Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Confessing Textual Variants

        Years ago, James White posted a brief debate that he had with Douglas Wilson over textual critical issues. Wilson represented the traditional viewpoint of using the textus receptus or the received text, which the Refomers used, while White pressed the matter of getting back to the original wording of the Apostles though the course of the debate. One point concerning a particular definition is interesting to look at.

        During White's rubuttal, he asked Wilson to define what he ment by the "confessing historical Church" to which Wilson responded, "Confessing refers to creeds and confessions, and historical refers to the providence of God as He has protected and led the Church over time. Thus the confessing historical Church has determined that the Bible contains 66 books and that Mark 16:9-20 is in one of them. A few readings remain to be settled, but the settling is to be done by the confessing historical Church—not Zondervan. Individualistic efforts may be believing work, and yet not submitted to the authority of the Church. Secular canons of academic text criticism do not require ecclesiastical review."

        The assuption is that the canon of scripture includes all of the verses that were held as canonical at the time that the confessions were written.  It is dubious since the denotative definition given in the first chapter of the Westminster Confession, for instance, does not clearly articulate all the chapters and verses that are cannonical, only the books. More generaly, Wilson trusts the sources that the Reformers used for their textual selections. But Erasmus had a ten manuscripts to work from, which is far less than the thousands of manuscripts that scholars have access to today.

4 comments:

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

First, it's "canon."

The assumption that the Reformers accepted Mark 16:9-20 as Scripture is not an assumption. It is demonstrable from their writings.

So when it is affirmed in the Westminster Confession that Scripture has been kept pure in all ages, one has three options: (A) reject the Westminster Confession, (B) interpret "pure" to refer to the text's didactic content, rather than its form, or (C) accept the Textus Receptus or, at least, the Byzantine Text as the canonical New Testament text of the Reformation,

You wrote: "Erasmus had a ten manuscripts to work from, which is far less than the thousands of manuscripts that scholars have access to today."

This is a common misconception that has been spread by promoters of newer versions. Erasmus had studied far more MSS than the ones that were on hand at Basel. Plus, he utilized patristic writings which contain quotations from very ancient copies. For instance, Irenaeus' quotation of Mark 16:19 is older than the oldest manuscript of Mark 16 by over a century. Also: the statement about how we now have so many more MSS does not really help in the case of Mark 16:9-20, since only two Greek MSS clearly stop the text at Mark 16:8.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Vytautas said...

Yes, I also must change "article" to "chapter". I must have been getting sloppy.

The Reformers might have accepted the longer ending of Mark, but the WCF does not explicitly render it canonical. The Refomer's private opinion does not define Mark 16:9-20 as Scripture. You must show this from the confessions.

Even though partristic writings are valuable, they are still not biblical manuscripts. The original form of Mark's gospel does not including either the shorter or longer endings which probably came from the early second century.

Erasmus probably used four or five manuscripts for his first edition of the Greek New Testament. Even if he had a bit more plus the partristics, how much better are we off today with thousands of biblical manuscripts at our disposal?

I am also curious if you would defend I John 5:7 as canon too. What do you think?

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

V,

The Westminster Confession, in its very first chapter, stated that the New Testament in Greek has, by God’s singular care and providence, been “kept pure in all ages.” Inasmuch as the persons who composed the Westminster Confession used a text of Mark that contained 16:9-20, it follows that they did not regard the presence of these 12 verses as an impurity.

You wrote: “Even though partristic writings are valuable, they are still not biblical manuscripts.”

So? When a patristic writer specifically states that he is quoting from his copy of a New Testament book, that echoes his manuscript(s). It would be foolish and blind to ignore such evidence.

V: “The original form of Mark's gospel does not including either the shorter or longer endings which probably came from the early second century.”

I don’t grant that, regarding 16:9-20.

V: “Erasmus probably used four or five manuscripts for his first edition of the Greek New Testament. Even if he had a bit more plus the partristics, how much better are we off today with thousands of biblical manuscripts at our disposal?”

Much better, but that is not my point; my point is that you are misrepresenting history by minimizing the resources which Erasmus used – probably because you are relying on commentaries that did likewise.

V: “I am also curious if you would defend I John 5:7 as canon too. What do you think?”

No; not with the current state of the external evidence.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Vytautas said...

Thank you James Snapp for replying to my comments. I have been caught up in the "real life" outside of these scribles on my blog. You perhaps have been waiting patiently for a response over a week now. I finally have some free time, so I will put my "Vytautas" mask on now.

[dons a old rusty helmet from medieval Lithuania]

So you have come to tell me that you do not like my criteria for picking what counts as textual evidence for the Greek New Testament. You have your tradition of taking the WCF at face value when it uses readings that are unacceptable in modern textual studies. You commented on my Privy saying:

"The Westminster Confession, in its very first chapter, stated that the New Testament in Greek has, by God’s singular care and providence, been “kept pure in all ages.” Inasmuch as the persons who composed the Westminster Confession used a text of Mark that contained 16:9-20, it follows that they did not regard the presence of these 12 verses as an impurity."

Ok, so the theologians at Westminster thought Mark 16:9-20 was canon. How does it follow by good and necessary inference that we should also accept their textual choices?

Also you gave a puzzling response with the following:

V: "Even though partristic writings are valuable, they are still not biblical manuscripts."

J: "So? When a patristic writer specifically states that he is quoting from his copy of a New Testament book, that echoes his manuscript(s). It would be foolish and blind to ignore such evidence."

Who is ignoring such evidence? We must keep in mind as students of the Word that there are different levels of evidence. Scripture manuscripts are primary, but when a father of the early church quotes Scripture, it does not have the same amount of "weight" as does a hand-written copy from the 3rd century, for example. Do you not agree with this line of reasoning?

Also I find what you say below to be disrespectful. I say this because I have done the same thing in the past, and I would like for you to know why what you said was wrong:

V: “Erasmus probably used four or five manuscripts for his first edition of the Greek New Testament. Even if he had a bit more plus the partristics, how much better are we off today with thousands of biblical manuscripts at our disposal?”

J: "Much better, but that is not my point; my point is that you are misrepresenting history by minimizing the resources which Erasmus used – probably because you are relying on commentaries that did likewise."

How did you know I looked up a commentary to come to your conclusion that I have "misrepresent[ed] history"? Do you know what I have in my library? Do you know what books or articles that I have access to? No, you have been reaching here. And this searching for a reason that you do have have the privilage to puts me in a bind.

I will tell you what, if you can find a commentary that says anything like what I wrote above, I will take back what I wrote and resign this petty feud. Until then I wish you well in your quest to use the same readings that the Westminster divines used.

Vytautas