Last Updated:

Oct 26, 2010

Majority Text: Origin

Excerpts from: Discussion, Equitable Eclecticism, KJV Only Debate Blog, (2010)

Page Index

Majority Text: - Its Origin and Nature
    James' Opener - changes, historical influences
    Nazaroo's Rejoinder - difficulties in account
    James' Response - limits noted
    Nazaroo's Reply - problem with an "early" Byzantine

In James Snapp Jr.'s article, Equitable Eclecticism (part 3), posted on the KJV Only Debate Blog, he summarizes an argument to account for the existance and eventual domination of the Majority Text, taken in the main from G.D. Fee's earlier article here. James states,

Major Disruptions

"The validity of such an approach depends upon the validity of the premise that the transmission of the text of the Gospels was free from “major disruptions”. However, major disruptions have had enormous impacts upon the transmission of the text.

Changes in Circumstance

Roman persecutions and Roman sponsorship, wartime and peacetime, dark ages and golden ages – all these things,

Changes in Copying Practice

plus innovations and inventions related to the copying of MSS, drastically changed the circumstances in which the text was transmitted, and while all text-types were affected by them, they were not all affected to the same extent, as a review of history will show. 16

Atrophy of Greek Language

Greek fell into relative disuse in Western Europe; Constantinople became the center of eastern Greek-speaking Christendom;

Islamic Conquest

Islamic conquests squelched the vitality of the transmission-streams in regions where Islamic rule was imposed; copyists in or near Constantinople invented more efficient ways to copy the text.

Such historical events completely invalidate results that are based on a transmission-model that assumes the non-existence of such disruptions."

Note: no footnote 16 was provided onsite.

- James Snapp Jr.

This is essentially a summary of an argument first put forth by G.D. Fee (1993), which is onsite here:

Fee on Majority Text « click here for more.

Nazaroo's Rejoinder

Problems with Proposed Causes

Dear James: Once again you have very effectively summed up the recent history of critical editions.


We only want to point out here that the proposed explanation for the origin and dominance of the Majority Text (proposed by Fee) is completely unsubstantiated and scientifically invalid.

(1) No one has shown that any “disruption” of any nature (except deliberate tampering or recension) would have the effect on the purity of the various streams of transmission that is claimed.

(2) Certainly the three example “disruptions” would normally have no effect on the text spread across the Roman Empire and independently copied for the key period (300-700 A.D.). By that time, the Majority Text would already be in full swing, if not dominant.

(3) The kind of “disruptions” described, that would have an accidental or undesirable or unforeseen effect on the text would have to have taken place prior to the formation of the major text-types, which is acknowledged to have taken place in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Fee acknowledges for instance that the Byzantine (Majority) Text had already come into circulation by 350 A.D.:

Fee on date of Maj Text « click here for more.

(4) That the Greek could very gradually “drift away” from the Latin is a reasonable possibility, with some acknowledgement that the drift would be a combination of “random” changes (local grammatical corrections and language updates, smoothing), and deliberate changes (adoption of readings favouring theological ideas in circulation at various times). But in this case, the variants would be relatively few, and relatively insignificant or easy to spot most of the time.

Strange on Western « click here for more.

(5) It could also be conceived that a very “special” catastrophe could have taken place very early in the history (circa 100 A.D.) to cause both loss of data (text) and bifurcation into more than one “text-type”. For instance, a massive pogrom or persecution in which 99% of MSS were destroyed, and a new copying stream was started based on a peculiar and faulty MS, and this stream in turn being left to develop in isolation from other Christians in the Empire. Something like this might explain the peculiarities of the early Alexandrian text(s), full of errors. But in that case, we can also expect that gradually, as Christianity in that area recovered, and grew to connect with other Christian groups and churches in the Empire, the text would be corrected and eventually abandoned, just as the “Alexandrian” has.

Martini on Alexandrian « click here for more.

(6) It is also possible that a deliberate large-scale and organized “correction” or recension of the text could result in a “new” text synthesized from existing variants, and taking on a uniformity as a result of organized and imposed structure in manufacturing. But in this case, we should assume that those in charge had at least some common sense and skills/training to carry out the task reasonably well, and that they also had at their disposal far better resources than those now extant and available to us. This is why Dean Burgon practically gloated at Hort‘s suggestion of a “Syrian Recension” organized and adopted by the Church at large. He saw its priceless value if only it were true. The scarce evidence of such a thorough-going recension did not bother him, because the result would be the same in the end. The best possible overall text would be found in that recension, barring a theological catastrophe or hostile takeover of the church by heretics.

Burgon on Syrian Rescension « click here for more.

Peace in Christ, Nazaroo

James' Response

RE: Proposed Causes

Nazaroo: Regarding your first point: the hypothesis is not that disruption was the mechanism which caused the Alexandrian, Western, Caesarean, and Egyptian (P45/part-of-W) texts to develop; the idea is that disruption caused them to be transmitted at different rates than the Byzantine Text.

Regarding your second point: I would agree that by 700, Greek Gospels-MSS characterized by Byzantine readings were more numerous than other kinds of Greek Gospels-MSS, but that is not the same as saying that the Majority Text as we know it was then dominant. Some disagreements might appear if one were to construct a sort of Uncial Byzantine Text (consisting formulaically of majority-readings of Byzantine uncials) as opposed to a Majority Text that usually defined by the minuscules. I would not argue that the disruptions which caused the decline of non-Byz text-types caused new readings to arise in Byz.

