One Textual Creation/Transmission Theory

Michael A. Grisanti in "Inspiration, Inerrancy, and the OT Canon: The Place of Textual Updating in an Inerrant View of Scripture," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (December 2001):577-598 proposed a view based on Hebrew Scripture analysis intended to allow editorial updating to be part of the process of forming the autographa for those scholars who, like him, want to maintain such within "a firm and enthusiastic belief in inspiration and inerrancy." His final proposal was (I've added bracketed numbers for later reference):

Here are the basic refinements to our articulation of the concept of the autographa and canonicity proposed by this paper. [1] I would view a given biblical book before the completion of the canon as a preliminary canonical form of that biblical book. [2] Once the OT canon reaches completion, every OT book is in its final canonical form. [3] Since that form of a biblical book is susceptible to change (though on a relatively small scale), I prefer not to call the preliminary form the “autographa” in the technical sense. Rather, I would describe the final canonical form of a biblical book as the autographa. [4] Any changes introduced to a biblical book before the close of the canon are regarded as “inspired editorial updates.” [5] After the close of the OT canon, any changes introduced to the biblical text are variants from that text and are not inspired textual updates. [6] Finally, I assume that a prophetic figure (having credibility in the Israelite community) introduced these modernizations into a given biblical text.

To summarize, he believes (numbers keyed to brackets above):

  1. A preliminary form of the text given by an original author, but also editable until close of canon.
  2. Canon completion is the close time of allowed editing.
  3. Only the final form at canon close is then the "autographa."
  4. Editing up to the close of canon is considered "inspired."
  5. Editing after the close of canon is a variant.
  6. An assumption is that the editor is a prophetic (community credible) figure.

In favor of similar ideas, he lists and gives quotes from a number of scholars he deems conservative and in favor of inerrancy and inspiration but who also hold to allowing such changes as part of the process.1 A couple of requotes from those men give the idea. One from Robert Dick Wilson:

“the Pentateuch as it stands is historical and from the time of Moses; and that Moses was its real author though it may have been revised and edited by later redactors, the additions being just as much inspired and as true as the rest. [bolding mine, italics Grisanti's]”2

And one from Merrill F. Unger:

It is not inconsonant with the Mosaic authenticity and integrity of the Pentateuch to grant later redactions of the whole work and to allow that, during the course of the centuries of the transmission of the text, certain modifications were introduced into the work, such as additions after the death of Moses, modernization of archaic expressions and place names, marginal glosses or explanatory scribal insertions, which eventually crept into the text, and textual errors due to inadvertent mistakes of copyists. The latter constitutes the legitimate domain of scholarly criticism. [bolding mine]3

In Grisanti's view, he is talking about any editing "changes that occurred over the 1,000 years covered by the composition of the OT books and completion of the OT canon," which completion timing he admits is debated, but places "ca. 400 B.C."4

Certainly a number of scholars from various viewpoints consider the Hebrew Scriptures to have some evidences of editorial change. But if one postulates Grisanti's or such a similar theory is correct, especially if as some of his supporting author's noting the "whole work" can be affected, with "additions after the death" of the initial author and even scribal note incorporation, what are the NT Canon/Textual implications?

Theoretical Application of the Theory to the NT Development

Grisanti allows for over 1,000 years (at least from the initial writings) of editorial development of the autographa of the Hebrew Scriptures—from its "preliminary" to its "final" form. The key point of reference for no longer allowing change is "close" of the "canon." He considers every stage of editing during that time to still be inspired.

Further, Grisanti assumed some credible editors were involved ("prophetic" he states, but...), it remains true that for many parts of the Hebrew Scriptures it is unknown who even authored, not to mention who may have edited, the texts. While it may reasonably be assumed that some trusted Israelites worked on texts which clearly span many years' time, such as sections of Kings, Chronicles, etc., at best it can just be stated it was a group/community effort, with some points of known "prophet" involvement, usually initiating the "preliminary" stage of the work.

But the theory, if translated over to the NT, carries some serious implications. First, how to define what and when that "close" may be for the New Testament. As that Wikipedia article notes:

The major writings are claimed to have been accepted by almost all Christians by the middle of the 3rd century.


Some claim that, from the 4th century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon, and that, by the 5th century, the Eastern Church, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon. Nonetheless, full dogmatic articulations of the canon were not made until the Canon of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism, the Gallic Confession of Faith of 1559 for Calvinism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox.

There is no unanimity on the content of the canon among any of the various self-proclaimed "Christian" groups with each other, much less on timing of a "close." So both the timing and content of the NT canon becoming "final" is an issue if Grisanti's textual theory is correct.

