The case for Byzantine priority


Maurice A. Robinson

Presented to the Symposium on New Testament Studies: A Time for Reappraisal, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina, 6-7 April 2000. Published in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 6 (2001). Published in Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism, edited by David Alan Black (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 125-39. Revised and published in The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, edited by William Pierpont and Maurice Robinson (Southborough, MA: Chilton Book Publishing, 2005), 533-86.

To read the PDF version of this essay, click here (the essay is at the end of the book).

To read the Spanish translation, click here

There has been no change in people’s opinions of the Byzantine text. Critics may be kinder to Byzantine readings—but for reasons not related to their Byzantine nature. It’s not really much of a change.

—Bob Waltz (Internet email)


From the beginning of the modern critical era in the nineteenth century, the Byzantine Textform has had a questionable reputation. Associated as it was with the faulty Textus Receptus (TR) editions which stemmed from Erasmus’ or Ximenes’ uncritical selection of a small number of late manuscripts (MSS), scholars in general have tended to label the Byzantine form of text “late and secondary,” due both to the relative age of the extant witnesses which provide the majority of its known support and to the internal quality of its readings as subjectively perceived. Yet even though the numerical base of the Byzantine Textform rests primarily among the late minuscules and uncials of the ninth century and later, the antiquity of that text reaches at least as far back as its predecessor exemplars of the late fourth and early fifth century, as reflected in MSS A/02 and W/032.1

Certainly the Textus Receptus had its problems, not the least of which was its failure to reflect the Byzantine Textform in an accurate manner. But the Byzantine Textform is not the TR, nor need it be associated with the TR or those defending such in any manner.2 Rather, the Byzantine Textform is the form of text which is known to have predominated among the Greek-speaking world from at least the fourth century until the invention of printing in the sixteenth century.3 The issue which needs to be explained by any theory of New Testament (NT) textual criticism is the origin, rise and virtual dominance of the Byzantine Textform within the history of transmission. Various attempts have been made in this direction, postulating either the “AD 350 Byzantine recension” hypothesis of Westcott and Hort4 or the current “process” view promulgated by modern schools of eclectic methodology.5 Yet neither of these explanations sufficiently accounts for the phenomenon, as even some of their own prophets have declared.6

The alternative hypothesis has been too readily rejected out of hand, perhaps because, as Lake declared, it is by far the “least interesting”7 in terms of theory and too simple in praxis application: the concept that the Byzantine Textform as found amid the vast majority of MSS may in fact more closely reflect the original form of the NT text than any single manuscript (MS), small group of MSS, or texttype. Further, that such a theory can more easily explain the rise and dominance of the Byzantine Textform with far fewer problems than are found in the alternative solutions proposed by modern eclectic scholarship. To establish this point, two issues need to be addressed: first, a demonstration of the weaknesses of current theories and methodologies; and secondly, the establishment of the case for the Byzantine Textform as an integrated whole, in both theory and praxis.

A Problem of Modern Eclecticism: Sequential Variant Units and the Resultant “Original” Text

Modern eclectic praxis operates on a variant unit basis without any apparent consideration of the consequences. The resultant situation is simple: the best modern eclectic texts simply have no proven existence within transmissional history, and their claim to represent the autograph or the closest approximation thereunto cannot be substantiated from the extant MS, versional or patristic data. Calvin L. Porter has pointedly noted that modern eclecticism, although

not based upon a theory of the history of the text … does reflect a certain presupposition about that history. It seems to assume that very early the original text was rent piecemeal and so carried to the ends of the earth where the textual critic, like lamenting Isis, must seek it by his skill.”8

Such a scenario imposes an impossible burden upon textual restoration, since not only is the original text no longer extant in any known MS or texttype, but no MS or group of MSS reflects such in its overall pattern of readings.9 There thus remains no transmissional guide to suggest how such an “original” text would appear when found.10 One should not be surprised to find that the only certain conclusions of modern eclecticism seem to be that the original form of the NT text (a) will not resemble the Byzantine Textform, but (b) will resemble the Alexandrian texttype.

It is one thing for modern eclecticism to defend numerous readings when considered solely as isolated units of variation. It is quite another matter for modern eclecticism to claim that the sequential result of such isolated decisions will produce a text closer to the autograph (or canonical archetype) than that produced by any other method.11 While all eclectic methods utilize what appear to be sufficient internal and external criteria to provide a convincing and persuasive case for an “original” reading at any given point of variation, strangely lacking is any attempt to defend the resultant sequential text as a transmissional entity. The lay reader can be overwhelmingly convinced regarding any individual eclectic decision due to its apparent plausibility, consistency, and presumed credibility; arguments offered at this level are persuasive.12 A major problem arises, however, as soon as those same readings are viewed as a connected sequence; at such a point the resultant text must be scrutinized in transmissional and historical terms.

Colwell noted that “Westcott and Hort’s genealogical method slew the Textus Receptus.”13 Westcott and Hort appealed to a purely hypothetical stemma of descent which they “did not apply … to the manuscripts of the New Testament”; yet they claimed thereby to “show clearly that a majority of manuscripts is not necessarily to be preferred as correct.”14 Possibility (which is all that was claimed) does not amount to probability; the latter requires evidence which the former does not. As Colwell noted, by an “a priori possibility” Westcott and Hort could “demolish the argument based on the numerical superiority urged by the adherents of the Textus Receptus.”15 The TR (and for all practical purposes, the Byzantine Textform) thus was overthrown on the basis of a hypothesis which was not demonstrable as probable. Hort’s reader of the stemmatic chart was left uninformed that the diagrammed possibility which discredited the Byzantine Textform was not only unprovable but highly improbable in light of transmissional considerations. Thus on the basis of unproven possibilities the Westcott-Hort theory postulated its “Syrian [Byzantine] recension” of ca. AD 350.

A parallel exists: modern eclecticism faces a greater problem than did the Byzantine text under the theoretical stemma of Westcott and Hort. Not only does its resultant text lack genealogical support within transmissional theory, but it fails the probability test as well. That the original text or anything close to such would fail to perpetuate itself sequentially within reasonably short sections of text is a key weakness affecting the entire modern eclectic theory and method. The problem is not that the entire text of a NT book nor even of a chapter might be unattested by any single MS; most MSS (including those of the Byzantine Textform) have unique or divergent readings within any extended portion of text; no two MSS agree completely in all particulars. However, the problem with the resultant sequential aspect of modern eclectic theory is that its preferred text repeatedly can be shown to have no known MS support over even short stretches of text—and at times even within a single verse.16 The problem increases geometrically as a sequence of variants extends over two, three, five, or more verses.17 This raises serious questions about the supposed transmissional history required by eclectic choice. As with Hort’s genealogical appeal to a possible but not probable transmission, it is transmissionally unlikely that a short sequence of variants would leave no supporting witness within the manuscript tradition; the probability that such would occur repeatedly is virtually nil.

Modern eclecticism creates a text which, within repeated short sequences, rapidly degenerates into one possessing no support among manuscript, versional, or patristic witnesses. The problem deteriorates further as the scope of sequential variation increases.18 One of the complaints against the Byzantine Textform has been that such could not have existed at an early date due to the lack of a single pre-fourth century MS reflecting the specific pattern of agreement characteristic of that Textform,19 even though the Byzantine Textform can demonstrate its specific pattern within the vast majority of witnesses from at least the fourth century onward.20 Yet those who use the modern eclectic texts are expected to accept a proffered “original” which similarly lacks any pattern of agreement over even a short stretch of text that would link it with what is found in any MS, group of MSS, version, or patristic witness in the entire manuscript tradition. Such remains a perpetual crux for the “original” text of modern eclecticism. If a legitimate critique can be made against the Byzantine Textform because early witnesses fail to reflect its specific pattern of readings, the current eclectic models (regardless of edition) can be criticized more severely, since their resultant texts demonstrate a pattern of readings even less attested among the extant witnesses.21 The principle of Occam’s razor applies,22 and the cautious scholar seriously must ask which theory possesses the fewest speculative or questionable points when considered from all angles.

Modern eclectic proponents fail to see their resultant text as falling under a greater condemnation, even though such a text is not only barely possible to imagine having occurred under any reasonable historical process of transmission, but whatever transmissional history would be required to explain their resultant text is not even remotely probable to have occurred under any normal circumstances. Yet modern eclectics continue to reject a lesser argument ex silentio regarding the likelihood of Byzantine propagation in areas outside of Egypt during the early centuries (where archaeological MS finds happen not to be forthcoming), while their own reconstructed text requires a hypothetical transmissional history which transcends the status of the text in all centuries. The parallels do not compare well.

It seems extremely difficult to maintain archetype or autograph authenticity for any artificially-constructed eclectic text when such a text taken in sequence fails to leave its pattern or reconstructable traces within even one extant witness to the text of the NT; this is especially so when other supposedly “secondary” texttypes and Textforms are preserved in a reasonable body of extant witnesses with an acceptable level of reconstructability.

