Friday, January 31, 2020

Follow Up: Talking Text on Talking Christianity Podcast

I was on Josh Gibbs’s "Talking Christianity" podcast Wednesday evening/Thursday morning, along with James Snapp, Jr. (JS) and Peter Gurry (PG) to discuss the topic, “How should Christians approach textual criticism, or how should they deal with textual variation in our manuscripts?” I forgot that Josh was on central time, so a scheduled two hour 9-11 pm podcast became a 10 pm-12 midnight podcast, and then the feed broke in the middle, had to get reconnected, and then stretched into an over three hour conversation, that did not end till after 1 am!  You can watch part one here and part two here. Just now getting around to jotting down a few notes/reflections on the exchange:

My view in the discussion: Surprise, surprise, the Confessional Text. The other two represented, respectively, reasoned eclecticism (PG) and “equitable” eclecticism (JS; his own unique view, leading to a variety of the Majority Text).

After opening introductions, we were supposed to pose four questions to each other in turn, but we only made it through one round of questions (I to PG, PG to JS, and JS to me). From there the conversation sort of went off the rails. There was a lot of talking over and interruptions (of which I’ll claim my fair share).

Anyhow, I think my fellow guests (and probably some listeners) got pretty frustrated with me, since the conversations often went like it sometimes goes for confessionalists when they speak with reconstructionists:

Reconstructionist: So, what empirical evidence would you use to reconstruct the text of this passage?

Confessionalist: I would just accept the TR reading. My approach assumes “preservation” not “reconstruction.”

Reconstructionist: You mean you just accept the TR?

Confessionalist: Yes.

Reconstructionist: Which TR?

Confessionalist: I would look to the family of the printed editions of the Reformation era, which are generally uniform.

Reconstructionist: Would you even accept the CJ?

Confessionalist: Yes.

Reconstructionist: (While clutching pearls) How could you? No reasonable person could ever hold such a ridiculous view!

Reconstructionist: So, what empirical evidence would you use to reconstruct the text of this other passage?

Confessionalist: I would just accept the TR reading….

PG had some particularly interesting comments, including:

Suggesting that twenty-first New Testament criticism has not really abandoned the nineteenth century and twentieth century goal of restoring the original text, even suggesting most contemporary text critics assume the “initial text” is the “authorial text”(?).

Suggesting that David C. Parker, advocate of the “living text” view and editor of the Gospel of John in the ECM, in partnership with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, which will be incorporated into the Novum Testamentum Graece, has not really exerted that much influence on the academic text (?).

Suggesting that the ending of Mark in the NLT (2015), with its inclusion of the non-canonical “shorter ending” (in the text) and the “Freer Logion” (in the footnotes) is not really an example of the “trickle down” influence of current trends in postmodern text criticism (?).

Suggesting that there really wasn’t much that was providentially significant about the Reformation era with respect the text of Scripture, and that the nineteenth century, with the discovery of the uncials, was of greater significance than the Reformation for text criticism (?).

Wholeheartedly defending the omission of the Pericope Adulterae (PA: John 7:53-8:11) from the text of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT), rejecting it as part of Scripture, and suggesting that it would be the addition of this passage to the text that would, in fact, be a violation of Revelation 22:18-19 (?). On reflection this phrase came to mind: “Today’s evangelical is yesterday’s liberal.”

Suggesting, on one hand, that the role of text criticism in the church isn’t the sort of big deal that confessionalists like me make it out to be; while, on the other hand, suggesting that he and other elite scholars were doing the same sort of vital work in text criticism for the church that Origen and Jerome did, and that they use the exact same methods that Origen and Jerome did, and not a method reflecting Enlightenment era influenced historical-critical methodology (?).

Piously suggesting in his closing statement that rather than wanting the Bible of Owen and the Protestant orthodox (as I had stated was my desire in my closing remarks), he wanted the text of the apostles (?). The problems with this assertion: (1) As I had previously stated, the Reformed orthodox (like Owen) believed that when they read the apographs (as presented in faithful printed editions) they were reading the autographs (the text of the apostles); (2) Despite PG's protestations to the contrary, contemporary reasoned eclecticism does not seek to recover the autograph of the apostles but only some approximation of the so-called initial text.

JS spoke less (hard to get a word in edge wise at times), but he also had some points of note. This included a unique definition of “kept pure in all ages”, not according to its use in WCF 1:8, as meaning that any valid reading must appear in a currently extant Greek manuscripts culled from all ages of Christian history. In his closing statement, he took aim at any position based on “tradition.” I noted in my introduction that I was the only confessionally Reformed person in the discussion, with PG an evangelical and JS from a Campbellite “Christian Church” restorationist tradition with a decidedly anti-creedal bent. Given this, JS’s interest in “restoration” text criticism and his rejection of “authority in appeal to a tradition” fits perfectly with his ecclesiastical orientation.

I did not get to pose any of my prepared questions to JS. Here is what I would have asked if opportunity had allowed:

First: If the proper text of the NT should be some reconstructed form of the Majority Text, why didn’t the Protestant Reformers reach this conclusion, and why has this text not yet been conclusively defined in any widely used printed edition? And why have no widely used translations of it been made in any language? Does this mean that Christians are still waiting, after c. 2,000 years, to have a Bible?

