Sunday, June 17, 2012

2.2 Manuscripts, Manuscripts

My second weekend post in my hermeneutical autobiography series.  Yesterday I started writing on my pilgrimage on the subject of the biblical text.

Incidentally, this is my first Father's Day without my father on the earth. May God allow me to stay on the earth with my children for as long as I had him with me. But come what may, may they never have any doubt of my love for them and of my earnestness for them to have blessed lives.
Here are some of the things I learned in my last two years of college and my first year of seminary.  We do not have any of the original "autographs" of the New Testament (let alone the Old Testament).  All we have are copies of copies of copies (it's possible that a couple of the oldest fragments could be copies of the original or copies of copies of the original, but this is pure speculation and in the end we're talking about a couple fragments smaller than a driver's license).

I don't remember ever worrying about the fact that we don't have the original Mark or Romans or Isaiah.  Indeed, my questions were on the other end of things.  Are the many medieval manuscripts that basically read like the King James more original or are the older manuscripts that were discovered in recent centuries more reliable?

I was introduced to Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort and their 1881 edition of the Greek New Testament that, for the first time, printed their "eclectic" Greek text as the main text and put the "textus receptus," the Greek text behind the KJV, in the notes.  An eclectic text is one where the editor has tried to make a decision on what the most likely original wording of the text was instance by instance.  Accordingly, their Greek text--or the one behind modern translations of the Bible--does not follow any one Greek manuscripts but picks what it thinks are the best variations among all the existing manuscripts.

I actually wrote a paper for Bob Black's church history class at Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) arguing that the two key manuscripts Westcott and Hort favored (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus), dating to the early 300s, might have been ones commissioned by Constantine under the supervision of Eusebius (2 of 50 some manuscripts).  And since Eusebius did not take the orthodox position in the Arian controversy (he favored that Christ was of similar substance to the Father--homoiousios--as opposed to what became the orthodox position by Athanasius that Christ was of the same substance of the Father--homoousios) I argued that perhaps these two manuscripts were faulty.  Indeed, perhaps the reason they had survived was the fact that they were bad manuscripts.

I am now embarrassed at how illogical the paper's argument was.  It is a great example of how something that sounds rather smart to an outsider--and may even involve some smarts in putting together--can be completely misguided.  It is an example of the conclusion driving the argument, rather than the evidence driving the argument.  It is an example of trying to argue for something that is possible (but fits with one's preconceptions) rather than trying to argue for the probable.

Don't criticize me if I don't always adopt convenient arguments for possible conclusions that we find desirable.  I know what special pleading is because I used to do it.

Dr. Black was as gracious in his grade as he was insightful in his comment.  Most of the variations do not smack of theological conspiracy.  They are more a matter of spelling and grammatical variation.  Indeed, there is only one variant I can think of that anyone might argue would have had a bearing on the Arian controversy--1 John 5:7.  If the KJV version of this verse is original, then we would indeed be losing the most Trinitarian verse in the Bible: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (KJV).

But it is more likely you'll be hit by an asteroid this evening than that this verse was original.  Funny how the most potentially Trinitarian verse in the Bible never came up in the Trinitarian controversies of the 300s and 400s!  Indeed, it appears in only about 8 of the 5500+ Greek manuscripts of the NT that exist, often in the margin, and never in a hand that is older than the 1400s. In fact, the primary editor of the Greek text behind the KJV wouldn't even have put it into his Greek text if the Roman Catholic Church had not produced a manuscript with it present.  His comment was that the ink was still wet.

Not only do the variations between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have nothing to do with Eusebius' theology, but we now have papyrus manuscripts that are older than these two.  In other words, the variations of these manuscripts pre-date Eusebius.  He and Constantine thus cannot be the "fiends" who altered the text. In the end, I would conclude with those who think that it is the text behind the KJV that has been altered, not that behind most modern translations.

It can be hard to get one's head around what most textual scholars are claiming here. To us, it looks like the KJV is old and modern translations are new.  But in reality, the KJV was based on a small number of late medieval manuscripts, most of which dated after the year 1000.  Modern translations are based on manuscripts that go back to the 100s and 200s.  In terms of the Greek text, the NIV is about 800 years older than the KJV.

In the end, it was not the so called "external evidence" of the manuscripts that convinced me to switch sides...


Pastor Tom said...

I enjoy and learn from each days blog. Thanks!

Ken Schenck said...

thanks tom... hope you are well!

Martin LaBar said...

"To us, it looks like the KJV is old and modern translations are new. But in reality, the KJV was based on a small number of late medieval manuscripts, most of which dated after the year 1000." Ignorant as I am of these things, that was news to me. Thanks!

Ken Schenck said...

I suppose the statement is a little misleading. The manuscripts Erasmus used were late medieval, but we do find the textual tradition behind the KJV coming to be established in the 400s, perhaps.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Some clarifications may be in order. Here's Part 1.

