Friday, April 20, 2007

Dean John William Burgon vs. Alan Kurschner

Where are the Manuscripts?

In a recent article, Mr. Kurschner challenged Dean Burgon's view of the manuscript ancestry of the so-called Byzantine text. Mr. Kurschner's article appears simply to adopt modern methodologies and claims of the mainstream textual critical movement, and does not significantly interact with Dean Burgon's position.

Mr. Kurschner justifies this lack of substantial interaction by descibing Dean Burgon's views as not having been significantly advanced by "KJVO advocates." This author notes that the world is not divided into KJVO advocates and those who uncritically accept the tenets of modern textual criticism. Others, like the present author, believe that modern textual criticism is fundamentally flawed in certain respects at a presuppositional level, and thus reject many of the claims of modern textual critics.

Mr. Kurschner notes one argument that is advanced to explain why copies of Byzantine text-type manuscripts are not available prior to the earliest known Byzantine text-type manuscript (which is at least a couple of centuries separated from the autographs). The argument that Mr. Kurschner notes is the "worn out" argument.

The "worn out" argument has the following rational basis. It supposes that most scribes would have been able to identify high quality manuscripts and would have selected those manuscripts from which to make copies. The frequent use of these manuscripts would have led to their deterioration, decay, and eventually destruction. Hence, this argument reasons, one would not expect to find very old, very high quality manuscripts - but would instead expect to find mostly old, unused manuscripts.

Mr. Kurschner, doubting this explanation, refers to such manuscripts as "phantom manuscripts." This author will refer to those manuscripts as "valued second generation manuscripts" (VSGM).

Mr. Kurschner raises several questions:

1) Why didn't the church father's quote from the VSGM?

2) How could it be that ALL of the VSGM could perish?

3) If the VSGM wore out through use made by copying, where are all the copies?

Mr. Kurshner supposes that these questions settle the matter contrary to the KJVO position, and, accordingly, concludes that KJVO advocates are forced to retreat to the use of prooftexts to support their position.

Before continuing, this author wishes to make clear that what is being advocated by Thoughts of Francis Turretin is not a KJVO position. Furthermore, this author notes that the issues raised above would pose no obstacle for a presuppositional KVO-ist. If one presupposes that the KJV is uniquely inspired, then one does not need evidentiary support and one will not be swayed by arguments that purport to be evidentiary in nature.

Mr. Kurschner's analysis of the alleged proof texts would be far more value to the Reformed community than the three issues that Mr. Kurshner raised in the article above. The reason why is simple: the issues raised by Mr. Kurschner have reasonable, logical answers.

0) There is more than one explanation for the absence of VSGM. In addition to overuse, climate is one explanation and another is persecution.

1) Mr. Kurshner's argument states that the early Christian writers did not quote from the Byzantine text-type. There are several problems with this assertion.

First, it is hard enough to determine "text-type" from a fragment. It is harder still to determine text-type from reading an epistle or even commentary that may quote Scripture without rigid punctuation rules, or may paraphrase Scripture.

Second, of course, the patristics are not autographs and have their own textual critical associated issues. Determining whether certain patristic writings are authentic is sometimes a prerequisite to determine whether they are accurate, which - in turn - would be a prerequisite to determining the effect of their testimony as to the correct reading.

Third, it's puzzling why Mr. Kurshner emphasizes text-type but overlooks readings. While there may not be Byzantine text-type documents, there are certainly many areas of agreement as to the Byzantine readings.

Fourth, it is unclear whether Mr. Kurshner is asserting that the patristic writers were simply all over the place, or whether Mr. Kurshner supposes that the patristic writers had access to truly superior Greek manuscripts, and quoted from them.

Fifth, viewed narrowly as to the "worn-out" claim, those would be the manuscripts possessed by expert, professional scribes, not bishops who happened to be persuasive writers.

2) As to how all the VGSM could perish: well, very few manuscripts at all have survived from before 5th century. Generally those that do are those that are not documents kept in daily constant use but are documents stored in a relatively arid climate, such as the Nag Hammadi collection or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

3) The third argument is the strongest argument, but the answer is that they are represented in the Byzantine text-form. The argument is not that the copies were all made before the 5th century.


We have reason to believe that at least a modicum of textual criticism was practiced among the ancients. We can also reasonably suppose that the Byzantine church had manuscripts that have been lost over time. Those manuscripts may be those from which many Byzantine copies were made, and they may have been selected as models for copying based on their quality in that day.

IF that is so, there is no reason to downplay a fifth century Byzantine text, simply because it is younger than Vaticanus.

1 comment:

Turretinfan said...

One commentator on this entry (whose comments have been scratched by request) asked whether I am KJVO and recommended Dr. James White's book on the subject.

In case the above was not clear: I prefer for devotional reading, when I am reading in English, to use the KJV, and I believe it provides the best translation for pulpit exposition as well.

I am in favor, as a matter of standard church practice to provide only KJV pew Bibles, if a church so desires - since the KJV is an excellent translation.

Nevertheless, I am not a KJVO advocate, and I believe that the KJVO advocates do harm by often presenting an unreasonable case for the KJV's priority.