The essence of a Byzantine-priority method

Any method which would restore the original text of the NT must follow certain guidelines and procedures within normative NT text-critical scholarship. It will not suffice merely to declare one form of the text superior in the absence of evidence, nor to support any theory with only selected and partial evidence which favors the case in question.23 The lack of balance in such matters plagues much of modern reasoned eclecticism24 since preferred readings are all too often defended as primary simply because they are non-Byzantine. Principles of internal evidence are similarly manipulated, as witnessed by the repeated statements as to what “most scribes” (i. e., those responsible for the Byzantine Textform) would do in a given situation, when in fact “most scribes” did nothing of the kind on any regular basis.25

The real issue facing NT textual criticism is the need to offer a transmissional explanation of the history of the text which includes an accurate view of scribal habits and normal transmissional considerations. Such must accord with the facts and must not prejudge the case against the Byzantine Textform. That this is not a new procedure or a departure from a previous consensus can be seen by the expression of an essential Byzantine-priority hypothesis in the theory of Westcott and Hort (quite differently applied, of course). The resultant methodology of the Byzantine-priority school is in fact more closely aligned with that of Westcott and Hort than any other.26 Despite his myriad of qualifying remarks, Hort stated quite clearly in his Introduction the principles which, if applied directly, would legitimately support the Byzantine-priority position:

As soon as the numbers of a minority exceed what can be explained by accidental coincidence, … their agreement … can only be explained on genealogical grounds[. W]e have thereby passed beyond purely numerical relations, and the necessity of examining the genealogy of both minority and majority has become apparent. A theoretical presumption indeed remains that a majority of extant documents is more likely to represent a majority of ancestral documents at each stage of transmission than vice versa.27

There is nothing inherently wrong with Hort’s “theoretical presumption.” Apart from the various anti-Byzantine qualifications made throughout the entire Introduction,28 the Westcott-Hort theory would revert to an implicit acceptance and following of this initial principle in accord with other good and solid principles which they elsewhere state. Thus, a “proper” Westcott-Hort theory which did not initially exclude the Byzantine Textform would reflect what might be expected to occur under “normal” textual transmission.29 Indeed, Hort’s initial “theoretical presumption” finds clear acceptance in the non-biblical realm. Fredson Bowers assumes a basic “normality” of transmission as the controlling factor in the promulgation of all handwritten documents;30 he also holds that a text reflected in an overwhelming majority of MSS is more likely to have a chronological origin preceding that of any text which might be found in a small minority:

[Stemmatic textual analysis] joins with science in requiring the assumption of normality as the basis for any working hypothesis… . If one collates 20 copies of a book and finds … that only 1 copy shows the uncorrected state … “normality” makes it highly probable that the correction … was made at an earlier point in time … than [a form] … that shows 19 with uncorrected type and only 1 with corrected… The mathematical odds are excellent that this sampling of 20 copies can be extrapolated in accord with normality.31

Such a claim differs but little from that made by Scrivener 150 years ago,32 and suggests that perhaps it is modern scholarship which has moved beyond “normality”—a scientific view of transmissional development in light of probability—in favor of a subjectively-based approach to the data.33 To complete the comparison in the non-biblical realm, modern eclectics should also consider the recent comments of D. C. Greetham:

Reliance upon individual critical perceptions (often masquerading as “scientific” methodology) … can result in extreme eclecticism, subjectivism, and normalization according to the esthetic dictates of the critic … The opposite extreme … maintains that … the only honest recourse is to select that specific … extant document which … seems best to represent authorial intention, and once having made that selection, to follow the readings of the document as closely as possible.”34

When considering the above possibilities, Hort’s initial “theoretical presumption” is found to be that representing the scientifically-based middle ground, positioned as a corrective to both of Greetham’s extremes. As Colwell stated,

We need Hort Redivivus. We need him as a counter-influence to the two errors I have discussed: (1) the ignoring of the history of the manuscript tradition, and (2) overemphasis upon the internal evidence of readings. In Hort’s work two principles (and only two) are regarded as so important that they are printed in capital letters in the text and in italics in the table of contents. One is “All trustworthy restoration of corrupted texts is founded on the study of their history,” and the other, Knowledge of documents should precede final judgment upon readings.”35

Beyond an antipathy for the Byzantine Textform and a historical reconstruction which attempted to define that Textform as the secondary result of a formal revision of the fourth century, Westcott and Hort made no idle claim regarding the importance of transmissional history and its related elements as the key to determining the original text of the NT.36 Had all things been equal, the more likely scenario which favored a predominantly Byzantine text would have been played out.37 In that sense, the present Byzantine-priority theory reflects a return to Hort, with the intent to explore the matter of textual transmission when a presumed formal Byzantine recension is no longer a factor.

A transmissional approach to textual criticism is not unparalleled. The criticism of the Homeric epics proceeds on much the same line. Not only do Homer’s works have more manuscript evidence available than any other piece of classical literature (though far less than that available for the NT), but Homer also is represented by MSS from a wide chronological and geographical range, from the early papyri through the uncials and Byzantine-era minuscules.38 The parallels to the NT transmissional situation are remarkably similar since the Homeric texts exist in three forms: one shorter, one longer, and one in-between.

  1. The shorter form in Homer is considered to reflect Alexandrian critical know-how and scholarly revision applied to the text;39 the Alexandrian text of the NT is clearly shorter, has apparent Alexandrian connections, and may well reflect recensional activity.40

  2. The longer form of the Homeric text is characterized by popular expansion and scribal “improvement”; the NT Western text generally is considered the “uncontrolled popular text” of the second century with similar characteristics.

  3. Between these extremes, a “medium” or “vulgate” text exists, which resisted both the popular expansions and the critical revisions; this text continued in much the same form from the early period into the minuscule era.41 The NT Byzantine Textform reflects a similar continuance from at least the fourth century onward.

Yet the conclusions of Homeric scholarship based on a transmissional-historical approach stand in sharp contrast to those of NT eclecticism:

We have to assume that the original … was a medium [= vulgate] text … The longer texts … were gradually shaken out: if there had been … free trade in long, medium, and short copies at all periods, it is hard to see how this process could have commenced. Accordingly the need of accounting for the eventual predominance of the medium text, when the critics are shown to have been incapable of producing it, leads us to assume a medium text or vulgate in existence during the whole time of the hand-transmission of Homer. This consideration … revives the view … that the Homeric vulgate was in existence before the Alexandrian period… [Such] compels us to assume a central, average, or vulgate text.42

Not only is the parallel between NT transmissional history and that of Homer striking, but the same situation exists regarding the works of Hippocrates. Allen notes that “the actual text of Hippocrates in Galen’s day was essentially the same as that of the mediaeval MSS … [just as] the text of [Homer in] the first century B. C. … is the same as that of the tenth-century minuscules.43

In both classical and NT traditions there thus seems to be a “scribal continuity” of a basic “standard text” which remained relatively stable, preserved by the unforced action of copyists through the centuries who merely copied faithfully the text which lay before them. Further, such a text appears to prevail in the larger quantity of copies in Homer, Hippocrates, and the NT tradition. Apart from a clear indication that such consensus texts were produced by formal recension, it would appear that normal scribal activity and transmissional continuity would preserve in most manuscripts “not only a very ancient text, but a very pure line of very ancient text.”44

Principles to be Applied toward Restoration of the Text

The Byzantine-priority position (or especially the so-called “majority text” position) is often caricatured as only interested in the weight of numbers and simple “nose-counting” of MSS when attempting to restore the original form of the NT text.45 Aside from the fact that such a mechanical and simplistic method would offer no solution in the many places where the Byzantine Textform is divided among its mass of witnesses, such a caricature leads one to infer that no serious application of principles of NT textual criticism exists within such a theory. This of course is not correct. There are external and internal criteria which characterize a Byzantine-priority praxis, and many of these closely resemble or are identical to the principles espoused within other schools of textual restoration. Of course, the principles of Byzantine-priority necessarily differ in application from those found elsewhere.

The Byzantine-priority principles reflect a “reasoned transmissionalism” which evaluates internal and external evidence in the light of transmissional probabilities. This approach emphasizes the effect of scribal habits in preserving, altering, or otherwise corrupting the text, the recognition of transmissional development leading to family and texttype groupings, and the ongoing maintenance of the text in its general integrity as demonstrated within our critical apparatuses. The overriding principle is that textual criticism without a history of transmission is impossible.46 To achieve this end, all readings in sequence need to be accounted for within a transmissional history, and no reading can be considered in isolation as a “variant unit” unrelated to the rest of the text.

In this system, final judgment on readings requires the strong application of internal evidence after an initial evaluation of the external data has been made.47 Being primarily transmissionally-based, the Byzantine-priority theory continually links its internal criteria to external considerations. This methodology always asks the prior question: does the reading which may appear “best” on internal grounds (no matter how plausible such might appear) really accord with known transmissional factors regarding the perpetuation and preservation of texts?48 Such an approach parallels Westcott and Hort, but with the added caveat against dismissing the Byzantine Textform as a significant transmissional factor. Indeed, the present theory in many respects remains quite close to that of Westcott and Hort; the primary variance is reflected in certain key assumptions and a few less obvious principles. Because of these initial considerations, the conclusions regarding the original form of the NT text will necessarily differ significantly from those of Westcott and Hort.

Principles of Internal Evidence

The basic principles of internal and external evidence utilized by Byzantine-priority advocates are quite familiar to those who practice either rigorous or reasoned eclecticism. At least one popular principle (that of favoring the shorter reading) is omitted; other principles are cautiously applied within a transmissionally-based framework in which external evidence retains significant weight. The primary principles of internal evidence include the following:

1. Prefer the reading that is most likely to have given rise to all others within a variant unit. This principle fits in perfectly within a primarily transmissional process; it is utilized by both rigorous and reasoned eclectics and is the guiding principle of the Nestle-Aland “local-genealogical” method.49 For Byzantine-priority this principle has great weight: it is extremely important to attempt to explain the rise of all readings within a variant unit. The eclectic model continually evaluates variant units in isolation, attempting to determine in each individual case that reading which seems most likely to have produced all others within that variant unit. The Byzantine-priority principle, on the other hand, insists on not taking a variant unit in isolation from the remainder of the text, but always to ask how the reading which appears to be superior in any variant unit fits in with a full transmissional overview. Such a procedure involves the readings of all the units in near proximity: how they developed, were perpetuated, and grew into their relative proportions among the extant data. This procedure elevates the overall value of this principle and serves as a check against excess in application.

The principle is not negated, but modified. The textual researcher always must ask whether the reading that initially appears to support the rise of all others in a given variant unit is equally that which by its transmissional history remains most likely to have given rise to all other readings in the surrounding text as a whole. If one initially assumes a reading with extremely weak transmissional support to be original, a sufficient explanation must be provided as to how other competing readings could have derived from the first, and also how such readings could have ended up in transmissional relation to neighboring variant units. When such explanations become problematic, this in itself becomes presumptive that another reading in a given unit may in fact have been the source of all competitors, and that the researcher should reexamine the case instead of accepting what at first appeared most plausible when viewed in isolation. Only thus can a final candidate be established within each variant unit—“reasoned transmissionalism” at work.

