Textual Evidence

W.A. Strange on
the Western Text

Excerpt from: W.A. Strange, The Problem of the Text of Acts, (Oxford, 1992,2005)

Page Index

W.A. Strange: - The Western Text-Type:
    The Western Text and Acts - statement of problem
    The Western Text - its existance and unity
    The Strata - types and groups of readings
    Formation and Date - 2nd century origins
    Sample Readings - and early alternate traditions

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W.A. Strange on The
Western Text-type


Excerpt for review from: W.A. Strange,
The Problem of the Text of Acts, (Oxford, 1992)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

The Nature of the
Western Text of Acts

The Western text and Acts

The first task to be tackled in attempting to discuss the textual peculiarities of Acts is to decide what the 'Western text of Acts' is. At the time that Blass wrote, for instance, it was still possible to assume that Codex D was, to all intents and purposes, the Western text.

Discoveries of new MS material since that time, as well as a more sophisticated understanding of the processes by which the text-types emerged, have made such a view obsolete. Even at the time of Blass, it was evident that a 'Western text' existed elsewhere in the NT, and that this fact would have to be taken into account in any satisfactory description of the Western text of Acts.

The problem today in seeking to analyise the Western text of Acts is, therefore, twofold. On the one hand there is the problem of locating the Western text of Acts: if the Western text is not merely the readings of Codex D, then where is it to be found? Is there, indeed, any homogeneous entity to be recognised as 'the Western text of Acts', or have we to do rather with ill-defined collections of readings which have been misleadingly called 'Western'?

On the other hand there is the problem of relating the Western text in Acts to the Western text in the rest of the NT: is the Western text of Acts so distinctive as to deserve separate treatment? Is there, in other words, a problem of the Western text of Acts at all?

The homogeneity of the Western Text

The Western text of the NT was a subject of considerable interest in the first half of the 20th century. 1 Today it attracts less attention. This is largely because earlier in this century the Western text was thought to be a consistent textual tradition which might provide contact with a period before Alexandrian revision of the NT had taken place.

Today, the Western text is often dismissed as a 'chimera'. 2 But such dismissal may be rash. There is, certainly, little reason to suppose that the Western text was current particularly, or exclusively, in the West. 3 Nor should we suppose that Codex D is always the best guide to Western readings. Although it is the major Greek representative of the Western text, it has a manuscript history of its own, and may not always give the earliest forms of Western readings. None the less, neither papyrus discoveries nor historical considerations can entirely rule out the possibility that there is a recognisable entity which may be called -- conventionally, but misleadingly -- the 'Western text'.

The unity of the Western text is a matter frequently touched on, but seldom, if ever, fully discussed. J. H. Ropes tentatively proposed the thesis that the Western text of the NT had been produced by a conscious ecclesiastical process, perhaps by the church in Antioch as part of the preparation of a primitive canon of Christian scriptures. 4 Rope's proposal was very cautiously expressed, and was, as he was aware, far from proven. More recently, the unity of the Western text has been asserted by C.M. Martini, 5 and denied by E. Grasser. 6 But as Plumacher has pointed out, the issue has never been fully discussed with extensive reference to texts. 7

What degree of unity, then, does the Western text possess? There is certainly a group of Western witnesses with a large number of common readings, or at the least, readings with common features. These characteristic features include harmonization (in the Gospels), addition of material in places (with occasional omission also), and alteration of style. The witnesses with common readings would appear to be carried in a 'family' of witnesses.

But the Western text includes also witnesses with characteristic common features: certain types of reading which seem to have appealed to scribes. These features point, not so much to common ancestry among witnesses, as to a shared cast of mind among scribes -- a liking for harmonization, or stylistic emendation, for example.

The Strata of the Western Text(s)

It is possible ot conclude that the Western text is not merely a heterogeneous collection of readings, yet without being as specific as Ropes about the time and place of its origin. There appear to be two levels of unity in the Western text.

In the first place, there are groups of common readings, found as seams or strata in certain witnesses, which imply a common origin for the witnesses in which they are found. These seams or strata are not all from one point of origin. In this sense, it might be more appropriate to speak of Western texts, rather than of a Western text.

In the second place, there is a unity of approach among Western witnesses, shown in the similar types of reading favoured by the copyists responsible for the Western witnesses. There is in other words, a Western tendency shared by these witnesses. In this sense, it is legitimate to refer to the Western text, as long as it is understood that what is meant is a broad stream of textual tradition, and a way of handling the text, rather than a coherent recension of the text, created at a specific time.

The significance of Codex D is that it is the only Greek witness in which substantial numbers of the seams of Western material are present, and it is the major witness to the Western textual tendency. But it is not the only witness to that tendency, nor does it necessarily contain all the seams of Western material.

The Dating of the Western Streams of Tradition

The significance of Western readings cannot be decided in advance, either by dismissing them as belonging to an aberrant stream of tradition, or by endorsing them as the only reliable form of the text. The attitude to the text which produced the Western textual tradition was prevalent until at least the late 2nd century.

The growing respect paid to primitive Christian literature, and the emergence of something like the concept of a 'NT' from the time of Irenaeus, are likely to have put an end to the tendency to 'improvement', which was the essence of the Western approach. During the period in which the Western text was being created, the various strata from which the text is composed will have been drawn from various sources.

Each NT book had its own distinctive strata. A recent study of Codex D in Matthew, for example, has concluded that a major element of D's text in that book consists of the work of a 2nd century editor, who incorporated additional and alternative forms of the Matthean tradition. 8 Other books of the NT have a Western text of a different character.

In Mark, harmonisation with the other Gospels appears to have played a major part in the formation of Western readings. In Luke it has been suspected that tendentious anti-Judaic material has been incorporated. 9

Early Traditions in Western Readings

Each Western reading, and each block of readings, should be investigated on its merits. Such a reading may incorporate ancient material not originally in the text. There are several examples of this in the Gospels. One is the long section of extra material found at Matt. 20:28 in D, with support from it Syrc,hrng:

But as for you, seek to increase from that which is small, and to be less from that which is greater. And when you go into a place, having been invited to dine, do not recline in the places of honour, lest a person more honourable than you should come, and the host should approach and say to you, "Move farther down"; and you will be shamed. But if you recline in the lesser place, and someone lesser than you should come, the host will say to you, "Go farther up"; and this will be beneficial to you.

This passage has clear links with Lk. 14:8-10. From its detail though, it would not appear to be merely a borrowing from Luke, but rather an independent version of the same parable, placed here in the Western witnesses. 10 Another example is the celebrated agraphon found in D at Lk. 6:5:

On the same day, when he saw a man working on the Sabbath, he said to him, "Man, if you are aware of what you are doing, blessed are you; but if you are not aware, you are accursed and a transgressor of the Law."

This passage, too, appears to be an example of floating tradition taken up by a Western witness. It was defended as an authentic pronouncement story by J. Jeremias, 11 although it has generally been regarded as inauthentic. 12 But it is in all probability an ancient piece of material.

The Western text appears to have been drawn together in an eclectic manner. Due attention should be paid to the various strata of which the Western text has been composed. Some strata may be early, and some may preserve authentic material.

Original Footnotes:

(not included in review)

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