Lecture 26: Reasoned Eclecticism (Part 1) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 26: Reasoned Eclecticism (Part 1)

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Reasoned Eclecticism (Part 1)


A. The Practice of Reasoned Eclecticism

I am going to give three lectures on the practice of reasoned eclecticism or the principles of it along with various textual problems. So, the first section is going to deal with internal evidence and also with competing views. These are the views of the text that are different from reasoned eclecticism. Some definitions of internal evidence has to do with two things: what was the Biblical author likely to have written which is called intrinsic probability and then what the scribes were likely to have copied which is called transcriptional probability. This is the first piece of evidence scholars look at when they are trying to think through various readings. External evidence is focusing on the material witnesses which are manuscript versions and fathers and we look at both of these. Internal evidence considers what the author is likely to do and what the scribe is likely to do. External evidence is looking at the translations and quotations.

B. Three Competing Views

The Competing views for New Testament textual criticism are those that are considered standard at this time. Reasoned Eclecticism is a very broad camp and on one side is rigorous eclecticism and on the other side is the majority text view. I am not listing the TR view because there are no Textus Receptus scholars today. So these three schools: rigorous eclecticism, reasoned eclecticism and majority text view. The emphasis of rigorous eclecticism is internal priority and in fact the internal evidence is so much more important than external that we virtually have to consider external only to see if we have real manuscripts that have these readings. When they consider internal evidence, what they are really focused on is intrinsic probability; what has the author likely to have written. This is intrinsic probability. They view this as the most objective way of doing textual criticism. Part of the reason that rigorous eclectics argue this way is because all the textual various were created by AD 200; but how many manuscripts do we have before AD 200? There are not very many; I don’t think that all were done by then. What they are saying; therefore all manuscripts are basically corrupt and therefore all manuscripts are equally corrupt. The majority text takes the exact opposite perspective, thus putting an emphasis on the material witnesses but only focus on the Greek manuscripts. They virtually ignore other versions. They will say that the manuscripts are objective and internal evidence is subjective. So, they are far removed from rigorous eclecticism in terms of the method. That is a school that is far to the right within textual critical studies. In terms of the advocates for rigorous eclecticism, I will mention rigorous eclecticism last. We have two: G.D. Guilpatrict who is no longer alive; he was professor at Oxford University. He was J.K. Elliot’s professor and J.K. Elliot is now the lone rigorous eclectic that I know of. So, it is a school of one with no students. Yet, J.K. Elliot is an unbelievable intelligent scholar who has an encyclopedic knowledge of secondary literature like no one that I have ever met.

For the majority text view, there is Zayne Hodges who really resurrected it in the 1950s. He resurrected Burgan’s views who were not a pure Textus Receptus, he felt that the manuscripts had to have readings; they were pretty ancient in order to be original, at least not found in a few late manuscripts. However, Zayne Hodges died a few years ago; so he is no longer around. There are some majority text people such as Maurice Roberson who is a bonafided textual critic and actually a very fine textual critic of Southeastern Baptist Seminary. There are three or four others that would fit into this category. They are all conservative theologically. If all conservatives belong to that, then these other things would have presuppositions that we can’t buy into. That isn’t the case.

Reasoned Eclecticism looks at internal evidence and external evidence in order to weight them in a balanced way. I think the reason why reasoned eclecticism has been criticized is because it has put too of strong an emphasis on the manuscripts typically rather than on internal evidence. Then, there is Bruce Metsker who is no longer around. He was around at the same time of Gordon Fee, a brilliant person. This is a discipline not for the faint-hearted; these people are brilliant and very critical of others. This is the nature of textual criticism. When you are trying to understand whether it is an ‘n’ or an ‘m’ and that is your life, you will become nitpicky on a number of things. Metsker, Gordon Fee, Michael Homes and others are evangelical. David Parker is not an evangelical like Bart Ehrman and E.C Caldwell who were not evangelicals. Most textual critics, at least ninety percent of them fall into the camp of Reasoned Eclecticism. As I have already argued, many if not most textual critics today are actually conservative theologically.

