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"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7)


Jan 25, 2017

How do Bible scholars interpret all the manuscripts that we have? When they are different, how do they determine which one is right? With quotes from James White, F.J.A Hort, F.H.A. Scrivener, E.C. Colwell, William Norman Pickering, and John William Burgon.

Here are the notes for this episode:


Bible Versions Part 3: Textual Criticism and Manuscript Evidence

  1. Introduction
    1. How many times have you heard things like, “This is not in the oldest and best manuscripts,” or, “the Bible has been translated so many times that the original text has been lost.” I’ve even heard a growing number of professing Christians saying that the text of the Bible has been lost. Apparently, we all just need to pray about things without consulting any objective Word and let the “spirit” guide us. I have a few problems with any of these statements.
    2. First, most people have never actually double-checked the supposed “scholars” about what are the “oldest and best manuscripts”. In addition to that, how do we know that we can trust those copies of scripture? Are there any facts to support those statements at all? Well, this is where “textual theory” comes into play. It is the study of how we are to look at the copies of the scriptures that we have. I will tell you, contrary to what some people of “higher learning” want you to believe: it is simple to understand. We are going to focus on this point in our next episode. So if you’ve ever heard, or read in the margin of your Bible, the statement, “this is not in the oldest and best manuscripts,” then I encourage you to listen to our next episode.
    3. But as to the second part, has the text of the Bible been lost to us? Is there no text that we can see that has witnesses all the way back to the time of the Apostles? It’s not possible to cover even a quarter of all the information on this topic in one episode. But we can bring forth facts. Facts that sometimes are swept under the rug, or wholly lied about. I’m not overstating things either. If there is anything that I have learned by examining this issue it is that people are going to slant things the most they can towards their preferred viewpoint. Whether you’re James White or Gail Riplinger I have found very little difference in how people reason or handle facts.
    4. If you’ve ever tried sifting through the minefield that is the Bible versions issue, you’ve probably been confused and frustrated trying to get down to objective facts. For some people, they’ve never critically examined anything that they’ve been taught. When you only read books by those people who agree with you, that’s not called examining things. You have to look at every argument, or teaching, and get down to the objective facts that are open to examination. The problem with facts, or evidence, though is that they do not “speak for themselves” like some say. All facts can do is be facts. All evidence can do is be interpreted. People interpret facts. Scholars interpret evidence. This is seen very clearly in the creation versus evolutionism debate. Both a creationist scientist and an evolutionist scientist can look at the same evidence and come to completely separate conclusions. Why is that? It’s because they each have separate biases. Both have things that affect the way that they think. We call them “presuppositions”. It’s no different in the minds of Christians.
    5. What I have found to be true in professing Christians today is that they do not want truth. What I mean by that is not that the gospel is up for debate as to whether it’s true or not, I mean that they really don’t care about truth regarding anything. They don’t examine their doctrines (such as Calvinism or Arminianism), or their denominations (such as Pentacostalism), or their practices (such as Contemplative prayer or yoga) to see if they are wrong. It never enters most people’s minds that they need to examine things. If you’re honest, regardless of where you stand on those specific things, you’ll admit that most people just blindly repeat what they are told. Whether it’s a preacher or a professor most people will live and die in the same group or denomination that they began in. I talked about this in the introduction to this series so I won’t dwell on it long, but suffice it to say that you cannot be negligent in these things. When someone presents you with a reason that they believe you are in error on something, regardless of what you believe, you are bound as a Christian to humble yourself and examine its validity. God is not afraid of facts. There should not be this, “well I prayed about it and the spirit didn’t tell me anything.” That’s a cop-out and it’s not the mind of a Christian who seeks truth. This is very important for you to grasp. Otherwise, you will only hurt yourself spiritually in the long run. You don’t have to agree with my conclusions about things, but you are bound to examine things before God as to whether I, or anyone else for that matter, am right or not.
    6. In this episode we’re going to talk about Textual Criticism and manuscript evidence. As best I can muster I am going to try to just bring out facts. In the end, it’s up to you to make up your mind about what you will believe. I admit that it is difficult for me to try to sound objective or unemotional about this issue because I’ve already done a certain amount of research and I have come to a conclusion of my own. But try to just listen and look for facts. I’ll do my best to just focus on facts. In this particular subject, when I’m trying to describe textual criticism to you, there is nothing more factual than the words of those who teach and practice textual criticism. So I’ll be quoting from these scholars to show you some things. Where I emphasize something that is more opinionated I will try to state clearly.
  2. First things first
    1. I have to say this up front on this issue; because it does play a major part in your interpretation of the facts. I’m going to be a little blunt about it too. One thing that is common for people to assert today is that there is no proof of anyone ever having intentionally tried to change the text of the Bible for doctrinal purposes. For proof that this is circulating today, here is a quote from Fred of
      1. “The problem, as we will see, is there is no evidence of such heretical corruption. It just doesn't exist.” (
      2. F.J.A. Hort said, “It will not be out of place to add here a distinct expression of our belief that even among the numerous unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes.” (B.F. Westcott and F.J.A Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek (2 Vols.; London: Macmillan and Co., 1882), II, “Introduction,” p. 282)
    2. Now, allow me to give you some quotes regarding the early Church so-called “fathers” (I’ll refer to it simply as Patristic evidence at times). These were well known and reputed teachers of the scriptures in the early centuries immediately after the Apostles. They’re not infallible, but they are witnesses of the state of things in their time more authoritative than any other source. Their words are quite telling.
