Lecture 27: Reasoned Eclecticism (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 27: Reasoned Eclecticism (Part 2)

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Reasoned Eclecticism (Part 2)


A. Objective and Subjective Data

We are now looking at Part 2 of reasoned eclecticism which deals with external evidence. I want to first compare internal and external evidence first. We have looked at intrinsic and transcriptional evidence and we find that it is quite subjective in some places in how valuable that is going to be in telling us what the original wording is. At times, internal evidence can be very objective, but all of it is somewhat subjective. At the same time the manuscripts are not objective data themselves but instead they are errant copies of the infallible inerrant Word of God. So, just as all internal evidence is somewhat subjective, all manuscripts are somewhat corrupt. Consequently, scholars need to work through both sides of the issue to arrive at the original wording of the text. Reasoned Eclecticism is the only approach that considers both opponents evenly or at least it should. This is how we are going to try to approach things as we give some illustrations of this. In thinking about external evidence, it is important to think about what is a text type. We have talked about this before and I’m going to illustrate it during this lecture.

B. Text Types and Forms 

First of all, it is the largest group of manuscripts with a common ancestry other than the original text. So, we are not dealing with a small family of six or seven manuscripts but with a larger group which that family belongs to. One such scholar referred to them as nations; so, it is two or three nations that we are dealing with. I can illustrate this with the NKJV of the Bible and the NASB Bible. Both of them are translated in a very similar way. Some of the translators that worked on one translation, worked on the other one as well. Let’s assume that both of them are translating the text exactly the same
way. The only difference would be what text they are translating. When you look at the underlining Greek text you see that there are about five thousand differences between the Greek texts of the NKJV and the NASB. That which we would text types; this is a pattern of readings that we discern in reading through various manuscripts where we might identify a manuscript as a Byzantine text. You have to verify this by seeing if there are earlier manuscripts that follow the same pattern. So, understanding text types or text forms or family groupings go a long way toward understanding how external evidence works. Hort’s genealogical argument essentially says that after the original New Testament was written, it was copied both in the Western Archetype that we should put in quotation marks. The western texts really was spread throughout the Mediterranean world and it was a much looser text form where sometimes we don’t even want to call it a text form. We have a number of church fathers both from the east and the west that use it.

C. The Alexandrian Archetype 

Then there is the Alexandrian Archetype where we know that in Alexandria Egypt, they did a very careful job of copying classical text. The scribes that copied Christian texts would have applied the same kind of methods. Both of these go back deep into the 2nd century, so Hort’s integrity recognized that the western texts was very ancient, but interestingly he didn’t like the western text. He wanted everything to be Alexandrian if at all possible. In the last section of Luke’s Gospel, he had eight readings that are found only in western manuscripts, not in Alexandrian. He thinks those are authentic; so rather than saying that there is an Alexandrian interpolation, which is an addition by the Alexandrian. He speaks of the western as having a western non-interpolation. He can’t bring himself to criticize ‘Aleph’ and ‘B’, his two favorite manuscripts, but he can say that the western didn’t interpolate in this case. It is one of those classic humorous statements that textual critics know about. So, you have both the Alexandrian and Western which were done in the 2nd century. The Byzantine was apparently put together in 4th century based on the Alexandrian and Western manuscripts. We talked about this in an earlier lecture when we talked about Westcott and Hort with the dethroning of the Textus Receptus. Essentially, this is valid although we will make some modifications to this when we discuss Matthew 24:36 in a later lecture. This is broadly a valid way in which to think about these manuscripts.

D. External Evidence 

In thinking about external evidence, there are three aspects of it. There is the date and character of the manuscripts, the genealogical solidarity of the manuscripts and the geographical distribution of these manuscripts. All of these aspects or divisions are intended to help us find readings that are older than the manuscripts that contain them. By definition, the wording that is in a manuscript has to be as old as that manuscript, but it isn’t any older if that scribe created that wording. This means that most of the manuscripts with their variants are much older than the manuscript to which they appear. Our goal is to take those manuscripts and try to work through them to see if we can come back to the original text. One of these readings will go back to the 1st century. In fact, it’s quite possible that more than one of these readings will go back to the 1st century. But the original reading obviously goes back to the 1st century and there may be others as well. Our goal, even though we don’t have any 1st-century manuscripts, and even if we only have a few 2nd century and 3rd-century manuscripts, we are trying to recover the wording of the original on the basis of the confluence of the number of issues.

