Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Textual debate

Jim Snapp (here) announces a debate hosted by 'The Pristine Faith Restoration Society' (sounds like something got lost somewhere) on textual criticism. The debate is quite lengthy, but ranges through historical, theological and textual issues. I'd be grateful to anyone who could provide a digest of the most significant hinges of the debate and of any major clarifications achieved. The debate is here.

The debate is said to be one about 'Text Types', which are also entities said by some not to exist (simplification).


  1. Interesting debate.

    This bit from James caught my attention:
    "The mess (a symptom of mixture) can be cleaned up without much difficulty (except where there are gaps in the MSS, which can be dealt with by substituting the next-best representative of the text-type): in the Gospels, the consensus of B + Sahidic + papyri support (p66 or p75), when it agrees with either Aleph + L or Aleph + Psi, = the Alexandrian sub-archetype; where they disagree, use the consensus-reading of C+Delta+579 to break the tie."

    I wonder if others would identify the Alexandrian sub-archetype using the same criteria? It seems a bit arbitrary to me. I wonder if Jim or someone else here would elaborate a bit. I'm curious about it because I've always had a difficult time understanding just what constitutes an "Alexandrian reading", and what constitutes a non-aligned reading found in multiple witnesses of the Alexandrian group. It seems to me that an Alexandrian reading is one that is present in virtually all the manuscripts of this grouping (when they are extant in the given passage). What is wrong with this definition? Possibly that it excludes too much?


  2. Note from Ed [PJW]:

    Regrettably anonymous comments appended to this post contained personal attacks and have therefore been deleted. What remains hereafter are the comments which did not contain personal attacks and some posts that discuss the need to delete some comments.

    Wieland Willker said...
    I enjoyed reading the discussion!
    I was especially happy to see that he does not dismiss the idea of some kind of recension completely.

    Two years ago I wrote on the tc-list:

    "It should be stressed that the evidence about all this is very slim. It may be that Lucian's recension lead to the Byzantine text, but it is also possible that this was not so. It is also possible that there where several smaller recension steps or that his name has been mixed up with something else.

    Can the Byz text be explained without a recension?
    I am not sure, the Muenster team now promotes a continuous development model, but this is based on the Catholic Letters only, where the situation is quite different to the Gospels. This model avoids the problem of an insufficiently attested recension. But is has the new problem to explain the rather abrupt appearance of a text in the late 3rd/early 4th CE which had already about 80-90% of the known Byz readings.
    In the Gospels I still think that some kind of recension best explains the evidence, which created the base text of A, K, Pi etc. with about 75-90% of all Byz readings. But this is an extremely difficult question, which needs much more study.

    I agree with Jim Snapp when he wrote: "I think that in the Byzantine Text, several ancient text-channels converge, with the result that its unique readings should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, rather than be collectively dismissed as Hort recommended."

    This was also the view of Metzger, who thought that the starting base of the Byzantine text was the old Antiochian text, current there from the earliest times. He thinks that there are several readings unique to the Byz text which are not necessarily correct, but at least older than any possible recension."

    6:52 PM

    maurice a robinson said...
    It is disheartening to have to read vitriolic comments on what in theory should be a scholarly discussion forum. I for one would prefer this to be a strictly moderated blogsite, which would neither permit anonymous comments nor allow personal attack messages to remain.

    For those who seem to like such things, the Alt-tc-list certainly seems the place....

    4:28 PM

    P J Williams said...
    Maurice, the descent in tone of some messages in recent days is certainly causing me to rethink the policy of 'free speech' that has prevailed here in the past. However, anonymous posting can be a useful facility for the shy who have need of support. I am keen therefore to retain this.

    I think that in this case, since some of us have taken time to respond to the anonymous person making personal attacks we should let the dialogue stand (or else the responses make no sense). However, for the future I (along with Peter H and Tommy who have the facility to delete messages) just need to be quicker off the mark in deleting the message before it attracts attention.

    Apologies to all.

    5:38 PM

    Eric Rowe said...
    I would have no problem deleting my response to the first rude anonymous post if his were gone. And I doubt that other responders would want his comments to remain just for the sake of making their comments make sense.

    Also, the first anonymous comment (the good one, not the bad one) asked a good question. If any of the blog's seasoned text-critics (or Jim Snapp) decide to answer it, then I think the preset string of ad hominem comments would only distract from what might be a really informative exchange.

  3. I really enjoyed reading the debate. It was readable/understandable to the common Joe while being quite technical at the same time. I felt that I came away with a much greater understanding of both the bigger picture and the details. But I do wonder why there seem to be more proponents of the Textus Receptus than the Majority Text...if I were to go either of those routes, I think I would rather back the Majority Text...

  4. "But I do wonder why there seem to be more proponents of the Textus Receptus than the Majority Text...if I were to go either of those routes, I think I would rather back the Majority Text..."

    I guess if there were a time-revered translation based on the Majority Text it would have more supporters. However, amongst those who have actually read the NT in Greek I am not sure that the supporters of the TR constitute such an overwhelming majority. I may be wrong, but I believe that the only advocate of the TR who had any standing in the scholarly community as a textual critic (because he had conducted original research on manuscripts) was E.F. Hills. Are there others?

    Of course, scholarly 'standing' is not particularly important for evangelicals. However, the main way to gain it is through actually doing some work such that other people admit they have something to learn from you.

  5. Theodore Letis also had some standing in the scholarly community. But his work was more in the history of textual criticism than textual criticism itself.

  6. Thanks. Yes, TR in an unusual way, as the two of us discussed a little time ago here.

  7. Congratulations to James for so adroitly engaging a self-confessed proponent of the Traditional Text. What that consists of, though, is hard to say, as he didn't committ himself to either the Textus Receptus or the Majority Text.

    On the other hand, I appreciate the way Tim kept drawing James back to the fact that his detailed scribal stories (describing how particular variants arose in the transmission of the text) had no historical basis. James seemed to have a hard time conceding that, but it's true. James wasn't there, so he's only speculating. Educated guesses they are--sometimes very educated--but guesses all the same. Not history.

    There was something else I was going to comment on but I'll have to go back to the debate to find it.

  8. Hmm; I was away from the site for a few days; now I'm wondering what I missed!


    I don't know if others would identify the Alexandrian sub-archetype in the Gospels in the same way I described, but I think that a formulaic reconstruction along the lines I described would fit everyone's idea of what the Alexandrian text-type looks like pretty closely.

    The Alexandrian Text should not be defined as "a reading that is present in virtually all the MSS of this grouping," because in many cases, the majority of the (later)representatives of the Alex. text-type are mixed, and share a reading with another text-type while only a small minority of (early) Alex. witnesses share a distinct reading. To use an analogy from painting: it's better to use the later witnesses (represented by C+Delta+579) as a small brush to fill in areas not already filled in by the broad brush of the consensus-reading of the earlier representatives.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Curtisville Christian Church
    Indiana (USA)