2. The reading which would be more difficult as a scribal creation is to be preferred. This internal canon is predicated upon the assumption that a scribe would not deliberately produce nonsense, nor make a passage more difficult to understand. If a more common word stood in an exemplar, a scribe would not normally substitute a rare word. Yet scribes do produce nonsense accidentally, and at times may even obfuscate a plain and simple reading for unknown reasons. There needs to be a transmissional corollary of qualification: difficult readings created by individual scribes do not tend to perpetuate in any significant degree within transmissional history. This principle can be demonstrated in any relatively complete apparatus by examining the many singular or quasi-singular readings which were never or rarely perpetuated. The same can be said for readings in small groups of MSS, whether due to family or sub-texttype ties, or by coincidence. Transferring the corollary to the primary principle, the more difficult reading is to be preferred when such is found in the transmissional majority of witnesses rather than when such is limited to a single witness or an interrelated minority group. The reasoning behind this assumption is obvious: while a minority of scribes might adopt any difficult reading for at least a time, the chances are slim that the vast majority of scribes would adopt such a reading were a simpler one originally dominant from the autograph. The researcher still must demonstrate on internal grounds that the “more difficult” reading is in fact such, as well as the transmissional likelihood of that reading having been original within that variant unit.50

3. Readings which conform to the known style, vocabulary, and syntax of the original author are to be preferred. While this principle is valid, its application in modern eclectic praxis is fraught with difficulties. Other factors, including transmissional history, need to be considered before a final stylistic determination can be made in regard to a given passage.51 Merely because και or ευθυς are “characteristic” in Mark or ουν in John does not mean that one automatically should prefer such a reading over the alternatives. Stylistic criteria taken in isolation can easily lead to wrong decisions if the degree and quality of transmissional support are not equally considered. A basic assumption is that scribes in general would be unlikely to alter the style and vocabulary of a given author when copying that which lay before them. Further, in any given instance, a minority of scribes might create an intentional or accidental variation which either conforms the text to a writer’s style, or which moves the text away from an author’s normal style. Transmissional criteria serves as a check and balance against mere stylistic, syntactical, content, and vocabulary considerations, allowing one to arrive at a more certain result. Attention to transmissional considerations prevents a naive acceptance of a variant solely due to stylistic conformity, especially when such is dependent upon favored MSS which fluctuate stylistically within a given book.52

For example, what does one do with ουν in John? Certainly this word is distinctive of Johannine style, and on thoroughgoing eclectic principles perhaps should always be preferred (although structural considerations might alter such a decision).53 Modern reasoned eclecticism seems to prefer ουν only when supported by favored MSS, even if such support is limited. On a transmissional-historical basis, ουν when found in limited perpetuation among a small minority of witnesses would be ruled out due to lack of a reasonable amount of transmissional support. Modern eclectic methodology cannot satisfactorily distinguish a Johannine from a non-Johannine ουν on the basis of either internal criteria or a small group of favored MSS. There needs to be a transmissional criterion for authenticity, since cases such as this cannot be resolved by an appeal to style, to limited external evidence, or to the reading that may have given rise to the others. Transmissional considerations offer a better solution in such cases than do eclectic methodologies. Similarly, how would one handle variation between δε and ουν in John? That gospel actually uses δε more frequently than ουν (δε Byz 231x, NA27 212x; ουν Byz 201x, NA27 200x), even though ουν is “stylistically Johannine.” Δε thus cannot be ruled out when opposed by ουν. The optimal (and only) solution is a reliance upon all external evidence, coupled with a solid view of historical-transmissional considerations.

4. Readings which clearly harmonize or assimilate the wording of one passage to another are to be rejected. That scribes engaged in some harmonization or assimilation to parallel passages or contexts can be repeatedly demonstrated within the pages of a critical apparatus. Colwell noted that harmonization to parallels in the immediate context occurs more frequently than to remote parallels.54 Yet, one must carefully guard against the assumption that verbal identity where parallels exist is presumptive evidence against authenticity. Merely because harmonization or assimilation could occur at a given location, one must not assume that scribes would harmonize whenever possible. Nor is scribal harmonization when it does occur more characteristic of the Byzantine-era scribes than any other. Once more, transmissional aspects remain the primary basis for decision. The apparatuses demonstrate that most of the numerous cases of harmonization or assimilation did not perpetuate in any great quantity. While scribes did harmonize at various places, and that frequently enough, the vast majority of scribes did not accept or perpetuate such alterations to any significant degree. Even if parallel locations were known from personal familiarity with scripture, most scribes did not adopt or add to the text that which was not in the exemplar before them. Harmonization simply did not occur on the grand scale.55 It would be a transmissional absurdity to assume numerous “harmonization-prone” scribes adopting a few dozen harmonizations into their Byzantine MSS while failing to continue the process in hundreds of other places where scribes had produced more plausible and attractive harmonizations—none of which were incorporated into the main stream of transmission.56

The question can be framed precisely: were scribes more likely in any given instance deliberately to revise the text in the direction of harmonization, or would they generally tend simply to copy and preserve what lay before them? The answer is provided only by examining the data in the apparatuses which demonstrates transmissional reality. One will find that most of the time scribes would maintain and preserve the text of their exemplar. When harmonization or assimilation did occur, it was sporadic. The MSS which systematically harmonized to parallel passages were few (the scribes of Codex Bezae and various Caesarean witnesses are more typically harmonistic than what is alleged against Byzantine scribes). While certain Byzantine readings may appear to harmonize at various points, it would be a fallacy to charge the Byzantine scribes with a harmonistic tendency for the following reasons: (a) the Byzantine MSS fail to harmonize in most situations; (b) the alleged harmonizations within the Byzantine Textform are relatively infrequent; (c) alleged Byzantine harmonization often fails to conform precisely to the parallel passage; and (d) the Byzantine scribes fail to harmonize in hundreds of places where a minority of supposedly earlier MSS had created highly persuasive and attractive harmonizations.57

5. Readings reflecting common scribal piety or religiously-motivated expansion and alteration are secondary. From a transmissional-historical aspect, this principle is viewed somewhat differently from that which is commonly held. Pious expansions or substitutions made by a single scribe or a small number of scribes are unlikely to gain acceptance within the manuscript tradition. Were this not the case, one would see a continual expansion of divine names and titles: “Jesus” becomes “Jesus Christ,” then “the Lord Jesus Christ,” then “the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” “Lord” would become “Lord Jesus” or “Lord God”; “Spirit” would become “Holy Spirit,” and so forth. While such alterations and expansions can be demonstrated to have frequently occurred within the manuscript tradition, such cases remain sporadic, localized, and shared among only a small minority of scribes. Most NT scribes did not engage in wholesale pious expansion. Conversely, when a minority of witnesses might lack one or more appellatives, this does not indicate pious expansion by all other witnesses. The shorter reading may be due to accidental omission triggered by common endings (homoioteleuta) among the various nomina sacra within a phrase. One cannot presume that the majority of scribes would adopt piously-expanded readings on a merely coincidental but not systematic basis under normal transmissional conditions. A minority of scribes, however, might easily expand deliberately or omit unintentionally. Were pious expansion indeed typical and dominant, one would wonder why most such cases were not adopted by the transmissional majority. One cannot have it both ways—scribes either conform to certain patterns en masse, or they practice certain habits on a primarily individual and sporadic basis. Since most vagaries produced by individual scribes remained unadopted within the transmissional tradition, there should be no doubt regarding the actual situation. An example of “limited perpetuation” is provided in 1Cor 5.5 (nomina sacra in small caps):

τη ημερα του κυ NA27 P46 B 630 1739 pc Tert Epiph

τη ημερα του κυ ιυ 𝕸 P61vid ℵ Ψ vgst

τη ημερα του κυ ιυ χυ D pc b Ambst

τη ημερα του κυ ημων ιυ χυ A F G P 33 104 365 1241s 1881 al a vgcl syp, h** cop Lcf

While modern eclectic advocates might argue that all readings beyond the shortest (that preferred by NA27) are “pious expansions,” such an approach is too simplistic and ignores the transmissional and transcriptional probabilities that point clearly to the Byzantine Textform as the reading from which all the others derived.58

The MSS comprising the Byzantine Textform (basically 𝕸 in NA27) did not adopt the remaining “natural” expansions found in other witnesses (κυ ιυ χυ or κυ ημων ιυ χυ). Yet, had NA27 been original, it would be peculiar if nearly all the Byzantine-era scribes were to stop at κυ ιυ without further embellishment, especially when such was found in supposedly “earlier” MSS from the Western and Alexandrian traditions. This argues strongly that the vast majority of Byzantine-era scribes did not create or perpetuate pious expansions, but simply preserved the text which lay before them in their exemplars.59

It is transcriptionally more likely that the small minority of Alexandrian and Caesarean MSS (P46 B 630 1739 pc) reflect simple homoioteleuton from the Byzantine reading, skipping from Ὺ to Ὺ. A minority reading created by transcriptional error is far easier to accept than to rationalize such a shorter reading as the source from which only a partial expansion was made by the Byzantine majority.

6. The primary evaluation of readings should be based upon transcriptional probability. This principle goes back to Westcott and Hort, and has no inherent weaknesses. Scribes did make errors and deliberate alterations and readings need to be categorized and assessed according to their conformity to such scribal tendencies.60 Other methods apply this principle inconsistently, more or less commensurate with the preferences of the critic; the application of this principle thus becomes unfairly biased.

