WE hear sometimes scholars complain, and with a certain show of reason, that it is discreditable to us as a Church not to have long since put forth by authority a revised Greek Text of the New Testament. The chief writers of antiquity, say they, have been of late years re-edited by the aid of the best Manuscripts. Why should not the Scriptures enjoy the same advantage? Men who so speak evidently misunderstand the question. They assume that the case of the Scriptures and that of other ancient writings are similar.
Such remonstrances are commonly followed up by statements like the following: -- That the received Text is that of Erasmus: -- that it was constructed in haste, and without skill: -- that it is based on a very few, and those bad Manuscripts: -- that it belongs to an age when scarcely any of our present critical helps were available, and when the Science of Textual Criticism was unknown. To listen to these advocates for Revision, you would almost suppose that it fared with the Gospel at this instant as it had fared with the original Copy of the Law for many years until the days of King Josiah .
Yielding to no one in my desire to see the Greek of the New Testament judiciously revised, I freely avow that recent events have convinced me, and I suppose they have convinced the public also, that we have not among us the men to conduct such an undertaking. Better a thousand times in my judgement to leave things as they are, than to risk having the stamp of authority set upon such an unfortunate production as that which appeared on the 17th May, 1881, and which claims at this instant to represent the combined learning of the Church, the chief Sects, and the Socinian body.
Now if the meaning of those who desire to see the commonly received text of the New Testament made absolutely faultless, were something of this kind: -- That they are impatient for the collation of the copies which have become known to us within the last two centuries, and which amount already in all to upwards of three thousand: that they are bent on procuring that the ancient Versions shall be re-edited; -- and would hail with delight the announcement that a band of scholars had combined to index every place of Scripture quoted by any of the Fathers: -- if this were meant, we should all be entirely at one; especially if we could further gather from the programme that a fixed intention was cherished of abiding by the result of such an appeal to ancient evidence. But unfortunately something entirely different is in contemplation.
Now I am bent on calling attention to certain features of the problem which have very generally escaped attention. It does not seem to be understood that the Scriptures of the New Testament stand on an entirely different footing from every other ancient writing which can be named. A few plain remarks ought to bring this fact, for a fact it is, home to every thoughtful person. And the result will be that men will approach the subject with more caution, -- with doubts and misgivings, -- with a fixed determination to be on their guard against any form of plausible influence. Their prejudices they will scatter to the winds. At every step they will insist on proof.
In the first place, then, let it be observed that the New Testament Scriptures are wholly without a parallel in respect of their having been so frequently multiplied from the very first. They are by consequence contained at this day in an extravagantly large number of copies [probably, if reckoned under the six classes of Gospels, Acts and Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles, Apocalypse, Evangelistaries, and Apostolos, exceeding the number of four thousand]. There is nothing like this, or at all approaching to it, in the case of any profane writing that can be named .
And the very necessity for multiplying copies, -- a necessity which has made itself felt in every age and in every clime, -- has perforce resulted in an immense number of variants. Words have been inevitably dropped, -- vowels have been inadvertently confounded by copyists more or less competent: -- and the meaning of Scripture in countless places has suffered to a surprising degree in consequence. This first.
But then further, the Scriptures for the very reason because they were known to be the Word of God became a mark for the shafts of Satan from the beginning. They were by consequence as eagerly solicited by heretical teachers on the one hand, as they were hotly defended by the orthodox on the other. Alike from friends and from foes therefore, they are known to have experienced injury, and that in the earliest age of all. Nothing of the kind can be predicated of any other ancient writings. This consideration alone should suggest a severe exercise of judicial impartiality, in the handling of ancient evidence of whatever sort.
For I request it may be observed that I have not said -- and I certainly do not mean -- that the Scriptures themselves have been permanently corrupted either by friend or foe. Error was fitful and uncertain, and was contradicted by other error: besides that it sank eventually before a manifold witness to the truth. Nevertheless, certain manuscripts belonging to a few small groups -- particular copies of a Version -- individual Fathers or Doctors of the Church, -- these do, to the present hour, bear traces incontestably of ancient mischief.
But what goes before is not nearly all. The fourfold structure of the Gospel has lent itself to a certain kind of licentious handling -- of which in other ancient writings we have no experience. One critical owner of a Codex considered himself at liberty to assimilate the narratives: another to correct them in order to bring them into (what seemed to himself) greater harmony. Brevity is found to have been a paramount object with some, and Transposition to have amounted to a passion with others. Conjectural Criticism was evidently practised largely: and almost with as little felicity as when Bentley held the pen. Lastly, there can be no question that there was a certain school of Critics who considered themselves competent to improve the style of the Holy Ghost throughout. [And before the members of the Church had gained a familiar acquaintance with the words of the New Testament, blunders continually crept into the text of more or less heinous importance.] All this, which was chiefly done during the second and third centuries, introduces an element of difficulty in the handling of ancient evidence which can never be safely neglected: and will make a thoughtful man suspicious of every various reading which comes in his way, especially if it is attended with but slender attestation. [It has been already shewn in the companion volume] that the names of the Codexes chiefly vitiated in this sort prove to be B'CDL; of the Versions, -- the two Coptic, the Curetonian, and certain specimens of the Old Latin; of the Fathers, -- Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and to some extent Eusebius.
