Textual Criticism: Clarification

From: Edward Hobbs (EHOBBS@wellesley.edu)
Date: Sat Oct 25 1997 - 15:13:23 EDT


When I wrote my "Caution" on Textual Criticism two days ago, I stated it
so briefly that it was readily (and obviously widely) misunderstood.

We have frequently had discussions of text-critical issues in specific
passages of the NT, and occasionally of the LXX. These have been right
and proper, and frequently essential.

We have also had questions, and answers, about useful bibliography on the

I wrote instead of discussing "the principles and practice of the discipline
of Textual Criticism." By this I referred to debates concerning basic
theories of the history of the text and consequent proper practice of the
discipline. There is a List (TC) which already does that, and those who
have subscribed to it know how inflammatory it can be. I was not
encouraging people to subscribe to it, but only referring to it as a place
where this discussion goes on.

The problem is that what has emerged as a major focus of argumentation is
centered around the effort to revive a form of the Textus Receptus (the
"Majority Text") as the original text of the NT, and this argument has
frequently aroused passions and flames and even charges of better or worse
Christianity. A few years ago someone began cross-posting between that TC
list and ours, without permission of the authors in some cases, with serious
consequences for our list ("There was no king in Israel in those days;
everyone did what was right in his own eyes.")

The discussion which began a few days ago was in no way threatening; it was
an effort to forestall what happened before that prompted me to ask that
we not go into such matters on this List.

Let me quote from one of my best advisors on the List:

"Discussion should focus particularly on text-critical problems within
specific passages rather than be wide-open and ranging over the broadest
generalities." --and: "People should again be urged not to get into the
kinds of questions best answered by reading the relevant bibliography."

I concur wholeheartedly with his advice.

Beyond this, questions of bibliography, etc. are welcome. Beyond THAT,
let's follow our procedure on historical-critical issues:

    When the interpretation of a passage depends on one's own critical
viewpoint, it should be stated clearly--but the critical position itself
should not be argued. E.g., what we think Paul says about women may
depend on whether we take the Pastorals as by Paul or by a later author;
so we should be clear about which position we take--but NOT argue that
our own critical stance is the only correct one.

The reason should be plain: We have a List which succeeds very well and
on the whole in a very civil manner, in part because we do not fight about
those matters which are linked to our personal form of religion (or even
lack thereof).

It is constant awareness of this line which is most important for us to
keep in mind.

And I reiterate that no one had crossed that line; it was worry lest we
not remember what it is.

Edward Hobbs

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