Tuesday, April 28, 2020

WM 164: Has there been a "major shift" in the goal(s) of text criticism?

Note: I have posted WM 164: Has there been a "major shift" in the goal(s) of text criticism? to sermonaudio.com. Listen here.

Here are some notes for this episode:

I was pleased to have Pastor Dane Jรถhannsson as a special guest on this episode.

This episode is a follow up to the discussion in WM 163:Follow Up: Gurry, Parker, Text & Postmodernism.

It examines the question as to whether or not there has been a “major shift” in the goals of modern academic text criticism in the twenty first century.

It has three parts:

First, it offers a survey of some of the conversation with PG that continued in the comments section on my blog on the WM 163 post:

PG doubled down on his contention that the goal of NT criticism has not undergone a significant postmodern change and that many are still pursuing the “old goal.” He wrote: I repeat: many in the guild continue to think the original text is a legitimate goal for the discipline.

In response I provided a list of quotations in chronological order for readers to consider for themselves:

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.”

Second, we discussed two other reactions to WM 163: a private email rebuke and TW’s response:

First, we discussed a couple of private emails I got from someone “in the guild”
rebuking me as an “outsider” and challenging someone who is “on the inside.”

Second, we noted Tommy Wasserman’s recent response to WM 163 in a post on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

I plan to do a separate WM soon that will be devoted entirely to responding to TW.

Third, I shared a brief clip from a recent podcast in which Maurice Robinson, noted Byzantine Priority Advocate and Research Professor at SEBTS, addresses the current state of academic NT text criticism:

His comments were taken from episode 3 of a podcast called Hoi Polloi hosted by Pastor Abidan Paul Sha (22:27-28:01).

At one point Robinson quips, “there are a lot of strange things happening in NT textual criticism.”

Dr. Robinson’s comments seem to affirm my contention that there has, in fact, been a major postmodern shift in the goal(s) of contemporary academic text criticism.


PG seems to be saying, “But there are some of us (evangelicals) in 'the guild' and even some 'gatekeepers' of the scholarly academic text who are seeking the 'original' text." But that’s not the language they use. They want the “initial text.” They do not mean by “initial text” what Wescott and Hort meant by “original text.” The most, for example, that Jongkind can say of the THGNT is that it is “the best approximation to the words written by the NT authors, within the constraints of the documentary evidence that survives.” Our concern is that this type of approach ultimately undermines any confidence in the ability to define with confidence (and accuracy) what the Word of God is.



Matthew M. Rose said...

Just a thought...perhaps this is a blessing in disguise Dr. Riddle. I, for one, am certainly not upset that many modern Text Critics (most of which hold questionable views concerning Christianity and the Bible) are no longer seeking for what they consider to be the original Text. Let 'em tinker around in/with other aspects of the field, and meanwhile that will keep their hands off of the Text--and in some ways stem the tide. This silver lining can be looked upon as a sort of Providential damage control.

Cory said...

While I would agree that there appears to be a shift from the evidence you provided, PG seems (to me) to be arguing that there are concurrent goals. Given that he professes Christ, shouldn't we take him at his word? Is it not possible that a shift has happened (for some scholars) and yet the goal has not changed (for other scholars)?

Lee van Cliff said...

Dr. Riddle, FYI

Dr. Wasserman deleted a couple of interesting comments from his recent post on the ETC blog.

In a somewhat dicey response to a comment left by Dr. Maurice Robinson, Dr. Wasserman replied that, "Indeed, some scholars..." [spend alot of time researching into passages that have essentially no claim to being original] or something close to it. He then finished his comment with a smiley face :-) implying that the pericope de adultera was meant (in the current context).

He was responded to (via mimicry) with this:

"Indeed, some scholars even team up with heretics and/or false teachers to tackle the task :-)."


Once again, the current context makes it clear that Jennifer Knust is being implied. It's imperative that the Church takes notice of such behavior. It's one thing for a professing Christian and leading NT scholar to yoke himself with a false Teacher and heretic, but it's another thing altogether to think that he can hide from the rebuke of the body of Christ. Maybe if we all become liberal heretics we can be part of the "guild" too? :-)

Anonymous said...

It was actually a winking smiley face ;-)

Readers of the ETC blog should probably start taking screen shots of the comment section when Dr. Wasserman is engaging. He has a tendency to silence his critics.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Corey, thanks for the comment. I did not mean to question whether or not PG is a brother in Christ. I think he is. What puzzles me is why he seems to be so resistant, IMHO, to acknowledging this "major shift." It's not a matter of me "taking him at his word." It's a matter of analysis of the current state of academic text criticism, based on what people have publicly said and written. If I am wrong, then show me where I have erred by pointing me in the direction of what/whom I should read (as TW did,for example, in suggesting the 2020 Holmes article). I will read/listen to what is suggested and try to keep an open mind. In the initial podcast discussion with PG, for example, I offered what seemed to me to be a rather obvious example of how shifts in modern text criticism are trickling down to modern translations (even "evangelical" ones), pointing to the ending of Mark in the NLT. PG did not seem to be willing even to acknowledged this as a possibility. In his own words, he said that the shift in the goal(s) of contemporary text criticism is only "minor" and that there are those in the "guild" who still hold to the old goal of reconstructing the "original." As Robinson points out in the clip I shared in this podcast, however, there is clear difference between the old goal of reconstructing the "original" and the current effort to (1) reconstruct the "initial text" and (2) provide analysis of a wide range of textual variants to offer a "window" into early "Christianities."

