Modern Approaches To New Testament Textual Criticism

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First Composed: 19th June 2005

Last Modified: 19th June 2005

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1. Introduction

It is seldom clear to the readers various kinds of approaches available for the reconstruction of the New Testament text. In order to fill this gap, we present a brief but excellent introduction to the modern day approaches to New Testament textual criticism. These approaches are used to prepare the critical texts of the New Testament.

The material below is from David A. Black's New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, 1994, Baker Books: Grand Rapids (MI), pp. 36-39.

Not all scholars consider the [above] principles equally valid or applicable to New Testament textual criticism. Today, four approaches to textual criticism can be seen among New Testament scholars. Each of the four current approaches may be identified with individual scholars. For the sake of convenience, these approaches may be called Radical Eclecticism, Reasoned Eclecticism, Reasoned Conservatism, and Radical Conservatism. The term "eclectic" means that the scholar tends to view each textual variant on its own merits instead of blindly following one manuscript or group of manuscripts. The term "conservative" is used here to refer to a generally high view of the traditional Byzantine text type and/or the Textus Receptus.

A. Radical Eclecticism (G. D. Kilpatrick, J. K. Elliott)

Radical Eclecticism holds to what may be called a purely eclectic text. This approach prefers a text based solely on internal evidence. Adherents of this view argue that since the history of the New Testament text is untraceable, none of the text types carries any weight. Hence the reading of any manuscript may be original, since no manuscript or group of manuscripts is "best". An eclectic scholar will thus choose the reading that commends itself as best fitting the context, whether in style or thought. This view, held primarily by a minority of British scholars, has been criticized for ignoring the value and importance of the external evidence, particularly the Greek manuscripts.

B. Reasoned Eclecticism (B. M. Metzger, K. Aland)

Reasoned Eclecticism holds that the text of the New Testament is to be based on both internal and external evidence, without a preference for any particular manuscript or text type. This view of the text is represented in the Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies' Greek New Testaments. This approach often represents a predilection for manuscripts of the Alexandrian text type. This preference is based largely on Westcott and Hort's theory that the Byzantine text is a conflation of the Alexandrian and Western texts, and that the superiority of the Alexandrian text over the Western text can be shown through internal evidence. This approach has occasionally been criticized for producing a new "Textus Receptus" - a canonized form of the New Testament text.

C. Reasoned Conservatism (H. A. Sturz)

What might be called Reasoned Conservatism holds that each of the main text types is equally early and independent, going back separately into the second century. Like Reasoned Eclecticism, Reasoned Conservatism sees both internal and external evidence as useful. However; unlike Reasoned Eclecticism, which tends to follow the Alexandrian text, Reasoned Conservatism insists that no single text type can be preferred over all others, and instead emphasizes the geographical distribution of the text types. Scholars who hold to his view argue that the Byzantine text is older than the age of the earliest Byzantine manuscript (fifth century). For example, Byzantine readings once thought to be late have been found in early Egyptian papyri. Therefore, adherents of this view consider the Byzantine text type to be an early and independent witness to the text of the New Testament. They further believe that the reading that is the consensus of the majority of text types is most representative of the autographs. Reasoned Conservatism has been criticized for restoring the Byzantine text (which many feel to be "corrupt") to a place of usefulness.

D. Radical Conservatism (Z. Hodges, A. Farstad)

Finally, the approach that may be called Radical Conservatism holds that the Byzantine text type most closely approximates the original text of the New Testament. Scholars who hold to this view prefer the reading of the majority of manuscripts, which are, of course, mainly Byzantine. Several of these scholars have produced the New King James Version, which is based on the Textus Receptus, thus perpetuating the tradition begun by William Tyndale in 1525 and continued in King James Version of 1611. This approach has been criticized for being too mechanical and for ignoring the fact that manuscripts must be weighed and not just counted. For example, if ten manuscripts are copies of a single parent manuscript, then an error appearing in the parent will appear ten times in ten copies. But these ten copies are equal to a single authority, not to ten.

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