Evangelical Textual Criticism

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Basic Tenets of Evangelical Textual Criticism

Sorry folks, but I am not at all impressed with the overall result of the discussion on the most recent thread on 'What is evangelical textual criticism'. I think it should be possible to come up with something more constructive. So bear with me.

By means of introduction, evangelicals practising textual criticism (are/should be) aware of human imperfection in history ('many things did go wrong') as in our study of textual history ('we may get things wrong'). This is not a unique point for textual criticism, or even of evangelical scholarship in general, but it is in my view a sine qua non.

I think there are three basic assumptions that characterise evangelical textual criticism (each with their own modifications and refinements, but we are not going to bother with these).
1) There is an 'original text' to aim for in New Testament textual criticism.
2) There is the theological conviction that the preservation of the New Testament is sufficiently reliable.
3) The canon of the New Testament is (in one way or the other) a real and given entity.

Each of these points should be properly expanded and clarified in what they affirm and deny, and can probably be refined in their wording, and perhaps there are even other foundational notions. But I think these three taken together constitute a neat distinctive for evangelical textual criticism.

19 comments:

  1. Dirk Jongkind:
    "1) There is an 'original text' to aim for in New Testament textual criticism.
    2) There is the theological conviction that the preservation of the New Testament is sufficiently reliable.
    3) The canon of the New Testament is (in one way or the other) a real and given entity."

    ad 1) This proposition appears to be framed in historical/philological categories. Is it acceptable to make this even more explicite: since the NT has generated a considerable textual tradition, by implication we might assume an archetype of it? Hence, the quest for the archetype is historically and philologically legitimate.

    ad 2) This is a theologically framed proposition, which is fine.

    ad 3) But, is the canon of the NT as a "real and given entity" a historically or theologically framed proposition?

    Ulrich Schmid

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  2. maurice a robinson8:24 pm, September 26, 2007

    It appears to me that matters still remain in a flux of non-definition.

    As to point (1): although I clearly support the concept of "original text" (or earliest recoverable archetype) as the proper goal for NT textual criticism (thus excluding those who might reject such a concept out of hand), I do not see from an "evangelical" standpoint how in terms of possible theory or methodology that this would necessarily differ from non-evangelicals who hold a similar position (and then what about those claiming to be "evangelical" who might reject such a concept?).

    As to point (2), why would it be necessary to view the "sufficiently reliable preservation" of the NT documents as a "theological conviction" or even as a "theological construct"? While evangelicals certainly have theological views regarding inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, and transmissional preservation of the NT documents -- which theological views are not shared among non-evangelical textual critics -- in many if not most cases the non-evangelical scholars will acknowledge the same "sufficiently reliable preservation" of the NT documents. So what is "distinctive" for the evangelical in this situation?

    As to point (3): while the evangelical (or Protestant) community certainly will define the canon differently than the Roman Catholic or Orthodox bodies, does the "evangelical canon" somehow affect NT textual criticism in a particular manner that would not exist within other canonical approaches when working on the same NT books?

    All in all, it still seems that "evangelical textual criticism" remains a concept without clear definition, except that it implies the praxis of NT textual criticism by those who theologically happen to hold certain evangelical distinctives.

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  3. Maybe you should just rename the blog "Textual Criticism by Evangelicals" instead of attempting to justify the title by defining a practice or approach that can be called "Evangelical Textual Criticism" (as distinct from, say, "Catholic Textual Criticism").

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  4. There is one recurring word in MAR's response, which I have used in the past and that is the word 'distinctive'. Perhaps we should stick to Dirk's initial use of the word 'characterise' (and thus 'characteristic'). There is no need for characteristics to be exclusive characteristics.

    In fact, given evangelicalism's claims to catholicity (i.e. to representing normal Christian teaching) the more its tenets are not distinctive (in the sense of exclusively held by evangelicals) the better. Evangelicals would generally wish to claim strong pre-Reformation precedent for all core convictions. Thus I'm happy that none of Dirk's three points is exclusive to evangelicals and, additionally, that all three could be affirmed by some non-evangelicals. The evangelicals do not have a distinctive understanding of either NT or OT canon since their views of the canon of each Testament are shared by other groups.

    As for 2), this has previously been discussed here and here.

