Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The original Autographs

I'm currently wondering about the value of the concept of the original "autographs" as the locus for a doctrine of biblical inspiration. A number of issues come to mind:

1. Text-critics debate whether their task is to reconstruct the original autographs or simply an "initial text" (i.e., the earliest recoverable edition of a text).
2. The death of Moses in Deuteronomy 34 is obviously secondary (Moses didn't write about his own death) and was written up after the event and not by Moses.
3. The LXX edition of Jeremiah is significantly shorter that MT Jeremiah. That means that the Hebrew Vorlage underlying LXX Jeremiah was also considerably briefer that MT Jeremiah. MT Jeremiah, though considered by Jews and Christians as the canonical edition, may then constitute an expansion of an earlier Hebrew edition of Jeremiah.
4. The Psalter probably experienced some redaction at the level of the collection as a whole when it was formed into books with phrases added like "people of his pasture" and perhaps the superscriptions added as well.
5. The best witnesses to The Lord's Prayer in Matt 6:13 omit the words, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen" and so most modern critical editions omit the words as do most English translations. And yet, the words are still widely used in Christian prayers today despite not being in the autographs.
6. The western text of Acts is 10% longer than other witnesses and some scholars have speculated that Luke produced two editions of Acts, the second one a slightly expanded and embellished version. If so, which one was the autograph?

As a text-critic, I'm not willing to give up on the autographs, even if I cannot guarantee 100% that we have them fully reflected in modern editions (but I think we must be pretty darn near close if not on target for the most part). Yet there are instances where the text that we consider canonical, inspired, infallible, and authoritative is probably not identical to what the authors themselves probably wrote. Thus, I'm starting to think that the theologically significant text for a doctrine of inspiration is not the autographs, but the Bible as it has been received in the church.


Anonymous said...

Mike I think notion of autographs is absolutely critical for the NT (and its inspiration) but not so for the OT. The text of the OT that is the so-called inspired one, is that group of writings which the NT authors seem to refer to as a group in their writings. Hence, there were probably earlier versions of many OT books like Jeremiah, that were inspired for their time, perhaps may still be inspired. But the OT canon for Christians (whether we can get to it or not) is that to which the NT writers appeal.

pennoyer said...

When we are talking about an autograph we do not mean to exclude the work of inspired editors. Properly speaking, then, the autograph we are trying to approach in our text criticism for the church is the autograph of a biblical book in its canonical shape.

The question then becomes: What happens when more than one edition of a biblical book is extant? (For example, Jeremiah.) Here I feel very strongly that the church has only one theologically consistent choice for the OT: The proto-Masoretic form of the text. That is because the proto-MT/MT is the form that was used and affirmed by the Lord Jesus himself during his earthly ministry (Jesus, the Lord of the Church).

I am very grateful for the Septuagint, but it is something of a historical accident that that is the form of the text that was used by the Greek-speaking early church. And it is, of course, a translation (albeit a very good translation). And it is noteworthy that even in the early church there was recensional activity revising the LXX to bring it into closer conformity to the proto-MT.

To somehow argue that the LXX is authoritative because that was the text that was often (but not always) quoted by the NT authors is to miss the point. They are quoting the existing Greek because it is convenient to their point and known to their audience. Whatever was in the mind of Luke or Paul, it should not be taken as a tacit affirmation of the LXX over the proto-MT. That would be a bit like assuming you or I consider the NIV or ESV the "canonical form of the text" because we quote it in sermons.

Thanks Mike for an interesting post. - Ray

John Byron said...


You make a good point about quoting the LXX. But are you suggesting that (some of) the NT authors (1) knew of a proto-MT and (2) considered it more authoritative or even inspired than the LXX?

I am not sure that they were hung up on a particular form or language of the text as much as they were how they could see(read)Jesus into the text.It seems they used whatever was more in keeping with their goals.

We see examples of this in Josephus and perhaps even Philo.There are instances when they are clearly using the LXX but are also aware of word plays that occur only in the Hebrew. They are quite happy to mix these two together in a effort to meet their particular agenda.


Are you calling for a Christian canon within the OT canon? That is, only those quoted by the NT are inspired for Christians?

Dannii said...

I see value in the concept of autographs in that we can dismiss the many obviously editorial mistakes as not something to worry about. Beyond that I'm not sure... should we consider the editorial comment in Joshua 4:9 as "autographic"? Then we must consider that the Hebrew language of Moses's time would have been quite different from that of later centuries. If you believe that the Torah was written/edited by Moses/Joshua then is any of the text we have now inspired as it is surely a translation?

Ray, what about evidence (in the DSS etc) of Hebrew texts behind the LXX? If the NT quotes the LXX it's just as likely that the Jewish readers would also be familiar with the original Hebrew behind the LXX, though they'd probably be familiar with the proto-MT too.

pennoyer said...

The Biblical World: My guess is that the NT authors knew of the proto-MT (also known as the proto-Rabbinic text). But, just as you say, they felt a freedom to quote from the LXX or even freely join texts together in order to get across their message across. I just think that this kind of usage should not be construed to imply an affirmation of the LXX over the proto-MT in terms of canon.

Dannii, there is no question that where the LXX differs from the proto-MT it is most often reflecting a different underlying Hebrew Vorlage. That is, it reflects an alternate form of the text, much like the alternate forms we find in use at the sectarian Dead Sea community. But Jesus, radical as he was, was not radical or sectarian in terms of the sacred canon. That is, for all his disagreements with the Pharisees, those disagreements were over interpretation and application, not over texts or their canonical shape. The texts that were used in the synagogues in first century Palestine were shared by both Jesus and the Pharisees. And, historically speaking, it is those texts and in those canonical shapes that became the Masoretic Text.

