of “counting noses” is not a good method by which to reconstruct the New Testament text, because truth is not determined by majority.  Many times, it’s the minority that’s right.  
            Costa returned to the theme that the sinfulness of the human heart is the real problem, not puzzling readings in the Alexandrian Text, but then he hit the five-minute limit (so I will not comment on what was done out of bounds).

Next:  Part 4:  Questions from the Floor

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Tors-Costa Debate, Part 2


            At the outset of the second part of the Tors-Costa debate about how the original text of the New Testament should be reconstructed, technical difficulties caused Tony Costa’s voice to be briefly inaudible.  When the sound resumed, he was addressing Tors’ claim that the Alexandrian Text has an error in Mark 1:2, where the main part of the quotation is from Malachi.  (Tors has argued in an online essay that although evangelical apologists argue that it was not unusual to blend separate quotations and attribute them to a single source, the evidence for the existence of such a custom is extremely elusive.)  Let’s resume there.  Once again, I will summarize the debaters’ statements and offer comment in italics. 
            Consider  Costa reasoned  Matthew 27:9, where words that are found in Zechariah 11:12 are attributed by Matthew to Jeremiah.  Some copyists saw the difficulty and therefore altered the text.  Similarly in Acts 20:28, where the Textus Receptus has a difficult reading that seems to imply that God has blood, scribes altered the text.   (It may have been ill-advised spin to say that “a  Majority Text manuscript” changed the difficult reading to an easier one in Matthew 27:9, for this only makes the point stand out more clearly that the vast majority of manuscripts do not avoid the more difficult reading in that case; most scribes thus acted contrary to the premise that Costa is defending.) 
            Byzantine manuscripts, Costa asserted, changed the text in Matthew 27:9.  He provides their identities:  Codex 22, which has Zechariah’s name in the text, and “Family 33, which is also Majority Text, omits the prophet’s name altogether.”  
            (There are just two problems with that.  First, minuscule 22’s text frequently diverges from the Byzantine norm; it is not a typical Byzantine manuscript.  Second, Costa misinterpreted a printed reference to “F 33” as if the F is an abbreviation for  “family” but that is not what it means (there is no “family 33”); it represents Codex Boreelianus, and 33 refers to minuscule 33, which is, according to Metzger, “an excellent representative of the Alexandrian type of text.” Thus Costa has misdirected his accusation of scribal unreliability in two ways.  First, he is illustrating the dangers of relying on small minorities of manuscripts; that is where the non-original reading is found in this case.  The approach that he is arguing against is precisely the approach that avoids the adoption of such errors.  Second, he has unintentionally exposed the unreliability of a chief member of the group of manuscripts that he is trying to convince his listeners is the most reliable.)  
Tony Costa, demonstrating
a rationalistic approach.
            Next, Costa addressed Tors’ statement about Byzantine readings in the papyri, responding (as expected) that none of the papyri exhibit strong and sustained patterns of agreement with the Byzantine Text.  (This was not a very effective response, since Tors had only claimed that the papyri contained mixed texts; the question being how Byzantine readings got into the mix if the Byzantine Text didn’t yet exist.  It’s like finding a small mound containing salt, pepper, and paprika in a kitchen where there is not supposed to be any paprika.  Simply saying that a container full of paprika was not found does not change the implication.)
            Costa then said, “John said that there are mistakes in the Majority Text,” and as an example of a type of mistake, he mentioned harmonizations – specifically, harmonizations in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke (i.e., Luke 11:2-4), where, in the Majority Text, “The Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 has expanded to match the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew.”  Costa put things more forcefully:  “In the later manuscripts, you’ll notice that the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Luke is exactly the same as the Gospel of Matthew, with the doxology added to the end, ‘For Thine is the kingdom, the glory, and the power, and so forth.’”
            (Which is forceful – but wrong.  In the Byzantine Text, where Matthew 6:11 has δὸς, Luke 11:3 has δίδου.  Where Matthew’s text has σήμερον, Luke’s text has τὸ καθ’ ἡμέραν.  Where Matthew’s text has τὰ ὀφειλήματα, Luke’s text has τὰς μαρτίας.  Where Matthew’s text has ὡς και, Luke’s text has και γὰρ.  And – passing by some other differences – the Lord’s Prayer in Luke in the Byzantine Text does NOT have the doxology that appears in Matthew 6:13 in the Byzantine Text.  
            (Not only is Costa’s claim false, but it can be reversed, and the absence of “but deliver us from evil” in the Alexandrian Text of Luke 11:4 can be used as an example of Alexandrian omission, and the absence of the doxology in the Alexandrian Text of Matthew can be used as an example of Alexandrian harmonization – in this case, a conformation of Matthew’s text to the parallel in Luke.  Fortunately for Costa, his friendly opponent did not pursue these points.)
            (A better example of a rationalistic approach in action – in which someone paints a reasonable-sounding picture of how scribes made harmonizations, while failing to carefully examine the evidence – could scarcely be hoped for.)
            (Also, the order in the doxology is kingdom, then power, then glory.)
            Then, in response to Tors’ observation about the plethora of scribal errors in Papyrus 66, Costa said that scribes made so many mistakes because they were working under stressful conditions, specifically, Roman persecution.  The Alexandrian scribes, Costa proposed, were “on the run.” (I suspect/hope that this idea came to Costa on the spot, without a test of its plausibility.)  
            The last section of Costa’s response to Tors’ opening statement was a disjointed collection of miscellaneous and tangential points: (One of these points ended up being revisited later in the debate.)     
            ● God had used the Vulgate and a variety of versions based on different texts (Tors’ focus had been altogether elsewhere; perhaps this observation was made as if to suggest that God does not share the “very adversarial approach” that Costa attributed to Tors.  An adversarial approach in a debate; what a concept.) 
            ● A “majority rules” approach does not work with the Old Testament text.  (Costa thus opposed a view that Tors never advocated or even mentioned in his opening statement.)   
            ● The Majority text does not have “daily” in Luke 9:23; isn’t that a scribal harmonization?  (Tors never answered this question, but if he had, the answer would probably be that the minority reading with “daily” (καθ’ ἡμέραν), familiar due to its inclusion in the Textus Receptus, is an Alexandrian harmonization from First Corinthians 15:31.)
            ● A note (in Vaticanus at Hebrews 1:3) rebuking a copyist who tried to correct the text shows that Alexandrian copyists faithfully transmitted the text.  (Costa seemed unaware that the old reading which the note-writer is zealous to preserve (φανερον) is a mistake; the reading there in Nestle-Aland and in the Byzantine Text is φέρων.)
            ● Textual criticism is very complicated and people should read Metzger & Ehrman’s The Text of the New Testament.  (Because there’s nothing like recommending a book by an ecumenical Bible-condenser and an atheist to convince people at church that your position is faith-friendly.)
            ● Modern translations such as the ESV (which Costa called the Evangelical Standard Version; this was a joke, I think) do not really deny any important doctrines. 

Then Tors responded. (It was very advantageous to go second in this part of the debate, because Tors could thus respond not only to Costa’s opening statement but also to Costa’s response.)  He used the words that Costa had just delivered as part of the framework for his response.    Tors made eight corrective points before addressing Costa’s earlier remarks:
            ● Nobody is saying that all the Byzantine manuscripts agree perfectly; of course the Byzantine manuscripts are not 100% uniform.  That does not say anything about the validity of the Majority Reading approach. 
            ● About the note in Vaticanus:  this supports exactly what Tors has been saying:  although some scribes, on rare occasions, tried to alter the text, their efforts were opposed.
            ● Regarding Matthew 27:9:  we see some scribes alter the text, but how many?  A very small number, nowhere remotely close to a majority.  This once again supports the view that the vast majority of scribes did not consciously alter their texts, and most people did not accept such rare alterations.
            ● About the rival readings in Mark 1:2:  is the Byzantine reading correct?  Yes; even if one posits a thematic connection to a passage in Exodus (I think that must have been mentioned in the part of Costa’s statement where there is no audio), Moses was a prophet, so it’s not a problem.  But is the Alexandrian reading correct?  No.  The apologists try to say, “There was this scribal practice of ascribing several quotes from several sources to one source” but (Tors says) when he checked it out, he found no substantial basis for that assertion.  (This is not an approach that I would take; rather, granting that a writer could validly cite more than one thematically related passages from the Old Testament but only name one of them specifically – I would point to the strong scribal tendency to identify unnamed prophets and other unnamed individuals in the Gospels as evidence that in cases such as Mark 1:2, the idea that the less specific reading is to be preferred should be brought to bear.)
            ● What about Matthew 27:9?  It’s not a problem because the text refers to what was spoken by Jeremiah.  Nothing precludes the idea that Jeremiah spoke a prophecy that was also written by Zechariah.  (It might have been helpful to point out the parallels between parts of Jeremiah 49, and parts of the text of Obadiah.)  Similarly in Matthew 1:23, Matthew refers to a prophecy that was spoken but which is not found in written form anywhere in the books of the prophets. There simply was not a custom of saying that what had been written by one man was written by someone else.  (In my view, a case can be made that Matthew – writing to a readership well-acquainted with the Old Testament writings – felt that it would not be problematic to draw a thematic link between a passage in Jeremiah, and a passage in Zechariah without naming both sources.  That does not mean that Mark was in a similar situation; for further analysis regarding Mark 1:2 see my online essay about that variant-unit.) 
            ● It is not an ad hominem argument to call Griesbach a “rationalist.”  That is an accurate assessment of his philosophy and of the basis for his text-critical assumptions:  he valued what seemed reasonable, rather than what was tested and experienced. 
            ● Regarding Papyrus 66:  Roman persecution came in waves; the scribes simply were not under the kind of constant stress that Costa has described.  (Costa’s description is speculation through and through.  Tors surely pulled his punches here.)
            ● Is the majority always right?  Not always; after all, Tors is advocating a view held by a minority of scholars.  But showing that some majorities are wrong does nothing to show that the Majority Text approach is wrong.

            Tors then presented a map of the Byzantine Empire as it existed in the year 600.  Revisiting Costa’s claims about why the Alexandrian Text disappeared, Tors points out that the Byzantine Empire included a huge swath of territory; it was not a localized corner of text-production.  Against Costa’s claim that the Byzantine Text did not become the majority until the ninth century, when we look at the use of the Byzantine Text in this huge territory, we have to ask, if the Alexandrian Text was in the majority, why did the people in this area stop using it?  Roman persecution ended in the 300’s; Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire by the 400’s – and we see the Byzantine Text used in the 400’s and 500’s.  Why not the Alexandrian Text, if that was the majority? 
             Also, we keep being told by advocates of the Alexandrian Text that the early church fathers in the first 300 years quoted the Alexandrian Text.  But when we examine their quotations, that’s arguable.  (Tors built the case gradually:  arguable, then questionable, then . . . )  It is mistaken.  The early patristic quotations of the New Testament are a textual mishmash; they do not support one form or another – but they side with the Byzantine Text more than with anything else.  (It would have been helpful to provide a few concrete examples, such as Clement’s text of Matthew.)  In addition, the pro-Alexandrian case benefits from an absence of evidence where early patristic evidence is concerned:  there are no early patristic writings from Antioch and the surrounding area that are substantial enough to analyze.  (Tors seemed to have more to say about this, but he apparently had some technical difficulty with his digital slides, and moved on.)
John Tors, commenting about
intentional textual changes.
            Tors then addressed Griesbach’s fundamental premise:  did scribes intentionally change the text? (Costa had mentioned a couple of passages that he considered alterations.  Tors could have easily gotten distracted and attempted to focus on those specific passages in detail – but instead he kept his focus.)  Without granting that any reading in the Majority Text is not original, Tors simply noted that he had never said that deliberate alterations never happened; he only insisted that they were rare.  And Costa only gave a few examples – because they are rare.  (Tors could have really hammered this point by pointing out that even the most prominent examples of harmonization that Costa gave – the exact harmonization of the Lord’s Prayer, and the inclusion of the doxology in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 – are non-existent.)    
            As Tors wrapped up this part of the debate, he once again stated that although the reasoned eclectic approach yields a text that contains errors, the Majority Reading approach yields a text that is inerrant.  And it is the original inerrant text the textual critics should aim to reconstruct, even though God has shown that He is able to use imperfect compilations and even flawed translations such as the Vulgate.

            In this part of the debate, Costa presented practically no point for which Tors (even without taking advantage of Costa’s gaffes) did not have an effective answer.  Tors did not, however, spend much time addressing Costa’s claim that it would be “dangerous” to apply the Majority Reading approach to the Old Testament text, probably because Tors never suggested doing so, and because the announced subject of the debate was not the Old Testament text.  Somehow this soon drifted into the main current of the debate. 
            Coming soon:  Part 3: The Debaters Cross-Examine Each Other.    

The Tors-Costa Debate, Part 1

The Tors-Costa Debate
can be viewed at YouTube.
            Last week in Toronto, John Tors, an advocate for the Majority Text, won a debate against Tony Costa, who attempted to defend the Nestle-Aland compilation.  The stated purpose of the debate was to examine the Greek texts behind popular translations of the New Testament.  Today (and in the next two posts, God willing) I will summarize their debate, and offer comments in italics at various points.
            The moderator, Johnny Yao-Chung Chao, welcomed guests to the Toronto Free Presbyterian Church, introduced the debaters, and offered an opening prayer.  The debate was designed to consist of opening statements, followed by responses and a cross-examination period, followed by a time of spontaneous questions from the listeners. 
            Dr. Costa began with a standard summary of the purpose and materials of New Testament textual criticism, noting that the manuscripts contain many variants – mostly trivial, but not all – and he asked, in light of those variants, “How can we be sure and confident that we still have the New Testament today?” – “How do we get back to the original?”  Arguing for the Alexandrian Text, Costa stated that “During the first millennium, the Alexandrian manuscripts were actually in the majority.  The Byzantine manuscripts did not become the majority until the ninth century A.D.”
            At this point, Costa used a graphic that resembles the graph that one can consult on page 153 of James White’s book The King James Only Controversy (first edition).  (Costa’s claim, similarly, is found on the opposite page; White wrote that the Byzantine text “does not become the “majority” until the ninth century.”  That is not a realistic appraisal of the implications of the evidence; perhaps I will write more about this another day.  White’s/Costa’s chart shows how many manuscripts have survived from each century.  That’s all.  One would think that those who object to the idea of “normal” transmission would also object to the idea of “normal” survival, but apparently not when attempting to bolster their case.)
            Costa proposed that use of Alexandrian Greek manuscripts declines because of three factors:  (1)  the destruction of manuscripts by Roman persecutors, (2) the shift from Greek to Latin, and (3) the expansion of Islam.  Costa proposed that in countries governed by shariah-law, it was not safe to have scriptoriums.  (However, many monasteries in Egypt and other countries continued to produce New Testament manuscripts long after the territory in which they were situated was under Islamic rule.)  
            Costa then asserted, “For the first 300 years of the history of the church, all of the church fathers quoted from the Alexandrian text-type manuscripts, not from the Byzantine text-type manuscripts.  At least not till about 350, with John Chrysostom.”  Costa argued that the majority can change, and that the majority is not always right – just look at the majority of Germans who supported the Nazis, for example.  
            As he concluded his opening remarks, Costa made a theological point and a criticism of the Byzantine Priority view:  “God usually works with the small remnants sometimes.”  (Gaffe:  which is it:  usually, or sometimes?)  And, “The Majority Text does not approach a uniform text.  Maurice Robinson openly admits this.  The Majority Text suffers textual corruption as well.” 

