Saturday, September 01, 2007

Response to Kurschner's "8 Reasons"

Brother Alan Kurschner has posted an article entitled, "8 Reasons Why It Is Fallacious for KJVO Advocates to Invoke the Majority Rule" (link)

Turretinfan Responds:

As a preliminary matter it is important to note that the present author is not a KJVO advocate, but rather a KJV-preferred advocate. With that caveat, the present author commends Kurschner for pointing several important weaknesses in the KJVO position, but recommends several refinements.

1. The first reason AK proposes is that the Greek text behind the KJV is not the "Majority Text," but the Textus Receptus. AK's underlying point is valid: the KJV translators did not count the number of Greek manuscripts on each side of a reading and side with the majority of available manuscripts. So, to claim that the KJV should be accepted on a democratic principle of majority rule does not fully fly.

Several clarifications should be made, though:
a) the raw number of differences between the "Majority Text" and the TR may seem pretty large. Nevertheless, the vast bulk of those differences are inconsequential (spelling differences/word order differences/typographic ommissions) to translation.
b) both the raw number and number of significant differences is higher between the majority text and the Westcott & Hort (WH) text (or its modern offshoots, such as the Nestle-Aland text, and what I assume is AK's preferred text at the moment, the NA27). Thus, if failure to conform to the MT is supposed to be a criticism of the TR, it applies with greater force to the NA27.
c) the KJV was not simply a translation from the Hebrew and Greek testaments and manuscripts. Both AK and (to be fair) the KJVO advocates seems to have overlooked that the KJV translators relied not only the Greek documents but the available versions: most notably the Latin Vulgate.

2. The second reason AK provides is five examples of passages where the differences allegedly matter for translation purposes, and where the KJV reads in accordance with the minority of Greek texts. AK provides one example, Ephesians 3:9, where he asserts that the KJV follows a variant found in only one half of one percent of the Greek documents (there is apparently at least one typo in AK's article: he either intends to say what the present author has reported, or the more extreme claim of five hundreths of one percent of the Greek documents).

It may be worth digging in a bit on this verse:

(KJV - 1769) And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

The variant in question is "fellowship" as opposed to "administration/dispensation/stewardship." The two words sound much a like in Greek, but have a somewhat different spelling. Furthermore, in some cases, the sense between the two words is not that different (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 8:4).

As a matter of clarification, the present author is suspicious of Mr. Kurschner's statistical claim. Tischendorf acknowledges this reading to be found in the margin of 37 (a cursive manuscript) , and suggests that all other manuscripts and versions have the majority reading. Obviously, though, not all of the manuscripts had been collated in Tischendorf's day. Furthermore, somehow "fellowship" got into the English text.

It did not get there from the Wycliffe translation (because Wycliffe translated from the Vulgate). It was not in the Rheims New Testament, because the RNT also primarily translated from the Vulgate (though, clearly, from a later Vulgate than Wycliffe used).

The minority reading is found in Tyndale's Bible, the Coverdale Bible, (the Matthew-Tyndale Bible and the Great Bible were not checked, but almost certainly contain the reading - any reader who has ready access and can verify, please do), the Bishops' Bible, and the Geneva Bible.

The variant is also found in Beza's New Testament (in Latin) and in Stephens' printed Greek Testament (though not in the Complutensian Polyglott, according to the testimony of Gill).

Tyndale apparently relied on Erasmus' 1516 translation as one source of his English translation of the New Testament. Sadly, the present author does not have a copy of Erasmus' 1516 translation to confirm whether it contained the variant.

In any event, the most apparent source of the variant in the English Bible is Erasmus' printing, and the adoption of Erasmus' reading in Beza's Latin, Stephens' Greek (aka Textus Receptus), and Tyndale's English Bibles.

Nevertheless, there is no indication that Erasmus had access to manuscript 37 of Paul's epistles, and there is no reason to suppose that Erasmus would have gleaned such a reading by reverse translation from the Vulgate. Accordingly, there are two other hypotheses: either Erasmus had access to another manuscript (now lost, inaccurately collated, or uncollated) that included such a reading, or Erasmus made the same "error" that was made in manuscript 37.

So, in any event, there is at least one and probably two or more Greek manuscripts that support the variant reading. Thus, 99.5% of the manuscripts against the reading may be a bit of an extreme claim (that would mean that there are 199 manuscripts that have the majority reading, and I'm not confident that there are even 199 manuscripts of Paul's epistle to the Ephesians that include the 9th verse of the 3d chapter.

But, frankly, the precise statistical claim is really a minor detail compared with the main point here. The main point is that the vast weight of the textual evidence from handwritten manuscripts and versions suggests that the original text was "dispensation/stewardship" not "fellowship." Thus, while "fellowship" is an excellent translation of the text of the TR, the TR itself may be incorrect in its transcription, on account (perhaps) of following Erasmsus' printed edition.

