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Textual Criticism Books Reviewed

Below are reviews of books which discuss Biblical textual criticism. When available, the title links are direct links to where the book can be purchased from Books-A-Million

For details on my book Differences Between Bible Versions mentioned in these reviews, see Differences Between Bible Versions Preview. It is also available from Books-a-Million .

For details on the Analytical-Literal Translation mentioned in these reviews, see Analytical-Literal Translation Preview. It is also available from Books-A-Million in hardcover and paperback formats.

Unholy Hands on the Bible: Vol. I
 An Introduction to Textual Criticism
By Dean J. Burgon

This volume was edited by Jay P. Green, and he has added some of his own material. But the bulk of the book is taken from the writings of Burgon (1813-1888).

Burgon was a stanch defender of the Textus Receptus (TR) against the then new text of Westcott and Hort (WH). Today’s Majority Text (MT) is very similar to the TR and today’s Critical Text (CT) to the WH text.

This volume actually contains several books by Burgon. The first book defends “The Traditional Text of the New Testament” against the new WH text.

The following quote summarizes his argument:
Does the truth of the Text of Scripture dwell with the vast multitude of copies, uncial and cursive, concerning which nothing is more remarkable than the MARVELOUS AGREEMENT which subsists between them? Or is it rather to be supposed that the truth abides exclusively with a very little handful of manuscripts, which at once differ from the great bulk of the manuscripts, and also differ widely among themselves? (p.9).

He then lists and explains his “Seven Notes of Truth.” They are:
1. Antiquity, or Primitiveness.
2. Consent of Witnesses, or Number.
3. Variety of Evidence, or Catholicity [i.e. geographical distribution].
4. Respectability of Witnesses, or Weight.
5. Continuity, or Unbroken Tradition.
6. Evidence of the Entire passage, or Context.
7. Internal Considerations, or Reasonableness (UnHoly, Vol. I, p.15).

These Seven Notes of Truth are still followed today by MT scholars, such as Robinson and Pierpont, the producers of the Byzantine Majority Text. This writer used this Greek text when producing my Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament. So indirectly, Burgon had an influence on my translation work.

The second book looks at “The Cause of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Gospels.” He then goes into detail on various accidental and intentional causes of corruption. He demonstrates why it is manuscripts like Aleph and Beta, which WH favored, which are more likely to have these corruptions than the Byzantine manuscripts underlining the TR.

Next he looks at “The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to Mark.” He explains why a few manuscripts more likely omitted this passage than that it was added to the bulk of manuscripts. He does the same with the story of “The Woman Taken in Adultery” (John 7:53-8:11).

He also looks at “The Revision Revised.” This is “A Critique of the English Revised Version of 1881.” Although the RV is no longer popular, most new versions still follow the ideas underlining it. So this book is still relevant today.

Then Burgon demonstrates the “Proof of the Genuineness of God Manifested on the Flesh.” This is a detailed defense of the reading of “God” in the TR in 1Timonthy 3:16 rather than the WH text reading of “who.” This variant is important as with “God” the verse demonstrates the deity of Christ, but with “who” this proof-text is lost.

Then comes a book on “The Secret Spanking of Westcott and Hort.” This book demonstrates fallacies in the reasoning of WH. The volume then closes with a short book on “Conflation and the ‘Neutral’ Text.” In this book Burgon critiques Hort’s textual transmission theory.

Overall, Burgon’s writings are very in-depth. The amount of information in this book can be overwhelming, and it is rather difficult reading. So this volume is not for the person new to the subject. For such a person I would suggest my book Differences Between Bible Versions. It has an entire section on Greek text types, starting with a chapter titled “Introduction to Textual Criticism.” So my book would be the place to begin, and Burgon’s books in this volume would be the place to go for much greater detail.

The Byzantine Text-Type and 
New Testament Textual Criticism
By Harry A. Sturz

Since the late 1800’s, many textual critics have considered the handful of Alexandrian Greek texts to be more reliable than the far more numerous Byzantine texts. The Byzantine texts have been written off as being “conflations” from a later time than the Alexandrian texts. And this attitude has led to the creation of today’s Critical Text (CT).

However, others have staunchly maintained that the Alexandrian manuscripts are not that reliable and that the Byzantine texts in fact preserve readings dating to the earliest centuries. And since the Byzantine texts comprise the vast majority of the manuscripts, this text is referred to as the Majority Text (MT). And this book by Sturz proves that the Byzantine texts are in fact much more reliable than CT scholars would like to admit.

But first it should be noted that Sturz is not a supporter of the MT per se. He takes a middle position in this debate. He simply believes, "... the Byzantine text should be recognized as having an important and useful place in textual criticism because it is an independent witness to an early form of the New Testament text" (p.23).

Sturz explains why he disagrees with the CT assessment of the Byzantine text, "Although the reasoning of Westcott and Hort seemed sound at the time they wrote, discoveries since then have undermined the confident appraisal that characteristically Syrian [Byzantine] readings are necessarily late" (p.55).

The most important of these discoveries was several Egyptian papyri. Sturz lists "150 distinctively Byzantine readings" found in these papyri. Included in his list are papyri numbers 13, 45, 46, 47, 49, 59, 66, 72, 74, and 75 (pp. 61, 145-159).

Sturz brings up another very important point about these papyri, "They attest the early existence of readings in the Eastern part of the Roman empire in which the Byzantine and the properly (i.e. geographically) Western witnesses agree and at the same time are opposed by the Alexandrian" (p.70).

IOW, some early "Western" texts agree with the Byzantine tradition where it differs from the Alexandrian. Sturz lists 170 of these types of readings (pp.160-174).

