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Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism Paperback – December 4, 2015
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"A quite superb introduction to the subject of textual criticism. It is well organized, readable and engaging, and achieves its objective of wanting to be neither too basic nor overly detailed. It is easily the best text book of its kind. . . . An excellent resource."
TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism
"A fresh and unique midlevel student's introduction to the field of New Testament textual criticism."
Craig S. Keener
— Asbury Theological Seminary
"This very readable textbook provides a helpful and balanced introduction to text criticism aimed at just the right level for beginning students. It is clear, introduces multiple views, gives good reasons for the approaches it favors, and — an unexpected bonus — offers in two relevant chapters useful, concise introductions to canon formation and translation theory."
Michael J. Kruger
— Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte
"Because of the complexity of the field of textual criticism, most introductions are either too detailed or too basic. This exceptional volume by Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts provides a welcome balance between these two extremes, introducing students to all the critical issues without overloading them with unnecessary detail. It also covers topics that most introductions overlook, such as the development of the New Testament canon and modern English translations. For anyone looking for a balanced, thorough, and yet readable introduction to textual criticism, this is it."
J. K. Elliott
— University of Leeds
"Newcomers to the Greek New Testament will find this guide a useful introduction explaining how the establishing of the text is undertaken. It also gives insight into the treasures awaiting a perceptive user concerning textual variants found in the manuscript tradition."
Craig A. Evans
— Acadia Divinity College
"This is no ordinary introduction to textual criticism. In addition to offering explanations of the criteria and the critical apparatus, Porter and Pitts explain in very practical ways what the discipline tries to do and the thinking that lies behind it. As a bonus readers are treated to up-to-date discussion of the formation of the canon of Scripture, the nature of the materials used in the production of ancient books, and a history of the English Bible and the theories of translation on which translations are based. The book is rich with examples and insights."
David Alan Black
— Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
"Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is an excellent treatise on a vitally important subject. Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts were seeking to produce a textbook that falls midway between Bruce Metzger's Text of the New Testament and my own New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, and they have succeeded brilliantly. . . . Their careful research deepens our understanding of the role of textual criticism in exegesis, and I am confident that this book of theirs will be widely used both inside and outside of the classroom."
— Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
"Porter and Pitts have admirably achieved what they set out to do — provide a succinct introduction to the manuscript tradition of the Greek New Testament for first- and second-year students of Koine Greek. . . . This book is ideal both for students in classrooms and for general readers who seek reliable information about the origins and the text of the New Testament."
Thomas J. Kraus
— University of Zurich
"In this book Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts take interested students by the hand and introduce them to the essentials of New Testament textual criticism. . . . They provide welcome, concise assessments of external and internal evidence for judging textual variants. . . . A very useful tool for instructing students in New Testament textual criticism."
About the Author
Andrew W. Pitts is assistant professor of biblical studies at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix.
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I recommend this to pastors, students, and anyone interested in textual criticism.
PP identifies their related objective as follows:
“In this and the following two chapters, we will outline a (not necessarily the) method for working through variant readings in an attempt to recover the original text of the NT based roughly on the reasoned eclecticism method laid out in the previous chapter.”
As a Skeptic understand that the method PP presents is the method for Traditional Textual Criticism (TTC), the historical and currently dominant position, but not the Skeptical method. As PP presents their methodology the implication is usually that what they are presenting is what they consider to be the most common and what they recommend.
In the big picture PP writes:
“External evidence, most textual critics agree, should take priority in making text-critical judgments, because it is the most objective tangible evidence that we have for the textual history of the NT.”
A fair statement for TTC but Skeptical Textual Criticism (STC) would flip priority to Internal evidence.
Specifically, PP lists the following criteria for External evidence:
1) Date combined with Text-type
2) Geographical distribution
3) Genealogical relationship
Another fair description of TTC and this time also a fair description of the current state of STC. But, STC is relatively new and therefore its methodology is relatively undeveloped and informal compared to TTC’s.
A good methodology to compare TTC’s methodology to would be the English legal system. The following criteria should be considered:
1 - Credibility of source
A - General = Considered in TTC for Manuscripts (Age & Text type). Not generally considered for Patristics. Patristics that exhibit Textual Criticism outlook and critical thinking such as Origen, Eusebius and Jerome, should have more credibility (relative to Patristics). Others with more errors per line and more conclusion oriented like Irenaeus should have less.
B - Specific - variation present? = For the Patristic that presents variation in witness, credibility is less for that specific issue.
2 - Explanatory power
A - Direction (of change) = Considered by TTC for Internal evidence but not so much for External evidence even though it is the single most important question of Textual Criticism. When manuscripts/Patristics have extant evidence of editing/related indications this goes beyond "what" to "when", "how" and "why".
