Monday, May 15, 2017

Muller on Turretin and Textual Criticism - Follow-Up Response to Jeff Riddle (and company)

Our brother in Christ, Jeff Riddle, provided a follow-up post (link to post) responding to my previous post (link to post) to him.

Unfortunately, brother Riddle's post entirely misses the main point of my response. I argued:
Moreover, methodologically, Turretin agrees with JW. For example, Turretin endorses the approach of using the collation of various copies to restore the original readings.
Riddle responded by quoting Richard Muller's discussion of views of issues related to inerrancy, contrasting folks like Turretin with later folks like B.B. Warfield. Even assuming that what Muller says is correct, Muller is addressing a different issue from the one I was addressing.

When Muller gets to the issue I was discussing, you will find him saying things like this:
Not only was the era of orthodoxy a time of the flowering of textual criticism, it was also an era in which the critical establishment of the text of the Bible on the basis of collation and comparison of manuscripts and codices was understood as fundamental to the task of the orthodox exegete and theologian.
(Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Scripture: the Cognitive Foundation of Theology, p. 398)

Similarly (and more telling):
... Testament published in Geneva and the annotated texts offered by Beza were all produced by using the critically established texts of Erasmus and the Complutensian Polyglot together with an examination of the available codices, with variants noted, typically in the annotations. Beza and other humanistically trained editors of the Bible saw no problem in establishing the text on the basis of a comparison of the available codices, nor did they blanch at the work of sorting out corruptions that had crept in during the historical transmission of the text - drew the line, however, at the point of emendation of an original language of the text on the basis of pure conjecture, or of the witness of a single variant codex, or of the sole witness of ancient versions, unconfirmed by the original languages. Using a method similar to that of Beatus Rhenanus, Protestant editors of the biblical text typically confined such variant readings to the annotations and viewed them as a matter of interpretation rather than as a basis of textual emendation. We have, for example, Beza's comment ont he publication of a highly variant Greek New Testament by Simon de Colines: Beza commented that he could not "give much weight to it" unless its variant readings were "supported by other codices" and criticized what he viewed as unsupported conjectural emendation. Emendation of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek text of the New on the basis of ancient versions would become a matter of extended controversy in the seventeenth century.
It needs be noted here that the so-called textus receptus, was merely a part of the sixteenth- and seventeen-century process of establishing a normative or definitive text of the New Testament. The phrase "textus receptus" or "received text" comes from the Elzevir New Testament of 1633 — and as the context of the phrase itself and the use of the Greek New Testament in the seventeenth century both testify, there was no claim, in the era of orthodoxy, of a sacrosanct text in this particular edition. Nor did it, in the era of orthodoxy, provide some sort of terminus ad quem for the editing of the text of the Bible: the statement that this was the "text now received by all" simply meant that it was the text, produced by Stephanus and Beza, and slightly reedited by the Elzevirs, that was then regarded (by Protestants!) as the best available text of the Bible: namely, the critically examined combination of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament and the so-called Byzantine ...
(Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Scripture: the Cognitive Foundation of Theology, p. 399)

Hopefully you get the point this discussion.

Now, was Turretin's view of textual criticism exactly the same as ours today? Probably not. For example, as hinted at in Muller's discussion above, folks like Turretin insisted that the Vulgate, Septuagint, and other ancient translations should essentially have no weight at all in textual criticism. By contrast, we would probably grant them at least a little weight. That, however, actually puts Turretin (and company) farther from Textus Receptus advocates of today, as the latter adopt a number of passages where the strongest textual transmission evidence comes from translations (1 John 5:7 is the most prominent example).

I got a few other responses, as well, so I'll briefly address them here:

Robert Wieland wrote: "Since the matter of collating mss is not the issue, then it would follow that your statement above is a non sequiter. The issue is not collation. The issue is what is collated."