      1. Bruce Metzger, a NT Textual critic who is very notable, had this to say about the Patristic evidence of corruption of the scriptures very early on: “Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Eusebius, and many other Church Fathers accused the heretics of corrupting the Scriptures in order to have support for their special views. In the mid-second century, Marcion expunged his copies of the Gospel according to Luke of all references to the Jewish background of Jesus. Tatian’s Harmony of the Gospels contains several alterations which lent support to ascetic or encratite views.”
      2. Dean Burgon quotes Gaius, a second century Church “father”: “The Divine Scriptures” he says, “these heretics have audaciously corrupted:…laying hands upon them under pretence of correcting them. That I bring no false accusation, any one who is disposed may easily convince himself. He has but to collect the copies belonging to these persons severally; then, to compare one with another; and he will discover that their discrepancy is extraordinary. Those of Asclepiades, at all events, will be found discordant from those of Theodotus. Now, plenty of specimens of either sort are obtainable, inasmuch as these men’s disciples have industriously multiplied the (so-called) ‘corrected’ copies of their respective teachers, which are in reality nothing else but ‘corrupted’ copies. With the foregoing copies again, those of Hermophilus will be found entirely at variance. As for the copies of Apollonides, they even contradict one another. Nay, let any one compare the fabricated text which these persons put forth in the first instance, with that which exhibits their latest perversions of truth, and he will discover that the disagreement between them is even excessive….As for their denying their guilt, the thing is impossible, seeing that the copies under discussion are their own actual handywork; and they know full well that not such as these are the Scriptures which they received at the hands of their catechetical teachers. Else, let them produce the originals from which they made their transcripts.” (Burgon quoting Gaius, Revision Revised, pp. 323-324)
    3. Now, note how many names of early Christian teachers are quoted above as having attested to EARLY and widespread corruption of the scriptures. Notice also that Gaius used the word “corrupted”. This isn’t some concept that originated with the Fundamentalists. Dr. F.H.A. Scrivener, a notable scholar in the field of textual criticism, said plainly: “It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected originated within a hundred years after it was composed; that Irenaeus and the African Fathers, and the whole Western church, with a portion of the Syrian, had far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephens, thirteen centuries later when moulding the Textus Receptus.” (F.H.A Scrivener, Introduction, p. 453, as quoted by John Burgon in The Revision Revised, p. 30)
    4. For anyone to even say that there is no evidence of a corruption of scripture shows either a willful ignorance of facts or a blind allegiance to a particular school of thought. Given these and other clear witnesses to the reality of the early corruption of the scriptures one must ask: how can claiming an early age for a copy of the scriptures give any comfort of its purity? If the scriptures were corrupted very early on, an early age can’t verify its purity at all.
    5. Some people, such as Fred of Fred’s Bible Talk, try to sweep such things under the rug and say that it doesn’t matter because the Christians didn’t use those copies. This is a speculation at best. Can anyone guarantee such a thing? Eusebius said that there were so many corrupt copies in his day that the original text was hard to discern. When you don’t allow in your view that some people had intentionally changed the text, it would be near impossible to have confidence in the text of scripture. You’ll see what I mean later.
  3. Take Comfort
    1. Before you begin to get a little discouraged as to the state of things, listen to this word from Philip Mauro:
      1. “The consoling facts in that regard are: (1) that the vast majority of the variant readings are so slight (a mere question of a single letter, or an accent, or a prefix, or a case ending) as not to raise any question at all concerning the true sense of the passage; and (2) that the sum of all the variant readings taken together does not give ground for the slightest doubt as to any of the fundamental points of faith and doctrine. In other words, the very worst Text that could be constructed from the abundant materials available would not disturb any of the great truths of the Christian faith.” (Mauro, Which Version?, quoted by Fuller in True or False?, p. 62)
      2. So before you are worrying about whether or not the skeptics are right, understand that the Bible is the most miraculously, and accurately, preserved ancient text of all time. In essence, you can get saved from an NIV or from a KJV. You can get saved from an ESV or from a NASB. Observation tells us that because we all know people who have attested to salvation from different translations of the Scriptures.
      3. So what are we even talking about then? Why do we even need to have this series of episodes? There are some major manuscript differences, and there are some minor ones. Let me give you an illustration. If you were to read an explanation of Einstein’s theory of relativity that was meant for 3rd graders, could you explain it? Yes, but not very in-depth. Now, if you were to read Einstein’s original work explaining his theory, and you studied it to understand it, then you could teach a class on it. The difference between some English translations of the Bible is over 30,000 words. Between some of the original Greek manuscripts it can be over 3,500 of places of REAL differences between other manuscripts in the Gospels alone—not including minor things such as spelling differences. To put it simply, there may not be enough missing or changed to alter the main message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but there is enough changed or missing to make everything else debatable sometimes. Can you honestly say with a straight face that that big of a difference doesn’t matter?
      4. Do you ever wonder why the Roman Catholic Church has its own versions of the Bible? Or why the Jehovah’s Witness cult has their own version of the Bible? Among other reasons, it’s because people derive doctrine and practice from the scriptures. Anyone who has seriously studied scripture knows that doctrines can sometimes hang on the meaning of a single word in a single verse. Is it supposed to be that way, no. Doctrines are supposed to be built on the entirety of scripture, but many practice that way. So while the Bible itself is not to be doubted as being authentic and preserved, the differences we are talking about here are very important to being correct in doctrine. Imagine if a congregation of fifty in a church all read different versions of the Bible. Some which can differ in over 30,000 words. Now imagine trying to teach about the Trinity when everyone’s Bible reads that differently.
