In my business role as president of Energion Publications, I’ve just cleared the proofs for the release of the book The Byzantine Text-Type & New Testament Textual Criticism by Dr. Harry Sturz. This is a reproduction of the original book, released in 1984 and is produced under license from HarperCollins Christian Books.
Note: This discussion is not intended for experts, but for people who have only occasional contact with New Testament textual criticism. While I have studied textual criticism, I am not a specialist in it by any stretch of the imagination.
We have thousands of manuscripts of all (a few) or part (many) of the New Testament. In preparing a Bible translation, translators must make choices of which manuscript readings they are going to use.
It’s easy to overestimate the problem here, because significant and/or doubtful variations form a very small part of the New Testament text. Nonetheless, in public discussions, the variants get all the press, because we like to find things that are different, and therefore more interesting.
One thing I learned early in studying textual criticism was that manuscripts should be weighed, rather than counted. What does this mean and how does it work? Well, in general textual critics divided manuscripts into three large groups, which were named for regions associated with them, though actually divided by characteristics of the text. We had the Western text, associated with Rome and parts west, the Alexandrian, associated with Alexandria, Egypt, and the Byzantine text, associated with the eastern church.
The vast majority of surviving manuscripts are of the Byzantine text-type, largely due to history. The church survived much longer, and many more copies were made in the east. In addition, a great deal of manuscript production in the west was in Latin. I’m brushing past a number of factors, but the bottom line is that there were more Byzantine manuscripts.
In the 19th century, and somewhat into the 20th, there were a large number of manuscript discoveries, or rediscoveries, which produced texts that differed from the common texts found in the majority of the manuscripts. These newly-found manuscripts were older, in general, than the existing manuscripts, and in many cases included readings that scholars thought were more likely original. This produced a strong swing in scholarly work toward the text in these newly discovered manuscripts. The Alexandrian text got a lot of attention, with the western text following not far behind. A theory developed that the Byzantine text was the result of a major editorial effort, that produced a single, new text.
As a result, two things happened. First, the Byzantine text was considered generally more recent than those newly discovered manuscripts, and second that it was likely to have readings that were essential 4th/5th-century revisions. At most, it could reflect essentially one manuscript.
Opposed to this general consensus, on which the text of most modern Bible versions has been based, was the view that the reason we had more Byzantine manuscripts was that the text was actually better preserved there, so that it should be preferred, and manuscripts from the other text-types should be considered some sort of aberration.
Dr. Sturz argued that the Byzantine text-type could and did preserve older readings. It was not to be preferred over all others, but its readings should be given due consideration in all cases. He provided evidence that many Byzantine readings show up in early papyri, showing either that if there was any unifying editorial process, it had not been one that erased all of the prior evidence.
The general result of accepting Dr. Sturz’s argument is to improve the evidence that we have for determining the text of the New Testament, as well as change the weight we give to various sources.
I am glad to be able to release this important book and make it available at a reasonably price again. On the Energion Publications retail site, it will be available for $22.99 (suggested retail 24.99) through Wednesday, which is the official release date.
Below is an interview I conducted with Dr. David Alan Black (who wrote the preface to the new edition) and Dr. Abidan Shah.