THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE
This chapter has been revised slightly as of October 1998. However, no matter of substance has been changed. That means that the continuation of the debate after 1984 has not been covered. The student must go elsewhere. However, I believe that the overview is sufficient and accurate enough for the student to begin his thinking about textual transmission.
Modern Acceptance of the Alexandria Text-Type
Westcott-Hort Text and Theory
The acceptance of the Alexandrian text-type by modern textual critics began with the establishment of the theory of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort and the publishing of their text of the Greek New Testament in 1881. This publication was not the result of totally original work but leaned heavily upon the previous scholarship of such men as Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Alford.(1) The theory has been recounted in many ways and in several places so the following description of the view of Westcott and Hort is designed to be only a summary and to note the connection of their theory to the acceptance of the Alexandrian text-type.
Westcott and Hort certainly did not explicitly state that their work was an attempt to establish the Alexandrian text-type. They spoke of a "Neutral Text" composed of two manuscripts, the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. Both of these manuscripts are dated in the fourth century making them the oldest uncial manuscripts available. In addition, recognition of an Alexandrian text-type, a Western text-type, and a Syrian (Byzantine) text-type were voiced. The "Neutral Text" was thought to be the closest to the original autographs while the Syrian text-type, which was witnessed to by the majority of the extant manuscripts, was the most removed. Essentially the oldest manuscripts were deemed best. A more detailed discussion of their conclusions will be given later.
The methods behind the conclusions of Westcott and Hort involve several broad principles and even some assumptions. There is no doubt, however, that Hort(2) believed that he was looking at all the evidence and that he had devised a step-by-step approach incorporating all facets of textual criticism:
Just what were the constituent elements of Horts approach? First, the theory begins with individual readings rather than with the nature of the witnesses to the readings. Westcott and Hort called this the "internal evidence of readings."(4) Under this heading the critic starts with an attempt to discover which reading makes the best sense. This concept is termed "intrinsic probability." More important, however, is the attempt to determine the "transcriptional probability;" that is, the reading which can best account for the other readings is the desired reading. Of the importance of this element in Horts thinking there can be no doubt: "The value of the evidence obtained from Transcriptional Probability is incontestable. Without its aid textual criticism could rarely attain any high degree of security."(5)
The guide for discerning the original reading via this rule is to look for the harder readings. Such thought forms one of the cornerstones of the Greek text rendered by Westcott and Hort.
The second step for Westcott and Hort was to understand the "internal evidence of documents." A particular reading must be understood in the light of the characteristics of the entire document in which it resides. The critic can make a better textual decision if he is familiar with the patterns, if any, that result from decisions made on readings throughout the manuscript under consideration. If the readings throughout the document are consistently rejected or accepted on the basis of step one above, then the apparent nature of the document as a whole lends greater confidence to the choices made by means of internal evidence of readings.
The next, and perhaps most important, element in Horts methodology was his stated attempt to reconstruct genealogies of manuscripts. This necessarily involved the grouping of manuscripts together into families or text-types. Supposedly using this approach the four text-types (Neutral, Alexandrian, Western, Syrian) could be identified and the transmissional history of the New Testament more clearly presented.
Applying these steps to textual questions Hort arrived at some rather sweeping conclusions. First, the Syrian text was relegated to inferiority when compared to other text-types. Several specific details led to such a declaration. Hort produced a handful of example readings from the Syrian text which demonstrated a combination of readings from other text-types. Hort surmised that this "conflation" of readings indicated later origin for the Syrian text-type. He also observed that the earliest church father to use the Syrian text consistently was Chrysostom who died in the early fifth century. Internal evidence yielded a similar result since the Syrian text was apparently characterized by smoothness and clarity. Since the harder reading is to be preferred, in most cases the Syrian text-type was thought to be faulty when variance among manuscripts was found.
