Forked Path In The Forest of New Testament Manuscripts


Maurice Robinson contrasts the Byzantine-priority (AKA Majority Text) approach to New Testament Textual Criticism, which he favors (and which in turn favors such versions as the King James, 21st Century King James, and New King James), to the dominant eclectic approaches that lie behind the New Testaments of almost all contemporary Bible versions (such as the New International, English Standard, and New Living, to name three popular selections). Is Robinson’s approach less naturalistic and anthropocentric, and so more pious (and less impious), than the highly naturalistic and anthropocentric methodology of the eclectics? Or is it merely naturalistic and anthropocentric in a different way? Which, if either, path should most appeal to the discerning pious eye?

For the past century, modern eclecticism has functioned without an integrated history of textual transmission. Its resultant text has no root in any single document, group of documents, or text-type….Thoroughgoing eclecticism divorces itself from external criteria, while reasoned eclecticism attempts to strike a balance between internal and external considerations. Yet both systems fail precisely at the point of transmissional history, producing a resultant text that reflects a piecemeal assemblage created from disparate variant units otherwise unrelated to each other. It is precisely at this point that the Byzantine-priority theory does not fail, but instead offers a transmissionally legitimate form of resultant text. In contrast, modern text-critical thought tends to move steadily away from the concept of ‘original’ text, having become more interested in questionable speculations such as whether heterodox scribes perhaps treated the text more reliably than did the orthodox. Overall, modern eclecticism leaves an atmosphere of general uncertainty and despair regarding the possible recovery of the original text; its practitioners are no longer certain that the original text can be recovered or whether any concept of an original text can be maintained. In contrast, the Byzantine-priority theory offers a clear practical alternative to current subjectivity and the often pessimistic suppositions that characterize modern eclectic theory.—Maurice A. Robinson, in Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism, ed. David Alan Black, page 139 in the 2002 Baker Academic edition.

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So, what say you?