Friday, May 5, 2017

The Layperson's Guide to Rejecting the Majority Text Theory

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.

It’s no secret that the original copies of the books which comprise the New Testament (i.e., the autographa) are long gone. Those who produce New Testament translations rely upon the approximately 5800 copies of the original autographs.[1] Due to human error and corruption, these manuscripts are different from one another.[2] While there are many of these differences (i.e., textual variants) among the extant manuscripts, the vast majority of variants have absolutely no bearing upon our English Bibles, and there are no variants which legitimately and significantly affect Christian theology or doctrine.

There exists a question however, as to the method utilized in determining which manuscript readings represent the authentic text. All English translations of the New Testament rely upon a method known as textual criticism to derive what the translators believe is the authentic text.[3] Textual criticism is not the practice of criticizing the New Testament. Rather, the phrase refers to the careful and scientific study of manuscripts so as to determine the original text. While there are various philosophies or methods of textual criticism, most English Bible translations utilized by evangelicals (e.g., NIV, NASB, ESV, CSB, NRSV) basically utilize a critical edition of the Greek New Testament.[4] The critical editions rely upon a philosophy of textual criticism which evaluates and weighs manuscripts and their readings according to a variety of external and internal considerations.[5] This method, called reasoned eclecticism, provides a fair hearing for all ancient manuscripts, and weighs them accordingly.

Advocates of another textual critical philosophy called the Majority or Traditional Text theory, argue that one ought not to weigh individual manuscripts to evaluate their authenticity, but instead, one ought to merely accept those readings which occur in the most amount of manuscripts. In other words, proponents of this theory rely upon math to determine the New Testament text. Almost universally, advocates of the Majority Text (here forth MT) insist that the preservation of the Scriptures require that the latest manuscripts necessarily reflect the authentic New Testament. For this reason, many MT adherents conflate a belief in the inspiration, inerrancy, and preservation of the Scriptures with the affirmation of their view.[6] MT proponents argue that the most widely available text throughout the ages is represented only in the most recent manuscripts, and because God has preserved his Word, the majority readings found in those manuscripts are necessarily original. While there are a handful of published editions of the MT Greek New Testament,[7] there are even fewer English translations.

There are excellent reasons to agree with the preponderance of Bible believing conservative scholars who say that the MT is not representative of the original text. I have condensed my own primary reasons in the five points below: