Answering a Common Claim

This is the first article in the series commenting on brother Robert Paul Wieland’s YouTube channel.

Introduction

Greetings and felicitations! In this first article I will be reviewing Robert Paul Wieland’s video, A Partial Answer to Dr. White, which happens to be the first video he posted on his YouTube in 2012. Amazingly, his commentary is still relevant today. Wieland opens his video by graciously offering a “handshake across the internet” and points out that he was simply commenting on White’s view, and not White himself. If we can learn anything in addition to Wieland’s actual arguments, it is how he approached the discussion with grace. I have not found any posts where White interacts with Wieland’s videos, so if you have any posts where James White interacts with Wieland, please link them in the comments so I can add them to this series.

In this 15 minute video, Wieland presents an argument that is hardly considered by those in the critical text camp: that the Byzantine text tradition can be dated as early as the Alexandrian text tradition.

The “Earliest and Best” Myth Addressed

James White has commonly made the claim that the early Papyri and Uncials are “all Alexandrian in form.” This may be hyperbolic, but it is inaccurate nonetheless. This is highly problematic, as there are Byzantine readings in both the Papyri and the Uncials. Wieland brings this fact to the forefront of his response to White by highlighting that this means Byzantine readings pre-date the Lucian recension.

The Lucian Recension Theory (hypothesis) was proposed by Westcott and Hort in part to prop up the supremacy of their new text. They argued that the Byzantine text emerged as a result of a text-critical effort led by Lucian which birthed the Byzantine Text, which was then propagated forth by way of Constantinople. That means that the Byzantine Text could not have been as early as the Alexandrian Text, and further was an adaptation or evolution from the earliest text types. At the time, this was a strong case for exchanging Westcott and Hort’s text for the previous standard, the Textus Receptus. While this is widely rejected within the text critical community now, the residual has stuck within the mainstream orthodoxy of text critical dogma.

Wieland addresses the claim that the Alexandrian Text is “earliest and best” by quoting scholars that are hostile to the Textus Receptus, Bruce Metzger and Gunther Zuntz. It is possible that the reason so few have interacted with Wieland is due to the fact that he uses scholars critical of the Textus Receptus to support his arguments. The quotes are quite lengthy so I’ll post partial quotes here. If you wish to see Wieland’s full presentation, I provided the link to the video in the introduction.

“During the past decades several papyri have come to light which tend to increase one’s uneasiness over Hort’s reluctance to acknowledge the possibility, though it be absent from all great uncial manuscripts. Since the discovery of the Chester Beatty Papyri (P45 and P46) and the Bodmer papyrus II (P66), proof is available that occasionally the later Byzantine text preserves a reading that dates from the second or third century for which there had been no other early witness.”

Metzger, Bruce. New Testament Studies, 189-203.

“To sum up, a number of Byzantine readings, most of them genuine, which previously were discarded as “late,” are anticipated by P46. Our inquiry confirmed what was anyhow probable enough: The Byzantines did not hit upon these readings by conjecture or independent error. They reproduced an older tradition.”

Zuntz, Gunther. The Text of the Epistles, 55-56.

It may come as a surprise to many people, but the Papyri are actually quite powerful in contesting Alexandrian priority, which is in large part responsible for the footnotes, asterisks, and brackets in modern bibles. I imagine this is why White continues to say that the Papyri overwhelmingly prove his point, because if people found out the Papyri actually do not support his claims, they would begin to be skeptical of his presentation overall. He assumes his audience will not look into it, and for the most part, they don’t.

Wieland notes that the “testimony of a hostile witness” carries more weight than that of a friendly witness, and he’s right. If the scholars critical of the TR are saying that the textual data shows the antiquity of the Byzantine tradition, there is credibility in what those in the TR camp are saying, even if the scholars and apologists for the critical text won’t admit it or mitigate the importance of this reality.

He makes another great observation when he points out that manuscript age is not all that important, it is the age of the reading is what matters. Seeing as this was made in 2012 it shows that Wieland was far more up to date in his knowledge of textual scholarship than White, or at least that White was not willing to discuss the challenges to his position. Having been on the receiving end of White’s critiques many times, I can attest to this personally. The point is, that it doesn’t matter how old the paper of the manuscript is if the readings can be shown to be ancient. In the case of Alexandrian vs. Byzantine, this is extremely important.

Conclusion

Wieland concludes by making the point that it is not responsible to say that Alexandrian readings are necessarily more ancient than Byzantine readings. In his first video on his YouTube channel, he delivers a powerful blow to the common orthodoxy of the critical text dogma. If the Alexandrian readings are not necessarily earliest, what ground is left for the modern critical text apologists to stand on? The two positions might as well be on the same playing field as it pertains to antiquity.

The problem is that modern critical text apologists commonly conflate the antiquity of a manuscript with the antiquity of a reading when they present their argument at a layman’s level. Most honest scholars will admit that the point Wieland made is valid, while arguing that the later date of the Byzantine manuscripts implies that the readings are late as well. It is possible that critical text advocates and scholars tend to avoid this fact because it is extremely problematic to the entire structure of the critical text methodology. If the Byzantine Text is as old as the Alexandrian Text, the case for the modern critical text becomes much less relevant. I’ll conclude with this: if the Byzantine tradition, which is commonly labeled as a later evolution of the Alexandrian Text, is actually as old as the readings which make up the modern critical text, the case for using modern bibles in the church all but falls apart.

One thing that you will not get from reading my analysis of Wieland’s videos is his tone and charitable demeanor. I highly recommend for my reader, if you haven’t, to watch his videos and see what I’m talking about. Wieland had the amazing ability to deliver powerful arguments in such a way that disallowed critics to go after his character. I hope you have enjoyed the first article in this series, and I look forward to what lies ahead.

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