Monday, July 03, 2017

Précis: Elliott, J. K. (2012) “Recent Trends in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament: A New Millennium, a New Beginning?”

Elliott, J. K. (2012) “Recent Trends in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament: A New Millennium, a New Beginning?” Babelao 1 (2012): 117–36.


A “brief survey of recent developments in New Testament textual criticism” which focuses on Greek Mss work but covers some works on Latin, particularly the Vetus Latina. The survey is done in two parts, the first of which covers the pessimism about NTTC at the end of the 20th century and highlighted by E. Epp in 1974. The second part covers the more positive revitalization of NTTC in the early 21st century.

In the first section Epp paid particular attention to the influence of K. Aland, his NA GNT and how it
became “the standard text.” Elliot discusses the stagnation of work on the Editio critica maior and on the Vetus Latina. Along with the VL there is a brief summary of the Biblica patristica.

In the second section Elliot highlights the resurgence of work on the Vetus Latina, the revolution in NTTC due to computing and how it has affected collating. This is followed by two more sections, one on the digitization of manuscripts, the next on the democratization of scholarship and breaking down of barriers of “cherished possessiveness and protectionism” through the availability of mss and TC scholarship on websites. These computational advances mean greater access, lower cost access, wider access to the resources, as well as greater ability in handling information. Previously one would have to spend months and thousands of dollars to collate a couple mss in a remote library. Now a student can collate (e.g.) all the known mss of John in a matter of a few hours from a web browser anywhere in the world that has Internet access. This computational advantage combined with provenanced new papyri are instrumental causes for significant shifts in philosophy, methodology, and definition. In 1999 Eldon Epp pointed out that NT Text critics were using the term Original Text but by this term were implying or meaning some very different ideas: some made distinction between authorial text, an archetypal text for a particular ms, and others an initial text (Ausgangstext) from which a group of mss derived, as well as other meanings of Original Text. “The new textual criticism is therefore reluctant to work towards the elusive authorial text. Instead, what we see is the more creative and rewarding pursuit of the nature of and reasons for the changeability of the wording. When and why was the text altered and which ginger groups undertook such ‘orthodox corruption’ are the relevant questions now.” The Marc multilingue project can, Elliot asserts, allow the researcher to see “certain key moments in the evolution of Mark’s Gospel.” The project also “allows a reader to examine the chosen texts in extenso without there having been the intrusion of critical editorial doctoring.”

Elliot turns to a longer exposition of the downfall of text-types in NTTC scholarship. The provenanced papyri as well as computer assisted techniques have demonstrated that the Hortian text-types or recensions are not valid historical schema. Particularly important in this area are the Münster Institut’s Text und Texwert. Along with this is Gert Mink’s Coherence-based Genealogical Method.

Elliot spends four paragraphs on the relationship of these new tools to his Thoroughgoing Eclecticism. Part of Elliot’s aim is to highlight what he views as the value of these tools to “look at our textual heritage in the round and as a totality. In its entirety one may now discern in a full apparatus much information relevant to church history, or fluctuation and fashions in Christian doctrine let alone the more recherché pursuits of the development of the Greek language and, indeed, the plotting of our New Testament text’s own histories.” (emphasis original)

Scribal usage as described and analyzed by James Royse and Kim Haines Eitzen shows promise of identifying characteristics of individual scribes, thus enabling evaluation of a manuscript without need for reference to text-types.

There have been a few works focusing on and bringing to light textual development in the 2nd century. Also, a great deal of work has been done with respect to the quotations of Scripture made by the Church Fathers and how they might be used, or more confidently used, to speak about the text of the New Testament they used.

Through the early 21st century there have been a growing number of publications, paper and electronic. These show both a great increase in interest in TC as well as a strong breadth of scholarship.


Through the article at a few points Elliot points out his own disagreements with Bart Ehrman’s positions, particularly Ehrman’s pessimism at recovering any real text of the NT as expressed in his first edition of Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Elliot also closes with conciliatory words from the second edition of Ehrman’s book with which Elliot agrees.

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