Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Recent Finds of NT Texts in Albania
An online article in Christianity Today reports the recent find of 47 NT manuscripts in Albania (read here). A team from Daniel Wallace's Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts went to Tirana to photograph the texts (read the Center's longer article on the find here). They were expecting to see only 13 documents but were shown 47 (only two of which had been previously recorded on microfilm)! This is a huge find in the field of textual criticism which normally discovers only a handful of such documents (and those usually mere fragments) each year. This only adds to the fact that the NT is the best attested of any ancient text.
The CT article includes an interview with Wallace in which he notes that three of these newly discovered documents did not include the so-called Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) [hereafter PA] and one had it added at the end of the Gospel. One text had the missing passage "stitched" onto the page. Wallace notes, "It's my favorite passage that's not in the Bible." In the longer article he adds this:
The vast majority of the nearly 1700 manuscripts that have John’s gospel in them also have this story wedged between John 7.52 and 8.12. Although they represent the majority, almost all of these manuscripts are late. Relatively speaking, there are very few manuscripts that do not have the passage at all, and an even smaller number that have it but place it at the end of the four gospels. The manuscripts that lack it number about 250; of this number, 111 are manuscripts without commentaries. To this number can now be added one more manuscript, Albanian National Archive (ANA) 15, an eleventh to twelfth century minuscule manuscript that contains the four gospels. At John 7.52, the scribe simply continued on to write John 8.12. A later scribe, incensed at what he thought was an oversight, took a piece of paper and carelessly stitched it into the front of the next parchment leaf (using only five stitches!) and scribbled the passage on it!
Wallace's bias for the current eclectic, modern critical Greek text, over against the traditional (Byzantine or Majority) text of Scripture is evident in his description of the PA being "wedged between John 7:52 and 8:12." Would it not be equally possible to say that the PA was "ripped out" of the true text?
Sounds like the Albanian find will do little to alter the current modern critical Greek text which has long knew of the disputed transmission of the PA.
Modern translations based on the modern eclectic text already make note of this interpretive difficulty. The ESV, for example, inserts this note in brackets after John 7:52: "The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53-8:11." A footnote then adds this further information: "Some manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11; others add the passage here or after 7:36 or after 21:25 or after Luke 21:38, with variations in the text."
Translations based on the traditional text (like the Authorized Version), however, simply include the PA, following the vast majority of NT witnesses. The NKJV also includes the text and adds this maginal note at 7:53: "NU [modern critical Greek text] brackets 7:53 through 8:11 as not in the original text They are present in over 900 mss. of John."
Points to ponder:
1. On what grounds can Wallace say that the PA is "his favorite passage that's not in the Bible"? He does so on the assumption that the minority texts that omit the PA are earlier and more authentic. He sees the traditional text as the corruption. The question is whether or not such as assumption is justified. The other possibility (and one held until only recent times) was that the minority texts which omit the PA were a corruption of the traditional text. I lean in the direction of the second assumption. The PA is in the Bible!
2. Are statements like Wallace's and notes like that in the ESV that explain textual omissions and transpositions helpful in building up the faith of God's people in the authority of God's Word as they read it? Here we might even call into question the notes in the NKJV though it defends the traditional text. In Alfred Level's little booklet The Old is Better (Gospel Standard, 1994) he offers this critique of the NKJV notes: "These footnotes are of interest to scholars, but for the humble believer, they can be trouble. Constantly to see 'NU text omits...' or 'NU text reads...' at the bottom of many pages can sow seeds of doubt, or perplexity, especially in younger minds, as to what is the true text. All these notes would have been better left out" (p. 38).
3. This discovery points to a theological and ecclesiological problem for those who have abandoned the venerable traditional text. This find seems fairly inconsequential, but what if scholars discover texts in the future in some formerly closed country that are very early in date but feature major omissions, transpositions, or even additions? What if (like the ending of Mark in some texts) they omit, for example, the ending of Matthew or Luke or John? Or, they omit the ending of Romans or transpose passages, etc. Will all the modern translations then alter their renderings to reflect the later finds? For those who have abandoned the traditional text, there is a situation of utter instability. What does this do for the sense of certainty for understanding and preaching the Word of God?