Re: Anonymous posting on textual criticism

From: David Moore (
Date: Sat Oct 28 1995 - 17:26:36 EDT

Edward Hobbs <> wrote:

>The ONLY one of them who argued that scribes tended to add rather than omit was
>my student Jim Royse (at that time also teaching philosophy at San Francisco
>State, where he may still be), who over-generalized the results of his
>extremely limited study of a few papyri. If several dozen more
>dissertations on the issue, studying some uncials, above all post-300CE
>uncials, were to show the same, we would have to rethink this question.
>May I also remind the List that scribes copied MUCH other material than New
>Testament documents! There actually is (believe it or not!) a discipline
>called Textual Criticism among classicists. Some of you might wish to read the
>great works on this issue by A. E. Housman (who, in his lifetime, was NOT known
>as the poet who wrote "A Shropshire Lad".. One of my many favorite statements
>by Housman is: "To do textual criticism, you must have brains, not pudding, in
>your head." Scribes didn't suddenly develop new habits when the documents
>before them were "Christian."
>Further, the List might consider that we have a well-trained Textual Critic
>(New Testament, too!) on this List: Larry Hurtado. It might be worth while
>listening to his words. At least in comparison with an Anonymous Poster, his
>credentials are good!

        A study by Colwell that suggested that the longer reading might be
preferred in some cases concentrated on early papyri (P45, P66 and P75 -
all 3rd Century or earlier) which showed considerable numbers of singular
or nonsense readings (E.C. Colwell, "Method in Evaluating Scribal
Habits...," in _Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New
Testament_, ed. Bruce Metzger [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969]). But as
Edward Hobbs emphasizes, such results should not be generalized into
implications that would include all MSS.

        In the practice of textual criticism among classicists, as
mentioned above, it is a rule of first-order importance that between two
more or less equally attested readings the shorter is to be preferred.
This same rule is also applicable to the NT MSS in a general way. The
situation in NT textual criticism is, however, in at least one sense,
different than it is in the classics. There are a great many more MSS of
the NT than we have of any of the classical works. And among those many
MSS, there is a wide gamut of variations in both the type of text (i.e.
strict to free) and in the type of scribal work done in their copying
(i.e. from copies possibly made for personal use to those copied by
professional scribes). Because of this variation, the more the textual
critic knows about the character and history of each individual MS, the
more informed will be his decisions in the work of establishing the
eclectic text that best reflects the autographs.

        The studies indicate that there are MSS for which we may have
reason to prefer the longer reading, but studies that have been done so
far do not seem to warrant any shift toward adopting this as a general
rule. If there is to be more light shed on this subject, it will depend
on the more general availability of the individual MSS, either in
high-quality facsimile or in faithful transcription. The aparati of the
Greek New Testament editions are helpful but lack a great deal of the
information necessary to make informed decisions on the character of the
individual MSS. I wish all possible success to overtures that would make
such facsimiles and transcriptions more readily available to NT scholars
in their various parts of the world.

David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God Department of Education

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