THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEW
TESTAMENT TEXT - PART TWO
This diagram depicts the Theory of the Lucian Recension.
Before proceeding further, let me identify a couple of new
things: notice these two white areas, overlapping part of
both the Western and Alexandrian Texts. The one closer
to the center represents the Old Latin translations. There
was quite a bit of diversity in the text of the ancient Latin
versions, partly because there were several of them, and
partly because they were based on, and/or were rapidly
influenced by, different texts. The Old Latin is generally
"Western" but sometimes has "Alexandrian" features too.
The outer block represents the Vulgate, a translation which
was made by a scholar named Jerome (and his assistants)
in the 380's, with the hope that it would provide a standard
Latin text for church-use. Eventually it did so; however,
along the way copies of the Vulgate were influenced by copies
of the Old Latin(s).
The big orange arc in the diagram represents the Byzantine Text. This text-type is the Greek text
displayed (with some variation) by 95% of all Greek New Testament manuscripts. This is the text-
type on which the King James Version of the New Testament was based. It is characterized by
harmonizations (similar to the Western Text, but less drastic) and liturgically useful adaptations.
Notice that in this diagram, the Byzantine Text has no direct link to the autographs. That was
proposed in 1881 by two scholars, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort (we'll
just call them Westcott and Hort or "W&H"). They made the following proposals: The Byzantine
Text is completely secondary to the Alexandrian and Western Texts. The Byzantine Text was not
used by anyone prior to the year 250 or so. It sometimes combines the readings of the Alexandrian
and Western Texts, and sometimes forms a new reading. Where it combines (or "conflates")
readings found in the other two text-types, and where it has a new reading, its contents are
completely unattested prior to 250, indicating that the Byzantine Text is a late and derivative text.
In no instances should its unique readings be regarded as original.
W&H proceeded to dismiss the Western Text as a wildly expanded text, so they generally
concluded that the Alexandrian Text – especially when exhibited in agreement by two important
manuscripts, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus -- was very very close to the text of the autographs. Since
the days of W&H, this view has dominated the field of New Testament manuscript-analysis – also
known as Textual Criticism (in this context, "criticism" means "scientific analysis;" it is not a
negative term). There is no historical account of a thorough revision of the New Testament text
being undertaken as W&H propose. And it would have to have been distributed and accepted
speedily, since some church leaders who wrote around the year 300 seem to have used Byzantine
manuscripts. Nevertheless, W&H's theory was, and still is, widely accepted. Although W&H only
suggested that the Byzantine Text was a revision made by a church-leader named Lucian of
Antioch, that idea has been strongly promoted, and is slightly implied by W&H's use of the term
"Syrian Text" to describe the Byzantine Text.
A couple of decades after W&H introduced their theory, a scholar named Kirsopp Lake and others
affirmed the existence and antiquity of the Caesarean Text. However, the manuscripts which were
claimed to demonstrate a "Caesarean" origin frequently contained Byzantine readings. This was
accounted for by the theory, depicted here, that the "ancestors" of these manuscripts had originally
been heavily Caesarean, but as the text was copied and re-copied, it was influenced by Byzantine
readings. So by the time it emerged in the present extant manuscripts, the text was "Mixed" – partly
Caesarean, and partly Byzantine. The discovery of the Caesarean Text thus adjusted, but did not
drastically alter, W&H's theory or its plausibility.
But then, something happened. Researchers began to discover ancient papyrus copies of parts of
the New Testament – documents exhibiting the text used in the third century, and sometimes even
earlier. Generally, the texts confirmed the early existence of the Alexandrian Text (which effectively
destroys the claim made by some that the Alexandrian Text was produced by a writer named Origen
in the 200's). But scattered among the Alexandrian readings were some Byzantine readings! Quite a
few readings that had previously been classified as Byzantine (and therefore unoriginal and late)
were suddenly discovered to pre-date W&H's proposed date for the birth of the Byzantine Text.
How does one explain a uniquely Byzantine variant existing before the revision which (according to
W&H) produced all unique Byzantine readings? There were not many unique Byzantine readings in
the early papyri, but according to W&H's theory, there should not have been any.
Ordinarily, when textual critics observe, in one manuscript, some variants of one text-type, and
some variants of another text-type, they conclude that the copyist, or the copyists of some
"ancestors" of the manuscript, used manuscripts which exhibited different text-types. Textual
critics were hesitant to take that approach in regard to the papyri, though. If it were affirmed that a
Byzantine "ancestor" of the papyri existed, W&H's theory would fall completely apart.
Instead, text-critics almost immediately noticed that the papyri did not contain "block-mixing." This
means that although Byzantine readings popped up here and there, there were no large portions of
text exhibiting Byzantine variant after Byzantine variant after Byzantine variant – which is the sort of
thing that would prove that the copyist was using a manuscript with a genuinely Byzantine Text. So
the papyri could be interpreted to indicate that, at early stages, part of the Byzantine Text existed –
the parts that are exhibited in the papyri – but the rest did not. The Byzantine Text may thus be
seen as a gradually developing text; the Byzantine variants in the papyri do not necessarily imply the
antiquity of the entire Byzantine Text.
However, every text-type was a gradually developing text. The Byzantine Text just took longer to
reach a standardized form than the Alexandrian Text did. If we treat the Western and Alexandrian
Text-types in the same way the Byzantine readings in the papyri have been treated, it is clear that
some Western and Alexandrian readings do not have early attestation. Nevertheless antiquity is
frequently assumed for all Western and Alexandrian (or Proto-Alexandrian) variants, simply because
those text-types, in general, are ancient.
Westcott & Hort's theory that the entire Byzantine Text is late and derivative does not fully interlock
with the available evidence. But that does not mean that we should consider the Byzantine Text to
be identical to the original text and ignore the Alexandrian, Western, and Caesarean manuscripts.
There's a better way to evaluate the evidence.