The New Testament in the Original Greek According to the Byzantine/Majority-Textform. Ed. by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont; Exec. Ed. William David McBrayer. Atlanta: The Original Word Publishers, 1991. lvii + 510 pp. Paper, $24.95.
Having themselves edited a Greek NT (The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text) the present reviewers can appreciate the work that went into this volume. We welcome its appearance heartily as yet another evidence of growing support for conservative principles of NT textual criticism.
The format of this Greek NT is attractive: a large paperback with appropriate designs on the cover (“Greek fret” border and a Corinthian capital). The Preface and Introduction are fifty-seven pages long and the text plus Appendix and Bibliography are 510 pages long.
The type face is clear and gives a simple, uncluttered look to the pages, which are totally devoid of punctuation, breathings, capitalization, paragraphing, or critical apparatus (footnotes with textual variants). This may well prove to be the book’s greatest asset as well as its greatest liability. Since the early mss. lack all of the things mentioned above, one is able to get a better idea of what actual mss. are like. However, in testing readability with a number of non-experts (but who have had two to three years of Greek), we found that all agreed it was hard to read the text without the commonly accepted editorial helps. On the other hand, those who are proficient enough in Greek to dispense with punctuation and accenting, etc., tend to be the very ones who most desire a textual apparatus.
Perhaps a second edition will include these features. Even as it stands the Testament is a valuable tool to have, especially for the Introduction, and to compare those passages John 7:53–8:11 (fully documented in the Appendix in various editions) and Revelation, both of which sections of the NT have readings with no actual majority reading as such.
The textual theory expounded in the Robinson/Pierpont edition is a striking departure from all previous theories about the Majority Text. Robinson/Pierpont actually prefer the term “Byzantine” to the term “Majority,” which Robinson calls a “misnomer” (p. xviii). When their theory is examined, it seems clear why the designation “Byzantine” is favored.
According to these editors, the “original Byzantine Textform must have rapidly degenerated into the various uncontrolled popular texts which prevailed in certain times and localities” (p. xxx). But after the Church received official sanction under the Emperor Constantine, with greater communication between churches, there came a “spontaneous ‘improvement’ of manuscripts through cross-correction” (pp. xxx-xxxi). The new “‘universal text’ could only be one which would approach the common archetype which lay behind all the local texts” (p. xxxi).
Thus Robinson/Pierpont reintroduce the once-popular “process view ” by which recent scholars have often explained the origin of the Majority Text. Ironically, the editors reject the previous “process view,” citing Hodges’s criticism of that view (p. xxv). But the same criticism applies to the Robinson/Pierpont view with equal force. If the mixed, partially-corrupted local texts that existed prior to Constantine’s time were sporadically and unsystematically cross-pollinated with other such texts, the result could only be the same as it was in the history of the Latin Vulgate: increasing textual mixture and textual corruption. There is no way such a process could produce the relatively high-level of uniformity found in the great mass of “Byzantine” manuscripts. The Robinson/Pierpont explanation is transmissionally inconceivable. Only a formal, official revision (à la Hort!) could get the job done.
Earlier the editors cite favorably the statement by Hort that “a certain presumption… remains that a majority of extant documents is more likely to represent a majority of ancestral documents at each stage of the transmission than vice versa” (p. xx). The editors rightly call this “the only logical position for textual scholars to hold” (p. xxi). Yet the editors themselves apparently violate this position when they speak of the Byzantine text “degenerating” into local texts prior to the age of Constantine. If a period existed in which the “Byzantine Textform” could not claim a majority of documents, then Hort’s “theoretical presumption” must be false for the NT. Normal Majority text theory maintains the validity of Hort’s statement on the basis of the available data. Robinson/Pierpont seem to embrace, then reject, Hort’s “presumption.”
Robinson/Pierpont also reject the use of stemmatics in reconstructing the original text, but on inadequate grounds. According to them “stemmatics have not been applied successfully to the NT Greek documents because suchcannot be applied to a textually ‘mixed’ body of documents” (p. xxiii, n.). This is very arbitrary and amounts to saying that what has not been done cannot be done. On the contrary, Josef Schmid, whose volumes on the text of Revelation are invaluable, has worked stemmatically with considerable success and he even convinced E. C. Colwell that an overarching stemma for the Book of Revelation was possible, though Schmid himself did not think so (see Colwell, Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, p. 53). With the arrival of high-tech computers, the problems posed by mixture are no longer the barrier to stemmatics that earlier textual scholars believed them to be. Even with the “mixed” manuscripts of Revelation, when one knows the readings of a half-dozen or so key witnesses, he will be able in most cases to project how the remaining approximately 200 manuscripts will divide numerically on the variants in question. Most NT manuscripts are far from being as textually “mixed” as some scholars imply.
Throughout their introduction the editors refer to the so-called “Western” and “Caesarean” texttypes. But today the existence of either of these texttypes is an open question. Kurt Aland now prefers the designation D-text (instead of “Western”) since Codex D stands alone as a representative of its own peculiar form of text.
It is inaccurate to say, as these editors do, that “a purely ‘majority’ textual theory disregards texttype distinctions and resorts ultimately to following the numerical majority wherever such might lead” (p. lii). Granted, there are proponents of the Majority Text for whom this is true. But, as a generalization, it is certainly not correct.
The term “Majority Text” was originally coined by Kurt Aland and refers to the fact that a certain type of text is found in the majority of the surviving documents. In this sense it is a documentary term and not a way of referring to particular readings. One can obviously prefer the Majority Text as an overall form witnessed to by the majority of documents, without having to insist that every single original reading must have a majority of the surviving manuscripts in its favor. The overall form of text in the Hodges/Farstad edition is clearly the form found in a majority of the NT documents (except in John 7:53–8:11 and in Revelation where no one “form” of the text is in the majority). In this sense it is not illegitimate to call the Majority Text itself a “texttype.” But it is trans missionally possible that some of theoriginal readings of this “texttype” are not attested in a majority of the extant manuscripts known today.
All in all, the Robinson/Pierpont position on textual theory seems built on shaky foundations. Why should “the most appropriate goal” for their edition be to print a text “quite acceptable to any Greek-speaking scribe throughout the Byzantine era” (p. Iv)? Why is not the most appropriate goal to print as far as possible the original text, whether acceptable to Byzantine scribes or not? Are we looking here merely for the post-Constantine text? If so, let us call it “Byzantine” as these editors do. To us, at least, the “Majority Text” means the form of text found in the autographs themselves and which has always been found in the majority of documents throughout the history of NT transmission.
But after saying all this, the reviewers wish to affirm again their appreciation for the considerable labor that has gone into this edition. We welcome this volume warmly. The more discussion there is of these issues, the better.
Arthur L. Farstad
Zane C. Hodges
Editor and Associate Editor
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society