As a result of his rejection of the Syrian text-type, Hort was forced to explain how the Syrian text-type came into being especially since the vast majority of extant manuscripts are of this type. He posited the view that an editorial recension took place, probably centered at Antioch, around the fourth century in an effort to produce an authoritative text.(7)
A second conclusion was the acceptance of the Neutral Text (ÀB) as the most reliable text-type. If these two manuscripts were in agreement, the belief was that the reading found there was probably closest to the original, even if the other text-types testified against it:
Other specifics could be given from Horts ideas but the purpose of this thesis does not require them. The important point to see is that the Westcott-Hort theory rejected the Traditional Text (i.e., Textus Receptus) represented in the Syrian text-type. Furthermore, the acceptance of ÀB indicates a preference for what this thesis terms the Alexandrian text-type. Although Westcott and Hort separated their Neutral Text from their Alexandrian text-type, subsequent scholarship has generally recognized that the distinction is unwarranted.(9) Therefore, Westcott and Horts work can safely be seen to be a general acceptance of the Alexandrian text-type (with ÀB as its key witnesses) as the most reliable testimony to the actual New Testament text.
A brief evaluation of the Westcott-Hort theory
The Westcott-Hort theory apparently had enough good qualities to make it attractive to a large number of scholars. First of all, the theory was couched in positive terms as well as negative elements. A great deal of space is given to establish reasons for accepting the Neutral Text, not just a negative rejection of the Syrian text. Hort not only rejected the Textus Receptus but offered a text-type in its place.
A second positive thrust is that attention was given to methodology. Horts methods encompassed a rather broad spectrum of ideas. Internal evidence as well as external evidence had its place. All text-types (as Hort saw them) were discussed. In fact, one could say that the theory had more breadth than depth. Such a focus causes one to concentrate on the principles of methodology rather than the details of application. Certainly both are needed, but Horts strong suit was the former.
A third contribution of the Westcott-Hort theory comes as a result of this broadness. The view was wide enough to form a baseline for future work in textual criticism. This idea will be expanded further in the next section where the viewpoint that modern scholarship has not deviated from Westcott and Hort in either text or theory will be put forward. Whether one likes this turn of events or not, a reference point for textual studies is needed. Westcott and Hort provided one.
In spite of these positive, yet general qualities, the theory bogs down when specifics are scrutinized. First of all, the tenet that the oldest manuscripts are best falls into question on two counts. To begin with, Horts method may have been derived from his goal rather than from inductive study of the issues. After studying some of the personal correspondence of Hort as he began work on his version of the Greek New Testament, Pickering comes to the following conclusion:
Colwell joins Pickering in this biting criticism: "Westcott and Hort wrote with two things constantly in mind: the Textus Receptus and the Codex Vaticanus. But they did not hold them in mind with that passive objectivity which romanticists ascribe to the scientific mind."(11) In addition, on this issue Hort ignores the possibility that the later manuscripts may be derived from copies that go back to an earlier time, even as early as ÀB. His unfounded confidence on this point may result from the weakness discussed next.
The second complaint that can be leveled at the theory is indeed a serious one. The view at times shows a great lack of empirical analysis. Hort took only a few examples and derived generalizations of large scope from them. For example, only eight conflate readings were given to pass judgment on an entire text-type. As Colwell points out,
One gets a feeling that Horts presentation had an air of scientific methods, whereas in substance his effort shows little background work of an empirical nature.
Another assumption is evident in Horts theory, this one concerning history. To account for the existence of the later Syrian text, Hort had conjectured that an editorial recension had taken place sometime in the fourth century. Such was a useful tool for Hort but not one single item of evidence from original sources can be produced to substantiate the claim.(13) It is merely an assumption.