Add to all that goes before the peculiar subject-matter of the New Testament Scriptures, and it will become abundantly plain why they should have been liable to a series of assaults which make it reasonable that they should now at last be approached by ourselves as no other ancient writings are, or can be. The nature of God, -- His Being and Attributes: -- the history of Man's Redemption: -- the soul's eternal destiny: -- the mysteries of the unseen world: -- concerning these and every other similar high doctrinal subject, the sacred writings alone speak with a voice of absolute authority. And surely by this time enough has been said to explain why these Scriptures should have been made a battle-field during some centuries, and especially in the fourth; and having thus been made the subject of strenuous contention, that copies of them should exhibit to this hour traces of those many adverse influences. I say it for the last time, -- of all such causes of depravation the Greek Poets, Tragedians, Philosophers, Historians, neither knew nor could know anything. And it thus plainly appears that the Textual Criticism of the New Testament is to be handled by ourselves in an entirely different spirit from that of any other book.
I wish now to investigate the causes of the corruption of the Text of the New Testament. I do not entitle the present a discussion of Various Readings,' because I consider that expression to be incorrect and misleading . Freely allowing that the term variae lectiones,' for lack of a better, may be allowed to stand on the Critic's page, I yet think it necessary even a second time to call attention to the impropriety which attends its use. Thus Codex B differs from the commonly received Text of Scripture in the Gospels alone in 7578 places; of which no less than 2877 are instances of omission. In fact omissions constitute by far the larger number of what are commonly called Various Readings.' How then can those be called various readings' which are really not readings at all? How, for example, can that be said to be a various reading' of St. Mark xvi.9-20, which consists in the circumstance that the last 12 verses are left out by two MSS.? Again, -- How can it be called a various reading' of St. John xxi.25, to bring the Gospel abruptly to a close, as Tischendorf does, at v.24? These are really nothing else but indications either of a mutilated or else an interpolated text. And the question to be resolved is, -- On which side does the corruption lie? and, How did it originate?
Waiving this however, the term is objectionable on other grounds. It is to beg the whole question to assume that every irregularity in the text of Scripture is a various reading.' The very expression carries with it an assertion of importance; at least it implies a claim to consideration. Even might it be thought that, because it is termed a various reading,' therefore a critic is entitled to call in question the commonly received text. Whereas, nine divergences out of ten are of no manner of significance and are entitled to no manner of consideration, as every one must see at a glance who will attend to the matter ever so little. Various readings' in fact is a term which belongs of right to the criticism of the text of profane authors: and, like many other notions which have been imported from the same region into this department of inquiry, it only tends to confuse and perplex the judgement.
No variety in the Text of Scripture can properly be called a various reading,' of which it may be safely declared that it never has been, and never will be, read. In the case of profane authors, where the MSS. are for the most part exceedingly few, almost every plausible substitution of one word for another, if really entitled to alteration, is looked upon as a various reading of the text. But in the Gospels, of which the copies are so numerous as has been said, the case is far otherwise. We are there able to convince ourselves in a moment that the supposed various reading' is nothing else but an instance of licentiousness or inattention on the part of a previous scribe or scribes, and we can afford to neglect it accordingly . It follows therefore, -- and this is the point to which I desire to bring the reader and to urge upon his consideration, -- that the number of various readings' in the New Testament properly so called has been greatly exaggerated. They are, in reality, exceedingly few in number; and it is to be expected that, as sound (sacred) Criticism advances, and principles are established, and conclusions recognized, instead of becoming multiplied they will become fewer and fewer, and at last will entirely disappear. We cannot afford to go on disputing for ever; and what is declared by common consent to be untenable ought to be no longer reckoned. That only in short, as I venture to think, deserves the name of a Various Reading which comes to us so respectably recommended as to be entitled to our sincere consideration and respect; or, better still, which is of such a kind as to inspire some degree of reasonable suspicion that after all it may prove to be the true way of exhibiting the text.
