Sunday, March 31, 2013

Textual Criticism and the Preservation of the NT, Part 2

As a result of this complex process of analysis, comparison, and critical editing of the 5,800 Greek manuscripts, early translations, and citations by the Early Christian writers of the first four centuries, which are the true sources from which the original NT text is reconstructed, textual critics have identified the following four major text-types:

1. The Western Text. This text type came into existence late in the second century, and had a wide geographical spread. Though it certainly contains readings from the original NT, it has a tendency to expand on and paraphrase the text, especially in the Gospels and Acts, which is less true of the other text types. An example of this tendency may be seen in Codex D where in Luke 6, between verses 5 and 6, the following words have been inserted: "That same day, seeing a certain man working on the Sabbath, he said, 'Man, if indeed you know what you are doing, you are blessed. But if you do not know what you are doing, you are accursed and a transgressor of the law.'" This text is represented by several Greek manuscripts, of which Codex D (Fifth century), is the best representative; by the Old Latin versions, which first appeared around 258 A.D.; and in the writings of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Novatian (mid-second to early third century A.D.). Moreover, the evidence also seems to indicate that this text-type had two branches, one associated with Rome and North Africa, the other with Antioch and the East.

2. The Alexandrian Text. This is the second oldest text-type, also dating back to the late second century. It was produced by professional scribes connected with the Christian academy there, who were trained in the textual criticism that was applied to all classic Greek literature by the scribes and scholars of the great Alexandrian Library. "Functioning as the most ancient of the New Testament textual critics, the Alexandrian scribes selected the best manuscripts and then produced a text that reflected what they considered to be the original text." So because of its age and general high quality, it is easy to see why Westcott and Hort favored this text-type over the Byzantine. However, while still regarded as one of the better edited and more reliable ancient text-types, many NT scholars today believe that, on the basis of current principles of textual criticism, some original readings were not included in the Alexandrian Text, and so give preference to the Western, Caesarean, and Byzantine text-types in these few instances. The Alexandrian Text is represented, in part, by P5 (John 1, 16, and 20, 3rd century), P47 (Rev. 9-17, 3rd century), P66 (John, 2nd century), P67 (Luke, 2nd century), P72 (1 and 2 Peter, Jude, 3rd century),P75 (Luke and John, c. 200 A.D.), Codex Sinaticus (4th Century), Codex Alexandrius (5th century), Codex Vaticanius (4th century); the Coptic and Sahidic translations (3rd-4th centuries); and the writings of Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 313-371 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (c. 180-240 A.D.), and Origen (c. 185-254 A.D.).

3. The Caesarean Text. This is the third oldest text-type, and though it arose in Egypt, early in the third century it became associated with Caesarea. It was marked by the scribal practices current in both Egypt and Palestine, and was a mixed text that combined what the ancient scribes considered the best readings of both the Antiochian/Western Text and the Alexandrian Text. Some scholars, because of affinities with the Alexandrian Text, classify it as a subgroup of that text-type, while others argue that it has enough distinguishing characteristics to set it apart as a separate text-type. The primary witnesses to this text-type are the Chester Beatty Papyri (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts, c. 150 A.D.), Codex W (5th century), Codex Theta (9th century), Miniscules 565 and 700 (6th century), the Old Syriac Version (6th century), and the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 348-387 A.D.).

4. The Byzantine Text. This is the fourth oldest text-type, and is characterized by conflation, or combination of divergent readings, from the earlier text-types, as well as a deliberate harmonization of parallel passages. Though disputed by some, many NT scholars believe the Byzantine Text had its roots in a recension (i.e. a deliberate correcting and editing of a document) of the Antiochian/Western Text by Lucian, the Bishop of Antioch, which he brought to Constantinople prior to the Docletian Persecution (303-313 A.D.). These facts, plus the consideration that the Byzantine Text is not represented in Bible translations or citations by Christian writers of the first three centuries A.D., demonstrate the Byzantine Text to be a late and secondary witness to the original text of the NT. John Chrysostrom (c. 347-407 A.D.) is the first Greek Christian writer whose NT citations have definite Byzantine character. The primary witnesses for the Byzantine Text are Codices A, E, F, G, H, K, L, S (4th-6th centuries) most Miniscules (9th-11th centuries), and the Later Church Fathers (4th-6th centuries).

A Word of Clarification and Assurance

Now, for some who may find what we have said about the copying, distribution, and reconstruction of the original NT text disturbing, we need to make some clarification and give a word of assurance. 99% of the variants that exist between these four text-types are minor in nature, since they are misspellings of words, reversed word order, or words that were confused because they looked or sounded alike to the scribes who made the copies. So there is really only 1% or something in the order of 1,400 words that are in doubt as regards these variants. And none of them adversely affect the truthfulness of any Christian doctrine essential to salvation or godly living. F.F. Bruce states the situation very well:

Something more ought to be said, and said with much emphasis. We
have been discussing various textual types, and reviewing their comparative claims
 to be regarded as the best representatives of the original New Testament text.
But there are not wide divergences between these types, of a kind that could make
any difference to the Church’s responsibility to be a witness and guardian of Holy Writ.
The Authorized Version of 1611, by and large, the Byzantine text. The Revised Version
of 1881 and the American Standard Version of 1901, which were produced under the
influence of Westcott and Hort’s textual theory and work , represent in the main
the Alexandrian text. The Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, and New
International Version reflect the views of contemporary textual scholars, who have traced
the various early lines of textual transmission back to the second century, and represent an
eclectic text, each variant reading of the second-century textual types being considered on
its own merits, without marked preference being given to any single one of these types. But
the words of one of the editors of the R.S.V. are perfectly true of it and of the later versions:
“It will be obvious to the careful reader that still in 1946, as in 1881 and 1901, no doctrine
of the Christian faith has been affected by the revision, for the simple reason that, out of the thousands of variant readings in the manuscripts, none has turned up thus far that requires a
revision of Christian doctrine.”  (F.F. Bruce.  "The Text of the New Testament," The Books
and the Parchments, 2nd Edition, pp.124-125.)