A transmissional aspect needs to be recognized: an error or deliberate alteration made in a single MS or a few MSS is unlikely to be perpetuated in quantity. The many singular and quasi-singular readings which exist demonstrate the unlikelihood of a transcriptionally-based scribal creation extending much beyond any MS or MSS which first produced it. The chances that any sensible alteration subsequent to the autograph would extend beyond a small group of localized witnesses would be slim. Indeed, such readings as characterize minority texttype witnesses generally remain small and localized. That any deliberate alteration or transcriptional error would gain the cooperation of scribes so as to dominate the entire stream of transmission is a null proposition: scribes demonstrably did not engage in such a practice on the grand scale. Earlier exemplars would serve to nullify the growth and widespread dissemination of most scribal alterations, thus holding in check the unbridled mass of minority variants. An important corollary follows:

7. Transcriptional error is more likely to be the ultimate source of many sensible variants rather than deliberate alteration. Many variant readings have their root in transcriptional causes. While this principle includes all cases which produce pure “nonsense,” it also includes many in which the end result in some way “makes sense.” Sensible readings may arise from the simple omission of a letter, syllable, or word; so too readings produced by haplography, dittography, homoioteleuton or other forms of transcriptional error.61 Even an error that produced a nonsense reading may result later in other sensible variants, created in an attempt to correct the earlier error.

When examining any variant unit, one first should consider whether transcriptional factors could have caused one or more of its readings. A more plausible solution will arise from this approach than from an assumption of the less frequent deliberate alteration. While many readings can only be explained as due to intentional alteration, the primary principle remains of seeking first a transcriptional cause for variant readings. Many readings could be due to either accidental transcriptional error or intentional alteration; one always must weigh the evidence before settling on one cause over another.62

8. Neither the shorter nor longer reading is to be preferred. The reasoned eclectic principle here omitted is the familiar lectio brevior potior, or giving preference to the shorter reading, assuming all other matters to be equal63—a principle which has come under fire even by modern eclectics.64 Not only can its legitimacy be called into question, but its rejection as a working principle can readily be justified. The net effect of such a principle is to produce an a priori bias on insufficient internal grounds which favors the shorter Alexandrian text. The underlying premise is faulty: it assumes that scribes have a constant tendency to expand the text, whether in regard to sacred names, or by a conflationary combination of disparate narratives, lest anything original be lost.65 Yet scribal habits as exemplified in the extant data simply do not support such a hypothesis. Had the later scribes done according to all that has been claimed for them, the resultant Byzantine Textform would be far longer than that currently found: divine titles would be extensively expanded, parallel passages would be in greater harmony, and a universally-conflated text would dominate. Such simply is not the case.

The problem as usual is a text-critical leap to a conclusion refuted by a careful examination of the extant data. While scribes did engage in various practices which would produce a “longer” text, such occurred only on an independent, haphazard, and sporadic basis. Such minority scribal expansions can readily be discerned in any critical apparatus (even among Byzantine-era witnesses) and rejected on the basis of their minority support. Scribes simply did not expand or harmonize the text en masse, and any principle of internal evidence which suggests and is dependent upon the contrary becomes self-refuted by transmissional evidence.66

The converse principle—that the longer reading should be preferred—is equally rejected. A few may argue thus, such as A. C. Clark and C.-B. Amphoux, who favor the Western type of text,67 but such no more can be applied mechanically to the text than can the “shorter reading,” despite any apparent logic or plausibility which may be adduced. Such a principle simply will not work within a transmissional framework. Further, it has a similar bias favoring the Western text, just as the “shorter reading” favors the Alexandrian text. Elements which reflect “normal” transmissional considerations should not be overthrown or negated on the basis of a built-in bias within a text-critical principle.

Principles of External Evidence

The Byzantine-priority method looks at external evidence as a primary consideration within a transmissional-historical framework. The key issue in any unit of variation is not mere number, but how each reading may have arisen and developed in the course of transmission to reflect whatever quantitative alignments and textual groupings might exist. To this end a careful consideration and application of various external principles must be applied to each reading within a variant unit.68 Certain of these criteria are shared among various eclectic methodologies, but none demonstrate a clear linkage to transmissional-historical factors under such systems.

1. The quantity of preserved evidence for the text of the NT precludes conjectural emendation. The NT text has been preserved to an extent far exceeding that of any other hand-transmitted literature of antiquity. Thus, the likelihood that conjectural emendation might restore the original form of the text is virtually nil. While other critics do not exclude conjectural emendation as a possibility, conjecture does not gain a serious foothold in contemporary praxis, nor is there any pressing need for such.69 Conjecture argues a historical model requiring an unparalleled transmissional catastrophe in which all known witnesses—manuscript, versional, and patristic—failed to preserve the original text at a given point. Given the quantity of NT evidence, such becomes doubtful in the extreme, and if otherwise valid would call into question every word found in any extant witness.70

2. Readings which appear sporadically within transmissional history are suspect. Assuming the general normality of manuscript transmission, the original text should leave a significant imprint over the range of transmissional history. Optimally, an original reading should demonstrate a continuity of perpetuation from the autograph to the invention of printing. Readings which fit this criterion have an initial presumptive authenticity that cannot easily be overturned. Certain corollaries follow:

a. A reading preserved in only a single MS, version or father is suspect. As with conjecture, it remains transmissionally unlikely that all MSS, versions, and fathers save one should have strayed from the original reading. Even if some witnesses are considered “best” within a given portion of text, it remains unlikely that any such witness standing alone would have preserved the original text against all other witnesses. So too the next corollary:

b. Readings preserved in a small group of witnesses are suspect. Just as with single testimony, readings preserved in but two witnesses are unlikely to have preserved the original reading against all remaining testimony. This principle can be extended to other small groups, whether three or four MSS, or even more, so long as such groups remain smaller than a larger texttype (which is treated under other principles). Such cases reflect only sporadic or limited transmission.

3. Variety of testimony is highly regarded. This principle addresses two areas, neither sufficient to establish the text, but either of which lends support to a given reading.

a. A reading supported by various versions and fathers demonstrates a wider variety of support than a reading lacking such. The greater the variety of support, the more weight is lent to a reading. However, if a reading possesses only versional or patristic support without being evidenced in the Greek manuscript tradition, such a reading is secondary. Isolated patristic or versional testimony is not sufficient to overturn the reading most strongly supported among the Greek MS base.

b. Among Greek MSS, a reading shared among differing texttypes is more strongly supported than that which is localized to a single texttype or family group. Diversity of support for a reading is far stronger than the testimony of any single manuscript or small group of MSS.71 Overlooked by many is the fact that the Byzantine Textform is the most frequent beneficiary of such diverse support: there are far more instances wherein an Alexandrian-Byzantine or Western-Byzantine alignment exists than an Alexandrian-Western alignment wherein the Byzantine stands wholly apart.72 Indeed, were all Alexandrian-Byzantine or Western-Byzantine readings in the MSS, fathers, and versions considered as primarily representing the Byzantine Textform (in accord with the present hypothesis), all witnesses would appear far more “Byzantine” than by methods which exclude such co-alignments from consideration as Byzantine. Specific texttype alignments in either case naturally remain distinct on the basis of quantitative analysis.73

4. Wherever possible, the raw number of MSS should be intelligently reduced. “Genealogical method” is accepted whenever such can be firmly established. “Family” groups such as f1 and f13 have long been cited under one siglum, and a few MSS are known copies of earlier extant witnesses. In many other cases a close genealogical connection can be established, and thus mere numbers can be reduced in a proper manner. At times a group of MSS can be shown to stem from a single scribe with one exemplar (e.g., the eight MSS copied by George Hermonymus or the seven copied by Theodore Hagiopetrites); other MSS stem from a single recension (e.g., the ca. 124 MSS of Theophylact’s commentary on John, which differ so little from one another that Theophylact’s Johannine archetype readily can be reconstructed). Such numerical reductions restore the source text of the descendants and prevent a multiplication of totals for the sake of mere number. Such also includes grouping the various Byzantine subtypes (K1 Ka Ki Kr etc.) according to their hypothetical archetypes; these then become single secondary-level sources within the Byzantine Textform. The Kr subtype in particular is known to be late and secondary, having been produced out of the Kx type with lectionary and liturgical interests in mind. The MSS of that subtype resemble each other far more than they do the dominant Kx type. When recognizable genealogical ties can be established, MSS can be grouped under their reconstructed archetype and reduced to a common siglum, wherein number carries no more weight than its archetype.

What is not legitimate is to force the genealogical method to do more than it can, and to impose a genealogy which treats a texttype as a single witness. Less legitimate is to claim a given texttype or texttypes as the assumed parent(s) of other texttypes without demonstrable transmissional evidence. Such was the essence of Westcott and Hort’s hypothetical stemma and subsequent claims made with the sole intent of discrediting the Byzantine Textform. On the basis of transmissional considerations, the Byzantine-priority hypothesis would claim that the original form of the NT text would be more likely to manifest itself within whatever texttype might be overwhelmingly attested within the manuscript tradition, to the exclusion of all others. Such appeals to “normality,” and is far more plausible than a piecemeal eclectic reassemblage of a hypothetical “original” which finds no representative among the extant witnesses. The texttype which on the basis of transmissional factors would appear to possess the strongest claim to reflect the original text can be termed the “Textform” from which all other texttypes and subtypes necessarily derive. The present theory asserts that the Byzantine best fulfills this demand, thus the designation “Byzantine Textform.” All competing forms of the text reflect “texttypes,” “subtypes,” or “families,” each of which developed transmissionally out of that original Textform.

