The Problem with Reasoned Eclecticism

via New Testament Textual Criticism:

“The main problem with Reasoned Eclecticism is that, while in theory it gives all the appearance of being governed by sensible and carefully balanced guidelines, in reality there is only one rule: follow the reading of one or two fourth century Alexandrian manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. Now, of course, I am exaggerating slightly here. But that there is a problem here is easy to demonstrate.”

“The cumulative effect of the evidence that Royse presents is eye-opening: case after case of obvious scribal blunders in Vaticanus that are still included in the UBS text, some of which are rated as virtual textual certainties by the UBS editors! After seeing Royse’s evidence it is hard to resist the conclusion that the UBS editors have serious problems objectively assessing the merits of the readings of certain favoured manuscripts. It is the systematic presentation of evidence by Royse that proves the point that there is a definite tendency at work: to turn a blind eye to obvious errors when Vaticanus is involved.”

The evidence from scribal habits demands a radical re-evaluation of textual evidence at hundreds of places, not a little tinkering here and there. The reality is that any text that consistently and overwhelmingly prefers shorter readings (like the UBS/NA text) cannot anymore claim to represent the original text of the New Testament. What is required is the reintroduction of hundreds of readings that have been culled from the original New Testament text and relegated to the critical apparatus of the UBS/NA text. This is the reality of what is required to realign NT textual criticism with the research into scribal habits, yet the very thought is unmentionable – anathema – to most textual critics.

“The last problem we shall mention is again a direct result of the first problem – the reduction of NT textual criticism to a one-line creed: follow Codex Vaticanus and its friends. This fourth problem is that Reasoned Eclecticism as currently practiced largely depends upon a belief that in the fourth century there was a complete re-editing of the Greek New Testament that produced the later form of the Greek NT text. To use the language of the man in the street, what this idea means is that in the fourth century of the Christian era, the Greek New Testament was ‘doctored’ by some ecclesiastical authorities (some suggest Lucian of Antioch was responsible) to produce the Byzantine text which largely dominated the middle ages. Westcott and Hort used the idea of a Lucianic Recension to (conveniently) dispose of 95% of the Greek manuscript evidence (the Byzantine text) as having sprung from the corrupting influence of this 4th Century re-editing process. At a stroke, the numerical preponderance of the Byzantine evidence was dismissed as having sprung from one (late) edited manuscript. As a result, they were left with two early streams of manuscript evidence – the Alexandrian uncials and the Western evidence (headed by Codex Bezae, easily the most bizarre text of the NT).  Westcott and Hort chose the Alexandrian uncials, headed by Vaticanus. The Lucianic Recension was the foundation stone of Westcott and Hort’s textual theory; their history of the text underpinned  everything else they believed.”

“Hear the conclusion of the matter: Reasoned Eclecticism, as exemplified in the current critical text, is a swindle. It is neither truly eclectic, nor fair and reasonable in its treatment of internal evidence, nor willing to adapt to incoming research. The internal arguments marshalled in the UBS commentary are a sideshow, a smokescreen intended to distract the reader from the real process which determines the text: following what Codex Vaticanus reads. Reasoned Eclecticism is unable or unwilling to abandon ‘the mirage of Vaticanus infallibility’ (Gunter Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles, p217).”

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