Sunday, January 11, 2015

False Assumptions about Critical Editions of the New Testament

I admire a number of things about Craig Blomberg. He is a seasoned New Testament scholar who has earned his place on the Committee for Bible Translation of the New International Version. I appreciate his efforts to strengthen those of his faith in their faith in the Bible. I am disappointed in some of his attacks on those of my faith. I am also disappointed in some of his arguments based on mistaken assumptions. Here is one of them:
The United Bible Societies' fourth edition of the Greek New Testament contains 1,438 of the most significant textual variants in its footnotes and presents the most important manuscript evidence for each existing reading of the disputed text. . . . The twenty-eighth edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament includes about seven times as many variants as the UBS fourth edition but then drastically limits the number of manuscripts listed in support of each reading. In Nestle-Aland, however, seldom do the extra variants not found in the UBS seem at all significant.
(Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2014], 17.)
Blomberg actually does not discuss any significant variants that appear in Nestle-Aland but not in UBS. His purpose in writing is apologetic, to reassure evangelicals that textual variants are not a serious problem. I am less sanguine. Here is an example of a significant textual variant that is in Nestle-Aland but not in UBS. Both Nestle-Aland and UBS have the same text (they differ in the critical apparatus). For Galatians 5:19 they read:
φανερὰ δέ ἐστιν τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός, ἅτινά ἐστιν πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια,
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
I have provided the KJV which is adequate for this passage. UBS lists no textual variants for this passage. The reader would not necessarily know that there were any textual variants for the passage, and would certainly not expect there to be any significant ones or know what they were. Buried in the footnotes of the Nestle-Aland, however, is notification that a manuscript variant does exist and some manuscripts read:
φανερὰ δέ ἐστιν τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός, ἅτινά ἐστιν μοιχεία, πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια,
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
The presence or absence of adultery in the list of sins is a significant variant. This is how the manuscripts divide on this passage.

Fourth century:
Omitting adultery: Sinaiticus, Vaticanus (B)
Including adultery: Sinaiticus corrector,

Fifth century:
Omitting adultery: Alexandrinus (A), Ephraim (C)
Including adultery: Bezae (D)

Sixth century:
Omitting adultery: P
Including adultery: --

Seventh century:
Omitting adultery: --
Including adultery: --

We will not know what the committee's reasoning for excluding the variant was since they only gave the reasoning for variants listed in the UBS edition. The interesting thing is that the papyri are missing for this passage. For example, this verse falls into a hole in the manuscript in the Chester Beatty codex of the Pauline epistles (P. Chester Beatty II = P46). There is very little manuscript evidence of any sort for the passage before the eighth century; only six manuscripts before the eighth century have the passage at all. The formatting of the passage in Sinaiticus as a list with each entry on a separate line makes it easy to see how it could have dropped out. The homoteleuton (dropping of words because they have similar endings) explains how it could have dropped out (although it is less expected in the first term in a series). Dropping out words for no apparent reason is common, and typical in Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. The reading with adultery is decently attested in earlier manuscripts.

Whether or not one thinks that the UBS committee adopted the correct reading, it would be incorrect to say that it is not significant. Blomberg has hedged his bets by including the word "seldom" in his assessment, but people should not assume that a variant not listed in UBS is insignificant. While I appreciate why Blomberg made the argument he did, I do not think he is correct.