Finally, Westcott and Hort are to be criticized for a less than definitive way of establishing a text-type.(14) This can be demonstrated in one case clearly. The so-called Neutral Text, rather than being a clear demonstration of one text-type, has over 3000 variant readings in the Gospels when the two witnesses ÀB are compared.(15) Such a claim takes on added meaning when it is the combination ÀB which comprises the best text for Hort.(16)
Acceptance of the Alexandrian text since Westcott-Hort
Despite some extremely serious faults with the Westcott-Hort theory, modern scholarship has followed closely behind. To their credit scholars have not followed blindly but have modified Horts view to some extent. However, the purpose of this section is to show that since 1881 the amount of modification has been minimal with respect to theory and also relating to the text itself. In this sense much of modern textual scholarship will be seen as accepting, for the most part, the Alexandrian text-type as opposed to the Syrian or Byzantine text.(17)
As to theory, the scene of textual criticism since Westcott and Hort can be summed up in the one word "eclecticism." Eclecticism is one of those unfortunate words that means different things to different people.(18) However, two types of eclecticism seem prominent. First, there is the more general type which attempts to make textual judgments after weighing all the facts, both internal and external. More attention is however given to internal considerations for a given reading.(19) Fee refers to this as "reasoned" eclecticism.(20) Such an approach is not far from what Westcott and Hort were attempting to do.(21) In fact, modern eclecticism of this sort can be viewed as an outgrowth of the Westcott-Hort theory.(22)
A second type of eclecticism is termed by Gordon Fee as "rigorous" eclecticism.(23) This method is characterized by a total reliance upon internal evidence for a reading without regard for any external evidence such as date, text-type, etc. The method isolates and emphasizes the intrinsic and transcriptional probabilities that formed a part of Horts overall scheme.(24)
G. D. Kilpatrick is one of the leading proponents of this approach. His conclusions sometimes lead him to accept Byzantine or Syrian readings, unlike Horts conclusion.(25) Likewise, J. K. Elliott fits into this camp which appears to have more differences with Westcott and Hort than "reasoned" eclecticism. For example, Elliott explains this view in relation to finding a history for the text:
Nonetheless, both types of eclecticism have their roots in the theory of Westcott and Hort. In fact, many scholars are lamenting the fact that not much progress in theory has been made. Epp states that
Ian Moir complains that a rescue operation is necessary to shake the stagnation in the area of textual criticism.(28) Clark summarizes: "Since the appearance of Westcott-Hort nothing but eclectic revision has been introduced into any critical edition. Insofar as the original effort continues for the reconstruction of the original text, the method employed has been eclectic exclusively."(29) With respect to method Epp asks the following capsule question:
Thus, current textual theory has modified Horts ideas only slightly in the eyes of many scholars.(31)
Epps question above leads also into the discussion about the Greek texts that have appeared since Horts time. The vast majority of those texts are basically the same as the text of Westcott-Hort. Epp charges that "none of the currently popular hand-editions of the Greek NT takes us beyond Westcott-Hort in any substantive way."(32) Empirical analysis has been performed to support this conclusion.(33)
The propagation of the "critical" text has been brought about mainly through the several editions of the Nestle-Aland text and the text of the United Bible Societies. Elliott in his analysis of the former text notes the following:
In another article, Elliott complains that the UBS text "tends to cling closely to Westcott and Horts favourites."(35) Therefore, one can easily see that in both theory and text most scholarship has stayed close to the work of 1881.
Now what significance does this have? Much in every way. If the critical texts of today are not far removed from the text of Hort and if the Westcott-Hort theory has only been slightly adjusted, then one can conclude that modern scholarship since 1881 has (consciously or not) generally accepted the Alexandrian text-type as the most reliable testimony to the original autographs of the New Testament.
Modern Rejection of the Alexandrian Text-Type
In the days of Westcott and Hort, not all scholars readily received their views. A serious objection was raised by those who wanted to do more than adjust what Westcott and Hort had done. Led by a scholar named John William Burgon, a chorus was raised that insisted upon the total rejection of the Westcott-Hort theory. The Alexandrian witnesses (including the Neutral Text) were not accepted and the Byzantine text was retained. The level of rejection here was with text-types, not simply with various readings as the discussion below will show.
