You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. [Deuteronomy 4:2]*
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. [Deuteronomy 12:32]
Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. [Psalm 119:89]
The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. [Psalm 119:160]
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. [Proverbs 30:5-6]
I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. [Ecclesiastes 3:14]
The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever. [Isaiah 40:8]
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. [Matthew 5:18]
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. [Matthew 24:35]
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, may God add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, may God take away his part from the tree of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. [Revelation 22:18-19]
In this, the third part on my series on Scripture, I wish to deal with the issue of the transmission of Scripture.
I believe in the providential preservation of Scripture, which is to say that God has acted providentially through His covenant people throughout history to safeguard His word. Proponents of this view include Zane Hodges** Arthur Farstad**, Maurice Robinson, Wilbur Pickering, Daniel Wallace§, Harold Greenlee§, Kurt Aland§**, Bruce Metzger§**, and Barbara Aland§. This is to be distinquished from two opposing views. The first opposing view is that God has supernaturally preserved Scripture. In extreme forms, this view is expressed that God re-inspired a certain group of people and their efforts so that what they produced, and that alone is truly Scripture. The common manifestation of this view is what is known as King James Only-ism with proponents such as Peter Ruckman, Samuel Gipp, Edward Hills**, and David Otis Fuller**.
The other opposing view is the view of ordinary preservation—that God did not act either supernaturally or providentially to protect the integrity of Scripture, therefore we can only ascertain through conjecture and hypothesis what the text might have been with only mere guesses as to the accuracy of current critical texts. Proponents of this view are Bart Ehrman, the Jesus Seminar, and J.K. Elliott. Obviously the extreme views do not represent the views of Christianity. Even within the view of providential preservation there is division on which manuscript tradition best represents the original text of the New Testament.
Before proceeding, it is important to note that this issue primarily affects one’s view of the New Testament. Although I have several volumes on my bookshelf which deal with different aspects of textual transmission, not one of them deals with the textual transmission of the Old Testament. This is probably due to the extreme caution and diligence used by the Jewish scribes when copying the Torah scrolls. [See Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999) pp. 73-77 for a complete discussion on this issue.]
When dealing with the textual transmission of the NT, there are two basic theories vying for priority. The first theory is the Byzantine-priority view. According to this theory, the best and truest witness to the original readings are found preserved within the manuscripts identified as belonging to the Byzantine family because the first manuscripts identified with these characteristics were originally found in the area around Constantinople. Proponents of this theory are Zane Hodges**, Arthur Farstad**, Wilbur Pickering, Maurice Robinson, and William G. Pierpoint.
The other theory is known as “Reasoned Eclecticism” by its proponents. But a better label for the sake of this discussion would be the Alexandrian-priority view, since proponents of this view give greater weight to manuscripts identified with those found in Egypt, the focal point of their time of production being the library at Alexandria. Proponents of this view would be Kurt Aland**, Barbara Aland, Bruce Metzger**, Harold Greenlee, and Moises Silva.
The problem with almost every discussion I have read which deals with the issue of Byzantine-priority vs. Alexandrian-priority is that those discussions focus on the “canons” [rules or criteria] of textual criticism. Those canons, while presented as a priori, are in fact a posteriori in nature, and therefore require epistemological justification. When the topic of textual criticism came up in my second semester of Greek, I was informed that I was expected to follow these canons without question. When I asked “Why.” The only response the professor gave was, “Because that’s the way it’s done.”
There are however, other a posteriori arguments which demonstrate epistemological warrant and therefore deserve consideration, especially since these arguments carry the weight of history.
The first argument centers around accessibility to the autographa [the writings as penned by the apostles or their designates]. With the exception of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, the New Testament writings were written to people in or near Greece or Asia Minor. This is the area where the Byzantine text-type flourished. None of the New Testament writings were addressed to recipients in or around Egypt, where the Alexandrian text-type flourished. Being closer geographically to the source, my belief is that some benefit of the doubt on this point goes to Byzantine-priority theory. This, coupled with other significant historical and geographical factors are largely ignored or summarily and arbitrarily dismissed by those who hold to the priority of the Alexandrian text-type.