            Tors, in his opening statement, restated the basic question on which the debate was intended to center:  Which  method of textual reconstruction should be used:  “reasoned eclecticism” or the Majority Reading Approach?  He began by addressing the much-repeated claim that it does not matter which method is used:  claims that the differences are trivial, and that no doctrine is affected by textual variants.  And then the gauntlet was hurled down:  “But that is not true.” 
            The textual variant in First Timothy 3:16, Tors insisted, has an impact on doctrine.  And the variant in John 7:8, where P66 and P75 and Codex Vaticanus disagree with the Nestle-Aland compilation, also has an impact.  There are many, many more examples.  (One could wish that he had specified a few more, such as Matthew 27:49 and Mark 6:22.) The survival of at least one doctrine of the faith – inerrancy – depends on which approach is used.
            Tors then reviewed some text-critical guidelines, or canons, utilized by supporters of the Alexandrian Text.  He emphasized the premises behind them, such as: 
            (1)  Scribes were more prone to add than to omit. 
            (2)  Scribes were prone to correct errors. 
            (3) Scribes were prone to harmonize. 
            Tors also pointed out that the critical text depends very heavily on Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, even though they disagree, on average, four times in every five verses.  (Gaffe:  Vaticanus was not discovered in the 1800’s; its New Testament text was reliably edited and made available to researchers at that time; its existence had been known for centuries.)
            In addition, Tors protested that at the root of the critical text is the genealogical method proposed by Hort back in 1881 – a theoretical transmission-history that Hort never bothered to prove. (As Colwell put it:  “That Westcott and Hort did not apply this method to the manuscripts of the New Testament is obvious.  Where are the charts which start with the majority of late manuscripts and climb back through diminishing generations of ancestors to the Neutral and Western Texts?  The answer is that they are nowhere.”) 
            Tors also mentioned that the advocates of the pro-Alexandrian school also cite the discovery of Egyptian papyri as a basis for their position – but before investigating that further, he turned to the just-listed canons, and asked the audience to see if they could detect the basic idea that they express.  That idea, he said, is the fundamental foundation of the reasoned eclectic case:  the idea that scribes altered the text on purpose.  Griesbach – the scholar in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s who developed these canons – believed this, not because he had conducted thorough analytical research about scribal tendencies, but because he embraced a rationalistic philosophy, and these ideas simply seemed to make sense.  His assumptions were accepted by textual critics for 200 years.  However, Tors continued, those assumptions do not align with most of the evidence.  Patristic writers consistently denounce those who altered the text of Scripture.  And one research-study after another – such as James Royse’s – show that the most common scribal error was omission.      
            Tors then turned his attention to the early papyri.  He pointed out that contrary to what James White has claimed, the papyri do not all support the Alexandrian Text.  There is considerable mixture in the text of some of the early papyri.  Tors then showed a graphic, summarizing data from Pickering, who in turn had extracted data from research by Klijn:
            P66:  agreed with Aleph 14 times, agreed with B 29 times, and agreed with TR 33 times.
            P75:  agreed with Aleph 9 times, agreed with B 33 times, and agreed with TR 29 times.
(In the debate, it did not seem very clear at all what Tors’ comparison was comparing, so I will explain:  those numbers are not derived from a consideration of the entire text of P66 and P75; they are part of an analysis (conducted by Klijn, and used by Pickering) of just the parts of John in which P45, P66, and P75 are all extant.  These statistics shouldn’t be relied upon as anything but a demonstration that P66’s text is significantly different from P75 – which is still a significant point, since if P66 and P75, with this much variation, are both Alexandrian, the term doesn’t mean much.  But this evidence-bundle looks carefully picked.  Nevertheless I don’t think anyone will contest Tors’ basic point that some of the papyri have texts that fail to display the patterns of readings displayed in the flagship-manuscripts of any text-type.  Aland acknowledged this, as Tors mentioned.)     
            After mentioning that the early papyri (better:  some of the early papyri) are not strongly aligned with the Alexandrian Text, Tors pointed out that 150 distinctly Byzantine readings have been found in the papyri.  (This finding by Harry Sturz is often belittled by defenders of the Alexandrian Text; a typical response is that early Byzantine readings do not show the existence of an early Byzantine Text.  And that was Costa’s response, almost verbatim.  But such a reaction overlooks the chief implication of Sturz’s research, which is that wherever these readings came from, it was not from a simple amalgamation of readings drawn from Western and Alexandrian exemplars, at least not as we know them.  If there was any such amalgamation-work, it must have involved a third source of readings – in which case, Hort’s main reason to categorically reject distinct Byzantine readings falls to pieces.) 
            Approaching his conclusion, Tors stated that in view of all this – the research that has undermined the “prefer the shorter reading” canon, the analyses that have shown that most scribes simply aspired to accurately reproduce their exemplars’ contents, and the discoveries of early distinctly Byzantine readings that weigh in against Hort’s theory of the origin of the Byzantine Text – “Nestle-Aland is dead.  They don’t admit it, but it is.”
            Tors’ final argument for the Majority Reading Approach in his opening statement consisted of an appeal to statistical analysis.  Using a mathematical model, Tors showed that if a manuscript were copied five times, then, all things equal, any error would have to be copied three times to be the majority reading.  And the number of times an error would have to be reproduced in each subsequent copying-generation would necessarily increase.  Thus the probability of any error being the majority reading is staggeringly low.  Tors said, “This is based on real-life numbers.”  
            (However, what are the numbers based on?  They are a hypothetical mathematical construct, not a reflection of historically verified circumstances – a grid, not a map.  Of course one can imagine a tree that grows 10 branches, with 10 twigs on each branch, and 10 fruits on each twig, but one can also walk outside and observe trees with branches hacked away, twigs broken off, widely different numbers of twigs on different branches, fruit plucked by birds and squirrels, and so forth.  If a reading’s status as part of a majority infallibly implied what Tors says it implies, the Eusebian Sections and chapter-divisions would also be part of the original text.  Still, aside from this, Tors presented some sound reasons why the Majority Reading Approach is more trustworthy than the pro-Alexandrian approach.)