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  5. Ulrich, regarding your ad 1)"This proposition appears to be framed in historical/philological categories. Is it acceptable to make this even more explicite: since the NT has generated a considerable textual tradition, by implication we might assume an archetype of it? Hence, the quest for the archetype is historically and philologically legitimate."

    Though I agree that part of what I want to say is that the search for the archetype is legitimate, the reason why I have included this point, is not because I believe it is a defendable position on the basis of historical and philological considerations (which it is), but because I side on theological grounds with the notion that the New Testament as a whole is a revelatory act of God tied into specific historic settings, often indicated in the text itself. That means, e.g. that on theological grounds I am reluctant to accept a very late recension of Acts ('my agenda'). Subsequently, this informs my academic curiosity to investigate such a claim with my logico-analytical faculties ('my research'). Obviously, I do not deny that individuals through history have made subsequent recensions of NT books, only that I am reluctant to accept that these secondary recensions have found their way in the canon.

    Similarly regarding ad 3) "But, is the canon of the NT as a "real and given entity" a historically or theologically framed proposition?" I accept the canon as a theological recognition of what happened in history, which I use to inform my academic research to see how and when this worked out in history. So, it is a theologically framed position.

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  6. Maurice,
    you asked what is distinctive about the notion of sufficient reliability? There is a 'restricting' aspect in this notion: though TC can and does affect exegesis of a passage and sometimes even the theology of a particular book, it does not change the 'faith once delivered to the saints'.

    Your sense of 'non-definition' may come down to the desire to see evangelical TC defined in contrast and as opposed to textual criticism by non-evangelicals. My primary goal is at the moment 'forget about all the others, just think about what we are doing and why we are doing what we are doing, and what the foundational notions are of that enterprise'.

    So in your comment on point 3, - does having a different canon (or having any canon at all) make a difference when working on a particular book with people of different persuasion - you seem again interested in the contrast with others. I just want to construct the subject matter of evangelical TC.
    Likewise, though there are some methodological consequences of my three notions, they do not lead to a particular methodology. Evangelical textual criticism is not a particular methodology such as e.g. radical eclecticism, just as Evangelical theology is not a particular methodology of doing theology.

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  7. Dirk,

    You are to be commended for boldly going where no man has gone before (on this blog at least) - in unashamedly stating your evangelical aims and convictions involved in doing tc.

    Maurice Robinson has argued that the convictions you mention could be conclusions drawn simply from the data that tc presents - regardless of any theological necessity. There is some truth to this. The way I would balance these two points of view is that we evangelicals have faith-commitments (which are usually kept well hidden) but we also use normal methods of reasoning common to all men to draw conclusions from the 'facts'. Yes, we think the data objectively supports our conclusions, but why should we be disingenuous by declaring we have no theological stake in which way the evidence points regarding issues like the 'original text', 'sufficient preservation' and the canon?

    The reason we often keep our faith-commitments quiet is that we would be giving ammunition to those who do not share our convictions or conclusions who would argue that our reasoning is simply agenda-driven to agree with our evangelical pre-commitments.

    One other characteristic of evangelical textual criticism that I think is well-worth discussing is whether our evangelical beliefs influence individual textual decisions. I think they do.

    I think the proof of this is seen in the way that we sometimes go to great lengths to explain why a variant which does not seem to give the clearest testimony to some evangelical doctrine (e.g. the deity of Christ, the innerrancy of Scripture) is STILL to be preferred.

    We often spend more space commenting on textual variants like, say, the punctuation of Romans 9:5 (its not even really tc, but look at the space given to it in the UBS commentary) than on many other theologically neutral textual variants in the the NT. In other words, we often protest too much that our preferred variant does not actually conflict with evangelical belief but can be accommodated within it (although, for me personally, sometimes these explanations and justifications become strained and tiresome). Whichever way we take these theologically sensitive variants, for or against, we seem to take them so seriously that we prove that we are not theologically neutral about all variants. On the contrary, we realise that certain variants are sensitive cases for us - that we have theological baggage that we carry about while we do tc.

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  8. maurice a robinson8:26 pm, September 27, 2007

    DJ: Your sense of 'non-definition' may come down to the desire to see evangelical TC defined in contrast and as opposed to textual criticism by non-evangelicals.

    Would that there were some clear and distinct differences....