C. Problems with Rigorous Eclecticism and Majority Text 

Rigorous Eclecticism has virtually an exclusive focus on internal evidence, especially on an intrinsic probability. So what most scholars say is that typical the most subjective area whereas Rigorous Eclecticism says that is the only objective area. So, in most cases, this is really the most subjective area when you are trying to say what the author is trying to say. Just because all manuscripts are corrupt which I would agree with; doesn’t mean that they are all equally corrupt. I think we can see by their known pedigree from a number of places that the Alexandrian are superior to the others. History in this approach get short shifted; as if to say we can find a manuscript that is from the 14th century that has the wording that is most compatible with what Paul would have written in this letter elsewhere. Therefore that has to be the authentic reading. How does a 14th century scribe bypass 1300 hundred years to get to the original reading and we have no other trace of it? It just doesn’t make any sense at all. So, history gets short shifted in this. In the textual apparatus, it becomes little more than a pool of variance. It is almost like multiple-choice variance from which to choose the original readings, regardless of what manuscripts they are in. So, I think rigorous eclecticism has a number of problems. As I have already said, Keith Elliot is a brilliant scholar but his disregard for history is problematic.

With the majority text theory, there is a focus on external evidence but the focus is highly selective. They just count the Greek manuscripts. When do they count them? The Byzantine text forms didn’t become the majority until the 9th century. We have plenty of evidence to argue this. So, they are not counting manuscripts through the first eight centuries; they are counting them for all of time and once you do that, then the Byzantine is the majority, but there are no Byzantine manuscripts and no Byzantine versions or fathers before the 4th century. There are plenty of Alexandrian and Western manuscript versions and fathers before the 4th century. Only conservatives fit this school, yet most of them hold to reasoned eclecticism. So there is no theological necessity to hold to the majority text view. Finally, you can see Hort’s critique of the Byzantine text which we discussed in a previous lecture. Although there are leaks in Hort’s argument, there are not enough to do any damage. We will look at some of those leaks when we discuss a problem in Matthew 24:36 later.

D. The Reasoned Eclecticism Proper 

Here are some critiques and positive points. It isn’t always even in its application. There is a frequent strong bias against the Byzantine and Western Text that is too strong. Those things are now being corrected. It doesn’t always fully integrate history into the transmission of the New Testament text. This has also started to be corrected where Bart Ehrman did some good work in this area in his orthodox correction of Scripture where he says that this time in church history, these scribes believed this and here is where they lived and we start integrating that. I think he went way too far in his assessment of things; the evidence didn’t yield itself in the direction he went. The fact is, we do need to do work in church history and textual criticism simply cannot be done in isolation from other disciples. In spite of the failings and its execution by those who practice it; it is the most balanced approach. I think the way it should be done by weighing internal and external evidence evenly.

E. Guiding Principles of Internal Evidence

The most important principle for textual criticism is to choose the reading that best explains the rise of the others. You have to be able to tell how this reading came from this one if you are going to be able to argue which is authentic. I going to pick some difficult problems to show you how reasoned eclectics think through this. The hard reading is to be preferred along with the short reading. Scribes had a tendency to make things easier; this is the reading that is more ambiguous and cumbersome with more awkward wording. The words that it uses are rarer. Scribes tended to use words that they knew. It uses unusual grammar and sometimes even bad grammar. The original texts often has wording that could be perceived as a discrepancy. So, the reason why this is preferred, scribes were prone to smooth out the text in order to make it clearer, to explain things in order for it to sound more orthodox. For those who practiced reasoned eclecticism admit that majority text, people say that the canon with the hard reading is so stupid. Why would we pick the reading that seems less orthodox? Besides this, you also get nonsense readings and is that what we should go with? The time when the more difficult reading is not to be preferred is when it could be due to an unintentional error on the part of a scribe. We have already discussed both intentional and unintentional changes to the text. In 1st Thessalonians 2:7, the KJV reads that we were gentle among you compared to the Net, we became like little children. It is very difficult to tell the difference in Greek. One scribe writes, ‘we became horses among you.’ This is nonsense in this text; it isn’t a viable reading. In codex L, 8th century in John 1:30 where John says that the one who is coming after me. He speaks about the man who is coming after me. The Greek word for this is ‘aner’, but in codex L, an 8th-century manuscript says ‘air’ instead, not a man. It is a real word but it is the hardest reading and really an impossible reading. If you can attribute these readings to an unintentional error then the harder reading is not valid.