  4. The Real Issue
    1. Now, having said that, I will remind you of what Philip Mauro said, as we quoted last episode: the first matter in translating the scriptures is settling the underlying text.
      1. “Then there are also certain ancient Versions (or Translations) as the Latin, Syriac and Coptic, whose testimony as to disputed passages must be considered, particularly for the reason that some of them are older than the earliest Greek manuscripts known to exist at the present time. The most noted of these is the Peshitto, or Syriac Version, which dates from very early in the Christian era, probably from the second century. The original materials for the making of a Greek Text embrace also numerous quotations of Scripture found in the copious writing of the “church fathers,” which have survived to our day. This is an important source of information; for those quotations are so numerous, and they cover so much ground in the aggregate, that the greater part of the Text of the entire New Testament could be constituted from them alone. But no two of these thousands of manuscripts are exactly alike; and every discrepancy raises a distinct question requiring separate investigation and separate decision. While, however, the precise reading of thousands of passages is affected by these differences, it must not be supposed that there is any uncertainty whatever as to the teaching and testimony of the New Testament in its entirety.” (Mauro, Which Version?, quoted by Fuller in True or False?, p. 62)
    2. This is a large part of the Bible version issue. Usually, a view of the underlying text of the Bible will strongly influence what version you decide to read and study. Textual Criticism has to deal with how you handle the differences between manuscripts. For example, if you were to look at 100 separate manuscripts that contained John 3:16 and there were 10 different readings of that verse, the process by which you go about deciding which is the “original” reading of that verse would be called lower textual criticism. You’re not “criticizing” the Bible like how we think of criticizing today. You’re making a judgment as to which is the original reading, or which is the way the authors had originally written it. There are generally two distinct ways that a person can go about this process. This is where we’ll be focusing in this episode.
  5. Why is this important?
    1. It must be stated before we begin to go into the different methods of textual criticism, the reason why this is so important. Listen to what Philip Mauro had to say about the importance of settling the underlying text that would be translated:
      1. “In this connection it is important to observe that no amount of care in the work of translation will tend to cure defects in the original Text; but that, on the contrary, the more faithful the translation the more effectually will the errors of the Text be carried into the resulting Version.” (Mauro, Which Version?, as quoted by Fuller, True or False?, p. 63)
    2. What does that mean? It means that it doesn’t matter how good your translation work is if you’re translating a verse, or whole manuscript, and what you’re translating is not correct anyway! All you’re then doing is correctly translating error and making it carry over into your new translation.
    3. People can then question, do the changes really matter? Well, let’s think about it for a moment. The early church fathers said very emphatically that heretics were making changes in copies of the scriptures to support their doctrines. Why would they make changes if it didn’t really matter? Why would Theodotus (who denied the deity of Christ) change the text if he didn’t think it would help his cause? Or Origen, who admitted to taking out whole verses because he didn’t agree with them or understand them being there, why would he do so if he didn’t think it could affect people’s beliefs? It is because the scriptures are what set the precedence for doctrine in Christianity that the purity of the text is so important. Those who try to argue against this point are denying what is clearly understood by anyone who has common sense. Different words equal different takes on doctrine.
  6. Defining Words
    1. So let’s take a moment to define some words that everyone might not know yet.
    2. “manuscript” – a handwritten copy of the scriptures, whether in whole or in part.
    3. “codex” – a form of manuscript where both sides were written on, and the sheets were bound together. Think of an early form of modern books.
    4. “uncial” – a type of manuscript that was written in Koine Greek with all capital letters with no spaces between words. These are accepted to be older because of their style of writing.
    5. “cursive” – a type of manuscript that was written in Koine Greek that incorporated lower case letters and spaces between words. These are accepted to be later in date. They are also called “miniscules”.
    6. “papyrus” – a type of paper used to make manuscripts. This kind did not hold up well over time, and was generally cheap to use to make copies. This kind was the prevailing way the early Christians made copies of the scriptures.
    7. “vellum or parchment” – a much higher grade of material than papyrus. It was usually made of animal skins. The material was more expensive than papyrus though. It was generally not used widely until the end of Roman persecution early in the 4th century.
    8. “variants” – These are differences between the way manuscripts record how passages should be read. If a manuscript records a different way a passage should read it is called a “variant” reading.
    9. “text-types” – also called “text families”, are groups of manuscripts that share common readings or characteristics that distinguish them from other text-types.
    10. If you look up any book on the Bible version issue you will see that these definitions are generally agreed upon by all. There’s little disagreement because they’re pretty objective things to define. We’ll see on the next episode that it’s when you get into the realm of textual theory that things get hazy. The idea of “text-types” and “text-families” is what becomes an argument of different definitions and ideas around them.
  7. Two Methods of Textual Criticism
    1. Now that we’ve gone over some definitions, let’s get into the main part of the discussion. When we’re dealing with these “variants” (or different ways that passages of scripture are recorded between different manuscripts) between the 5700 manuscripts that we have today, there are generally two methods to go about deciding which reading is the original. Some people don’t like that generalization, but there are really only two methods of doing it:
      1. You decide based upon the internal evidence of the manuscript
      2. You decide based upon external and internal evidence
    2. Now if people are honest they’ll see that those are the only two possible ways to decide between these variations in reading. You will see that when the scholars view the manuscripts it generally falls into one of the two methods.