    My definition (or lack of such) really does not find a significant shift in terms of theory or methodology within most cases of NT textual criticism as practiced by evangelicals as opposed to that practiced by non-evangelicals. While the non-evangelical world may contain a more radical element in terms of theology and even text-critical praxis, those extremes are generally set aside by evangelical and non-evangelical alike. In the end, we still find non-evangelicals practicing and theorizing regarding textual criticism of the NT in very much the same manner (and I speak as one who has studied under reasoned eclectic practitioners from both perspectives without seeing much difference overall).

    I would hardly say “forget about all the others”, and just do what we do best from within our perspective. However, I do think that we can function most effectively by accepting our evangelical theological standpoint as an underlying epistemological foundation, and then carrying on theory and praxis in a manner which corresponds to and does not intentionally conflict with that standpoint. This means basically that we should not force the evidence to move in accordance with our presuppositions.

    DJ: you seem again interested in the contrast with others.

    Where similar concepts of theory and methodology are shared, then there is no real contrast. Where the “others” move far afield of the proper goal, theories, or methods of NT textual criticism as would be held by most evangelical and non-evangelical practitioners, then the contrast would seem to be important. But even as you say: “Evangelical textual criticism is not a particular methodology,” even if some among us would that it were.

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  9. maurice a robinson8:29 pm, September 27, 2007

    AW: The reason we often keep our faith-commitments quiet is that we would be giving ammunition to those who do not share our convictions or conclusions who would argue that our reasoning is simply agenda-driven to agree with our evangelical pre-commitments.

    I think evangelicals, more than others, are usually well outspoken regarding their faith commitments. The very fact that some of us (including myself) hold membership in the Evangelical Theological Society is in itself a clear statement regarding (at least) Trinitarian orthodoxy and acceptance of Biblical inerrancy in the autograph manuscripts, to which I am certain we each could add numerous other affirmations regarding evangelical faith commitments. Yet I don’t see these faith-commitments driving NT text-critical theory or method — and if they do, other evangelicals will be swift to complain.

    AW: One other characteristic of evangelical textual criticism that I think is well-worth discussing is whether our evangelical beliefs influence individual textual decisions. I think they do.

    Yet if so, where and how do the lines become properly drawn? For example, should certain evangelicals quietly use their egalitarian presuppositions to argue for the entire non-authenticity of 1Co 14:34-35 merely because of a Western transposition of the verses? Should evangelicals insist that EKLIPONTOS be rejected because such offends scientific principles? Or, as mentioned in previous discussions, should evangelicals argue for Asa and Amon in the Matthean genealogy because it accords with the OT genealogical data? And if so, why not argue for “Zechariah” in Mt 27:9 on the same grounds?

    I for one simply cannot see evangelicals carrying out NT textual criticism with intentional presuppositional carry-over, and still be convinced that they are merely doing textual criticism from a proper standpoint. As I said before, the statement most likely to be correct is that we find those who openly profess to be evangelicals practicing NT textual criticism, from widely varying perspectives, none of which are driven directly by their underlying presuppositional theological viewpoints.

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  10. Maurice,
    I am simply thinking aloud here and realise that are on the verge of what we can do in a Blog.

    Your wrote:
    "While the non-evangelical world may contain a more radical element in terms of theology and even text-critical praxis, those extremes are generally set aside by evangelical and non-evangelical alike. In the end, we still find non-evangelicals practicing and theorizing regarding textual criticism of the NT in very much the same manner ..."
    Absolutely true, but there are a few pitfalls here. One is that we let the notion of 'neutral scholarship' in through the back door, and I have been convinced by some philosophers that this is a fallacy.
    An other is that we find comfort in the fact that there are only some 'extremists' out there whose ideas are rejected by 'most'. Currently, and in a pragmatic view on the world, this may be helpful, but times have the disturbing habit to change (as you indicated as well, so little difference here) and the lack of a self-conscious and foundational approach may become painfully obvious then.
    I take it that with 'proper standpoint' (taken from your response to AW) you mean the correct and consistent application of a logical and consistent analysis, which is the basic tool of the whole academy. However, I doubt that this is all one needs and all that one brings to one's research. And that is the question I am after: What do we / should we bring to our research?

    By the way, when I wrote 'forget about all the others' I was only thinking in terms of defining the 'what' and 'why' of evangelical textual criticism (that is, thinking about the philosophy of our discipline), not about the scholarly community (or 'academy' or 'forum', whatever you like) in which we do our research.

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  11. Whether there are "tenets" of ETC or not, evangelicals possess a motivation that distinguishes them from others. Tim Finney comments in the conclusion of his Ph.D. dissertation, under "Why it is done":

    "The principal reason for undertaking this study is a devotion to the text of the New Testament brought about by my Christian convictions. I count it a privilege to have been able to explore what I regard to be the most important body of writings in existence" (p. 418).

    Is not this motivation for doing textual criticism what unites us, even though our praxes differ. Such a motivation also underlies Dirk's three tenets.

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  12. FROM LESLIE McFALL
    The name of the site, "Evangelical Textual Criticism" (ETC) strikes me as odd. If there is an "Evangelical Textual Criticism," then there must be a "Non-Evangelical Textual Criticism". How would one define a "Non-Evangelical Textual Criticism"? As a science, surely textual criticism is neutral. To put the adjective "Evangelical" before it is like putting "Evangelical" before biology or mathematics. One cannot talk about an "Evangelical Mathematics" any more than one can talk about an "Evangelical" textual criticism. How would an "Evangelical Biology" differ from a "Non-Evangelical Biology"? As evangelicals we need a site called “Text Consolidation for Evangelicals” (TCE). The Universal Church was in possession of the Universal Text. This was removed by Westcott and Hort. The Universal Text has now been restored through the work of Hodges and Farstad (pub. 1982), and by Robinson and Pierpoint. Evangelicals are not still looking for it. The period from 1881 to 1982 should be called The Century of Misplaced Textual Criticism, or, The Dark Age of Textual Criticism.
    Paul noted (between AD 55 and 64), “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God” (2 Cor 2:17). The word “corrupt” is used of “the tricks of small tradesmen” and almost comes to mean “adulterate” or in small ways to alter something. In this case Paul used it of the word of God. The process of adulterating the word of God was not restricted to the spoken word but very likely reached out to alter the written word. The majority in Paul's day were corrupters. The minority remained to faithful to the universally received text. We should not be surprised to find that some of the very earliest copies of the New Testament writings were adulterated either deliberately or carelessly.
    The issue for evangelicals now is to clear up those few cases where the Universal Text is split among its sub-groups, and come to some conclusion about them. By a process of consolidation and confirmation the Universal Text could then reach a level of purity and certainty never before attained, consequently, ETC should initially stand for “Text Consolidation by (and for) Evangelicals”. Then the task of textual criticism will be at an end, and evangelicals can turn their attention to the task of exegeting the Universal Text freed from the distraction of variant readings. ETC would then stand for a distinctive “Evangelical Textual Criticism” which would defend the Universal Text from being exchanged for another sloppy copy recension, and so be a bulwark against another deception being perpetrated on the Church through lack of able men being in situ. The lack of such men resulted in the 1881 deception. Let the goal of all evangelicals be to overthrow that deception and restore the Universal Text to its rightful position again in the hearts and minds of all evangelicals.

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  13. Leslie,
    Leaving aside the question of the 'Universal Text' as you call it, I do not think that 'Evangelical TC' necessarily implies a 'non-evangelical TC'. There are multiple NETCs and there are multiple approaches to TC that are consistent with evangelical theological principles. In principle I think that it could be useful to talk of 'evangelical mathematics', not in the sense that 2 + 2 is different for evangelicals but as a rallying point to make evangelical mathematicians to reflect more self-consciously on what they do from a theological perspective: conceptions of infinity, probability, multiverses, perspectives on Newtonian laws, may be affected by different world views.

    It should be clear to readers of this blog that its bloggers are not seeking to promote a monolithic perspective, but are seeking to promote reflection by evangelicals on method.

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  14. maurice a robinson4:28 pm, October 04, 2007

    Dr Mc Fall does make an important observation which is often neglected, even by "evangelical" textual critics: there is a generally recognized "universal text" -- one presumed to reflect the now non-extant autographs in a precise manner.

    That "universal text" can be seen in the vast bulk (ca. 95%) of the text in which there either are no variations or none taken seriously by most mainstream textual critics.

