Lecture 09: The Role of the Canon in Shaping New Testament Text | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 09: The Role of the Canon in Shaping New Testament Text

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: The Role of the Canon in Shaping New Testament Text


B. The Role of the Canon in shaping the New Testament Text

1. As Canon consciousness Emerged, More Careful Copying was done

The most world-changing event that ever happened is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if you think about being a Jew in 1st century Israel; what kind of a momentous changes that would imply. You have a person like Paul who hated Christians and was putting them into prison and was happy when they were killed. This was because they claimed that this man Jesus must have been cursed because he was hung on a tree. As Deuteronomy says, cursed is everyone that is hung on a tree. God must have cursed Jesus by hanging him on a tree. How could these Christians possibly say that God had raised him from the dead? This was something way ahead of the eschaton. Why would he choose this one person who was definitely cursed? Paul felt that this was against everything he believed in regards to the Bible. He felt that if Christianity is true, that Jesus was really raised from the dead, then I will simply throw away the Bible. That was the only option he had. That was why he was so mad at Christians because they were going to unravel all of Judaism. Now when he got converted, he believes that there are two trues; yes, God cursed Jesus by sending him to his death but God blessed him by raising him from the dead. How and why would God do this? So Paul came to recognize that Jesus must have died, not as a sinner but as a substitute for sin and sinners, for us. So he begins to get really strong on substitutionary atonement. He was the first apostle who begins to recognize those things. The others were beginning to see this because Paul as a theologian understood these issues. So Jesus whom they followed, they knew he was a prophet, a righteous man and born of a virgin and now they begin to realize that he was God in the flesh. The very moment that Jesus was baptized by John and coming up out of the water; ah, this is God in the flesh! There was no way they could have thought that. It took some time and you need to remember that these were Jews who had the Scriptures for some four hundred years. No prophet had come along in all that time until John the Baptist said that he was heralding in the Messiah. This was of course, strange. And for the apostles to claim that Jesus was God was far more radical than anything that had ever happened before. So you have this massive upheaval with all the implications of the dead and resurrection of Jesus.

2. Readings Could Sneak into the Text before it Became Well-known in a Particular Form

This brought on recognition that these writings were authoritative, but it wasn’t immediately thought of as the New Testament as such. No, but they did recognize that this was a letter from Paul; we know that he is an apostle and we recognize that his authority is very high, but is it on the level of the Old Testament Prophets. It took some time for them to embrace this. So this canon consciousness is something that slowly emerged. And we know that the Gospels were accepted as Scripture earlier on; probably before the end of the 1st century. Paul’s letters were accepted as authoritative and later as Scripture. By the end of the 2nd century there were about twenty-one books that were recognized as authoritative and valid for us in worship services. So the consciousness emergence lasted for about three centuries. As soon as people begin to think of it as Scripture, they began to be more careful. And yet there was a new kind of textual variant precisely because they now recognized it as Scripture.

3. When New Testament books began to be considered Scripture, errors of piety began to creep into them 

The kinds of errors that came about were perhaps inherent readings that were born out of piety. They would very frequently try to harmonize the texts, assuming that the last scribe didn’t get it quite right. They would make corrections of supposed discrepancies. They would enter explanatory glossies perhaps in the margin and somehow it would be entered into the text eventually. So these were liturgically motivated as the Scriptures were used in the church over and over again. In Mark 6-8, for eighty-nine verses in a row in the standard critical Greek text, the Nestle Aland Greek text, Jesus is not mentioned once by name or by title. We don’t have sermons by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel; you have that in Matthew, Luke, and John but not in Mark. Most of this is narrative; we see him at center stage all the way through; eight nine verses in a row, he is never mentioned. We know that Jesus is in view because
imbedded in the verb is the pronoun he. Sometimes it gets confusing as one wonders who the he is that’s being talked about. So what would a scribe be likely to do, especially if they are reading a portion of that text in church; reading these two stories in church today. It starts out by, ‘so he said to them.’ So,
because of this liturgical usage, it becomes an impulse for adding words to the text in order to explain it. We photographed one of the early manuscripts, a lectionary from John 13. It starts out, ‘so he said to them’ and the lectionary changes both the he and them to ‘Jesus said to his disciples.’ So in reading such a passage, he can’t just start with pronouns.

So one of the interesting things in regards to the shaping of the Canon is that the Book of Revelation was very slow to get Canonical status and ironically precisely because of this, we have fewer copies made and therefore less corruption. It really wasn’t accepted fully until the 4th century and that is when most scholars would say that the Byzantine text came into existence in the 4th century, maybe earlier. So the Byzantine manuscripts of Revelation are actually fairly good. This was because in the two hundred and fifty years of copying up until that point, you might only have ten generations of copies for that time. But for the same two hundred and fifty years, the Gospels would contain perhaps fifty generations because they were highly valued and copied continually. So we see that due to the canonical status of a book caused them to change the text. The textual critics love this sort of thing, especially those manuscripts with different variants.

