Date of Award
Master of Arts
Faculty of Arts
Dr. Peter Bedford
The aim of textual criticism is to recover the original text of the New Testament. By studying and comparing the many extant manuscripts it is hoped to discover which of them, or the variants they contain, arc closest to the original Text In choosing between the many variant readings, New Testament scholars developed the method of grouping manuscripts into different fom1s of text which fit the pattern of their variants. In contrast to this approach, J. W. Burgan propounded a method later identified as "The Majority Text" approach. This focuses on the Byzantine textual tradition, and assumes that its numerical preponderance is prima facie evidence of a superior text. With the lapse of time, and due to the results of the many studies made of newly discovered papyri, there is growing uncertainty as to the value of the traditional groupings of manuscripts. Both current research and contemporary methods of criticism may indicate that F. J. A. Hort's description of the Byzantine text (Majority text), as late, inferior, and recensional, needs to be reevaluated. There is a loss of methodological consensus; differing ways have emerged of estimating the many variant readings of the New Testament. This depends on whether the critic relies on the supposed history of the text, or prefers to focus on stylistic and philological issues. The need is to find a text-critical method acceptable to all. Recent debate between scholars advocating different approaches to textual criticism has addressed several key theoretical issues, whose outcome determines whether the Majority text method is a viable alternative to other approaches. This study responds to the recommendation of Kurt Aland (1987) that interested students should test the Majority text method, by considering several texts from the Gospels which arc relegated to the critical apparatus of the Greek New Testament (UBS4). This is done by employing Burgan's "Seven Notes of Truth", and the results are compared with Aland's conclusions, as well as with the conclusions of other critics who follow similar or varying methods. Not surprisingly it was found that, of all the verses examined on the basis of the Majority text method, the textual decisions were markedly different from those made by Aland and the UBS editors. In contrast, the Majority text conclusions for half of the verses considered were in agreement with those reached by the more radical approach of G. D. Kilpatrick who was willing to evaluate some Byzantine variants as good readings. The differing approaches indicate that New Testament textual criticism is at a methodological impasse. II is hoped that a clearer understanding of the history of the text will provide an objective basis for making sound textual choices. This quest must include a more exact method of patristic studies to enable the critic to place the Text more accurately in the context of its time and location. If a consensus emerged which accepted that Hart's views of the origins of the Byzantine text are no longer tenable, this may encourage scholars to study Burgon's work more closely, and thereby assess the value of the Majority text method.
Govier, C. E. (1996). The majority text debate: A study in New Testament text-critical method. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/963