The inquiry therefore on which we are about to engage, grows naturally out of the considerations which have been already offered. We propose to ascertain, as far as is practicable at the end of so many hundred years, in what way these many strange corruptions of the text have arisen. Very often we shall only have to inquire how it has come to pass that the text exhibits signs of perturbation at a certain place. Such disquisitions as those which follow, let it never be forgotten, have no place in reviewing any other text than that of the New Testament, because a few plain principles would suffice to solve every difficulty. The less usual word mistaken for the word of mare frequent occurrence; -- clerical carelessness; -- a gloss finding its way from the margin into the text; -- such explanations as these would probably in other cases suffice to account for every ascertained corruption of the text. But it is far otherwise here, as I propose to make fully apparent by and by. Various disturbing influences have been at work for a great many years, of which secular productions know absolutely nothing, nor indeed can know.
The importance of such an inquiry will become apparent as we proceed; but it may be convenient that I should call attention to the matter briefly at the outset. It frequently happens that the one remaining plea of many critics for adopting readings of a certain kind, is the inexplicable nature of the phenomena which these readings exhibit. How will you possibly account for such a reading as the present,' (say they,) if it be not authentic?' Or they say nothing, but leave it to be inferred that the reading they adopt, -- in spite of its intrinsic improbability, in spite also of the slender amount of evidence on which it rests, -- must needs be accepted as true. They lose sight of the correlative difficulty: -- How comes it to pass that the rest of the copies read the place otherwise? On all such occasions it is impossible to overestimate the importance of detecting the particular cause which has brought about, or which at least will fully account for, this depravation. When this has been done, it is hardly too much to say that a case presents itself like as when a pasteboard mask has been torn away, and the ghost is discovered with a broad grin on his face behind it.
The discussion on which I now enter is then on the Causes of the various Corruptions of the Text. [The reader shall be shewn with illustrations to what particular source they are to be severally ascribed. When representative passages have been thus labelled, and the causes are seen in operation, he will be able to pierce the mystery, and all the better to winnow the evil from among the good.]
When I take into my hands an ancient copy of the Gospels, I expect that it will exhibit sundry inaccuracies and imperfections: and I am never disappointed in my expectation. The discovery however creates no uneasiness, so long as the phenomena evolved are of a certain kind and range within easily definable limits. Thus: --
1. Whatever belongs to peculiarities of spelling or fashions of writing, I can afford to disregard. For example, it is clearly consistent with perfect good faith, that a scribe should spell krabatton in several different ways: that he should write houto for houtos, or the contrary: that he should add or omit what grammarians call the n ephelkustikon. The questions really touched by irregularities such as these concern the date and country where the MS. was produced; not by any means the honesty or animus of the copyist. The man fell into the method which was natural to him, or which he found prevailing around him; and that was all. Itacisms' therefore, as they are called, of whatever kind, -- by which is meant the interchange of such vowels and diphthongs as i-ei, ai-e, e-i, e-oi-u, o-o, e-ei, -- need excite no uneasiness. It is true that these variations may occasionally result in very considerable inconvenience: for it will sometimes happen that a different reading is the consequence. But the copyist may have done his work in perfect good faith for all that. It is not he who is responsible for the perplexity he occasions me, but the language and the imperfect customs amidst which he wrote.
2. In like manner the reduplication of syllables, words, clauses, sentences, is consistent with entire sincerity of purpose on the part of the copyist. This inaccuracy is often to be deplored; inasmuch as a reduplicated syllable often really affects the sense. But for the most part nothing worse ensues than that the page is disfigured with errata.
3. So, on the other hand, -- the occasional omission of words, whether few or many, -- especially that passing from one line to the corresponding place in a subsequent line, which generally results from the proximity of a similar ending, -- is a purely venial offence. It is an evidence of carelessness, but it proves nothing worse.
4. Then further, -- slight inversions, especially of ordinary words; or the adoption of some more obvious and familiar collocation of particles in a sentence; or again, the occasional substitution of one common word for another, as eipe for elege, phonesan for kraxan, and the like; -- need not provoke resentment. It is an indication, we are willing to hope, of nothing worse than slovenliness on the part of the writer or the group or succession of writers.
5. I will add that besides the substitution of one word for another, cases frequently occur, where even the introduction into the text of one or more words which cannot be thought to have stood in the original autograph of the Evangelist, need create no offence. It is often possible to account for their presence in a strictly legitimate way.
But it is high time to point out, that irregularities which fall under these last heads are only tolerable within narrow limits, and always require careful watching; for they may easily become excessive or even betray an animus; and in either case they pass at once into quite a different category. From cases of excusable oscitancy they degenerate, either into instances of inexcusable licentiousness, or else into cases of downright fraud.