    3. This is where we’re going to spend the majority of the rest of our time. We’re going to look at how it’s done, and how it should be done according to common logical sense when the facts are examined.
  8. Based on Internal Evidence
    1. It will be difficult to go over this without going into the parallel importance of textual theory. The two go hand-in-hand really. We’ll see this more clearly next episode Lord willing. Remember that in this episode we’re just looking at the methods of textual criticism—how we judge between the different ways that verses are recorded in the manuscripts that we have.
    2. At this point we’ll have to introduce the names of B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort. These two men were professors at Cambridge in the mid to late 1800s. They became two of the most well-known names in the Bible versions debate for their work in and leading up to the Revised Version of 1881 and their Greek text that came out at the same time. In order to understand how their views impacted modern textual criticism, here is what James White, a noted Bible scholar, said in 1995:
      1. “In the sense that Westcott and Hort correctly identified the need to examine the relationships of manuscripts and demonstrated that it is not enough to count the manuscripts…one can say that modern texts are based upon their work.” (White, The King James Only Controversy, p. 139, footnote no. 16)
    3. So what James White is referring to is Westcott and Hort’s view of interpreting the manuscript evidence. We have all these manuscripts and we have to put them all together. How is this done? This is a point that everyone really needs to understand, regardless of what your view of translations is: there is not some set text of the Bible in the sense that it is fixed and scholars are just arguing about what a word means. Now we’ve already acknowledged that this doesn’t undermine the Bible’s validity and accuracy. We’re talking about relatively minor differences—relatively. But doctrine can hinge on very small phrases used very specifically, and that’s why this is important.
    4. The view that White is referring to, that is essentially from the groundwork laid in the 1800s by men such as Tischendorf, Westcott, and Hort, is generally held by a great majority of Bible scholars today. I’ll repeat that: it is the most prevailing view of textual criticism and textual theory. It’s referred to as “the eclectic method”. It is admitted by White that this is the predominant view today:
      1. “The vast majority follows the perspective that has given rise to such modern Greek texts as the United Bible Societies’ 4th Edition and the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition. This approach can be characterized as “eclectic,” in that each reading is examined on its own merits and no absolutely overriding rule is used to artificially decide every variant.” (White, The King James Only Controversy, p. 193)
    5. As we saw earlier White plainly said that it was Westcott and Hort’s textual views that are the groundwork for this view today. Here we see that it is the predominant view of Biblical scholars today. Though Westcott and Hort merely augmented views held previously by men such as Griesbach and Lachmann, it has been stated well that, “The textual theory of W-H underlies virtually all subsequent work in N.T. textual criticism.” (J.H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, p. 78)
    6. So in what does this “eclectic” method consist? Well, to be fair, there are some types of “scribal errors” that are easily discernible. When it simply is an issue of an accent mark or a case ending the nature of Koine Greek makes it relatively simple to clear up. Of these types of variants, or differences, it’s almost unanimously agreed.
    7. The “eclectic” method however rests upon two particular terms that I’ll introduce you to: Intrinsic probability and Transcriptional probability. We’ll explain what these terms mean, but they make up the general means of the “eclectic” method. Hort himself stated that “the evidence obtained from Transcriptional Probability in incontestable.” Since this is supposedly so important to provide “incontestable evidence” what does it actually consist of?
    8. To be plain, the means of “transcriptional probability” simply relies on looking at the different ways that certain passages are written, and judging for yourself which is right. It is based on the information in the manuscript itself on nothing outside the manuscript. Scholars look at a number of manuscripts, they see a difference, or multiple differences, in how a phrase, word, or whole verse reads and they judged for themselves which is correct based upon their own judgment. They ask, “Which reading could most likely have led to the other?” Some people will think that I’m being too simplistic in describing it this way, but quotes will prove otherwise. Here is James White showing how this “method” is used:
      1. “Another kind of scribal error has to do with harmonization. Let’s say you were used to the way a particular phrase sounds in a particular passage because your pastor uses that verse all the time in church. But let’s say a similar phrase occurs elsewhere in Scripture—similar, but not exactly the same. As you are copying that other passage it would be very easy to inadvertently make that passage sound like the one you are accustomed to. You might not even know you had changed anything. But this kind of harmonization is found in many, many places.” (White, The King James Only Controversy, p. 61)
    9. Now, I will admit that on the face of such descriptions there is a convincing appeal. It honestly sounds reasonable doesn’t it? You can understand how that can happen. When I first began reading through these books that describe the “eclectic” view of textual criticism, I was quite convinced. Then something was pointed out to me, by someone else. I needed to verify some things—fact check. A lot of assertions are made by scholars. One thing that I can point out very quickly to you from even this quote is the wording: “Let’s say”…“let’s say”…“it would be very easy”…“you might not”…do you detect a pattern? Think even of the names of the two terms that I just gave you. Transcriptional “probability” and intrinsic “probability”. If you are noticing a pattern, allow me to give you some quotes to make it even more clear:
