Understanding the CBGM: An Introduction (Part 2)

Continuing our discussion from yesterday on the CBGM we turn now to the changes that have come about given the mechanism that is the CBGM. Again, and for the remainder of this series I will be drawing on Wasserman and Gurry’s A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method. We still remain in the first chapter of their work and particularly the latter half of the chapter. In this latter half our authors discuss five significant difference which the CBGM has brought about. Wasserman and Gurry observe,

“The first and most obvious changes introduced by the use of the CBGM are changes to the text of the NA/UBS editions.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 5.

They go on to say,

“In the Catholic Letters, there are a total of thirty-four such changes, and in Acts there are fifty-two.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 6.

In Wasserman and Gurry’s opinion most of these changes don’t matter, but a few do. They mention the choice of subject in Jude 5, an issue of Christian suffering and the glory of God in I Peter 4:16, and whether the earth and all its works will be found as mentioned in 2 Peter 3:10. It is important to note that many of these changes have come about because the Byzantine Text-Form is now being regarded as an important witness to old readings. More on that later.

Our authors go on,

A second type of textual change is less obvious but still worth noting. Along with the changes to the text just mentioned, there has also been a slight increase in the ECM editors’ uncertainty about the text, an uncertainty that has been de facto adopted by the editors of NA/UBS.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 6.

There are a couple things to note here. Frist, more changes have come to the critical text which makes the text as a thing more uncertain. Second, the editors of the ECM [Editio Critica Maior/Major Critical Edition] have become slightly more uncertain about the text containing the original readings of the autograph. Now here Wasserman and Gurry use the word “slight” to indicate this increase. But of course, “slight” is relative and also subjective.

Subjective in that the value of the change can far outweigh the number of changes. Back in the day when Bill Gates was the richest man on earth it was said of him that if he were to buy a Lamborghini that purchase would have as much impact on his financial stability as the average American’s financial stability when buying a can of beans. If the words are the words of God and not merely beans to be counted, then an increase in uncertainty may be slight in quantity but overwhelming in quality.

Relative in that the beginning of the modern text-critical project began by totally rejecting the Scriptures of the believing community as a standard i.e., they rejected and continue to reject TR priority in their work. As such, when the change is total from the beginning, it is easy to construe subsequent changes as “slight.”

Third, note that the editors of the N/A and UBS critical texts have adopted a de facto uncertainty in doing their work. De facto simply means “in fact or in effect.” So, the editors of the N/A and UBS already assume a posture and measure of doubt in their work. It is woven into the system of their work. Now they have added more doubt to their already assumed position of doubt. Wasserman and Gurry explain this increase doubt in the following terms,

“In all, there were in the Catholic Letters thirty-two uses of brackets compared to forty-three uses of the diamond and in Acts seventy-eight cases of brackets compared to 155 diamonds. This means that there has been an increase in both the number of places marked as uncertain and an increase in the level of uncertainty being marked. Overall, then, this reflects a slightly greater uncertainty about the earliest text on the part of the editors.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 7.

In short, brackets were the old way to demonstrate the editors’ uncertainty in the Greek text. The new system predicated on the ECM uses diamonds instead to indicate uncertainty of a reading. Overall, given the ECM/CBGM, the instances of uncertainty in the General Epistles increased by ~33% and the instances of uncertainty in Acts increased by ~100%. These apparently are examples which Wasserman and Gurry’s define a slight. Interesting to say the least.

Regarding the third change, our authors write,

“The most significant, and for that reason, controversial is that it has convinced the editors to abandon the concept of text-types used to group and evaluate manuscripts.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 7.

This is indeed a huge shift in the modern text-critical enterprise and even for the TR position. For over 150 years the modern text-critical position has been that the Byzantine Text-From is obviously inferior to the Alexandrian Text-From and now proponents of the ECM/CBGM are “abandoning” the concept of text-forms. Indeed, Wasserman and Gurry admit that in the past

…the notion of text-types is absolutely essential to [Bruce Metzger’s] explanation of the history of the New Testament text and, with it, to the practice of textual criticism.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 8.

Quoting Eldon Epp, our authors observe,

“Their [text-types’] importance is well captured by Eldon Epp, who says that ‘to write the history of the NT text is to write the history of the text types, and concomitantly to write also the history of the criteria for the priority of readings.'”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 8.

