Friday, April 15, 2011

Picturing ETC

I came bottom in school in my Art examination. However, I thought a picture might help. I think that ETC is best represented by diagram 3. Thus one should not expect there to be anything unique about ETC. ETC seeks to align itself with what it believes best TC practice to be, thus to be at the centre of the discipline. By following best practice people who are not evangelical may also be at the centre of the discipline (I realise some people really won't like the way I put that, but everyone tends to believe that their ideology is normal/central, so no one should get too upset by my saying so.)


Erik said...

You say evangelicals wish to follow the "best TC practise" there is. One apparent problem is (as you've just mentioned in Wasserman's post this morning) however the fact that certain dogma held by the scientist could affect the interpretation of the evidence. Since dogma (as I see it) is the unifying factor among evangelicals, this group (as a whole) would hardly be placed in the center of the circle. More likely in the margins. The "evangelical", whose christian beliefs plays no part in his/her thinking, would not be as affected by this risk of misinterpreting trhe evidence. But then, such a cristian would fall out of the (my) definition of an evangelical.

Tommy Wasserman said...

Hmm, "plays no part in his/her thinking." What does "thinking" mean specifically?

"Thinking" is a very general human practise. Do you refer in this context to they way in which textual criticism is done, i.e., its theory and method?

I mean, my Christian belief certainly plays a part in my thinking, but in my textual criticism, I suppose it plays a minor role; wheras it would be stupid to deny that it plays a role (no one is subjective), I want to stay open and engage in the scholarly discussion and interpretation of the evidence, and to use the generally accepted principles of the discipline as the starting point.

P.J. Williams said...

Thanks, Erik.

What I would challenge in your comment is the implication that evangelicals have a special relationship to dogma. Everyone I know subscribes to an ideology. Some are aware of it and some are not. Evangelicals are generally aware of the fact that they hold to certain dogmas, whereas many who claim historical critical neutrality are unaware of the fact that they hold equally to sets of dogmas.

By being aware of one's ideology and how that shapes the way one reads data, one might actually be more protected from the sort of bias which leads to misinterpretation than otherwise. I say might because I have no empirical verification of this possibility. (Not all bias leads to misinterpretation, e.g. the bias that maintains that you are innocent of trumped up charges.)

What no one is at liberty to do (whether evangelical or not) is to say 'My dogma/ideology says X, therefore that piece of inconvenient data is not there.'

Do we have any empirical evidence within the discipline of TC that evangelicals misinterpret the evidence more than others? Your comment suggests that we might have. How would we construct a way of evaluating the effects of bias?

Erik said...

Tommy! You've highlighted the problem in this! Namely that it's actually very difficult to tell to what extent one's beliefs affect one's scientific results. I guess this question goes far beyond TC, but TC can never be unaffected by it. The problem is that dogma tend to be static, and it prevents/prohibits the scientist to chance his/her (non scientific) beliefs in accordance to his/her scientific results. In such a situation two different systems of thought is forced to appear - in the same brain. This is hard for any individual to handle and it makes scientific resluts less reliable, since one never really knows to what extent the results is produced in accordance with these restrictions of dogma rather than with the evidence at hand.

Tommy Wasserman said...

Thanks Erik. I guess in general I agree with what Peter is saying, "Everyone I know subscribes to an ideology," or if you prefer to call it a set of non-scientific beliefs.

Wouldn't it be nice to just struggle with two different systems of thought – I suspect many more frequently appear in my brain :-).

P.J. Williams said...

Without dogma (e.g. the belief that the universe is rationally intelligible) you cannot do science. No scientist is a tabula rasa. Of course, there can be good and bad dogma, just as there can be good and bad bias. The interplay is complex. One bias, e.g. preference for the new over the old, can have good results (motivating new discovery) or bad results (making one prefer to believe one has made a discovery when one hasn't).

Erik said...

Dr. Williams,

I do agree with you that a person who's unaware of his/her ideological "dogmas" will most probably produce more biased (and therefore less reliable) results. No issue there. But when you say:

What no one is at liberty to do (whether evangelical or not) is to say 'My dogma/ideology says X, therefore that piece of inconvenient data is not there.

I basically agree. But, it might (!) not be the whole story though. What I would like to argue (without empirical support) is that one should not underestimate the psychological aspect that might hinder the scientist from noticing any piece of contradicting evidence.
A person is merely a person, and for most evangelicals it is probably not untroubled (in sociological and psychological terms) that they go against the christian dogma of their church (i.e. thier psychologically significant group). So what I mean (but cannot prove) is that if you're unwilling (or even scared) to find results that contradicts dogma, your brain might simply arragne your interpretation accordingly, allready on an uncontious level.

The questions you ask are challenging! Yes I do suggest that evangelicals might misinterpret the TC evidence more than others. But this argument is solely deductive - a logical conclusion from my definition of evangelicals (which you are probably right in questioning!)

And to your question, "How would we construct a way of evaluating the effects of bias?", I would say that it is probably too difficult to answer. The best one could do is probably to keep the field open to all kinds of wievs, and avoid drawing lines between "evangelical textual critics" and "non-evangelicals". I guess!

Daniel Buck said...

I am reminded of something said by Fred Schwarz, founder of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, when asked what was so specifically Christian about opposing Communism.

He replied that Communism was so evil that he welcomed opposition to it from every quarter, but that due to the fact that Christians had specific reasons to oppose Communism--reasons not necessarily shared by others--he recommended that members of other faiths work toward their common purpose by forming their own respective anti-Communism organizations, without watering down his message by trying to join his.

Christian Askeland said...


I think that this illustration is particularly helpful here. Thanks!

Darrell said...

As I read this discussion, I also thought of F.C. Baur, whose bias was against the possibility of Johannine authorship of the 4th gospel, arguing for a late date of composition due to the advanced theology in the book.

Then the discovery of P52 introduced new data that exposed Baur's bias for what it was.

John Meade said...

Is diagram 2 possible, since the two views cannot be mutually exclusive?

Perhaps "ETC" which begins and ends with the Textus Receptus might exclude TC altogether? Just curious.

P.J. Williams said...

I suppose that a TR-only position would suggest that there was no need for TC.

Ryan said...

What an interesting question, thanks for this post, PJ.

I think I would go for option one, with the qualification that I think the overlap should be much greater. In fact, I think the proportions should be reversed from what they are now, so that the two circles overlap the same amount as they currently do not, and do not overlap the same amount as they currently do.

My thinking for this is thus:

First off, model 2 is excluded because it's a given that evangelical textual criticism and non-evangelical textual criticism share elements in common. Indeed, I'd be interested in seeing if it would even be possible to invent a specialised version of TC that did not have some overlap with mainline TC.

This leaves two questions:
1) does ETC have any unique elements not shared by NETC?
2) does NETC have any unique elements not shared by ETC?

If the answer to both is yes, then it must be model one. If the answer to both is no, then it would have to be model 4, which isn't pictured (perhaps why PJ failed art class) but would have to be both circles exactly transposed upon each other.
If the answer to 1 is yes but the answer to 2 is no, then it would have to be model 5, which is also not pictured, but would be drawn the same way as model 3 but with the labels reversed. Finally, if the answer to 1 is no and the answer to 2 to is yes, then we would have model 3.

Now I've thoroughly confused myself, so I'm going to abandon all those conditionals and just say that I think that, while sharing majority overlap, both ETC and NETC each have their own unique elements, which is why I favour model 1.

Ryan said...

What are those unique elements?

I don't think it has anything to do with method. ETC and NETC use the same method. There is, of course, individual variation in emphasis in method, but I think that has more to do with the differences between individuals than with whether they are ETC or NETC. Some ETC might identify themselves as majority text, in which case method would be a substantive difference, but I don't think it's their nature as ETC that makes that difference, or else all ETC would be majority text, yes? All that to say, I don't think the difference is method.

Neither do I think that it's the supernatural ability of evangelicals to use our laser vision to see through pamplimpsets, or the fact that when we forget our greek accenting, the holy spirit grants special revelation to remind us.

I do, however, think that the difference has to do with dogma.

I don't think this is in the deliberate sense, however. I don't think it's a matter that ETC has decided from the outset that they will let dogma overrule evidence should the two conflict. If that was the case, then that would actually count as a serious difference in method, and I've already decided above that the difference is not in method. Rather, both ETC and NETC follow a method of allowing conclusions to be dictated by evidence, even if they are conclusions that we do not like.

The difference is nevertheless in dogma, however, and I think the key is in what PJ posted: that it is a subconscious influence. ETC holds certain dogmatic beliefs, and we're only fooling ourselves if we think that they do not influence us, albeit subconsciously, to some degree.

However, as PJ also pointed out, this phenomenon is not confined to ETC, but is a true description of every person. As Westcott and Hort observed, “No individual mind can ever act with perfect uniformity, or free itself completely from its own idiosyncrasies: the danger of unconscious caprice is inseparable from personal judgment."

This is why I selected model one and said that both ETC and NETC have their own unique elements. The unique part of ETC is the subconscious influence evangelical beliefs. In the same way, however, the unique elements of NETC is the subconscious influence of other non-evangelical beliefs, whatever they may be.

Ryan said...

I should add, I think PJ is also correct when he says that if anything, ETC has an advantage, because by identifying ourselves as ETC, we are acknowledging that we do have this subconscious influence from dogma, and by acknowledging it, we are thereby in a much better position to control for it, or at least help it to make a constructive contribution.