6. Thus, if it be observed in the case of a Codex (a) that entire sentences or significant clauses are habitually omitted: -- (b) that again and again in the course of the same page the phraseology of the Evangelist has upon clear evidence been seriously tampered with: and (c) that interpolations here and there occur which will not admit of loyal interpretation: -- we cannot but learn to regard with habitual distrust the Codex in which all these notes are found combined. It is as when a witness, whom we suspected of nothing worse than a bad memory or a random tongue or a lively imagination, has been at last convicted of deliberate suppression of parts of his evidence, misrepresentation of facts, -- in fact, deliberate falsehood.
7. But now suppose the case of a MS. in which words or clauses are clearly omitted with design; where expressions are withheld which are confessedly harsh or critically difficult, -- whole sentences or parts of them which have a known controversial bearing; -- Suppose further that the same MS. abounds in worthless paraphrase, and contains apocryphal additions throughout: -- What are we to think of our guide then? There can be but one opinion on the subject. From habitually trusting, we shall entertain inveterate distrust. We have ascertained his character. We thought he was a faithful witness, but we now find from experience of his transgressions that we have fallen into bad company. His witness may be false no less than true: confidence is at an end.
It may be regarded as certain that most of the aberrations discoverable in Codexes of the Sacred Text have arisen in the first instance from the merest inadvertency of the scribes. That such was the case in a vast number of cases is in fact demonstrable. [Inaccuracy in the apprehension of the Divine Word, which in the earliest ages was imperfectly understood, and ignorance of Greek in primitive Latin translators, were prolific sources of error. The influence of Lectionaries, in which Holy Scripture was cut up into separate Lections either with or without an introduction, remained with habitual hearers, and led them off in copying to paths which had become familiar. Acquaintance with Harmonies' or Diatessarons caused copyists insensibly to assimilate one Gospel to another. And doctrinal predilections, as in the case of those who belonged to the Origenistic school, were the source of lapsing into expressions which were not the verba ipsissima of Holy Writ. In such cases, when the inadvertency was genuine and was unmingled with any overt design, it is much to be noted that the error seldom propagated itself extensively.]
But next, well-meant endeavours must have been made at a very early period to rectify' (diorthoun) the text thus unintentionally corrupted; and so, what began in inadvertence is sometimes found in the end to exhibit traces of design, and often becomes in a high degree perplexing. Thus, to cite a favourite example, it is clear to me that in the earliest age of all (A.D.100?) some copyist of St. Luke ii.14 (call him X) inadvertently omitted the second EN in the Angelic Hymn. Now if the persons (call them Y and Z) whose business it became in turn to reproduce the early copy thus inadvertently depraved, had but been content both of them to transcribe exactly what they saw before them, the error of their immediate predecessor (X) must infallibly have speedily been detected, remedied, and forgotten, -- simply because, as every one must have seen as well as Y and Z, it was impossible to translate the sentence which results, -- epi ges eirene anthropois eudokia. Reference would have been made to any other copy of the third Gospel, and together with the omitted preposition (en) sense would have been restored to the passage. But unhappily one of the two supposed Copyists being a learned grammarian who had no other copy at hand to refer to, undertook, good man that he was, proprio Marte to force a meaning into the manifestly corrupted text of the copy before him: and he did it by affixing to eudokia the sign of the genitive case (s). Unhappy effort of misplaced skill! That copy [or those copies] became the immediate progenitor [or progenitors] of a large family, -- from which all the Latin copies are descended; whereby it comes to pass that Latin Christendom sings the Hymn Gloria in excelsis' incorrectly to the present hour, and may possibly sing it incorrectly to the end of time. The error committed by that same venerable Copyist survives in the four oldest copies of the passage extant, B* and '*, A and D, -- though happily in no others, -- in the Old Latin, Vulgate, and Gothic, alone of Versions; in Irenaeus and Origen (who contradict themselves), and in the Latin Fathers. All the Greek authorities, with the few exceptions just recorded, of which A and D are the only consistent witnesses, unite in condemning the evident blunder .
I once hoped that it might be possible to refer all the Corruptions of the Text of Scripture to ordinary causes: as, careless transcription, -- divers accidents, -- misplaced critical assiduity, -- doctrinal animus, -- small acts of unpardonable licence.
But increased attention and enlarged acquaintance with the subject, have convinced me that by far the larger number of the omissions of such. Codexes as 'BLD must needs be due to quite a different cause. These MSS. omit so many words, phrases, sentences, verses of Scripture, -- that it is altogether incredible that the proximity of like endings can have much to do with the matter. Inadvertency may be made to bear the blame of some omissions: it cannot bear the blame of shrewd and significant omissions of clauses, which invariably leave the sense complete. A systematic and perpetual mutilation of the inspired Text must needs be the result of design, not of accident .
[It will be seen therefore that the causes of the Corruptions of the Text class themselves under two main heads, viz. (I.) Those which arose from Inadvertency, and (II.) Those which took their origin in Design.]