Monday, May 11, 2015

Westcott-Hort Axiom on Textual Criticism Does Not Pass Statistics

I was with the King James Version of the Bible when I first believed. Sometime in the late 1980 I started toying with other versions of the Bible. One of the most disgusting versions I have come across is the NIV, so I am sorry if you are a fan of this Bible translation, as I am not.

However through the years I let NASB, NRSV and now ESV hang around my library and when I was pastoring  I even preached from these.

Now that I have more time, I have recently in the last couple of weeks studied a bit this matter of Textual Criticism.

I process of copying Biblical text by the ancients was an extremely and complex human activity and the axioms of Westcott and Hort people are very simplistic and do not account the physics of this writing process.

Let me give a few examples of why for a trained mathematician the following axioms must be rejected. Now we know that these textual criticism axioms are not like mathematical axioms that are self evidently true. TC axioms are not like this of course but these TC axioms are not even scientific.
Here are the axioms I reject.

1. Manuscripts are to be weighted not counted.
Now what is the rational of this? Well we can say that simply because it is many does not mean it came from the original. Now this may be true, but that depends on what is being copied and the nature of that document being copied. If you forgive me, I feel this is quite stupid when applied to the New Testament. Right now, all them modern versions come from Alexandrian type manuscript. Yet there are more than 5000 copies of Byzantine manuscripts.  Here statistics wins. Why do we have many copies of Byzantine and no inundation of copies of Alexandrian? It is because the ancients believed the Byzantine source is most reliable, it is the one worth copying and the Alexandrian is not.

2.  The shorter reading is to be preferred.
Now to be frank, before this axiom, there is another axiom that prevails - the more difficult reading is to be preferred. In the modern translations besides KJV and NKJV, since they base their text from Alexandrian type manuscripts, all the readings that are short have been preferred. This presupposes the scribal writer has the tendency to add text. Again, this does not work. Humans are the ones copying these text, not like computers, so they struggle with lighting and tiredness; so they are likely omit words or phrases when they are tired. Sure there may be a double checkers but the process we know is not air tight, therefore the longer reading is to be preferred.

More later.


Mary Thompson said...

Thank you for the posting re: validity of manuscript evidence in relation to KJV compared to "modern translations". Your mathematical statistical insights
are an interesting and compelling beginning to the subject of families of manuscript evidence since Wescott and Hort.

WELS first began its top down
"planned, programmed" process to consign the KJV to the ashbin of history in the early 1970's in favor of whatever current translation one had in one's hand at the time. It was troubling to me and some others. I struggled with the issue as a lifelong lay member. Then a friend of another denomination with whom I was involved in fighting and exposing systems management's being imposed on government schools and institutions, found a book which had been out of print for many years which clarified the issue. The book was - "The Revision Revised" by Dean John Burgon. it has since been reprinted and is still available. What was being perpetrated on WELS was eerily a replay of Burgon's struggle to prevail against the change agents of his day in 1800's, Wescott and Hort.

Refusing to "go along to get along" re: jettisoning the KJV to the dustbin of history, WELS's adopting systems managed governance (PPBS) in late 1960's,and WELS related school accepting government grants, resulted in my and a few others having our memberships in a WELS congregation terminated in late 1970's.

The NKJV is not devoid of a bit of objectionable elements either.
I have contended that it may be a vehicle to entice KJV loyalists to put aside their KJV. Having succumbed to that, the gradual transition to other more corrupted translations becomes easier and easier. Why would the publisher publish a NKJV when it is busy marketing full out translations of Wescott- Hort influence? To win over die hard KJV readers as potential customers for the never ending stream of revisions of revisions adnauseum.

LPC said...

Hi Mary,

I had been busy with school work, marking papers is like being in jail.

All denominations are going head over heels with the new translation - this is part of the industry created by Western Evangelical Christianity. There is money to be made, that is why these publishers are getting into modern translation.

