The Socinian takes issue with my comments on the text of Luke 2:14, comments in which I point out the general scholarly opinion for the last nearly 140 years on the reading and meaning of the original Greek text of Luke 2:14. The Socinian rejects this consensus, and adduces besides a Latin version, many examples from older English translations of the Bible to bolster an argument that the Authorized Version text reflects the original Greek reading in this passage. A basic problem in this procedure is that early English translations are as irrelevant to the establishment of the original Greek text of the NT as the study of Schlegel and Tieck's German translations of Shakespeare's plays would be for the establishment of Shakespeare's original English text.
The NT is an anthology of Greek texts. Modern scholarly editions of it have been created by textual criticism on the basis of some 5,700 Greek NT manuscripts, with secondary input from translations and quotations of the NT (B.M.Metzger and B.D. Ehrman "The Text of the New Testament", 2005). Textual criticism is partly a technical field, partly a historical one. From the technical aspect, it has a deductive basis comparable to mathematical logic, computer programming, and formal and historical linguistics. From the historical aspect, textual criticism requires reference to a large mass of material which reflects many aspects of history. This material is quite varied, and it is hard to predict which aspect will be crucial in a given case. Only part of the job is technical, and theology certainly has its role in textual criticism, as Bart Ehrman has emphasized in his book on "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" (1993).
Now let me expand on what I mean in saying that textual criticism is at some stages a technical field. For a parallel example, if one wants to be prepared to make a qualified argument about heat conduction in solids or diffusion, one must learn to use the relevant mathematics of parabolic differential equations. By way of contrast, the Socinian displays such varied learning, enthusiasm for his subject, and commitment to his views, that the reader could easily overlook the basic question as to whether one who makes no use of Greek texts is prepared to establish the correct reading of a Greek text. For comparison, I have written two papers during the present year in which I had to make use of the collaboration of a competent Arab scholar in a study of a fascinating scientific text in classical Arabic (which I do not read) from a thousand years ago. Even in the case of very concrete subject matter with which I am well acquainted, with highly qualified collaboration, such a procedure is risky and difficult, and I have misgivings over what I have been able to accomplish with this procedure.
I work very differently in the case of a Greek NT text such as the present one, for which I am much better prepared, since Greek is the language in which I ordinarily read the NT. I ask first what is the early attestation of the Greek passage in question in the first three centuries, which means especially in the texts of the Greek papyri, most of which were unavailable to the 19th century scholars. Then I see what is the information in the latest Nestle-Aland edition, which gives selected variants of the Greek text for a wide range of NT passages, and the latest edition of the United Bible Societies, which gives a wider set of variants for each of a smaller set of Greek passages. I look at the older classic edition by Tischendorf (1869-1872), which is still of much use. Issues of the relation to one another of gospel passages of which there are multiple versions in different gospels are treated in works such as Aland's grand synopis of the gospels. Then I look into grammatical issues: the grammars of NT Greek by F.Blass and A.Debrunner, J.H.Moulton and Nigel Turner, and A.T.Robertson, and E.Mayser's grammar of the Greek papyri are all great works, and their number grows continually. Some of the Greek words in the NT are not obvious, and it is always worthwhile to check what the various editions of Bauer's wonderful NT lexicon and Kittel's theological lexicon say about an important word. The commentaries add further analysis and illumination from related material; for Luke, that of I. Howard Marshall is remarkably good. Once this preliminary work has been done, one can consider a theological question.
To be clear, I am not a practicing specialist in New Testament studies, but rather a user of them. I was forced to become familiar with the (especially Byzantine) textual variants of the Greek New Testament, especially the gospels, in other research, and I have maintained and expanded that familiarity over several decades. My role here is simply that of a philologically trained linguist. My only published contribution to biblical studies concerned the intertestamental literature.