      1. “Today textual criticism turns for its final validation to the appraisal of individual readings, in a way that involves subjective judgment. The trend has been to emphasize fewer and fewer canons of criticism. Many moderns emphasize only two. These are: 1) that reading is to be preferred which best suits the context, and 2) that reading is to be preferred which best explains the origin of all others. These two rules are nothing less than concentrated formula of all that the textual critic must know and bring to bear upon the solution of his problem. The first rule about choosing what suits the context exhorts the student to know the document he is working on so thoroughly that its idioms, its ideas as well known as a familiar room. The second rule about choosing what could have caused the other readings requires that the student know everything in Christian history which could lead to the creation of a variant reading. This involves knowledge of institutions, doctrines, and events…This is the knowledge of complicated and often conflicting forces and movements.” (E.C. Colwell, “Biblical Criticism: Lower and Higher,” Journal of Biblical Literature, LXVII (1948), pp. 4-5)
    10. I want you to take notice of this quote. This scholar admits that the “eclectic method” of textual criticism is based upon “subjective judgment”. That means: it is entirely based upon the mind of the scholar and not any objective fact at all. If that is not clear enough, the same scholar said this in a different work:
      1. “We need to recognize that the editing of an eclectic text rests upon conjectures.” (Colwell, “Scribal Habits in Early Papyri,” pp. 371-72)
    11. “It rests upon conjectures” he says! How can any honest scholar even propagate such a method? Isn’t this the same kind of reasoning that Christians rebuke evolutionists for? Teaching as fact what is merely conjecture? Why is it now acceptable when it suits certain scholars? It is interesting to note, that in that last passage quoted, Colwell attributes such habits to the foundation laid by Hort also. This is what happens when we just base things on internal evidence, or intrinsic probability. The student/scholar must make a determination for themselves which different reading is “preferred” because it “suits the context”, or because a certain reading COULD “lead to the creation of a variant reading.” It’s all guesswork. If you didn’t use any outside evidence, what else could you do really?
    12. Just so I don’t seem to be quoting one obscure scholar, I’ll quote from Dr. Hort himself. Remember, a notable scholar from today (James White) and a notable scholar in 1968 (E.C. Colwell) both attribute this eclectic view of textual criticism to Dr. F.J.A. Hort. It’s also stated as being the majority view today! Keep that in mind when considering these quotes. This is the mindset and method of the majority of Bible scholars and translators since the late 1800s. It is evident that every Bible version since the late 1800s is built upon this methodology of “conjectures” and “subjective judgment”, and not on fact. This can’t be ignored when considering the Bible version debate. Here are some words from Dr. Hort himself:
      1. “Where one of the documents is found habitually to contain morally certain, or at least strongly preferred, Readings…we can have no doubt that the Text of the first has been transmitted in comparative purity…” (as quoted by John Burgon, The Revision Revised, pp. 252-53)
      2. “If we find in any group of documents a succession of readings exhibiting an exceptional purity of text, that is—readings which the fullest consideration of internal evidence pronounces to be right, in opposition to formidable arrays of documentary evidence; the cause must be that, as far at least as these readings are concerned, some one exceptionally pure MS. Was the common ancestor of all the members of the group.” (Burgon quoting Hort, The Revision Revised, p. 253)
    13. The question that can be asked is how is it that just by simply reading different readings one can be “morally certain” as to which is the original? Much more how can someone come to the conclusion that there must be “some one exceptionally pure MS” simply by looking at the different readings? The answer is: you can’t! There is nothing of objective fact in this method at all. There is not some fixed text that they are comparing these things to. There is no answer key. Remember, they even admitted that it simply rests on conjectures and subjective judgment. Listen to Hort again:
      1. “In dealing with this kind of evidence [Intrinsic Evidence of Readings] equally competent critics often arrive at contradictory conclusions as to the same variations.” (B.F.Westcott and F.J.A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek (2 Vols.; London: Macmillan and Co., 1882), II, “Introduction,” p. 21)
    14. So here he admits that critics will often disagree when using this method even when looking at the same internal evidence! How then can he say this just 3 pages later:
      1. “The value of the evidence obtained from Transcriptional probability is incontestable. Without its aid textual criticism could rarely attain any high degree of security.” (Westcott and Hort, p. 24)
    15. Opinion is not evidence, and I certainly would never refer to my opinion as “incontestable”. Especially if I knew that others of equal caliber, looking at the same internal evidence I was, could come to the exact opposite conclusion. It’s not fact-based, it’s conjecture. It’s a method that doesn’t use objectivity at all. When the language of the eclectic method’s proponents and advocates is filled with such things as “let’s say”, “it could be”, “probability”, “subjective judgment”, “it rests upon conjectures”, and “contradictory conclusions”: it is safe to say that it’s not scientific, it’s not factual, and it doesn’t use sound logical reasoning. And remember, these are the words that they use to describe it. So what is the alternative?
