Editor's Note: This article is a rebuttal of that portion of William L. Petersen's review of Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts that deals with the chapter by K. D. Clarke and K. Bales; the review was published in TC 7. Petersen offers a response in TC 8.
1. In TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 7 (2002), William L. Petersen reviews D. G. K. Taylor, ed., Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts (Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 1999), which comprises a collection of eleven papers given at the First Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament.1 While Petersen's review of the volume is generally positive, I would like to offer a more specific rebuttal to criticisms he directs at the article jointly written by Kevin Bales and me, entitled "The Construction of Biblical Certainty: Textual Optimism and the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament."2
2. In paragraph eight of his review, Petersen correctly summarizes the foundational proposal made in our Birmingham Colloquium essay: "The Construction of Biblical Certainty" is a brief examination outlining the use of the A, B, C, and D variant letter-ratings employed across all editions of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament, with special attention paid to the differences that exist between the 3rd corrected edition (1983) and the most recent 4th edition (1993). However, in the following paragraph he draws attention to what he calls an "obvious flaw that makes the (seemingly) impressive tables of numbers assembled . . . pointless." Peterson takes pains to further explain:
They [Clarke and Bales] failed to ascertain whether the definitions used in GNT3 to assign the A, B, C, and D rankings are identical with those in GNT4. If they were the same, then a comparison could, conceivably, be made. But if they were different--as they are--then any comparison is meaningless. It is astonishing that such a simple, obvious, elementary check was, apparently, not undertaken, especially when it is absolutely critical to the edifice Clarke and Bales wish to erect upon it. . . . This carelessness on the part of Clarke and Bales means that their results are useless [par. 9].
3. One can only infer from Petersen's comments that he failed to read the entirety of our article; in it, Bales and I provide in unambiguous detail the very information Petersen accuses us of carelessly omitting:
On page v of the preface to the UBS4, the following statement is made: 'The Committee also redefined the various levels in the evaluation of evidence on the basis of their relative degrees of certainty. Thus the evaluation of all the 1437 sets of variants cited in the apparatus have been completely reconsidered." A closer look at these newly fashioned demarcations reveals the extent of variation that occurs between the first four UBS editions and the UBS4. The definitions for the A, B, C, and D letter-ratings are identical in UBS1 to UBS3corr.. The letter A signifies that the text is virtually certain; the letter B indicates that there is some degree of doubt; the letter C means that there is a considerable degree of doubt whether the text or the apparatus contains the superior reading; and the letter D shows that there is a very high degree of doubt concerning the reading selected for the text. Turning to the UBS4, we have already seen that the letter A indicates that the text is certain; the letter B indicates that the text is almost certain; the letter C, however, indicates that the committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text; and the letter D, which occurs only rarely, indicates that the committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision. The original ratings, defined on the basis of their "relative degrees of certainty," have been redefined on the basis of their "degree of doubt."3
4. Petersen is thus in error when he accuses us by stating, "It is astonishing that such a simple, obvious, elementary check was, apparently, not undertaken, especially when it is absolutely critical to the edifice Clarke and Bales wish to erect upon it." Following the detailed statement pertaining to the United Bible Societies' redefinition of the A, B, C, and D variant letter-ratings, Bales and I conclude even further that despite the vague terminology used by the UBS editorial committee, it should likely be conceded that the various levels in the evaluation of evidence have actually been redefined one step higher. Thus A ratings have increased in their level of confidence from "almost (virtually) certain" to "certain," while B ratings have increased from a less confident "some degree of doubt" to a more confident "almost certain," etc. It should, then, be harder for variants to maintain their letter-rating as prescribed in the earlier UBS editions, but not only do many of these variants maintain their old letter-rating, a very large number of them actually move upward to a new letter grade. Nor is this process consistent. There is an increase in the number of A and B rated passages, but also a decrease in the number of C and D rated passages.4
5. Petersen's errant criticisms are thus nullified within the very article he attempts to review.5 While our work constitutes only one of the eleven essays contained in the Birmingham Colloquium volume, it is our opinion that the nature of Petersen's comments calls for the specific rebuttal we have offered.
© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2003.
1For complete bibliography, see William L. Petersen, Review of D. G. K. Taylor, ed., Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts, in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism [http://purl.org/TC] 7 (2002).
2K. D. Clarke and K. Bales, 'The Construction of Biblical Certainty: Textual Optimism and the United Bible Society's Greek New Testament," in D. G. K. Taylor, ed., Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts , Texts and Studies, 3rd Series, 1 (Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 1999), 86-93. This essay serves as a brief summary of K. D. Clarke, Textual Optimism: An Analysis of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament and Its Evaluation of Evidence Letter-Ratings, JSNTSup (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997). For more recent research which builds upon and further extends the work found in this monograph, see K. D. Clarke, "Textual Certainty in the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament," NovT 44 (2002): 105-133.
3Clarke and Bales, 'The Construction of Biblical Certainty," 91-92. In addition to this explicit explanation outlining the redefinition of the actual A, B, C, and D letter-ratings, two additional footnotes are given citing the source of this information, including pages x-xi of the UBS1 and UBS2; pages xii-xiii of the UBS3 and UBS3corr.; and page 3* of the UBS4--this last reference to the UBS4 letter-rating definitions also being referred to by Petersen himself.
4Clarke and Bales, 'The Construction of Biblical Certainty," 92. These considerations are explained in even greater detail in Clarke, Textual Optimism, 124-128, and Clarke, 'Textual Certainty," 105-133.
5For more conscientious reviews of our work on the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament--both affirming as well as critical, see P. Ellingworth in NovT 40 (1998): 382-384; J. N. Rhodes in CBQ 60 (1998): 759-760; D. A. Black in Filologia Neotestamentaria 10 (1997): 157-158; M. C. Parsons in The Bible Translator, 50 (1999): 346-350; J. K. Elliott in ExpTim 108 (1997): 341-342; and idem in JTS 49 (1998): 293-297.