5. Manuscripts still need to be weighed and not merely counted. The preceding principle encompassed the intelligent reduction of witnesses based upon proven genealogical ties. Yet all MSS still need to be categorized regarding their text-critical value and “weight.” A basic component of “weight” is the transcriptional reliability of a MS. A later MS may preserve an earlier form of text; a well-copied MS may preserve an inferior form of text; a poorly-copied MS may preserve an otherwise superior form of text. The effects upon transmission caused by individual scribal practice need to be taken into consideration when assigning a particular “weight” to a given MS at any point of variation. Thus, a determination of individual scribal habits becomes of prime importance. A MS whose scribe had a penchant for haplography or changes in word order will be of less significance when evaluating variant readings which parallel those types of error. A scribe whose problems involved dittography or frequent substitutions of synonyms will be of less weight regarding readings reflecting those types of variation. The study of scribal habits of individual MSS has not taken place on a wide scale, despite the oft-repeated claim that “weight” prevails over mere “number” (one suspects the slogan is used more as a catch-phrase to discredit the Byzantine numerical majority rather than a call for establishing on solid grounds the true text-critical “weight” of individual MSS). Much more needs to be done in this regard, since the studies which so far have appeared have only scratched the surface.74 An evaluation of individual scribal habits would allow a better perception of the significance of individual MSS as they support or oppose given variants.

6. It is important to seek out readings with demonstrable antiquity. While the age of a MS is not as significant as the text it contains (which text derives from an earlier source), it is important to determine the earliest known attestation for a variant reading amid the extant evidence. A reading which lacks even a modicum of early support may be suspect. This is particularly so when the earliest testimony for a reading occurs quite late in the transmissional process.

One problem is determining “late” versus “early.” While readings found in sources of a given date are at least as old as the witnesses involved, silence in the earliest period (due to a paucity of evidence) does not require rejection of readings solely because they lack early attestation. When extant testimony decreases, some loss of attestation is to be expected, and readings lacking attestation in the early period cannot be summarily dismissed. Methodological failure on this point neutralizes Westcott and Hort since subsequent discoveries have established the early existence of many readings which they had considered late and secondary. Had such information been available to them, those readings could not have been as easily dismissed. Indeed, if most sensible readings were in existence by AD 200,75 caution should be applied when establishing the antiquity of a reading based solely on extant representatives. Chronologically “late” MSS are known to preserve earlier non-Byzantine texts well into the minuscule era; there is no reason to assume that minuscules preserving a Byzantine type of text fail to reflect a similar “early” character.76 Where, indeed, might one make a demarcation? While some may prefer a fourth-century boundary, there is no compelling reason to disqualify the fifth or sixth century or even the ninth or tenth century. The real issue appears to be an opposition to any authoritative inroad for the Byzantine Textform. There are valid reasons for considering all MSS extending into the late tenth or early eleventh century as “early.” An explanation is in order:

Apart from colophon information which would date the time of writing and the age of the exemplar, one cannot establish the actual antiquity of the text in any given MS. Since colophons of such detail do not exist, other means of assessing textual antiquity must be considered. Pertinent to this point are two major disruptions within transmissional history: “copying revolutions,” wherein numerous ancient MSS were subjected to massive recopying efforts, replacing their previous exemplars en masse.

(a) The first “copying revolution” occurred when Christianity was legitimized under Constantine. The church of the early fourth century moved from a persecuted minority to an approved entity with governmental sponsorship. It is no coincidence that a change in writing material (from cheap and fragile papyrus to costly and durable vellum) occurred at this time. The earliest extant vellum MSS (i. e., the fourth- and fifth-century uncials ℵ, A, B, C, D, and W) and many later uncials would have been copied directly from papyrus exemplars. This is demonstrated by the lack of stemmatic or genealogical ties among the early vellum and papyrus witnesses.77 The common archetypes of closely-related uncials such as E F G H or S U V Ω as well as those of the relatively “independent” uncials up through the ninth century all are likely to have been early papyrus exemplars. This principle would not have been missed had the later uncials not been Byzantine in character. If correct, then all vellum uncials should be utilized when attempting to restore the original text of the NT: their immediate archetypes would have generally preceded the change of writing material engendered by the altered political status of the previously persecuted church.78

(b) The second “copying revolution” occurred in the ninth century when handwriting switched rapidly from uncial to minuscule script.79 This change likely was initiated by Theodore of Studium and was swiftly accepted throughout the Greek-speaking world as a replacement for the more ponderous uncial script. Within a century and a half uncial script had ceased to exist among continuous-text NT MSS and soon after that disappeared even from the more traditional and conservative lectionaries. The upshot of this copying revolution was similar to what transpired following the papyrus-to-vellum conversion of the fourth century: uncial MSS of far earlier date were recopied in great quantity into the new and popular minuscule script and then destroyed.80

A very strong presumption exists that the exemplars of the earliest genealogically-unrelated minuscule MSS were uncials dating from a much earlier time. These include the minuscules of the ninth and tenth centuries, and likely many within the eleventh century as well. Their exemplars were certainly not any contemporary uncials that only recently had been copied (the destruction of recent exemplars would be economically problematic), but far earlier uncial exemplars dating from the 4th-6th centuries. These would have been sought out for both their general accuracy and antiquity.81 As Streeter noted,

In the ninth century there was a notable revival of learning in the Byzantine Empire. A natural result of this would be to cause Christian scholars to seek a better text of the Gospels by going back from current texts to more ancient MSS … An analogy may be found in the effect of the revival of learning under Charlemagne on the text of the Latin classics. MSS of the seventh and eighth centuries … are full of corruptions which do not occur in MSS of the subsequent period.82

The disappearance of those uncial exemplars was due to “instant obsolescence” following the transfer into the new minuscule script. Once copied, the uncial exemplars were apparently disassembled and utilized for scrap and secular purposes, or washed and scraped and reused for palimpsest works both sacred and secular.83 Such is the proper understanding of the “orphan” status of the early minuscules as stated by Lake, Blake, and New:84 they did not claim that every exemplar at all times was systematically destroyed after copying, but that, during the conversion period, once a minuscule copy of an uncial exemplar had been prepared, the immediate uncial predecessor was disassembled and reused for other purposes.85 That this procedure occurred on the grand scale is demonstrated by the dearth of uncial MSS when contrasted to the large quantity of unrelated minuscule MSS as shown in the following chart:86

The extant continuous-text MSS in centuries II-XVI

This dichotomy is evidenced even during the earliest portion of the minuscule era when both scripts coexisted.87 The minuscule MSS from the ninth through perhaps the first half of the eleventh century are very likely to represent uncial exemplars far earlier than those uncials which date from the ninth century. Thus, many early minuscules are likely only two or three generations removed from papyrus ancestors of the fourth century or before, perhaps even closer. There are no indicators opposing such a possibility, and the stemmatically independent nature of most early minuscule witnesses (their “orphan” status as per Lake, Blake, and New) increases the likelihood and probability of such a case.88 It becomes presumptuous to suppose otherwise, especially when many minuscules are already recognized by modern eclectics to contain “early” texts (defined, of course, by their non-Byzantine nature). As Scrivener noted in 1859,

It has never I think been affirmed by any one … that the mass of cursive documents are corrupt copies of the uncials still extant: the fact has scarcely been suspected in a single instance, and certainly never proved… It is enough that such an [early] origin is possible, to make it at once unreasonable and unjust to shut them out from a “determining voice” (of course jointly with others) on questions of doubtful reading.89

It is basically an a priori bias against Byzantine uncials and early minuscules which prevents their recognition as preserving a very early type of text. If such MSS in fact are bearers of ancient tradition, one cannot set an exclusionary date before the mid-eleventh century. Note that the Byzantine-priority theory does not rise or fall upon a late cutoff period; the theory could proceed in much the same form were the end of the sixth century made the cutoff date.90 However, if a strong presumption exists that (at least) the earliest minuscules preserve a much more ancient text, this could not be done except at risk of eliminating the evidence of many “late” MSS containing texts which are representative of “early” exemplars spanning a broad chronological and geographical range.

7. The concept of a single “best” MS or small group of MSS is unlikely to have transmissional evidence in its favor. While certain “early” MSS may be considered of superior quality as regards the copying skill of their scribes or the type of text they contain, such does not automatically confer an authoritative status to such MSS. To reiterate: late MSS also contain “early” texts; poorly-copied MSS can contain “good” texts; carefully-copied MSS may contain texts of inferior quality; within various texttypes, some MSS will be better representatives than others. But transmissional considerations preclude the concept that any single MS or small group of MSS might hold a status superior either to a texttype or the full conspectus of the stream of transmission.

Since the Byzantine Textform is considered to be that form of the text from which all other forms derived, it encompasses the remaining component texttype groups. Yet among the MSS which directly comprise the Byzantine Textform, there is no single “best” MS nor any “best group” of MSS; nor can minority Byzantine subgroups override the aggregate integrity of the transmission.

8. An exclusive following of the oldest MSS or witnesses is transmissionally flawed. The oldest manuscript of all would be the autograph, but such is not extant. Given the exigencies affecting early transmissional history and the limited data preserved from early times, it is a methodological error to assume that “oldest is best.” Since the age of a MS does not necessarily reflect the age of its text, and since later MSS may preserve a text more ancient than that found in older witnesses, the “oldest is best” concept is based on a fallacy. While older MSS, versions, and fathers demonstrate a terminus a quo for a given reading, their respective dates do not confer authenticity; they only establish the existence of a given reading at a given date. All readings within a variant unit should be considered under all aspects of transmission: minority readings which leave no continual trace throughout transmissional history are suspect; they are not made more authentic merely by an appearance in one or a few ancient witnesses.

9. Transmissional considerations coupled with internal principles point to the Byzantine Textform as a leading force in the history of transmission. The Byzantine Textform is not postulated a priori to be the original form of the text, nor even the superior texttype. The conclusion follows only as a logical deduction from internal and external considerations viewed from within a transmissional-historical framework. Note particularly that there is no automatic probability that the majority of witnesses will overwhelm the MS tradition at any particular point—this despite transmissional expectations. Many variant units show the mass of Byzantine-era MSS divided nearly evenly among two or more competing readings.91 This serves as clear evidence that there can be no automatic anticipation of either textual uniformity or overwhelming numerical support among the MSS comprising the Byzantine Textform.92 When a relative uniformity does occur beyond the equally-divided cases, this indicates a transmissional transcendence of probabilities and serves as presumptive evidence in favor of those readings which find strong transmissional support as a result of unplanned consequence. Rather than a cause for suspicion or rejection, those places where the MSS of the Byzantine Textform stand nearly uniform argue strongly for transmissional originality, based upon the evidence of the divided cases.

