Dr. D.A. Carson, the dating of P75, and more pleading for party orthodoxy

Thesis 4: The Alexandrian text type has better credentials than any other text type now available.

Quite a dogmatic statement, don’t you think, especially when you consider that Thesis 4 includes the adjective, “better.” On what grounds can Carson say that the Alexandrian text type has “better” credentials than the other 5,100 extant manuscripts? Well, after saying it has “better” credentials, Carson goes on to ay that it is not always “better” – “This does not mean that the Alexandrian tradition is to be preferred in all cases.” p. 54. So it is generally “better” but not always “better” and this is from a Cambridge Ph.D. You’d begin to think that this convoluted line of reasoning is purposely designed to weary the reader. Carson referenced sources who date P75 about 200 AD and perhaps earlier. p. 53. Myths and Mistakes more cautiously date P75 writing, “Always use the full range for the manuscript rather than the midpoint or early end of the date range. The date, ‘circa AD 200’ might imply either a range of 175-225 or a range of 150-250, and it does not convey that fact that the manuscript dated 150-250 is just as likely to be written in 248 as it is likely to be written in 156, or anywhere in between. We simply cannot be more precise.” The contributor of this chapter adds in a footnote, “At this point I must confess my own sins. In 2015, I gave the dates of P46 and P75 as “around A.D. 200’ in a chapter that I coauthored with Timothy Paul Jones, “How was the New Testament Copied?,” in How We Got the Bible, by Timothy Paul Jones, (Torrance, CA: Rose, 2015), 120. If I could do it over again, I would give the date ranges AD 200-300 for P75 and AD 176-250 for P46.” p. 108.

So what are we to gather from this material. That the dating of ancient manuscripts is in flux and should no spoken of in terms of giving a date range and not a date, and not inferring that the date may be earlier. The date could just as likely be later. But not for Carson because he has a dogmatic apologetic point to make which necessitates an early date for P75. Carson hopes to dismantle the “Hesychian hypothesis” where Hesychius according to Jerome produced an important revision of the Septuagint about AD 300. Some continental scholars have argued that Vaticanus [Alexandrian text type] came from the same hand as the LXX revision. If P75 [AD 200] predates Hesychius’ work by a century [AD 300], P75 proves the text type of Vaticanus antedates Hesychius by a century or more. P. 53. But, if the date range for P75 includes AD 300 which would make it contemporary with Hesychius’ revision of the Septuagint supporting Carson’s King James Version supporting interlocutors and making Carson’s argument mute.

Can you image how conclusive Carson’s argument must have sounded in 1979, and how many ungrounded saints gave up their standard sacred text based on this material, when all along it was feckless chatter.

Please also note that changing date ranges of manuscripts is tough, scholarly work. Good scholars make new discoveries and make changes to match the facts. It is the nature of any science. Dogmatism and scientific discovery are incompatible. For example, “if men were meant to fly, he would have wings.” “As far as we know,” or “according to the available sources and research,” or “according to our preliminary findings,” if not stated is inferred in scholarly scientific work. But Carson’s book is not the work of a measured scholar but of a mimicking apologist with an ideological bent. His work is not meant to inform but to persuade, and because his data is faulty those who follow his piping will be led astray.

Also note there is nothing in Thesis 4 that demonstrates that the Alexandrian text type is better other than that it is older. That the oldest is to be preferred is based on multiple erroneous assumptions. Of course, these assumptions don’t matter to Carson because Westcott and Hort’s method for determining the “better” manuscript was not to be deviated from. False assumption 1: there were minimal second, and early copy errors mistaken for the exemplar. 2. that an unconcentrated early epoch of accurate copies and therefore less possibility of an erroneous entry, when there was a concentrated number of copies made that included multiple errors. 3. that correcting by subtracting erroneous readings is superior to correcting by adding missing correct readings. 4. that a modern assessment and worth of the copy is consistent with the initial receivers’ validation of the copy. 5. that the older reading simply by its existence accurately represents one or more unknown intervening copies. 6. That the oldest reading is not the beginning of its own manuscript tradition. 7. And if not the oldest extant copy as the beginning of its own manuscript tradition, the lost copy from which it was translated was. 8. that the oldest reading was written for positive reasons and not for nefarious purposes. 9. that the oldest copy is intrinsically better is not a scholarly principle; it is really a crime looking for a culprit, an ideological prejudice that the oldest is best to support the overthrow of a standard sacred text and the usurpation of an evolving critical text. 10. Oldest is not to be preferred because it is historically older than other manuscripts but because of the value assigned to the copy by those who have transformed their prejudice into a scientific method. 11. That the critic has no original exemplar from which to judge the legitimacy of the copy. 12. All oldest copies are lost, including the autographs. The oldest copy is a copy of a no longer extant manuscript. Without the exemplar, the oldest extant copy’s credibility is suspect, unless one argued that the extant manuscript is the exemplar of a new manuscript tradition. And 13, the most egregious assumption is that science can determine what God says is His word. The Holy Spirit through the Church and written word is the final arbitrator of what is Scripture. While all these points can be argued, there is sufficient doubt to assert, that oldest is to be preferred fails as a scientific method and that it’s assertion as such is unfounded. For these 12 reason the radically empirical methodology that purports that oldest is best is a scholarly, waving of the hand, yes, we sawed the lady in half, prevarication.

Myths and Mistakes appreciates the work of Westcott and Hort writing, “It is also true that a very good and reliable text existed with Westcott and Hort’s edition [1881] published more than a century ago, when there were far fewer, manuscript available.” The leap of faith Carson wants us all to make is to accept the Westcott and Hort Greek text as the New Testament. Listen to Tyndale’s words in the prologue of his 1534 English NT: “Here thou hast (most dear reader) the new testament or covenant made with us of God in Christ’s blood.” Is this what Westcott and Hort gave us, or Carson wants us to believe? No, this reconstructed text, the text Carson is stumping for, is not spoken of in covenantal terms; it’s a mutable science project in appropriately called the “New Testament.” We get into the weeds with distributive changes of portions of the text, but collectively, canonically, is the W/H text the “covenant made with us of God in Christ’s blood?” No. I write this to say that only when the “science” of textual criticism encroached into the truth and purity of Holy Scripture did the critic begin to work out of his or her depth. And this encroachment is Carson’s part in the play. His role is to assert and synchronize secular notions with long standing theological doctrine in a way palatable to the passive church goer. So he jumps on the bandwagon protected by information dominance and writes his little book, and without ever seeing the autographs writes on p. 53 of the Alexandrian text type, “is the best text-type now extant: that is, closest to the original.” He writes as if the autographs are in his back pocket, and he can pull them out anytime he wants to check a reading. This writing is entirely irresponsible, a jaundiced zealot for party orthodoxy.

The so-called Alexandrian texts are valuable but not better, and they are old but not better.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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