F. Difficult Readings 

The harder readings are always nonsense readings. However, all reasoned eclectics recognize this. When they say the canon with the hard readings, they are saying that when you can’t come up with an unintentional reading, then the harder reading is valid. An analogy taken from Tokin’s Lord of the Rings where strider meets the Hobbits at Prancing Pony Inn and announces that he is Aeraborn and then we read that there was a long silence. At last Frodo spoke with hesitation; I believe that you were a friend before the letter came, he said. Or at least, I wished to. You have frightened me several times tonight but never in the way that servants of the enemy would; or so I imagined. I think the spies would seem fairer and feel fouler if you understand. The authentic reading of the New Testament often seems fouler but smells fairer. All scribes tended to smooth over the text to some degree, but sometimes it wasn’t an appropriate change. In Matthew 27:16-17, at that time they had in custody a notorious prisoner named Jesus Barabbas. So after they had assembled, Pilate said to them, whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Christ? The word Jesus before Barabbas is definitely the harder reading. Why? You have this notorious sinner name Jesus; no, only the Son of God is named Jesus. Most manuscripts omit Jesus before Barabbas; in fact, the majority of them omit Jesus. This includes the Alexandrian and Western with the early scribes and manuscripts. This is also the longer reading whereas normally it is the short readings that we normally prefer. You can see why the pious scribes would not use the name Jesus with Barabbas.

G. Example

Isaiah verses the Prophets: In Mark 6:31-8:26 where in those eighty-nine verses, Jesus is never identified by name or by title, but in the Byzantine manuscripts we have Jesus punctuating the text in verses 6:34, 7:27, 8:1 and 8:17. They add the name Jesus. There is no rational reason why a scribe would simply cross a name out. While you have the same manuscripts that add it four times, whereas some of the manuscripts that we would consider better manuscripts don’t have it. And we know that Mark was often ambiguous in his writing style. It wasn’t the best writing style, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t inspired by Scripture. His ambiguity is part of the package in what we deal with. Mark 1:2 is another place where we have a harder reading where it says in the prophet Isaiah verses just in the prophets. He goes on and quotes from Isa 40:3 and Maliah 3:1 and also Exodus 23:20. Later scribes summarized this by saying in the prophets. So when you look at the internal evidence, if you can come up and predict the kind of a change that you would and you would see that scribes made that change; you can be fairly sure that scribes were tempted to do that because human sociology is still the same. That why I ask students of the Greek New Testament to begin with internal evidence. Look at the internal evidence with prejudicing yourselves by looking at the manuscripts first. If you can predict variances, you can be sure that some other scribes did the same.

H. The Gospels 

Although the titles of the Gospels are not part of the original texts, tell us something about this. For example in P66 and P75 at the beginning of the Gospel of John, they both say, ‘Gospel, according to John.’ While in Sinaiticus or O1 or Vaticanus they simply say ‘according to John’, but in Matthew. Mark and Luke According to Matthew, According to Mark and According to Luke; they don’t say the word ‘Gospel.’ Do you think the scribes of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were opposed to calling these texts the Gospels? At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, it reads ‘the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.’ I don’t they had a problem calling this the Gospel. They don’t have that word precisely because at the very beginning, they weren’t sure what to call the book but they knew it was accordingly written by someone. One of the fascinating things about the Gospel titles; they don’t call it the Gospel of Mark, etc. instead it is the Gospel according to. There is only one Gospel with four versions of that one. They use a term that they don’t use for other books for the word Gospel which simply meant good news. It was especially used when a Roman Emperor was born or acceded to the throne. Paul is the one who uses it as a ‘in your face’ to the Roman Emperor saying, you guys think you have the good news; the real good news comes with Jesus. He loves to use the word Gospel. Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are 4th-century manuscripts. P66 is 2nd century whereas P75 is between 2nd and 3rd century. And yet, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have an earlier and more primitive text that shows that Westcott and Hort were really on target when they said that these two manuscripts can never be rejected without sufficient reason. They have a text that when they agree with each other has to go back deep into the 2nd century, earlier than when P66 and P75 were written. P66 and P75 had not been discovered in their lifetimes; not until another fifty years after their lifetimes, but it vindicates what they said.

I. Shorter Readings 

The shorter readings are the preferred readings. It is before material gets added over time. It isn’t as much as you might think. It was over fourteen hundred years before the printing press and fourteen hundred years after the New Testament is completed; the New Testament has grown by two percent only. Well, it has grown and scribes have added things. So are the shorter readings preferred because scribes were prone to explain things and add titles and phrases and things like that? So when are the shorter readings preferred? As we have already suggested for the harder readings; it can be due to an accidental omission. Is it possible that due to similar lines, the scribe has dropped a word? They needed to examine the variance for the possibilities of accidental changes. There is another group of manuscripts where shorter readings were typically considered not authentic. That had to do with the earliest papyri. There is a book by James Rice called scribal habits in early Greek New Testament papyri. It is eleven hundred pages which represented a life time of work that Rice put it into this. What he discovered was that the early papyri with the rule about the shorter readings being preferred weren’t a valid principle because the earlier manuscript wasn’t necessarily considered as Scripture. They didn’t have the compulsion to get it exactly right. And what we have noticed already with these early papyri was the tendency to make unintentional errors which were the kinds of mistakes made compared to the later scribes. The biggest unintentional error is accidentally shorting the text. Bart Ehrman said that the earlier scripts made the most mistakes because they weren’t professional. Let’s look at those.

