Re: Anonymous posting on textual criticism

From: Michael W. Holmes (
Date: Mon Oct 30 1995 - 10:03:10 EST

It is clear from David Moore's posting that he (unlike the anonymous
poster) has carefully read Colwell, and his comments are helpful. But
before we waste any more time going back and forth with generalizations
about the longer vs. the shorter text, and which is to be preferred,
etc., may I suggest that in NT textual criticism, generalizations aren't
worth much, since they apply "all other factors being equal"--which is,
as we all know, virtually never. Generalizations (even if they hold true
95-98% of the time) have no predictive value--that is, there is no way
they can tell one in advance whether the next variant one considers fits
the generalization or is the exception. This means, as several diff
textual critics have said in one form or another, that in any particular
case, "the variant most likely to be original is the one that best
accounts for the origin of all competing variants, in terms of both
external and internal evidence." (Ehrman and Holmes, The Text of the NT
in Contemporary Research, pp. 344-345). Generalizations are helpful
mostly when there is nothing else to go on in making a decision; that is,
in the absence of decisive evidence, one may, having nothing else to go
on, follow a generalization rather than flip a coin. But note that the
generalization comes into play only after an examination of the
particular case, not before. This brings me back to my initial point
about the lack of predictive ability on the part of generalizations, and
hence their general lack of usefulness.

So much for a generalization about generalizations....

Mike Holmes

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