Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Goal of NTTC according to Eldon Epp

The second volume of Eldon J. Epp's collected essays and articles, Perspectives on New Testament Textual Criticism (covering 2006–2017) has just been published by Brill. Congratulations to the author who also turned 90 this year!

I have only browsed the volume, so for now I will just draw the attention to an introductory “notes for readers” which is freely accessible here, where Epp offers his own definition of the goal of New Testament Textual Criticism which he admits has varied, but as it stands now it is totally in line with my own view:

The Unitary Goal of New Testament Textual Criticism

New Testament textual criticism, employing aspects of both science and art, studies the transmission of the New Testament text and the manuscripts that facilitate its transmission, with the unitary goal (1) of establishing the earliest attainable text (which serves as a baseline), and at the same time (2) of assessing the textual variants that emerge from the baseline text so as to hear the narratives of early Christian thought and life that inhere in the array of meaningful variants.

Finally, I was also pleased to learn from the introduction “Developing Perspective” (accessible here) that Krister Stendahl from Sweden, then professor at Harvard University, gave the young doctoral student Epp the task to review a book on textual criticism by Fascher for the seminar and then with his other colleagues in the doctoral committee encouraged Epp to pursue a text-critical dissertation – well done! For another glimpse of Stendahl and a student at Harvard working on textual criticism in the 1950s, see here.


  1. One of the points that has come out of questions about the goal of TC is that the composition of an original of a document can be a complex process of writing, editing, and sending out/publishing (in one way or another) the work, with some of those compositional acts being similar to what later scribes sometimes did when altering the work in their copying of it, so that the line where the composition of the original autograph and the making of copies of it, can be hard to draw, especially when trying to look back at it through later extant copies that can conceivably have variants between them that go all the way back to various original editions that the author himself sent out/published.

    It may or may not be the case that any books of the NT had such complex origins. But the possibility shouldn't be ruled out. In some cases it seems reasonable that more than one edition of some books were authorized by their apostolic authors, especially in the case of Paul's letters, if (as I think was probable) Paul himself both sent the original versions of the letters to their first audiences and then also later either personally published or at least authorized the publication of his (edited?) letter collection.

    In the case of Paul's letters, I wonder if both the earliest attainable text of the sent out letters and the later published authorized letter collection should both equally be the goal of TC, and even if the latter might be a more important goal than the former.

    Similar questions also arise with the Gospels.

  2. Matthew M. Rose12/23/2020 8:22 am

    "(1) of establishing the earliest attainable text (which serves as a baseline)"

    Not trying to nitpick here, but "earliest attainable text" and Original Text* are not necessarily synonymous. (* Discussions concerning the fabric of such aside.) I would liken the "earliest attainable text" to the term "initial text" (and similar to the goal of Lachmann):–As where I would consider the *closest attainable text to the originals* to be the traditional goal of NTTC.

    In my view, the bizarre transmission history and textual minefield that was the second century makes this a rather dicey, if not dangerous proposal. Especially if ones methodology disregards large portions of later evidences as insignificant. The endeavor could end up producing a text far worse than that which the Church has/had commonly read for centuries...and in some cases already has.

    Not to mention that geographical locations, political tensions, sectarian issues, and diversity in climate are all also at play here. The stakes seem too high, and the reward too uncertain to attempt such a gauntlet.

  3. Thanks for the link to Epp's "Notes to Readers"
    Epp's last paragraph highlights three points of great interest to me which I have commented on in brackets:
    1. "New Testament textual criticism, employing aspects of both science and art..."
    [using knowledge, skill and perspective]
    2. "...establishing the earliest attainable text, which serves as a baseline..." [critically important]
    3. "...assessing the textual variants that emerge from the baseline text so as to HEAR THE NARRATIVES OF EARLY CHRISTIAN THOUGHT AND LIFE." [problem: this is backwards. It should say: learn the narratives of early Messianic Jewish thought and life so as to more accurately assess the textual variants.]

    Understanding any language requires having learned meanings, normally and naturally at first by hearing words in as many contexts as possible. The N2LR (Natural Language Learning Redundancy) method for translating large texts was created to apply the principles of information theory undergirding natural language learning to translate large texts in any language. Using this method for biblical koine Greek enabled me to create a New Testament lexicon for that language, and, I believe using it has resolved all of the NT textual problems (a dozen? so far) I could find online. The first one was the "Abiathar problem" made infamous by Bart Ehrman, for which I found no solutions in the thorough paper on the topic posted online by Wallace. Here is the solution: adverb of time (not of location) + ellipis, i.e. "...before Abiathar [is] High Priest."

    I would appreciate the opportunity to show what this method has accomplished. If you would like a different NT example solution send the problem reference to me at: tentexperiment@gmail.com
    Sorry, I don't do social media. Merry Christmas!