The Traditional Method and the Socio-Historical Approach of NT Textual Studies

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

The long-held task of the textual scholar has been to recover the original reading. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875) stated that the objective “of all textual criticism is to present an ancient work, as far as possible, in the very words and form in which it proceeded from the writer’s own hand. Thus, when applied to the Greek New Testament, the result proposed is to give a text of those writings, as near as can be done on existing evidence, such as they were when originally written in the first century.”* B. F. Westcott (1825-1901) and F. J. A. Hort (1828-1892) said it was their goal “to present exactly the original words of the New Testament, so far as they can now be determined from surviving documents.” (Westcott and Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, 1.) Throughout the twentieth century, leading textual scholars such as Bruce M. Metzger (1914-2007) and Kurt Aland (1915-1994) had the same goals for textual criticism. By it, Griesbach (1745-1812), Tregelles, Tischendorf (1815-1874), Westcott and Hort, Metzger, Aland, and other prominent textual scholars since the days of Erasmus (1466-1536) all gave their lives to the restoration of the Greek New Testament.

* Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament, 174.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

However, sadly, “more dominant in text critics’ thinking now is the need to plot the changes in the history of the text.”* While Bart Ehrman, David Parker, and J. K. Elliot are correct that we could never restore or establish the original words of the authors of the twenty-seven Greek New Testament books beyond question, it should still remain the goal, as opposed to the pessimistic attitude of late. If we sidestep the traditional goal of textual criticism, we are really abandoning textual criticism itself. While the textual scholar wants to track down the variants to the text through the centuries, this can only be done by realizing there was a beginning, i.e., the twenty-seven original texts. How does one identify an alteration in the text without knowing from what it was altered? While the NA28/UBS5 critical edition cannot be considered a 100% reproduction of the original twenty-seven books, textual scholarship should always work in that direction, or otherwise, what is the purpose? The authors of this publication are in harmony with the words of Paul D. Wegner, who writes, “Textual criticism is foundational to exegesis and interpretation of the text: we need to know what the wording of the text is before we can know what it means.” (Wegner 2006, 230)

* J. K. Elliott, “The International Greek New Testament Project’s Volumes on the Gospel of Luke: Prehistory and Aftermath,” NTTRU 7, 17.

J. H. Petzer in his The History of the New Testament Text — Its Reconstruction, Significance and Use in New Testament Textual Criticism, writes,

Looking at practical reconstructions of this history [of the NT text] over the past two and a half centuries, however, it becomes clear that it can more or less be defined as the attempt to identify and explain the different forms of text in the extant witnesses to the New Testament by means of relating them to each other, with the purpose of identifying the most trustworthy witness(es), which can be used as the basis of the reconstructed text of the New Testament. This is more or less what has been in the center of the ongoing attention to the witnesses to the Greek New Testament since the inception of New Testament textual criticism as a modern discipline.[1]

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

The Traditional Method of
New Testament Textual Studies

The long-held (many centuries) approach to New Testament textual studies is the attempt at ascertaining the original words (the autograph) that were in the original text. Constantine Tischendorf, J. J. Griesbach, F. J. A. Hort, Frederic Kenyon, and Kirsopp Lake, Kurt Aland, Bruce Metzger, Leon Vaganay, E. C. Colwell, J. Harold Greenlee, Gordon Fee, and Phillip Comfort, to name just a few world-renowned textual scholars over the past few hundred years. Greenlee’s definition is typical: “Textual criticism is the study of copies of any work of which the autograph (the original) is unknown, with the purpose of ascertaining the original text.”[2] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort regard of the objective, the purpose, the goal of New Testament Textual Criticism similarly, as an “attempt to present exactly the original words of the New Testament, so far as they can now be determined from surviving documents.”[3]

The Sociohistorical Method of
New Testament Textual Studies

The objective of the sociohistorical approach to New Testament Textual Studies is to follow the scribal traditions and the transmission history of the Greek within each text-type of the family of manuscripts and where they grew up in order to have a better understanding of the social history of early Christianity. In Bart D. Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, for example, he argues that “scribes occasionally altered the words of their sacred texts to make them more patently orthodox and to prevent their misuse by Christians who espoused aberrant views.”[4]

