Friday, November 15, 2019

Jeff Riddle and Ephesians 3:9

Jeff Riddle recently posted a lengthy "text note" regarding Ephesians 3:9.  My reactions follow.

The post is riddled with an even worse radical skepticism than that of Bart Ehrman.  Both Ehrman and Riddle oppose the Reformed orthodox position that we can reconstruct the original text from the extant copies. Ehrman, however, at least acknowledges that for the New Testament we have "much earlier attestation than for any other book from antiquity."

Erhman's radical skepticism is linked to his rejection of supernaturalism.  What about JR's?  JR's seems to be theologically motivated. He writes: "In the end, we can only be sure that in the providence of God the reading “the fellowship of the mystery” was that preserved in the TR."  That's the only thing that JR thinks we can know for sure.  Yet JR knows more than that conclusion lets on.  JR knows, for example, "Among current extant Greek manuscripts, of all eras, the Majority reading is indeed η οικονομια. In fact, the external evidence is so overwhelming that the NA28 does not even list any variants at this point in its critical apparatus."  Therefore, JR also know for sure that this state of affairs is also in the providence of God.  Why does JR pick God's providential ordering of the TR rather than God's providential preservation of Greek copies? Let the reader decide.

JR seems to acknowledge that there is no real argument to be made in defense of the TR position from the textual evidence.  Instead, after pointing out the obvious fact that one reading is likely a scribal error for the other reading (rather than a deliberate change) he offers a variety of mostly skeptical arguments:

1) Reasoned Eclecticism vs. Majority Text
JR states: "It seems particularly odd for [Dr. James R. White] to reject the TR reading at Ephesians 3:9 based on the fact that it is not the Majority reading since, supposedly, he is not himself an advocate for the Majority text but, instead, embraces an eclectic method (reasoned eclecticism)."
It's hard to figure out if JR just doesn't understand reasoned eclecticism or what.  Does he seriously not understand why reasoned eclecticism would favor a text that is supported by "p46, all known uncials, almost all minuscules, all known versions, and patristic quotations"? That's not simply picking the text because it is the majority text.  I think JR knows this.  Moreover, in any other case where "p46, all known uncials, almost all minuscules, all known versions, and patristic quotations" support a given reading, it would be shocking of editors following reasoned eclecticism concluded that a very late poorly attested minority reading were the original.  JR points to the variant of "through Jesus Christ" in the sane verse and asks why the majority is not followed here.  JR should know the answer: the situation is quite different.  "through Jesus Christ" is not found in "p46, all known uncials, almost all minuscules, all known versions, and patristic quotations."  There may be a majority in favor of inclusion of the phrase, but the witnesses for omission are not just a few scattered late manuscripts.  JR surely knows this, but chooses to ask the question as though he does not.

2) CBGM supports conjectural emendation?

JR states: "Furthermore, [Dr. James R. White] expresses great confidence in the new CBGM, despite the fact that in the NA28 it favors a reading in 2 Peter 3:10 based on NO extant Greek mss.! There seems to be a problem with consistency."

It's unclear whether JR is aware that Dr. White rejects the conjectural emendation proposed at 2 Peter 3:10.  It also seems that JR thinks that the CBGM some how spit out this conjectural emendation.  That's not the case.  The fault here lies with the ECM editors, not with the CBGM.

3) "Major Problem" of Insufficient Analysis

JR is aware that an analysis of the textual evidence has been done.  He quotes from Bruce Metzger, who provides a summary of the analysis. Nevertheless, JR asserts that Dr. White's analysis of the Greek manuscript evidence falls short.  JR implies that "proper analytical study" requires identifying the list of late manuscripts that apparently contain the TR reading. One wonders from where JR gets this standard.  It looks like he just made it up, presumably because he himself is having trouble finding any late manuscripts that support the TR reading.

Does JR offer any analysis that contradicts Metzger?  No. He just throws out a made-up standard and says it wasn't met.

4) Sometimes late manuscripts have early readings
This is one of those "true but irrelevant" statements, also known as red herrings.  There are a few late manuscripts that seem to be copied from very old manuscripts, and which consequently have early readings.  This is one thing that the CBGM should be good at helping us identify.

