Thursday, March 31, 2016

Chuck Hill on the original text

Bart Ehrman raises questions about the identity of the original text. How's how one scholar delineates the issue:

In The Early Text of the NT, you suggest that David Parker “gives the impression that concern for the original text is simply a religious phenomenon, driven by pressure from churches who desire an ‘authoritative text’” (p. 4). You point out, rightly in my opinion, that religious belief is hardly the only motivation for seeking a work’s original text. But what is the relationship between a high view of Scripture (as found, say, in the Westminster Confession) and the quest for the original text? Is such a view of scripture viable without the concept of a single original text?

Having a high view of Scripture, as you pointed out, is not the only motivation for seeking an original text. I don’t know why anyone would make that assumption. But is a high view of Scripture viable without ‘the concept of a single original text’? The short answer, I suppose, has to be ‘yes’, but it depends, of course, on what is meant by ‘the concept of a single original text.’ You can, of course, make a distinction between the original text (let’s just define it as the text as it left the author’s hands for the last time, with the author’s intent for release) and the ‘Initial text’ or Ausgangstext (the text we reconstruct as the source of all the known readings). But even the ‘Initial text’ is a form of the text that originated with the author. Different compositional stages of a book (e.g., a book before the author added a prologue, or decided to insert new material, etc.) are not different editions of the book, and it just seems like obfuscation to bring them into the picture.

The main, possible complication, I suppose, would be if the author did make a second edition (as some people have argued for the text of Acts). Let’s say (for the sake of argument) Paul sent a letter to the Roman church and kept his own personal copy, then later modified his copy in some way, intending to make this revised copy the basis for copies that would be more widely distributed to the churches, perhaps along with a collection of his letters. In this case you could say there are two ‘original’, authorial texts of Romans, essentially two editions.

Each of these would have originated with the author with his intention to be ‘released’ or published. Each one, I think we would have to say, was inspired, written by Paul in the exercise of his apostolic ministry. So here we would have two ‘originals’. In my opinion, the natural standard we would be seeking (if we could tell the difference) would be the final version that left Paul’s control, as representing the author’s final, intended ‘original’, even if it was not the ‘original’ original.

Or, let’s say that the ‘release’ of a book like Revelation, or even one of the Gospels, for that matter, was marked by the sending out of several ‘initial’ copies as part of the release. What if there were minor scribal differences between them? In this case, presumably there was still one single master copy from which other copies were made, which would be the logical ‘original’. But what if this, or any other, first exemplar itself contained errors that were made and somehow not corrected, in the inscription process? Then the ‘original’ text, or the normative text, would presumably go back to the author’s intention, no matter what happened between thought and words appearing on a page. This is why Warfield, in his book on NT textual criticism, identified the original text as the text intended by the author.

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