In contrast, though there are many NETC who have similarly noticed and admitted their own subconscious influences, there are still many who cling to that myth of pure unbiased objectivity. I think we could call them NNETC, for "naive non evangelical textual criticism."

Finally, I just noticed that all I've really done here is say that I agree with PJ 4 times. Perhaps then this was all just my attempt to see if I could say the exact same thing that PJ said, but with many, many more words.

Jake said...

I should think it possible to define a set of hermeneutics that would be characteristic to ETC, say:

-A commitment to treat all variants with respect.

-A commitment to consider variants free from dogmatic intrusions.

-A recognition that Providence is at work in the transmission and preservation of the text.

- A commitment to infallibility and inerrancy. But the locus is not the text, the locus of infallibility and inerrancy is in the intercourse between the person, the Spirit, and the text. It is in this intercourse that the Word of God comes into being. Understanding being mediated by Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, according to the grace of Almighty God. (this is one of my personal axes and I could resist giving it a good grind...)

I imagine there are more, but I'll stop here...

Drew Longacre said...

Ryan, you have defined the terms of discussion in such a way as to demand a model that leaves non-overlapping elements between NETC and ETC, as a category(evangelical) and its antithesis (non-evangelical) cannot both be true. I would agree wholeheartedly that there are elements of NETC that are not shared by ETC and vice versa. But that is not really the way the question was initially framed. The original question was concerning the relationship of ETC to textual criticism as a broad field of study. It is fallacious to equate NETC with TC, as the field is much broader and encompases NETC as a subset of TC. Might I suggest as a modification a model which sees both overlap and non-overlap between NETC and ETC, all the while envisioning TC as a broader category circumscribing both NETC and ETC. To do otherwise seems to grant an unwarranted priviledged position to NETC as the gold standard of TC that it does not deserve.

P.J. Williams said...

I prefer 3, since there is no individual distinctive of Evangelical Textual Criticism, just as there is no individual distinctive of evangelical theology, just as there is no individual distinctive ingredient to French cuisine.

One doesn't need a distinctive ingredient to make a recipe worthy of its own name.

It has never been a part of evangelical theology to claim that they (evangelicals) are the only group to believe x, y, or z. Quite the opposite. I would like to think that I hardly hold any unusual views (for a Christian) on anything. About the wierdest view from a historical point of view which I have is being a baptist.

The same applies to evangelical textual criticism.

Ryan said...

I guess, PJ, it depends on what we assume we are comparing to.

I realise that I was assuming an entity known as "mainline TC" that is purely academic in nature and thoroughly secular, similar to, say, the field of TC in regards to other ancient documents, e.g. greek poets.

In comparison to that kind of group - if it exists, and we can argue that after perhaps - then any kind of religious influence that an evangelical textual critic brings would be a unique distinctive.

Your point, if I hear you right, is that the religious influence that an evangelical would bring would not be distinctive in comparison with other religious groups, even baptists - as weird as they are.

My response to that would be two-fold.

First, is there really an independent baptist contribution to textual criticism? I don't think the baptists have their own successful website and blog, like the evangelicals do. I've never heard of a baptist textual critic. Seriously though, Evangelicals are a driving force in the field. Perhaps evangelicals could not be distinguished from other groups, but if those other groups are not really participating in the field, then does that distinction (or lack thereof) really matter? In other words, I'm saying that right now evangelicals bring a religious element that is unique vis a vis mainline TC. Baptists might potentially be able to bring that same religious element, but if they in fact are not doing so, does that really matter?

Second, I do think that evangelicals can be distinguished from other religious groups, and not just by degree of weirdness either (though that much can certainly be done.) I'll leave it to historians and theologians to enumerate those differences, but to me, right off the top, the fact that they exist as different groups with different names right away supports the assumption that underlying that there must be some substantive difference. It can't all simply be a proclivity for praise and worship music and rob bell videos, can it?

Ryan said...


I admire your chutzpa, but I'm not sure I can agree with the results.

considering your proposed distinctives:

"A commitment to treat all variants with respect."

I agree that evangelicals textual critics should certainly do this. But I also think all other types of textual critics should do this too. In other words, I don't see how this can be distinctive to ETC.

"-A commitment to consider variants free from dogmatic intrusions."

Again, I completely agree that this should be the goal, but I don't see how this goal would not be shared by every other type of critic.

"-A recognition that Providence is at work in the transmission and preservation of the text."

two thoughts on this. First, as a theological premise it is not distinctive to evangelicals. The westminster confession, for example, enumerates a belief in providential protection in the transmission of the text, and as much as they long to be considered evangelical, the fact is that those reformed types are even weirder than baptists. Second, as a theological premise, if we let this influence the evaluation of variants, how would it not violate your second principle?

"A commitment to infallibility and inerrancy."

