So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Textual Statistics of the Bible...

Here's some of those numbers I mentioned last night at C&C. I've taken this from a short paper I wrote a few years ago regarding the textual credibility of the Bible as it relates to inerrancy. Enjoy...

I know that some "fundamentalists" (I use the term in the negative, anti-intellectual sense of the word, not in the 'historically fundamental' sense) try to suggest that our current translations are inerrant (…the red text in the KJV is the same color as Jesus’ blood! All who disagree are liberals!), but I don’t know of any reputable scholars that would suggest that. Inerrancy has always been understood as applied to the original autographs alone. Now when I draw that line, you may ask “well who cares then? If it only applies to the original manuscripts, what’s the use?” This is where critical scholarship comes in. Though we cannot make the absolute claim that our Bible is completely free from every miniscule error (like a missing comma somewhere), we can say with confidence that the Bible I read is as close to the original manuscripts as possible, within the bounds reasonable and meticulous scholarship.

With all ancient documents, historical criticism attempts to trace the history of all the various manuscripts to ensure that the current translations are reflective of the original. An example of this would be the historical criticism of Homer’s The Illiad. The Illiad is generally regarded as one of the best preserved ancient documents. Homer was the most widely read author in antiquity (according to E.G. Turner) and there exist 643 extant manuscripts (ancient copies) of The Illiad, the earliest of which is dated at 400 B.C. though The Illiad was apparently penned around 900 B.C.

In contrast, there are somewhere around 24,500 extant manuscripts of the New Testament (more are discovered every year), the earliest of which is dated at around 125 A.D., and the bible was apparently finally completed (Revelation was written) around 100 A.D.

Now if you were to walk into the department of Classical Studies at any university and attempt to toss out The Illiad from the curriculum, or even challenge the textual credibility of it, you would be laughed at. There are agreed to be 764 (depending on who you talk to) lines of contested text in The Illiad, but in the New Testament there are 40. Yet, every Classical scholar that I know would tell me that I’m misinformed if I suggested that my Dover Thrift Edition (I AM a cheap Mennonite!) of The Illiad were far removed from the original text of The Illiad. They would tell me that my claim shows a complete ignorance of the massive textual evidence for the historical credibility of the modern translations of The Illiad. This is especially true when compared with the miniscule textual evidence for other ancient documents like The Annals of Tacitus (20 extant manuscripts) or Thucydides’ History (8 extant manuscripts). They would not claim that modern scholarship had Homer’s autographed copy (little joke there), but they would contend strongly that the modern translation of Homer was what Homer wrote (or relatively close), and there was sufficient textual evidence to transport my suspicions into the realm of foolishness.

Now, when one considers the New Testament in this same light, there is around 38 times more textual evidence that is 4 times less removed from the original date of authorship. Also, if one were to take all the quotations on Scripture from the letters and writings of just Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Eusebius, one could rebuild the New Testament several times over again, short of a few dozen verses. Those 7 early church fathers quoted the New Testament 36,289 times. In a nutshell, there is such a literary tsunami of evidence for the historical reliability of the New Testament that we can say, with exponential confidence, that we have more reason to believe in the historical reliability of the New Testament all other ancient works if all their respective textual evidences were combined and multiplied by 10. If secular scholarship is confident that The Illiad has been accurately preserved and that the modern translations are accurate, I am 152 times more confident in my New Testament. The Bible is so amazingly preserved in history that I can say with confidence that the Bible sitting on my shelf is tremendously close to the Bible that was originally penned, or at least much closer to its original manuscript than The Illiad, (or all other ancient Hellenistic literature combined!) which is itself relatively uncontested historically. If the original manuscripts were inerrant and inspired, I have every reason to trust my Bible and read it with confidence.

If you want to check into the historicity of the Bible further, read Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell and A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler William Nix. McDowell also cites several dozen other wonderful works on the textual criticism of the Bible that are worth investigating. If you have questions about inerrancy, I suggest reading Inerrancy by Norman Geisler and Theological Challenges to Inerrancy By Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest.

Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


Blogger Andrew L said...

During the discussion at C and C, this was what I was thinking of

10:55 PM

Blogger cflat said...