This should not be construed to mean that individual readings cannot be better preserved in the LXX. But if we find a different edition reflected there, I would argue that the church should affirm as canonical the edition that was used by its Lord.

Wyatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wyatt said...

All of Deuteronomy, not just chapter 34, is written about Moses's death. Lots of people write or teach about their own death, including Jesus. -Wyatt

lukeisham said...

Kevin DeYoung addresses a very similar question on his blog:

Nazaroo said...

Your examples don't really get to the heart of the textual-critical crisis, although they hint at it.

What cripples both TC's results and its credibility is the general lack of a defined scientific methodology, and a fundamental flaw in its current methodology. Lets look at the second problem first.

Although Hort did not have access to earlier manuscripts (papyri), he was able to credibly reconstruct a significant part of the text of the common ancestor of the 4th cent. Uncials Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (Aleph). This was done essentially by the "Agreement in Error" method (cf. Colwell, Quinten's Rule of Iron etc.). That is, unique minority readings shared by the two manuscripts pointed to the reading of the archetype of this line of transmission.

We discuss "Agreement in Error" here:

But then the logical next step should have been to remove the clearly identified and known errors of this earlier text, before attempting to use it to "correct" the NT in use.

No distinction was made between an early interim text and the original autographs. This distinction is essential to any reconstructive activity. Its the fatal flaw in the naively oversimplified method of TC to this day.

Over half of the omissions adopted by the current critical NT Greek texts are clumsy accidental errors, and have no place in a "corrected" NT text for Christian use.

For instance, about 70 readings imported from the ancestor of Aleph/B are easily identified and well-known homoioteleuton errors of accidental omission. Introducing them into any working-copy of an English translation for Christian use is absurd, yet that is exactly what has happened.

Either those reconstructing a critical Greek text didn't explain what they were doing, or even recognize what they were doing (reconstructing an intermediate text), or the translators of "modern versions" (English translations) didn't have any intelligent scientific methodology for using this intermediate text, but just crudely followed it.

The result is a plethora of "bad reconstructions", presented in English translations, full of clumsy errors.

No one in the last 50 years seems to have a clue that a crucial step has been left out in the process of bringing text-critical findings to the improvement of the working text, namely the critical evaluation of the readings by their proper classification.

Here is a list of 70 such erroneous readings, adopted by most modern versions:

pennoyer said...


Textual Criticism is both a science and an art. As a science, it has very clearly defined methodologies. And as in any science, minority opinions are valued because 1) they can sometimes be right, and 2) even when they are not, they cause the scholarly community to check their steps to make sure they are sound. However, conspiracy opinions are not so valued because they do not bring a net positive to the table. I could be wrong, but your position seems to be in the category of conspiracy. I note the following sweeping phrases: "text-critical crisis"..."What cripples both TC's results and its credibility"..."fundamental flaw"..."absurd"...."[no] intelligent scientific methodology"..."crudely followed". Capped off with the sweeping statement, "No one in the last 50 years seems to have a clue."

Behind most conspiracy opinions there is usually some kind of ulterior motive (for example: allegiance to the KJV). Whether something like that is operative here, I don't know.

This needs to be understood at the very least: For decades there has been incredible unity of purpose among all trained textual critics, whether they be Jews or Christians, whether they be theologically liberal, conservative or somewhere in between: To reconstruct the original text of the OT and NT. Only recently has the question seriously been raised about what edition of a biblical book should be reconstructed in those few instances in which more than one edition seems to be represented in the textual witnesses.

For one resource on the methodology I would recommend Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

Nazaroo said...

Dear pennoyer:

I am a bit saddened by your response on several points:

(1) You raise the spectre of "conspiracy theorist", which I am not. As far as I'm concerned, Text-crit is just a comedy of errors, as a direct result of a simple lack of scientific acumen.

(2) You seem to want to associate me with an "ulterior motive" i.e., a hidden "allegiance to the KJV", which really is a conspiracy theory on your part. I have no real interest in promoting the KJV. I prefer to read the original languages (i.e., Hebrew and Greek).

(3) You claim the existance of an "incredible unity of purpose" among 'trained' textual critics of all stripes. But this simply a fantasy. If true, what would that 'unity of purpose' be? To suppress fundamentalism by undermining the authority of the Bible? That seems to be the only common ground among academics.

But your point misses the real point entirely. If all politicians had an 'incredible unity of purpose' (say, to acquire power and wealth) it would hardly validate their goals. It is likely that textual critics as a group are completely out of touch with Christian laymen (if that weren't obvious) as politicians are with constituents.

When I spoke of 'credibility', it wasn't among peers (other TCs) to which I referred. I meant among real scientists and mathematicians, as well as ordinary Christians. No amount of self-congratulations will cover that up.

Overall, your innuendo amounts to a crude 'ad hominem' attack by dispensing suspicion: "I could be wrong, but...conspiracy", "ulterior motive", "allegiance to the KJV".

Where is any of that in my post?

(4) You didn't address any of the content of my post. My point was simple enough:

a) here are 70 obvious cases of homoioteleuton errors, followed by critical Greek texts.

b) these readings can't be used to 'correct' the working Christian text, and don't belong in English translations.

c) Adopting these readings is plain evidence of a lack of scientific method.

Why not at least address the issue?

You could have for instance, constructively

a) disputed the 70 examples.

b) argued that these errors were part of the original text.

c) argued that adopting a 4th century heavily edited ecclesiastical text has other merits.

I'm left wondering what your purpose was, other than to discredit my post.


pennoyer said...


I have read your response with care and will only say this: Instead of dealing piecemeal with the issues you raise (How many of the "70" would need to be answered?) I dealt with what might be the heart of the matter. And that was to help you and anyone who might be asking the same questions. Anyway, I wish you the best.

Peter Malik said...

should we enjoy the beauties of TR then? :P