Re: Improbable Probability Statements

From: Mark Goodacre (
Date: Fri May 23 1997 - 06:00:50 EDT

Clayton Bartholemew wrote (some omitted):

> Apparently much of what passes for probability argumentation in NT
> studies will not stand up to close scrutiny. I raise this issue here
> because I hear this kind of talk on the b-greek list now and then.
> Here is a concrete example:
> Bruce Metzger in his textual commentary on the GNT 3rd ed. (page
> 320-21) has a full discussion of the variants for Acts 4:24. His
> concluding remark is all we are concerned with. He says that
> energeia is used nowhere else in Luke, and in the NT it is only used
> by Paul. Metzger considers this evidence against the reading of D
> for this variant.
> I am not the least bit interested in which variant is original in
> Acts 4:24. What interests me is that a world class scholar
> (understatement) would consider this an argument.
> Luke has a large vocabulary. Luke has a number of NT hapax. Luke
> uses a number of words only once. So how do we concluded that it is
> *improbable* that Luke would use energeia only once? It does not
> follow.
I am very happy to see this contribution to the list. I think this
is quite right. It is indeed striking to see how even world-famous
NT scholars can be on such shaky ground.

Luke-Acts is a good case to pick. Luke has a large vocabulary and, as
Michael Goulder says, 'a dismaying habit of varying his synonyms'.
If (as I do) you believe in Markan priority, you cannot help noticing
that Luke introduces lots of hapax legomena into his Marcan material.
This means that not only are text-critical arguments of the kind
quoted above from Metzger weak, but also source-critical
arguments of the form 'This word is a hapax in Luke, and therefore it
is probably from a source' are equally weak - indeed fallacious.

Good wishes to all


Dr Mark Goodacre
Department of Theology
University of Birmingham
Birmingham B15 2TT

Tel.: 0121 414 7512 Email:
Fax.: 0121 414 6866

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