Saturday, April 18, 2020

WM 163: Follow Up: Gurry, Parker, Text, & Postmodernism

Image: Dedication page: Jennifer Knust & Tommy Wasserman, To Cast the First Stone (Princeton, 2019).

I have posted WM 163: Follow Up: Gurry, Parker, Text, & Postmodernism. Listen here. Notes for WM 163:

In this episode I want to follow up to the interaction I had with Dr. Peter Gurry (PG) and James Snapp (JS) back on January 29, 2020 (in the pre-covid days!) on Josh Gibbs’s Talking Christianity podcast. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a moderated conversation between our three positions turned out to be something of a disorderly disaster. See my follow up blog post here. Still, I think some have profited from it, and I continue to hear from folk every now and then whose interest in the confessional text was piqued by the conversation.

There were a number of things that made the interaction difficult, from my perspective. For one thing, my co-participants wanted to make the conversation about reconstructing the external evidence, and did not seem to grasp or respond to my argument that such a method is futile given the paucity of evidence and its scattered and fragmented condition. For another thing, with regard to PG, in particular, I was frustrated with the unwillingness to acknowledge or respond to what I consider to be some basic factual realities with regard to contemporary text criticism in the modern academy.

First, PG dismissed as altogether insignificant the postmodern shift that has taken place in contemporary text criticism and the abandonment of any certainty with respect to the reconstruction of the autograph.

Second, oddly enough, he denied the influence of D. C. Parker as a “gatekeeper,” an influential thinker, who has greatly shaped the approach to modern text criticism in the academy.

So, in this WM I want to do four things:

First, I want to play a clip from the Josh Gibbs’s podcast in which I interacted with PG.

Second, I want to talk a little about DC Parker and his views: Why is he significant?

Third, I want to read a book review I wrote of DC Parker’s Textual Scholarship and the Making of the NT (Oxford, 2012), so that you can judge for yourself the influence of Parker.

Fourth, I want to offer some brief concluding thoughts.

First: the clip from the discussion with PG. You can find it here (from c. 35-48 minute mark).

Second: Is DC Parker a gatekeeper?

Let’s begin with Dr. Parker’s webpage at the University of Birmingham, where he is Professor of Digital Philology in the Department of Theology and Religion.

His introductory blurb:

My main current work is editions of the Gospel of John funded by the AHRC. One is a critical edition of the Greek text in the series Novum Testamentum Graece. Editio critica maior, in partnership with the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung, Münster, Germany. Another is an edition of the Gospel of John in Latin in the Vetus Latina series.

His biography:

I read Theology at St. Andrews, specialising in New Testament and Church History. From there I went to Cambridge, where I completed a postgraduate degree and trained for the Anglican priesthood. After eight years in parochial ministry in North London and Oxfordshire, I moved to Birmingham in 1985, teaching at Queen’s College until 1993, when I joined the department. I have a doctorate from the University of Leiden, The Netherlands.
I have been Executive Editor of the International Greek New Testament Project since 1987. I am editor of the series Texts and Studies. Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature (published by Gorgias Press) and Arbeiten zur neutestamentliche Textforschung (published by De Gruyter).
In 2012 I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. From the 2017-18 academic year, I have taken stepped retirement and will not be accepting any more postgraduate students.
His Research:

My main current work is editions of the Gospel of John funded by the AHRC. One is a critical edition of the Greek text in the series Novum Testamentum Graece. Editio critica maior, in partnership with the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung, Münster, Germany. Another is an edition of the Gospel of John in Latin in the Vetus Latina series. I also contributed to the COMPAUL Project directed by Dr Hugh Houghton. I am co-editor of the monograph series Arbeiten zur neutestamentliche Textforschung and am on the editorial board of the journal Filologia Neotestamentaria.
Other research contributions in recent years include online editions of two early Christian manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus  and Codex Bezae, and the Society of Antiquaries of London’s three copies of Magna Carta. My most recent book (Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament. The Lyell Lectures 2011, Oxford: Oxford University Press, paperback edition 2014) describes many aspects of my current thinking and ITSEE projects. 
His publications: Here are some key works:

Codex Bezae. An Early Christian Manuscript and Its Text, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

The Living Text of the Gospels, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts, Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament, Oxford University Press, October 2012.

Codex Sinaiticus. The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible, British Library and Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 2010. German translation, German Bible Society, 2012.

Of these works, Parker’s Living Text of the Gospels is considered by many to have been groundbreaking. In the opening chapter on “The theory” Parker states a key thesis: “There is no original text. There are just different texts from different stages of production” (4).

