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[textualcriticism] "Evangelical Miscalculation" by Daniel Wallace, textual variants and textual problems

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  • Steven Avery
    Hi Folks, In the paper The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation (2011) Daniel Wallace very properly points out that errant and meaningless
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 22, 2012
      Hi Folks,

      In the paper
      The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation (2011) Daniel Wallace very properly points out that errant and meaningless numbers and explanations are bandied about in discussions of variants.  Daniel is 100% right that nobody should describe the number of variants by the number of witnesses to the variants.  As in the errors of mistaken explanation given by Norman Geisler and Neil R. Lightfoot, where they gave that type of false explanation in order to limit the numbers. Wallace documents those, as examples of what is said in apologetic writings ... and properly says this is: "Terribly wrong." 

      The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation (2011)
      Daniel B. Wallace

      There are a couple of problems with the Daniel Wallace discussion, generally the point he makes about the apologetic blundering is 100% valid.

      One major problem is the in-and-out use of
      "variants" and "textual problems" by Daniel, both used at least 15 times.

      Are they 100% synonymous ?  Not likely, yet Daniel makes zero distinction.  In his conclusion, Wallace says there are 400,000 textual variants in the NT,
      "the estimates today are closer to 400,000." but no more than about 20,000 can possibly be considered as "textual problems", even minor ones, that will show up in some apparatus or discussion. 

      The great mass of the 400K will be things like small (often singular) spelling mistakes in later Greek ms.  No "textual problem" at all.  Similarly singular or minor spelling errors and other minor differences, even in an uncial or two, are irrelevant and not a "textual problem" (unless there are in one of the two reverential fascination manuscripts, Vaticanus or Sinaiticus, or in Bezae such as Mark 1:41).

      As an example, look at this paragraph:

      Daniel Wallace
      "Now, assume that we start with the modern critical text of the Greek New Testament (the Nestle-Aland27). Most today would say that that text is based largely on a minority of manuscripts that constitute no more than 20% (a generous estimate) of all manuscripts. So, on average, if there are 1600 manuscripts that have a particular verse, the Nestle-Aland text is supported by 320 of them. This would mean that for every textual problem, the variant(s) is/are found in an average of 1280 manuscripts."

      See the problematic use of "textual problem" .. clearly it does not mean "textual variant", two totally different concepts are being mish-a-moshed. Most textual variants of the 400K are oddball nothings, where even the mass of Greek Byzantine mss and the TR editions and Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Nestle-Aland all agree, and also are without versional difficulties. On perhaps about 380,000 or so of the 400,000 textual variants, even Nestle-Aland will be supported by 99%+ of the ms, not 20%.

      There is this mixing in one paragraph of two totally different concepts:

      1600 manuscripts that have a particular verse
      for every textual problem                                                     -
      these are the apparatus entries where the NA27 is usually minority - 10K or 20K
      the variant(s) is/are found in an average of 1280 manuscripts - but this is only referring to about 5% of the conjectured 400K variants.

      Daniel Wallace then goes to the 6577 places where the Majority Text differs from Nestle-Aland.  However this is totally different than counting variants. Daniel Wallace successfully shows the errors in the Geisler and Lightfoot type of presentation, however his own presentation mixes apples and kumquats.


      Another major problem is the need to define variants. 

      Simple example: how many variants are involved in the Pericope Adultera sections ?  Absolutely no idea.  And thus we also cannot say what percent are translatable (thus that versional section has its own difficulties). What if the variants of Acts 8:37 or 1 John 5:7 are largely in Latin manuscripts ? How do they count ?

      How many variants are involved in the dozens of verses and phrases that are in Codex Bezae and some supporting witnesses that are not in 99.9% of the Greek ms ?  Absolutely no idea.

      In inclusion/omission, is the count per letter, per word, per phrase, per verse or per section ? The answer for a section could range from 1 to 100s. Similarly word order and spelling differences can have very differing calculation.

      To talk about a total number of variants, without a definitional base, is simply far too loose.


      However, if we limit the whole discussion to significant variants, then this question is less significant. We will have 10K to 20K significant variants in the NT, perhaps an average of 2 per verse.   Why should we care if one scribe in an uncial in 700 AD misspelled a word or transposed two words or omitted a conjunction or had other minor glitches ? 

      We should acknowledge the 20K variants and gentlemen like Daniel Wallace can acknowledge that his preferred NT text is generally an ultra-minority text on these variants, as he does in the paragraph above.


      Incidentally, this is not the only Norman Geisler blunder on textual matters.

      Geisler and Nix seemed to be the root source of the "Codex Barococcio" canon blunder that was discussed on this forum in 2008. Although that was corrected after some decades.

      On the heavenly witnesses Geisler says that the verse:

      "scarcely appears in any manuscript before the 15th century".
      Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2002, p. 310

      An analysis which omits thousands of Latin manuscripts.
      In other writings like "When Critics Ask" he did not make this blunder.

      As to the quote given by Daniel Wallace we have.

      Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, by Norm Geisler (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998; p. 532),

      Some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them. First of all, these are not �errors� but variant readings, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical. Second, these readings are spread throughout more than 5300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter of one word in one verse in 2000 manuscripts is counted as 2000 �errors.�

      Has Norman Geisler and Baker books been contacted to request an errata placed with the book ?
      And to be sure this is corrected in any future editions.

      Similarly Neil R. Lightfoot and Baker could be contacted.

      Neil Lightfoot, Professor

      Steven Avery
      Queens, NY
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