The Theory of John William Burgon
Burgon held tenaciously to what he termed the Traditional Text. Essentially this meant that he accepted the Syrian (Byzantine) text-type as being closest to the original. He did not believe that all readings of the Syrian text were to be retained. Edward Miller conclusively remarks the following:
Thus, Burgon felt that the bulk of external evidence (the Syrian text) should be followed.
Burgons major contribution was to properly question some of the assumptions and conclusions of Hort. In a chapter entitled "The Seven Notes of Truth" he sets forth the core of his complaints.(37) These can be summarized as below.
First, corruptions to the manuscripts came about, for the most part, before the oldest manuscripts. Therefore, the most ancient testimony (ÀB at that time) may not be the best testimony to the original.
Second, the number of manuscripts for any particular variant should be taken into account as part of the "weighing" of the witnesses. This view leads away from accepting the Alexandrian text since it is usually in the minority.
Third, the variety of characteristics of the many manuscripts supporting a certain reading point to its genuineness.
Fourth, the history of any existing manuscript is not fully known and the respectability of any particular manuscript is subjective.
Fifth, the absence of a continuous witness over time with regard to a particular reading should cause one to doubt its authority. This principle spreads suspicion over the Alexandrian text since it is not well attested in the later centuries of manuscript history.
Sixth, the contextual setting should be taken into account when examining a variant. Here Burgon and Westcott and Hort agree. However, they apparently disagree on much exegesis. Burgons exegesis favors the Traditional Text while theirs moves toward the Alexandrian text.
Seventh, internal evidence has some force in variant consideration but should only be subsidiary in nature compared to external evidence.
These principles are basically the same as the ones held by present-day supporters of the Majority Text. Therefore, a brief evaluation of these beliefs will be reserved for a later section.
The Majority Text View Today
One hundred years after Burgon a small shift in textual criticism is taking place. Although the critical text still dominates in much the same way the Textus Receptus did in the past, a slight movement is being made in the direction of the text-type with the bulk of external evidence, namely the Byzantine. Since the majority of manuscript evidence is classified in this group, the term "Majority Text" has been adopted to signify this rather large group of external witnesses.
This view appears to be getting a greater hearing in scholarly discussion. Gordon Fee, himself not in favor of the Majority Text, has written a recent article on the revival of the Textus Receptus.(38) Pickerings book supporting the view has already been referenced earlier. Van Bruggen refers to the numerical support in a positive way:
The majority text position, however, must not be thought of as a neatly organized package that all proponents agree on. Certainly, the crudest form of the view would be to conduct a majority vote of all manuscripts and exclude all internal evidence as a factor. Burgon did not necessarily do this and there are those proponents today who do not either.
The most comprehensive presentation as to the method of arriving at a version of the Majority Text is the recent publication of The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, edited by Zane Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad. In the introduction the editors note two principles upon which their method is based. First, any reading with an overwhelming majority of support is probably the original reading. The statement is derived from the following premise:
Second, a reading should be accepted on the basis of a reconstruction of a genealogical tree for each book of the Bible. Thus, Hodges applies the genealogical method employed, as he says, "poorly" by Westcott and Hort.(41) He explains his confidence in this method:
Thus, this brand of method, similar to Burgons approach, rejects the Alexandrian text-type and goes with the bulk of external witnesses.(43)
A brief evaluation of the Majority Text
The one strong suit of the Majority text approach is that it concentrates on the bulk of objective evidence that textual critics do have. This view avoids the pitfall of Horts thinking by including the Byzantine evidence. Is it reasonable to assume that 85% of the witnesses to the New Testament can be ignored when there is no historical explanation of their derivation from the minority witnesses? In addition, this approach properly elevates external evidence above internal evidence. Internal evidence has its place but has less control over fanciful interpretation.