Your third point does not target the hypothesis I’m proposing, which is not that the disruptions had a strong effect on the contents of any text-type or text-types, but that they had a strong effect upon their relative popularity (with Byz becoming popular, and the rest gradually dying out, as far as Greek copies were concerned, except in some isolated cases).

Point 4 seems peripheral, so in the interest of brevity I will not comment on it here for the time being.

In Point 5 you’ve pictured a scenario similar to what Streeter proposed to account for local texts: isolated customization followed by collisions (mixture) followed by conformation to the Byz standard.

As for Point 6, yes, Burgon (and not only Burgon) saw that if Byz is the result of a scholarly recension carried out before 312 by an influential bishop who possessed MSS of divergent kinds, and that Byz can be accurately reconstructed, then virtually all of its component parts must be regarded as more ancient than any MS known to exist in Burgon’s day. But this is only relevant if one accepts the premise that the contents of Byz were defined by such a recension.

Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.

Nazaroo's Reply

RE: Proposed Causes

dear James: Thank you for your thoughtful reply:

On (1), I am glad you sensibly agree that the supposed mechanisms proposed by Fee do not and cannot account for “text-types”. The lesser and more limited claim that they could have taken existed “text-types”, and unevenly promoted them needs more careful consideration, for it appears tantamount to claiming that again these “mechanisms” (supposing they existed in the degree claimed) were indeed responsible for the subsequent behaviour of the transmission streams.

Personally, I don’t see them as significant, but I would think that (5), the idea you attribute to Streeter might better account for the attrition of both potential “text-types” and wild copying resulting in the appearance of ‘text-types’.

Problems with an "Early Byzantine" Reconstruction

For (2) you propose a method for constructing a “Majority Text” based on older Byzantine MSS only (Uncials). This methodology appears hopelessly flawed, for the following reasons:

(a) Definition of Majority: Normally, newer MSS will outnumber older MSS, and if we had access to the earlier MSS we could have an effective sample, but it wouldn’t be the majority of MSS, except of a certain sub-period (say 400-600 A.D.), which is a moving of the goal-posts re: “Majority of MSS”. But that is probably insignificant compared to other problems with the method:

(b) We don’t have an appropriate sample of MSS from the earlier periods. Only a handful of MSS dated in the critical period exist, and these would not properly represent the state of the text between 400-800 A.D. It can’t be done by using the date of manufacture of MSS.

(c) Selecting only Uncials is inappropriate for this early period, because as Uncials were being simultaneously phased out (but still made up to 900 A.D.), Miniscules were being manufactured alongside them, as early as say 600-700, and then we also have “transition” style MSS with ‘mini-Uncials’, slanted (e.g. cod.W) and other bridge-styles. All these would need to be incorporated into any “majority of MSS” method for the first half of the period (say 400-800 A.D.).

(d) Many late MSS are copies of ancient texts. It is well-known that the age of the text is different than the date of the MS, and very often the most ancient reliable texts would be chosen as a master-copies in organized scriptoriums. The result is that the Majority of late MSS will represent copies far earlier than their contemporaries. If the survival and condition of Uncials is any guide, good copies are likely to have been made from MSS some 500 years or more older than themselves. The kind of nuancing you are hoping for by selecting Uncials will not adequately filter older texts from newer, since it merely excludes the majority of 1st generation copies of the older (Byzantine) text.

(e) There is no way to identify and separate MSS having only newer texts, except by genealogical methods. Even when a few cases can be done, such as Family 1 and Family 13, we can’t date the age of the text itself. Typically, these are assigned a nebulous date “sometime before the 9th century” or some such, but in your method they would eliminated.

(f) Thus, your ‘Maj’ method (Uncials only) would not adequately nuance the interesting and significant differences, which indicate early abberant text-types or strains within the Byzantine tradition.

(g) I think you are going to find that any method of handling the Byzantine MSS which successfully eliminates the later texts (and their errors) will still result in essentially the current Majority Text. There will only be a few variants (say for instance Joh.Comm) that will distinguish it from any suggested later Byzantine text(s) (Lectionaries aside).


On (3) & (5), see (1) above.


On (6), I am still having difficulty with your nuancing of whether the “change” (invention/adoption of a Byzantine text-type) having occurred as a singular “event” (“official recension”) or as a result of a process (improved, stricter copying standards) makes any difference at all, to us or to Burgon.

Whatever that ‘process’ was, it seems to me that fundamentally it can only have either:

(1) reigned in a wild group of texts and replaced them with a more accurate and dependable standard, or

(2) introduced an artificial text that had no pre-existance before this, and which contains significant innovations that also did not exist before, even among the ‘wild copies’ running rampant.

But it seems plausible that whoever is responsible for the Byzantine text, it would have been manufactured from existing variants (rightly or wrongly), and not innovative in nature at all, this being contrary to the very ethos and purpose at hand, which could not have been merely to standardize the text (a byproduct), but to correct it.

Whether the process that created the Byzantine text-type is a slow one operating over centuries (gradual dominance), or a rapid one supervised by an individual (Lucian, Eusebius etc.) what does it matter? The intent of those doing the work was the same: correcting the text as best as knowledge and skill allowed, and the result by nature was not “innovative” (prone to generating new readings).

Whatever the cause and timing, the process could have produced an artificial “text-type” never before in existance per se, but this text-type would be made up almost entirely of pre-existing readings.

The conclusion is inescapable that this text-type would be a rich source of the earliest readings, and indespensible to reconstructing the original text.


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