Saturday, October 29, 2022

Ehrman’s Definition of Textual Criticism


Following our discussion of that Dan Wallace quote about not being overly skeptical about identifying the original text of the NT, here’s a recent series Bart Ehrman has started about textual criticism on his blog. The first post introduces the subject. I draw attention to it because two things stood out to me: (1) his definition, which is quite traditional, and (2) his overall confidence in identifying the original text.

First, his definition:

Textual criticism is the technical and highly specialized discipline that works to reconstruct the original text and to figure out how, when, where, and why it got changed.

Then, his confidence, with his emphasis:

Scholars who engage in this work are not as a rule insanely pessimistic about the possibilities of getting back to a pretty close approximation of the original text in most cases. That is to say – some people reading my books have not picked up on this enough – there are good reasons for thinking that most of the time we can get back to a fair approximation of what ancient authors wrote, even if there are places (sometimes many places) (and sometimes many very important places) where there are real grounds for doubt.

We could probably reflect on why not everyone has picked up on this enough from his books, but let’s let that go for now. I suspect Bart and I would disagree a bit on how many “very important” places where variation affects the NT text (I don’t think Mark 1:1, for instance changes Mark’s Christology in any way), but that’s a matter of degree, it seems. We probably also still disagree on whether these uncertainties are defeaters for inspiration and inerrancy and that’s a significant disagreement. But it’s nice to highlight agreement with Bart on this blog when we can so that’s what this post is for.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

R.I.P. Gordon D. Fee


Word has just reached me through Facebook that Gordon Fee has just passed away. Faithful readers of the blog will need no introduction to Fee’s work. He was a rare biblical scholar who made significant contributions in both textual criticism and in Pauline studies. It’s probably fair to say that he is more widely known for his commentary writing, but his text-critical work helped define the field. 

Right now, I have his book of essays on method with Eldon Epp sitting just a few feet from me on the shelf. I bought my first copy just after college and I learned a great deal from it. The most recent piece of Fee’s that I read, in fact, was from that book. It was his critique of thoroughgoing eclecticism and it provides a fitting taste of his work. It is incisive, direct, well-informed, punchy, and, to my mind, convincing. He had a reputation for not shirking from an argument and this particular essay displays that fully. It was published in a Festschrift for none other than G. D. Kilpatrick! 

I only met him once in person and it was a few years ago at a tribute session at SBL. The room was full of those who knew and admired him. I was glad I could be there. I will try to post tributes as they come, but for now, here is a summary from Regent College where he taught for many years.

Gordon Fee is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College, where he taught for sixteen years. His teaching experience also includes serving schools in Washington, California, Kentucky, as well as Wheaton College in Illinois (five years) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts (twelve years). 

Gordon Fee is a noted New Testament scholar, having published several books and articles in his field of specialization, New Testament textual criticism. He also published a textbook on New Testament interpretation, co-authored two books for lay people on biblical interpretation, as well as scholarly-popular commentaries on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus and on Galatians, and major commentaries on 1 Corinthians and Philippians. He is also the author of a major work on the Holy Spirit and the Person of Christ in the letters of Paul. 

Gordon Fee served as the general editor of the New International Commentary series until 2012, and was on the NIV revision committee that produced the TNIV. Besides his ability as a biblical scholar, he is a noted teacher and conference speaker. He has given the Staley Distinguished Christian Scholar lectures on fifteen college campuses as well as the annual NT lectures at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, North Park Seminary, the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, the Canadian Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, Golden Gate Baptist, Anderson School of Theology, Asbury Seminary, and Chrichton College. An ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, Gordon Fee is well known for his manifest concern for the renewal of the church. 

Gordon Fee was married to Maudine, who passed away in 2014. Together they have four married children.

Please do share any personal reminiscences in the comments.