Sturz concludes, "In view of the above, it is concluded that the papyri supply valid evidence that distinctively Byzantine readings were not created in the fourth century but were already in existence before the end of the second century and that, because of this, Byzantine readings merit serious consideration" (p.69).

And Sturz asks the question, "What about Byzantine readings which occur in parts of the New Testament where there are no papyri, AS YET, to confirm them?" (p.64, emphasis in original). The problem is that even with the most recent discoveries, the papyri data is still rather sparse.

Sturz’s supports these statements with extensive charts documenting these Byzantine readings in the early papyri. He also demonstrates that Byzantine readings have been found in the writings of the Church Fathers. And he explains that the Byzantine text was not created by a fourth century “conflation” as CT scholars have claimed.

So overall, this book does a thorough job of showing that the Byzantine texts are just as reliable manuscripts as Alexandrian manuscripts. Now I would go a step further and say the Byzantine manuscripts are in fact more reliable than Alexandrian manuscripts. And I document my reasons for believing so in my book Differences Between Bible Versions. But I quote from Sturz’s book in my book as it at least provides a foundation for accepting that the Byzantine texts are reliable.

The Text of the New Testament:
An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to
the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism
By Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland;
Erroll F. Rhodes (Translator)

This book opens with the statement, “this book is designed as a college text or home study manual for students using the ‘Standard text’ of the Greek New Testament…” (p.v). By “standard text” the Alands are referring to either the text they helped to edit, the Nestle-Aland text, or the text by the United Bible Societies. With their most recent editions, these two texts are now identical and can be referred to as the Critical Text (CT).

This books provides a history of editions of the Greek NT, from Erasmus’s text of the 1500’s down to today’s CT. This background information is helpful, but the discussion is obviously more favorably to the discoveries that led to the development of the CT than to those supporting the Textus Receptus (TR) and the more recent MT. Of these three texts, this writer prefers the MT or even the TR to the CT, so much so that I utilized the Byzantine Majority Text when I produced my Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament.

That said, the Alands then discuss what they believe was the history of the transmission of the NT in the earliest centuries. And once again, their theory in this regard favors the Alexandrian texts underlining the CT rather than the Byzantine texts underlining the TR and MT.

In my book Differences Between Bible Versions I present an alternative theory of the transmission of the manuscripts, based on the work of Robinson and Pierpont, the producers of the Byzantine Majority Text.

The Alands then look in depth at the different kinds of manuscripts. Some of the information in this section is very helpful. For instance, they give detailed discussions on how the materials used by scribes were produced. I refer to this information in the chapter on “An Introduction to Textual Criticism” in my book. Also interesting in this section of the Alands’ book are the pictures of early manuscripts. There are also extensive lists of manuscripts.

But where I disagree with the Alands is in their evaluations of the reliability of different manuscripts. For instance, they consider Alexandrian texts to be the most reliable while Byzantine texts are said to “irrelevant for textual criticism” (p.155). In my book I argue for the exact opposite position. I believe the Alexandrian texts are more likely corrupted while the mass of Byzantine texts are more reliable.

The Alands also look at early translations of the NT and provide information on using modern editions of the Greek NT, meaning the text they helped edit or the UBS text. The textual apparatuses in these Greek texts enable one to study the manuscript evidence behind textual variants, but they can be confusing. So an explanation on how to use the apparatuses is helpful.

In the last chapter, the Alands present their “Twelve Basic Rules of Textual Criticism.” I critique many of these “rules” in my book and show how they are not really that sound of rules. The book then closes with a look at verses with textual variants. I do the same in my book. But again, we come to opposite conclusions.

So my recommendation on this book would be to go ahead and get it. It does provide helpful information on Greek manuscripts and today’s published Greek texts. And it will give the reader one side of the textual debate, the pro-CT side. But before making a decision on this difficult subject, check out a book like mine for the pro-MT side.

Greek New Testament
Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland,
Bruce M. Metzger, J. Karavidopoulos, editors

The value of this book lies in its textual apparatus. Where there are significant textual variants, at the bottom of the page are listed the manuscripts that support the reading found in the text, along with variant readings and their manuscript support.

However, I personally often disagree with the conclusions the editors of this text came to on variants. I prefer the Majority Text (MT) or even the Textus Receptus to the Critical Text (CT) found in this book. And I discuss the reasons why I do in my book Differences Between Bible Versions.

In my book I have chapters looking at textual variants between the above three Greek texts, and I did consult this Greek text quite often in evaluating each variant. So this book is invaluable in doing textual studies. And I would recommend it on that basis. But before accepting the conclusions of the editors of this text, see a book like mine for a different viewpoint.

A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament
Bruce M. Metzger

In this book, Metzger explains the reasons why the UBS committee came to the conclusions it did on textual variants in its Greek New Testament. He discussed both objective standards like the manuscripts evidence and subjective ones (like the shorter reading is to be preferred) that were utilized by the committee in its decisions. Metzger’s book also sometimes includes variants that are not found in the textual apparatus in the Greek Text. For such information, this book is helpful.

The text advocated in this book is a Critical Text (CT) type of text. But while I much prefer the Majority Text (MT) or even the Textus Receptus (TR) to the CT. And I discuss my reasons for believing so in my book Differences Between Bible Versions.

I my book I look at both the manuscript evidence and the subjective “rules” of the UBS committee. I then look at specific verses with textual variants in them and give discussions similar to those found in Metzger’s book. And quote quite often from this book in my book. So this book was very helpful in writing my own book.

So I would recommend this book. It does provide helpful information on textual variants and the manuscripts evidence thereof. It also gives the reader a look into of reasoning the CT scholars used as they worked on their Greek Text. But before accepting their conclusions, consult a book like mine for a different opinion.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above reviews were posted on this Web site July 21, 2001

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