1. Date and Character of Manuscripts 

Some basic principles include: the closer in time to the original, the better the manuscript. This is a general guideline. If you have a manuscript written in AD 120 and it’s a copy of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in terms of intervening generations of copies; there may be only three or four generations of copies. Then you get to a manuscript that might be a 4th or 5th generation copy. But if you have another manuscript from AD 1120, now you might have a hundred generations of copies. The more people you have involved, the more scribes you have involved and the more generation of copies you, the more likely it is that the text will be changed. So, generally speaking, we can say the earlier the manuscript, the better. Another way to look at this; manuscripts that are from a faithful line of copying are to be preferred. So if I have two manuscripts where one is a Western manuscript which has an early ancestry and the other being an Alexandrian that also has an early ancestry; since the Alexandrian manuscripts come from a much more faithful line of copying, we should almost always give preference to those manuscripts. It isn’t always like this, but it is almost always. When we compare this with internal evidence, we see that we don’t do it exactly like that. Of course, those manuscripts whether they come from a faithful line or not, those that are done carefully are to be preferred. This might contradict that second category in this respect. You can have a faithful manuscript in a careless line and you can have a careless manuscript in a faithful line. The very best kinds of manuscripts are those that are faithful in faithful lines and early. P75 is probably the most important manuscript among the early papyri; in fact, it is the most important early papyrus because it is a very faithful copy in a very faithful line of transmission. Codex Vaticanus isn’t as old (a hundred years more recent) but it is extremely carefully done in a very faithful line of transmission. Codex D is an early 5th century; probably 400 to 410 AD, isn’t carefully done and not in a careful tradition. It does represent a Western text with other evidence such as church fathers even from the 2nd century and others that the readings of the Codex go back to the 2nd century.

2. Genealogical Solidarity 

If the older and better manuscripts of a particular text type agree, it is more likely that they represent the wording of their local original. This is a category that I want you to start thinking about: local original or the regional archetype. As these churches grew up in different part so the ancient Mediterranean world, major churches became the center or hub of activity in those areas and that was where the copying was done that was somehow related to those churches. This took place perhaps in a professional scriptorium and related to even a monastery. This was where you got the major hubs of concentrated work of manuscript copies. This is why we get text types; manuscripts that come from these various regions. So, when we think about genealogical solidarity, we are thinking about solidarity of readings within a text type. This is a key point; it is within a text type. So, if the older and better manuscripts of a particular text type agree, it is more likely that they represent the wording of their local original. Virtually if all the manuscripts of a text type agree, they almost surely represent the reading of their local original. We use date and character to determine the best manuscripts for doing genealogical solidarity. But frankly what you often get; these best manuscripts are split and we will look at examples where they are split. I am not going to give you clear cut cases on these textual problems but instead, I will pick some of the most difficult ones to deal with and show you how I go about solving the problem. The issue can get quite complicated and I don’t want us to get bogged down on that.

Once again, we return to Hort’s genealogical argument. We don’t have the local originals of any of the archetypes or any of these text types. We don’t have that 2nd-century archetype that was done in the first decades of the 2nd century for the Alexandrian text or the 2nd-century archetype for the Western, if there were even one. All we have are later copies. However, some of these copies are significantly later; we do have some 2nd-century manuscripts. Genealogical solidarity is the key way to determine the reading of that regional archetype. So, if I have all by Alexandrian witnesses with all the more important ones agreeing with each other, say from the 4th to the 8th century and Aleph and B and Codex A and others like Codex 17 and then Codex 39 from the 10th century and Codex 33 from the 9th century; all of the manuscripts agree with each other then we could say that almost surely that was what the original Alexandrian archetype said. So that is a reading that goes back to the early 2nd century even though I have no manuscripts dated to the early 2nd century. Obviously, something has to go back to the original and therefore almost all of these readings are older than the manuscripts in which they occur. When you think about the Byzantine archetype; the one I am showing is from the 4th century. The earliest Byzantine manuscripts we have for Paul don’t show up until the 9th century. So, what I am essentially saying when these manuscripts agree and the Byzantine manuscripts present a solid front, I think we can presume that the reading goes back to the 4th-century archetype. So what majority text people object to is that I don’t take it back to the 1st century. That is difficult to go from 9th-century manuscripts to 1st century, but to take it back to the 4th century isn’t so difficult. We don’t have any evidence of the Byzantine text existing in versions, church fathers or manuscripts before the 4th century. But we do have evidence for the Alexandrian and Western text before that.

