Re: Textual Criticism Argumentation

From: Michael Holmes (
Date: Thu Oct 23 1997 - 10:12:18 EDT

At 02:00 PM 10/22/97 +0000, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>I don't suppose that there is anyone else on the b-greek list that
>is occasionally troubled by the what passes for argumentation in
>text critical literature. ...
>A single example will illustrate this kind of reasoning.
>Ground rule: *the shorter reading is to be preferred*
>I am not a logician but this kind of argument looks suspect to me.
>Primarily because I don't see anyone challenging the ground rule.
>All the text critical discussion seems to accept the ground rule
>without question. When the ground rules are taken as unassailable
>*givens* then the whole process of textual discussion revolves
>around weighing the implications of one ground rule against the
>implications of another ground rule. But there is precious little if
>any rigorous critique of the rules themselves.

1) The "ground rules" were never meant to be taken as "unassailable
*givens*". They were, when formulated, *generalizations,* made on the basis
of observations of scribal activity, and to be prefaced when used by the
phrase "all other things being equal" or some such equivalent. But too
often in the hands of casual users, and not surprisingly in view of our
common tendency to reduce everything to convenient slogans, the qualifying
phrase ("all other things being equal") gets lost and the rule is used
mechanically (i.e., often thoughtlessly). The result is, as Clayton has
observed, an accumulation of "argumentation" that is indeed suspect, on a
number of levels.

2) In terms of recent criticism or analysis of the "rules" themselves,
perhaps I could mention my own discussion of this matter in Ehrman & Holmes,
eds., _The Text of the NT in Contemporary Research_ (Eerdmans, 1994), from
which the following sample (minus the footnotes) is taken (p. 343). After
listing several studies or investigations of the various "internal"
criteria, I continue:
        "The cumulative effect of many of these studies has been to weaken or
require extensive modification of several of the traditional criteria. In
the light of Royse's study the venerable canon of _lectio brevior potior_
['the shorter reading is to be preferred'] is now seen as relatively
useless, at least for the early papyri. Petzer has persuasively challenged
the very basis of the frequently used criterion of congruency with an
author's tyle, while C. M. Martini (among others) has questioned the use of
Atticistic tendencies, and B. D. Ehrman has demolished the still common
assumption that only the 'heretics' changed the text for doctrinal reasons.
        "It would appear, therefore, that the primary effect of recent discussions
of the various criteria, including the efforts to imporve or refine them,
has been to increase our skepticism. We are less sure than ever that their
use, no matter how sophisticated, will produce any certainty with regard to
the results obtained. In addition, as Colwell once noted, 'the more lore
the scholar knows, the easier it is ... to produce a reasonable defense' of
or to 'explain' almost any variant."

There are also discussions of these matters with regard to the OT by E. Tov
and M. Silva (biblio. refs are in my essay).

Hope this is of some use.

Mike Holmes
Bethel College

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