In Chapter 6 of The King James Version Debate, Carson addresses the “Modern Defense of the Byzantine Text-Type.” I will take the liberty of interacting more heavily with the material in this chapter and the next, offering more of a critical review than a summary.
After some introduction, Carson describes the defenders of the TR as those who are critical of modern textual criticism starting with Westcott & Hort.
“In the opinion of the defenders of the TR, the textual-critical theories advanced by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort toward the end of the last century are both bad theology and bad textual criticism.”Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 40). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
This is most certainly still true. He continues to detail Westcott & Hort’s theory that is the foundation for the supremacy of the Alexandrian texts.
They argued that the Byzantine textual tradition (which includes the TR) did not originate before the mid-fourth century, and that it was the result of a conflation of earlier texts. This text was taken to Constantinople, where it became popular, spreading throughout the Byzantine Empire. This text-type, which I have designated Byzantine, Hort referred to as Syrian. Because, in their view, it was a conflation of the Western and Alexandrian texts, it is the fullest; but for the same reason it is the furthest removed from the autographs. Westcott and Hort gave much weight to the Alexandrian tradition; but preeminent emphasis was laid on B and א (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), considered to be a parallel development of the Alexandrian tradition and designated by them the “Neutral text.” Subsequent textual-critical work accepted the theories of Westcott and Hort, although with modifications.Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (pp. 40-41). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
While Wescott & Hort’s theory, as far as I know, isn’t held to anymore, the general principle that Aleph and B are witnesses to the earliest text still seems to drive the Critical Text in its methodology and shape, despite the concept of text-types no longer being the driving framework for textual criticism. Carson’s analysis may show itself to be dated here as a result of being produced over 40 years ago, but I imagine many of the arguments he presents are still used today and therefore relevant to review.
Carson’s Presentation of the Byzantine Priority Position
After giving a very brief history of Westcott & Hort, Carson details what he understands to be the argument against the Alexandrian texts in favor of the Byzantine. This is my summary of his presentation which I have organized into 10 points (pp. 39-41):
- The Byzantine tradition stands closer to the original
- The other text types were rejected by the early church
- The Alexandrian text type omits material rather than the Byzantine adding
- These omissions were due to heretics such as Arians attempting to remove doctrines
- Codex Aleph and B are products of fourth century heresy and careless scholarship
- The Byzantine tradition was used from at least the fourth century and therefore cannot be ignored
- Westcott & Hort were heretics whose bias prevented them from engaging in objective text-criticism
- All modern versions based on the Critical Text deny verbal inspiration
- The reason there are no early Byzantine mss is due to heavy use
- Westcott & Hort’s theory demands circular reasoning
- The Alexandrian text is a revision of the Byzantine, not the other way around
Carson’s summary of the arguments still represent much of the argumentation we see today. I will write a brief analysis of each argument here:
Points 1-3 are essentially the foundation for rejecting the Alexandrian text, and represents the alternative argument to Alexandrian priority. Point 4 is a common observation of commentators throughout history on texts such as John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7 being removed, and it is more of an explanation of how the Alexandrian texts came to be rather than a foundational premise for the defense of the Byzantine text.
Point 5 and point 7 are arguments still made, mostly when defending the KJV and critiquing the Revised Version 1881. Aleph and B were indeed produced during a time in which Jerome writes about how Arianism nearly overtook the church, and Westcott & Hort did indeed deny verbal plenary inspiration along with substitutionary atonement and reportedly engaged in some strange practices including “communion with the saints,” so the argument against Westcott & Hort may be of interest to some. These arguments are often dismissed or even mocked, despite the Critical Text crowd heavily criticizing Erasmus as an objection to the Received Text. It’s okay to mock Erasmus, but definitely not Westcott & Hort!
I’ve never heard point 8 phrased in that way, but I have seen similar arguments. I will critique Carson’s formulation of the argument and provide what I think is a more legitimate form here:
If the creators of a text reject verbal plenary inspiration, and they deny that the text itself is the exact authorial, verbally inspired text, then it seems fair to make an argument similar to point 8 with proper nuance. As far as I have read, there aren’t any scholars who would say the NA28 for example, represents the exact verbally inspired text, though most would say that “we have good access to the text of the New Testament.” Though Westcott denied verbal plenary inspiration, many Critical Text scholars today hold to the doctrine, though it is not included in their text-critical methodology as set forth by volumes that describe the methodologies of modern textual criticism. The main problem with the structure of the argument as presented by Carson is that it would be a personification fallacy since an inanimate object cannot deny anything. So if you’re a TR advocate, it’s probably wise not to use this argument, lest you find yourself as an example in a book describing TR argumentation.
It would be better stated that the Critical Text is based off of a methodology that does not consider the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration in its axioms and the scholars who create critical texts do not claim that they have created an exact representation of the verbally inspired text, and therefore the Critical Text is not exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote by way of inspiration. I’m sure many have made this argument, I hope my tangential commentary provides some clarity for my reader.
Point 9, like point 4, is explanatory rather than foundational. Both the Critical Text and other text-critical positions start with a foundational premise and use the extant data to try and explain that data. There is a lot of data that is difficult to explain through the lens of Alexandrian priority, such as Byzantine readings in the Papyri and in the Alexandrian text. This points to the reality that the story we tell to explain the earliest manuscripts is ultimately informed by what we think of God’s providential care over the text and the way God preserved the Scriptures. Defenders on each side of the discussion present explanations for the manuscript data in the absence of extant meta-data of our manuscripts.
Point 10 is actually quite a good observation and I still think is valid today. There doesn’t seem to be any foundation for the argument that Aleph and B are “best” other than that they are the earliest extant we have. Even Carson has stated that late manuscripts can represent early readings, so the argument that I have seen in favor of the Alexandrian mss is simply that they are the “best because we think they are the best.” If you withdraw this assumption, in my opinion, the data actually points quite strongly to an early Byzantine text, and I don’t exactly see any data that can necessarily disprove that. This list demonstrates that the general arguments have not changed all that much, though in my opinion the CBGM data really adds a layer of intrigue into the Alexandrian vs. Byzantine discussion and seems to give a lot of validity to an early Byzantine text.
Carson ends the chapter by saying that pastors and laypersons are caught off guard by the Byzantine argument, and in many cases have no ability to refute such arguments. This has changed in the last 40 years, as most seminaries teach the Alexandrian priority argument from Metzger & Erhman’s textbook. The current climate seems to be that pastors trained at mainstream seminaries typically believe in some version of Alexandrian priority, though there are Byzantine movements throughout. In my opinion, the Byzantine argument is still quite strong in comparison to the Alexandrian priority theory.
If anything, we can learn that the Byzantine argument is sturdy, especially considering the fact that seminaries typically do not teach its merits alongside of Metzger and Ehrman, and if they do, it is often framed in the context of “King James Onlyism,” as we see in Dr. Andrew Naselli’s textbook which is endorsed by many seminaries and Bible translators. One piece of data that is hard to ignore is the fact that Byzantine readings are present in the Papyri, which really makes the case for Alexandrian priority much more difficult to defend as a “text-type” that predates the Byzantine tradition. Carson employs this chapter to frame the main thrust of his book, which is to offer a refutation to those who believe in the superiority of the TR and KJV, which we will see in Chapter 7.