Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Could the Majority Text Be Superior to the Critical Text?

This afternoon I dropped by Dr. Maurice Robinson's office to pick up for $8 a copy of his hardbound work, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, 2005. Dr. Robinson compiled and arranged this NT text in cooperation with the late William Pierpont. Dr. Robinson is one of if not the leading advocate of the Majority or Byzantine Greek textform. He was also gracious enough to share about 45 minutes in a most informative and entertaining conversation.

Dr. Robinson is not a TR advocate, and he's certainly not a KJVO guy. What he does is provide a scholarly, reasonable argument that the Byzantine textform is superior (i.e. more faithful to the originals) to the Alexandrian and other textforms, which provide the bulk of the foundation for the Greek texts that support almost all modern translations of the NT.

In my Greek studies, the best argument I encountered for the Byzantine textform was that the fact that we have more Byzantine manuscripts in our hands than any other family. Since that argument fell far short in my mind, I gravitated towards the critical or eclectic texts, which relies more on the age of the manuscript than the number of them. (I realize I'm vastly oversimplifying.)

One of the great features of Dr. Robinson's Greek NT is the appendix that includes his article, "The Case for Byzantine Priority." In the interest of academic honesty, I want to expose myself to the best possible arguments for the opposing side, so I'll do my best to digest his case. You can access the full text of his article here. If you're interested in the book, you can get it for $11 (shipping include) if you contact him directly. Visit the faculty directory at the SEBTS website for contact info. He'll also have recommendations for quantity purchases.

12 comments:

D. Makri said...

Yes, he is right on. Let's call the "critical text" what it really is--the minority. There are reasons why those manuscripts remained intact longer than any Byzantine texts. They were rejected by the early church, not used, and therefore did not wear out. The best and clearest book on this topic is Touch Not The Unclean Thing, by David Sorrenson. It is a must read.

Ben said...

Have you actually read Robinson?

Based on second-hand reports, I have serious doubts about Sorrenson's book.

Ben said...

For example, Doug Kutilek's review of Sorenson's book argues that he completely misses Robinson's and others' point.

"Among his grosser errors, one of the most glaring is a failure to use--and I suspect, to even understand--terms correctly. He fails miserably and utterly to adequately distinguish the term textus receptus (TR) from the terms Byzantine, traditional, ecclesiastical or majority text, treating textus receptus as though it were the same in meaning as these terms. He also de facto presumes that the term textus receptus describes a specific and uniform text, being, he supposes, the text behind the KJV (pp. 38-9). None of these assumptions is true. The terms “Byzantine” (not a “prejudicial” term used by critics of this text as he alleges, but rather a simple description of the region in which it held sway), or “traditional” or “ecclesiastical” as used by advocates of that text, including Burgon, refer to the text preserved in the majority of manuscripts, or, in short, a text virtually identical to those published Greek texts of Hodges-Farstad and Robinson-Pierpont, not the Erasmian texts collectively referred to as the textus receptus (My published booklet, Westcott & Hort vs. Textus Receptus: Which is Superior?. (Hatfield, Pennsylvania: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1996) demonstrates the necessity of carefully distinguishing these terms, and the confusion that arises when such distinctions are not made)."

Larry said...

There are reasons why those manuscripts remained intact longer than any Byzantine texts. They were rejected by the early church, not used, and therefore did not wear out.

Have you ever actually seen this proven? I haven't. It is pure conjecture it seems to me.

The converse is the argument that we don't have old Byzantine texts because they were used so much they were worn out. Stop and think about that for a moment: How do we know these Byzantine texts existed back then? Because they don't exist now.

That is an absurd argument.

It may be true that the early church rejected some manuscripts and not others. But it may equally be true that the geographic spread of manuscript evidence is more accidental than intentional.

I don't think we need to entertain absurd, unproven arguments.

The fact is that God in his providence preserved the Alexandrian texts to be found relatively recently in church history.

D. Makri said...

If "God in His providence preserved the Alexandrian texts to be found relatively recently in church history" then what you are saying is that the church did not have the preserved Word of God until the fifth century. THAT CANNOT BE!

Josh said...

What major (or minor) doctrine is diminished by the Alexandrian text? Also, using that logic, any text found after 200 AD would not be the preserved Word of God.

Frank Sansone said...

[i]The converse is the argument that we don't have old Byzantine texts because they were used so much they were worn out. Stop and think about that for a moment: How do we know these Byzantine texts existed back then? Because they don't exist now.

That is an absurd argument.[/i]

Larry,

The problem with this analysis is that it fails to explain the existence of the Byzantine manuscripts.

The fact is, the spread and volume of the manuscripts that contain the Byzantine readings would indicate that they did not just appear spontaneously out of thin air. Logic would indicate that they came from older sources that held these readings in common - and that these sources would, of necessity, be older than the manuscripts themselves.

So, while we do not have the older manuscripts, we have a logical reason for believing these manuscripts existed. It is not just that "they don't exist now, so they must have existed in the past."

Respectfully,

Pastor Frank Sansone

Ben said...

That's it. Enough. This post is not about why the Alexandrian manuscripts are mostly old or why the Byzantine manuscripts are mostly newer.

I should have known that I couldn't post something remotely positive about about the Byzantine manuscripts and expect an intelligent discussion of relevant issues. Anybody read Robinson's article yet? Go ahead, say yes and surprise me.

Serves me right for being an optimist.

Frank Sansone said...

Ben,

Sorry if something I said was out-of-line with the discussion. I was not really arguing, per se, about the superiority or priority of either text. I was merely answering one comment. I am sorry if this was out of bounds.

In answer to your question about reading the entire article, I will have to admit the answer is no. I did read enough of it to get the jest of what he was saying (which was actually much stronger than what I tried to say) and I bookmarked it for coming back to read more fully when I get a little more time.

I also agree with your comments about Sorrenson's book. He also made a number of comments regarding the view that he opposed that were, imo, both inaccurate and misleading.

I did appreciate you posting the original article and I hope your disappointment with the direction of the conversation does not discourage your posting of similar sources (on both sides of this and other issues). It is helpful to those of us who are no longer in academia or who may not look in the same area for things.

In Christ,

Pastor Frank Sansone

Ben said...

Frank,

I was responding to d. makri, not you. I'm simply not interested in having a debate here about issues that aren't germane to the article, and clearly dm's arguments are not, since he/she doesn't have a clue what Robinson is talking about. If you want to point out how Robinson supports your perspective, have at it.

D. Makri said...

Brothers, I have not meant to start a fire here. I guess the main point that I wanted to share was how if it is agreed that the Byzantine text is superior as the original post mentioned, then why would we want to use modern translations that are not based upon it? This will be my last post on this topic. Again, though I have a different view on this topic, I am not here to make war. Thanks for your insights.

ben said...

Then please tell me which translation you use that is based on the Byzantine text. Don't say KJV, and don't say NKJV, because they're based on the TR, not the Byzantine text. And that's the point here (or at least one of them). Assuming Kutilek's review is accurate, Sorenson doesn't get that point. And if you think Sorenson is the best and clearest book on the topic, it seems that you don't get the point either.

By the way, it's Robinson, a Byzantine defender, making this key point that the Byzantine text and the TR are not the same.

I don't mean to be abrasive. I've just grown weary of people advancing the falsehood that the TR and the Byzantine textform are the same thing, and the last place I want that happening is here.