B - Coordination/Consistency with other evidence = Again, TTC considers for Internal evidence, not so much for External. Does the specific "what" witness coordinate with the "what", "when", "how" and "why" witness of other categories of evidence.
3 - Applicability (to the Textual Criticism issue)
A - Scope of the evidence. Group versus individual reference. For Patristics, witness with a context of Textual Criticism has exponentially more weight than witness without.
B - Directness. Explicit or implicit. = TTC tends to round up or down with implications. Implications should be weighted in between Explicit and nothing.
Regarding categories of External evidence PP writes:
“Besides the biblical manuscripts, we also have other Greek manuscript evidence that does not play a direct role in textual criticism but that we should at least recognize and take into account as appropriate. The most important of this evidence is some of the quotations found in some of the early church fathers”
By indicating that Patristic evidence is secondary to Manuscript evidence in the external category PP understates the value of Patristic evidence even in TTC as TTC does favor the Manuscript as to quantity but not quality. STC is flipped with Patristic evidence favored over Manuscript when there is a minimum of Patristic evidence.
In summary then, the presentation of External evidence methodology in Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is a reasonable presentation of Traditional Textual Criticism with the main criticism being that it has improperly identified Patristic evidence as overly secondary to Manuscript evidence. The complaint is that because the scope of the book is only trying to present Traditional Textual Criticism, the Skeptical reader would not know based on the book that
1) In general Skeptical Textual Criticism has a significantly different methodology with a major difference being the priority of Internal evidence.
2) Specifically there are potential good criteria such as Credibility, Explanation and Applicability that are generally not included in Textual Criticism leading to over emphasis of quantity of Manuscripts.
To answer that, go back with me to 2003, when Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code. Although the book is fiction, Brown prefaced it with these words: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” Unfortunately, many of Brown’s allegedly “accurate” claims—especially about the Bible, Christian theology, and church history—were simply wrong, sometimes at the most basic, factual level.
Regardless, those claims nevertheless left an impression on readers. Understandably so! Many readers nodded their heads when Leigh Teabing, one of the book’s characters, said this about the Bible: “Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.” In other words, powerful people monkeyed around with the text of the Bible in order to confer divine status on their preferred ideology.
Two years later, Bart D. Ehrman published Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. Unlike Brown, who is a novelist, Ehrman is James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman wrote, “There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” And one of the reasons for that is what Ehrman elsewhere calls “the orthodox corruption of Scripture.” In other words, the orthodox altered the text of the New Testament in order to give themselves a “biblical” weapon to use against heretics.
Now, imagine that you are a well-meaning Christian and you read The Da Vinci Code. It raises questions about the accuracy of the New Testament text. Your pastors say it’s bunk, but then you read Misquoting Jesus, and you start to wonder whether they know what they’re talking about. And then you start to wonder whether the Bible itself is trustworthy.
Notice how quickly a fictional narrative can lead to a factual question with serious spiritual implications. Pastors who are unaware of the questions percolating in popular culture and unprepared to provide serious, well-thought-out answers to them are not serving members of their congregation well. At some level, then, pastors must know how to answer the kinds of questions raised by Dan Brown’s and Bart Ehrman’s statements.
Which brings me back to Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism. In this book, Porter and Pitts provide readers with a nuts-and-bolts explanation of that discipline. They define the goal of textual criticism as the “reconstruction of the original the [New Testament] documents based upon the manuscript traditions currently available.” They then walk readers through major witnesses to the New Testament text and the various text-types that arose over the centuries. They define what a textual variant is and outline how external and internal evidence help decide what the original text most likely said. They then conclude with their discussion with several chapters on modern critical editions of the Greek New Testament, as well as translations of it into English.
With the exception of a brief (and to my mind, conclusive) refutation of Bart Ehrman’s orthodox-corruption-of-Scripture thesis, the tone of the book is introductory rather than apologetic. Nonetheless, their introduction of the discipline of textual criticism has apologetic implications. If we can recover the original text of the New Testament with reasonable confidence, then we can be reasonably confident that it has not been corrupted for political (Dan Brown’s point) or theological (Bart Ehrman’s point) purposes. In other words, when we read the New Testament, we have access to the worldview, beliefs, and practices of Jesus’ earliest disciples. I would further argue that in having access to them, we have access to Him.
Again, Porter and Pitts do not make these apologetic points. Their focus is on introducing the discipline to students, and they do this well and objectively. Anyone interested in the textual criticism of the New Testament thus will find accurate information here. Still, as a minister, I can’t help but think that this introduction is capable of inoculating readers against certain viruses of the mind about the Bible contained in both pop culture and certain academic quarters.