Nevertheless, despite what Bruce and others have said, there are those who, in defending the KJV and the Textus Receptus, insist on making the charge that modern translations, based on any text other than the Byzantine Text, either deny or water-down references to the deity of Jesus Christ. But this is not true, as the following chart on five key NT verses reveals, which compares the KJV (1611), based on the Byzantine Text; the English Revised Version (1881), based on the Alexandrian Text; and the NIV (1984), based on an Eclectic Text (a critical text that incorporates the best readings of all four text-types). And for an additional comparison, the New World Translation used by Jehovah Witnesses has been included in the chart:

Key NT Verses on Christ’s Deity (Y=Yes; X=No)

TranslationJohn 1:1    John 1:18    Titus 2:13    Hebrews 1:8    2 Peter 1:1  

      KJV               Y                  X                  X                   Y                     X

      ERV              Y                  X                  Y                   Y                     Y

      NIV               Y                  Y                  Y                   Y                     Y

      NWT             X                  X                  X                   X                     X

Except for the NWT, which reflects the heretical teaching of the Jehovah Witnesses, all the other translations affirm the deity of Jesus Christ.  However, as can be plainly seen from the chart, it is the NIV and not the KJV, that consistently affirms Christ’s deity. So, at least on this key point of doctrine, I trust no one will glibly tell me or anyone else that the KJV is “a superior witness” to modern translations as regards the deity of Christ.  Clearly, the evidence shows otherwise.

Unfortunately, I don’t have space to go into the pros and cons for the quality and use of every modern translation of the Bible into English.  Yet for those who are interested in this matter, I would recommend Sakae Kubo and Walter Specht’s So Many Versions?: Twentieth Century English Versions of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975). As for myself, I prefer to use Bible translations written in modern English, produced by scholars who believe in the full inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the original NT, and that are based on an eclectic Greek New Testament text: The New American Standard Version, the New International Version, the New Living Translation, and the God's Word Translation. Still, I would encourage you to read Kubo and Specht's book, and decide for yourself which Bible translations are best for you.

Now, A Final Word

Unfortunately, I must briefly address issues brought up by a small group of ultra-conservative agitators who are opposed to the use of all modern Bible translations not based on the Textus Receptus, which underlies the KJV.  For this shift from the Textus Receptus and the KJV to modern translations based on the "corrupt" Alexandrian text, they primarily blame Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort, whom they often portray in a very sinister and diabolical manner.  And so I will now say something about Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort.

The first thing to be said is that it is true that Westcott and Hort may have not been as conservative in some of their views as are some modern conservative Evangelical Christians. However, that does not, in and of itself, invalidate their NT textual critical theory and work. For there were conservative, orthodox scholars, such as J. A. Bengel and Samuel P. Tregelles whose work anticipated that of Westcott and Hort and which, indeed, was the foundation that Westcott and Hort built upon. And later conservative, orthodox scholars, such as Benjamin B. Warfield, F.F. Bruce, J. Gresham Machen, and Gordon D. Fee have confirmed that the Alexandrian Text is both earlier than the Byzantine Text and is, at many points, a more reliable witness to the original N.T. text. And this is true, regardless of anyone’s negative or positive opinions about these men.

Furthermore, Brooke F. Westcott was an excellent NT expositor and wrote a first-rate commentary on John's Gospel that was both conservative in viewpoint and unsurpassed in its explanation of John's message. Though in some respects more liberal in his opinions than Westcott, it should be noted that Fenton J. A. Hort wrote a short treatise defending "God the Only Son" as the original reading of John 1:18. And please remember that both men were Anglican clergymen, which means that some of their views on baptism and church membership, for instance, would be different from those of Baptists. Can we not recognize the positive contributions of these men without totally writing them off? We talk about unity in essentials, liberty in disputable matters, and love towards all; should we not give them the benefit of the doubt?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying we should overlook genuine errors on their part. But the charges made by some KJVO defenders, for instance, that they denied the deity of Christ, or denied the propitiatory nature of Christ's sacrifice, or were even active members in an occult "Ghost Society," are absolutely false!  On the basis of research I was able to do on the Internet, I found that these charges proved to be, for the most part, distortions of comments in certain of Westcott's letters and written works that were made by a rabid "King-James-Version-Only" writer, Gail Riplinger, in her book New Age Versions. Arguments that other KJVO defenders, I must say, have taken up and used without taking the trouble to research and verify their validity. Moreover, a number of scholars have revealed how Riplinger’s book is just full of distorted information, fallacious arguments, and flat out lies.

Christians who, above all others, profess both to love the truth and to love their Christian brothers and sisters, should never engage in arguments that attempt to draw conclusions from a prejudicial selection of evidence available, or from a slanted use of terms, or a slurring appeal to guilt by association, or repeated appeal to false evidence. If anyone does not agree with Westcott and Hort’s textual theory and work, then give us well-reasoned arguments squarely based on the NT textual evidence we possess, and not on Riplinger and her followers misrepresentations, distortions, and falsehoods.

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