Early Church Fathers, and Textual Evidence

  The blog comments refer to the article linked below.

 

Is the claim correct that many early translations and writings of the church fathers show they are in support of the Byzantine text?

 

I recently read the article linked above at bible.org. It is obvious that the author is passionate about refuting Byzantine-Priority proponents. He quotes other modern scholars who share the same convictions, and relays that John Burgon's methods of determining that patristic fathers quoted the Byzantine text were faulty. However, he never mentioned how they figured that out. I wonder, how do they know that the Peshitta isn't Byzantine in origin? If it contained most or all of the verses deleted from the Alexandrian witnesses that we have, how is it different? How do we know that the Alexandrian texts didn't have Byzantine origins? Since we are so far removed from the first century and what we mostly have are copies, how can we with assurance believe that what we have is the entire inspired Word of God? How can they tell a church father is quoting a Byzantine witness or not? and how can they determine that John Burgon used faulty methods? 

 

Some of the claims made in the article about the historical evidence may be true, but I am not certain that I agree with the authors conclusions. He also left out a lot, which is common when we want to promote a specific idea. I have to admit that I am guilty of this at times. Just because more Ancient Alexandrian witnesses are being discovered and have been discovered, doesn't mean they are true to the authentic witnesses. Doesn't mean they aren't either. Ancient manuscript evidence is hard to come by for many reasons. One reason I can think of is the Byzantine-Arab wars. Much was lost in the Christian world during that conquest from Constantinople to Alexandria. Therefore, I think it is an endless pursuit, and perhaps a vain one to try and reconstruct something that has either deteriorated to dust or been destroyed. One must either go crazy in the endless wondering that comes with that lingering doubt that states "we don't have God's full inspired Word," or take what we do have by faith and accept it as God providentially preserving His Word. I realize there are some variants, but they are less than 5% when all manuscripts are compiled. Both sides are taking the same information and coming up with different conclusions based on different presuppositions. 

 

The author accused Byzantine proponents of using the ad hominem argument. He said:


"Usually the argument against these scholars in fact turns on their convictions. You will notice that Byzantine/KJV folks argue along two lines almost all the time: God has preserved his text and since the Byzantine is the most amply preserved, it must go back to the original; and the scholars who are behind modern translations are either deceived or are themselves heretical. Thus, their arguments are anything but rational; they are usually emotional and ad hominem."

I assume when he says:  "the scholars who are behind modern translations are either deceived or are themselves heretical." when referring to what Byzantine/KJV proponents would say, I assume he is referring to the KJV onlyists. That conclusion he states is ad hominem. However, he didn't distinguish his accusation, so I have to say that he is putting words in my mouth (ad hominem). I find it fascinating that he is lumping Majority Text and Byzantine-Priority proponents with the KJV onlyists. I don't believe modern eclectic scholars to be heretical or necessarily deceived. I think that one can easily fall into deception and eventual heresy (I do think that is what happened to Bart Ehrman). I just think all of this may be a product of weak faith at best. The reason I and many other Byzantine proponents are not as dogmatic as the KJV onlyist is because even though the modern eclectic versions delete a lot of good and inspired verses, it doesn't change the doctrine of the Bible as a whole. If one verse is deleted in one part in an eclectic version, you can usually find the same teaching somewhere else. In addition to that, people in the early church usually had a book or two out of what we call the Bible at best. Therefore, I just don't think one can be as accusatory as the KJV onlyists and say one is heretical or deceived for using a modern eclectic version. I think the problem comes for me when scholars deny certain texts as being inspired such as the ending of Mark or John 7:53-8:11. I also find it interesting that the author claims the Byzantine proponents are the only ones using the ad hominem argument. I have heard people from the other side using it. And even if they weren't, I don't understand why faith has somehow become non-objective. That is a taste of how Secularism has crept into the Church. 

 

 There are reasons that Alexandrian witnesses are older. One is the climate. Egypt is arid and perfect for the preservation of just about anything. One of the big arguments for the modern critical texts of the New Testament and their heavy emphasis on Alexandrian witnesses is the theory that they are more reliable because of their great age. This is a presupposition. It is thought by modern eclectic scholars that since the Alexandrian witnesses are only a few hundred years newer than the originals, they must be more accurate because they are closer to the time of the Apostles. They also believe that the Byzantine witnesses are riddled with more transmission errors and editing because of their lack of age. Therefore, they believe the Byzantine line of witnesses has deteriorated in accuracy. The evidence I have seen indicates a lot more errors in those old manuscripts from Alexandria than is advertised, and modern scholars have to insert many Byzantine witnesses into the modern critical text to make up for the lack of preservation. In addition to that, there is historical evidence of people changing and deleting the words of certain Bible texts to fit preferred doctrines in Alexandria during those days surrounding the proposed age of the manuscripts. This is a big one for me. Augustine cited one incident concerning the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). I referenced it in a recent post. People were deleting it out of their Bibles because they thought the text would condone adultery. One also could make the argument that lack of usage is a credit to Alexandrian preservation. I have books on my shelf that are old and never have been read. They will last longer than the ones I use regularly. The manner in which those manuscripts were found begs examination and reflection. The man who found Siniaticus (A prominent Alexandrian witness), found it in a pile of trash to be burned. The quote below comes from Wikipedia:

 

"In 1844, during his first visit to the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Leipzig archaeologist Constantin von Tischendorf[78] although this is firmly denied by the Monastery. After examination he realized that they were part of the Septuagint, written in an early Greek uncial script. He retrieved from the basket 129 leaves in Greek which he identified as coming from a manuscript of the Septuagint. He asked if he might keep them, but at this point the attitude of the monks changed. They realized how valuable these old leaves were, and Tischendorf was permitted to take only one-third of the whole, i.e. 43 leaves. These leaves contained portions of 1 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and Esther. After his return they were deposited in the Leipzig University Library, where they still remain. In 1846 Tischendorf published their contents, naming them the 'Codex Friderico-Augustanus' (in honor of Frederick Augustus).[79][80] claimed that he saw some leaves of parchment in a waste-basket. He said they were "rubbish which was to be destroyed by burning it in the ovens of the monastery", Other portions of the same codex remained in the monastery, containing all of Isaiah and 1 and 4 Maccabees.


That is an interesting story, and I don't think the manuscripts are rubbish. I do think any manuscript is valuable and am glad for the "addition." Tischendorf's discovery of those manuscripts has and will contribute to our knowledge of history and the Bible. But, I do not think that it should be placed up against the Traditional Scriptures to discredit the preservation of them through the Byzantine witnesses for so many centuries while Alexandrian text usage dissipated after 350AD and was only localized to North Africa. Textual scholars still haven't been able to explain that phenomenon.  

 

I encourage you to check out the link below if you haven't connected to the link above to see the article that I am referring to. I pray that we all would consider what we have, and not to meddle with the Greek text unless we are certain of gross error. Even though the majority of scholars prefer the Eclectic texts emphasizing the Alexandrian witnesses, I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the texts deleted out of these editions of the New Testament should be. Therefore, I will stick with the Majority Text or the Byzantine-Priority texts over and above what is now popular. As far as English versions go, use the NKJV, KJV, Geneva, or even the Amplified to get a non-fragmented text. However, as far as Eclectic versions go, the ESV or NASB is the best. My pastor uses the ESV, and it is actually closer in translation to the KJV in many places than the NKJV. But it has many verses deleted out of it because of the Greek textual basis.

 

Is the claim correct that many early translations and writings of the church fathers show they are in support of the Byzantine text?

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