The Wartburg Project

March 31st, 2023

88. Resources for the Study of New Testament Textual Criticism

As I have continued to use the EHV Bible over the last year and have come to thoroughly enjoy it for its balance of accuracy and readability, I have also become more interested in studying the "objective approach" to the manuscript evidence that the Wartburg Project used in establishing the text to translate. You distinguish this approach in Appendix 1 from the Received Text on the one hand and from the Critical Text on the other. I have been reading a book titled The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Criticism by Harry Sturz. Do you know if this scholarly work reflects the objective approach of the Wartburg Project? It certainly appears so from my perspective as I'm reading through it. What good scholarly, or even popular, works would you suggest to better understand this approach to evaluating the manuscript evidence?

Thank you for your kind words about the EHV's "balance of accuracy and readability." We certainly hope that the EHV will be a blessing for many people!

Great question! The short answer to your first question is "yes." Harry Sturz was recommended to students of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary by professors of New Testament textual criticism. Below is a review of Sturz's book by Prof. David Kuske from the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. Professor Kuske helped us with carrying out this method for the EHV. Kuske wrote a textbook on this too: "The History and Practice of New Testament Textual Criticism" (Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Press, Mequon, WI, c. 1992).

Some have found this linked chart/listing to be handy when following this objective method.

Brief popular treatments are included in the following books published by Northwestern Publishing House (NPH):

Other writers that we’ve found helpful include:

Once you've checked through some of that material, you should be able to find your way very well. It's fascinating and eye-opening, once you learn more in this area.

Book Review

The Byzantine Text Type and New Testament Textual Criticism
by Harry Sturz. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984. 305 pp, hc, $14.95.

This is the best book written on the practice of New Testament textual criticism, bar none.

It will not give you the basic information about the various witnesses: their dates, their relative strengths and weaknesses as witnesses, etc. But if you are wondering why the theory of Westcott and Hort which favors Aleph and B as the “best witnesses” no longer can be upheld, if you want an explanation why the Textus Receptus cannot be touted as the text by which all other NT texts are to be judged, if you want proof that the only proper approach to New Testament textual criticism is to weigh the combined evidence of all the New Testament witnesses (papyri, uncials, minuscules, versions, church fathers)—this book will give the answers and more.

Prof. Sturz’s interest in the papyri and his participation in the International Greek New Testament Project led to the writing of this book. It is the entrance of the papyri into the picture of the New Testament text which has shown that the Byzantine uncials and minuscules present a text which is neither late nor corrupt as Westcott and Hort had theorized.

Prof. Sturz documents the fact that distinctively Byzantine readings (readings that are found only in the Byzantine MSS.) are contained in the second and third century papyri. Therefore, they cannot be readings added to the New Testament text in the fourth century as Westcott and Hort postulated.

Westcott and Hort also rejected the Byzantine MSS. because they had eight conflations. Conflations proved, they argued, that the Byzantine text was a fourth century composite of the Alexandrian and Western texts. Prof. Sturz documents the fact that not only are some of these conflations found in the earlier papyri but that there are conflations also in such uncials as B in Egypt and D in the West.

Almost half of the book is documentation of how the papyri align themselves with all of the later witnesses, minuscules as well as uncials. For anyone who wants to pursue the evidence for himself, the information is all here: tables of various alignments (papyri with Byzantine, papyri with Byzantine and Western, papyri with Alexandrian) and the details of each alignment.

Though Prof. Sturz is defending the Byzantine uncials and minuscules, he does not agree with those who want to make the Textus Receptus or the Byzantine text the primary text. He shows that those who hold this view rest their argument on the premise that the perfect preservation of the Scripture is a necessary corollary of the inspiration of Scripture. This position, Prof. Sturz argues, is both “unscriptural and impossible to demonstrate.”

Scripture does not say that God would preserve the original words of Scripture only in the area of Byzantium, and to insist that God’s purpose could be accomplished only in this way does not have a scriptural basis either. Furthermore, if providential preservation is put on the same level as inspiration and is made the equivalent of the Byzantine text, then how could the Byzantine text (the K text) have differences in it such as Kx, Kl, Ki and Kr?

Instead of making the Byzantine text “secondary” (Westcott/Hort) or “primary” (the TR and Byzantine text people), Prof. Sturz contends that it should be recognized as an “independent” text. And this contention he has ably shown to be the only proper view in the light of the evidence provided by the papyri.

Prof. Sturz presents the history of the New Testament text as follows: 1) Since from the very beginning the Christian church knew that the text was inspired by God, the only deliberate changes introduced into the text were the changes made by heretics. Apologists consistently condemned this mishandling of the text; 2) As copies of the New Testament multiplied and spread, scribal errors and tendencies caused distinctive variations in various areas of the church; 3) Therefore we today need to examine the evidence from the major local text-types (Prof. Sturz proposes four: Western, Caesarean, Antiochan or Byzantine and Alexandrian). When we are faced with a variant, we need to recognize each local text-type (when it is supported by a consensus of its leading witnesses) as an independent witness from the end of the second century. The reading which is supported by a consensus of the major local text-types is the one attested by external evidence.

For the busy pastor who has some knowledge of the New Testament witnesses, here is an excellent book which will give you both a short summary (120 pages) of the pertinent facts about the opposing theories of New Testament textual criticism as well as the proper approach to the consideration of variants. Here also is the information (95 pages) for the person who wants to pursue the details. And finally, here is a complete bibliography (43 pages) of all that has been written on the subject of textual criticism since 1900.

It is the best single book written on the practice of New Testament textual criticism.

(Review by D.P. Kuske)