Despite the many manuscript discoveries in the last hundred years, and the abandonment of some of the key parts of Westcott and Hort's theory, the modern Critical text remains remarkably similar to Westcott and Hort's text, with a few minor modifications here and there. Michael Holmes argues that there are even less differences between the W-H text and UBS3-4 than the 558 differences between W-H and NA25 (Westcott and Hort at 125, a paper presented at SBL 2006).
Thus, to demonstrate how the Modern Critical Text is really just a throwback to the text of Westcott and Hort, we may look at the evidence produced by Dennis Kenaga in his excellent essay, Skeptical Trends in New Testament Textual Criticism (for the original essay in full, see here).
Kenega took for illustrative purposes the UBS text in 1 Corinthians and examined how the editors arrived at their resultant text. The editors of the UBS text firstly sidelined the vast majority of witnesses, the Byzantine text (just as Westcott and Hort did), leaving themselves with five main witnesses in 1 Corinthians: P66, Sinaiticus (01), Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B) and Claromontanus (D). Then, out of the 1009 words where there was some variation (above and beyond spelling differences) between these five important witnesses, the UBS committee first eliminated readings peculiar to one of these witnesses. These cases amounted to 65% of the variants. In about 85% of these cases, the editors followed Vaticanus, and when Vaticanus was itself singular, they followed Sinaiticus. After this, the committee was left with 353 'big' decisions to be made.
Here is Kenaga's evaluation of the result of looking through all the 1009 readings: 'The one result that was perfectly clear from the examination of the 1009 words was that the Alexandrian uncials (01, A and B) won a landslide victory: 1006 words matched Alexandrian [manuscripts] (99.7%) and 3 words did not; 891 matched Vaticanus; 110 of the remaining matched Sinaiticus' (p16).
And what of P46? Kenaga says, 'in 303 of the 1009 words (30%), P46, a papyrus about 100 years older than the Category I uncials [i.e. o1, A and B], was different from the [UBS text] ... They rejected it consistently, even though it is older. They reject the oldest witness, P46, which is also the largest papyrus, because with only one vote, it could not outvote three Alexandrian uncials, and the internal rules were never invoked on behalf of the older P46 to override the mechanical vote' (p17).
To use Kenaga's analogy from democratic elections, it becomes clear that, despite all the lists of manuscripts supporting various readings in the Textual Commentary accompanying the UBS text, very few of these manuscripts have actual voting rights, but (even more surprisingly), even less manuscripts are actually contenders for office. Thus, not even P46 is a candidate for office, but only a voter whose support lends extra weight to the reading of other candidates like Vaticanus or Sinaiticus.
Kenaga quotes Aland's Rule number 6 ('There is no single manuscript or group of manuscripts that can be followed mechanically ... decisions in textual criticism must be worked out afresh, passage by passage') and then continues: 'It is hard to be delicate about how central this issue is or the extent to which the statement is untrue. Ninety percent of the 1 Corinthians text comes from Vaticanus, and 99.7% comes from three Alexandrian manuscripts, out of a pool of hundreds ... The fact is that [the UBS text] does follow a small group of manuscripts rigidly, and primarily Vaticanus. After the A-list vote [i.e. 01, A and B] finishes its work, there is a little room for the internal rules to refine the variant selection'.
The significance of these statistics can be spelled out another way. The Textual Commentary accompanying the Greek New Testament, written by Metzger, is full of comments about internal evidence. 'Every page of TCGNT gives internal evidence and lists of witnesses, as if those were the relevant factors. The reader will not know that the Byzantine or papyri variants backed by witness lists were not real candidates because they were categorically disqualified, or the vote or rank was stacked against them before the voting started' (Kenaga, p17).
The reality is this: 'Textual criticism is a vast, complex and daunting labyrinth with thousands of books, scholarly studies and vocabulary. Yet to sort it out, [UBS text] believers can simplify it to a two-clause creed: Vaticanus is by far the best manuscript to recover the original, and Sinaiticus is its distant and main backup. Every other thought about the subject is supporting or secondary' (Kenaga, p18).
Or we may quote Metzger himself: 'The possibility must be left open that occasionally the text of B represents a secondary development' (Textual Commentary, p295).