The KJV is a fine translation - I never threw my copy away while I toyed with other translations not based on the Textus Receptus. I gladly use it because it is based on TR and I do believe the TR captures the original autographs. I believe the TR has the message of the original Scriptures passed down to us by the Apostles. Anything from this I think is hard to defend.

I am trained in reading the original languages and I have an NKJV on the side just for information on where my TR differs on which manuscript - however, it can lead the would be reader of NKJV to go off on a tangent if they seek out and chase after the comments on the manuscripts.

For me the main teaching is to inform believers that we do have the NT preserved for us by God and the TR which is in the Byzantine tradition has this.


Andrew said...

I have to say that as I listen to what different people have to say about this issue, and related issues, I am fairly sympathetic to the majority text arguments, even if I don't necessarily find myself persuaded by all of them. The question which arises in my mind though is: What do you do with passages like 1 John 5 and Revelation 16 that contain readings virtually unsupported in any manuscript tradition?

Thanks for the interesting article.

LPC said...

A nice point indeed Andrew and thanks for this.

My attitude to that is to still rely on the Received text for the same reason that the Church Fathers quoted from them. Since these passages are part of the Received text or bound into it, I would say by that token, I would trust the passages as authentic.


Andrew said...

Your mention of the fathers gives me a chance to sharpen my question a bit. In the case of the CJ in 1 John 5:7, if it is indeed part of John's first epistle, why was it not brought to bear upon the early Trinitarian controversies? That is, since as I mentioned before, the CJ is not supported by any manuscript tradition and not quoted by anyone precisely at the point in history it would have been most useful as a polemical tool, how does one arrive at the conclusion that it is in fact "received"?

LPC said...

Hi Andrew,

I am terribly sorry for the delay of this reply. I had been busy marking papers and doing programming work for a client.

Ok it appears that non of the Church Fathers had quoted 1 John 5:7 in the anti-trinitarian debate. It is a good question. However, we can not conclude anything on this, it is because if we do, we will fall into argument from silence. For example, since the Fathers are silent on 1 John 5:7, that means 1 John 5:7 is not original, so the argument goes.

It is best to keep it an open question rather than make conclusions. Who knows what archaeology may find in terms to the copies written by the Fathers etc. The issue is that when they do quote (the Fathers) they quote from the TR. This establishes that they have a presumed text they were working from and it seems it was the TR. We can not make conclusions when they don't quote any passages from the TR or they fail to quote from the TR. Nothing can be concluded from that.

For example in this blog I have not mentioned anything about me having sons, you can not conclude from that silence that I do not have any.

Happy to continue the discussion.


Andrew said...


Allow me to press a little harder at the same point (And thank you for taking semi-tough questions like a gentleman. Too few people can handle this sort of thing anymore). You said in your last comment:

"we can not conclude anything on this, it is because if we do, we will fall into argument from silence. For example, since the Fathers are silent on 1 John 5:7, that means 1 John 5:7 is not original, so the argument goes."

My counter argument would be that it would be an argument from silence, at least approximately, if it were a stand alone point, but it is not. There are two points I have made. Point #1 is that the CJ does not appear in the Greek manuscript tradition anywhere, except as a marginal gloss, or in manuscripts written after Erasmus published his work. Point #2 is that the CJ is not brought to bear on the trinitarian controversies in the early church. If taken together these two points seem to me to be almost undeniable evidence that the CJ is not original.

LPC said...


I did more digging around so here are my counter points:

#1 Why can we not posit as possibility that the comma had been edited out. For example as I argued the minimised text version is not superior because of the physics of how copiests copied the text. First, they get tired, and if the lighting is low like copying at night, the likelihood is to skip rather than add. Besides Jerome accuses some Greek copyists were editing this comma out.
#2 I no longer concede the CJ is not in the church fathers for they are - Cyprian in Unity of the Church alludes to it, and so does Athanasius of Alexandria in the Disputation with Arius at the Council of Nicea. Now if you doubt these were written by the real Cyprian and Athanasius then that is another discussion.

So for the above reasons, I am not in a hurry to dismiss it as unauthentic besides as I said, to do so is to fall in the the fallacy of arguing from silence.