Third: My book review of DC Parker’s Textual Scholarship and the Making of the NT (Oxford, 2012) [from American Theological Inquiry Vol. 7 No. 1 (2014):  pp. 81-84]:


Clear assessment:

There has been a momentous postmodern shift in the contemporary academic NT text criticism.

DC Parker has exerted enormous influence in the field of contemporary NT Text Criticism.

For just one final piece of evidence of this, look at the dedication to Jennifer Knust & Tommy Wasserman, To Cast the First Stone: The Transmission of A Gospel Story (Princeton, 2019) which reads: “For D. C. Parker on the occasion of his retirement.”

The concluding paragraph of the Acknowledgements: “Finally, in recognition of his long service to our discipline and his profound influence upon us, we have chosen to dedicate this book to David C. Parker. His living texts, vibrant scholarship, overwhelming openness, and noble example, give us much to admire. We wish him the best for his retirement and would like to express our sincerest thanks for everything he has taught us. Thank you David!” (xviii).

So, why was PG so intent in our conversation to deny the shift that has taken place in contemporary text criticism? Why deny the influence of DC Parker as a gatekeeper in (post) modern text criticism? I do not know.

I think it would be burying one’s head in the sand to deny that a postmodern shift has taken place in contemporary text criticism, and that this shift is a challenge to the authority of Scripture as the basis for faith and practice in traditional Christianity.



Tommy Wasserman said...

I encourage you to read Michael Holmes recent article in Early Christianity and think about what he says in section 4.1 - something that I have emphasized in my own scholarship. I do not consider myself ”postmodern” but indeed I am interested both in the initial text and the whole history of the text.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Thanks for the comment Tommy. I will look for this. I realize the term "postmodernism" may already be a little dated in 2020 and I am sure there is already another term being used in the Humanities to describe the nuances of the current age, but I am also thinking it includes some of the same things encompassed in the old term. If you have time (and until I get a chance to read this), would you be able to summarize what you think is important that Holmes says in this section of the article? Is it simply, as you state, that he is interested in both the initial text and "the whole history of the text"? Again thanks for the feedback.

Peter Gurry said...

If I somehow gave the impression that Parker’s work is unimportant, that was not my intent at all. My claim is quite simply that to present David Parker’s view of the living text as the only one (or even the dominant one) is false. His view alone does not represent the status quo in textual criticism. And let’s not forget that his work encompasses far more than just his view of the living text.

Perhaps we should ask why you *want* Parker’s view of the living text to be indicative of present day TC.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Thanks for the comment PG. I included the clip of c. 13 minutes length from our podcast conversation in this WM, so that our exchanges could be set in context (and thus not improperly taken out of context). Yes, you did not say that DCP was "unimportant," but what you seemed to take exception to was my description of him as an influential "gatekeeper" in contemporary academic text criticism. I do not think that I claimed DCP's view *alone* represented the status quo in TC, but I said that his view was important and that it was representative of what I perceive to be a key shift from the modern goal of text criticism (finding the original autograph) to a new goal in 21st century text criticism that has abandoned the notion that the original text can or should be reconstructed, and instead focuses on the history of the text's transmission. As I point out in this WM I see an inconsistency in your reply to my question about this shift in TC (as represented by DCP). On one hand, you say this is only a "minor shift" and reject DCP's "living text" view, but, on the other hand, your analysis seems to me to be influenced by it (e.g. in your suggestion that for some the Freer Logion was "self-authenticating"). My point was to suggest that the old goal of text criticism is no longer being pursued and that a more inclusive and relativistic approach has been embraced. You seem to be saying that I have completely misunderstood and misread this "shift" in contemporary academic text criticism and have only read into it what I *want* to find. I can only respond that I did not read DCP *wanting* to find anything but to understand what he was saying about significant changes in this field from one who is a recognized expert in it. This WM includes a reading of my book review (that is also in print) of DCP's 2012 book on the state of the art of text criticism. Can you give me some examples from my review where you believe I misinterpreted DCP's viewpoint or read into it only what I *wanted* to hear?

Peter Gurry said...

I don’t think I claimed you misrepresented DCP himself. I’m saying you are wrong about his level of influence. There are many today who pursue the old goal of TC and I emailed you a list some time ago with examples. The current director of INTF is in print defending the original text as a legitimate and desirable goal. So, it is misleading to “suggest that the old goal of text criticism is no longer being pursued.” It is.

