Evangelical Textual Criticism

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Interview with Maurice Robinson

Dave Black has posted two interviews with Maurice Robinson about his approach to NT textual criticism:
Interview One
Interview Two

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for making this available. It is extremely interesting. The most welcome point that Robinson made in it all is that the theological question of inerrancy of the bible has nothing to do with the text-critical question of which variants we should consider closer to the autograph. Confusing the two issues cannot be good for the reputation of text criticism as a scholarly discipline.

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  2. "One should be familiar with Metzger’s Text of the New Testament (3rd edition or earlier — Ehrman’s 4th edition revision contains several factual errors)."

    What are those factual errors?

    Thanks.

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  3. "The existing documents accurately represent the autographs in all essential points. The text we now possess is sufficient and substantial for establishing and maintaining all doctrinal positions held within orthodox Christianity, skeptics and postmodernists such as Ehrman, Epp, Parker, or the media to the contrary."
    Yes, Ehrman has most definitely overstated the problem and has inferred way too much, but I don't think Epp and Parker (and others who question what we mean by "original" text/autograph) are suggesting that establishment and maintenance of orthodox Christianity is threatened by the textual state of the NT. Thus, I don't think that Robinson's first sentence ("The existing documents accurately represent the autographs in all essential points") is a logical (or theological) necessity for his second sentence (maintenance and establishment of orthodoxy).
    Derek

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  4. Roger said:
    "The most welcome point that Robinson made in it all is that the theological question of inerrancy of the bible has nothing to do with the text-critical question of which variants we should consider closer to the autograph."

    What Robinson actually said was:
    "Certainly, my theological presuppositions did not compel a position regarding a traditional form of the text, nor a preference for any specific manuscripts or texttype, nor what variant reading should be preferred at any given point. Even today my view of Biblical inerrancy is not affected by my text-critical viewpoint, nor does my view regarding inerrancy determine my text-critical viewpoint."

    Robinson's original claim was not quite so strong as to say the inerrancy and tc have nothing to do with eachother, only that in his practice, the two realms have not yet impacted one another.

    I cannot argue with Robinson regarding his own experience. And I do not doubt that the array of options he has studied in specific NT variants as well as systems of tc (and I am firmly convinced that he has studied far more of them than all but a few living people) are all options that could conceivably comport with an inerrantist theology. However, I think we have to acknowledge that, at least in theory, the axiom of inerrancy can impact one's text-critical conclusions. If one reading of a text presents a definite untruth, whereas another reading presents a definite truth, then inerrantists must reject the untrue reading as the one least likely to have come from the original author, who we know to have written nothing false in his inspired autograph. Likewise, the belief in inerrancy has an impact on our goals in using tc. Some current scholars believe that the autographa are so far removed from any period of careful scribal habits that their wordings are irrecoverable. Moreover, what can be recovered has been to as great a degree as is possible. Thus, to them, the greatest value of tc is in what it can show us about later christian history via what the manuscripts reveal about what this or that scribe did with the text. But, without a doubt, scholars who believe in inerrancy (at least in a version of inerrancy similar to what is explained in the Chicago statement) do care about autographa. And when evangelical scholars (such as Waltke in his take on OT TC) believe the goal is something other than the autographa, they still are guided by theological concerns in understanding whatever that goal is.

    It's time for biblical scholars (both evangelical and otherwise) to put off that crusty old modernist myth that our biblical criticism (both higher and lower) can ever be done on some theologically neutral ground. No such thing exists.

    RP:"Confusing the two issues cannot be good for the reputation of text criticism as a scholarly discipline."

    I am not sure about the reputation of text criticism as a scholarly discipline. But I do not doubt that Roger is right if he means that the reputation of evangelical text-critics would be harmed among non-evangelical members of the guild, should these evangelicals be forthright about how their inerrantist position impacts their work. This is a truism-- identifying ourselves as believers and being forthright about the implications of that identity will not make us popular among non-believers. But this is irrelevant to the question of whether we should lay our theological commitments on the table as a fair and necessary part of tc discussions. Honesty demands that we do so.

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  5. maurice a robinson12:08 am, April 28, 2006

    Rowe: If one reading of a text presents a definite untruth, whereas another reading presents a definite truth, then inerrantists must reject the untrue reading as the one least likely to have come from the original author, who we know to have written nothing false in his inspired autograph.