Strangely enough the idea of text-types is not wholly rejected. Can you guess which of the text-types remains “a distinct text form in its own right”? Wasserman and Gurry observe,

“One exception here is that the editors still recognize the Byzantine text as a distinct text form in its own right.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 9.

I am unclear on the full implications of this recognition, but Wassserman and Gurry go on to point out in the fourth change that editors of the ECM have,

“reevaluated it [the Byzantine Text-Form] and concluded that it should be given more weight than in the past…the Byzantine manuscripts have been disparaged by a majority of New Testament textual critics as the least valuable for recovering the ‘original text’ when considered as a whole. But when the CBGM was first used on the Catholic Letters, the editors found that a number of Byzantine witnesses were surprisingly similar to their own reconstructed text. This unexpected discovery encouraged a second look and led to a renewed appreciation for these manuscripts and their shared text. This, in turn, led them to revise all their earlier decisions where they had chosen against this shared Byzantine text.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 10.

I appreciate the admission here by Wasserman and Gurry about the undo mistreatment of the Byzantine Text-Form. Whether it was out of ignorance or prejudice, that depends on the text-critic. What is more, the Byzantine Text-Form is getting a second more meaningful look. Is this change in appreciation for the Byzantine Text-Form a case of the atheist historian finally reaching the mountain top only to find a thriving community of Christian theologian there waiting for him? Perhaps. We’ll have to see what else the CBGM turns up on this point. Our authors observe that

“As a result, ten of the twelve changes between their [the ECM editors’] first use of the CBGM on the Catholic Letters and their second use are in favor of the Byzantine text, and they now consider it to be ‘an important witness to the early text’ overall.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 10-11.

How about the book of Acts? Wasserman and Gurry explain that

“The situation in Acts is similar. There were fifty-two changes to the critical text. In thirty-six cases the changes were made in conformity with the Byzantine text and in only two cases against the Byzantine text. Further, in 105 of the 155 passages where the editors leave the decision open about the initial text, the Byzantine witnesses attest to the reading deemed to be of equal value to variant a (=NA 28). In twenty of the 155 passages the Byzantine witnesses side with variant a.

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 11

All in all, modern text-critical theory and practice misunderstood the Byzantine text in important ways since Wescott and Hort. We’ll see if the arguments made over the last 150 years which were based in this misunderstanding will be retracted or revised as the ECM expands.

Finally, the fifth change is a change in goal. The goal is now the “initial text” rather than the original text. This change has occurred because given the apparent “slight” rise in uncertainty

“Some believe that the term original text is simply too vague to be meaningful and is therefore a cause of confusion. Others go further and argue that the very notion of a single, authorial text for the New Testament is indefensible.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 11.

All things being equal, this observation by Wasserman and Gurry seems to militate against the idea that there has only been a slight rise in uncertainty among professionals regarding the text. Regardless, the editors of the ECM using the CBGM have opted for pursuit of the Ausgangstext or initial text. But what exactly is the initial text? In short, the initial text, according to Gerd Mink the one who coined the term, has one meaning and several possible referents. The meaning of “initial text” is

“the reconstructed form of the text from which the manuscript transmission started.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 12.

So, what is the referent? What is the concrete particular that is “the reconstructed form of the text from which the manuscript transmission started”? Well, it could be the original text. That is true, but it could equally be a revised edition of the original text or a corrupted and revised edition of the original text or simply the text which lies immediately behind the texts we currently have which is at least a copy of a copy of a copy. Or as Wasserman and Gurry put it

“From this definition its follows that the initial text may refer to the author’s text or to something later.”

Wasserman and Gurry, A New Approach, 12.

And because it could be the author’s text or something else, modern text-critics can all be pursuing the initial text while simultaneously pursuing different referents e.g., the original, a corrupted original, a revised corrupted original, a copy of a copy of a copy, or simply the text that immediately founds some 6th century uncial. To say that these scholars are all pursuing the same thing is to put on a clinic about equivocation while at the same time failing to be distinctly Christian.

Thus ends our introduction to the CBGM. Lord willing, tomorrow we will turn to a more in-depth treatment of the CBGM method. Blessings.

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