Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Birdsall on theologically-motivated variation

[I received the following from Mike Holmes, who's currently having difficulty posting - PJW]

I just received today a copy of (some of) the collected essays of Neville Birdsall (J. Neville Birdsall, Collected Papers in Greek and Georgian Textual Criticism [Text and Studies, 3rd series, vol. 3; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006]. A splendid collection (though it is to be regretted that understandable space considerations precluded the republication of his magnificent essay in the Cambridge History of the Bible). The one essay I had not previously seen was his 1984 inaugural lecture at the University of Birmingham, and I promptly read it with much interest. It is very much worth a thoughtful read.

In light of Dirk Jongkind's posting of 23 April on theologically motivated variation, the following comment by Birdsall caught my eye. In discussing features which set NT textual criticism apart from that of other ancient languages (the first is its language), Birdsall writes:
"Second of the peculiarities of the text of the New Testament is that which arises through the use of these documents as the standard of reference in theological discussion. Changes came about which were intended as elucidations of the true meaning of the text, or to guard against false meaning being imported into the interpretation of the text. This has often been denied, but in my view the evidence cannot be gainsaid. The changes are not great, their reasons can readily be perceived: but they are there and we can trace the development of doctrine in them." (p. 6) For an essay delivered in 1984, the phrasing of some of his statements is remarkably prescient.

Michael Holmes

1 comment:

  1. maurice a robinson4:15 pm, May 02, 2007

    Is Birdsall 1984 any more prescient than Burgon 1896? In his The Causes of Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, Burgon devoted twenty pages (211-231) to the matter of “Corruption by the Orthodox”.

    While Birdsall noted, “Changes came about which were intended as elucidations of the true meaning of the text, or to guard against false meaning being imported into the interpretation of the text,” Burgon said much the same, with examples given, speaking (211) of

    “... mistaken solicitude on the part of the ancient orthodox for the purity of the Catholic faith. These persons . . . evidently did not think it at all wrong to tamper with the inspired Text. If any expression seemed to them to have a dangerous tendency, they altered it, or transplanted it, or removed it bodily from the sacred page .... The piety of the motive seems to have been held to constitute a sufficient excuse for any amount of license.”

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