Thus ended the opening statements.  Next:  Part 2:  The Debaters Respond. 


Monday, April 17, 2017

Codex Sinopensis (O, 023)

Left:  fol. 31v - Matthew 21:19-22.
Right:  fol. 29r - Matthew 20:32-21:2,
with illustrations (David on the left; Isaiah on the right;
the Healing of the Two Blind Men at Jericho in the middle).
            Justinian may have been Emperor of the Byzantine Empire (he ruled from 527 to 565) when the rare manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew known as Codex Chrysopurpureus Sinopensis – the Purple Codex from Sinope Written in Gold – was made.  This manuscript was unknown to European researchers until 1899, when a French military officer named John de la Taille, returning home after a journey to the area east of the Black Sea, visited the city of Sinope (on the southern coast of the Black Sea) and purchased it from a lady who was part of the Greek-speaking population there.  After the manuscript was taken to Paris, Henri A. Omont (librarian at the National Library of France) published a line-by-line uncial replication of its text, along with a transcript, in the 1901 volume of Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Nationale.  This volume is online.  It is much easier to read Omont’s materials than it is to read the text on the pages themselves.   Also in 1901, H. S. Cronin introduced this codex in a detailed article in the Journal of Theological Studies., emphasizing its text’s similarity to the text in Codex Rossanensis.  (More about that later.)
            Codex Sinopensis is rather sumptuous:  its parchment has been tinted purple – an expensive and rare treatment – and its text is written in gold ink.  Its uncial letters are very large.  This was a book intended to be used in church-services, with large print and plenty of room in the margins for the reader to handle without touching the ink.  Possibly this manuscript was one of a set that was intended to be used during church-services at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, or a nearby chapel used by members of the royal family of the Byzantine Empire.   
            Unfortunately, most of the pages of Codex Sinopensis have been lost.  When it was made, the Gospel of Matthew took up about 144 two-sided pages; only 44 are known to have survived.  The surviving pages clearly display the Byzantine Text of Matthew chapters 7, 11, 13-15, 17-22, and 24 (with gaps).  Rather than feel frustrated when seeing such mutilation of a beautiful manuscript, the textual critic’s natural reaction is excitement, for damage to Codex Alexandrinus – an earlier witness to the early Byzantine Text of the Gospels – resulted in a 24-chapter gap at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew in Codex A – and here in this deluxe codex of the sixth century a considerable portion of that loss is compensated. 
            The existence of a manuscript from the 500’s with an essentially Byzantine Text goes a long way toward refuting the claim that medieval manuscripts, because of their relatively late production-dates, contain a text that is also late and characterized by expansions picked up through the centuries.  For when the text of medieval Byzantine minuscule copies of the Gospels is compared to the text of Codex Sinopensis, their close resemblance is impossible to deny.
            Furthermore – as if one needed more proof that the Byzantine Text is ancient – Codex Sinopensis is one of a small group of manuscripts which may be considered triplets, that is, they were copied from the same exemplar, or master-copy, of the Gospels.  The sibling-manuscripts of 023 are N (022), Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus, and Σ (042), Codex Rossanensis.  (Another Purple Codex is Φ (043), known as Codex Beratinus.)  Together, these manuscripts, known as the Purple Uncials, echo a yet-more-ancient text which to a large degree represents the Gospels-text that spread widely throughout the Byzantine Empire.  (Some Latin Gospels-manuscripts on purple parchment also exist, such as the Werdenstein Gospels.)
            Because of the heavy damage which Codex Sinopensis has undergone, its parchment-sheets have been separately stored in its present location – the National Library of France.  For this reason, it cannot be simply read front-to-back; except for the occasional sheet that came in the middle of a set of 10 or 12 parchment-sheets (such a set is a quire) that were vertically folded in the center and sewn together.  The front and back of the first half of a sheet contain one passage, and the front and back of the second half of the same sheet contain a passage from further along in the text, skipping the text on however many pages were in between. 
            When produced, this codex was somewhat larger than its present dimensions (12 inches tall and 10 inches wide, more or less) – about as tall and wide as Codex Alexandrinus.  The text is written in very large letters, in a single column per page, with 16 lines, except on pages that contain illustrations at the foot of the page; there are five of these and they contain 15 lines of text rather than 16.  The illustrations are as follows:
            ● Salome receiving the Head of John the Baptist
            ● The Feeding of the Five Thousand
            ● The Feeding of the Four Thousand
            ● The Cursing of the Fig-tree
            Codex Sinopensis (O) has a feature that is also seen in Codex Rossanensis (N):  alongside the main illustrations, Old Testament writers (Moses, David, Isaiah, Habakkuk, and Daniel) are depicted, standing behind pulpits upon which are written brief and loosely worded extracts from their writings, applicable to the illustrated scene they accompany. 
            As Elijah Hixson recently announced at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, digital images of Codex Sinopensis have been made available at Gallica.  For those who may wish to sift through the text on the digital images in the order in which the text is written in the Gospel of Matthew, I have provided the following index. 
On the page that has an illustration of the death of John the Baptist,
the text of Matthew 14:1-4 in Codex O disagrees with the Byzantine Text
at one point:  the word for "tetrarch" is spelled with "aa"
instead of "a" (highlighted in the replication).

