Thursday, September 29, 2022

Where the Priority Lies in Byzantine Priority


Last Saturday was the textual criticism conference at Clearview Church with myself, Maurice Robinson, Dave Black, and Abidan Shah. You can read Dave’s recap here. I can add my thanks to our hosts for taking such good care of us and to my fellow speakers for sharing with us. 

I was grateful for the opportunity to explain why I’m a reasoned eclectic in a forum like this. I haven’t ever done that and it was a good exercise. What made it especially fun is that none of the other presenters agreed with my position! (Although, by my definition, Dave Black’s Sturzian approach is still a form of reasoned eclecticism; he just has a different approach to external evidence than mine but that’s for another day.) This meant that I not only got to hear how others perceived my view, but I also got to hear their reaction to my perception of their view. That is always a helpful diagnostic and, in this case, I learned something from Maurice that I want to explain here.

The speakers. Photo from Dave Black

In my talk, I argued that the Byzantine Priority view could accurately be called Byzantine Exclusivism since there is never a place where the Byzantine prioritist thinks that the clear majority of manuscripts is flat wrong and the minority is right (e.g.). Even where the majority is split, their choice will always be within the split, never outside it. It is this consistent preference for one group of manuscripts over all others (where they disagree, of course) that sets it apart from all forms of eclecticism—reasoned or thoroughgoing or even Sturzian. This is where the clarification came in.

In his presentation, which followed mine, Maurice pointed out that the priority in “Byzantine Priority” does not mean the Byzantine reading gets priority at each point of variation, but rather that the Byzantine textform existed prior to the other textforms. This may seem like a trivial distinction, but I think it is important for two reasons.

First, it is a reminder that the Byzantine Priority position, as held by Maurice, is based fundamentally on a view of the text’s history not on some preconceived preference for pet readings. What that means is that, if the method is right, it’s right because of its view of history. If it’s wrong—as I think it is—it’s wrong for the same reason. I happen to think this is what all methods share in common, actually. But it was helpful to see it afresh.

Second, I think this should mean that there is no reason, in principle, why a Byzantine prioritist should be unwilling to reject Byzantine readings. The fact that this textform is earliest does not logically entail that it is always right anymore than thinking the Alexandrian text is earliest requires one to think it is always right. 

Now, I say it should mean this because in practice, as I noted, Byzantine prioritists are unwilling to accept any reading that is in the clear minority against the Byzantine majority. So, we are back to the question of whether or not it is really a method of prioritization or of exclusivism. I would be happy to be educated further on this and would love to hear from any Byzantine prioritists who think the Byzantine textform is sometimes wrong even when it’s unified (in which case they would be akin to James Snapps view).

One final observation, this experience was a fresh reminder of the danger of misinterpreting other people’s views because we have unwittingly filtered them in some way through our own starting assumptions. In my case, I was hearing the term “priority” through the lenses of my own reasoned eclecticism. What I heard was something like “the Byzantine reading is always prior at every place of variation” when what is meant is “the Byzantine textform is historically prior to the other text forms.” The first does follow from the second, but the order is important. I should have been more careful.

And for anyone wondering, Maurice and I had a grand time together. We have sparred many times over these things at various conferences, over meals, and even at his Smokey Mountain chalet. I always appreciate our conversations and leave them thankful for his sharp mind and his careful work.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Church Conference on Textual Criticism Near Raleigh


This Saturday, Abidan Shah is hosting a conference at his church in Henderson, NC on the text of the New Testament. Abidan is a former PhD student of Maurice Robinson and wrote on the quest for the original text. He will be speaking along with myself, Maurice Robinson, and David Alan Black. John Meade and I spoke at Abidan’s church a few years ago and had a great time. I’m looking forward to being back. Come by if you’re in the area.


Date: Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022
Time: 9:00am–5:00pm
Location: Clearview Church in Henderson, NC (about an hour from downtown Raleigh)

Join us on Saturday, September 24, for this year’s apologetics conference at Clearview Church! This year will focus on New Testament Textual Criticism and will be led by Dr. Abidan Shah of Clearview Church, Dr. David Alan Black of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Maurice Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Peter Gurry of Phoenix Seminary.