The second argument is that of proficiency. Alexandrian readings abound in misspellings and grammatical constructions unknown to exist in any other Greek literature or the other text-types – an indication that copyists in Egypt were unfamiliar with the Greek language and did not know what they were doing. It has been documented that Greek language had fallen into disuse in Egypt by the end of the second century AD. Most of the manuscripts identified as being from the Alexandrian text-type from prior to 350 AD show far more affinity to the Byzantine text-type than the Alexandrian text-type. On the other hand, proficiency in the Greek language continued into the fifteenth century in the areas of Greece and Asia Minor, where most of the manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type were produced.
The third argument is that of the strength of the Church. The churches in Asia Minor and Greece strongly resisted heretical and allegorical interpretations of the text. After the first council of Nicea, the churches in Egypt became strongly influenced by heretical and allegorical interpretations of the text and eventually developed a curious mixture of Gnosticism and Ebionism, leading to the Egyptian church breaking away to form the Copt sect. While this is not direct evidence of tampering, it does suggest that a church or group of churches playing fast and loose with the interpretation of Scripture is not above tampering with the text of Scripture. We have seen this in our own day with the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult.
This of course is clearly evidenced when one examines the writings of the post-Apostolic church fathers. The fathers from the churches in Greece, Asia Minor, and Syria display a high regard for the text, maintaining that it should not be tampered with. On the other hand, those from Egypt and North Africa, such as Origen, had a more casual view of Scripture, reading into the Scriptures their own proclivities rather than letting the text speak for itself.
Consequently, the churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Syria had a different perspective when copying the Scriptures. Those churches believed the text was sacred and the task of copying was to be approached cautiously. The Egyptian church, on the other hand, especially following the death of Athanasius, had a more casual regard for the text, regarding it as being no more than ordinary literature with regard to its transmission.
So how should we regard variants, such as when words are omitted from the Alexandrian text which appear in the majority text? The rule which is widely adhered to by those who give priority to the Alexandrian text-type is that the shorter reading is to be preferred, even if the shorter reading creates a contradiction with other parts of Scripture or creates an incoherent thought. Those who give priority to the Byzantine text-type believe the shorter reading, with one noteworthy exception, is suspect.§§
The likelihood that omissions are more likely to occur than embellishments is not without evidence. Growing up, I endured 6 years [from grades three through eight] of a weekly torture ritual called spelling dictation, in which the teacher would read aloud sentences to highlight the usage of our assigned vocabulary words for the week. My task as a student was to write down the sentences as dictated. A few years later, as a college student, I was an education major for one semester. During my practical experience in the schools I was given the students’ dictation papers to grade. My findings [corroborated by others in the teaching profession] are that people, when taking dictation, are far more likely to omit words or phrases than to embellish. And the longer the passage, the greater is the likelihood for such omissions to occur.
Those who promote Alexandrian text-type priority have made the claim that the Byzantine text-type represents an official recension [edition] of the text made by Lucian of Antioch. The claim stretches credulity beyond limits. In the first place, the claim is pulled out of thin air, with absolutely no historical or archaeological evidence to support the claim.
So the first reason for leaning towards the priority of the Byzantine, or Majority, text, is simply that of historical evidence and what Wilbur Pickering refers to as transcriptional probabilities.
Because this is so long, I am going to end this discussion here. This subject will be a two-part blog within the larger series on Scripture.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
§ Although their writings have been used to support the views of those who hold to ordinary preservation, I place these people within the scope of those who believed in providential preservation because they believed the original readings of the NT were preserved within the available manuscript evidence and are recoverable with reasonable certitude.
§§ The Johannine Comma, from 1 John 5:7-8, which gained prevalence due to its inclusion in the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament, appears in no Greek manuscript prior to the tenth century AD. Even then it appears to have been translated back into the text from the Latin Vulgate. It does not appear in any manuscript of the Vulgate prior to the eighth century, except as a gloss [commentary]. It cannot, therefore, be considered as part of the Byzantine text-type.