    My words need to be nuanced properly. As with the Ordo Salutis regarding divine decrees, a similar order exists by which one should relate inerrancy to text-critical praxis.

    Were I to apply a priori an inerrantist understanding to the establishment of the NT text, in Mt 27:9 "Zechariah" (L-848 pc) should be preferred or else "Jeremiah" should be omitted (Phi 33 157 pc).

    Equally, in Ac 12:25, an a priori concept of inerrancy likely would reject the Byzantine EIS IEROUSALHM in favor of APO or EX IEROUSALHM (so Wilbur Pickering for example).

    On the other hand, Rowe's concept ("If one reading of a text presents a definite untruth, whereas another reading presents a definite truth") legitimately can be applied regardless of one's view of inerrancy or lack of such.

    If Aleph* Theta f1 f13 33 pc in Mt 13:35 claim that the quotation from Ps 78:2 supposedly is from "Isaiah", I can reject that reading as erroneous without the necessity of invoking an inerrantist theological construct. So also in other similar cases where plain and clear error happens to appear.

    I hope this point is clear.

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  6. maurice a robinson12:10 am, April 28, 2006

    Rowe: If one reading of a text presents a definite untruth, whereas another reading presents a definite truth, then inerrantists must reject the untrue reading as the one least likely to have come from the original author, who we know to have written nothing false in his inspired autograph.

    My words need to be nuanced properly. As with the Ordo Salutis regarding divine decrees, a similar order exists by which one should relate inerrancy to text-critical praxis.

    Were I to apply a priori an inerrantist understanding to the establishment of the NT text, in Mt 27:9 "Zechariah" (L-848 pc) should be preferred or else "Jeremiah" should be omitted (Phi 33 157 pc).

    Equally, in Ac 12:25, an a priori concept of inerrancy likely would reject the Byzantine EIS IEROUSALHM in favor of APO or EX IEROUSALHM (so Wilbur Pickering for example).

    On the other hand, Rowe's concept ("If one reading of a text presents a definite untruth, whereas another reading presents a definite truth") legitimately can be applied regardless of one's view of inerrancy or lack of such.

    If Aleph* Theta f1 f13 33 pc in Mt 13:35 claim that the quotation from Ps 78:2 supposedly is from "Isaiah", I can reject that reading as erroneous without the necessity of invoking an inerrantist theological construct. So also in other similar cases where plain and clear error happens to appear.

    I hope this point is clear.

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  7. Thanks Dr. Robinson. The point is clear. But once a Christian believes in inerrancy, this belief IS an a priori conviction when doing study of the Bible, text-critical or otherwise. Even if one might want to lay this belief aside while doing tc (and I can't imagine why anyone would want to) I highly doubt that they could, so long as they truly believe it.

    In the examples you give, I think in every case I agree that the more problematic reading could be construed as an error. However, I also think that there exist exegetical options available to us besides the text-critical option.

    In the quote in Mat 27:9, some have suggested that Matthew's scroll containing Zechariah happened to begin with Jeremiah, in which case, the name "Jeremiah" is applied literarily to the whole scroll, not strictly to the prophet Jeremiah. I don't accept this option as very likely, but it's one option I could fall back on as an inerrantist. My prefered option is to recognize that the passage quoted mixes elements from Jeremiah with some from Zechariah, which explains some of the wording of the passage as well as the attribution (similarly Mark 1:2-3 mixes words of Malachi with words of Isaiah allowing an inerrantist to accept the reading "in the prophet Isaiah" if he finds it most likely without any problem of an error). What we as inerrantists must do is throw these options into the mix, together with the text-critical option, and choose the least problematic answer. Of course another option is to leave the problem unresolved, while we accept by faith that a yet unrecognized resolution does exist. But in every case, this dogma of inerrancy will cling to our mind as something that we either continue to hold or something we come to reject. There is no honest way to leave it out of the discussion completely if an honest appraisal of our own hearts reveals that we do believe it.

    In the case of Acts 12:25, the reading "to Jerusalem" is not necessarily an error either, as it could syntactically go with the verbal noun diakonian, rather than the main verb hupestrepsan, since it was the case that their ministry was "to Jerusalem."

    Luke 4:44 has another geographical variant, where the reading accepted by NA27 is "the synagogues of Judea" instead of "of Galilee" with the byzantine text, where the context indicates it was, indeed, Galilee. I am inclined toward the byzantine reading here, and that is not without being biased to some degree by my inerrantist theology. But if I were to change my mind I would not be without exegetical options, such as Bock's interpretation that "Judea" pertains to the whole of Israel. I haven't asked him if his high view of Scripture in any way informed this interpretation on his part a priori; but I must believe that if he is honest he would have to admit that it did--it is no coincidence that commentators who deny inerrancy see alot more errors in the text than commentators who believe it.

    We inerrantists must deal with the phenomena of Scripture in defending this doctrine. In dealing with these phenomena we should try to explain them inasmuch as we can. These explanations may sometimes appear as special pleading on our parts, where we find ourselves playing more the role of barristers than judges. In truth this is not special pleading because we know that disbelieving God's Word is more epistemologically problematic than any of these minor problems in the Bible. In these cases where we find ourselves laboring perhaps more than we would like to explain why there is not an error in the Bible, why should text-critical explanations not be as much an option as any other exegetically labored explanation?

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  8. Anon,
    One of the factual errors is given by Prof. Robinson on the fourth comment appended to this posting.

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  9. Prof. Robinson has also passed on to me the following list of errors:

    22n25 Typo error using the Gothic "p" for uncial P/024 and P/025. Requires explaining to students that these two MSS are not
    papyri.

    23 PATHR and MHTHR are counted as nom. sac. words "contracted by writing only the first two and the last letters"; yet this definition would make the n. s. for PATHR become PAR, which is obviously incorrect. Both PHR and MHR are contracted by writing the first letter and last two letters.

    74 MS Ep (as previously designated in earlier editions) should be updated to the current Greg.-Aland designation as Dabs1

    80 MS V/031 is not the MS pictured on p. 78 as per the reference within the paragraph. The MS on p. 78 is K/018.

    83 line 2, Lk 21.32 should be 22.32

    94 Discussion at this point does not make it clear that Codex Gigas is Old Latin and not Greek (clarified only at p. 103)

    Contradictory statements re: the Ethiopic version: 119-120: ". . . none of the extant manuscripts of the version is older than perhaps the tenth century . . . "; 121: "The earliest known manuscript . . . dates from
    the thirteenth century . . . " (Metzger's 3rd ed. had only the latter statement).

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  10. maurice a robinson10:19 pm, April 28, 2006

    Mr Rowe's comments illustrate and justify my point:

    Rowe: These explanations may sometimes appear as special pleading on our parts ....

    Indeed they do. Were the examples given not special pleading driven by an a priori application of inerrancy, why engage in such convoluted explanations merely in order to establish the most likely archetypal form of the NT text? I for one do not want to see the concept of inerrancy die the death of a thousand qualifications.

    Rowe: ... some have suggested that Matthew's scroll containing Zechariah happened to begin with Jeremiah, in which case, the name "Jeremiah" is applied literarily to the whole scroll, not strictly to the prophet Jeremiah. [This is ] ... one option I could fall back on as an inerrantist.

    I would contend, in contrast, that the primary establishment of the text is not dependent upon one's ability first to provide "inerrantist spin" in order to justify the textual decision.

    In this instance, everyone seems to agree that Matthew here wrote "Jeremiah", whatever the reason. For establishing the original form of Matthew's text, the evidence is sufficient.

    Once the text has been established, its exegetical explanation might permit a number of options, any of which may possess validity, but none of which can be declared with absolute certainty (and if inerrancy should require certainty of explanation in order to establish its validity, then we inerrantists are in deep distress).

    These exegetical and interpretative considerations do not impact the initial text-critical decision, as previously noted. To establish the text at this point, I neither have to "spin" the exegesis in support of "Jeremiah", nor do I have to opt for "Zechariah" or omission of the name merely to justify my view regarding biblical inerrancy as a prerequisite for that textual decision.

    Rowe: ... there exist exegetical options available to us besides the text-critical option.... such as Bock's interpretation that "Judea" [in Lk 4:44] pertains to the whole of Israel.

    Certainly, for those who accept the Alexandrian reading at this point, various degrees of "spin" will exist, particularly from those who maintain such a reading within an inerrantist framework.

    But as an inerrantist I think it relatively certain that Bock did not determine his favored reading here on the basis of any a priori inerrantist view, given its difficulties!

    I simply regard the reading as an Alexandrian archetypal blunder; but my text-critical decision does not reflect an a priori inerrantist choice of whatever reading happens to leave the fewest interpretative problems.