The foundational goal and purpose of textual studies according to Ehrman, should be to obtain the beliefs and views of a particular historical milieu (social environment) that prompted early Christian scribes to purposely alter their text with such changes. Concerning the traditional objective, purpose, and goal of textual studies, i.e., to recover the original words of the original text, Ehrman argues that one of the most important recent advancements “has been the widespread realization that an exclusive concentration on the autographs is myopic, as it overlooks the value of variant forms of the text for historians interested in matters other than exegesis.”[5] For Ehrman:

Changes that scribes made in their texts frequently reflect their own sociohistorical contexts. By examining these changes, one can, theoretically, reconstruct the context within which they were created, contexts that are otherwise sparsely attested in our surviving sources. When viewed in this way, variant readings are not merely chaff to be discarded en route to the original text, as they were for Hort and others of his ilk; they are instead valuable evidence for the history of the early Christian movement. The New Testament manuscripts can thus serve as a window into the social world of early Christianity.[6]

This relatively new sociohistorical objective, purpose, and goal has become the principal direction of New Testament Textual Studies for numerous textual scholars. The point is simple, some of the most educated, intelligent, knowledgable, talented men and women in the world who have given their lives to the study of the New Testament text are surely able to walk and chew gum that the same time, yes? Certainly, they can determine what was the original reading and at the same time gather insight into the motive behind the scribal variants. Let’s just take one example, 1 Timothy 3:16.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

1 TIMOTHY΄ 3:16 (WH NU GENTI) [BRD] All modern-day translations

16 καὶand ὁμολογουμένωςconfessedly μέγαgreat ἐστὶνis τὸthe τῆςof the εὐσεβείαςreverence well μυστήριον·mystery; ὋςWho ἐφανερώθηwas manifested ἐνin σαρκί,flesh, ἐδικαιώθηwas vindicated ἐνin πνεύματι,Spirit, ὤφθηwas seen ἀγγέλοις,to angels, ἐκηρύχθηwas preached ἐνin ἔθνεσιν,nations, ἐπιστεύθηwas believed ἐνin κόσμῳ,world, ἀνελήμφθηwas taken up ἐνin δόξῃ.glory.

א* A* C* F G 33 Didymus

variant 1 ὃ εφανερωθη
“which was manifested”
D*

variant 2/TR θεος εφανερωθη
“God was manifested”
אc Ac C2 DΨ 1739 Maj

1 Timothy 3:16 King James Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Updated American Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 English Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Christian Standard Bible
16 God was manifest in the flesh, … 16 He was manifested in the flesh, … 16 He was manifested in the flesh, …

 

16 He was manifested in the flesh, …
The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

“who [or he who] was manifested in the flesh” was the original reading based on the earliest and best manuscripts (א* A* C*), as well as F G 33 Didymus. There are two other variant readings, “which” (D*) and “God” (אc Ac C2 DΨ 1739 Maj). Using Comfort’s system, “A superscript c or numbers designate corrections made in the manuscript. An asterisk designates the original, pre-corrected reading.” The witnesses (manuscripts) that support “who” or “he who”is very weighty. We can see from the above that there were many manuscripts that made what they perceived to be a correction in their manuscript, which clearly comes across as a scribal emendation. Certainly, the pronoun “who” is a reference to Jesus Christ.Nomina Sacra

This simply solved textual issue caused many problems in the nineteenth century and really with the King James Version Onlyists, it still does today. The Bible scholars entered the fray because they thought the textual scholars were undermining their doctrinal position that God became man. The early argument by some textual scholars as to how the variant 2/TR came about was that the Greek word translated “God,” which was abbreviated to the nomen sacrum (sacred name) ΘC, had initially looked like the Greek word OC, which means “who”  or “he who.” They argued that a horizontal stroke showing faintly through from the other side of the vellum manuscript page, and a later hand added a line across the top, which turned the word OC (“who”) into the nomen sacrum contraction ΘC (“God”). However, it seems highly unlikely as Comfort comments: “how several fourth- and fifth-century scribes, who had seen thousands of nomina sacra, would have made this mistake.” We would agree with Comfort that it was clearly a doctrinal motivation, wanting it to read, “God was manifest in the flesh.”

alexandrinus4 Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3.16
Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3:16-4:3 theos

Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3.16

Metzger rates “He was manifested in the flesh” as certain, saying,

The reading which, on the basis of external evidence and transcriptional probability, best explains the rise of the others is ὅς. It is supported by the earliest and best uncials (א* A*vid C* Ggr) as well as by 33 365 442 2127 syrhmg,  goth ethpp Origenlat Epiphanius Jerome Theodore Eutherius Cyril Cyrilacc. to Ps-Oecumenius Liberatus. Furthermore, since the neuter relative pronoun ὅ must have arisen as a scribal correction of ὅς (to bring the relative into concord with μυστήριον), the witnesses that read ὅ (D* itd, , ,  vg Ambrosiaster Marius Victorinus Hilary Pelagius Augustine) also indirectly presuppose ὅς as the earlier reading. The Textus Receptus reads θεός, with אe (this corrector is of the twelfth century) A2 C2 Dc K L P Ψ 81 330 614 1739 Byz Lect Gregory-Nyssa Didymus Chrysostom Theodoret Euthalius and later Fathers. Thus, no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century (Ψ) supports θεός; all ancient versions presuppose ὅς or ὅ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading θεός. The reading θεός arose either (a) accidentally, through the misreading of ος as ΘΣ, or (b) deliberately, either to supply a substantive for the following six verbs, or, with less probability, to provide greater dogmatic precision.

Early on, Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693-1754) noted that ΘC originally looked like OC, but felt that a horizontal stroke had faintly shown through the other side of the uncial manuscript page, indicating a later hand adding a horizontal line to OC and giving us the contraction ΘC (“God”). However, this author believes that Comfort made a valid point above, looking at his words more fully, “It is difficult to imagine how several fourth- and fifth-century scribes, who had seen thousands of nomina sacra, would have made this mistake. It is more likely that the changes were motivated by a desire to make the text say that it was “God” who was manifested in the flesh.” (P. W. Comfort 2008, 663) If we believe that doctrinal considerations were not behind the scribal changes, all we have to do is investigate what took place when it was understood that the actual reading was “He who was manifested in the flesh,” as opposed to “God was manifested in the flesh.” The battle in the nineteenth century was as though the loss of the reading in the Textus Receptus (θeός KJV) would undermine the doctrine of the Trinity. Doctrinal motivations have always played a role in the copying of the Bible, but the truth is that these are actually few in number. Considering the number of manuscripts that were copied, if these kinds of changes were a major problem, we should see more of them.

Thus, we have not only established the original reading BRD (Beyond Reasonable Doubt) but we have also established that there was a likely theological motivation behind the variant in order to strengthen an orthodox doctrine both in the time of and place of the scribe but also in the 1800s as well. Thus, if scholars want to pursue insights into the sociohistorical approach to New Testament Textual Studies is to follow the scribal traditions and the transmission history of the Greek within each text-type of the family of manuscripts and where they grew up in order to have a better understanding of the social history of early Christianity, so be it. However, in order to do so, one must have the starting point of the original reading in order to evaluate the motivation behind the variants.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

TEXTUAL CRITICISM is the process of the textual scholar attempting to ascertain the original wording of the original text. – The Primary Task of a Textual Scholar

The sad state of affairs is that textual scholarship as a whole is unwittingly or knowingly moving the goalposts for some unknown reason. In textual criticism, it is now the earliest knowable text, the sociohistorical approach to New Testament Textual Studies, and, the newest trend of trying to redate our earliest NT papyri. In biblical hermeneutics, it dissecting a text until you no longer have the text, in Bible translation, it is going beyond what the Word of God is in the receptor language (e.g., English, Spanish, German) into what the translator thinks the original author meant. How is it possible for no one to see the danger of what is happening. What has happened right before our eyes are the goal of an early text not the original, Bible books by unknown authors, not the ones bearing their name, with Jesus not saying half of what the Gospels claim he said, in mini-commentary, interpretive translations by translators that are of the biblical criticism mindset.

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[1] Jacobus H. Petzer, “The History of the New Testament Text — Its Reconstruction, Significance and Use in New Testament Textual Criticism,” in New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis and Church History: A Discussion of Methods (ed. Barbara Aland and Joël Delobel; CBET 7; Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1994), 11.

[2] J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Baker Academics: Grand Rapids, 1993), 1.

[3] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882), 1.

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), xi.

[5] Bart D. Ehrman, “The Text as Window: New Testament Manuscripts and the Social History of Early Christianity,” in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (2nd ed.; ed. Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes; NTTSD 42; Leiden: Brill, 2013), 803.

[6] IBID. 804.

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