Saturday, November 26, 2016

Review of Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism by Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts

by Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts (PP).

This review is from a Skeptical Textual Criticism standpoint and only covers PP’s coverage of identifying and weighing External evidence which in their Kindle version starts at Location 2250 Chapter 8 Methodology (2) Weighing External Evidence.

PP identifies their related objective as follows:

“In this and the following two chapters, we will outline a (not necessarily the) method for working through variant readings in an attempt to recover the original text of the NT based roughly on the reasoned eclecticism method laid out in the previous chapter.”

As a Skeptic understand that the method PP presents is the method for Traditional Textual Criticism (TTC), the historical and currently dominant position, but not the Skeptical method. As PP presents their methodology the implication is usually that what they are presenting is what they consider to be the most common and what they recommend.

In the big picture PP writes:
“External evidence, most textual critics agree, should take priority in making text-critical judgments, because it is the most objective tangible evidence that we have for the textual history of the NT.”

A fair statement for TTC but Skeptical Textual Criticism (STC) would flip priority to Internal evidence. Specifically, PP lists the following criteria for External evidence:

1) Date combined with Text-type

2) Geographical distribution

3) Genealogical relationship

Another fair description of TTC and this time also a fair description of the current state of STC. But, STC is relatively new and therefore its methodology is relatively undeveloped and informal compared to TTC’s.

A good methodology to compare TTC’s methodology to would be the English legal system. The following criteria should be added: 

1 - Credibility of source
A - General = Considered in TTC for Manuscripts (Age & Text type). Not generally considered for Patristics. Patristics that exhibit Textual Criticism outlook and critical thinking such as Origen, Eusebius and Jerome, should have more credibility (relative to Patristics). Others with more errors per line and more conclusion oriented like Irenaeus should have less.

B - Specific - variation present? = For the Patristic that presents variation in witness, credibility is less for that specific issue.

2 - Explanatory power
A - Direction (of change) = Considered by TTC for Internal evidence but not so much for External evidence even though it is the single most important question of Textual Criticism. When manuscripts/Patristics have extant evidence of editing/related indications this goes beyond "what" to "when", "how" and "why".

B - Coordination/Consistency with other evidence = Again, TTC considers for Internal evidence, not so much for External. Does the specific "what" witness coordinate with the "what", "when", "how" and "why" witness of other categories of evidence.

3 - Applicability (to the Textual Criticism issue)
A - Scope of the evidence. Group versus individual reference. For Patristics, witness with a context of Textual Criticism has exponentially more weight than witness without.

B - Directness. Explicit or implicit. = TTC tends to round up or down with implications. Implications should be weighted in between Explicit and nothing.

Regarding categories of external evidence PP writes:
“Besides the biblical manuscripts, we also have other Greek manuscript evidence that does not play a direct role in textual criticism but that we should at least recognize and take into account as appropriate. The most important of this evidence is some of the quotations found in some of the early church fathers”

By indicating that Patristic evidence is secondary to Manuscript evidence in the external category PP understates the value of Patristic evidence even in TTC as TTC does favor the Manuscript as to quantity but not quality. STC is flipped with Patristic evidence favored over Manuscript when there is a minimum of Patristic evidence.

In summary then, the presentation of External evidence methodology in Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is a reasonable presentation of Traditional Textual Criticism with the main criticism being that it has improperly identified Patristic evidence as overly secondary to Manuscript evidence. The complaint is that because the scope of the book is only trying to present Traditional Textual Criticism, the Skeptical reader would not know based on the book that:

1   1) In general Skeptical Textual Criticism has a significantly different methodology with a major difference being the priority of Internal evidence.

2   2) Specifically there are good criteria such as Credibility, Explanation and Applicability that are generally not included in Textual Criticism leading to over emphasis of quantity of Manuscripts.