To follow the present argument, there are fine books to use such as E.J.Goodspeed's "Problems of N.T. Translation" (1945), which successfully bridges between nonspecialist readers and the special information on which textual criticism is based. Goodspeed's commentary on the passage in question is readable and excellent. So is Bruce Metzger's treatment in his "Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament" (1994), but it is more technical and perhaps has a trace of Calvinist orientation.
The Socinian argues that the text in question is universalist (small u) in orientation. He believes that it is not restrictive to a particular Jewish or Christian group as I have argued. I believe that the restrictive interpretation is quite characteristic of Hellenistic Judaism and its transition into Jewish Christianity. I feel that his interpretation is very attractive, and that it would be a desirable modern modification of the text. I do not believe that his establishment of the reading and interpretation of the passage is accurate for early Christianity, which is my focus in such studies. He projects a modern interpretation into an ancient world in which it is out of place. I leave the argument in terms of the content of the passage there, because I believe that the argument on the basis of the manuscript evidence is capable of more systematic demonstration than is the theological argument. Once the text is established, the argument in terms of the content of the passage must follow the manuscript evidence.
The Socinian refers repeatedly to a "lost original verse", "lost Greek phrase", "lost phrase", "now-lost original words" of the passage in Luke 2:14. However, the Greek text of this passage which, as I have already pointed out in my preceding post, is supported by current scholarship, and is rejected by the Socinian in its translated form, is not only a preserved Greek variant, it is preserved in all of the most important early uncial manuscripts of the Greek NT. It is the original reading in Codex Sinaiticus (Sin.), is found in Codex Alexandrinus (A), is the original reading in Codex Vaticanus (B), and is found in Codex Bezae (D) and the Freer Codex (W). For any Greek NT reading to be attested by this set of manuscripts, representing the Alexandrian text (Sin., B, W in this section), the Western text (D), and the oldest form of the Byzantine text (A), constitutes an extremely strong argument for the originality of the text. The text is marked with the letter A in the edition of the United Bible Societies and in Metzger's commentary; this is explained "The letter A indicates that the text is certain". (One must distinguish, of course, between the evaluative "A" and the symbol "A" for Codex Alexandrinus.) This is a relatively straightforward argument in terms of external evidence (in F.J.A.Hort's term) which is accepted by competent scholars; theological interpretations must be adapted to it.
The Socinian gives an interesting reference in a comment to his own reply, to a discussion of this passage by T.L. Hubeart, Jr., as supporting his views. Hubeart concludes that "On balance, then, it seems more likely that the passage in this gospel of Luke would extend "good will" to all, rather than reflecting a restriction on the gift of Christ to those "in whom he is well pleased" which accords with the hyper-predestination of some theologies." His argument is in the spirit of those who wish to preserve the readings underlying the Authorized Version, disregarding the fact that at least 80,000 textual changes reflected in modern printings were made in the AV by the revisor Benjamin Blayney in his edition of 1769 (E.J.Goodspeed "As I Remember", p.169). Hubeart also attacks the work of A.T.Robertson, a very distinguished Baptist scholar of the NT, arguably the most outstanding specialist in the world on the language of the NT in his generation at the beginning of the 20th century. In particular, he attacks Robertson's treatment of this passage in Robertson's still valuable six-volume commentary on the NT with the awkward title "Word Pictures in the NT" (1930). Hubeart gives priority to what is called "the majority text" of the NT, the widely attested late Byzantine Greek text on which the early editions of the NT were based. So it is inevitable that he prefers the readings of a translation based on the early NT editions based on the Byzantine Greek text. However, the available information on the Greek text and its interpretation have expanded so greatly since the issuance of the AV in 1611 that this is a risky approach. Fortunately, this view is waning: the second edition of the "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology " (ed. Walter Elwell, 2001) has a good article on textual criticism and theology of the NT by Philip W. Comfort, the primary editor of a very useful collection (2001) of the readings of the NT papyri for the first three centuries of the common era.
I love it when they do this. -CC