3. Geographical Distribution 

The third aspect to external evidence is geographical distribution. The more widespread a textual variant is, the more likely it reflects the wording of the original. This is especially true for the earlier centuries of copying. In regards to geographical distribution, this is not keeping it within a text type. Genealogical solidarity has to do with how pure that reading is within that text type, but geographical distribution tells us that in some of our earlier and better manuscripts whether or not they share the same readings. So, we are looking at the Mediterranean world and we have a 3rd century manuscript in Alexandria and a 3rd century church father in Antioch and a 3rd century version in Rome all agreeing on the same wording in one place and you can’t come up with a predictable reason why that wording would be there, these three witnesses could not have met some place and decide here is how we are going to corrupt the text! It has to go back to an earlier ancestor. So, when you have that kind of geographical distribution over non-predictable variance, it goes back very early; almost always to the 1st century going back to the original text. So when you think about genealogical solidarity as vertical columns, the Alexandrian manuscripts, for example, would be between the 2nd to 10th centuries. After that, it is as if they don’t exist anymore. The Western manuscripts from the 2nd to 9th centuries whereas the Byzantine manuscripts don’t start at the 2nd century; we don’t see it until the 4th century and goes all the way up to the 15th century. So, within each vertical column you are dealing with a text type. So, how pure is the reading within those manuscripts to represent that archetype? If I have my best witnesses in the Alexandrian; I would say that goes back to the 2nd century. It would be the same with the Western manuscripts. I can only take the Byzantine back to the 4th century.

But then geographical distribution has to do with whether I find a reading in a church father or version of manuscripts in the Alexandrian texts in the 3rd or 4th or 5th century that agrees with the Western. After the 4th century, geographical distribution isn’t as helpful because the manuscripts began to assimilate to the Byzantine standard. Why? Constantine changed the capital of his empire to Constantinople or the new Rome is what they called it. He had ordered fifty Bibles to be produced for the capital which was all in Greek which Eusebius was supposed to have put together. This Christianizes the empire, especially Constantinople in Tuckey and in Greece; this is where you get this strong influence of Christianity in the Greek-speaking world. This started to have an impact of other manuscripts as time went on. They would start conforming to that imperial standard. So, geographical distribution is really helpful up through about the 4th century but after that, it doesn’t help that much.

E. Illustrations 

We have talked about all of these illustrations before but now we will look at them from a different angle.

1. Mark 1:2 – Isaiah the Prophet vs the Prophets 

Mark 1:2 in regards to Isaiah the prophet vs the prophets. Isaiah the prophet is found in the best Alexandrian and Western witnesses whereas in the prophets come from almost all the Byzantine manuscripts. So, we can be fairly sure what the local originals of the archetypes of each text form were. Since the Alexandrian and Western go back to the 2nd century, in Isaiah the prophet is a 2nd-century reading and the geographical distribution of it is strong. Would you have a scribe in the 2nd century create ‘in Isaiah the prophet’ in one part of the Mediterranean world and another scribe in another part of the Mediterranean world create that same reading? It isn’t a predictable variance, but in the prophets is a much more predictable variance. So, we have a strong geographical distribution and we also have most of the early versions having this. The oldest manuscripts for in the prophets are from the late 4th century, but the Byzantine archetypes surely have this reading in the early 4th century. As I have already mentioned, the earliest Pauline Byzantine manuscripts we have a 9th century, but the earliest Gospel Byzantine manuscripts we have are late 4th century. So, the reading would have existed early in the 4th century. But in the prophets actually existed before that; Irenaeus in the late 2nd century speaks used in the prophets for this passage; well, does this confuse the whole thing? What Irenaeus is doing is something that is predictable; he was a great defender of Scripture. He didn’t always quote it exactly. He adds things and is known to explain material in the text and change it to some degree to what he thinks it should say or what it is talking about. So, most likely because the Alexandrian and Western texts are so strong, on the basis of external evidence, this is a fairly strong argument for in Isaiah the prophet.

