by James Snapp, Jr.
Competing Analytical Approaches
The Byzantine Priority view may be considered a form of documentary criticism, in which readings from a particular set of witnesses - in this case, Greek manuscripts
displaying the Byzantine Text - are preferred on the grounds that their external support is superior and because their authenticity implies a plausible model of
transmission-history. Essentially the same sort of approach was used by Hort, although Hort regarded the Alexandrian Text as superior (and thus, the early
Alexandrian manuscripts were his favored documents), and proposed a very different model of transmission-history to account for its rivals.
Two other approaches were developed by textual critics in the 1900's by scholars aspiring to produce an eclectic text, that is, a text obtained via the utilization of a
variety of sources. Thoroughgoing Eclecticism (also known as Rigorous Eclecticism) values the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants as the best means to
determine their relationships, effectively rejecting Hort's axiom. Even if a reading appears exclusively in late witnesses, if its intrinsic qualities are judged to be better
than its rivals, it is adopted, on the premise that its young supporters echo an older text - the autograph - at that point. Building on the theory that text-types did not
stabilize until the 200's or later, thoroughgoing eclectics resort to the only sort of reconstruction which can be undertaken without appealing to the relationships of
text-types: the relationships of rival variants. Advocates of this approach tend to be more willing to introduce conjectural emendations, if the emendations possess
superior intrinsic qualities to its rival extant variants.
Reasoned Eclecticism (also known as Rational Eclecticism) considers the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants, but also considers the quality of each variant's
sources, their date, and their scope. The text of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament was compiled using a form of reasoned eclecticism. However,
in its companion-volume, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger's comments show that the quality of sources tended to be measured
according to Hort's model of transmission-history. In The Text of the New Testament, Metzger wrote, "Theoretically it is possible that the Koine text" - that is,
the Byzantine Text - "may preserve an early reading which was lost from the other types of text, but such instances are extremely rare." (From page 212, footnote 1,
of The Text of the New Testament. On the same page, Metzger treated the Lucianic Recension as a historical fact.] As a result, the UBS text varies only slightly
from Hort's text.
An alternative is Equitable Eclecticism, in which the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants are considered, and each variant's sources, their date, and their scope
are also considered. Equitable Eclecticism begins by developing a generalized model of transmission-history, and estimates of the relative values of the readings
of groups, through a five-step process:
First, the witnesses are organized into groups which share distinctive variants.
Second, variant-units involving variants distinct to each group are analyzed according to text-critical principles, or canons.
Third, a tentative model of transmission-history is developed, cumulatively explaining the relationships of the competing groups to one another by explaining
the relationships of their component-parts where distinctive variants are involved. This model of transmission-history utilizes the premise the earliest stratum of
the Byzantine Text of the Gospels (echoed by Family , the Peshitta, Codex A, part of Codex W, the Gothic version, and the Purple Codices N-O-S-F) arose
without the involvement of witnesses that contained the Alexandrian, Western, or Caesarean texts. Even readings supported by a higher stratum of the Byzantine
Text and not by the lowest one are not rejected automatically, inasmuch as some of them may echo extinct text-forms which the Proto-Byzantine Text absorbed
as it spread.
Fourth, values are assigned to groups rather than to individual witnesses. Less dependence by one group upon another group, as implied cumulatively by the
relationship of its variants the rival variants in other groups, yields a higher assigned value.
Fifth, all reasonably significant variant-units (those which make a translatable difference) are analyzed according to text-critical canons, using all potentially
helpful materials, including readings that are not characteristic of groups. When internal considerations are finely balanced and a decision is difficult, special
consideration is given to readings attested by whatever group appears to be the least dependent upon the others in the proximity of the difficult variant-unit.
If no group appears especially independent of the others in the proximity of the variant-unit, the decision depends upon the trained intuition of the critic.
This will yield the archetype of all groups, albeit with some points of instability (at especially difficult variant-units) and with a degree of instability in regard to
Equitable Eclecticism, besides rejecting the theory that the Byzantine Text was formed entirely via a consultation of manuscripts containing Alexandrian and
Western readings, utilizes some additional principles which set it apart from the kinds of textual criticism which produced the revised text and its modern-day
1. Textual criticism is a science, not an art.
2. The text of the New Testament should be reconstructed in its component-parts: Gospels and Acts and Pauline Epistles and General Epistles and Revelation.
