Thursday, September 27, 2018

Booklet Note: Richard P. Belcher's "Doing Textual Criticism"

Richard P. Belcher, Doing Textual Criticism in the Greek New Testament (Richbarry Press, 1989): 25 pp.

While at the 1689 conference I picked up this booklet on text criticism from the book table, and I finally read through it yesterday.

Here are a few thoughts and observations:

The booklet is meant as an introduction for students who are beginning to read the Greek NT and as a guide to understand and evaluate text critical issues. It is a very general introduction and does not go into much detail on how to read or understand the apparatus of a modern Greek NT handbook. No concrete examples or illustrations (like the ending of Mark, the PA, etc.) are offered.

The tract operates under the old, “modern” conception of text criticism defining it as “the careful study of the existing documents of a writing for the purpose of seeking to determine the text of the original manuscript of that work” (1). Thus, it assumes the reconstructionist view of text criticism of the nineteenth to mid- twentieth centuries.

It follows the old suggestion of Westcott and Hort, etc, that the Greek mss. can be divided into four text families: Byzantine, Western, Caesarean, and Alexandrian. Of these it suggests that the Byzantine is late and inferior, though conceding it may have the “true text” in some cases, while the Alexandrian is most valuable since it is “less polished,” shorter, and generally contains more difficult readings. The new, postmodern Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), however, has now challenged the notion of text families altogether, as well as the presumption of Byzantine inferiority.

It describes unintentional and intentional errors in scribal transmission, oddly noting that intentional errors were done “certainly not to introduce heresy into the text” (14). Clearly, however, the text was and remains a doctrinal battleground, especially with regard to Christology, as Ehrman has shown (though he holds it was the orthodox who supposedly corrupted the text!).

It likewise repeats the mantra of evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text that “the variants in our text do not change any major doctrine of the historic Christian faith” (15). Clearly, however, they do.

At the least, Belcher does reflect some unease with modern text criticism, conceding that the principles guiding evaluation of internal evidence “will seem contradictory and somewhat subjective at best in their application” (19), later adding that “the work is at times very subjective” (21).

The booklet has exceeded its shelf-life with regard to being an up-to-date introduction to contemporary text critical study, but it is a useful example of how modern evangelicals of this era embraced the method of Warfield, Metzger, et al.


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