    The remainder of the task involves the determination on sound principles of the same "universal text" in those places where, e.g., the current critical texts differ from the alternative editions.

    I for one certainly have no problem accepting the tautology that the bulk of MSS that have the unquestioned "universal text" in the 95% portion are more likely to be the same ones that would likely represent that "universal text" in the disputed portions. Others of course will disagree -- which is why there really is no monolithic theory or praxis of "Evangelical Textual Criticism."

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  15. From: LESLIE McFALL
    To Peter W: You make my case for me in that the term "evangelical" is meaningless if it includes every sound and unsound criteria. There is no "evangelical" or "non-evangelical" textual criticism. Textual criticism, like chemistry, must be neutral as a science. It may have implications which can be categorised as evangelical, secular, non-evangelical, atheistic, but this is irrelevant to establishing the science of TC, which must precede how the science is then used (or misused).
    To Prof. Robinson: I thoroughly endorse the idea that "sound principles" must be at the heart of the science of TC, and I would suggest two (to start off with) which evangelicals could unite around and which will form a sure foundation to this science (it is NOT an art form).
    Westcott and Hort used two arguments to deceive the scholars of their day to give up the Universal Text and replace it with their new recension. The first was their claim that they had based their text on the earliest manuscripts. The discovery of Codex Sinaiticus was fortuitous for them. The second was their claim that the then current Church text (Byzantine Text) was a late recension made in the fifth century by Lucian.

    FIRST FALSE CRITERIA
    The date of a manuscript has nothing to do with the purity of its text. Date and purity should never to be connected in textual critical studies. They are unrelated. Consequently the statement “The earliest manuscripts do not include [. . . .]” is not a valid text critical criteria for judging the purity of any manuscript, let alone any variant. This comment can be found in the ESV. The term “earliest” is as meaningless as saying, “The latest manuscripts do not include [. . . .].” The terms “earliest” and “latest” convey absolutely nothing about the purity of a manuscript. The argument from date should never be used in any discussion of any manuscript. The date of a manuscript is as irrelevant as the material on which the text is written. A first copy of the original texts could be more corrupt than a hundredth copy which was faithfully copied one hundred times.

    SECOND FALSE CRITERIA
    The second false criteria used to displace the Universal Text was the falsehood that Lucian had prepared a recension of the New Testament in the fifth or sixth century, and the Universal (or Byzantine) Text that resulted from his work was consequently a brand new recension which did not exist, as such, before that point in time. Because this suggestion came from a well qualified scholar it was assumed to be true. It was never challenged.
    While it is now generally recognised that the Lucian recension was the invention of Westcott and Hort in an attempt to discredit the Universal Text and replace it with their new recension, evangelicals should recognise that this was a fabricated argument to belittle the current Church Text, and a very persuasive one at the time, given the paucity of those capable of spotting the deception. But just because those in the late 19th century were deceived by this deception does not mean that scholars today should be enslaved by it nor should these two false arguments have any part to play in rigorous, scientific textual criticism.
    I would propose that a Criteria for Textual Criticism would have to embrace the following two negatives and one positive tenets:
    1) The DATE of a manuscript is irrelevant for establishing the purity of its text as an accurate copy of the original text. A first, direct copy of the original is no guarantee that it was an accurate copy. It can be safely assumed that before the original autographs disintegrated, scores of direct copies were made of them. Then began the process of copying direct copies (second generation copies). It can also be assumed that despite the care of every direct copyist, mistakes crept into every copy. It can be assumed that it is unlikely that every direct copyist made the same mistake in the same place. Consequently a close examination of every extant copy will eliminate unintentional mistakes using sound observations on how mistakes occur.
    2) The fiction of a LUCIAN RECENSION to account for the Universal Text should be acknowledged as a deception created to make room for the Greek Text of Westcott & Hort. It should be eliminated from the science of textual criticism as unproved and misleading, and on a par with the fiction of an ALEXANDRIAN RECENSION to account for the local, Egyptian Text (represented by Vat. and Sinai.) and represented by the UBS text.
    3) All manuscripts reflect the Universal (Original) Text to a greater or lesser extent. Some groups, or families, or text-types (Western, Byzantine, Caesarean) are closer to the original text than others. The task of sound scholarship, using sound principles, is to be able to recognise the CAUSES which differentiate copy from copy. The vast majority of all mistakes will be mechanical or secretarial (due to human weaknesses or copying illegible copies). The most unreliable manuscripts will be those where the copyist has deliberately tampered with the text. These manuscripts should have a warning caption placed across them. Under this category we should place Codex Vaticanus (NT) and Codex Bezae as clear examples.
    If evangelicals can unite on these first three basic tenets it will do much to undercut the foundation that lies behind the UBS text, and release evangelicals to look again at the possibility that Westcott & Hort robbed the Church of its Universal Text and replaced it with a sloppy copy of the same Universal Text.
    LESLIE

