RETHINKING NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISMWritten by David Alan Black (editor); Eldon Jay Epp, Michael W. Holmes, J.K. Elliott, Maurice A. Robinson, Moisés Silva (authors) Reviewed By Daniel B. Wallace
Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism began its life as part of a two-day seminar in April 2000 on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. David A. Black was chiefly responsible for organising the conference, which included three NT disciplines: the synoptic problem, authorship of Hebrews, and textual criticism. Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism is the published result of the seminar for the third of these disciplines.
This brief book follows to some degree the increasingly popular format of laying out competing viewpoints on a controversial issue. It has its place as an introduction to a topic, but should never be regarded as giving a full-blown treatment.
Eldon Jay Epp wrote the introductory essay, ‘Issues in New Testament Textual Criticism: Moving from the Nineteenth Century to the Twenty-First Century’. This is followed by three authors representing three different approaches to the problem of the text: ‘The Case for Reasoned Eclecticism’ by Michael W. Holmes, ‘The Case for Thoroughgoing Eclecticism’ by J.K. Elliott, and ‘The Case for Byzantine Priority’ by Maurice A. Robinson. The concluding chapter is a ‘Response’ to the four previous essays by Moisés Silva. There is also an introduction by David Alan Black and two indices.
A work such as this can only be as good as the authors chosen to represent the various viewpoints. In this regard, the book is a great success: all the authors are well known in the field; Holmes, Elliott, and Robinson are excellent representatives of their respective approaches. Indeed, for Byzantine priority and especially thoroughgoing eclecticism, one can hardly think of anyone else for the task.
Epp’s essay masterfully addresses the current state of affairs, challenging us to think outside the box. His command of the history of the discipline and his predictions as to where it is heading provide for provocative reading. Perhaps his most controversial point is his questioning of the primary objective of textual criticism, the quest for the original text. It ‘has become an open question’ that this should be our main focus and that this is even possible (71).
Holmes capably lays out why reasoned eclecticism is the best approach available today. He interacts with both rigorous eclecticism and Byzantine priority, then offers a critique of reasoned eclecticism (distinguishing between method and practice). His piece is up to date and insightful. Elliott gives a decent argument for thoroughgoing eclecticism. He overstates his case, however, when he insists that ‘thoroughgoing eclecticism is not a subjective exercise’ (109). Robinson’s essay boldly lays out nine principles of external evidence, painting a synthesis that, if entirely true, would most likely support Byzantine priority. However, many of his suggestions are highly questionable, and even if they were not, they are not sufficient to argue for Byzantine readings in every instance. Silva’s response is balanced, compelling, and witty. Though offering praise for all participants, he also took to task some of Epp’s conclusions, as well as the views of Elliott and Robinson.
There is significant unevenness in this volume: Epp’s introductory essay takes up well over one third of the book (60 pp.), while the three principal essays are collectively only five pages longer. And Robinson’s essay is much shorter than Holmes’ or Elliott’s, and has only two footnotes (compared to 60 and 26 for Holmes’ and Elliott’s, respectively). The index is poorly done: many authors mentioned in the book are not listed in the index; several other are listed in the index only haphazardly (e.g., index references to Epp capture only one tenth of the total!). Finally, though Rethinking is an interesting read, it is not particularly appropriate as an introductory text to the field. Such is the risk in a multi-author work.
Daniel B. Wallace
Daniel B. Wallace
Dallas Theological Seminary; Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
Dallas, Texas, USA; Plano, Texas, USA