Similar reaction here. I would dispute, first off, that inerrancy was a necessary part of evangelical, but even if it was, it would not be a unique element. Fundamentalist baptists, for example, believe in inerrancy. And likewise, as a theological premise, how would this not be a dogmatic intrusion on text critical method?

I'm not trying to beat you up or anything, I really do admire your attempt, my disagreements are simply meant to show that it is perhaps not as simple a task as we might like.

P.J. Williams said...

Ryan, you still haven't given any reason for why a group viewed as a distinct group needs to have a feature unique to them.

I really would want to be quite insistent that evangelicals cannot and should not have any unique distinctive. If they did, they would no longer be evangelicals.

After all, evangelicals like to think that they are just the most natural representation of the early church. Now unless you think that all of the church forgot everything they were supposed to believe the moment the apostles died, it's tricky both to claim connection with the NT church and 'unique' beliefs.

Likewise, evangelical approaches to textual criticism should have no individual distinctive from other good forms of textual criticism.

Inerrancy is certainly not at all an evangelical distinctive. After all, it's mainstream Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief (historically). Language of infallibility can also be found in the Letter of Aristeas.

maurice a robinson said...

Ryan: I've never heard of a baptist textual critic.

Perhaps. But at least some of us Baptists think we are textual critics....

Ryan said...

Maurice! Awesome response.

Ryan said...

Ok, PJ, but let's take this one step at a time:

do you agree that evangelicals do posses elements that distinguish them from secular, non-religious textual critics?

P.J. Williams said...

Well, certainly in mindset, belief in God would distinguish an evangelical textual critic from an atheist one. Of course, belief in God is a distinctive, but not a unique distinctive. I have no problem believing in distinctives for evangelical textual critics, providing they are not unique distinctives.

G.W. Schwendner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G.W. Schwendner said...

Perhaps a specific example might help focus your definition. Admittedly, it is a negative example. I do not intend to imply that the combination of belief and editorial decision making is negative. It’s just an example that is on my mind right now.

As discussed previously on this blog, in Rom. 16.7 and .15, editors misrepresented the reading Ιουνιαν as a hyptothetical male name ᾿Ιουνιᾶν rather than the attested feminine ᾿Ιουνίαν (with the inevitable variant Ιουλιαν). From a purely onomastic point of view, there is no case to be made for a masculine name, Junias, supposedly a hypocoristic form of Junianus, since there is no other example of such a nickname in documents or literature, and as a feminine name, Junia is unexceptional.

How to explain this unanimous lapse in critical judgment? One might say, first of all, the study of onomastics is largely peculiar to documentary papyrologists and epigraphers, and is foreign to textual critics or exegetes. So it might be attributable to unfamiliarity with the discipline.
Second, in the context of Rom. 16.7, a woman’s name is anomalous, since nowhere else is a female apostle identifed as such in Paul’s writing. Here the maxim/barb: “einmal ist keinmal” applies. It is understandable that an anomaly would have been normalized in this way, regardless of religious belief.

Third, however, we come to dogma. It is a tenet of many churches that women are not to be ordained. Moreover, a female apostle is, prima facie, not consonant with Paul’s view of the role of women in the church generally. Thus it is easy to see how the tenets or teachings of the church, its dogma, could lead scholars who were believers to standardize the text to accord better with it.
In scholarship per se, dogma is similar to the power of the communis opinio to censor, reject or otherwise standarize anomolous possibilities.

Although communis opinio is sometimes insisted upon with something similar to religious fervor and with the same procrustean results, Christian belief operates outside the study and the lecture hall, effecting one’s whole way of being in the world. As such, belief can, and in the case above, probably did, make a mistaken view harder to recognize than might othewise have been the case.

Tommy Wasserman said...

This is just a reminder that long comments get automatically stuck in the spam filter awaiting moderation by blogeditors. To avoid it one can divide the comments in parts.

P.J. Williams said...

I wonder if the Junia example could also show a rather contrary principle:

Religious dogma comes with flashing warning signs observing that someone has a governing ideology and this may affect their understanding of data.

Non-religious dogma can affect interpretation of data just as much, but doesn't have the warning signs.

I can imagine a wide variety of agendas at work, not merely 'religious' ones, in interpretations of Romans 16:7.

As for the cause of why scribes may have taken a female name as a male one, it may be unnecessary to appeal to religious assumptions. Cultural assumptions would have also have loomed large (not that culture and religion could be entirely separated) and with Andronicus clearly masculine and a plethora of masculine or masculine-looking nouns and adjectives in the rest of v. 7 the mistake could easily be made.

G.W. Schwendner said...

"As for the cause of why scribes may have taken a female name as a male one, it may be unnecessary to appeal to religious assumptions."

This fails to explain the mistake the UBS team, any one of whom should have known better.

P.J. Williams said...

Surely the UBS mistake doesn't require further explanation since all they did was not do proper research and adopt what people immediately before them had done. Statis can be achieved without agenda.