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Some Thoughts on MT/CT Controversy

By Gary F. Zeolla


The following e-mail is commenting on the items listed at Bible Versions Controversy. The e-mailers’ comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

>Hi Gary:

Some thoughts on ye olde MT/CT controversy:<

It seems to me, that the idea of "Majority Text vs. Critical Text" is really a misnomer. It implies, to some extent, that Majority Text advocates rigidly adhere to the Byzantine readings, despite reasonable and contrary evidence on some readings, while Critical Text advocates scientifically and detachedly critique all MSS for the best readings. (Westcott and Hort's "Neutral Text" claim.) The truth is, both sides employ textual criticism, and examine the enormous wealth of MSS available. Even Erasmus used textual criticism, with the limited number of MSS he had available. (If anyone was rigid in adherence, it was Westcott and Hort in asserting that when Aleph and B agree, that was the original reading. When they don't agree - go with B!)<

You are correct in the ideas you express here. Even Robinson and Pierpont (who edit an edition of the MT) express some misgivings about the name "Majority Text." But I've never been one to squabble over terms.

I use the terms "Majority Text" and "Critical Text" they are the terms I first came across when studying this subject. And once you get used to a name it's hard to break from it. But I do define carefully in articles on my site exactly what is meant by the terms.

>As Dr. James Borland says, John Burgon's 7 tests of MSS evidence should be carefully adhered to. (Probably the most important test is that of reasonableness; does the passage make sense? Case in point Matthew 1:8 where W&H included Asaph instead of the correct Asa. Some (not all) Minority text advocates have performed historical and theological gymnastics in order to justify nonsensical readings found in Aleph and B.)

Most modern critical text advocates do not adhere slavishly to the Westcott and Hort text (as evidenced in the NASB at Matthew 1:8, and Acts 8:37,38) and majority text advocates do practice textual criticism, rejecting spurious or questionable readings like 1 John 5:7,8. I think the debate should be more correctly called Majority Textual Criticism vs. Minority Text Criticism.<

Those would be good alternative names. The term "Minority Text" instead of CT is one I have come across. But again, once you get used to a name ...

> Textual criticism on all available MSS has yielded some excellent versions like the NASB and the NKJV. With the excellent footnotes available in both versions, we can be assured of accurate and scholarly translations.<

Well, I don't know about the textual notes in the NASB being "excellent." Some of them are misleading (I give a few examples of such on my site). But I have heard the update NASB has reworded the misleading notes somewhat. I personally think the NKJV's method of just indicating where there is a difference without comment is probably best.

>The differences are extremely small, so as to be unnoticeable to most, regardless of which version one uses.<

True; overall the MT and CT are very similar. When it comes to differences in decisions to be mad eon textual variants, they differ by only about 2-4%. So at least 96% of the time there is no dispute on what the correct reading is.

And you are correct that most of the time, when there is a difference, it either does not show up in translation, or when it does it is very minor. Only the very careful Bible reader would notice them. But, there are some significant variants that cannot be missed.

> (The NIV, however, goes too far editorially, I feel, eliminating certain passages like Acts 8:37 without even a footnote!) <

The main problem with the NIV is its "dynamic equivalence" translation principle. But that's another subject!

>As one textual critic has said, we do not have 80 or 90% of the Bible available to us; we have more like 110%, and textual criticism lets us discard the dross and find the gold!<

A little overstating the case; but you it is true the text of the NT is more sure than any other piece of ancient literature. And I personally do believe the MT is basically reflects the originals almost 100%. There are only comparatively only a few variants on which there is any question based on MT critical principles.

> In most cases, I feel the MT approach is more often correct. The strongest arguments against the minority text position are:

Accept the shorter, harder reading - Why? Why does more difficult make it more original? Are we to assume that God inspired a more difficult reading? Asaph is certainly more difficult than Asa, but should we accept it when it is unreasonable?

Dr. Borland mentioned one CT advocate who actually said than Matthew made an error in his writing when he wrote Asaph, and a later scribe corrected it! There goes verbal plenary inspiration out of the window! Reasonableness must be one of the highest criteria of acceptance, in my opinion.

Shorter is better - This is a major flaw, I feel. I have had a lot of people "scribe" for me, and inevitably the two major errors are misspelling and omission. I have committed these copyist errors often myself. Never have I ever had anyone add anything original to my writing. To believe that a scribe would intentionally add something to the scriptures of God, is, to me, unimaginable. Possible, but not probable. For it to be copied for years is unimaginable.

Continuity - Another major test, I believe. What MSS families have the longest line of continuity and use? Although not a test of surety, it is certainly reasonable to assume that the best readings were copied in the greatest number of MSS, while the lesser readings died off, which is what we see. Are we to assume that God allowed the best MSS to be undiscovered for 1800 years, only to be rediscovered in a Catholic monastery by Tishcendorf (excuse the spelling) just before it was burnt in the fire, thought to be worthless?

Cultic mentality - I don't want to go far down this road, and associate anyone with being in a cult; no Ruckmanisms here. But the mentality that the truth has been suppressed for hundreds or thousands of years, only to be discovered by one individual at a later date, is the same type of thinking that develop cults. <

I basically agree with each of your points here; and discuss them myself on my site. However, I do need to point out the idea of Tischendorf (you got the spelling correct) rescuing "aleph" just before it was going to be burnt is probably apocryphal.

>One major hypothetical problem that is potentially dangerous in the minority text position: suppose I go to Egypt and do some digging. Lo and behold, I find an ancient manuscript! Why it is so old, it turns out that it is the gospel of John, and it turns out to be dated (somehow, I don't know) to be 6 months removed from the autograph! I mean this one was hot off the press! But there is one problem: Chapters 7 through 15 are missing, and John 1:1 reads like the New World Translation!!

Is this now the oldest and best MSS? It meets the tests of W&H! It certainly is shorter and harder! I think reasonableness, continuity of use and universality (of use) must weigh heavily on what is correct and what is not.<

Not your best example. "Shorter" does not refer to the number of chapters contained in a manuscript but to the number of words in a particular sentence. Many manuscripts contain only parts of the NT, or of individual books thereof.

But your general idea is correct; just because a manuscript is "older" does not necessarily mean it is better, for reason of which I explain on my site.

>Some musings from an often confused Seminary student.
God Bless and prayers for your health,

Very good "musings." And thank you for the prayers. May God enable you to be less "confused" at seminary. I know how tough it can be!

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