Second: If you were preaching through Acts 8, how would you handle v. 37? Do you reject this passage as part of the Word of God?

I can’t say it was a great conversation. It was what it was. Despite this, hope it can be useful to some.



Ross said...

I don't know if JS would answer the same way, but to your number one question, I would say that the reformers did produce a variant MT text and it is called the Textus Receptus.

Ross said...

Reconstructionist: Which TR?

Confessionalist: I would look to the family of the printed editions of the Reformation era, which are generally uniform.

What do you do when they are not uniform?

Ross said...

(2) Despite PG's protestations to the contrary, contemporary reasoned eclecticism does not seek to recover the autograph of the apostles but only some approximation of the so-called initial text.

You must allow for two subcategories here: Liberals who have abandoned the enterprise for the original versus Evangelicals who have not. I guess the Evangelicals are hoping more rope grows out of the end of their line!

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Thanks for the comments Ross.

Follow ups:

On JS and the Majority text: The TR does not follow the Majority Text in all places and it includes minority readings (like Acts 8:37 and 1 John 5:7-8) which JS would reject as spurious. In the end, the reconstructed Majority text of JS has never been widely printed, translated, or used. I might be wrong but JS seems to be the only person who holds the "equitable" eclecticism view.

On Which TR? See my WM 140 podcast: "Responding to the Which TR? Objection. Different TR advocates provide different answers to this question (from "maximal" or "absolute" certainty).

On PG and changes in the goals of postmodern text criticism: Yes, I think we could create two subcategries: liberals who have abandoned the search for the autograph altogether and evangelicals who want to try to hold on to it to some degree. But, one of the points I was making during the discussion was that it is not these evangelicals who are the "gatekeepers" of the scholarly text but the liberals (like DC Parker who will presumably apply his viewpoint in the ECM edition of John). Also, as my quote from T. Wasserman, was meant to show, it does not seem that the evangelicals are that committed to the old goal either.


James Snapp Jr said...

Jeff Riddle,

Happy to respond:

(1) By "a Bible" if you mean, "a perfect reconstruction of the original text of the books of the New Testament," then yes, Christians are still waiting for such a thing. But this is not the angst-inducing crisis that some have pretended that it is. There's a difference between having/not having the original form of the text, and having/not having the original message conveyed by the original text, and there's a difference between having no idea what the original form at a specific point is, and suspending judgment between two contending readings which both mean something that interlocks with the rest of the New Testament's message.

(2) I consider Acts 8:37 canonical, and preach it as Scripture. A detailed file (available at the NT Textual Criticism group) describes some evidence for and against this minority-reading, presents various early patristic testimonies about it, and offers a theory for its loss (similar to the way a passage in John 9:37-38 was lost in some early manuscripts).

John Gill said...

Snapp’s view on WCF 1.8 is ironically historical. Though not historical among the Reformers. It’s the position of one of their contemporaries John Goodwin. Both William Jenkyn & especially John Vicars took him to task. He was eventually labeled The Grand Hereticj of England due in part to his aberrant view of preservation. The same view Snapp has been pushing for some time in spite of the fact that it was never the position of the Reformers.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your responses and explanations. Here are some rejoinders:

On point (1): To be clear, by Bible I do not mean a “perfect reconstruction” but a perfectly preserved canonical text of Scripture (including BTW both the OT and the NT) that is inspired (theopneustos) and self-authenticating (autopistos).

You suggest that the lack of a clearly defined Bible is not an “angst-inducing crisis” but that there is a difference between having or not having “the original form of the text” and having or not having “the original message conveyed by the original text.” You then suggest that determination of the true reading can be suspended, if both readings “mean something that interlocks with the rest of the NT’s message.”

With respect, I see a number of problems with this approach. One of the most important: Who gets to determine what “the original message” of the Bible is? On what basis is this judgement made? If there is no clear understanding of what the text actually is, how can there be a clear understanding of its message? It seems to me that this approach would lead to subjective Gnosticism (“I can determine the true text for you, because I know the Bible’s *real* message.”). The locus of authority is not in the text but in the interpreter of the text.

It also seems oddly similar to the view of classical liberalism, which says the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible is not found in its actual words but in its overall concepts or “message.”

On the contrary, if we believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible, then its necessary corollary is the plenary verbal preservation of the Bible.

Your response also did not get at some of the other angles of my question: Has anyone else in the history of Christianity ever accepted your reconstructed text as authoritative? Is James Snapp the first and only person in the history of Christianity to affirm the reconstructed text which you affirm? Have any vernacular translations of your text been made in any vulgar languages and become widely used for study, commentary-writing, liturgical practice, etc.? If there has been no providential recognition or acceptance of your text among Christians, what claim can it make to being the true text?

On point (2): Thanks for responding. I was not sure what your view was on this passage. I wrongly assumed you might reject it given the fact that it is not in the Majority tradition. It would have been an interesting point of discussion with PG, who, I assume, rejects it as spurious.


Ross said...

I listened to WM 140. The scale is certainly different. Compared to eclectic TC, I get your point as to kind. But compared to Byzantine priority, not so different but considering we are comparing manuscripts to printed editions, the TR has a stability advantage for sure. In the end though, the TR advocate still must engage in a TC enterprise when differences arise.