    Thus, once more I demur in regard to Rowe's comment:

    Rowe: ... this belief [in inerrancy] IS an a priori conviction ... Even if one might want to lay this belief aside while doing tc (and I can't imagine why anyone would want to) I highly doubt that they could, so long as they truly believe it.

    To restate once more for clarity:

    I suggest that one's inerrancy viewpoint can not initially determine the original form of the NT text so as to outtrump the actual evidence or nullify the legitimate principles that should be applied to the recognition and establishment of the most likely NT autograph reading.

    Again, I hope I am clear on this matter.

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  11. Yes, you are clear, Dr. Robinson. And I for one very much appreciate your explanations. But I disagree with some of what you imply. When an inerrantist expends some effort to explain a difficulty in the Bible, I wouldn't call it "spin," because a strong point in favor of the inerrantist's labors is the well-founded a priori belief in inerrancy. This is not just an appendage to theology that one can conclude only after having proven its validity throughout Scripture. It is a conviction one must have in one's approach to Scripture, whether or not one would be otherwise prone to agreeing with what one reads. Thus, when we encounter problem passages such as those discussed, we engage in what you are calling "spin," but what I would call simply seeking the explanation that best fits the whole system of truth, including the truth that God's Word is trustworthy. I agree with you that Dr. Bock's opting for the reading "Judea" In Luke 4:44 was clearly not prompted by his high view of Scripture. But I tend to think the interpretive move he made subsequent to that textual decision was so prompted. I fully understand an inerrantist laboring to defend the truthfulness of the text by either method: opting for a less likely meaning of a word, like Bock does; or opting for a particular reading, like Pickering does. And, Dr. Robinson, while I fully understand yout position that textual criticism should be off limits for such things. I have difficulty understanding why. The truth that God's Word is truthful is a known factor for believers, and thus admissible as evidence in a TC decision. And, again, though Roger was right that admitting evidence like this would bring askonce looks from non-evangelical scholars, I don't think that should matter to us (although, admittedly I would personally save such things for certain readerships, not for my professors on graded work of mine).

    Finally, while it was your interview, Dr. Robinson, that prompted these comments of mine, it is hardly the case that I intend to pick on your explication of this position in particular. I think that your position is shared by many. And it is the general approach I am questioning more than one or another person's version of it. PJ posted a question awhile back about why an evangelical apologetics website did not accept his tc related article that included an open admission of his evangelical bias as having an impact on his position. A comment appended to that post suggested that the problem lies in the evidentialist approach to apologetics. I heartily agree and tend to think that evangelical textual criticism could stand to be more Van Tillian.

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  12. PJW: One of the factual errors [in Metzger] is given by Prof. Robinson [as follows:]
    "Ehrman's claim that the NS for πνευμα was πμα would not be as problematic had not Ehrman made *exactly* the same error in[Metzger]!
    . . . Ehrman's claim regarding 1Cor 12:13 depends upon this false identification. In fact, the few minuscules that read POMA (630 1510 1881 al) more likely simply confused the *minuscule* continuous text form of πμα with the word πoμα (compare any minuscule MS to see the point)."

    I for one would appreciate a little clarification of this point. If pma spelled out was being confused with poma, what is pma an abbreviation of if not pneuma?

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  13. maurice a robinson7:05 pm, May 01, 2006

    Buck: If pma spelled out was being confused with poma, what is pma an abbreviation of if not pneuma?

    This misses the point. PMA simply is not a nomen sacrum for PNEUMA, nor should uncial confusion be in view.

    The alleged confusion should have been between the correct n.s. PNA in minuscule script (where Nu and Mu look quite similar and where the rounded Pi could accidentaly appear to be PO-), which then could easily be confused with POMA in minuscule script.

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  14. maurice a robinson7:09 pm, May 01, 2006

    Rowe: When an inerrantist expends some effort to explain a difficulty in the Bible, I wouldn't call it "spin" . . . . [Inerrancy] is not just an appendage to theology that one can conclude only after having proven its validity throughout Scripture.

    Agreed. In terms of theology, I have no problem with inerrancy being an epistemological presupposition that requires application in specific instances. But — once more — were I to apply inerrancy as an a priori methodological construct to the initial establishment of the NT text, why would I not then favor at any point the reading that most easily accords with and supports inerrancy, as opposed to favoring any sort of problematic reading that requires “inerrantist spin” in order to allow plausibility?