3. Relationships shown by patterns of readings in one part should not be assumed to exist in the others.
4. The genealogical descent of a group of manuscripts from an ancestor-manuscript other than the autograph is not assumed without actual evidence that establishes
links among specific manuscripts (such as shared formats, shared marginalia, shared miniatures, or readings which conclusively show stemmatic links).
5. Variants involving nomina sacra are placed in a special class, and receive special attention.
6. The assumption of preference for the shorter reading is rejected.
7. If a variant has very sporadic support from witnesses greatly separated by age and textual character, this possibly indicates that the variant was liable to be
spontaneously created by copyists, rather than that it was transmitted by distant transmission-streams.
8. Exceptional intrinsic merit is required for the adoption of variants attested exclusively or nearly exclusively by bilingual manuscripts in which a Greek variant
may have originated via retro-translation.
9. Conjectural emendations are not to be placed in the text.
Equitable Eclecticism also utilizes principles shared by other approaches. These principles are all superseded by Principle Zero: no principle should be applied
1. A variant which explains its rivals with greater elegance and force than it is explained by any of them is more likely to be original.
2. A variant supported by witnesses representing two or more locales of early Christendom is more likely to be original than a variant supported by witnesses
representing only one locale.
3. A variant which can be shown to have had, in the course of the transmission of the text, the appearance of difficulty (either real or imagined), and which is
rivaled by variants without such difficulty, is more likely than its rivals to be original.
4. A variant supported by early attestation is more likely to be original than a rival variant supported exclusively by late attestation.
5. A variant which conforms a statement to the form of a similar statement in a similar document, or in the same document, is less likely to be original than a
rival variant that does not exhibit conformity.
6. A variant which involves a rare, obscure, or ambiguous term or expression is more likely to be original than a rival variant which involves an ordinary term
7. A variant which is consistent with the author's discernible style and vocabulary is more likely to be original than a rival variant which deviates from the author's
usual style and vocabulary and the vocabulary which he may naturally be expected to have been capable of using.
8. A variant which is fully explained as a liturgical adjustment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be thus explained.
9. A variant which is capable of expressing anti-Judaic sentiment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of such expression.
10. A variant which can be explained as an easy transcriptional error is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be explained as an easy
transcriptional error or as one which would be less easily made.
11. A variant which appears to have originated as a deliberate alteration is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of originating in
the same way.
12. Ceteris paribus, a variant which does not result in a Minor Agreement is more likely to be original than a rival variant which results in a Minor Agreement.
Christian readers may feel intimidated or exasperated at the realization that the original text of the New Testament can only be fully reconstructed by a careful
analysis of the witnesses - a massive and intricate task which currently involves no less than 130 papyri, about 320 uncials, about 2,870 minuscules, and about
2,430 lectionaries. (Exact numbers would misimpress, because some items in the lists are no longer extant, and some have been found to be parts of other items
also listed.) And then there are the versional and patristic materials to consider! The feeling may be increased when one also realizes that even the most erudite
textual critics have reached divergent conclusions, and that all conclusions must be subject to the implications of future discoveries.
This may lead some readers to decline to investigate the text, deciding instead to hopefully adhere to whatever text (or texts) they already use. Such an expedient
response is understandable, especially in light of the often-repeated (but false) claim that textual variants have no significant doctrinal impact. Nevertheless, for
those few who are not content to place blind confidence in textual critics, or to posit providential favor upon a particular set of variants on account of its popularity
or for other reasons, the best option is to become textual critics themselves, becoming acquainted with the contents of the manuscripts and other witnesses like a
traveler who must know his maps. Such acquaintance will yield a different kind of confidence than untested assumptions can produce.
Yet the comparison to a map is insufficient to describe the Christian researcher's text of the New Testament. After we have done our best to conduct research
with scientific detachment, the text will be to us not only a map from which additions have been erased and damage has been repaired, but also a pure light,
illuminating the path and enlightening the traveler. With that thought I leave the reader to consider the words of J. A. Bengel, one of the pioneers of New Testament
Te totum applica ad textum:
rem totam applica ad te.
Apply all of yourself to the text,
Apply it all to yourself.