  9. External and Internal evidence together
    1. In explaining the opposing method of textual criticism, we must introduce John Burgon. Probably the most prominent textual scholar to oppose the “eclectic” method—and Drs. Westcott and Hort particularly. Just as Dr. Hort’s own quotes quite succinctly explained the “eclectic” method of internal evidence only, so also John Burgon’s quotes will quite thoroughly show the opposing viewpoint well. To me, and this is my opinion, Burgon’s work in textual criticism is unrivaled. Most others who have done sound work in textual criticism since his time have built upon his foundation. Though it is a sad fact that he, and his views, are some of the most misrepresented in textual history. I do get the suspicion in reading other people’s work that it is because they honestly haven’t read his work. In beginning, here are some quotes from Burgon:
      1. “But then we make it our fundamental rule to reason always from grounds of external evidence—never from postulates of the Imagination. Moreover, in the application of our rule, we begrudge no amount of labour: reckoning a long summer’s day well spent if it has enabled us to ascertain the truth concerning one single controverted word of Scripture.” (Burgon, The Revision Revised, p. 96)
      2. “In contrast with this sojourn in cloudland, [the eclectic method of textual criticism] we are essentially of the earth though not earthy. We are nothing if we are not grounded in facts; our appeal is to facts, our test lies in facts, so far as we can build testimonies upon testimonies and pile facts on facts. We imitate the procedure of the courts of justice in decisions resulting from the converging product of all evidence, when it has been cross-examined and sifted.” (John Burgon, as quoted by David Otis Fuller, True or False?, p. 13)
    2. You see even from the outset the difference in perspective that produces the different methods of textual criticism. Though many Biblical scholars who use the “eclectic” method claim to base their views on fact, when you examine their arguments you find that even that which they claim to be fact is actually an assumption. We’ll see more of this next episode when we deal with the “genealogical method” and the “oldest and best manuscript” arguments. Understand though that we’re not even discussing versions of the Bible here. We’re discussing the methods used by editors and translators of EVERY version. It almost always falls in one or two of these methods. Those with experience know this to be a fact.
    3. So let’s jump right in to laying out this method in contrast to the “eclectic” method. The basis of Burgon’s view is that all evidence must be taken into account, not just internal consideration that make the deciding factor the individual mind of the scholar/student. F.H.A. Scrivener summarized it this way:
      1. “In the course of investigations thus difficult and precarious, designed to throw light on a matter of such vast consequence as the genuine condition of the test of Scripture, one thing would appear at first sight almost too clear for argument, too self-evident to be disputed—that it is both our wisdom and our duty to weigh the momentous subject at issue in all its parts, shutting out from the mind no source of information which can reasonably be supposed capable of influencing our decision. Nor can such a course become less right or expedient because it must perforce involve us in laborious, extensive, and prolonged examination of a vast store of varied and voluminous testimony.” (F.H.A. Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 4th ed, edited by E. Miller (2 Vols.; London: George Bell and Sons, 1894), II, 275)—(as cited by William Norman Pickering in his Thesis to the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary, Department of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, entitled An Evaluation of the Contribution of John William Burgon to New Testament Textual Criticism, May, 1968, cited in Part III)
    4. I’ll be quoting a lot in this part from William Norman Pickering’s Thesis on John William Burgon’s contribution to New Testament Textual Criticism, because frankly he just puts it so well. Also, of the citations that I’ve been able to check everything has checked out. He quotes extensively from Burgon’s own works, and I would encourage anyone to obtain a copy of it for themselves. It’s quite well researched and documented, and I believe it presents both sides fairly regarding facts. So, unless otherwise noted, what follows is from that work.
    5. There are two things that are notably different in Burgon’s laying out his case. He references the Patristic evidence and lectionaries quite regularly. The Patristic evidence, if you remember, are the scriptural quotations from early Christian teachers, elders, and bishops. One or two of them having even been, as it’s reported by Ignatius, discipled by John the Apostle himself. The lectionaries are copies of passages of scripture that were read in the churches on certain holy days. These are quite important when considering outside witnesses, that is outside the scriptural manuscripts themselves, as to the common textual readings in use during their time. Early Christian teachers would obviously quote from scripture to support their teachings. While these are certainly not infallible in the doctrine they taught, nevertheless their witness as to textual readings must be taken into account. Likewise, a lectionary is a strong witness also for the reason that these are copies of whole passages of scripture that were made for the purpose of reading the scriptures among Christians.
    6. John Burgon reasons thus:
      1. “It has been pointed out elsewhere that, in and by itself, the testimony of any first-rate Father, where it can be had, must be held to outweigh the solitary testimony of any single Codex which can be named…when we are listening to the articulate utterance of any of the ancient Fathers, we not only know with more or less of precision the actual date of the testimony before us, but we even know the very diocese of Christendom in which we are standing. To such a deponent we can assign a definite amount of credibility, whereas in the estimate of the former class of evidence we have only inferences to guide us.” (Burgon as quoted by Pickering)
    7. It should be obvious that he reasons correctly. The difference between the credibility of the witness to a certain reading of a passage from a Patristic witness and a manuscript witness is that we know the history and setting of the former. We know the name of the person doing the reading, we know generally where they were, we know of their doctrinal persuasions, and we can be reasonably certain of when they were writing. We know none of this regarding manuscripts usually! We literally dig them out of the ground, from caves, or from obscure library shelves where they haven’t been touched for centuries. Who copied them? What were their views regarding the authority of scripture? What manuscript, or manuscripts, did they copy this one from, who did that copy come from, where were they, when did they copy it? We know none of this regarding manuscripts for the obvious reason that they are not a 6th grade spelling test. Only few have any such notation in them. The fact of the matter is we don’t know if a layman who doesn’t even speak the language he’s copying did it, or if a well-reputed scholar of distinction and integrity copied it. The absence of any of this information is very important to remember; especially when you take into account the fact that men such as Hort, and those who follow his views, don’t believe anyone anywhere ever intentionally altered scripture in their copying. This means that if anyone ever did, and we know for a fact that many did, their manufactured readings would be considered just as authoritative for consideration as the genuine readings. This is why it is so important to come to the table looking for verifiable fact.