The Use of Internal Evidence in the Modern Critical Text
Kenaga next turns his attention to the internal evidence used to support textual decisions in the UBS text:
'Where the Byzantine manuscripts have a word the Alexandrians lack, the Byzantine scribes are charged by the [UBS] Committee with “inserting it” (Matt. 1:25) or “making a scribal assimilation to the LXX” (Matt. 2:18) or “softening the rigor of the precept” (Matt. 5:22) or making “an obvious expansion designed to heighten the impressiveness of the saying” (Matt. 6:4) or “supporting the perpetual virginity of Mary” (Acts 1:14) or “obviously a secondary development, probably connected with the beginning of an ecclesiastical lection” (Acts 3:11) or “deriving it from a list of vices” (1 Cor. 3:3). But conversely, when the Alexandrian manuscripts have a word that the Byzantine lack, the Byzantine scribes are charged with “homoeoteleuton” (1 John 2:23) or “deliberate editorial pruning of an awkward parenthetical clause” (1 John 2:23) or “omitting because the idea was theologically unacceptable” (1 Pet. 2:2) or “deliberate excision ... palaeographical oversight” (1 Cor. 7:34) or a “transcriptional blunder” (Luke 9:59). Mercy! Sometimes a poor Byzantine just can’t win, no matter whether he is shorter or longer. [UBS committee] imagination has discovered an incredible variety of corruptions the Byzantine scribes committed, and even their motives. For example, when the Byzantine scribes have “God” instead of the Alexandrian “Lord” (Acts 15:40), they are guilty of “scribal assimilation.” A little later, when the Byzantine scribes have “Lord” instead of the Alexandrian “God” (Acts 16:32), they are guilty of “scribal refinement.” Is it the Byzantine scribes or modern experts who are guilty of refinement?' (pp26-7).
Kenega gives more examples of the double-standards, and again, it is worth quoting in full: 'In individual passages the experts seem to have trenchant-sounding reasons. But in looking at the whole picture, a systematic subjectivity emerges. In Acts 20:32 the Byzantine includes “brethren” where the Alexandrian excludes it. In 1 Corinthians 15:31 the Alexandrian includes “brethren” where Byzantine excludes it. The internal evidence (lectio brevior) favors the Byzantine but the Committee chooses the Alexandrian because of the “strong external support for inclusion.” Why is the external evidence for the Alexandrian reading called strong when the oldest manuscript, P45, has the Byzantine reading? In Luke 10:21 NU chooses the Alexandrian “Holy Spirit” over the Byzantine “Spirit” without the word “Holy.” In Acts 8:18 NU chooses the Alexandrian “Spirit” without the adjective “Holy,” over the Byzantine “Holy Spirit,” in spite of the fact that the earlier papyri support the Byzantine. The alleged reason is that, in the Committee view, “the addition of τὸ ἅγιον was as natural for Christian scribes to make as its deletion would be inexplicable.” One time the Committee thinks the unreliable Byzantine scribes omitted it and the other time the Committee thinks it would be inexplicable for the trustworthy Alexandrian scribes to omit it. Who can argue with enthusiasm and confidence in the home team?' (p27).
G. K. Chesterton once wrote that 'behind every double-standard lies a single hidden agenda'. The reality of Reasoned Eclecticism is that behind all the appearance of carefully weighed evidence about internal arguments, the textual decisions have very little to do with anything other than a slavish desire to follow the readings of a small group of Alexandrian uncials headed by Vaticanus.
Royse's Scribal Leaps
James Royse commented upon a similar pattern of behaviour in his article, 'The Treatment of Scribal Leaps in Metzger's Textual Commentary' (New Testament Studies, vol. 29, pp539-551). Here, Royse examined the treatment in the UBS commentary of a number of cases of scribal leaps (cases of homoioteleuton and homoioarcton, that is where scribes jumped from one word to another, omitting material in between, due to similar endings on these words or similar letters at the start).
Firstly, Royse looked at cases where the editors adopt the longer reading, and explain the shorter reading (i.e. omission) as a result of a scribal leap, but do not attach a high rating to the longer text because the manuscripts which omit are Alexandrian (John 5:44, Matthew 12:47, Ephesians 5:19 and Mark 10:7).
Royse comments as follows: 'The rationale presented by Metzger for the rating at Matt. 12:47 shows clearly that the editors are reluctant to admit that (01, B) and a few friends (or a common ancestor) simply blundered at this text. As a consequence, the editors are unwilling to overrule with any confidence their usual preference for the shorter reading. Such unwillingness is especially puzzling when Metzger says that the omitted word at John 5:44 'seems to be required in the context', that Matt. 12:47 'seems to be necessary for the sense of the following verses', and that the omitted clause at Mark 10:7 'seems to be necessary for the sense'. Such omissions should surely be condemned as unproblematic scribal errors' (p540).