Monday, October 24, 2022

About that Dan Wallace quote


The quote

A line from Dan Wallace's foreword to Myths and Mistakes has been making the rounds on the internet, usually in the context of people who want to discredit textual criticism. If you've not seen it, here is what usually gets shared (Update: Thanks to Jeff Riddle, who caught my typos, which I think came from accidentally hitting cmd+x instead of cmd+c when copying the phrase to search on other sites; it has been corrected, as have the mis-phrasing in the first sentence, which I am not sure how I got wrong.):

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.” —Daniel B. Wallace, "Foreword" to Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019)
One website has it this way:
The quote according to one website (below a picture of Bozo the Clown).
UPDATE: A coworker of mine found this site down, so here is the site as of July 5th 2021.

In a recent book about the textus receptus, This quote shows up more than once, quoted by contributors Dane Johannsson (p. 112), Pooyan Mehrshahi (p. 174), and Christopher Sheffield (p. 212). In each of the three instances, the contributor gives the Wallace quote [update: "substantially exactly", by which I mean without the context; Johannsson and Mehrshahi add the word "thereof", which is not in the original quote] exactly as I quoted above (Update: the words are as I typed, not in all-caps as the screenshot has them).

This quote—again, exactly as I quoted above—is the very first one given in this list of "quotes that everybody should copy and paste" to try to discredit textual criticism. In fact, when I search that site for the phrase "Even if we did, we would not know it," I get 72 hits.

The quote even gets its very own page all to itself, here (with an interesting URL, I might add). I'm sure there are other examples as well. [Update: the URL has been corrected to give the quote in context.]

If this is all you've heard, it wouldn't be surprising—perhaps you would even be justified—if your reaction was something like this:
A normal Christian, new to textual criticism, hears the scary Dan Wallace quote out of context and reacts understandably.

The context

That sounds scary, but it's rare (if it ever happens) that it gets quoted in context. Here it is; I highlighted in yellow the sentences that you typically don't see when people share the quote—what Wallace says immediately before and after the words that usually get repeated:

Notice Wallace's point: "we also do not need to be overly skeptical." Wallace explicitly rejects "radical skepticism". What exactly, then, is Wallace describing? We can shed some light on that by looking at things he has said elsewhere. When we do, we see that in the spectrum between radical skepticism and absolute certainty, what Wallace is describing is much closer to the certainty end than to the skepticism end (which is near where E.F. Hills lands in the spectrum—like Wallace, Hills also rejects absolute certainty in every place).

E.F. Hills rejects absolute certainty of the text of the New Testament
(Believing Bible Study, 2nd ed. [1977], p. 217)
Hills continues with a statement that I can agree with: "In other words, God does not reveal every truth with equal clearness. Hence in New Testament textual criticism, as in every other department of knowledge, there are some details in regard to which we must be content to remain uncertain. But this circumstance does not in the least affect the fundamental certainty which we obtain from our confidence in Gods special, providential preservation of the holy Scriptures. Through this believing approach to the New Testament text we gain maximum certainty, all the certainty that any mere man can obtain, all the certainty that we need."

To take Wallace in his own words, here he is saying "The New Testament Text in all essentials and in the vast majority of particulars is absolutely certain."
Dan Wallace, saying something that doesn't look like radical skepticism to me.

What about the "many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain"? That might sound like it is a free-for-all in those places, where anything goes and anything is possible. Is that accurate though? [To be clear, I don't know if anybody made that inference from the quote, but in case they did:]

Here is a recent interview Wallace gave in which he says something that I have tried to point out to people when they ask me about it, and I think Wallace frames it helpfully. Here, he is talking about those places of uncertainty. Wallace says (screenshot and link below):

There's a few passages I could talk about, but understand that scholars have known what is in the original Greek New Testament for well over 150 years, because we have it above the line or below the line. It's not ... like um if you have a multiple choice it's either Text A, Text B, or Text C—it's never Text D—"none of the above." Never.

Wallace appearing on Preston Sprinkle's Theology in the Raw podcast.

I do think it would be helpful if we were more clear about these places of uncertainty—it's never "we have no idea what the original text is." Instead, it's "we are confident that in this place, it's one of these two [or rarely, three] options, but we're not completely sure which one. It can often be as simple as "Did Luke use one word for 'and' or a different word for 'and' here?"

