Which is the Best Greek Text?
If, as has been argued, the Textus Receptus, the Byzantine 'Majority Text' and the current Critical Text are all unsatisfactory (you can click the links to see why), what then should the Greek New Testament text look like?
If we look at the graph pictured below, we see the difference in our Greek texts by word length. There are three main groups of texts.
Firstly, there are the seven critical texts (Tischendorf, SBL 2010, Westcott and Hort, NA27, Von Soden, Tregelles and Alford) which are far too short. These texts are based on (a) the Prefer the Shorter Reading Canon, and (b) the so-called 'earliest and best witnesses', which are themselves marked by omissions, not only of short add/omit variation units, by also of larger amounts of text. Our critical texts almost automatically exclude short add/omit variant units, despite the fact scribes overwhelmingly omitted rather than added text. They have also adopted a very uncritical attitude to longer variation-units, omitting text often on very slender manuscript evidence (even though we know from studies into scribal habits that scribes omitted longer stretches of text for no discernable reason about one third of the time). These seven Critical texts are too short - by at least a thousand words. In the critical texts, then, we see the result of the preference for the Short Reading. However, any text that consistently favours shorter readings (contrary to transcriptional reality) cannot claim to represent the original text of the New Testament.
Secondly, there are the two versions of the Textus Receptus along with the Byzantine text at the right hand side of the graph (the 1550 Textus Receptus, and Scrivener's reconstructed Textus Receptus underlying the KJV). As the Byzantine Text shows us, the two versions of the Textus Receptus are at least 500 words too long, but the Textus Receptus (in its different forms) is simply a slightly longer and poor representative of the Byzantine text. As all three texts come from the same family, they all belong together in one group.
Thirdly, we have the in-between text, Griesbach's text, substantially longer than the other critical texts, yet quite a lot shorter than the Byzantine text.
Griesbach's text is pre-eminently a balanced text because of two principles upon which it was edited. Firstly, Griesbach's text was edited on the principle of propinquity. That is, he preferred readings with broad textual support, generally favouring readings found in more than one text-type. This provided a safeguard against errors of independent judgment, and more importantly meant that Griesbach's text avoided the fault of over-reliance upon one limited strand of the textual evidence, whether a narrow stream of early evidence or the majority of manuscripts (which are mostly later manuscripts from the one broad geographical area). Griesbach's text therefore differs from other critical texts because he did not have the same unquestioning veneration for the latest sensational textual discoveries of Alexandrian manuscripts, like Tischendorf, Westcott, Hort, Tregelles, Alford and other 19th and 20th century textual critics.
The second feature of Griesbach's text is its sensitivity to transcriptional probability. It is true that Griesbach argued (without providing any evidence) that 'the shorter reading ... is to be preferred to the more verbose, for scribes were much more prone to add than to omit'. Numerous studies have now shown this canon to be false. However, Griesbach also qualified his Shorter Reading canon by retaining short variation-units in the text. As a result, in practice he correctly retained many short add/omit variation units in the text. Griesbach's text thus avoided the extreme shortening of other critical texts because of its more nuanced transcriptional canons. Griesbach's transcriptional canons contain many ideas now shown to be wrong, however, on the issue of length Griesbach's text is far more trustworthy than other critical texts which follow the shorter text without reservation or critical discrimination.
Griesbach therefore presents us with a text that is quite different to most others, without being eccentric. On the contrary, both on internal and external grounds, Griesbach's text is pre-eminently a balanced text. While Griesbach's principles occasionally led him astray in individual decisions, yet his general outlook serves to provide a contrast with unbalanced approaches to external and internal evidence in other texts.
The right sort of 'ball-park' area for the New Testament text is between the critical texts and the Byzantine text - that is, somewhere in the region of Griesbach's text, at about 139,000 words (plus or minus a few hundred words). Is there a modern text which falls somewhere within these limits? Not yet, but maybe one day soon we will get a text that is closer to the wording of the original New Testament.