27 Criteria to Evaluate Different Readings
Criteria to Evaluate Different Readings.
That variations exist is a plain fact. How should we decide on the variations we choose? Should we guess, or subjectively choose the one that fancy our taste? Translation experts are convinced that we should first look at the external evidence. That entails the manuscripts themselves and their origin.
Only then do we look at the internal evidence. Are there any typical mistakes or logic probability that the scribe could have unintentionally or even deliberately have altered the text? Only after these possibilities have been exhausted do we endeavor to decide what the original writer would most probably have written.
The following are some of the more important criteria used by the translators:
- The date of the manuscript and/or of the text type. With text critique we try to establish the original autograph. Subsequently a manuscript dating from the fourth century has a greater chance to be free of the alterations and additions made during the centuries of copying. It is also possible that a late copy could have been made from a very early manuscript. Therefore the age of the document is not the only criterion.
- Geographical distribution of the documents supporting a specific reading. If a reading is supported for instance by a Greek manuscript form Alexandria and one from Caesarea, as well as a Coptic translation from Egypt, and an old Latin translation from Italy, it would probably weigh more than a reading supported by twenty Greek manuscripts all originally from Antioch .
- Genealogical relationship of the witness. It is more important to evaluate than merely to count witnesses. As an illustration we look at a family of manuscripts called Family 1424. They are names after the oldest of the group, minuscule manuscript No 1424 dated the tenth century. This group of no less than thirty manuscripts shows the same peculiarities. They all have the documents of the New Testament in a unique order i.e. Gospels, Acts, Catholic letters, Revelation and lastly the epistles of Paul. All except for Revelation are provided with a commentary in the margin. It is obvious that these manuscripts all must have the same “ancestor”, and therefore do not have individual value.
Family 1 with ten manuscripts dated between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries is another family with i.e. the incident of the woman caught in adultery after John 21:25, and not in chapter 8. This family also has the longer ending of the gospel according to Mark (16:9-20) though some have a note that this ending is questioned.
Family 13 with twelve manuscripts all have the incident of the woman caught in adultery after Luke 21:38 and not at all in the gospel according to John. They also have the words we know from Luke 22:43-44: (“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. ”) not in Luke, but after Mat.26:39.
There are several other peculiarities typical of each of these families.
The many Greek manuscripts used within the Greek Orthodox Church most probably have the same ancestor, like also the Armenian manuscripts of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Under the internal evidence we understand principles coming forth from the text itself. If a scribe made a mistake and it can easily be identified and corrected, it is a mistake of the scribe. It does not devaluate the manuscript itself. Bear in mind, we try to discern the original autograph. There are typical mistakes anyone copying a manuscript could do. These form the first considerations taken into account when we have more than one possibility.
Transcriptional probabilities as well as known typical habits of scribes.
When confronted with more than one possibility, the following guidelines are taken into account:
- The more difficult reading is usually the authentic, especially when it superfluously looks wrong, but with deeper study does proof to support the meaning of the pericope. A scribe would rather be entitled to “improve” a difficult text by altering it to be more easily read than he would make an easy text “difficult”.
- Usually the shorter text is the authentic; “corrections” usually makes the text longer. Yet there are cases where words could have been left out, causing a shorter reading. a) Words could have been left out due to something in the sentence causing the eye to “jump”. b) Words could have been lest out because they seem i) unnecessary, or ii) seem harsh, or iii) contrary to pious belief, or liturgical usage, or ascetical practice.
- Scribes sometimes tried to harmonize parallel texts. They also tried to harmonize quotes from the Old Testament with the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
- Scribes would sometimes a) replace an unfamiliar word with a known synonym, b) try to alter grammar to the typical form used in Koine Greek, or c) add pronouns, conjunctions and expletives to make a smooth text.
These criteria concern the document and the way is had been copied. In another post we will consider the intrinsic criteria that concerns the words the writer or the person quoted would most probably have used himself.