Second, the Church (however one wants to define that) is generally considered by most any Christian group as being entrusted with the NT Scriptures. Modern textual criticism of the NT is part of trying to work out that entrusting in a practical way. So in one sense, many non-Majority Text critics (and perhaps a few Majority Text adherents as well) would argue we do not yet have a "final" form. This implies the NT Texts are possibly still in that "between" stage of being "preliminary" and "final" as an "autographa!" An odd idea, indeed. But further, that whatever "changes" occur in the development until that finalization, those changes are "inspired."

There are not any Christians (scholarly or otherwise) that I am aware of that would go so far as to hold that the NT Text is still in an inscripturation phase of becoming final via inspiration. But again, many scholars at least will hold some idea of that having happened for the Hebrew text.

Yet if one would hold such a view for the Hebrew text, then it would only be logical to at least hold that there was some "period" of "development" from a "preliminary" form to a "final" form for NT canon texts. That implies:

  1. Textual changes of the early manuscripts to some final form would be expected.
  2. A final, edited form would be the expected result.
  3. That final form as well as the in between stages were inspired.
  4. That final form should be the one considered the autographa.

The first two of these facts happen to describe what most textual critics charge against the Byzantine text-type of the NT. The texts are too edited and refined by scribes, too harmonized to each other, having changed too much from earlier manuscripts, and all this happening over about 1,000 years of time.

On the surface:

  1. This would seem to be grounds for a competing explanation of a Majority Text view (MT advocates typically do not hold to textual change occurring to bring about the autographa, nor that the final form is anything but what was initially written), and
  2. This would seem to be the logical position that textual critics who are not Majority Text, yet hold to such development of the Hebrew Scripture, should be holding (i.e. instead of seeking/arguing for "earliest" textforms, they should be seeking/arguing for the "final" textforms). Yet a large number of textual critics argue against holding to the Byzantine text over the so called "earlier" texts.


In light of the above, are there any branches of text-critical theories where the adherents hold to inspiration/inerrancy as part of their hermeneutcal core ideas that have approached from this viewpoint? I realize not all hold to those two doctrinal positions in their hermeneutics, but I'm particularly interested in any that have attempted to hold to both along with such development, similar to those scholars who do so with the Hebrew Scriptures. So two potential branches, if they exist, that I would be interested in are:

  1. Has such a competing theory as sketched here been put forth in support for the Majority Text within any scholarly context, with their supporting arguments? I.E. that the MT is in fact the culmination of inspired development of the text and the final form that is the autographa?
  2. If not the MT text itself as the culmination, have any scholars argued the NT texts developed over some period and yet still considered the additions/changes inspired and inerrant, whether ending at MT or not as the "final" form? And if so, what was their determination of "closure" between that and later variants (assuming they do not take the MT view)?


1On pages 591-593, he lists seven men: Robert Dick Wilson, E. J. Young, Merrill F. Unger, Bruce Waltke, Ronald Youngblood, Herbert Wolf, and Duane Garrett.

2 Page 591, where n.60 indicates the quote is from:

Robert Dick Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Sunday School Times, 1926) 11; emphasis mine [Grisanti's].

3 Page 592, where n.67 via an "Ibid.,"is referencing back to n.12 for the full work citation and n.66 for the page, and so becomes Merrill F. Unger, *Introductory Guide to the Old Testament* (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951), 239.

4 581, Fig. 2.

  • 1
    @DickHarfield It may fall into, "Questions about the field of textual criticism without reference to a particular text". On the other hand, although I haven't quite got my head around it yet, this one seems to be more about doctrine -- models of inspiration and inerrancy -- if so, I agree.
    – Susan
    Jan 10 '16 at 10:29
  • 1
    I'm not really sure what you want to find out from answers. "Does such a competing theory exist for the Majority Text; that the MT is in fact the culmination of inspired development of the text?" Obviously yes, you just presented it. "If not the MT text itself as the culmination, have any scholars postulated the NT texts developed over some period and yet still considered them inspired and inerrant," Yes, such as the inclusion of Mark into Matthew and Luke, and John 21 being added as a second ending to the book.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 10 '16 at 12:09
  • 1
    @ScottS I think you have broken the record for the longest question....whew! I understand what you are after, and I'm sure someone from the Chicago Committee has researched this. I don't know how to answer it short of writing a dissertation on the matter. You are correct that it is applicable and "On Topic", it's just that there are too many "moving parts" to respond to, unless you're looking for a paper to synthesize the various aspects you introduce. Maybe David knows????
    – Tau
    Jan 14 '16 at 2:27
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it concerns a specifically Christian and doctrinally-related understanding of inerrancy and inspiration, and thus belongs on Christianity.SE.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 16 '16 at 11:36
  • 1
    My defense against closing this question can be found here. However, if it deems to be closed, I do not wish for it to move to C.SE, but simply remain closed here on BH.SE.
    – ScottS
    Jan 16 '16 at 16:03