Let’s clear the air and do some number crunching. NT manuscripts are classified into one of four categories: Alexandrian, Western, Caesarean, Byzantine. Now, of your 5000+ copies, 80-90% of them are Byzantine. Unfortunately Byzantine is universally accepted as the *worst* copies because they are characterised by smoothing, conflation, harmonisation and outright fabrication. A survey of recent, published, Greek New Testaments has an average of 10% manuscript usage. (The Greek New Testament that you probably have is the Nestle-Aland edition which only uses 522 source documents!) That is only 10% of the 5,000 copies are actually used in the process of compiling the Greek New Testament. Simply put, when doing contextual criticism, it is not the volume of copies that is important, rather it is the quality of the copies that is important.

Of these 10% more accurate copies, many exist only as fragments and even in this smaller subset, you have a wide range of variation. Consider, what is the correct ending to Mark? Did Jesus have ‘compassion’ on the 10 lepers or was he ‘indignant’?

Even more damning is that the amount of variance free text of the remaining 10% of the manuscipts is only 62%. (7947 verses with only 4999 that are conflict free) That’s it! Only 62% of the *more accurate* documents correlate with each other.

So lets do the math. 10% documents times 62% conflict free =~ 6% accuracy of all the documents available. Wow that sure sucks.

Ok, so there is much more to be said here. But basically I wanted to point out that the classical argument is flawed and more importantly, the NT is flawed.

Now for some resources to back up these thoughts:
Anything by Bruce Metzger (He's likely an editor of your copy of the greek new testament!) Particularly:

“A Textual Commentary On The New Testament: A Companion Volume To The United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament”

The Text of the New Testament : Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration

K. Aland and B. Aland, “The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions & To The Theory & Practice Of Modern Text Criticism”

M. W. Holmes, "The 'Majority Text Debate': New Form Of An Old Issue"

12:10 AM

Blogger cflat said...

BTW, I'm not sure where you got your number of copies from. General concesus is that there is betwen 5,400 and 5,600 copies of the various portions of the NT - not 24,500.

12:14 AM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

Wow. I didn't know you read this blog. I listed my sources. Again, they are:

"Evidence that Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell and A General

"Introduction to the Bible" by Norman Geisler William Nix.

Just for clarification, the 24,500 documents also refered to all extant manuscript evidence, including fragments and other 'small' pieces.

And "Byzantine is universally accepted as the *worst* copies because they are characterised by smoothing, conflation, harmonisation and outright fabrication".

According to who?

Also, what constitutes a 'conflict' in those 7,947 verses? How many verses have an actual changed verb, and not variations in punctuation or plurality?


P.S. - I liked the CARM link Andrew

2:55 PM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

Here's where that 24,000 number comes from:

5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament,
10,000 Latin Vulgates,
9,300 other early versions (MSS),
= 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today

I don't believe I specifically mentioned "Greek manuscripts". All ancient textual evidence was being referred to.

3:28 PM

Blogger cflat said...

> According to who?
I cited my main source David Metzger above. To demonstrate his credibility, I want to restate that if you took any greek at bbc, you would have received a Greek NT from UBS. David Metzger is one of the lead translators of this edition. The UBS edition is considered the authoritative Greek NT compilation. So to answer your question, see page xvii-xxi of _A Textual Commentary On The New Testament: A Companion Volume To The United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament_ (1971)

>Also, what constitutes a 'conflict' in those 7,947 verses? How
>many verses have an actual changed verb, and not variations in
>punctuation or plurality?

If you use the UBS Greek NT that you got when you took greek you will note that the committee of textual critics used 4 categories when identifying the degree of certainty of a given doubtful verse (the footnotes indicate where these conflicts are). Category A signifies that the text is virtually certain; B indicates that there is some degree of doubt; C means that there is a considerable degree of doubt about which text should be the superior reading and D indicates that there is a very high degree of doubt concerning the reading. Here is the break down: (may vary slightly between recent editions) Category A: 8.7%, B: 32.9%, C: 48.4% and D: 9.9%.