Once the Byzantine Textform gains validity on the basis of the preceding considerations, it can be granted a significant voice regarding the establishment of the original text. The result flows naturally from transmissional considerations but is not dictated by presuppositions external to transmissional factors. Indeed, were any other texttype to demonstrate the same transmissional criteria, that texttype would be favored over the Byzantine.

Note that the Byzantine-priority hypothesis can do nothing to resolve the many cases where external evidence is divided and where no reading clearly dominates. In such cases, internal principles coupled with transmissional probabilities must be invoked to determine the strongest reading.93 Similarly, in many cases, internal principles offer no clear decision, and external canons must take a leading role.94 Cases also exist where the MSS are divided and where internal evidence is not determinative, in which a reasonable scholarly estimate is the best one can expect.95

The primary rules for balancing internal and external evidence are simple, and are ordered in accordance with known facts regarding scribal habits: (1) one should evaluate readings with the intention of discovering antecedent transcriptional causes;96 (2) readings should be considered in the light of possible intentional alteration; (3) finally, readings within a variant unit must be evaluated from a transmissional-historical perspective to confirm or modify preliminary assessments. The rigorous application of this methodology will lead to valid conclusions established on a sound transmissional basis. Such accords with what the extant manuscript evidence considered in light of transmissional process and known scribal habits tells us.97

Selected Objections to the Byzantine-Priority Hypothesis98

While modern eclectics demand that the Byzantine-priority hypothesis present a reasonable defense and explanation of its theory and conclusions,99 their own method is ahistorical, creating a text without a theory, thereby extricating themselves from complications more severe than those faced under Byzantine-priority. Were modern eclectics required to delineate and defend the presumed transmissional history underlying their preferred text, the explanation would be far more difficult. For any textual theory, logical and reasonable solutions must be provided regarding a multiplicity of historical and transmissional issues; otherwise there exists no secure underpinning for its conclusions. The following typical objections to the Byzantine-priority theory can be paralleled by similar objections against modern eclectic theory in regard to its presumed transmissional model. The matter of most importance is whether the answer supplied by either faction accords transmissionally with historical probability or with mere historical optimism.100

1. No early Byzantine manuscripts prior to the fourth century. Some response to this objection has already been provided, but a cumulative combination of factors provides the best reply:

(a) The limited and localized nature of the extant early MSS suggests that presumptions regarding text-critical antiquity may be flawed. For classical works, Bowers notes that “the possibility exists that the extant copies (when few) do not accurately represent the original proportion.”101 Were a thousand extant papyri and uncial MSS extant from before the fourth century which were relatively complete and sufficiently representative of the entire Eastern empire (by the location of their discovery), perhaps one could speak with greater authority than from the 63 fragmentary papyri we currently possess from that era. The resources of the pre-fourth-century era unfortunately remain meager, restricted to a limited body of witnesses. Even if the text-critical evidence is extended through the eighth century, there would be only 424 documents, mostly fragmentary. In comparison to this meager total, the oft-repeated apologetic appeal to the value and restorative significance of the 5000+ remaining Greek NT MSS becomes an idle boast in the writings of modern eclectics when those numerous MSS are not utilized to restore the original text.102

(b) The “copying revolutions” previously noted seriously affected the continuity of the transmissional stream. This problem is not adverse, but requires a proper consideration of its effect. The first revolution transferred the NT text from papyrus to vellum; pre-existing papyri were destroyed or otherwise abandoned. This eliminated many predecessors of extant vellum MSS as well as those of non-extant vellum descendants. The second revolution—the conversion from uncial to minuscule script—was just as radical. It effectively eliminated the need to preserve uncial MSS once a minuscule copy had been made. There is no reason to reject the earliest minuscules, and many dating into the eleventh century, as copies of uncial exemplars no longer extant. The small number of extant pre-ninth-century uncial MSS and fragments may well derive from papyrus predecessors left to deteriorate after their vellum copies were made. If the genealogically independent early minuscules stem from now-lost independent uncials which themselves stemmed from independent early papyri, then no MS is inherently preferable merely because of its age, material or script.103 The genealogical independence of most of the existing MSS points back to the earliest times.104

(c) The local text of Egypt105 is not likely to reflect that which permeated the primary Greek-speaking portion of the Empire (Southern Italy through modern Greece and Turkey to Antioch on the Orontes), from which we have no MS, versional, or patristic data from before the mid-fourth century.106 After that point one finds from that region a highly pervasive and dominant Byzantine stream. It is far more reasonable to assume that the predecessors of that stream simply retained the same textual complexion which earlier had permeated that region.107 Otherwise, the greater task is to explain a previous non-Byzantine dominance in that region which was thoroughly overwhelmed by the Byzantine model within less than a century without a word of historical confirmation or authorization, whether from fathers, councils, or ecclesiastical or governmental decree.108 Also, how to explain a reversal of dominance in the widest region without seeing a parallel change in smaller regions of the Empire, where local varieties of text maintained their regional influence with but sporadic Byzantine intrusion influencing their readings over an extended period.

(d) The silence of early testimony from the primary Greek-speaking region of the Empire leads to two opposite views. Modern eclectics assume an early dominance of a non-Byzantine text in those areas which became the stronghold of Byzantine support, despite the transmissional unlikelihood of such having occurred in history. The Byzantine-priority advocates suggest that the later existence and dominance of the Byzantine Textform in that region provides presumptive evidence favoring a similar dominance in earlier times.109 It is reasonable to suppose that, as texts spread geographically from their initial locale, regional alteration would increase proportionally to distance. This is especially the case given the “uncontrolled popular text” phenomenon of the early centuries. Copies produced within a close proximity to the site of origin or initial reception of a given text would be expected to retain a more uniform textual complexion closely resembling that of the autograph; this would occur without the imposition of formal “controls” upon the copying or dissemination of the text. Copies produced at a more remote distance from the site of origin would tend to diverge in greater quantity. If such a hypothesis is correct, the primary Greek-speaking region during the period of “geographical silence” would be expected to retain a Byzantine text, just as other localized regions preserved their disparate texts in the European and African West as well as in Egypt and Palestine; this is basic transmissional theory at work.

(e) To draw a comparison with another widely-held hypothesis, the early existence of the Byzantine Textform rests on a stronger basis than the Synoptic Q. The two- and four-source theories argue for the necessary existence of a Q document without possessing even a fragment of such. Internal evidence is claimed to point inexorably in that direction (whether the present writer concurs is not an issue). On the assumption that such speculation represents fact, scholars create concordances, synopses, and even theologies for Q; some even claim “proof” of its existence by appealing to textual variants in a non-extant document!110 Many eclectic scholars freely accept Q as a “real” first-century document despite the utter lack of manuscript evidence for such. Yet these same scholars paradoxically argue against possible authenticity of the Byzantine Textform on the basis of a lack of pre-fourth century documentary evidence. But no Q document or fragment has ever been found (and likely will not), from any century. Yet from at least AD 350 onward the Byzantine Textform does exist. Thus the evidence favoring the early existence of the Byzantine Textform is far stronger than the case for Q. A pre-fourth century dominant Byzantine Textform more emphatically can be postulated within the primary Greek-speaking region of the Empire, despite a lack of early evidence. Transmissionally, there is no compelling reason to conclude a non-Byzantine dominance in that region prior to the fourth century since no reasonable minority representation was left among later witnesses in that same region even though such clearly occurred elsewhere.111

(f) Until the discovery of P75 in 1955, a relatively “pure” Alexandrian MS was unknown among the Egyptian papyri; there was no proof that a text similar to that of Codex Vaticanus existed prior to the fourth century. Before P75, some suggested that Origen had created the Alexandrian text following his relocation to Caesarea.112 The “mixed” papyri found before P75 had provoked speculation that the Alexandrian texttype was the end product of a recent recension.113 P75 of course changed matters dramatically. But until a mere 45 years ago, no one could speak dogmatically regarding the early existence of a text resembling Vaticanus. Similarly, one cannot rule out the possibility (slim to be sure) that a second or third century Byzantine MS might someday be discovered in the sands of Egypt. Were such to occur, certain researchers still would be inclined to describe such a MS as “containing” more “Byzantine-like” readings than other early documents; this due to an a priori view that the Byzantine text could only be “much later.”114

2. Major disruptions in transmissional history eliminated non-Byzantine predecessors. These objections fall under two main heads: the Diocletian persecution and the rise of Islam.

(a) The claim is that various persecutions, and especially that of Diocletian, so decimated the number of NT MSS that previously dominant texttypes were all but eliminated, leaving the rising Byzantine to fill the gap.115 This really assumes too much: an initial presumption is that a non-Byzantine text dominated the Eastern Empire; then, when persecutors demanded scriptures for destruction, the Alexandrian text was that which was overwhelmingly surrendered. Persecutions, however, were not selective in their textual targets. The MSS surrendered and destroyed in a given region would reflect the general proportion of existing MSS, regardless of texttype; so too those which survived. Were 1000 MSS destroyed in a local area of which only 100 were Byzantine, even a 90% decimation still would leave a survival proportion similar to that which was destroyed. One cannot stretch credulity to presume a reversal of texttype dominance as the result of basically random persecutions.116

Some suggest that the Diocletian persecution was more severe in Palestine and Egypt, thereby wiping out the Alexandrian text in those regions. Less-severely persecuted regions would then have their texts free to dominate. Yet another fallacy exists: had the Alexandrian text been original, it should have dominated the Greek-speaking portion of the Eastern Empire. It would retain its dominance even if the text in any other region were utterly destroyed. But if Alexandrian dominance did not continue, one should assume only a local and regional aspect for that text, and understand that before Constantine the Byzantine Textform had already become dominant in the primary Greek-speaking region of the Empire. This would exclude or minimize Alexandrian influence outside of Egypt and Palestine. Either way, the claimed early dominance of the Alexandrian text is called into question.117

Other factors suggest a proportional destruction and survival of MSS as regards texttype. Nigel Wilson has noted the loss or destruction of even Byzantine-era MSS by means unrelated to persecution:

One may lament the loss of texts, both classical and theological, that took place in the Byzantine age. But … circumstances were much against them. Destruction by fire and foreign invasion was frequent. Writing material was relatively scarce and expensive … Lending resulted in loss, … despite the fact that many books were marked with the owner’s name together with the curse of the three hundred and eighteen fathers of the Council of Nicaea on anyone who should steal or sell the books to others … Perhaps we should rather be surprised that so much survived.118

It thus becomes a wonder that even the Byzantine Textform survived the manifold difficulties of its era, including the Fourth Crusade’s sack of Constantinople (AD 1204), and the Ottoman conquest (AD 1453). Yet MSS of Byzantine and non-Byzantine type survived the destructions of that era, in a manner which reflected their proportional distribution. There is little reason to suppose that the NT text ever suffered anything more than proportional destruction during any time of persecution, whether by Decius, Diocletian, Julian the Apostate, Mohammedan rulers, or even misguided and fanatical Christians.

