We have recently been contacted regarding three charges brought against the Majority Text theory by advocates of the so-called “critical text.” These charges may seem plausible at first glance, but upon examination they are found to have no substance. In the following we list the charges and refute them.
1) As we find new texts the majority can change the text so the Majority Text in the past is not the same as the Majority Text of the future.
This may seem theoretically possible, but it cuts both ways. If we found a manuscript with the Byzantine text from, say, the second or even the third century, it would demolish the critical text theory immediately, and only one manuscript find would be required to do it.
On the other hand, the scenario proposed by critical text advocates as regards the Majority Text is not at all plausible; in fact, it does not even seem to be possible. There are currently about 5,800 extant manuscripts of the New Testament (most partial but substantive e.g. containing all four Gospel books), and 80 to 95% of them are of the Majority Text type. Even at the low end of 80%, 4,680 manuscripts are of the Majority Text type, and 1,160 of the non-Majority Text type, which means we would have to find an additional 3,520 manuscripts, all of the non-Majority Text type, before the Majority Text would look different. (Yes, those percentages apply at the level of variants, too.)
Furthermore, if the Majority Text were not the majority, how is it that the overwhelming majority of manuscripts were selected from a minority text type? What are the chances of that? Even it we make the best assumption for the critical text camp, viz. that the Majority Text was a 49% minority, the odds of picking at random even one hundred such manuscripts out of a pool in which they are the minority is 1 in (0.49)100, or 1 in 1×10-31, which is one in one million trillion trillion, which is clearly impossible. So the fact that the overwhelming majority of extant manuscripts is of the Majority Text type proves conclusively that the Majority Text is, in fact, the original text.
In fact, no one would dare levy a challenge such as this if he understood probability and statistical analysis. Once again, I must say it seems to me that no one should engage in textual criticism who is not trained in this field.
Finally, there is a certain hypocrisy on the part of a mainstream textual critic who raises this issue as if it were a problem for the Majority Text theory, given that the critical text changes noticeably with each new published edition of the flagship of mainstream textual criticism, the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamantum Graece. There were, in fact, more than five hundred changes between the second and third editions of this work. If there is a method, then, that cannot yield a stable text of the New Testament, it is mainstream eclecticism.
2) You cannot use the early Fathers’ quotations because they could include “stories” such as the “Woman caught in adultery.”
It is true that using the quotations of the early church fathers to establish the form of the text is a mug’s game (though it is not so when establishing the presence of a passage), but it is a moot point since the Majority Text is based only on the readings in the Greek NT manuscripts; it does not use Patristic quotations. And this charge, too, smacks of either ignorance or hypocrisy, as it is the mainstream textual critics, who promote the critical text, who make copious use of Patristic quotations.
And it should be mentioned that the pericope adulterae (the account of the “woman caught in adultery,” in John 7:53-8:11) is certainly authentic, as we have elsewhere shown. The fact that it is so widely denied is another indication of the intellectual bankruptcy of mainstream textual criticism.
3) Comments in margins were added in by scribes.
This certainly does seem to have happened; indeed, it explains some of the errors in the critical text, such as the insertion of “Isaiah” into Mark 1:2, which creates an error in what is supposed to be the original text.
However, this is not a problem for the Majority Text approach. A scribe may indeed inadvertently insert a marginal note into the text, but at that point his manuscript would be the only one to have that error among the hundreds of already existing copies of that book. Copies made using his manuscript as an exemplar would include the error, but copies made using all the other manuscripts that do not have that error would also not have that error. This means that a variant introduced by a scribe accidentally inserting a marginal note into the text would only ever be found in a very small minority of the texts, thus showing it to be an error.
This is, in fact, what we see with the erroneous insertion of “Isaiah” in Mark 1:2; 96.7% of the manuscripts (a total of about 1,740) read “in the prophets” while 3.1% (a total of about 56) read “in Isaiah the prophet.” The latter, then, is clearly bogus. Thus, as we see, no accidentally inserted marginal note could ever infect the Majority Text, which, by definition, is made of the readings found in the majority of the manuscripts, not those in a small minority.
In summary, then, the Majority Text continues to stand as the original text of the NT, and the challenges brought against it only serve to discredit further mainstream textual criticism.
1. The Majority Text theory holds that the original text of the New Testament is found by compiling the readings found in the majority of extant manuscripts at each point of variation. For details on the Majority Text theory, see, inter alia, Tors, John. “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism (In Manageable, Bite-Sized Chunks)” and Tors, John. “Is the Byzantine Text the Result of “A Long Process Of Development and Standardization”? An Examination of Klaus Wachtel’s Text Critical Model”.
2. The “critical text” is the product of the mainstream (eclectic) method of textual criticism, which seeks to put together a text “close to” the original by picking readings at each point of variation according to “canons” (rules) published by a Rationalist scholar in 1796 (all of which have been shown to be wrong by subsequent investigation). See “A Primer” (ibid.) and Tors, John. “Fatal Problems with Reasoned Eclecticism Textual Criticism: Follow-up Comments on the Tors/Costa New Testament Text Debate (Part 2)” .
3. Pickering, Wilbur H. The Identity of the New Testament Text. Revised Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980, pp. 18, 209.
4. See Tors, John. “A Call for Serious Evangelical Apologetics: The Authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 As A Case Study” and Tors, John. “Examining the Claim that the Words and Expressions of John 7:53-8:11 are More Lukan than Johannine”.
5. For details, see Tors, John. “Why There is an Error In Mark 1:2 in your Bible: Another Example of the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible”.
6. Pickering, Wilbur N. The Greek New Testament According to Family 35. Lexington, KY, 2014, p. 57. According to Pickering, 1.3% read εν τω ησαια τω προφητη and 1.8% read εν ησαια τω προφητη