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  16. "The second false criteria used to displace the Universal Text was the falsehood that Lucian had prepared a recension of the New Testament in the fifth or sixth century ..."

    The idea that Lucian could have prepared a recension in the fifth or sixth centuries (BC or AD) is certainly false. Hort should have consulted Wikipedia for his dates, before he started spreading this idea.

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  17. maurice a robinson8:31 pm, October 05, 2007

    MCF: Westcott and Hort used two arguments to deceive the scholars of their day to give up the Universal Text and replace it with their new recension.

    Actually, since the real "universal text" was not extant in a printed edition in their day, W-H instead chose the far easier route (like Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles before them) of persuading scholars to give up any unwarranted devotion to the slimly supported Textus Receptus editions that were based on only a handful of MSS -- which MSS in fact did not thoroughly reflect that "universal text" concept.

    Given those parameters instead, then indeed their task was simple.

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  18. From: Leslie McFall
    Prof. Robinson said: . . . . Textus Receptus editions that were based on only a handful of MSS -- which MSS in fact did not thoroughly reflect that "universal text" concept.
    I completed some time ago a detailed comparison between Erasmus' 1516 (1st ed.), the Complutensian Polyglot (=CP, 1514), and the Universal Text for the four Gospels. Erasmus' text contained 98.62 per cent of the Universal Text and the CP contained 99.44 per cent of the Universal Text. Erasmus used only two manuscripts for the Gospels (though he may have had access to one or two more). The remarkable thing is that by simply reproducing the text he found in these two manuscripts he demonstrated how faithful were these MSS to the Universal Text. (I use captial letters for Universal Text because it is a definite text, not a vague concept.)
    When compared to the Universal Text, Erasmus had 904 translatable differences, whereas the Complutensian had just 306. (If anyone is interested I have a break down of the types of errors Eras. and CP made.)
    It is a pity that the Roman Catholic church held back from publishing its 99.44% Universal Text in 1514, as this may have deterred Froben (in Geneva) from publishing Erasmus' Greek text and left the Reformation Protestant Churches with a purer form of the Universal Text.
    But whether Westcott & Hort had a 98%, 99% or 100% Universal Church Text in their possession it would have made absolutely no difference to them because of their claim that they were going back to the "earliest" manuscripts, and the Universal Text, in any case, was a late, 5th- 6th-century creation by Lucian.
    So, although the TR (or rather Erasmus' 1516 edition) fell short of the Universal Text by under 1.5%, no evangelical would be satisfied with this. I assume every evangelical would prefer to have a 100% Universal Text in their possession. A quarter of a century ago the Universal Text was published by Zane C. Hodges & Arthur L. Farstad (1982), a full century after it had been displaced by Westcott & Hort. I would strongly recommend every evangelical interested in TC to get hold of the much improved, pointed, Universal Text published by Maurice A. Robinson & William G. Pierpont, before it goes out of print. It is a credit to them to have produced such a beautifully bound copy. It is unlikely that their text will need to be revised, though my own Universal Text could potentially differ from theirs in a handful of places where sub-groups within the UT–Byzantine text-type are divided.
    LESLIE

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  19. maurice a robinson5:36 pm, October 09, 2007

    LMcF: It is unlikely that their text will need to be revised

    Even though neither I nor Hodges-Farstad would term our respective texts anything more than "Byzantine" or "majority" respectively, it would be misleading to assume that no further (minor) revisions will ever occur.

    While I cannot speak for H-F, I can note that in our own edition several cases of divided reading among Byzantine MSS do require reevaluation; equally, several instances of divided reading not previously noted should be added to a future apparatus.

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