(b) The Islamic Conquest was not as totally destructive to NT MSS as has been claimed.119 Monasteries and churches in both Palestine and Egypt continued literary activity following the conquest120 and maintained communication with the Eastern and Western Empire,121 even while facing pressure to abandon Christianity and convert to Islam.122 Hatch puts this in proper perspective:

When the Arabs conquered Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, … the monastic and ecclesiastical libraries … naturally came under their control. Many books must have perished in this troubled epoch, but some escaped destruction… Christianity was regarded by the Moslems as a divinely revealed religion, and they would not ordinarily have felt impelled to destroy copies of the Christian Scriptures. The Arabs were in fact much less fanatical and harsh in the treatment of their Christian subjects than is sometimes supposed, and they did not aim at a wholesale conversion of the Christians.123

Kurt Aland has suggested that the real cause of Egyptian textual difference from the Byzantine mainstream relates to a much earlier theological conflict between Eastern and Egyptian Christianity:

[One] should keep Egyptian Church history more firmly in sight… . The alienation from the eastern church … set in among the Christian population of Egypt during the fourth century and reached its culmination in the … fifth century [with] … the formation of the monophysite church[. This] allows us to presuppose a tradition of the New Testament text isolated at least from the later Koine—an isolation strengthened by the Arab domination.124

So also Farag, who discusses the state of Egyptian Christianity two centuries before the Arab conquest:

Abba Shenouda (333-451 A. D.) … devoted his life to fight pagan and Byzantine corruption in all its forms. The dream of his life was to emancipate Egypt religiously by separating the Coptic Church from Constantinople … [and] achieving political independence from the Byzantine state.125

Despite the isolation, communication continued with the Eastern Greek Church even after the Arab Conquest. The effect was both textual and political:

The witnesses of the Egyptian text of the Greek New Testament… were all the more clearly subject to the influence of the Koine [= Byzantine text] with the passing of time. Political isolation did not keep the Greek monasteries in Egypt free from the influence of the Byzantine church.126

The continued existence and survival of the Coptic Church127 and monasteries in Egypt128 and Palestine129 exemplifies the true situation, negating claims to the contrary.130

3. Chrysostom’s influence made the Byzantine the preferred text of Constantinople; this text later was imposed upon the Eastern Greek church by Imperial or Ecclesiastical decree.131 A “new” or localized text, even if used by a popular Greek Father would not become transmissionally popular merely due to his reputation.132 A previous traditional textual dominance over a wider region would not be abandoned on such grounds. Less plausible than regional replacement is that any “new” or localized text would expand into Empire-wide dominance without ecclesiastical or Imperial decree. No such imposition of control is documented historically. It places an impossible demand on transmission to see a late, minority, and regionally localized text on its own outstripping and virtually eradicating whatever predecessor texts had previously dominated in either a local region or a wider geographical range. Yet this unlikely scenario is urged without historical evidence by some who oppose the Byzantine Textform. But as Colwell noted, “the Byzantine … text-type … had in its origin no such single focus as the Latin had in Jerome.”133

The complex character of the MSS comprising the Byzantine Textform demonstrates that any “official” sanctions—even if they had existed—simply did not work. A consistent form of text was not preserved even in the region surrounding Constantinople.134 Rather, as Lake, Blake, and New had suggested on the basis of numerous collations of Byzantine MSS, the lack of an observable commonalty of text with clear stemmatic ties tends to indicate that scribes remained independent of any official sanctions as they copied their exemplar MSS. As Scrivener noted,

No one who has at all studied the cursive MSS. can fail to be struck with the individual character impressed on almost every one of them … The fancy which was once taken up, that there existed a standard Constantinopolitan text, to which all copies written within the limits of that Patriarchate were conformed, has been [quoting Tregelles] “swept away at once and forever” … by a closer examination of the copies themselves. Surely then it ill becomes us absolutely to reject as unworthy of serious discussion, the evidence of witnesses (whose mutual variations vouch for their independence and integrity) because their tendency on the whole is to uphold the authority of [the Byzantine Textform].135

Scrivener’s observation was reiterated a century later by Jacob Geerlings, who noted regarding the Byzantine Textform that,

its origin did not wholly center in Constantinople, nor was its evolution the concern of either ecumenical councils or patriarchs… . Its origins as well as those of other so-called text-types probably go back to the autographs… The Eastern Church never officially adopted or recognized a received or authorized text … At no point in its history was it ever adopted officially by the Eastern Church, quite unlike to the status of Jerome’s Vulgate in the Western Church… The term “rescension” [sic] which is sometimes applied to the Byzantine text implies … deliberate attempts by a group of scribes or ecclesiastical authorities … to revise or correct the Greek text … The case, as we have observed above, was otherwise.136

Apart from the Byzantine as a Chrysostom-influenced or officially-imposed text, other critics have opted for another means of explaining the rise and dominance of the Byzantine Textform:

4. The Byzantine Textform is the result of a process which over the centuries steadily moved away from the original form of the text in the interest of smoothness, harmonization, grammatical and other “improvements.”

Colwell claimed that “a text-type is a process, not the work of one hand,”137 and that “scholars have been forced” to this conclusion due to their study of the Alexandrian texttype.138 Also, “the story of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament is the story of progression from a relatively uncontrolled tradition to a rigorously controlled tradition.139 In view of what Scrivener and Geerlings stated above, one seriously must consider Colwell’s further comment: “The important questions … are, Where were controls applied? Why? By whom?”140 If no such controls ever were actually imposed, the situation becomes radically altered.

Geerlings also explains the Byzantine Textform by a “process” model, following von Soden’s suggestion that the Ka and K1 texts reflect the initial stages of a developmental process that resulted in the majority Kx and large Kr groups.141 While the later Kr sub-group did develop out of the MSS which comprise the Kx group, the Kx is not so easily classified. The transmissionally more logical view would be that Kx more likely reflects the overarching text from which all minority Byzantine sub-types developed at different periods. This would coincide with Colwell, albeit to a different conclusion:

the Beta [= Alexandrian] Text-type par excellence is the type found in the later rather than the earlier witnesses; … the Alpha [= Byzantine] Text-type is found in von Soden’s Kx or Kr rather than in Ka (Family Π) or K1 or Alexandrinus or Chrysostom.142

Yet Colwell’s “process presuppositions” are non sequitur, and beg the question: he states, (1) “Scribes do not automatically, as scribes, copy accurately”; and (2) “Close agreement between manuscripts is possible only where there was some control. Wide divergence between manuscripts indicates lack of control.”143 The better procedure would be to redefine the presuppositions in light of transmissional evidence: (1) Scribes for the most part were generally careful and reasonably accurate in their copying endeavors. Were this not so, the MSS of the NT and all ancient works swiftly would have become a mass of confusion, and one would despair at ever recovering an original form of the text. While all scribes blundered or made intentional alterations to the text at various times, the overall character of the copied text was not so affected as to preclude a reasonably accurate transmission on “normal” terms, thus facilitating the recovery of an original from comparison of various witnesses; (2) Colwell defines “control” as “editions with sanctions,” imposed from a source beyond the individual scribe.144 Yet there is no demonstrable unity of text within the Byzantine Textform MSS, and likewise no evidence that controls were ever imposed on the NT texts before the late Kr recension.145 The primary locus of “control” resided in the scribes’ perceived duty to be careful and accurate, duplicating the exemplar MS as precisely as possible. This level of “control” is wholly sufficient to explain most observable phenomena: there was a general accuracy in representing the text, while blunders and intentional alterations would differentiate the various texttypes and subtypes over the long period of transmissional history.

The primary problem with the “process” model is explaining how such a process could function under the constraints of transmission and locale. Hodges has spoken to this point in a classic statement which nullifies the “process” view as a solution to transmissional history:

No one has yet explained how a long, slow process spread out over many centuries as well as over a wide geographical area, and involving a multitude of copyists, who often knew nothing of the state of the text outside of their own monasteries or scriptoria, could achieve this widespread uniformity out of the diversity presented by the earlier [Western and Alexandrian] forms of text… An unguided process achieving relative stability and uniformity in the diversified textual, historical, and cultural circumstances in which the New Testament was copied, imposes impossible strains on our imagination.146

A properly-nuanced “process” would recognize the various transmissional factors, as well as the tendency toward regional deviation into localized forms. This sort of process would produce texttypes and sub-types within a localized region, but not on its own any convergence into a single dominant Textform. The absence of control runs counter to Colwell’s presuppositions and conclusions; yet apart from formal control, a transmissional “process” would result in various texts diverging continually from the parent Textform. Such indeed is evidenced in the various regional texttypes and subtypes which exist in contrast to the uncontrolled Byzantine parent.