Nevertheless, while this may provide a point on which the KJV translation could be improved, it's not a reason to adopt the modern translations. For example, the modern translations typically omit "by Jesus Christ" at the end of verse 9, while the KJV properly retains that phrase and the doctrine that phrase teaches. In contrast, the semantic difference between fellowship and stewardship/dispension is small both in English and Greek.

3. AK's third reason is to assert that the "Byzantine text-form" has more Greek manuscripts attesting it than the "Alexandrian" and "Western" text-forms because historical reasons: Alexandria was taken by the evil forces of Islam, and Western Europe abandoned Greek for Latin. AK asserts that but-for those historical reasons, the copying of the other text forms would have continued apace. This point is just speculation on AK's part. AK does not know (and cannot establish) that those events are the cause for the disappearance of the Alexandrian and Western text-forms. Nevertheless, if this argument is going to be used, one might add that there was more intense persecution of Christians in Western Europe and North Africa under the pre-Christian Roman empire, and consequently more Bible-burnings there. If one is going to speculate - the sky is the limit.

4. AK's fourth objection is: why should we conclude that more attestations of a reading is better than fewer attestations? This question has a rather obvious answer. We expect that scribes tried to copy well from good sources, and not from just any manuscript that they could find. We don't expect to see many copies of the mutilated gospels produced by early heretics. Also, even if a scribe could not tell a good copy from a bad copy, we have no reason to suppose that bad copies were generally used as sources more often than good copies. Accordingly, if a reading is found in a majority of the manuscripts, we would ordinarily expect that such a reading would be more likely to represent the correct reading. Of course, the use of a majority principle cannot be a rigid rule, and there certainly may be cases (the Johanine comma is one) where the majority of texts may have been corrupted.

5. AK's fifth reason is the fact that many KJVO advocates "incessantly denounce" the use of "rational principles" by modern critics. Clearly such a denunciation is inappropriate. And AK is quite right to point out that KJVO advocates attempt to use "rational" principles of their own. Clearly, the problem is that there is a vocal anti-intellectual movement that is reacting emotionally to the mutilation of Scriptures by modern "scholars." Don't throw the baby of scholarship out with the bathwater of modern textual critical trends and theories. It is important to be reasonable in the discussion, and one cannot do that without rational prinicples.

6. Next, AK argues that the Majority Text was not the majority before 900 A.D. This assertion, however, is uninformed speculation. AK simply does not have the data to support it. The Majority Text is not the majority among texts that were written before 900 A.D. that survive to the present day, but virtually all such texts have perished. To imagine that the handful of pre-900 texts we have today is a valid statistical sample of the then-extant texts is to betray one's lack of familiarity with history, geography, and statistics.

7. AK's seventh point relies on his flawed sixth point.

8. AK's eighth point is to note that there are additional problems with respect to the transmission of the Old Testament. That's an interesting topic, but without examples, it doesn't really add much to the debate. It is instructive to consider some of the recent work that is being done in critical reassambly of the LXX translation of the OT by Prof. Pietersma (link) and others.

Finally, AK's conclusion is a bit different from what I would suggest. There is value in a majority principle of textual criticism. Of course, mere quantity absolutely alone is not a textual critical technique that makes sense. Nevertheless, a majority principle is a useful tool for providing some kind of default position in a textual analysis.

AK's underlying apparent view that one should not ignore the quality of the texts is also important, though perhaps not in the way that AK intends. Having W&H's stamp of approval does not make a manuscript good, nor does (necessarily) having homogenous readings making a manuscript bad.

Furthermore, AK should be aware that (at least some) KJVO advocates do consider the quality of the texts. In fact, it is a frequent criticism of the Alexandrian family of texts that they are of low quality. If there are KJVO folks who claim that the only way to decide whether a text is good whether it conforms to the majority, then they are inconsistent (or simply bootstrapping) when they argue at a later time that Alexandrian manuscripts are of low quality.

This inconsistency feeds back into the comment above about what AK is probably thinking. AK seems to have largely adopted the late 19th century principles and attitudes of New Testament textual criticism. If so, when he speaks of a manuscript being good, he may just mean "old," because a number of facile assumptions have led the modern textual critical community to equate "old" and "good."

Old can be a good thing for a text, but other considerations can vastly outweigh the age of text in considering its importance for the purposes of textual criticism. Furthermore, in some instaces, age can be a negative factor: it can indicate disuse, which can suggest contemporary distrust.

So, on the whole, hats off to AK for highlighting some inconsistencies of argument among KJVO advocates, for highlighting a verse (Ephesians 3:9 "fellowship") where the KJV might reasonably be amended to conform more closely to the original text (apparently "stewardship/dispensation" or perhaps "administration" as the NASB and NIV have), and for providing an illustration of the importance of knowing the history of the text.

I would encourage AK to consider that Ephesians 3:9 provides an illustration of how our English text came to us: not by a work of magic by the KJV translators, but by the translators standing on the shoulders of previous translators and copyists. Occassionally, as a result of overreliance on the work of others, the KJV translators may have erred. Nevertheless, of the versions widely available in print, the KJV is the best English translation available for overall faithfulness to the original.


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