    8. In addition to these two there is the consideration of the early translations of the Scriptures into other languages such as the old (pre-Catholic) Latin, the Peshitto, the Syriac, and the Coptic, etc. These must be taken into consideration regarding the original readings of the Scriptures for the very reason that they are simply translations of those said Scriptures. Again, as we’ve noted before, translations are not the original manuscripts, and are therefore not infallible. Nevertheless they bear early witness to the original readings of disputed passages.
    9. If you remember nothing else remember this: some of the Patristic evidence and the early Versions pre-date the earliest manuscripts that we have. So if you’re looking for the oldest reliable witnesses to the text of Scripture, you must look at the early Patristic evidence, the lectionaries, and the Versions.
    10. “Not only did Burgon insist upon taking into consideration all the evidence, including the Fathers, Versions, and Lectionaries; he recognized that the evidence had to be evaluated and proposed that it be done on the basis of seven factors.” (William Norman Pickering in his thesis)
    11. The seven factors are the following “notes of truth”:
      1. Antiquity, or Primitiveness
      2. Consent of Witnesses, or Number
      3. Variety of Evidence, or Catholicity (“catholic” means “universal” or “common”)
      4. Respectability of Witnesses, or Weight
      5. Continuity, or Unbroken Tradition
      6. Evidence of the Entire Passage, or Context
      7. Internal Considerations, or Reasonableness
    12. Now let’s look at each of these very briefly:
      1. Antiquity, or primitiveness. This is an area where John Burgon has been commonly misrepresented by those who favor the “eclectic” method. Burgon stated, “The more ancient testimony is probably the better testimony. That it is not by any means always so is a familiar fact…But it remains true, notwithstanding, that until evidence has been produced to the contrary in any particular instance, the more ancient of two witnesses may reasonably be presumed to be the better informed witness.” (Burgon, The Traditional Text, p. 40, as quoted by Pickering) And again he says, “Accordingly as a general rule, and a general rule only, a single early Uncial possesses more authority than a single later Uncial or Cursive, and a still earlier Version or quotation by a Father must be placed before the reading of the early Uncial.” (Burgon, p. 41, as quoted by Pickering) So you see, early is better until we have evidence that contradicts that early witness. This is self-evident. It is important to remember that last part though: until we have evidence that contradicts that early witness. No one or two manuscripts should be held against all other evidence.
      2. Consent of witnesses, or number. We’ll look more at this one next episode, Lord willing, when we discuss the overall textual theory that pervades today. The works of Scrivener, Burgon, von Soden, Hoskier, and Lake have demonstrated though that very few of the later manuscripts (called Cursives or miniscules) are actually copies of the very same parent manuscript. It’s even been argued, given certain evidence, that later scribes actually destroyed the manuscript that they were copying when it was done being copied anew. This means that it can generally be accepted that 1,000 manuscripts in our availability very likely represents almost as many manuscripts that were copied to make them. Regarding the issue of consent of witnesses, Burgon said the following: “1) The ‘witnesses are to be weighed—not counted’—is a maxim of which we hear constantly. It may be said to embody much fundamental fallacy. 2) It assumes that the ‘witnesses’ we possess—meaning thereby every single Codex, Version, Father—(1) are capable of being weighed; and (2) that every individual Critic is competent to weigh them: neither of which propositions is true. 3) In the very form of the maxim—‘Not to be counted but to be weighed’—the undeniable fact is overlooked that ‘number’ is the most ordinary ingredient of weight and indeed, even in matters of human testimony, is an element which cannot be cast away.” (Burgon, as quoted by Pickering) Remember, that the number of manuscripts that bear witness to a particular reading is not taken to the exclusion of other kinds of evidence. All evidence together is to bear witness.
      3. Variety of evidence, or catholicity. The word “catholicity” does not reference the Roman Catholic Church or any of its dogmas. It simply references the true meaning of the word which is “universal” or “common”. Which reading has the widest variety of evidence bearing witness to it? Burgon practically states it thus: “Speaking generally, the consentient testimony of two, four, six or more witnesses, coming to us from widely sundered regions is weightier by far than the same number of witnesses proceeding from one and the same locality, between whom there probably exists some sort of sympathy, and possibly some degree of collusion.” (Burgon, as quoted by Pickering) This is a very important distinction to be made. Some of the “oldest and best MS” actually show evidence that they are a later copy of the other. This is easily understood since those few ones continuously referenced by Critics all come from the same area of the world, Egypt, not too distant in time from one another. Contrary to this, if we are to find a reading that is common to several, or many, later and/or early manuscripts from different regions and different times it proves to be an almost unshakeable testimony indeed.
      4. Respectability of witnesses, or weight. Pickering contrasted the “eclectic” method of Hort with the position of Burgon this way, “Although Burgon objected to the maxim ‘weighed not counted’ because of the basic fallacies involved, yet it appears that he did recognize not only the possibility but the desirability and even necessity of evaluating witnesses, of checking their credibility. However, his procedure was altogether different from that of Hort, et al. Whereas Hort claimed to follow internal evidence and the ‘ring of genuineness,’ Burgon used external evidence…Throughout his works Burgon repeatedly calls attention to the Concordia discors, the prevailing confusion and disagreement, which the early uncials display between themselves.” (Pickering, quoted in Fuller’s, True or False?, pp. 269-70) Witnesses that greatly contradict one another are not witnesses to anything but being bad witnesses. If we had five people each giving contradictory testimony to the other four, and any one of them is correct, then it must immediately be understood that the other four are liars. Now think about this in terms of manuscripts. Two of the “oldest and best MS” often referenced by those of the “eclectic” method contradict the other in a serious way over 3,000 times in the Gospels alone. Could either of them be reliable witnesses with such contradiction? This is what truly counts in considering the ‘weight’ of any one witness as to the true reading of a passage of scripture.