Tommy Wasserman said...

Dear Lee van Cliff, I would like to ask you an honest question concerning the "interesting comments" in particular the one you describe as "... touche":

"Indeed, some scholars even team up with heretics and/or false teachers to tackle the task :-)."

Was it not yourself that made that comment on the ETC blog?

I do not mind if you call a person "a heretic" elsewhere, but it cannot be allowed on my blog. This is what is known as an ad hominem comment, and therefore I removed it. But, please, go ahead and reply to my question.

Lee van Cliff said...

It's hard to tell. Sometimes I have the tendency to write in the 3rd person (once removed) and then black out.

Tommy Wasserman, I still remember the first time I heard of you. It was about a decade ago on the textual criticism list that Wie set up. Mark 1:1, you even posted a short video presentation of yourself explaining why you believed it was a case of homoeoteleuton. I was impressed and so very glad to see that sharp, up and coming Text Critics were settling into the field I've dedicated my life to. It was a new day for NTTC, the work of Royse was making a tremendous impact and you were an example that there could be a change for the better within the Academy (in my eyes at least). But now, it appears that you have simply conformed to the post-modern academic standard.

With all due respect, citing ad hominem as some sort of "get out of jail free" card will not due in this instance. This is not a matter of science--it's a matter of doctrine!

Do you, or better yet, can you categorically deny that Professor Knust is a false Teacher and heretic according to the Scriptures?

I don't suppose that you can. Have you ever considered the ramifications of this?

Phil Brown said...

I suppose what I find strange is the lack of Universal Ideas and lack of clarity concerning the science of Textual Criticism. You shared a clip from Maurice Robinson who holds to the Byzantine Priority Theory. His view hasn't received much acclaim among scholars, and of course the Traditional Text position has totally fallen out of favor in this new generation. The dominant school of thought is the one that is being showcased here as a newer and improved perspective on Reasoned Eclecticism, which I agree with you will eventually overtake the majority. Many don't realize that the Traditional Text Position is also a Reasoned Eclectic position, it just weighs the texts differently. Just like all of the speculative sciences, Textual Criticism is like a hydra with many heads. The discipline has a whole host of theories and hypotheses based on facts discovered. What I usually find strange is the lack of clarity in this discipline when referring to a hypothesis, theory, or collection of facts. With the exception of the Agricultural and Mechanical Sciences, those involved in Theoretical Sciences don't usually label their terms and phrases well. I often see hypotheses labeled as theory, theory as truth, and a whole host of confusing statements made. There are also a lot of facts that get ignored or pushed to the margins when it doesn't line up with the predominant view. It's fine if a man has a theory, but he should label it as such. Text Critics like D.C. Parker are actually being more honest than most. They are just observing the fact that in their materialistic worldview, they aren't able to determine the original. I think that is a fair statement since manuscripts don't come with labels or signatures. There isn't a scholar alive who is totally objective, in fact, there isn't a man alive who is totally objective. However, Parker's conclusions are more objective than most. The problem with total objectivity is that you end up where you started, and all you have is a pile of facts that you speculatively think you might know what they are or where they came from. Like Evolutionary Sciences, if you want to call it that, there is little truth brought forth and mostly speculation, and theory. It's just that Evangelical scholars can't tell the masses that they are speculating and don't really know. It's like playing both sides but maybe not intentionally. On one hand they are subservient to a materialistic and un-supernatural method to discover the truth of the facts they possess, and on the other, they have to come up with something to let those who have a supernatural worldview that they are committed to finding the truth of the original text. The problem is that it is like cutting off one of your legs before running a race (having two legs of course, one being the supernatural leg and the other the materialistic one). You may hop down the track with all of your might, but in the end you will lose the race. Believing scholars shouldn't check their faith at the door when doing scholarship. Now I agree that they won't get much respect from the wider community, but that is a decision they will have to make I suppose.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Phil, thanks for your interesting observations. I would say that the traditional text is eclectic but not based on "reasoned eclecticism." I think I've referred to it at some point as "providential eclecticism." I also agree that those like DCP or Ehrman are more honest and accurate since they conclude that the "original" cannot be reconstructed using an empirical method based on current extant evidence. This is why I prefer to confessional text view, which is not based on reasoned (rational) reconstruction but on providential preservation.


Phil Brown said...

Thanks brother. You are correct, and I probably should have clarified what I meant by the TR being eclectic. There is no doubt that the way they were put together is very different.