You can learn more and get tickets here.

Update: Schedule

8:30–9:00 am, Coffee/Meet and Greet
9:00–10:00 am, Dr. Shah - The Current State of the Original Text of the New Testament
10:15–11:15 am,  Dr. Gurry - Reasoned Eclecticism and the Original Text
11:30–12:30 pm,  Dr. Robinson - A Byzantine-Priority Perspective Regarding the Recognition of Autograph Originality
12:20–1:30 pm, Lunch
1:30–2:30 pm, Dr. Black - Matthew 5:22 as a Possible Model of Recovering the Original Text
2:45–3:45 pm, Q&A
3:45–4:00 pm, Dr. Shah - Closing Remarks

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Comparing New Testament Manuscripts


Recently I had some reason to compare a number of manuscripts in Acts and was happy to be able to use the CBGM tools for this, in particular the ‘Comparison of Witnesses’. The reason for this post is to point out some issues that are perhaps at first sight less intuitive. This is not criticism of the way the data set is constructed, as the actual manuscripts are always messier than what can be captured in a database.

1. Beware of comparing manuscripts to ‘A’, the reconstructed initial text. Why? Because at every place where ‘A’ has a ‘split reading’ it does not show up in the actual comparison; ‘A’ is treated as if it presents no reading here. Since the number of split readings equals around 2% of the total variant readings, there are some potential issues.

For example in Acts 1:6, we have ‘A’ and ‘01’ compared with ‘Show Agreements’ activated, and we see that the split reading at Acts 1:6/10 is simply not there.

2.    Equal does not always mean that things are the same. This caught me out when I was comparing P50 – arguably a difficult manuscript to encode – and 01. At three places differences between these two are given as ‘equal’ (‘=’) in the list (see below) despite a difference between the two: at Acts 10:28/22 (P50: ανδρι ιουδαιου; 01 ανδρι ιουδαιω), Acts 10:29/17 (P50: ουν; 01: -), and Acts 10:30/50 (P50: μου; 01: εμου).

In the actual apparatus of the ECM it becomes clear why these three differences are treated as being the same. At the first two places the original hand of P50 is deemed to have made an obvious scribal error which was corrected by the original hand, at the third place 01 is deemed to give a mere orthographic variant. This is all perfectly justifiable, but it is good to be aware of this when relying on the ‘Comparison of Witnesses’ to give you all differences. You would not get this extra information from simply relying on the list of Agreements/Differences.

Not equal does not always mean that you will see the difference. The example to illustrate this comes actually from the ECM apparatus, which gives here more detailed information than the comparison of witnesses does. Nothing comes up in the comparison at Acts 10:30/10, yet the ECM tells us that P50 has a scribal error in the word απο (recorded as P50f) namely οπο. Again, I can see the rationale why such difference does not show up in the Comparison of Witnesses. However, there is some inconsistency in recording corrections by the original hand on itself in P50 (as the first two examples in 2. above). At Acts 10:30/18 the first hand corrects τη to ταυτη, which – in analogy to 10:28/20 and 10:29/17 – should probably be recorded or show up somewhere. But this time it is not found as a 'difference that is equal' or as a remark in the apparatus of the ECM.

4. Despite best intentions, the apparatus at ECM can still beat me. Again this has to do P50, and in particular how P50 is treated at the place of the split reading at Acts 10:28/34-38 in the ECM. The top line of the split reading has the support of P50C*V (so the probable reading of the original hand correcting itself). But then for the complete absence of this passage (absence, so not an omission) we find P50(C)*, and what this might mean beats me, though I trust there is a perfectly logical explanation.

As so often in scholarship, it is only by using a tool that we learn about its strengths and limitations. I am still impressed how much the data gathering and sharing by the INTF has enabled progress and deeper understanding of the textual tradition of the New Testament, yet data are never as hard as we want them to be.