First, let’s get some sense of what Hort’s two main theories are/were: first, Hort proposed that readings shared by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are virtually always correct, because (he proposed,) they echo a shared ancestor from the 100’s. Second, Hort proposed that the Byzantine Text (the type of text that is generally reflected in the KJV and NKJV) was developed as an editorial project sometime in the late 200’s or very early 300’s by someone (perhaps Lucian of Antioch) who selected readings from a collection of manuscripts he had on hand (some of which contained the Alexandrian Text and some of which contained the Western Text), occasionally combining (“conflating”) readings, or creating a new one via conjecture or mistake. The text thus produced as a result of “Syrian revision” rapidly became very popular, and spread from Antioch to Constantinople, and was the dominant Greek NT text from the 400’s onward.

So it is the /Byzantine/ Text which, according to Hort, is the eclectic text, its readings having been drawn sometimes from an Alexandrian, and sometimes from a Western, exemplar. Meanwhile, Hort’s own text is eclectic in theory – that is, while Hort never made the mistake of saying that he would not adopt a Western or Byzantine reading if he thought it was original, Hort’s text is almost entirely Alexandrian.

So it is rather misleading to say that Hort’s Greek text “does not follow any one Greek manuscript.” Outside Luke 24, Hort’s text of the Gospels follows Vaticanus and Sinaiticus almost constantly. Hort stated forthrightly, "No reading of Aleph-B can be safely rejected absolutely" (see Hort's Intro., part 303, for the context and qualifications), and he wrote about the "special excellence" of Vaticanus.

In addition, it is not ridiculous to suspect that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus might have been among the 50 Bibles that Eusebius made for Constantine. I don’t think that is the case, but some very respectable scholars have harbored the same suspicion. T. C. Skeat wrote an impressive article in which he advocated that theory in 1999. What you extrapolated – that the text of B and Aleph was tinted with Arian theology as a result of being copied by Arian copyists at Caesarea – does not follow automatically from such a theory. But there is a very strong case that Sinaiticus was made at Caesarea in the 300’s, more probably under the supervision of Acacius or Euzoius than under Eusebius. And Vaticanus and Sinaiticus had to be together at some point in order to obtain the marginalia in Acts that they both display.

Also, while I don’t think that the Comma Johanneum is original, it is not quite correct to say that it “never came up in the Trinitarian controversies of the 300s and 400s.” Eugenius of Carthage used it in a Confession of Faith preserved by Victor of Vitensis for the Council of Carthage in 484 (when Arian Vandals were persecuting non-Arians).

It is somewhat misleading to say that the CJ “appears in only about 8 of the 5500+ Greek manuscripts of the NT that exist.” Why? Because *First John* appears in only about 660 of the extant 5500+ Greek MSS. Use the ratio of 8 out of 660; otherwise it will appear as if you expect the CJ to appear in MSS that do not contain First John.

(Continued in Part 2.)

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

(Clarifications - Part 2)

Also, the discoveries of MSS such as P75 and P46 and P66 do not preclude the idea that the Alexandrian Text has been messed with. Proof that the Alexandrian Text did not emerge as the product of editing in the late 200’s is not the same as proof that it did not emerge (or, that some of its most notable readings did not originate) as the product of editing in the 100’s. Advocates of the Alexandrian Text routinely regard as editorial adjustments many Western readings that are attested in the 100’s.

So the idea that many Alexandrian readings are editorial adjustments is not rendered absurd by the discovery of late-second or early-third papyri. For example, Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" are supported by evidence that is ancient, widespread, and enormous, but the phrase is omitted, probably due to an early copyist’s anti-Jewish bias, not only in Vaticanus, but also in P75.

Now about your claim that “In terms of the Greek text, the NIV is about 800 years older than the KJV.” Granting that the KJV’s base-text contains some readings which are supported by only a smattering of late Greek MSS, the Gospels-text in the Textus Receptus is a pretty good representative of the Byzantine Text, and for the most part, when you look for support for any reading in the Byzantine Text, you will find support for it in evidence from the 400’s or earlier. And sometimes the evidence for the reading in the Byzantine Text is earlier than the evidence for the reading in the Alexandrian Text.

So, as far as the text of the Gospels is concerned, a better way of putting it might be to say that in those passages that are preserved in papyrus MSS from the 100’s and 200’s, the external evidence for readings in the base-text of the NIV tends to be about 200 (not 800!) years older than the external evidence for rival readings in the base-text of the KJV.

But this should be considered through the lens of a couple of additional considerations: first, except for P45 (which is very damaged – and which sometimes agrees with readings in the Byzantine Text, disagreeing with the Alexandrian Text) we don’t have substantial papyrus copies of Matthew or Mark from the 100’s or 200’s. Second, the survival of papyrus MSS in Egypt is a side-effect of the Egyptian climate; it is interesting that Egypt has relatively lower humidity than other parts of the world where manuscripts were being made in the 100’s and 200’s, but a reading does not become better (or worse) than its rivals merely because it was used in a climate where the humidity was low (and where, as a result, papyrus survived longer).

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Ken Schenck said...

James, thank you so much for the counterargument! You are a wonderful example of how intelligent and informed the opposing position is.