New Testament Textual Criticism: The Case For Byzantine Priority

by Maurice A. Robinson

During the month of July, Preachers Institute will be republishing an article in ten installments on Byzantine Textual Priority in New Testament Textual Criticism, from TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism. Now, I know that this is only peripherally related to preaching the Gospel, but I also know that many of you clergy have an intense interest in this topic – as in all Biblical Studies, and as a result, we offer segments of this excellent article during the month of July.

Reprinted with permission.


1. From the beginning of the modern critical era in the nineteenth century the Byzantine Textform has had a questionable reputation. Associated as it was with the faulty Textus Receptus editions which stemmed from Erasmus’ or Ximenes’ uncritical selection of a small number of late manuscripts (hereafter MSS), scholars in general have tended to label the Byzantine form of text “late and secondary,” due both to the relative age of the extant witnesses which provide the majority of its known support and to the internal quality of its readings as subjectively perceived. Yet even though the numerical base of the Byzantine Textform rests primarily among the late minuscules and uncials of the ninth century and later, the antiquity of that text reaches at least as far back as its predecessor exemplars of the late fourth and early fifth century, as reflected in MSS A/02 and W/032.

2. Certainly the Textus Receptus had its problems, not the least of which was its failure to reflect the Byzantine Textform in an accurate manner. But the Byzantine Textform is not the TR, nor need it be associated with the TR or those defending such in any manner. Rather, the Byzantine Textform is the form of text which is known to have predominated in the Greek-speaking world from at least the fourth century until the invention of printing in the sixteenth century. The issue which needs to be explained by any theory of NT textual criticism is the origin, rise and virtual dominance of the Byzantine Textform within the history of transmission. Various attempts have been made in this direction, postulating either the “AD 350 Byzantine recension” hypothesis of Westcott and Hort, or the current “process” view promulgated by modern schools of eclectic methodology. Yet neither of these explanations sufficiently accounts for the phenomenon, as even some of their own prophets have declared.

3. The alternative hypothesis has been too readily rejected out of hand, perhaps because, as Lake declared, it is by far the “least interesting”7 in terms of theory and too simple in praxis application: the concept that the Byzantine Textform as found amid the vast majority of MSS may in fact more closely reflect the original form of the NT text than any single MS, small group of MSS, or texttype; further, that such a theory can more easily explain the rise and dominance of the Byzantine Textform with far fewer problems than are found in the alternative solutions proposed by modern eclectic scholarship. To establish this point, two issues need to be addressed: first, a demonstration of the weaknesses of current theories and methodologies; and secondly, the establishment of the case for the Byzantine Textform as an integrated whole, in both theory and praxis.

RELATED  The Case For Byzantine Priority: Part 7

Part Two will be published on July 5th.


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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