      5. Continuity, or unbroken tradition. If a reading of a passage of scripture has a variety of respectable witnesses for the greater part of church history then it is a very powerful argument for it being the true reading. Burgon stated, “There is a Catholicity of time, as well as of space and of people; and all must be claimed in the ascertainment and support of Holy Writ. When therefore a reading is observed to leave traces of its existence and of its use all down the ages, it comes with an authority of a peculiarly commanding nature. And on the contrary, when a chasm of greater or less breadth of years yawns in the vast mass of evidence which is ready for employment, or when a tradition is found to have died out, upon such a fact alone suspicion or grave doubt, or rejection must inevitably ensue.” (Burgon, The Traditional Text, p. 59, as cited by Pickering) When God has promised to preserve His Word for His church, then any time a reading of scripture is relatively new, or has been unused for centuries, it must be looked at with a degree of skepticism.
      6. Evidence of the entire passage, or context. What is meant by “context” by Burgon is not what we normally mean by it today. It’s not referencing whether or not a reading “fits” with the passage or manuscript. It means what is “the behaviour of a given witness in the immediate vicinity of the problem being considered.” (Pickering, quoted by Fuller, True or False?, p. 274) Burgon summarized as follows: “This Note of Truth has for its foundation the well-known law that mistakes have a tendency to repeat themselves in the same or in other shapes. The carelessness, or the vitiated atmosphere, that leads a copyist to misrepresent one word is sure to lead him into error about another. The ill-ordered assiduity which prompted one bad correction most probably did not rest there. And the errors committed by a witness just before or just after the testimony which is being sifted was given cannot but be held to be closely germane to the inquiry.” (Burgon, as quoted by Pickering in his thesis) In essence, if you are looking at how a certain passage is written in a particular manuscript and the chapter around the verse in question is riddled with careless copying, scribal errors, or intentional changes: you can be certain that it is not a good witness at all. When surrounded by evidence of a bad scribe, why should the character of a verse in the midst of it be unquestioned?
      7. Internal considerations, or reasonableness. While the overwhelming weight must be given to evidence of an external nature, sometimes (as we stated earlier) there is place for internal evidence. Pickering summarizes thus, “Burgon’s illustrations of where this criterion is applicable concern mainly readings which are grammatically, logically, geographically, or scientifically impossible…” (Pickering, as quoted by Fuller, True or False?, p. 275-76) The problem only arises when internal evidence is taken by itself apart from the contradictory testimony of external evidence.
  10. Conclusion
    1. I have tried to set forth an honest portrayal of these two methods of textual criticism. The one being the “eclectic method”, or using internal evidence only, and the other relying mainly on external evidence as to the validity of a manuscripts reading of a passage in question. I’ve quoted extensively from proponents of these two views, and that being some of their most notable proponents. I know it has been more than a little meaty and deep, but Christians, and especially pastors and teachers, cannot afford to be ignorant of these things. Do we all need to become scholars? Of course not. But we do need to “prove all things” and “study to shew [ourselves] approved unto God” so that we may “give an answer to every man” that asks us, and also for our own sake that we should not blindly follow others. Christianity is built upon the fact of an individual accountability before the Lord of Heaven Himself. It’s to Him that we must give an account of our handling of His Word. Let’s be careful so that we aren’t found to be neglectful, or guilty of putting words into His mouth: which is the definition of a false prophet (Deu. 18:20).
  11. Closing
    1. I will give my opinion now, if you haven’t taken notice of it yet, as to which of these methods is truly scientific, and gives heed to sound logical reasoning based upon facts. I believe it is self-evident, to any who truly consider it, that John Burgon’s views are truly to be considered correct. When dealing with Scripture, we cannot take things lightly. Perhaps the care that he takes stems from Burgon’s deepest conviction that Scripture is in very fact the Word of the Living God. In contrast to this, it is a well-known fact that Dr. Hort did not consider the Scriptures to be truly authoritative, or inspired by God, at all. It’s easy to see why Hort can so easily elevate his own individual mind and “subjective judgment” over evaluating facts with time-consuming labor.
    2. Here now is an excellent statement that I believe summarizes the truthfulness of the matter altogether: “A safer, the only trustworthy method, in fact, of ascertaining the Truth of Scripture, we hold to be the method which—without prejudice or partiality—simply ascertains WHICH FORM OF THE TEXT ENJOYS THE EARLIEST, THE FULLEST, THE WIDEST, THE MOST RESPECTABLE, AND—above all things—THE MOST VARIED ATTESTATION.” (John William Burgon)
    3. Next episode we’re going to look at the overarching assumption that greatly affects the majority of Bible scholars. We’re going to be looking at the textual theory of “oldest is best” as set forth by Westcott, Hort, and Lachmann; and is repeated by many today. We’ll also be considering the “genealogical method”. As you’ll see, these views have the effect of doing away with eighty-nine ninetieths of manuscript evidence for absolutely no reason at all. Is it any wonder how this could happen when the view held by these Bible scholars is that their own textual criticism is that which “rests upon conjectures”? But don’t be troubled, the facts are actually quite comforting. We’ll clear some things up next episode, Lord willing.