Inaccuracies and misleading claims

The Byzantine Textform has been caricatured by adverse critics as “late” (by MS date), “secondary” (by readings), and “corrupt” (by a false assumption of scribal proclivities). These points readily can be discussed as a matter of opposing opinion. Yet some cases exist where inaccurate and misleading claims are made against the Byzantine Textform. These are stated as fact and remain in print without subsequent correction, misleading and biasing readers against the Byzantine Textform. Three selected examples from two Byzantine-priority opponents illustrate this situation:

1. Gordon Fee makes an outstandingly inaccurate claim when opposing the Byzantine inclusion of John 5.3b-4.147 He speaks dogmatically regarding the enclosed (or “embedded”) genitive construction, την του υδατος κινησιν, which appears at the end of John 5.3 in the Byzantine Textform:

This use of an enclosed genitive presents extraordinarily difficult problems for Johannine authenticity … There are some word-order invariables [in Johannine style] (e.g. αμην αμην λεγω υμιν; never υμιν λεγω). Another of these invariables is with genitive constructions where both nouns are definite (e. g. the eyes of the blind). There are 97 such occurrences in the Gospel (not including those places where both nouns are genitives as in 12.3 της οσμης του μυρου), plus 27 others in 1 and 2 John. In every case the word order invariably is the moving of the water.

It is as improbable for John to have written την του υδατος κινησιν as it would be for a proper Bostonian to say, “I’m fixin’ to go up town; y’all come with me, ya hear?” One may count on it: had John written 5.3b he would have said την ταραχην [sic] του υδατος.148

Yet a simple electronic scan of the Johannine writings149 reveals that the embedded genitive construction not only appears three times elsewhere in John (John 6.51; 14.30; 18.10), but with one exception (Matt 13.55, ο του τεκτονος υιος) this construction is otherwise exclusive to John among the gospels.150 The embedded genitive in John 5.3b actually is more characteristic of Johannine style than of any other gospel,151 and its presence in John 5.3b argues more for Johannine authenticity rather than inauthenticity.

2. On the same page, Fee claims inauthenticity in John 5.4 because of the phrase αγγελος κυριου, claimed to be in “almost all of the early uncials.” Since this phrase does not tally with Johannine usage, it must have been a Byzantine “creation.” Fee admits that κυριου is “lacking in the later majority” of MSS (the bulk of the Byzantine Textform), but he directs his attention to the “early uncials” (which are not listed). But contra Fee, the “Byzantine” reading is simply αγγελος standing alone, in accord with the minuscule data. Further, the uncial evidence is not as Fee states. According to the apparatuses,152 αγγελος κυριου is read by the uncials A K L Y Δ Π 0233. Of these, only MS A (fifth century) is “early.” The remaining κυριου uncials come from the eighth (L 0233) and ninth (K Y Δ Π) centuries. In contrast, all remaining uncials which contain John 5.4 read αγγελος alone, and these date within the same time frame as those uncials containing the κυριου expansion. In addition, the John 5.4 uncials which do not include κυριου outnumber those which include; these are the following: sixth century, 078; eighth century, E; ninth century, C3 (C* omits the entire verse) F G H M U V Θ Λ Ψ; tenth century, S Γ. The uncial majority reads only αγγελος in a 2:1 proportion against those adding the extraneous κυριου. The sixth-century 078 stands in near-equal contrast to the “early” fifth-century MS A on the opposing side.153 Αγγελος κυριου simply is not the “Byzantine” reading, nor does such predominate even among the uncials (“early” or “late”). The minority pious expansion αγγελος κυριου thus cannot be urged as a “proof” of the non-Johannine character of John 5.3b‑4. Had such an expansion been original to the Byzantine Textform, there would be no explanation for its later omission in the majority of uncials or minuscules, nor was κυριου ever omitted from the same phrase elsewhere (Matt 1.20, 24; 2.13, 19; Luke 1.11; 2.9; Acts 7.30; 12.7, 23). Since κυριου is not original to the Byzantine text of John 5.4, conclusions regarding inauthenticity cannot be established on this basis.154

3. Daniel Wallace creates “revisionist history” in asserting that the Byzantine Textform was neither dominant nor in the “majority” until the ninth century.155 Not only does such a claim run counter to what has been acknowledged since Westcott and Hort,156 but it simply does not accord with the known facts.157 Sufficient manuscript158 and patristic159 evidence exists from the mid-fourth century onward to establish this point. Wallace not only ignores a previous scholarly consensus but fails to consider the transmissional factors which have restricted all evidence from the pre-ninth century period. His current claim is little more than “eclectic nose-counting” of extant witnesses, on the faulty presumption that such might accurately depict the total NT transmissional situation in the pre-ninth century era. There is no reason to engage in a questionable form of nose-counting against a previous scholarly consensus, let alone to ignore contrary versional and patristic evidence which is strongly supportive of Byzantine dominance from the mid-fourth century onward.

The limited number of extant witnesses prior to the ninth century is insufficient to establish the true proportional nature of the text in that era. The early data are too limited (as respects the Byzantine region) and too localized (as respects the Alexandrian or Egyptian region) for mere numerical nose-counting to hold any authority since such is likely to be non-representative of the actual situation regarding the text in the early centuries. Put simply, Westcott and Hort were correct regarding post-fourth century Byzantine dominance. It becomes a very peculiar type of wish-fulfillment to argue “revisionist history” on this point merely on the basis of the number of extant MS witnesses which predate the ninth century.

Concluding Observations

Every variant unit can be evaluated favorably from a Byzantine-priority perspective, and all units should be carefully examined when attempting to restore the original text. While some examples of Byzantine-priority analysis appear in the present essay, it is impossible within a short study to present a complete or comprehensive discussion of variants. Although an analysis of significant individual variant units can be provided in short studies, a thorough text-critical examination should cover many sequential units within a given portion of text. Most variant units require extended discussion in order to establish the text in a persuasive manner; short summaries often are weakened by a failure to present all the relevant material regarding a variant unit.160 The present writer elsewhere has offered detailed examples which illustrate the working principles and conclusions of the Byzantine-priority hypothesis as compared with those of modern eclecticism.161

While the present essay cannot present a detailed exposition of the Byzantine-priority theory, it does provide an overview of its presuppositions, principles, and praxis, demonstrating itself as a legitimate theory under the broad banner of NT textual criticism, and an alternative to modern eclecticism. The Byzantine-priority hypothesis is far more complex than it may appear; it does not encourage a simplistic eclectic approach nor a narrow theological outlook toward a predetermined result. The final determination of that text remains problematic in too many cases, despite its primarily externally-based methodology. Absolute certainty in regard to the entire NT text cannot be expected, given the evidence as preserved. Under all theories, ca. 90% of the original text of the NT is considered established. Byzantine-priority attempts to extend that quantity, following reasonable principles of internal and external evidence, balanced by historical and transmissional factors.

Byzantine-priority provides no domain or shelter for those unwilling to labor diligently, or for unscholarly individuals whose goal is merely a biased theological perspective or the advocacy of a particular translation. Rather, the theory manifests a compelling and logical perspective which can stand on its own merits. It attempts to explain the evidential data preserved to critical scholarship in the quest toward the goal of establishing the original text of the canonical Greek New Testament.

Byzantine-priority has a methodological consistency which cannot be demonstrated among the modern eclectic alternatives. This consistency derives from an insistence on a primarily documentary theory (following Westcott and Hort). This is coupled with an understanding of internal principles within a transmissional-historical framework. Apart from this essential base, any claim to approach or establish an authoritative form of the original text of the New Testament consistently will fall short.

The problem within modern eclecticism has long been recognized. Colwell declared in 1955, “The great task of textual criticism for the generation of scholars who are now beginning their work is the rewriting of the history of the text and the recreation of theory.”162 Kenneth W. Clark in 1968 stated,

We require a critical history of transmission… Some new angle, some novel experiment must be tried if we would in our time achieve a breakthrough… This is the fundamental need before we may move on to a thorough and systematic revision of the critical text. The remedy we need can only come through a better diagnosis. The true diagnosis will of necessity be a new and different one.163

Epp in 1974 declared that “the establishment of the NT text can be achieved only by a reconstruction of the history of that early text…”. Obviously, doing this is harder than saying it.164

Clark and Epp are correct: for the past century, eclecticism has functioned without an integrated history of textual transmission. That its resultant text has no root in any single document, group of documents, or texttype is an unfortunate by-product of its self-imposed methodology. Thoroughgoing eclecticism remains a scholarly endeavor divorced from external considerations; reasoned eclecticism attempts to strike a balance between internal and external criteria. Yet both systems fail precisely at the point of transmissional history: their resultant text remains without consistent documentary support, and represents a piecemeal assemblage comprised of a disparate and unrelated mélange of preferred readings taken from isolated variant units.165 At this point Byzantine-priority theory does not fail but offers a transmissionally legitimate resultant text which is well-supported among the manuscript base that undergirds the Byzantine Textform. If modern eclectic theory with its problematic resultant text can secure a niche within NT textual criticism, so much more the Byzantine-priority hypothesis with its insistence upon a solid transmissional base before applying principles of internal and external criticism. Byzantine-priority thus can be accepted as a preferable alternative to modern eclectic theories which ultimately fail to present a transmissionally viable “original” text.

Despite modern eclectic expressions regarding what NT textual criticism “really” needs, modern text-critical thought steadily moves away from the highest ideals and goals. Current eclectic speculation involves heterodox scribes who are claimed to have preserved a more genuine text than the orthodox,166 as well as a general uncertainty whether the original text can be recovered, or whether any concept of an “original” text can be maintained.167 The Byzantine-priority position offers a clear theoretical and practical alternative to the pessimistic suppositions of postmodern eclectic subjectivity. The various eclectic schools continue to flounder without an underlying history of transmission to explain and anchor the hypothetically “best attainable” NT text which they have constructed out of bits and pieces of scattered readings. In the meantime, the Byzantine-priority theory remains well-founded and very much alive, despite the orations and declamations which continue to be uttered against it.168

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