[f. 11r   14:13-16 (with illustration)]
[f. 11v  14:16-20]
[f. 30r   21:12-16]
[f. 30v  21:16-19 (with illustration)]
[f. 44r]
[f. 44v]

[At the moment a few pages are not in this index – but check back for possible updates!]

Friday, April 14, 2017

Luke 23:34a - Answering the Apologists (Part 2)

          In the previous post, we looked at the external evidence regarding Jesus’ saying from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” found in Luke 22:34.  We saw that although this sentence is included in 99% of existing Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, the copyists of six early manuscripts – Papyrus 75, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Bezae, Codex W, Codex Koridethi,  and 070 – did not include it in the text, and because these particular manuscripts constitute early representatives of diverse branches of the text’s transmission, this is seem by some researchers – including James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries – as evidence that the passage was not in the original text.  On the other hand, we also saw that this passage was used by over a dozen patristic writers in the 100’s, 200’s, and 300’s.
            Either these words were put into the text of Luke, or else someone took them out.  A few theories have been proposed as attempts to explain why and how someone would put these words into the text: 
            (1)  After someone in the early church noticed that Jesus made six pronouncements from the cross, he decided that it would be an improvement if Jesus had made seven statements from the cross, so he created one, or borrowed an oral tradition, and put it into the text. 
            (2)  These words circulated in the early church as an agraphon, or unwritten tradition about the sayings of Jesus, and someone, somewhere, decided to put them at this location in the text.
            (3)  A copyist did not want Jesus to appear less forgiving than Stephen, who prayed to Jesus as he was being stoned to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin to their account” (in Acts 7:59-60). 

            Let’s briefly look at each of these theories. 


            It is intrinsically unlikely that anyone would deliberately invent a saying and insert it into the text just to make the total number of sayings from the cross total seven.  The notion that Jesus only spoke six words from the cross could only exist after all four Gospels were considered a distinct narrative unit – that is, after all four had been composed, collected together, and recognized as specially authoritative – by which time, the individual Gospels would have already circulated for decades, making it difficult for any such novel insertion to suddenly appear and gain acceptance from church leaders such as Irenaeus. 
            Recent supporters of the idea that the sentence was added in order to bring the number of Jesus’ sayings from the cross to a total of seven have pointed to the order in which the sayings appear in Tatian’s Diatessaron (to the extent that it can be reconstructed); however, changes in order in the Diatessaron occur often, and in this case the re-ordering of the sayings from the cross appear to be a side-effect of Tatian’s attempt at chronological harmonization of the four Gospels’ accounts; they are not indicative of any instability in the text, as if the sentence was floating around somewhere further along in Luke 23.       Furthermore, I cannot find any comment by any patristic writer about the significance of there being seven sayings of Christ from the cross.  Without question, people mildly appreciated groups of seven when they found them in the text, but I know of no case whatsoever in which any early Christian writer altered the text to create a total of seven of anything.  (And would this not be intrinsically unsatisfying to the person making the alteration?) 


            Did someone in the early church value an agraphon (an unwritten tradition consisting of, or centered around, a saying of Jesus) so highly that he thought it should be inserted into the text of the Gospel of Luke?  That is the theory proposed by Bruce Metzger in his Textual Commentary on the United Bible Society’s compilation:  “The logion,” he wrote, “though probably not a part of the original Gospel of Luke, bears self-evident tokens of its dominical origin.” However, there is no physical evidence that this statement ever circulated in any form other than as part of the text of Luke 23:34.  The statement, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” demands a narrative context:  who is being forgiven for what?  It seems unlikely that this sentence would ever circulate without a framework. 
            Several agrapha were mentioned in patristic writings – but the intrusion of an agraphon into the Greek text of the Gospels is exceptionally rare.  Interpolations in Codex Bezae, and Codex W’s “Freer Logion” between Mark 16:14 and 16:15, are almost unique in this respect.  Codex D has interpolated sayings of Jesus after Matthew 20:28, after Luke 6:4, and after John 6:56.  These features – and a few others which resemble parallel-passages – display the influence of a loosely translated and interpolated Old Latin text, which is in the same codex on alternating pages.  But though attested in Codex D, these readings are not in the Byzantine Text, indicating that either copyists possessed considerable resistance against novelties in their exemplars, or that only a very few copyists were reckless enough to insert them in the first place, or both.   
            Consider the curious incident of the saying about money-changers: Γίνεσθε δόκιμοι τραπεζιται (“Be ye approved money-changers”).  Brook Foss Westcott (of Westcott & Hort fame) liked this saying so much that he put it on a preface-page in his Introduction to the Study of the Gospels.  Several patristic writers used it too, including Clement of Alexandria (who referred to it as a saying of Jesus in Stromata 1:28), Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, and even John of Damascus in Orthodox Faith, Book 4, chapter 17 – a composition from the early 700’s). 
            But even though this saying circulated in the churches for over 500 years (and here we are, still discussing it!), how many copyists inserted it into the Greek text of Scripture?  Inasmuch as it appears in no Greek manuscript of any part of the New Testament, the answer seems to be zero.  This does not bode well for the plausibility of the theory that typical copyists were open to the idea of putting additions of any kind into the Greek text of the Gospels.             