Secondly, Royse looks at cases where the shorter reading could have been occasioned by a scribal leap, but the editors prefer the shorter reading anyway, all the while admitting the possible cause for the error (Matt. 1:11, 10:23, Luke 23:17, Acts 22:9, Eph. 5:30, Phil. 3:12, 1 Thess. 5:27 and Rev. 2:13). Royse then goes on to list some other cases (Mark 11:26, Rom. 9:28 and 1 Pet. 4:14) where the editors adopted the shorter reading and have rated the omission with an A. He comments, 'In all three cases the weight of (01, B) and a few other witnesses has caused the editors consciously to reject the likelihood of an omission by a leap, and to accord virtual certainty to the shorter text' (p540).
Royse shows remarkable restraint by not punctuating this last sentence with an exclamation mark.
Thirdly, Royse points out other cases where the editors prefer the shorter reading, in part because they can find no reason for omission (despite the obvious scribal leap): Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Matt. 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Matt. 18:35, Mark 12:40. In most of these cases, as Royse notes, the longer reading could have arisen as a result of harmonization, but Royse's point is that Metzger says things like 'there is no reason why it should have been deleted in such important witnesses as B D 700 al'.
Fourthly, Royse gives a few examples of places where a scribal leap possibly explains a variant but the textual commentary does not mention it (Matt. 27:24, Acts 23:28, 27:41, Rom. 8:21, 1 Pet. 1:22 and Jude 25). In all but the last case, the shorter reading is found in Codex B and a few friends.
Royse concludes this first half of his article with these words: '[The UBS editors] thus end up preferring the shorter reading not only in general (or other things being equal), but also even when the shorter reading can readily be explained by a parablepsis. Indeed, they regard some such readings as virtually certain (e.g. Mark 11:26, Rom. 9:28, and 1 Pet. 4:14, cited above), thus dismissing omission by a leap as a serious possibility at all. The editors thus approach, it seems, the position that the shorter reading is to be preferred no matter what. Such a principle would, of course, be unacceptable to the editors and to anyone else. But their practice in some cases (and I have not listed them all) suggest that their working hypothesis often amounts to the same thing' (p544).
Royse comes away from this study with a genuinely puzzled tone: why is it that the editors have failed to notice so many obvious cases of scribal leaps?
The answer is simple: virtually all of these cases of scribal blunders are found in Codex Vaticanus, which the UBS editors consider to be well-nigh infallible.
Thus, the UBS text follows precisely the same approach as Westcott and Hort, which is to follow very closely the text of Vaticanus and a few friends. As Colwell said:
Westcott and Hort wrote with two things constantly in mind: the Textus Receptus and the codex Vaticanus. But they did not hold them in mind with that passive objectivity which romanticists ascribe to the scientific mind. . . . The sound analogy is that of a theologian who writes on many doctrines but never forgets Total Depravity and the Unconditional Election of the Saints. As in theology, so in Hort's theory, the majority of individuals walk through the broad gate and are lost souls; only a few are the elect. Westcott and Hort preferred the text supported by a minority, by codex Vaticanus and a few friends; they rejected the readings supported by the majority of witnesses.
Here is the conclusion: the internal arguments marshalled in the UBS commentary are a sideshow, a smokescreen intended to distract the reader from the real process which determines the text: what the main Alexandrian uncials read. (For a more cynical and comprehensive explanation of how internal evidence can be manipulated to produce whatever result an editor wishes, see the essay, New Testament Textual Criticism - Science, Art or Religion?)
To be perfectly blunt and impolite, the whole process is rigged. In the modern Critical Text, the internal evidence is only ever marshalled to point in one direction. Whatever the evidence throws up, the result is always the same: the reading of the Alexandrian uncials is original. Byzantine Priority supporters will, no doubt, have enjoyed seeing the way the evidence is being manipulated, but even those who are not Byzantine Priority supporters should be shocked to see the way that the early papyri are treated with nearly as much cavalier disdain in order to support the reading of a small club of Alexandrian uncials. As Kenaga shows, the claim that the Modern Critical text is based on the superior age of our newly-discovered (papyri) witnesses is clearly not true. It is neither based on age, nor on consistently applied transcriptional canons, but on one manuscript, Codex Vaticanus, and whatever support (external and internal) this manuscript can manage to scrape together.