5) "Extremely thin" early Greek manuscript evidence?
What JR characterizes as "extremely thin" is actually pretty remarkable.  We have one papyrus that, despite bad damage to the edges of the page, does have this portion of the verse, dating back to about A.D. 200.  It contradicts the TR.  Then from the fourth to the seventh centuries we have five more uncial manuscripts.  As JR concedes, "Yes, η οικονομια is the reading found in the five early uncials and became the Majority reading ... ." 

6) Versional and Patristic Evidence
Once again, JR complains that Dr. White doesn't provide him with the information that JR himself can get from Metzger.  He says that Dr. White "never provides any specific examples from the versions for our comparison and analysis."  Here's an easy one: Codex Amiatinus (A.D. 700) is a Latin Vulgate manuscript produced in England.  It has "dispensatio", which is a Latin translation of the Greek. But, of course, where does this standard of having to provide specific examples come from? It's just something JR made up.

7) Why does the TR have the reading it has?
JR doesn't know why. Erasmus' first edition has the reading, and Stephanus and Beza maintained it.  The only 17th century (or earlier) exegete that I could find that mentioned the discrepancy was a Jesuit, Cornelius à Lapide.

JR says: "On what basis did the Reformed men affirm 'fellowship' here as the true reading, over against the Majority Greek ms. tradition? We do not know."
I reply: To the extent we don't know, it's because it seems they got the reading from the Roman Catholic, Erasmus, and didn't double check his work.  JR's comments seems to suppose some group of "Reformed men" huddling around the text and coming to a decision about whether to accept or reject each reading.  That's not how it worked.  There were some readings that were disputed, to be sure.  This does not appear to have been one of them.

Stephanus noted the variant issue in his 1550 edition (link to image - it's note 3) but we know he used the same manuscript Erasmus had (mentioned below).  If anyone digs up additional information, it would be interesting and useful.  As far as I know, Stephanus does not explain the decision to continue with Erasmus' choice.

8) They might have had other manuscripts!
JR makes the assertion: "It is certainly possible that they had access to Greek mss. which are no longer available to us."
I reply: "Certainly possible" sounds so much better than "this is just wild speculation, but ...." It means the same thing here.

We have figured out which manuscripts Erasmus borrowed for his work.  One of those was Minuscule 2817, which has the reading (both in the main text and apparently in the accompanying commentary)(link to whole manuscript)(editorial note: it's cool to be reading from the same page Erasmus read from). So, it would be most natural to blame this reading on that manuscript, rather than blaming it on Erasmus or his printer.  I have not checked the other three manuscripts that Erasmus had.

9) Some manuscripts have been lost since the 16th-17th centuries
Yes, some have. On the other hand, the ones that Erasmus used have survived.  It sad when Biblical manuscripts perish, but in God's providence, we still have most of the manuscripts identified in the 16th century, and others they did not know about.

10) The printed editions may testify to lost manuscripts
In the case of Erasmus' base text, we have reasons for thinking we know what manuscripts he worked from.  Accordingly, there is no particular need for its testimony.  Similarly, my recollection is that we have identified the manuscripts that Stephanus mentions.  If any of those are now lost, his marginal notes can provide a form of testimony to them.  But JR has not given us a reason to think that any relevant manuscripts have been lost, that any relevant manuscripts were used in the preparation of Erasmus' text, or that

JR argues: "It is only in the modern era that “Reformed” men have abandoned the traditional text for the modern reconstructed text."  Actually, the Reformers (especially Beza) worked on reconstructing the text and the high orthodox (e.g. Turretin) affirmed the continued use of collation to reconstruct the text.  This is nothing new or modern.

JR argues: "In so doing they have embraced a religious epistemology that abandons stability, continuity, and consistency." Actually, the Reformers fought against Rome's similar assertions for the Vulgate text.  They argued that the Greek apographa - the copies - provide the original text.


PS Upon reviewing this post before publishing, I note that there is an unintentional pun in the opening paragraph. No disrespect was intended to Pastor Riddle.