The idea that someone in the early church created Luke 23:34a so that Stephen would not appear more altruistic than Jesus has several problems.  First, nothing in the account of Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7 matches the phrase, “for they know not what they do.”  Second, while the statement of Stephen and the statement in Luke 23:34a are conceptually similar, they are diverse where vocabulary is concerned.  Third, inasmuch as Stephen made his statement a gasp away from death, a person desiring to create a parallel in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion would be more likely to insert it at the point of Jesus’ death, not more than three hours earlier.  Fourth, the actions of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke are repeatedly emulated by Jesus’ followers in the book of Acts; to whatever extent Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:70 resembles Luke 23:34a, it is just the sort of resemblance that points to Luke as the author.

            These proposals do not plausibly explain the ancient and widespread presence of “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” in the text of Luke.  In addition, an internal feature of the passage constitutes subtle but forceful evidence that it was written by Luke:  it exemplifies Luke’s distinct emphasis on ignorance (the term “ignorance” is used here in its technical sense, not in a derogatory sense) as an extenuating circumstance capable of eliminating or reducing a perpetrator’s guilt. 
            Some examples of this emphasis may be listed:  among the Evangelists, Luke, and Luke alone, records the saying of Jesus in which He establishes different measures of judgment for those who know their master’s will, and for those who do not know it.  In Acts 3:14-7, Luke records Peter’s statement that although members of his audience had “killed the Prince of life,” they had acted in ignorance, and so had their rulers.  He proceeds to invite them to repent.  In Acts 13:27, Luke records Paul’s statement that the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their rulers handed Jesus over to be executed “because they did not know Him.”  And Acts 17:30 – part of Paul’s address to the Athenian philosophers – states, “God overlooked these times of ignorance, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
            The probability that someone in the 100’s perceived and mimicked what Eldon Epp has called Luke’s “Ignorance Motif,” and expressed it in a 12-word insertion (with syntax consistent with Luke 11:4), seems very far lower than that alternative explanation that Luke wrote these words.
            A strong motivation existed for early copyists to omit these words:  a desire to avoid the impression that Jesus’ prayer had been rejected.  About 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and it was devastated again in the Bar Kokhba Revolt.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed; many others were enslaved, and they were deprived of their homeland.  The pagan jibe can easily be written:  “Is this what happens when Jesus asks for people to be forgiven?  Their city is laid waste, and they and their families are slain or enslaved?  His intercession does not seem very effective.”  Even without a pagan around to express the objection, an ordinary reader could perceive a difficulty when comparing Christ’s prayer to the history of the Jews in the century that followed.
            Many early Christian writers considered the Jewish nation corporately responsible for Christ’s death; they interpreted Matthew 27:25 as if it referred to all Jews.  Compositions such as Melito of Sardis’ Easter Homily, a.k.a. Peri Pascha (c. 170) display this interpretation very clearly. Melito, in the course of addressing the Jews in a diatribe, says, “You did not recognize the Lord; you did not know, O Israel, that this one was the firstborn of God” – but he also insists that the Jews should have known, in light of the prophecies about the Messiah.
            Origen, writing Against Celsus (Book 4, chapter 22), similarly regarded the destruction of Jerusalem as divine retribution.   And about 150 years after Origen wrote, John Chrysostom, in Homilies Against the Jews (better titled, Sermons Against Those Who Partake in Jewish Customs), preached that the Jews, collectively, were in a situation similar to that of Cain – guilty but unwilling to admit that they had done wrong – and he advised that Christians should not even pray for them, alluding to Jeremiah 7:16 and 15:1 as justification. 
            So when Chrysostom (or someone whose works have been mixed up with the sermons of Chrysostom) commented on Luke 23:34 in Homily on the Cross and the Robber, he began with the obvious question:  “Did He forgive them the sin?” – and Chrysostom’s answer was that forgiveness was given to those who repented – to Paul, and to the multitudes of Jews who became Christians in the book of Acts – but then, judgment fell.      
            Hippolytus found a simpler solution in the incomplete composition Demonstratio Contra Judaeos; he concluded that Jesus’ prayer was on behalf of the Gentile soldiers who did the actual work of crucifying Him.   
            The unknown author of the Didascalia Apostolorum (c. 250) resorted to a more reckless course:  he altered Jesus’ prayer to make it conditional, like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, adding the phrase “if it be possible” – the implication being that just as it turned out to not be possible to let the cup of suffering pass, it was likewise not possible to forgive those responsible for Christ’s crucifixion, in light of their non-repentance.
            This use of the destruction of Jerusalem as an interpretive lens was not limited to commentators of the early church, but also was employed by copyists.  Eldon Epp, in his book, The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantebrigiensis in Acts, devoted a chapter to the subject of anti-Judaic tendencies in the text of Codex D – i.e., in the Western Text that is displayed in Codex D.  Epp showed that a scribal tendency to alter features in the text that could be understood to excuse or reduce the guilt of the Jews for Jesus’ death is discernible in the Western Text.  (C. K. Barrett wrote a response to Epp’s claim, challenging it, but Barrett’s answers, for the most part, are far from effective; it is like watching someone turn “they killed him” into “those evildoers deliberately rebelled and killed him” and then be told that the person making the changes was just trying to make the sentence more clear.)
            Westcott and Hort, in 1881, had little reason to suspect that the text found in their favorite manuscript could be contaminated with Western readings.  However, the discovery of the Glazier Codex (G67) of Acts shows that the Western Text was used at an early period in Egypt.  (Although James White has spread the claim that “Every one of the papyrus manuscripts we have discovered” represents the Alexandrian text (see KJV-Only Controversy, page 152, 1995 edition), that is simply false; papyri that have a text that is not Alexandrian include P29, P38, P45 (which is quite a substantial manuscript), P48, P54, P59, P69, and P88.) 
            Codex Glazier’s Egyptian text confirms the antiquity of the anti-Judaic tendency that is displayed in the text of Codex Bezae’s Greek and Latin text:  in Acts 10:39, it is not enough to say simply that “they” killed Jesus; there is, in the Glazier Codex, an alteration, specifying that the Jews rejected Him and killed Him.  (According to Epp, this reading is supported by the Old Latin Codex Legionensis, MS VL 67.  Unfortunately this variant was not selected to be mentioned in the apparatus of the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.)
            Without further ado, let’s consider what all this implies:
            ● The scribes who made the Western form of the text of the Gospels and Acts in the 100’s and 200’s had a bias against the Jews, regarding them as corporately responsible for Christ’s death and understanding the destruction of Jerusalem as evidence that God had not forgiven them.  This affected their treatment of some passages.   
            ● Various patristic writers in the 100’s and 200’s (and later) express the opinion that the Jewish nation as a whole could not have been forgiven for Christ’s crucifixion; those who accept Luke 23:34a tend to feel obligated to explain that it does not mean that the Jews were forgiven then and there.
            ● Some writers altered the text of Luke 23:34a to make it interlock with their understanding that the destruction of Jerusalem signaled that God had not forgiven the Jews.  (The Didascalia added, “if it is possible;” Gregory of Nyssa and others changed “forgive” to “bear with.”)          
            ● In Codex D – the flagship Greek manuscript of the Western Text – Luke 23:34a is absent.  The copyist of D did not create this reading; it is also shared by the Old Latin Codex Vercellensis and the Sinaitic Syriac; these three witnesses echo an older form of the text.   
            ● The Western text, and its creators’ anti-Judaic sentiment, circulated in Egypt, as shown by the Glazier Codex and other evidence. 