Technical paragraph with examples of such 'uncertainty':
[9 of the 155 split line readings in ECM Acts is the 'uncertainty' between whether δέ or τέ is correct—at Acts 3:10, 12:17, 13:11, 13:52, 14:11, 15:6, 21:18, 22:23, and 24:27, and many others make about the same amount of difference as δέ/τέ. Similarly, 11 of the split line readings in the ECM Mark are transpositions involving all the same words: Mark 2:10, 3:27, 4:41, 5:19, 6:2, 6:38, 13:29, 13:30, 14:5, 15:29, and 15:34. That is to say, if we follow ECM Mark, there are 11 places where we can be sure which words belong in the text though we can't be sure if they should be in one order or a different order. Admittedly, not all of them are this inconsequential, but it would be inaccurate to say that none of them are.]

The problem

Now admittedly, one need not agree with Wallace to represent his own views fairly. One may genuinely think that modern textual criticism leads to radical skepticism in which we can't have any confidence in the NT text (though how many of its actual practitioners think so is perhaps a different discussion). One may not be able to distinguish between 0.1% uncertainty involving a choice between two knowns and 100% uncertainty in which anything is possible. And one might even think that having to choose between two readings where editions of the Textus Receptus differ is somehow categorically different from having to choose between two readings at an ECM split line.

That being said, is it really accurate to represent Wallace's words to mean something he explicitly rejects? What is hard for me to understand is how so many people can fail to mention what Wallace explicitly said, both immediately before and immediately after the section that gets quoted. The problem does seem to be quite pervasive.

When I go back to the website that had 72 hits for the phrase "Even if we did, we would not know it," I get zero hits when I search the words immediately prior ("must be avoided when we examine the New Testament Text"). The same is true of the words immediately following ("But we also do not need to be overly skeptical")—zero hits. Clearly, quoting Wallace in context doesn't seem to matter there.

Not one of the three quotations in the TR book gives the Wallace quote in the context of his rejection of radical skepticism. One even does the opposite: Christopher Sheffield (pp. 211–212) writes:

Daniel Wallace is one of the most prominent proponents of the modern Critical Text. In a foreword to the book Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, he declares:

We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain" (xii) [sic]

There you have it. We do not have the whole Word of God and even if we did, we wouldn’t know it. Listen carefully to what he is saying, “There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.” (emphasis mine). Could there be anything more harmful to the child of God than to have some scholar take a proverbial Sharpie and write a giant question mark over every page of his Bible? That is what the modern Critical Text method does, and it can bear no good fruit in the child of God or in the church of Christ. Such a mindset does not provide patience, comfort, and hope (cf. Romans 15:4), but rather exasperation, anxiety, and despair. It will not produce stable believers with a growing confidence in their Bibles and willingness to labor and suffer for its proclamation, but only the opposite.
[I added the bold for my own emphasis. The italics are Sheffield's.]

Here, Sheffield's remarks seem to be in stark contradiction to what Wallace affirms both in his foreword to Myths and Mistakes and also in his interview that I posted. Admittedly, the interview was more recent than the publication of this book, but in a way that underscores my point—this confidence in the text was Wallace's position back when Sheffield was saying it wasn't. It seems to me that in most cases, the Wallace quote is given to 'prove' that Wallace (and by extension, modern textual criticism) is hopelessly uncertain with an implication that any verse is up for grabs—even though this type of uncertainty is explicitly what Wallace rejects.

In conclusion

1. Dan Wallace gets quoted out of context.
2. Quoting out of context is bad, so we should be extra careful to avoid it.

Final note:
No, Wallace did not ask me to write this. Yes, I do work for him, and I would have liked to get a response from him directly, but he wouldn't, as he typically doesn't respond to things like this. He did read a draft of this post though and agreed with how I represented him.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

When a marginal note becomes the text


Towards the end of his Apology against Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (English translation in Collected Works of Erasmus vol. 83; here if you have institutional access), Erasmus criticizes his friend for not understanding the need of doing textual criticism. What struck me more than anything is the example Erasmus gave for why textual criticism is necessary. Here is the relevant paragraph:

Another thing which is constant in your examinations is that whatever your Greek manuscript had in it, you ascribe unhesitatingly to Paul, as though Greek manuscripts do not sometimes vary, or are never corrupt, when I myself discovered in a particularly fine manuscript copy the following words written in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: δεόμενοι ἡμῶν τὴν Χάριν καὶ τὴν κοινωνίαν τῆς διακονίας τῆς εἰς τοὺς ἁγίους δέξασθαι ἡμᾶς· ἐν πολλοῖς τῶν ἀντιγράφων οὕτως εὕρηται, καὶ οὐ καθὼς ἠλπίσαμεν. What we have here, of course, is a case of several words being transferred by an illiterate scribe from the margin to the body of the text. In order to make this clearer to those who do not know Greek, I shall translate as follows: 'Asking that we receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints; in many manuscript copies appears the following: "and not as we hoped"' It is clear that the words 'in many manuscript copies appears the following' represent someone's marginal annotation. It is risky, therefore, to place immediate trust in your manuscript and to make pronouncements before examining all the manuscripts. (trans. Howard Jones; CWE 83, p. 105)
[Note: there's something there to be said about trusting God's Word as it is, ontologically, as opposed to trusting our access to it through our copies and translations (or trusting that our access is always and in every place equal to what it is, ontologically) but that's another discussion.]

I wondered if this manuscript was still known. A footnote (the annotations for this Apology were written by Guy Bedouelle) says that this manuscript is "MS Greek suppl 2 of the National Library in Vienna, loaned to Erasmus by the monastery of Corsendonck, near Turnhout," and it refers the reader to ASD IX-3 193:2567n. That refers to ordo 9 (=IX), tome 3 of the Amsterdam edition of Erasmus' works, page 193, and specifically, the note that corresponds to line 2567. Conveniently, that volume is available through open access, here. A little lower on p. 193 for the note corresponding to lines 2569-2572 (continuing on to p. 195) of ASD IX-3, we read:

The Greek manuscript to which Erasmus is referring is minuscule 3 of the Greek New Testament, now in Vienna, National Library, Gr. supp1. 52. It contains the four Gospels, Acts, the Catholic Epistles and Paul's Epistles. It belonged once to a convent at Corsendonck near Turnhout and was lent to Erasmus for his second edition in 1519, as he testifies on the first leaf; see F.H.A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, Cambridge 1883, p. 179; C.R. Gregory, Textkritik des Neuen Testaments, Leipzig, 1900, p. 128. Cf. J.J. Wetstenius, ed., Nouum Testamentum Graecum, Amsterdam, 1751-2, II, p. 197 and H.J. de Jonge, ASD IX, 2, p. 191, n.l. 461.

It still exists! It's minuscule 3, dated to the 12th cent. The note is at 2 Cor. 8:5. The variant seems to be the presence or absence of δέξασθαι ἡμᾶς (I checked the NA28 and Swanson), which occurs before the words ἐν πολλοῖς τῶν ἀντιγράφων οὕτως εὕρηται. Let's have a look:

Someone (Erasmus?) has underlined the words in the manuscript, but there it is: the marginal note that became the text. The Comma Johanneum (at 1 John 5:7–8) almost certainly came into the text this way, and it's always good to find specific examples of this type of thing happening. The more we know, the better equipped we are to catch scribal error.

For more on reader's notes, see:

Thursday, October 13, 2022

On the Essence of a Byzantine-priority Method


I do not mean to flog the Byzantine method on this blog, I promise. But I am writing on the topic of method right now and some things just fit better on a blog than in a footnote and I want to record them before I forget. 

In this case, I want to set two sets of quotes side-by-side to show what I think is the flaw in the Byzantine priority method. Recall, first, however, that in my last post on the subject, I pointed out that the Byzantine method rests on a fundamental historical claim and that it should stand or fall on that claim. I think that is crucial. 

The method is not to be judged on its occasional (mis)assocation with various disreputable “onlyisms” or whether it’s held by a minority of scholars or whether it accepts the two famous large variants (Mark 16:9–20; John 7:53–8:11) or whether it’s the underdog or whether Maurice Robinson has an enviable rock ’n’ roll CD collection (which he does). It is to be judged on its historical claim. 

What is that claim? Here is what Robinson says is the “essence” of the method in his seminal essay (emphasis his).