4. Errant Readings Born by Piety

Every Gospel manuscript of any substantial length has harmonization in it. So what does this tell us about the motives of the Scribes? Dean Burgin who was dean in the late 1800s was the primary adversary to Westcott and Hort and the Greek New Testament they published in 1881. This set a new gold standard for modern translations in Modern Greek texts. The best work that has been done since then has stood on the shoulders of Westcott and Hort. Burgin was a big fan of the King James Version Bible and of the Textus Receptus, although he wasn’t totally adamant in regards to this. Against Westcott and Hort, he argued that their favorite manuscripts were malicious and evil and were produced by heretics. So Burgin picked especially on Codex Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, the Ephraemi Rescriptus and Basie. These were manuscripts from the 4th and 5th century. The letters by which these go by are: Alef, A, B, C, and D. Burgin argued that all of these manuscripts were terribly corrupt and were produced by heretics. One of Burgin’s spiritual errors was Wilber Pickering and he argued that Alfef and B came from a sewer pipe. That was his wording. But all of these manuscripts have harmonization of the Gospels and often as singular readings. That means that they alone have that harmonization. This is strong evidence that these scribes were orthodox and had a high view of Scripture. If you have a singular reading where only that manuscript had that, then almost surely that particular scribe invented it or it came from his own ancestry and he accepted it. All of them do this harmonization.

Another illustration of Scribal Piety is John 4:17. απεκριθη η γυνη και ειπεν ουκ εχω ανδρα λεγει αυτη ο ιησους καλως ειπας οτι ανδρα ουκ εχω. Normally in regards to harmonization, we think of harmonization between two Gospels, especially the synoptic Gospels. But this is an illustration that happens just in John chapter 4. Remember Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well? The woman answered and said to him, I don’t have a husband. Jesus had just said to go and call your husband to come here. He was talking to the Samaritan woman. It was noon when she came to draw water which was the worth time to go and draw water because of the heat or unless she was trying to avoid the other women in the village. And so Jesus said, that’s correct, you have five husbands and the one you are living with now is not your husband. What is interesting is, in the Greek, the underlined here: I don’t have a husband versus a husband I don’t have. When Jesus quotes correctly, you have said, ‘a husband I don’t have,’ he changes the word order. In Greek the word before it is a conjunction introducing a direct quotation. How do I know that? He doesn’t say, ‘correctly you have said that you don’t have a husband.’ Instead, he says, ‘correctly you have said that I don’t have a husband.’ So Jesus is quoting her. But when he quotes her, he changes the word order. This caused some scribes problems. So what do they do? Three of these five manuscripts, they don’t change Jesus’ words but they change the woman’s words so that they now conform to what Jesus said. It is not that Jesus misquoted her; it is that she had said it wrong in the first place. So she has to conform to what he quoted. This is really strange. One of the scribes goes so far as to add, ‘correctly’ to make sure that Jesus couldn’t hear three words in a row correctly. Here is the reality; Jesus didn’t quote her exactly for a purpose; she is saying, ‘I don’t have a husband.’ Jesus replied, ‘correctly a husband, I don’t have.’ Lady, you have somebody else at home! Even in changing the word order, Jesus revealed that he knows quite a bit about her. So these supposedly evil malicious scribes that were not producing Christian Scriptures were trying to introduce all sorts of errors, changed the woman’s wording because it doesn’t harmonize with what Jesus said. I wouldn’t call that malicious. These were simply early pious scribes who were trying to get the text correct.

C. The Emergence of Local Text Forms

1. Text-types

A definition of a text-type includes a group of manuscripts that have a consistent pattern of readings. This is different from patterns in other manuscripts. They will frequently have readings only within that group. One such type is the Alexandrian because it comes from Egypt which was considered the number one accurate copying center. That is where classical texts were produced with incredible precision. The western texts ended up being produced in Rome but soon spread over the entire empire. The Byzantine text started in the east and stayed there. The Caesarean text in Israel may or may not be valid. So you have this nomenclature that is disputed today by some textual critics.

Let’s say for example the NIV, the New American Standard, The King James and we don’t have a printing press. So how do we have these Bibles? People wrote manuscripts by hand based on what the Pastor is saying on Sunday morning. He preaches out of the text and you are writing it down. The first
year of seminary, all you are doing is writing out the entire Bible that you can read. Maybe it is for personal use. Let’s say that the NIV is produced primarily in Chicago with the New American Standard being produced in Loss Angeles; and then the King James Bible being primarily produced in London. So,
you grow up in England and all you know is the KJV of the Bible. You move to America and attend seminary. So when you copy out the NIV, do you think it is possible, you are copying out and at some point you don’t remember the text or some words or you remember the wording of a different translation? You are going to mix King James readings in with NIV writings and readings. So, when you hear someone preach from the Scriptures, you can almost always tell what Bible they are preaching from. These are patterns of readings that people had to get use to; that is the idea of text types.