I respectfully disagree that collating manuscripts is not the issue. It is the main issue. Certain TR advocates would like to (in essence) lock in the TR on the basis of it (or some form of it) being widely accepted by Protestants in the 17th century. There are separate (and less significant) debates over things like whether the Byzantine text type should be given priority, or whether non-Greek sources should be used for determining the text of the NT. Likewise, there are questions about whether to give priority to age of the manuscripts or number of the manuscripts, how much weight to give to internal evidence, and the like. These are all subordinate questions to the question of whether collation should be used.

RW again: "Again, the issue is not the use of Textual Criticism, but the practice of it. Turretin/Calvin/Stephens/Beza did not use modern principles like: Genealogy, The Shorter Reading is to be Preferred, the Harder Reading is to be Preferred, or Conflation (to name a few)."

The tools of textual criticism have improved over the years, but they all flow from the basic idea of the need for collation. If TR advocates (or anyone else) can make a case for why alternatives to these tools are better, then that's one of those subordinate debates I mentioned above. Turretin didn't have all the original language study tools that we have today, but his basic principles of exegesis are the same. The same goes for textual criticism.

I had written: "...those ancients texts certainly have the advantage of being older..."
RW responded: "This is the part of the modern philosophy where if it is older it is better, and if it is younger it is false. (I am parodying JW)."

Having older copies is advantageous, if you're trying to do collation to determine the original readings. That's not "modern philosophy." For example, even if one has a Byzantine priority view, one is going to favor older Byzantine copies to a copy that a seminary student created for his Greek class last week. It doesn't mean that the younger copy is "false," just that it carries less evidentiary weight.

RW: "Can you define for us what an "Alexandrian Text Type" or "Alexandrian Form" (as JW puts it) looks like? Can you show us in the apparatus of the Nestle/Aland text (any of the 28 editions) the symbol used for the Alexandrian Text Type? Maybe you can answer these questions that JW has been avoiding for years? One has to say that when two mss P75 and B happen to agree in many parts (not all) means that all mss fall into families? Such defies credibility."

You can read about it here: (link to wikipedia page). In very short, it's a label that textual critics apply to a group of texts that have similar characteristics and some historical connection with Alexandria, Egypt. The other two main groupings are Byzantine and Western, although the use of the Western label is (I think) falling out of favor.



Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't think I need to coach you through this, but for the sake of understanding, Muller is a historian, who is reporting or attempting to properly represent what was believed and practiced at a particular period of time, which is historical theology. I've read volume two in Muller's series. Muller reports that they believed that they had in the apographa the same as the autographa, that the two were identical. This is where Warfield comes in, because he applies inerrancy only to the hypothetical original manuscripts, a new position. The "textual criticism" was the belief that there were errors in copies, but what was wrong in one copy was corrected by another -- was corrected, the result being that it was corrected, not hypothetically. However, because of God's providence, what they possessed was by faith in the copies identical to the originals.

What causes a lot of problems is that Turretin and modern textual criticism are conflated, as if the former buttresses the latter. That is a spin. You can only do it by cherry picking quotes, not by the breadth of the preserved theological works of the time. They had a completely different epistemology, a different way of thinking, what one could and should call pre-modern, before a division between faith and science. Modern textual criticism has naturalistic presuppositions diametrically opposed to Turretin. In this, you don't seem like much of a fan. I would be more of a fan than you. You would be a fan of the other team, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

In support of Kent Brandenburg's comments:

"By "original texts" we do not mean the very autographs from the hands of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, which are known to be nonexistent. We mean copies (apographa), which have come in their name, because they record for us that word of God in the same words into which the sacred writers committed it under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit...There is no question of the sources being pure in the sense that no error has crept into many sacred codices, either from the ravages of time, or the carelessness of copyists, or the malice of Jews and heretics. This is recognized on both sides, and the variant readings, which Beza and Robert Stephanus have noted in Greek, and the Jews in Hebrew, witness sufficiently to this. But the question is whether the original text, in Hebrew or in Greek, has been so corrupted, either by the carelessness of copyists or by the malice of Jews and heretics, that it can no longer be held as the judge of controversies and the norm
by which all versions without exception are to be judged. The Roman Catholics affirm this; we deny it...That the sources are not corrupt is demonstrated by (1) the providence of God, which would not allow (cui repugnat) that the books which he had willed to be written by inspired men for the salvation of the human race, and which he willed to remain to the end of the world so that the waters of salvation could
be drawn from them, should be so falsified that they would be useless for that purpose...Although various small changes (corruptulae) may have come into the Hebrew codices through the carelessness of copyists or the ravages of time, they would not therefore cease to be the canon of faith and conduct. For these represent matters of small importance, not connected with faith and conduct, which Bellarmine himself admits, and therefore he denies that they affect the integrity of Scripture (De
Verbo Dei 2.2); and moreover they are not found in every manuscript, and are not such as cannot readily be corrected from Scripture itself and the comparison of different copies.... Corruption is one thing; a variant reading is another. We admit that there are a number of variant readings coming from the collation of various manuscripts, but we deny that there is a universal corruption...It is one thing to speak of the effort of heretics to corrupt certain manuscripts. We readily concede
this...But success, or complete and universal corruption, is another matter. This we deny, both because of the providence of God, who did not allow them to do what they planned, and because of the diligence of the orthodox fathers, who, having various
manuscripts in their possession, were faithful in keeping them free from corruption." Turretin ,Institutio of Theologiae Elencticae

Turretinfan said...

Thanks for your thoughts. The problem is that some TR advocates don't have a clue what Turretin and Muller are saying about the apographs. Even when they read and quote Turretin and Muller, they legitimately do not understand what they are reading. The portions quoted in my post help show that by directly addressing the issue of textual criticism, collation, and the TR.


Turretinfan said...

By the way, Anonymous (see comment guideline 9), you and Kent (and others) need to read what Turretin wrote more carefully:
"But the question is whether the original text, in Hebrew or in Greek, has been so corrupted, either by the carelessness of copyists or by the malice of Jews and heretics, that it can no longer be held as the judge of controversies and the norm by which all versions without exception are to be judged."

While there are some modern textual critics who allege wholesale corruption ("Misquoting Jesus" being an example of such work), Reformed textual critics (especially those who hold to reasoned eclecticism) would agree with Turretin when it comes to Greek of the New Testament.


Anonymous said...
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Kent Brandenburg said...


I noticed that you didn't interact with my comment, almost at all. It really kills your point if what I wrote is true. It is either true or not, but you don't come down on it at all. Usually when this takes place, one would assume that what I wrote is true, since you do not refute it. I think you know what I wrote is true. You can't say, because it kills modern textual criticism and it shows that you do not take a historical Christian point of view. You deny the perfect preservation of scripture, even though scripture teaches it is the historical Christian point of view. Turretin believed it. You don't. You should be fine with that too, if that's what you think the Bible teaches, that is, it teaches that we will not have a perfect text of the Bible. You should defend that on your naturalistic presuppositions, where biblical doctrine is subject to historical criticism.

Your last quote of Turretin in the comment section is an example of a cherry pick. Anonymous above had your quotation--he didn't leave it out. But he also had this part of the quote: "By "original texts" we do not mean the very autographs from the hands of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, which are known to be nonexistent. We mean copies (apographa), which have come in their name, because they record for us that word of God in the same words into which the sacred writers committed it under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit." The "same words." You can't include that in your quotes, because it doesn't back up what you want Turretin to say.

You've got to interpret Turretin's understanding of corruption according to this quote. The two cannot contradict. They come from the same person. Textual variants are corruption. Turretin believed the text had been corrupted in textual variants, but that does not contradict his belief in preservation of scripture as he described it. Even where the text has been corrupted, it doesn't change the doctrines, he says. But that's not all he says. He also gives his view of preservation. This is also how Muller reads. If you go outside of Muller and just read every Westminster divine about this subject, they mirror each other. No one goes off the position that I am espousing.