If you remove Category A, which consists of minor things such as plurality, and punctuation, you still have a lot of uncertainty to deal with. You can do the math. The source of this information can be found in Textual Certainty In The United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (K. D. Clarke)

>Here's where that 24,000 number comes from:
>5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament,
>+10,000 Latin Vulgates,
>+9,300 other early versions (MSS),

I'm sure you can anticipate my argument here. Including the latin vulgates is erroneous because they do not derive any more certainty to the original than translating German to Arabic by way of English. A classic example of why we should not use the latin when translating, other than as a very loose guide, is the famous Jerome's comma (1John 5) which crept into the KJV because they interchanged the greek and the latin as source documents.

As for the other early versions – I would want to know more about what this constitutes. (Which source are you using for this? I couldn’t find the reference to 24,500 or the 9,300 documents when I looked through my copy of A General Introduction… last night) Are these documents other pseudepigraphal sources that have overlapping anecdotes such as the gospel of Thomas and Josephus' Antiquities? I suspect that they don't add much to deriving certainty to the original other than provide an interesting reading and means of tracking document evolution (eg: the gospel of Thomas has a great rendition of the parable of the sower and the seeds which extrapolates a profoundly different meaning than the contemporary reading).

11:11 AM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

I'll respond in point form to make this a little quicker, First, answers to questions:

1. The 24,000 manuscript number isn't a secret. Google "New Testament Manuscript Evidence" and the first three hits have that number up front. My source was not Geisler & Nix, as they deal with mainly Greek manuscripts and early church father citations. The source where I got the 24,000 number was from "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell, and HE gets it from none other than Bruce Metzger and Kurt Aland (The Aland in Nestle-Aland), with whom you are certainly familiar.

The books where these numbers can be found are "The Early Versions of the New Testament" (Bruce Metzger), and two journal articles by Kurt Aland:

- one in volume 87 (1968) of "Journal of Biblical Literature"

- one in the July, 1976 volume of "New Testament Studies"

2. As for the 9,300 other manuscripts, none of them are psuedopigraphal. They're all copies of the Bible. This number consists of copies of the Bible in the following languages:

Ethiopic, Slavic, Armenian, Syriac, Bohairic, Arabic, Old Latin, Anglo, Saxon, Gothic, Sogdian, Old Syriac, Persian and Frankish.

Same sources as above.


Now some clarification and rebuttal.

I would suggest a few things:

1. You cannot arbitrarily toss out 80-90% of the manuscripts because they are Byzantine. Bruce Metzger and his translating team didn't toss them in their work on the UBS GNT; they instead used them. That's why your UBS GNT has lots of superscript "Byz" and "Byzpt" notes; because they translators of your GNT utilized the Byzantine text and mark their utilizations accordingly. Also, regarding the textual categories, you'll see that documents of the Byzantine text type fall into category "V". All this information is on page 4* and 5* of the introduction in your UBS GNT. Needless to say, Bruce Metzger and his team used the Byzantine text. You can NOT throw it out because you don't like it. It may not be as meticulously perfect as the Codex Sinaiticus or Vaticanus, but it's not trash. The number is STILL at 5,366 pieces of Greek manuscript evidence.

2. As for your comment on the "A,B,C,D" rating of the textual certainty of the UBS GNT, page 3* of the introduction says nothing of what you suggest. The four classifications aren't coresponding to "punctuation", then "grammar", then "vocabulary" or whatever. They're simply ratings of textual certainty, based on amount of textual variety within the various manuscript evidence of any given passage. And what were the varieties within the text that made these classifications of "A,B,C,D" necessary? Pages 41* to 44* of the introduction of the UBS GNT list them. They are:

-Paragraph and sub paragraph breaks
-section and major section breaks
-breaks between clauses
-different uses of "hoti" to show indirect or direct discourse or causal construction
-embedded quotations
-question clarification (is something a question or an exclamation or a command?)
-poetic structure variations
-traditional material markers
-alternate text (of ANY size)
-alternate constructions

So of all these, only two would possibly challenge the actual meaning of a verse. Any alternate text or alternate constructions (or possibly something being a command) would change a text. Good thing every Biblical doctrine is derived from more than one verse!