As for W being self-authenticating, you missed my point. It was an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum. I guess that wasn’t clear. Probably not worth revisiting though.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Follow ups:

First: Am I wrong about DCP's "level of influence"?

DCP has been executive editor of the IGNT project since 1987.

He has written and published extensively in the field of NT studies.

He serves as editor for two influential academic monograph series on text criticism.

He is editor of the Novum Testamentum Graece/ECM edition of John in partnership with the IFNT.

A moderator/contributor to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog and the co-author of your book on the CBGM had dedicated his recent book on the PA to DCP noting DCP's "profound influence" upon him.

Isn't it a bit silly to continue to insist that I have overstated the influence not only of DCP but, more importantly, his ideas in the field of contemporary text criticism?

Second: Is it misleading to say that the "old goal of text criticism is no longer being pursued"?

I do not think it is misleading at all. Clearly the idea of confidently reconstructing the autograph (a la Westcott and Hort, Warfield, Metzger, etc.) is now passe in the academy. That some might still speak of the initial text having some *possibility* of *approximating* the authorial text seems a far cry from the *certainties* claimed by the old reconstructionist method for reconstructing the original (see the title of Wescott and Hort's 1881 Greek NT).

Third, did I miss your point on the Freer Logion of W and self-authentication?

Well, I am only a simple minded pastor and not a professional scholar (smiles), but I think I did get your drift. I was just pointing out what I perceive to be the theological problems with your argument. You were suggesting that if we claim that only the authentic text of Scripture (the confessional text) is autopistos, then what do we say about those in Christian history who would claim that variant readings like the Freer Logion or the shorter ending of Mark are autopistos? As I noted in the podcast discussion, we would say that such persons were wrong. In the providence of God such variant readings were excluded not only from the Majority Text of handwritten Greek mss. of Mark (pre-printing press), but they were also rightly not included in printed editions of the Greek NT or in vernacular translations made from the Greek NT until very recent days (the late 20th century). Your point seems to be that no claim to autopistos can be valid, because it would be based on subjectivity (thus creating a reductio ad absurdam if anyone can claim his variant is autopistos). Please enlighten me if I am misunderstanding you. Oddly enough, this seems to be to be exactly the kind of argument that was made by Roman Catholics and "free thinkers" against the Protestant construal of sola scriptura and its claims that Scripture is theopneustos and autopistos. See John Owen's works on Bibliology for a defense of the Protestant position. Roman Catholics said we cannot rely on autopistos, so mother church (the magisterium) must guide us. Free thinkers said we cannot rely on autopistos because the NT is not inspired and should be treated like any other work of antiquity. You seem to be agreeing with them that autopistos cannot be used as a standard, because it relies on subjectivity. My point is that such a view is, in the end, a threat to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.

Sorry you think that this issue is not worth revisiting. I actually think it is vitally important. You made some similar comments at the close of the podcast in January. Why bother with these TR guys since they never seem to be sophisticated enough to get my arguments but only hear what they *want* to hear? I am sorry if I have left that impression. I really am open to hearing what you have to say, even if I may not agree with you. I will try to go back and read the things you previously sent (if I can find them) and will also try to read Michael's Holmes on this, seems he seems to be person you (and TW) believe has addressed it to your satisfaction.


Peter Gurry said...

Again, I never said Parker’s work is unimportant or that he has not don’t lots of important work in the field. Of course he has. I said *his view of the living text* is no representative of the whole guild. Why this distinction is hard to grasp, I don’t know. I repeat: many in the guild continue to think the original text is a legitimate goal for the discipline.

Peter Gurry said...

And thanks for the clarification about autopistos. That’s helpful. I wonder whether Calvin ever uses his theology of Scripture’s self-authentication to decide between variants.

(You may notice that I applied my reductio to a variant in Mark’s Gospel not to Mark’s Gospel itself—perhaps a distinction b/w text and canon that you don’t accept, but there we are.)

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

PG, thanks for chiming in again.

Follow up:

On DCP, "the living text", and the "guild": IMHO, the question is not whether or not DCP has done important work in the area of text criticism. We both agree he has (and I don't think I ever claimed you denied that). The question is whether or not there has been a "major shift" (my words) or only a "minor shift" (your words) in the field of contemporary text criticism with respect to the goal of reconstructing the original text (autograph) AND whether DCP (and his ideas) have been influential.