2. Mark 1:1 – The Son of God 

Now, in Mark 1:1, the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The textual problem is whether the Son of God is authentic or not. So, we could just read the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Alexandrian witnesses here are split. All other things being equal, the Alexandrian manuscripts are going to be preferred, but most of the time they are not equal. Sometimes, they are split so then, how do you choose? Sinaiticus, codex Aleph lacks the phrase, ‘is the Son of God,’ but Vaticanus, Codes B and other Alexandrian manuscripts have it. So, how do we choose between those two? Vaticanus is normally preferred over Sinaiticus, but we have to look at all of the evidence, not to choose one over the other because we like it. The Western and The Byzantine manuscripts are solid for the Son of God phrase. This is fairly compelling and on the basis of external evidence, the phrase is probably authentic. Most of the best Alexandrian and virtually all of the Western and Byzantine witnesses have it. But the internal evidence is something that will have to be considered as well. We will look at that internal evidence in the next lecture and address this textual problem one more time.

We have already mentioned the problem with the titles of the Gospels, even though they are not part of the original text. You have the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John vs just according to. The best Alexandrian manuscripts lack Gospel such as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, Aleph
and B both lack the word Gospel at the beginning of each book, but all other witnesses have Gospel there, if they have a title at all. Some manuscripts don’t have a title, but if there is a title, it is going to be the Gospel According to. So, you have the Alexandrian text against the world. It isn’t just the Alexandrian text; it is specifically Aleph and B against the world. For the Gospel of John, P66 and P75 which have that, early papyri have the Gospel, According to John. So, geographical distribution here is not real helpful because the Western and Byzantine combination only tells us that this is a
2nd-century reading that is the Gospel According to John. But we already know this from the early papyri; it is definitely there. The Byzantine doesn’t really help the Western that much. This is something that we need to consider internally. What I suggested is here the harder reading and the shorter reading is without the word, Gospel. No scribe would say that they were going to cut that word out of their text. When he gets to Mark 1:1, the Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; why would they cut out the word, Gospels as part of the title if it was in the very first verse? It doesn’t make any sense; unless you want to charge these scribes with being malicious and being haphazardly so. They surely wouldn’t be consistent and so they would be so inconsistently malicious that they dropped the title in the very next verse. Why would they call it the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It makes no sense to argue whether these scribes were evil heretics that put these manuscripts together.

3. John 14:17 – The Spirit of Truth Will Come Upon You 

Another illustration is John 14:17 and this is going to be the last one that I use for this lecture. Here, we have the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot accept because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you know him, Jesus says because he resides with you and he will be in you or he is in you. We have talked about this internally in terms of intrinsic evidence. We will come back to this problem later but as far as the external evidence is concerned P66, Codex B Vaticanus and Codex B and W, all read that he resides with you and he is in you. This is a group of significant witnesses, but virtually all others reads ‘will be in you,’ including P75 which is a much more important manuscript than P66 and Codex Sinaiticus as well as the remainder of the Western and Byzantines. In fact, the Alexandrian is split but the Byzantine and Western are solid except for D which goes against it. Most of the Westerns will fully be. When I look at this internally, if I think in terms of transcriptional probability, I go in one direction. This is the difficulty you have with solving these text-critical problems. Sometimes the external evidence seems to in conflict with the internal evidence or the transcriptional is in conflict with the intrinsic. So, we still have to always ask the question, which reading explains the rise of the others the best. When I can work through those issues that is when I can come to an answer. I will come back to this in the next lecture.

F. Conclusion 

External evidence has to do with the material witnesses; that is the manuscripts. When we speak of manuscripts, we talk about the Greek manuscripts versions, the ancient translations of the New Testament and church father’s writings. Literally, millions of man-hours (if not tens of millions) have been expended on the examination of these witnesses in the last three hundred plus years. Scholars have poured their lives into this; some of the scholars get so excited about this field that they do this all of their lives. To get people who don’t know Greek who say that the King James Bible is the only inspired text, their ignorance is so profound, it is simply sad to see it. I hope those people can understand that we are not dealing with a malicious set of manuscripts or evil heretics that are working on this. We are dealing with learned scholars; some radically evangelicals and some not so radical and some not Christian at all, but all of them are studying the evidence. We have learned that the witnesses must be weighed and not counted. It doesn’t matter how many manuscripts you have on your side but what does matter is the value and weight of those manuscripts, the date, and character and how they fit into their text types. The examination of date and character, genealogical solidarity and geographical distribution is the key to understanding the value of the witnesses. Then using internal and external evidence in combination requires finesse and imagination and is how we are going to do that in the last lecture on reasoned eclecticism and how we practice it.

Biblical Training

The BiblicalTraining app gives you access to 2,300 hours of instruction (129 classes and seminars). Stream the classes, or download and listen to them offline. Share classes via social media, email, and more.