3. As for your dismissal of the Vulgates and translations of other languages, I'm wondering why Bruce Metzger and other Bible translators use the Vulgate and other translations in other languages?

I'm guessing they would strongly disagree with your comment when you said,

"...they do not derive any more certainty to the original than translating German to Arabic by way of English."

On the contrary, you seem to be forgetting that the Vulgates and other translations were CONTEMPORARIES of the Greek manuscripts.

If there are a few variant readings of a passage (in the Greek manuscripts) and there's a strong consensus in the earlier or contemporary Latin translations, that gives tremendous textual evidence to one reading or another.

We're thousands of years removed from the world and the church of the translators. We don't know what gave rise to variant readings or whatever. We don't know what was going on in certain specific centers at a given time (outside of recorded history, which is far from meticulously comprehensive). But what we can see a dominant reading of a text emerging constistently in other earlier or contemporary translations, that gives us a clue as to what was considered to be the normative reading of a text at a given time in a given region.

That might be why Bruce Metzger and other translators don't look only at the 522 Greek manuscripts that you deem trustworthy...they instead consider the FAR larger body of textual evidence to determine, as best they can, what the closest to original text would be.

And again, we're not talking about missing or inserted verses. Only John 7:53-8:11 and 16:9-20 are actually contested passages. Almost all of the 'textual variants' involce punctuation, paragraph breaks, quotations and linguistic changes like definite articles.

4. As for your "6% accuracy of all documents available", here's some quotes for you:

- "in the variety and fullness of the evidence on which it rests the text of the New Testament stands absolutely and unapproachably alone among ancient prose writngs" - F.J.A. Hort

- "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which employs such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament" - F.F.Bruce

- (Regarding textual variation in the NT) "...the amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousanth part of the entire text" - F.J.A. Hort

- Interestingly, on page 474 of their "General Introduction to the Bible", Geisler and Nix calculate the textual reliability in the New Testament manuscript evidence, based on the observations of Wescott & Hort, Ezra Abbott and A.T. Robertson. Their numbers were 98.33%, 99.75% and 99.9% respectively.

- Gordon Fee, in "The Textual Criticism of the New Testament" (an article in Frank Gaebelein's "The Expositor's Bible Commentary"), comments that "it is noteworthy that for most scholars over 90 percent of all the variants of the NT text are resolved, because in most cases the variant that best explains the origin of the others is also supported by the earliest and best witnesses." (page 430)

I think I'm in fairly safe company in strongly disagreeing with your calculations.

****Oh, and on a side note, you didn't like the classical argument? Well, here's a quote from where I derived it. You'll never believe where I got the argument you dislike:

"The works of several ancient authors are preserved to us by the thinnest possible thread of transmission. For example, the compendious history of Rome by Velleius Paterculus survived to modern times in only one incomplete manuscript. from which the 'editio princeps' was made - and this lone manuscript was lost in the seventeenth century after being copied by Beautis Rhenanus at Amberbach. Even the Annals of the famous historian Tacitus is extant, so far as the first six books are concerned, in but a single manuscript, dating from the ninth century. In 1870 the only known manuscript of the Epistle to Diognetus, and early Christian composition which editors usually include in the corpus of Apostolic Fathers, perished in a fire at the municipal library in Strasbourg. In contrast with these figures, the textual critic of the New Testament is embarassed by the wealth of his material"
- Bruce Metzger. (The Text of the New Testament, 34)

Geisler and Nix also have it on page 475 of their General Introduction to the Bible.

5. As for your comment that the New Testament is flawed...uh, there's not much to say. You have enough comprehensive wisdom and an objective position from which to view reality enough to sit and judge the Bible? I'm wondering if you could back THAT claim up? I'm interested in how you've attained a comprehensively meticulous knowledge of all history, literature, philosophy and theology? Also, where do you sit that you see things so clearly? Some might think that such a blanket statement, to sit in judgement over God's word, would itself be a rhetorically sophisticated deity claim. Who can judge God's word but God himself?

1:27 AM

Blogger The Armchair Theologian said...

Well, that wasn't any quicker at all. Dang it! I stink!

1:28 AM


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