2. General Considerations

So, you get this mixture in these manuscripts because we don’t have any pure manuscript of any text form today, except for the later Byzantines. Let me illustrate it with Luke 24:53 and we will come back to this illustration in another lecture. This is the last verse in Luke’s Gospel, ‘and they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.’ So Jesus has just ascended up to heaven and here the pronoun they refer to was the apostles. They were in the temple blessing God or they were in the temple praising God, or it could read, they were in the temple blessing and praising God. The Alexandrian manuscripts say, ‘they were in the temple blessing God.’ The western manuscripts say, ‘they were praising God.’ The Byzantine manuscripts say that they were blessing and praising God. That is the difference between the text types. You are going to have the groups where they just separate from each other and what is interesting, Westcott and Hort says that there are several places where the Byzantine texts seem to conflate the western and Alexandrian readings. They argued that the Byzantine text was a later text form and it tried to preserve all the textual traditions. So the scribe who is putting together the Byzantine text and looks at the Alexandrian and see that everyone in the temple were blessing God; and in the western manuscript, they were praising God. He is wondering which to use, blessing God or praising God. I don’t have time for this so I will say both, blessing and praising. So this kind of thing did happen though not frequently. What Hort pointed out was that only the Byzantine conflates from these other groups. It is never the other way around, which strongly suggests that it was a secondary text form.

3. Text-types and numerical preponderance

So what does numerical superiority prove? We have two manuscripts that are the ancestors for these other copies. The first manuscript has sixteen copies representing three generations while the second manuscript gets five copies representing two generations. This shows us what we see among New Testament manuscripts. The Alexandrian manuscripts were produced in Egypt but in the 7th century, Egypt got overrun by Islam resulting in a cut off of the Alexandrian texts. Meanwhile, the Byzantine texts rises with the vast majority coming from the 9th century and later where the majority of the Alexandrian manuscripts from a much earlier time; the first eight centuries. But earlier, Constantine changes the Capital from Rome to Byzantium, now called Constantinople, today Istanbul, Tuckey. Then declares the whole of the Roman Empire as being Christian; he asks Eusebius to print him fifty Bibles for the Empire. All of a sudden, we are dealing with a text form that is going to spread over the east and a few centuries later, Greek is no longer spoken anywhere else in Europe, just in Asia Minor and Greece which was the largest cluster of churches. So numerical superiority is due to historical conditions and it doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of the text. Also, a later manuscript may be more valuable than an earlier one. So textual scholars don’t count manuscripts, they weigh them.

4. Text-types and Genealogical Solidarity

So we can reconstruct the local original from the copies that still exist and we can take a reading back earlier in the manuscript that it appears in. So a manuscript might be 5th century or it might be 10th century, but the wording in that manuscript could go back many centuries earlier. Ultimately, we don’t have the New Testament documents, the actually originals, but the wording in at least some of our copies goes all the way back to the originals. So, for example, in text A, we don’t have the original, first or second-generation but all those manuscripts agreed with each other. So, you can reconstruct the local original from the copies especially when they have a high amount of agreement internally with each other. Is it possible that a single manuscript can represent the archetype against all other witnesses? Yes, that is definitely possible because you can have a manuscript that is a better copy than the others.

We have talked about Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine and Caesarean text types. The Alexandrian text form probably goes back to 2nd century. It is one that we see in papyri; it is a very careful tradition and it was not done as an intentional recension but they decided to edit the text to make it look like something else. They did very careful copying. Then the western text form also goes back to the early 2nd century. We have a number of church fathers from the 2nd century that quote the Western text form. It was very widespread and there was no official addition of it, but it originated not in the west but it became a missionary text. It is not a careful tradition, but it is early, and we have to take that into account because it was early. The Byzantine text originates early in the 4th century or maybe the late 3rd century and becomes increasingly widespread. So by the 9th century, it was by far the most popular text. But the overall, the Alexandrian text was more popular. It was heavily edited; a very liturgical text. The Byzantine text form was used in the churches; it was the one that grew up around Constantinople. Ninety percent of our manuscripts are Byzantine and come from the 9th century or later. The liturgy in the churches was driving a lot of this. As they went to various passages they read as scripture that gets imported into the actual text form of the Byzantine that they would use later. You get these explanatory notes like the one I covered earlier. Then we have the Caesarean text form, it may not even exist but if it does, it is probably only in the Gospels. These are from the 3rd century. If it exists it is almost completely absorbed by the Byzantine. If there is a Caesarean text form, it actually would contain the original reading. There are groups of manuscripts that seem to do that against all the rest of the traditions.