Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thinking About Textual Analysis And The Weight We Give The Criteria

One of my students started out a response to another student's forum post in the following way:
"Hi M, Liked your analysis, even though we came to a different conclusion! One of the major themes that I see developing as we all take a look at this project is how much weight a particular scholar gives to a particular area of textual analysis. Black, for example, seems to place a great weight on distribution, more so than he does on dating (Black 1985, 55). Metzger, on the other hand, seems to imply that the early dating should be given more weight (Metzer 1994, 179). So, the question for students such as ourselves is what area of textual analysis do we think the most weight should be given to? I would lean in favor of dating being the most important. I also would place more weight on what the early church fathers believed to be the true words of the original writers."
That's what I call the start of a great forum discussion. Why beat around the bush? Why not filter out all of the noise and get right to the heart of the matter? What is the criteria that we are going to give the most weight to? Here's the thing, folks: The danger comes when we actually answer that question and land on a single criterion. Sure, it's easier to land the plane. Sure, it makes all future textual analyses easy-breezy. But that's the danger. Don't answer that question! –unless, of course, your answer is to say that there is no single criterion by which we can rightly assess any textual issue. Be prepared in textual analysis to answer all of the questions, and counter questions. Ask the tough questions about your own likely conclusions. You might ask: Does a reading in a manuscript that is dated 100 years earlier really amount to weightier evidence when another one is represented by early witnesses spanning text-types? Are the earlier manuscripts corrected to align with a geographically-broad reading? Never should a textual decision be reached on the basis of a single criterion.

In the case of Matt. 5:22 and εἰκῇ, for example, it wasn't just the wide geographical distribution in favor of the longer reading that led Dave Black and very few others to conclude that the original included the word. It was also the early dating of the evidence that included the word, albeit that evidence wasn't considered the earliest. Early is important. Omissions could have taken place at any point, theoretically, right? One scholar held that the inclusion of the word was clearly added by a scribe because he just couldn't imagine Jesus being so harsh. But that suggestion seems to be the venom of  his own conclusion. How then did it spread one to so many, from a single text-type to the others, and so early in the history of the transmission of the text. It was also thinking through the internal evidence (which is always second to the external). That's right. The internal evidence drew us to places in Mark 3 and Ephesians 4, for example. If Jesus wholly condemns anger in Matthew 5 and subjects anyone guilty of it to judgment, what then do you do with other passages in the New Testament that seem to do something different? Hmmmm. All of these were taken into consideration. So, students, be careful. Don't take the easy way. Think through the evidence–all of it. That's the only way when it comes to wrestling with textual issues.

So, it's more than one single criterion. It's all of them. Is there one that I give greater weight to? I suppose we are all guilty of leaning one way more than the other. I have my own, and I have to work hard to think objectively through the evidence. I think one thing that I've noticed when flipping through the commentaries (something I do after I've walked through the evidence on my own) is that people give a whole lot of weight to a single text-type. And, there's something worse. Some seem to be comfortable with just saying "so-and-so says this." Such arguments, in my opinion, are baseless. They have no persuasive power when I see them, unless the one who they are quoting is saying something really intriguing or something I hadn't considered. But, "so-and-so says the scribe took this word out because he thought Jesus' saying was too harsh" is hardly enough for me. I think the emphasis in cases like that isn't on the portion I've underlined above; the emphasis is on the "so-and-so says." And so I say watch out for that.

Alright, I've gotta jump off of the blogosphere for a few moments. Have I told you all that I appreciate you stopping by? I really do. Thanks, and I always hope that it blesses you. I hope it challenges you and helps your walk with the Lord grow to the glory of God!

Oh yeah, one more thought before I go. This is a reason for us all to start biting off smaller portions from the New Testament when we teach. Choosing to walk through 20 verses in a given 30 min. to 1 hr. time slot just ain't wise. Choose smaller portions and spend your time doing the exegesis that needs to be done given the text.

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