For example, in the US Constitution, if it said we the people in order to have a more perfect onion instead of union were the kind of mistakes they would make. They would not have made the more created changes. Interestingly, P66 drops the article and the pronouns and things like this either for stylistic reasons or perhaps the scribes weren’t really focused on their tasks. So it is ironic that the earliest manuscripts of papyri, this principle doesn’t really hold that well. The reason it doesn’t because they tended to make unintentional changes for more often than we get with the later scribes. In Mark 6:31–8:26, he verses Jesus; he is actually imbedded into these verbs and so in Greek if you have 3rd person singular in talking about man, you just say he so the shorter reading is indeed without the word Jesus. Then you have in Matthew 27:16-17 Jesus Barabbas verses Barabbas. Here, the hard reading is the longer reading; the shorter reading is most likely not authentic. So, you have to consider each of these aspects as you read through it. Textual criticism is a battle when it comes to doing this sort of thing; it is difficult.

J. Divisions of Internal Evidence 

There are two divisions of internal evidence. There is transcriptional probability or which variants do the scribes most likely create and there is also intrinsic probability, what did the Biblical author most likely write? When you think about using good clues as how to do this. Under transcriptional probability, we have unintentional errors which we have just examined. We have talked about these errors in a brief history of the transmission of the New Testament earlier. Under intrinsic probability; this is what an author would likely to have written. There are two key elements and one general principle. First, what does the context say? Will this word or that word fit into this context? It is not just the nearest context, but it is the broader context also. How about the author’s style? Does he ever use this word; does he ever use this syntax, structure and that kind of thing? Then there is this broad principle; the most material you are dealing with, the most objective the conclusions they can be. When we deal with the long ending of Mark Gospel or the story of the woman caught in adultery, both of them are twelve verse textual problems, there is so much material there that we can make some very sound conclusions on just the basis of intrinsic evidence alone because it is going to be very objective. However, there are times where even a single word can be addressed from intrinsic evidence because we know the author’s style. We would know that he could not have written this.

In John 14:17, Jesus speaks to his disciples in the Upper Room discourse saying, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept because it does not see him or know him. But you know him because he resides with you and will be in you. This can also read because he resides with you and is in you. Which is the original reading? I take it that will be in the authentic reading. The variant here is only one word but the context both here and the whole of John is very clear. The Spirit had not been given to the disciples. Jesus is talking about when he ascends the Holy Spirit will reside in you but he isn’t in you yet. Earlier in John 6:63 from those who have believed in him were going to receive for the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified. This gives you the broader context. In John 20:22 he says to this disciples to receive the Holy Spirit after breathing on them. The scholars call this a kind of proclitic statement; it is a head of the times statement that he was going to give them this gift but it wasn’t ultimately given until we see Acts 2:4 where they were filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus says when the Holly Spirit comes upon you which is still future. So, the intrinsic evidence especially within John tells us that the Spirit had not yet come. In terms of style, a good place to look is Mark 16:9-20 where the language isn’t like the rest of Mark. There is not a single periphery, vocabulary or syntax style and linguistics and thematic issues are anomalous here. If all the manuscripts have this, we could like that this was part of the text. When you have testimony in manuscripts with versions and fathers against it, that external evidence combined with this very compelling internal evidence shows that it isn’t part of the Gospel.

K. Summary 

There are three principles for internal evidence; choose the reading with the most explanatory, the one that explains the rise of the others. The harder and shorter readings are two broad principles that you should be careful on how you use them. The two divisions are transcriptional evidence where a scribe would be likely to do and intrinsic evidence where a Biblical author would likely to do. I think internal evidence needs to be done first so that you don’t prejudice yourself against these various readings by looking at the manuscripts. We tend to have the cult of the manuscripts being the ones that should drive everything. If a variant is predictable, then you can be sure that some scribe probably somewhere was tempted to produce it. In other words, don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing when it comes to internal verses external evidence. We will look next at external evidence.

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