            Thus considerable force drives the hypothesis in which Egyptian copyists around the end of the second century were aware of two forms of the text of Luke 23:34 – one (echoed by Sinaiticus, C, L, 33, 892, et al) that contained “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and one (echoed by P75 and Vaticanus), that did not.  But a review of the allies of P75 and B in this case – D, a, d, the Sinaitic Syriac – informs us that this originated as a Western reading. 
            Once this reading (or, rather, this omission) was known in Egypt, it was very difficult for scribes to resist adopting it, because it was consistent with their understanding that the destruction of Jerusalem implied that the Jews, collectively, were unforgiven.  Rather than face the foreseeable jibes and questions that the inclusion of these words would invite, they concluded that such a statement could not be original, and so they adopted the omission (which first emerged in part of the Western Text) into part of the Alexandrian transmission-stream.

          This conclusion – that a scribal prejudice elicited the omission of Luke 22:34a, and the adoption of the omission – is further confirmed by the observation that the sentence is omitted in a smattering of Byzantine manuscripts.  Rather than suggest that these particular copies are somehow genealogically connected to manuscripts such as P75 and B, this shows that a non-textual factor – scribes’ anti-Judaic prejudice – could independently elicit the omission of this sentence in unrelated witnesses.
            Inasmuch as “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is in Luke 23:34 in a massive majority of Greek manuscripts representing multiple transmission-branches, as well as in massive versional evidence, and is supported by very ancient and very widespread patristic evidence, and inasmuch as there is compelling evidence that its rival-reading originated as the result of scribes’ prejudice against Jews, I conclude that this sentence is original to Luke. 

            And since it is inspired Scripture, let us not perpetually cause Bible-readers to question its authority by introducing oversimplified footnotes, as if we suffer from the delusion that such vague notes do justice to the evidence.  Let us acknowledge that it is original – and may we therefore be inclined to forgive, and to yearn for the forgiveness of those who do not know their Master’s will.