However, one major problem remains to be solved for the proponents of this view. Westcott and Hort properly called attention to the fact that an absolute majority may not be truly representative of preceding copies. If out of ten manuscripts, nine agree against the one but the nine are found to come from the same source or copy, then the resultant battle is one against one rather than nine against one.(44) In other words, if the repository of copies from which the Byzantine copies were produced was not uniformly spread out across the textual tradition, then the majority text would lose its majority. Therefore, this view has its assumption just like Hort had his. However, Pickering suggests that enough of the transmissional history can be ascertained to make the former assumption more reasonable.(45)
The KJV Movement
Along with the scholarly resurgence of the Majority Text is a popular movement emphasizing tradition while not being characterized by strong scholarship. There are many fine people in this group, but one gets the impression that the only reason for their support of the Byzantine text-type is that it forms the textual tradition from which the King James Version was translated.
There exists an unfriendly element within this movement that deserves attention due to its emphasis on the influence of Alexandria on textual tradition. It vehemently attacks the Alexandrian text-type with a biting rhetoric and holds religiously to the Textus Receptus as divinely provided. One of its major spokesman offers what he calls the Creed of the Alexandrian Cult quoted below in part:
An advertisement in the same publication offers eight cassette tapes on the Alexandrian Cult.(47) This movement disdains the School of Alexandria and is hateful in its presentation against those with whom it disagrees. One must be careful not to associate such literature with the work of such men as Pickering and Hodges. However, such work does point out the need to study the connection between the city of Alexandria and the Alexandrian text-type, if any exists.
At a broad level, modern textual scholarship can be divided into two camps. The majority of textual critics beginning with Westcott and Hort generally follow a theory and a text that effectively treats a minority of the external evidence as the most reliable, namely, the Alexandrian text-type. This is even true of the supporters of eclectic adjustments to Horts view and of the latest versions of the Greek New Testament (Nestle-Aland, UBS) which have veered little from the course that Hort charted.
On the other hand, there is a minority of textual critics who hold that the Byzantine text-type or the Majority Text is the most accurate testimony to the original autographs. Beginning with John Burgon in Horts day and continuing today with Hodges, Pickering, and others, movement in favor of the Majority Text is slowly growing. This view in accepting the Majority Text rejects the Alexandrian text-type as a primary witness to the actual New Testament text.
ABSTRACT OF THE ENTIRE THESIS
After the chapter given above, the thesis investigates whether the Christian School of Alexandria (Origen the leading proponent who died in 254 A.D.) purposefully altered the text either for theological or linguistic reasons. The Gospel of Luke was chosen as the test case for the study. Peculiar teachings of the Alexandrians (such as Origen's alleged universalism in salvation) are investigated to see if these men altered the text of Luke to fit their theological leanings. The conclusion was that they did not alter the text to fit any preconceived theology. Also, the thesis investigated the possibility that these men introduced more classical Greek (Attic) readings as opposed to the Koine Greek of the first century in order to enhance the perceived literary quality of the text. Again, the conclusion was that they did not alter the text to fit any Attic tendencies. In summary, the Alexandrians cannot be blamed for the defection of the Alexandrian text-type from some original source of purity. This counters the claim of some like Peter Ruckman who continue to advance the idea that the Alexandrians deliberately corrupted the biblical text.
1. See Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 124-29.
2. At times throughout the paper Hort's name alone will be used rather than reference made to Westcott and Hort together. This usage is done to make both the writing and the reading of the article easier. One can justify the shorter reference by recognizing that the textual theory of Westcott and Hort was substantially the work of Hort. See Wilbur N. Pickering, The Identity of the New Testament Text, 31.
3. F. J. A. Hort and B. F. Westcott, The New Testament in the Original Greek, Introduction and Appendix, (Cambridge, 1882), 19.
4. The following discussion is taken from Westcott and Hort's own description of the process, 19-72.
5. Hort and Westcott, 24.
6. Ibid., 27-28.
7. Ibid., 137.
8. Ibid., 212.
9. Pickering, 34.
10. Ibid., 31-32.
11. E. C. Colwell, Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 64.
12. Ibid., 70-71.
13. Pickering gives a good list of statements by several scholars of different persuasions who note this flaw in Hort's reasonings (88-89).
