The Case For Byzantine Priority: Part 9

by Maurice A. Robinson

Inaccuracies and misleading claims

The Byzantine Textform has been caricatured by adverse critics as “late” (by MS date), “secondary” (by readings), and “corrupt” (by a false assumption of scribal proclivities). These points readily can be discussed as a matter of opposing opinion. Yet some cases exist where inaccurate and misleading claims are made against the Byzantine Textform. These are stated as fact and remain in print without subsequent correction, misleading and biasing readers against the Byzantine Textform. Three selected examples from two Byzantine-priority opponents illustrate this situation:

Gordon Fee makes an outstandingly inaccurate claim when opposing the Byzantine inclusion of Jn 5:3b-4. He speaks dogmatically regarding the enclosed (or “embedded”) genitive construction, thn tou udatoj kinhsin, which appears at the end of Jn 5:3 in the Byzantine Textform:

This use of an enclosed genitive presents extraordinarily difficult problems for Johannine authenticity… There are some word-order invariables [in Johannine style] (e. g. amhn amhn legw umin; never umin legw). Another of these invariables is with genitive constructions where both nouns are definite (e. g. the eyes of the blind). There are 97 such occurrences in the Gospel (not including those places where both nouns are genitives as in 12:3 thj osmhj tou murou), plus 27 others in 1 and 2 John. In every case the word order invariably is the moving of the water [sic].

It is as improbable for John to have written thn tou udatoj kinhsin as it would be for a proper Bostonian to say,

“I’m fixin’ to go up town; y’all come with me, ya hear?”

One may count on it: had John written 5:3b he would have said thn taraxhn [sic] tou udatoj.

Yet a simple electronic scan of the Johannine writings reveals that the embedded genitive construction not only appears three times elsewhere in John (Jn 6:51; 14:30; 18:10), but with one exception (Mt 13:55, o tou tektonoj uioj) this construction is otherwise exclusive to John among the gospels. The embedded genitive in Jn 5:3b actually is more characteristic of Johannine style than of any other gospel, and its presence in Jn 5:3b argues more for Johannine authenticity rather than inauthenticity.

On the same page, Fee claims inauthenticity in Jn 5:4 because of the phrase aggeloj kuriou, claimed to be in “almost all of the early uncials.” Since this phrase does not tally with Johannine usage, it must have been a Byzantine “creation.” Fee admits that kuriou is “lacking in the later majority” of MSS (the bulk of the Byzantine Textform), but he directs his attention to the “early uncials” (which are not listed).

But contra Fee, the “Byzantine” reading is simply aggeloj standing alone, in accord with the minuscule data. Further, the uncial evidence is not as Fee states. According to the apparatuses, aggeloj kuriou is read by the uncials A K L Y D P 0233. Of these, only MS A (fifth century) is “early.” The remaining expansion uncials come from the eighth (L 0233) and ninth (K Y DP) centuries. In contrast, all remaining uncials which contain Jn 5:4 read aggeloj alone, and these date within the same time frame as those uncials containing the expansion. Further, the Jn 5:4 uncials which exclude the expansion outnumber those which include; these are the following: sixth century, 078; eighth century, E; ninth century, C3 (C* omits all) F G H M U V Q L Y; tenth century, S G.

The uncial majority reads only aggeloj in a 2:1 proportion against those adding the extraneous kuriou. The sixth-century 078 stands in near-equal contrast to the “early” fifth-century MS A on the opposing side. Aggeloj kuriou simply is not the “Byzantine” reading, nor does such predominate even among the uncials (“early” or “late”). The minority pious expansion aggeloj kuriou thus cannot be urged as a “proof” of the non-Johannine character of Jn 5:3b-4. Had such an expansion been original to the Byzantine Textform, there would be no explanation for its later omission in the majority of uncials or minuscules, nor was kuriou ever omitted from the same phrase elsewhere (Mt 1:20, 24; 2:13, 19; Lk 1:11; 2:9; Ac 7:30; 12:7, 23). Since kuriou is not original to the Byzantine text of Jn 5:4, conclusions regarding inauthenticity cannot be established on this basis.

Daniel Wallace creates “revisionist history” in asserting that the Byzantine Textform was neither dominant nor in the “majority” until the ninth century. Not only does such a claim run counter to what has been acknowledged since Westcott and Hort, but it simply does not accord with the known facts. Sufficient manuscript and patristic evidence exists from the mid-fourth century onward to establish this point. Wallace not only ignores a previous scholarly consensus, but fails to consider the transmissional factors which have restricted all evidence from the pre-ninth century period. His current claim is little more than “eclectic nose-counting” of extant witnesses, on the faulty presumption that such might accurately depict the total NT transmissional situation in the pre-ninth century era. There is no reason to engage in nose-counting against a previous scholarly consensus, let alone to ignore contrary versional and patristic evidence which is strongly supportive of Byzantine dominance from the mid-fourth century onward.

The limited number of extant witnesses prior to the ninth century is insufficient to establish the true proportional nature of the text in that era. The early data are too limited (as respects the Byzantine region) and too localized (as respects the Alexandrian or Egyptian region) for mere numerical nose-counting to be authoritative, since such is likely to be non-representative of the actual situation regarding the text in the early centuries.

Put simply, Westcott and Hort were correct regarding post-fourth century Byzantine dominance. It becomes a very peculiar type of wish-fulfillment to argue “revisionist history” on this point merely on the basis of the number of extant MS witnesses which predate the ninth century.


The tenth and final installment of this article will be published on July 25th.

This excellent article is reprinted with permission of TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism .

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2001.


About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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