Beza’s Method Summarized

All quoted material references Beyond What is Written by Jan Krans unless otherwise specified.

Introduction

I have written an article on Beza’s method of “text-criticism” before titled “No, Beza Was Not Doing Modern Text-Criticism“. That article is polemic, and the purpose is to contrast Beza’s methods with modern methods to demonstrate just how different they are from one another to refute James White’s erroneous claim that “Beza was doing modern text-criticism” after reading Beyond What is Written by Jan Krans. After reading the book myself, it was very apparent that Krans would not agree with White. Krans goes as far to say that Beza’s edition cannot even be called a critical edition, and rather refers to it as a “commentary” and “companion volume” to Stephanus’ 1550 edition (217-218). In fact, Krans essentially refers to Beza as a historical example of Murphy’s Law as it pertains to text-criticism saying, “It seems that almost everything that can go wrong, did go wrong” (241). In other words, it doesn’t seem Krans would be overly enthusiastic about being categorized in the same class as Beza.

Since it is the case that Krans doesn’t view Beza as doing the same thing as himself and his colleagues, it seems like a natural question to ask, “What was he doing then?” I touched on this in my previous article, but it may be helpful to my audience to hear from Krans in a less polemic article here.

Beza’s Methods

Beza’s “text-critical” methodology is different enough from what is typically classified as “text-criticism” that it deserves it’s own category. Krans points out that “He does not see himself as an editor of the Greek text” (218). After reviewing Krans’ analysis of Beza, I can identify four markers of Beza’s methodology:

  1. Evidential
  2. Theological
  3. Grammatical
  4. Contextual

As it pertains to Beza’s evidential methods, modern scholars are not pleased overall with how he conducted his scholarship. He would often vaguely refer to manuscripts or simply list the number of manuscripts supporting his reading, which is far different than the meticulous numbering system scholars use today. Further, he used Stephanus’ delineation of “old” and “very old” as age descriptors of manuscripts (243). Despite the modern scholars’ disapproval of this standard, Beza had a broad spectrum of evidence he considered, including currently existing printed Greek texts (Stephanus, Erasmus, Complutension Polyglot, etc.), the annotations of the scholars who produced those texts (206-208), Henri Stephanus’ collation, approximately 15 “manuscript codices” (214), patristic sermons and works (221), ancient and contemporary translations (Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, etc.) (208), and had a broad correspondence with other scholars and theologians, including John Calvin (208). As it pertains to his evidential approach, he is far more in line with men like John Burgon than a modern textual scholar. Beza, according to Krans, “explicitly indicated that he was unwilling to change the text on the basis of conjecture only” (244).

While modern scholars take issue with Beza’s approach to using evidence, it is clear that he valued the evidence and used it as a chief principle in his work. Where Beza departs from modern scholars greatly is his use of theology, grammar, and context in his methodology. Krans critiques Beza on his willingness to support readings based on theological grounds such as the fact that “Beza tended to prefer the reading that brings the Gospel accounts closer together” (240). Krans continues to describe that Beza adopts readings based on the grammar and context of the passage (222). This demonstrates that Beza actually took the opposite paradigm as modern scholars. Where the modern philosophy states that the harsher, shorter reading be preferred, Beza adopted the opposite. This is in line with Protestant Bibliology, which states that the Bible was providentially preserved rather than irreconcilably corrupted.

An interesting point to note is the difference between Erasmus and Beza. Krans comments that Erasmus used more of a “local-genealogical principle” whereas Beza was more willing to identify the “best reading” (245). What this seems to indicate is that Erasmus would find his home more closely with the modern scholar than Beza and supports the claim I often make on this blog that Erasmus’ work is less congruent with the Traditional position on Scripture. It is no surprise that apologists for the Modern Critical Text work very hard to associate the TR with Erasmus rather than Beza. The differences between the modern effort and Beza’s methods are further supported by Krans when he notes that, “Beza clearly places all his text-critical and translational work in an ecclesiastical setting.” Krans believes that Beza’s “scholarly qualities” are “restricted, or even somewhat distorted by this setting” (318). Krans often communicates astonishment at Beza’s willingness to let his theology guide his text critical practice in such an impactful manner.

Conclusion

Beza had several fundamental principles when it came to his version of “textual scholarship.” He believed this type of work should be done in the context of the church, by believers. In the prefatory material of his fourth edition he addresses his audience as “my Christian reader.” Beza also deeply considered exegesis and theology as critical components of his effort in addition to context and grammar. He believed that the original text should be harmonious and smooth because he considered his theology of the text in his work. While it is clear that Beza was not “doing the same thing” as modern textual scholars, there is an important non-polemic take-away. Beza outlines in many ways the model that should be used in any modern text-critical effort.

The handling of the text of Scripture should be done by believers. “Text critical” methods should so consider theology, context, and grammar that it is foreign to the affairs of the academy. Our methods should clearly highlight the fact that the Bible is not just any other ancient text, it is the Word of God. Hopefully this less polemic article on the methods of Beza finds my reader well, and leaves my reader more informed.

2 thoughts on “Beza’s Method Summarized”

  1. Beza should be categorized as a believing textual critic, as opposed to modern textual critics who are largely unbelieving. A believer accepts the testimony of Scripture that God is a revealer of truth, He is incapable of error, and He has promised to preserve His words to all generations. Those theological commitments inform his textual work, as they should. If a variant reading introduces an error into Scripture, it must be rejected on that basis alone. In contrast, modern text critics seemingly prefer variant readings that introduce errors or inconsistencies into Scripture.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “It is no surprise that apologists for the Modern Critical Text work very hard to associate the TR with Erasmus rather than Beza.”

    A very telling observation…Rome vs the Reformation

    Like

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