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.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

John Owen versus the MARTs

The Modern Advocates of the Received Texts (MARTs) are a group of folks who argue that the textus receptus is not just the best text out there, it's jot and tittle the same as the original. Their position is thoroughly modern. Despite the fact that they like to characterize their position as being "Reformed Bibliology" or "Confessional Bibliology" or "The Confessional Text" position, their position is not one of the positions held by the early Reformers (obviously Luther was against their view, but also Calvin and Beza held a position contradictory to their view). It is also not the position expressed by the leading Reformed of the 17th century. One of the folks that I would associate with the MART viewpoint, Jeff Riddle, recently stated that John Owen is a "gold mine." I suspect that some of Owen's statements definitely will sound helpful. On the other hand, here are five examples of why it would be inaccurate to categorize the great John Owen as a proto-MART.

Example 1
Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel, Chapter 1

2. Ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ. Beza affirms that ἑαυτοῖς, “to themselves,” is absent from some copies, and then the words may admit of a sense diverse from that which is commonly received; for ἀνασταυροῦντας, “crucifying again;” may refer unto τινάς included and supposed in ἀνακινίζειν, that some or any should renew them. It is impossible that any should renew them to repentance; for this cannot be done without crucifying the Son of God again, since these apostates have utterly rejected all interest in and benefit by his death, as once undergone for sinners.

The variant being addressed her is the omission or inclusion of ἑαυτοῖς at Hebrews 6:6. Beza's 1598 printing includes the word in the text. What is significant here is that Owen does not simply rely on Beza's main reading of Hebrews 6:4-6, but Owen also consults the alleged variant reading that he says Beza mentions, and he does so in interpreting the text. Owen ultimately adopts the main reading, but look at the justification (on the next page of the same chapter):

But the word is constant enough in ancient copies to maintain its own station, and the context requires its continuance; and this makes the work of "crucifying again" to be the act of the apostates themselves, and to be asserted as that which belongs unto their sin, and not denied as belonging to a relief from their sin: "They crucify him again to themselves."

Notice that Beza relies on both external and internal evidence (i.e. evidence from the copies and evidence from the flow of the text). Most critically, notice that Owen places weight on the copies being ancient. Owen does not presume that ancient copies are worse because they are ancient. Instead, Owen takes for granted that the ancient copies should be a standard for evaluating the printed text reading.

Example 2
The Death of Death, Book 1, Chapter 5:

That which some contend, that by the eternal Spirit is here meant our Saviour’s own Deity, I see no great ground for. Some Greek and Latin copies read, not, as we commonly, Πνεύματος αἰωνίου, but Πνεύματος ἁγίου, and so the doubt is quite removed: and I see no reason why he may not as well be said to offer himself through the Holy Spirit, as to be “declared to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,” as Rom. i. 4; as also to be “quickened by the Spirit,” 1 Pet. iii. 18. The working of the Spirit was required as well in his oblation as resurrection, in his dying, as quickening.

The variant being addressed here is the substitution of αἰωνίου (eternal) for ἁγίου (holy) or vice versa. The main reading in Beza's 1598 is eternal, but notice that Owen goes to the variant reading both in the Greek and also in the Latin to interpret the text.

Example 3
The Death of Death, Book 1, Chapter 3:

Hence the Father himself is sometimes called our Saviour: 1 Tim. i. 1, “According to the commandment Θεοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν,” — “of God our Saviour.” Some copies, indeed, read it, Θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν, — “of God and our Saviour;” but the interposition of that particle καὶ arose, doubtless, from a misprision that Christ alone is called Saviour. But directly this is the same with that parallel place of Tit. i. 3, Κατ’ ἐπιταγὴν τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Θεοῦ, — “According to the commandment of God our Saviour,” where no interposition of that conjunctive particle can have place; the same title being also in other places ascribed to him, as Luke i. 47, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”

The variant being addressed her is the inclusion or omission of καὶ (and). Notice that Owen considers the variant, identifies the variant as a probable orthodox corruption, and then instead confirms the point from a place where there is no such variant issue.

Example 4
Vinidiciae Evangelicae, Chapter 22

1st. From the event: Heb. x. 2, 3, “For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there was a remembrance again made of sins every year.” The words of the second verse are to be read with an interrogation, conclusive in the negative: “Would they not have ceased to have been offered?” that is, certainly they would. And because they did not do so, it is evident from the event that they could not take away sin. In most copies the words are, Ἐπεὶ ἂ ἐπαύσαντο προσφερόμεναι. Those that add the negative particle οὐκ put it for οὐχί,. as it is frequently used.