    As noted, “inerrancy” initially applied to Mt 27:9 should favor “Zechariah” or name-omission as the simplest solution commensurate with the theological construct. Such would not require further “spin” or ultimately unprovable supposition claims merely in order to defend the problematic “Jeremiah” reading, (which on all text-critical counts is clearly original).

    Similarly, were Bock to initially apply “inerrancy” to his establishment of the text of Lk 4:44, why on earth would he favor “Judea” when “Galilee” would solve all the problems, without any need for further “inerrantist spin”?

    One could add further cases like Mt 1:7 (“Asaph”), 1:10 (“Amos”), when favored by certain pro-Alexandrian inerrantist critics. Were their concept of inerrancy indeed a priori, then why should they adopt patently false readings when correct readings were strongly at hand among the overwhelming mass of MSS and versions? Similarly, in the sole interest of “inerrancy”, why not follow D/p75 in Lk 3:36 and omit the problematic “extra Cainan” (which no Gk NT editor has yet done)?

    My point remains: it is illegitimate to impose an inerrantist construct upon the initial determination of the most likely form of the original text, even if inerrancy exists as a presuppositional theological construct. Only after the text has been established on legitimate evidential and methodological grounds can any attempt to explain problematic readings proceed from within an inerrantist perspective.

    Were this not the case, then why do inerrantists not opt for whatever reading is most compatible with that doctrine, rather than selecting certain “problematic” readings and then attempting to “spin” a compatible defense for such?

    Rowe: while I fully understand your position that textual criticism should be off limits for such things. I have difficulty understanding why. The truth that God's Word is truthful is a known factor for believers, and thus admissible as evidence in a TC decision.

    I hope this round of explanation might help answer the “why”. Were matters otherwise, my strongly held view regarding inerrancy would force me to determine some readings on that basis, despite contrary evidence from MSS, versions, fathers, or elsewhere. In such cases, no longer would I follow the evidence, but only whatever happens to agree with my theological presuppositions (which should be derived from the text and not within a circle that thereby establishes the text.

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  15. James M Leonard3:37 am, May 17, 2006

    I just finished reading the new edition of Metzger-Ehrman. Are the mistakes so egregious as to make the 3rd edition preferable? I suppose I'm taken somewhat aback that Prof. Robinson would commend the 3rd edition and not the 4th.

    Jim Leonard

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  16. J.K. Elliott, who has a sharp eye for errata, listed a few mistakes in his review (Novum Testamentum 48 (2006) pp. 202-203:

    'Skeat’s views on Sinaiticus on pp. 68f. need a reference to JTS 1999, and the reference on p. 87 re 1582 needs anchoring to Anderson’s monograph (that occurs on p. 91). ... The Chester Beatty Library is still said to be (p. 53) in a Dublin suburb: for several years now the library has been housed in Dublin Castle in the city centre! References to other editions, such as Nolli, Orchard, Boismard-Lamouille mentioned in the earlier Appendix have, inexplicably, disappeared. ... Codex Dinaiticus occurs in the Index!'

    Obviously mere listing of errata does not show that the third edition is better than the fourth and many of these matters could be corrected by a revised printing of the fourth edition.

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  17. A very fine thread.

    Let me add some thoughts.

    With 'Jeremiah' there are other points of note. One is that the verse does not say 'scripture' or even 'written' leaving open additional harmony aspects. One of special note I believe was in John Gill, that in fact there was another writing from Jeremiah (now non-extant?) that has the Zecahriah quote. Has anybody researched this or written about it ? John Gill was incredibly well-informed on Hebraic writings.

    Let's also remember that this discussion is not 'neutral'. Alexandrian errors are often included specifically included because they are errors.. through the overuse and abuse of lectio difficilior, an ironclad guarentee of forcing errors into the text.

    Now one other point. 'synagogues of Judea' being Israel takes harmonization to a whole different level, even when embraced by proclaimed inerrantists. A level that the the skeptic can rightly claim is absurd (to add to a bunch of false claims :-) Similarly the swine marathon from Gerash.

    This is why I have contended that the soft underbelly of the alexandrian cornfusion is apologetics, which has been sacrificed at the alter of a pseudo-science.

    Shalom,
    Steven Avery
    Queens, NY
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Messianic_Apologetic

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