14. Whether a text-type can truly be identified as such is outside the scope of this paper. Pickering seems to be hostile to the text-type designations (Identify, 48ff). Although not critical of the text type designations, Colwell does underscore the necessity of having a systematic method of establishing them (Methodology, 45-55). This present work as a matter of expediency accepts the standard handbook designations. The criticism of Hort here is not against text-types but Hort's apparent lack of interest in the many divergent readings in his Neutral Text.
15. Pickering, 51.
16. The present writer has not made up his mind concerning the possibilities of reconstructing the text via the genealogical method. Hence, no extended discussion is given concerning it here.
17. This author has deliberately avoided much discussion of the place of the Western text. Indeed, some scholars doubt that a truly Western text-type exists. See Pickering, 50. At any rate, no published edition of the Greek New Testament can be declared a Western text. The critical text, this author believes leans heavily upon the Alexandrian text-type while the editions of the majority text are certainly Byzantine. It has been my experience that the so-called Western text often agrees with the Byzantine tradition.
18. Gordon D. Fee, "Rigorous or Reasoned Eclecticism -- Which?" in Studies in New Testament Language and Text, eds. J. K. Elliott and E. J. Brill, 174-75.
19. Metzger, 175.
20. Fee, 175.
21. See my earlier quotation from Westcott and Hort to show their desire to have a view that considered all facets. In reality Hort did this but his final choices (once the text-types were established) seemed to rely upon internal evidence.
22. Pickering, 26.
23. Fee, 175.
25. G. D. Kilpatrick, "The Greek New Testament Text of Today and the Textus Receptus," in The New Testament in Historical and Contemporary Perspective, eds. Hugh Anderson and William Barclay, 189-208.
26. J. K. Elliott, "In Defence of Thoroughgoing Eclecticism in New Testament Textual Criticism," Restoration Quarterly 21 (1978): 108.
27. Eldon Jay Epp, "The Twentieth Century Interlude in New Testament Textual Criticism," Journal of Biblical Literature 93 (1974): 390-91.
28. Ian A. Moir, "Can We Risk Another Textus Receptus," Journal of Biblical Literature 100 (1981): 616.
29. Kenneth W. Clark, "Today's Problems with the Critical Text of the New Testament," in Transitions in Biblical Scholarship, ed. J. Coert Rylaarsdam, 165.
30. Eldon Jay Epp, "A Continuing Interlude in New Testament Textual Criticism?" Harvard Theological Review 73 (1980): 137.
31. Of course the possibility of Hort being correct would make the lack of progress a good thing. Epp responds to the possibility with, "All of us would quickly answer "Certainly not!;" Ibid.
32. Epp, "Twentieth Century Interlude," 390.
33. Clark, 159ff; Epp, 388-89.
34. J. K. Elliott, "An Examination of the Twenty-Sixth Edition of Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece," Journal of Theological Studies 32 (1981): 22-23.
35. Elliott, "Can We Recover the Original New Testament?" Theology 77 (1974): 345.
36. John William Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established, ed. Edward Miller, 5.
37. Ibid., 40-67.
38. Gordon Fee, "Modern Textual Criticism and the Revival of the Textus Receptus," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21 (March 1978): 19-33.
39. Jakob Van Bruggen, The Ancient Text of the New Testament, 21.
40. The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, xi-xii.
41. Ibid., xii.
43. The approach of Hodges can actually lead to an acceptance of a minority reading (compared with all witnesses) as long as this reading can be substantiated via the genealogical method within the Byzantine grouping. See the notes in the introduction, Ibid., xxiii-xli.
44. Hort and Westcott, 40.
45. Pickering, 93-113.
46. Bible Believer's Bulletin 5 (December 1982): 8. This is the bulletin provided by Peter Ruckman.
47. Ibid., 6.
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