The variant of interest here is the inclusion or omission of οὐκ. Interestingly enough, Beza's 1598 has the οὐκ. Owen seems to be willing to depart from Beza because the wording Owen adopts is allegedly found in "most copies."

Example 5
Vinidiciae Evangelicae, Chapter 13

Owen presents the following Q/A from his theological opponent:
Q. What dost thou answer to 1 Tim. iii. 16?
A. 1. That in many ancient copies, and in the Vulgar Latin itself, the word “God” is not read; wherefore from that place nothing certain can be concluded.

Owen replies:

1. Though the word “God,” be not in the Vulgar Latin, yet the unanimous, constant consent of all the original copies, confessed to be so both by Beza and Erasmus, is sufficient to evince that the loss of that translation is not of any import to weaken the sense of the place. Of other ancient copies, whereof they boast, they cannot instance one.

The variant here is the substitution of ὅς (he) for Θεὸς (God) or vice versa. Owen argues that the unanimous consent of the Greek trumps the Latin. Note as well that Owen is plainly relying only on the printed texts himself: particularly Erasmus and Beza. Owen does not pretend to be an expert in textual criticism himself, nor is he claiming personal knowledge about all the manuscripts.

Shortly thereafter, Owen responds to Grotius:

Θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί. “Suspectam nobis hanc lectionem faciunt interpretes veteres, Latinus, Syrus, Arabs, et Ambrosius, qui omnes legunt, ο` ἐφανερώθη.” Addit Hincmarus Opusculo 55. illud Θεός, “hic positum a Nestorianis.” 1. But this suspicion might well have been removed from this learned man by the universal consent of all original copies, wherein, as it seems, his own manuscript, that sometimes helps him at a need, doth not differ. 2. One corruption in one translation makes many. 3. The Syriac reads the word “God,” and so Tremellius hath rendered it; Ambrose and Hincmarus followed the Latin translation; and there is a thousand times more probability that the word Θεός was filched out by the Arians than that it was foisted in by the Nestorians. But if the agreement of all original copies may be thus contemned, we shall have nothing certain left us.

Note especially Owen's assertion: "if the agreement of all original copies may be thus contemned, we shall have nothing certain left us." That is something we have heard Dr. James White say numerous times in other contexts. Owen does not appeal to some kind of TR canonization. Instead he appeals to the extant Greek copies. Owen also argues from the probabilities as to what possible heretical source of corruption may have affected the text. Furthermore, Owen downplays the significance of the translations.

Continuing in Chapter 14, Owen states:

The learned Grotius is pitifully entangled about the last two places urged by our catechists. Of his sleight in dealing with that of John xx. 28, I have spoken before, and discovered the vanity of his insinuations. Here he tells you, that after Christ’s resurrection, it grew common with the Christians to call him God, and urges Rom. ix. 5; but coming to expound that place, he finds that shift will not serve the turn, it being not any Christians calling him God that there is mentioned, but the blessed apostle plainly affirming that he is “God over all, blessed for ever;” and therefore, forgetting what he had said before, he falls upon a worse and more desperate evasion, affirming that the word Θεός ought not to be in the text, because Erasmus had observed that Cyprian and Hilary, citing this text, did not name the word! And this he rests upon, although he knew that all original copies whatever, constantly, without any exception, do read it, and that Beza had manifested, against Erasmus, that Cyprian adver. Judæos, lib. ii. cap. vi., and Hilary ad Ps. xii., do both cite this place to prove that Christ is called God, though they do not express the text to the full; and it is known how Athanasius used it against the Arians, without any hesitation as to the corruption of the text. This way of shifting indeed is very wretched, and not to be pardoned. I am well contented with all who, from what he writes on John i. 1 (the first place mentioned), do apprehend that when he wrote his annotations on that place he was no opposer of the deity of Christ; but I must take leave to say, that, for mine own part, I am not able to collect from all there spoken in his own words that he doth at all assert the assuming of the human nature into personal subsistence with the Son of God. I speak as to the thing itself, and not to the expressions which he disallows.

Once again, Owen appeals to "all original copies whatever, constantly, without any exception, do read it" to settle the question.

Interestingly enough, there are indeed ancient copies that have the pronoun rather than the word "God." So, it turns out that Owen was mistaken about the issue of unanimity.

John Owen ardently defended many TR readings, including readings close to the heart of MARTs. John Owen did so, however, from a point of view that is not a MART point of view.  Indeed, Owen did not feel compelled to follow Beza's 1598 printing, but departed when he believed the Greek copy evidence warranted.  Moreover, it's fair to say we know more now about the Greek copies than Owen did.  A lot of textual critical work, especially finding and collating manuscripts, has been done since the days of Erasmus and Beza - and even since the days of Owen himself.