This idea of a shift in the goal of text criticism away from reconstructing the original text seems to be acknowledged going back to EJ Epp's 1999 article "The Multivalence of the Term 'Original Text' in NT Textual Criticism", where he lists five key thinkers influential in bringing about this shift: H. Koester, B. Ehrman, W. Petersen, himself (Epp), and DCP.

You and I previously discussed by email R F Hull's assessment that "there has been a major shift of emphasis away from the goal of recovering the original text of the NT" in his 2010 SBL book, "The Story of the NT Text." So there is the "major shift" language.

Hill and Kruger also discuss this in the introduction to their 2012 "Early Text of the NT", noting that their concern in that work was "not so much a recovery of the original text" even while suggesting there is little reason "to relinquish the traditional goal of text criticism" (4). I certainly understand there there are evangelical scholars who want to hold on to at least some semblance of the old goal. But, in the end, the title of Hill and Kruger's book is not "The Original Text of the NT" but only "The Early Text of the NT."

Maybe you will continue to think that I do not grasp this distinction or understand that there are evangelicals who are uncomfortable with this shift, but I think I get it. It just seems to me that the evangelicals doing text criticism seem to sound pretty much like everyone else.

Peter Gurry said...

I repeat: many in the guild continue to think the original text is a legitimate goal for the discipline.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Here are a few quotes readers might enjoy reviewing in making their own judgments:

Wescott and Hort, Introduction to the NT in the Original Greek (1882): “This edition is an attempt to present exactly the words of the NT, so far as they can now be determined from surviving documents.”

Bart Ehrman, “The Text as Window” (1995): “The ultimate goal of textual criticism, in the judgement of most of its practitioners, is to reconstruct the original text of the NT….No historian would deny the desirability of this objective… At the same time, many textual critics have come to recognize that an exclusive concentration on the autographs can prove to be myopic… Much more, however, is left to be done … as we move beyond a narrow concern for the autographs to an interest in the history of their transmission, a history that can serve as a window into the social world of early Christianity.”

DC Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels (1997): “There is no original text. There are just different texts from different stages of production”

DC Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels (1997): “…the concept of a Gospel that is fixed in shape, authoritative, and final as a piece of literature has to be abandoned.”

EJ Epp, “The Multivalence of the Term ‘Original Text’ in NT Textual Criticism” (1999): “Now, however, reality and maturity require that textual criticism face unsettling facts, chief among them that the term ‘original’ has exploded into a complex and highly unmanageable multivalent entity.”

Michael W. Holmes, “Introduction,” The Greek NT SBL Edition (2010): “The standard text is viewed by some of those who use it as a ‘final’ text to be passively accepted rather than a ‘working’ text subject to verification and improvement…. In circumstances such as these, the existence of an alternatively critically edited text … will help remind readers of Greek NT that the text-critical task is not finished… it may also serve to draw attention to a fuller understanding of the goal of NT textual criticism: both identifying the earliest text and also studying all the variant readings for the light they shed on how particular individuals and faith communities adopted, used, and sometimes altered the texts they read, studied, and transmitted.”

DC Parker Textual Scholarship (2012): “…“the modern concept of a single authoritative ‘original’ text … a hopeless anachronism.”

Dirk Jongkind, Ed., “Introduction,” Tyndale House Greek NT (2017): “This edition aims to present in an easily readable format the best approximation to the words written by the NT authors, within the constraints of the documentary evidence that survives.”

Jennifer Knust & Tommy Wasserman, To Cast the First Stone (2019): “Our interpretation therefore begins not with the search for an original or initial text but with the available textual objects, each of which tells its own story, and with the readings of these distinctive objects by the communities that produced and interpreted them.”

Tommy Wasserman said...

You cited me (and Jennifer Knust) again in your last comment, so perhaps I should emphasize again that it is not an either-or for me. I think that polarization is so unfortunate.

1) I do not believe the pericope adulterae belongs in the initial text of the Gospel of John, it entered in the early third century.

2) Our focus in this book was not on the initial text ... we did not find the pericope there. The focus was on the available textual objects, etc.

3) I am very interested in the reconstruction of the initial text and wrote another book with Peter Gurry whom you debate here. I think the easiest hypothesis is the assumption that the initial text is the authorial text.

4) I think the position that the Textus Receptus is God's word exclusively is completely untenable from both a logical–scientific and a theological viewpoint. I have no desire to debate with proponents of the Textus Receptus (I have done my share of that, and urge those who want more knowledge to first study the manuscripts and read an introduction to New Testament textual criticism).

Tommy Wasserman said...

I now made a blogpost to clarify what I am trying to say,