12. The real issue facing NT textual criticism is the need to offer a transmissional explanation of the history of the text which includes an accurate view of scribal habits and normal transmissional considerations. Such must accord with the facts and must not prejudge the case against the Byzantine Textform. That this is not a new procedure or a departure from a previous consensus can be seen by the expression of an essential Byzantine-priority hypothesis in the theory of Westcott and Hort (quite differently applied, of course). The resultant methodology of the Byzantine-priority school is in fact more closely aligned with that of Westcott and Hort than any other. Despite his myriad of qualifying remarks, Hort stated quite clearly in his Introduction the principles which, if applied directly, would legitimately support the Byzantine-priority position:

As soon as the numbers of a minority exceed what can be explained by accidental coincidence, ... their agreement ... can only be explained on genealogical grounds[. W]e have thereby passed beyond purely numerical relations, and the necessity of examining the genealogy of both minority and majority has become apparent. A theoretical presumption indeed remains that a majority of extant documents is more likely to represent a majority of ancestral documents at each stage of transmission than vice versa.

13. There is nothing inherently wrong with Hort’s “theoretical presumption.” Apart from the various anti-Byzantine qualifications made throughout the entire Introduction, the Westcott-Hort theory would revert to an implicit acceptance and following of this initial principle in accord with other good and solid principles which they elsewhere state. Thus, a “proper” Westcott-Hort theory which did not initially exclude the Byzantine Textform would reflect what might be expected to occur under “normal” textual transmission.

It is this claim to a “normal transmission” that I take issue with. But more than that, it is what Westcott and Hort take issue with and they do so on the very page that Robinson quotes. Also, they do so not because they jump to anti-Byzantine qualifications. Instead, the very next sentence after the section Robinson quotes says, “But the presumption [i.e., the essence of the Byz position] is too minute to weigh against the smallest tangible evidence of other kinds.” Why is this? Because 

At each stage of transmission the number of copies made from each MS depends on extraneous conditions, and varies irregularly from zero upwards: and when further the infinite variability of chances of preservation to a figure age is taken into account, every ground for expecting a priori any sort of correspondence of numerical proportion between existing documents and their less numerous ancestors in any one age falls to the ground. This is true even in the absence of mixture; and mixture, as will be shown presently (§§ 61, 76), does but multiply the uncertainty. (p. 45).

Robinson writes that only the activity of a “formal recension” would undermine the principle behind the Byz priority position. That is, of course, exactly what WH did with the Syrian text and Robinson is right to reject it, as do most of us today. But, importantly, a formal recension is not what WH here say undermines their “theoretical presumption.” What they point to instead is a factor that is just as serious and happens to be well documented for the NT, namely, contamination or mixture. Contamination, as we know, can wreak havoc on a simple genealogy and the notion that a majority of later manuscripts reflects a majority of early ones is nothing if not simple (NB: I did not say simplistic or dumb or naïve). In other words, the NT text does not follow a normal transmission process. 

The implication for WH is that, “For all practical purposes the rival probabilities represented by relative number of attesting documents must be treated as incommensurable.” (pp. 45–46). The theory of a majority of later manuscripts reflecting a majority of earlier ones does not fit the facts. There is no safety in numbers. Contamination does not allow for it. 

The Byzantine priority position, then, is not wrong because it gives preference to the Byzantine witnesses; it is wrong because of why it does so.

Monday, October 10, 2022

An interesting problem with the Editio Critica Maior (Mark 10.45)

So I was minding my own business and reading an article about Mark 10.45 (M. Thiessen, 'The Many for One or One for the Many? Reading Mark 10:45 in the Roman Empire' HTR 109 (2016), 447-466) when I stumbled on a footnote about the text of Mark 10.45 in Codex W (032):

Although ms W reads λούτρον (ablution) instead of λύτρον (ransom), it is likely that this reading arose due to an unintentional scribal modification. (note 11)

That sounded interesting, but when I checked NA28 it wasn't mentioned, so I checked the facsimile (as one does) and it was obviously correct:


Then I checked the ECM apparatus on Mark and I came across this: