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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER II. ACCIDENTAL CAUSES OF CORRUPTION.

The Causes Of The Corruption Of The Traditional Text by John William Burgon



[IT often happens that more causes than one are combined in the origin of the corruption in any one passage. In the following history of a blunder and of the fatal consequences that ensued upon it, only the first step was accidental. But much instruction may be derived from the initial blunder, and though the later stages in the history come under another head, they nevertheless illustrate the effects of early accident, besides throwing light upon parts of the discussion which are yet to come.]

§ 1.

We are sometimes able to trace the origin and progress of accidental depravations of the text: and the study is as instructive as it is interesting. Let me invite attention to what is found in St. John x.29; where, -- instead of, My Father, who hath given them [viz. My sheep] to Me, is greater than all,' -- Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, are for reading, That thing which My (or the) Father hath given to Me is greater (i.e. is a greater thing) than all.' A vastly different proposition, truly; and, whatever it may mean, wholly inadmissible here, as the context proves. It has been the result of sheer accident moreover, -- as I proceed to explain.

St. John certainly wrote the familiar words, -- o pate'r mou o`s de'doke' moi, meizon esti. But, with the licentiousness [or inaccuracy] which prevailed in the earliest age, some remote copyist is found to have substituted for o`s de'doke, its grammatical equivalent os dedokos. And this proved fatal; for it was only necessary that another scribe should substitute meizon for meizon (after the example of such places as St. Matt. xii.6, 41, 42, &c.), and thus the door had been opened to at least four distinct deflections from the evangelical verity, -- which straightway found their way into manuscripts: -- (1) o dedokos . . . meizon -- of which reading at this day D is the sole representative: (2) os dedoke . . . . meizon -- which survives only in AX: (3) o dedoke . . . . meizon -- which is only found in 'L: (4) o dedoke . . . . meizon -- which is the peculiar property of B. The 1st and 2nd of these sufficiently represent the Evangelist's meaning, though neither of them is what he actually wrote; but the 3rd is untranslatable: while the 4th is nothing else but a desperate attempt to force a meaning into the 3rd, by writing meizon for meizon; treating o not as the article but as the neuter of the relative hos.

This last exhibition of the text, which in fact scarcely yields an intelligible meaning and rests upon the minimum of manuscript evidence, would long since have been forgotten, but that, calamitously for the Western Church, its Version of the New Testament Scriptures was executed from MSS. of the same vicious type as Cod. B . Accordingly, all the Latin copies, and therefore all the Latin Fathers , translate, -- Pater [meus] quod dedit mihi, majus omnibus est .' The Westerns resolutely extracted a meaning from whatever they presumed to be genuine Scripture: and one can but admire the piety which insists on finding sound Divinity in what proves after all to be nothing else but a sorry blunder. What, asks Augustine, was the thing, greater than all,' which the Father gave to the Son? To be the Word of the Father (he answers), His only-begotten Son and the brightness of His glory . The Greeks knew better. Basil , Chrysostom , Cyril on nine occasions , Theodoret -- as many as quote the place -- invariably exhibit the textus receptus o`s . . . meizon, which is obviously the true reading and may on no account suffer molestation.

But,' -- I shall perhaps be asked, -- although Patristic and manuscript evidence are wanting for the reading o` dedoke' moi. . . meizon, -- is it not a significant circumstance that three translations of such high antiquity as the Latin, the Bohairic, and the Gothic, should concur in supporting it? and does it not inspire extraordinary confidence in B to find that B alone of MSS. agrees with them?' To which I answer, -- It makes me, on the contrary, more and more distrustful of the Latin, the Bohairic and the Gothic versions to find them exclusively siding with Cod. B on such an occasion as the present. It is obviously not more significant' that the Latin, the Bohairic, and the Gothic, should here conspire with -- than that the Syriac, the Sahidic, and the Ethiopic, should here combine against B. On the other hand, how utterly insignificant is the testimony of B when opposed to all the uncials, all the cursives, and all the Greek fathers who quote the place. So far from inspiring me with confidence in B, the present indication of the fatal sympathy of that Codex with the corrupt copies from which confessedly many of the Old Latin were executed, confirms me in my habitual distrust of it. About the true reading of St. John x.29, there really exists no manner of doubt. As for the old uncials' they are (as usual) hopelessly at variance on the subject. In an easy sentence of only 9 words, -- which however Tischendorf exhibits in conformity with no known Codex, while Tregelles and Alford blindly follow Cod. B, -- they have contrived to invent five various readings,' as may be seen at foot . Shall we wonder more at the badness of the Codexes to which we are just now invited to pin our faith; or at the infatuation of our guides?

§ 2.

I do not find that sufficient attention has been paid to grave disturbances of the Text which have resulted from a slight clerical error. While we are enumerating the various causes of Textual depravity, we may not fail to specify this. Once trace a serious Textual disturbance back to (what for convenience may be called) a clerical error,' and you are supplied with an effectual answer to a form of inquiry which else is sometimes very perplexing: viz. If the true meaning of this passage be what you suppose, for what conceivable reason should the scribe have misrepresented it in this strange way, -- made nonsense, in short, of the place? . . . I will further remark, that it is always interesting, sometimes instructive, after detecting the remote origin of an ancient blunder, to note what has been its subsequent history and progress.

Some specimens of the thing referred to I have already given in another place. The reader is invited to acquaint himself with the strange process by which the 276 souls' who suffered shipwreck with St. Paul (Acts xxvii.37), have since dwindled down to about 76 .' -- He is further requested to note how a certain man' who in the time of St. Paul bore the name of Justus' (Acts xviii.7), has been since transformed into Titus,' Titus Justus,' and even |Titius Justus .' -- But for a far sadder travestie of sacred words, the reader is referred to what has happened in St. Matt. xi.23 and St. Luke x.15, -- where our Saviour is made to ask an unmeaning question -- instead of being permitted to announce a solemn fact -- concerning Capernaum . -- The newly-discovered ancient name of the Island of Malta, Melitene , (for which geographers are indebted to the adventurous spirit of Westcott and Hort), may also be profitably considered in connexion with what is to be the subject of the present chapter. And now to break up fresh ground.

Attention is therefore invited to a case of attraction in Acts xx.24. It is but the change of a single letter (logoU for logoN), yet has that minute deflection from the truth led to a complete mangling of the most affecting perhaps of St. Paul's utterances. I refer to the famous words all' oudeno`s lo'gon poioumai, oude echo te`n psuchen mou timi'an emauto, os teleiosai to`n dro'mon mou meta charas: excellently, because idiomatically, rendered by our Translators of 1611, -- But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy.'

For oudeno`s loGON, (the accusative after poioumai), some one having substituted oudeno`s loGOU, -- a reading which survives to this hour in B and C , -- it became necessary to find something else for the verb to govern. Ten psuchen was at hand, but oude echo stood in the way. Oude echo must therefore go ; and go it did, -- as B, C, and ' remain to attest. Timi'an should have gone also, if the sentence was to be made translatable but timi'an was left behind . The authors of ancient embroilments of the text were sad bunglers. In the meantime, Cod. ' inadvertently retained St. Luke's word, LOGON; and because ' here follows B in every other respect, it exhibits a text which is simply unintelligible .

Now the second clause of the sentence, viz. the words oude echo te`n psuchen mou timi'an emauto, may on no account be surrendered. It is indeed beyond the reach of suspicion, being found in Codd. A, D, E, H, L, 13, 31, -- in fact in every known copy of the Acts, except the discordant 'BC. The clause in question is further witnessed to by the Vulgate , -- by the Harkleian , -- by Basil , -- by Chrysostom , -- by Cyril , -- by Euthalius , -- and by the interpolator of Ignatius . What are we to think of our guides (Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, and the Revisers) who have nevertheless surrendered the Traditional Text and presented us instead with what Dr. Field, -- who is indeed a Master in Israel, -- describes as the impossible all' oudeno`s lo'gou poioumai te`n psuche`n timi'an emauto ?

The words of the last-named eminent scholar on the reading just cited are so valuable in themselves, and are observed to be so often in point, that they shall find place here: -- Modern Critics,' he says, in deference to the authority of the older MSS., and to certain critical canons which prescribe that preference should be given to the shorter and more difficult reading over the longer and easier one, have decided that the T. R. in this passage is to be replaced by that which is contained in those older MSS.

In regard to the difficulty of this reading, that term seems hardly applicable to the present case. A difficult reading is one which presents something apparently incongruous in the sense, or anomalous in the construction, which an ignorant or half-learned copyist would endeavour, by the use of such critical faculty as he possessed, to remove; but which a true critic is able, by probable explanation, and a comparison of similar cases, to defend against all such fancied improvements. In the reading before us, all' oudeno`s lo'gou poioumai te`n psuche`n timi'an emauto, it is the construction, and not the sense, which is in question; and this is not simply difficult, but impossible. There is really no way of getting over it; it baffles novices and experts alike : When will men believe that a reading vouched for by only B'C is safe to be a fabrication ? But at least when Copies and Fathers combine, as here they do, against those three copies, what can justify critics in upholding a text which carries on its face its own condemnation?

§ 3.

We now come to the inattention of those long-since-forgotten Ist or IInd century scribes who, beguiled by the similarity of the letters EN and AN (in the expression EN AN-thropois eudokia, St. Luke ii.14), left out the preposition. An unintelligible clause was the consequence, as has been explained above (p.21): which some one next sought to remedy by adding to eudokia the sign of the genitive (C). Thus the Old Latin translations were made.

That this is the true history of a blunder which the latest Editors of the New Testament have mistaken for genuine Gospel, is I submit certain . Most Latin copies (except 14 ) exhibit pax hominibus bonae voluntatis,' as well as many Latin Fathers . On the other hand, the preposition EN is retained in every known Greek copy of St. Luke without exception, while the reading eudokias is absolutely limited to the four uncials AB'D. The witness of antiquity on this head is thus overwhelming and decisive.

§ 4.

In other cases the source, the very progress of a blunder, -- is discoverable. Thus whereas St. Mark (in xv.6) certainly wrote e'na de'smion, ONPER etounto, the scribe of D who evidently derived his text from an earlier copy in uncial letters is found to have divided the Evangelist's syllables wrongly, and to exhibit in this place ON . PERETOUNTO. The consequence might have been predicted. 'AB transform this into ON . PARETOUNTO: which accordingly is the reading adopted by Tischendorf and by Westcott and Hort.

Whenever in fact the final syllable of one word can possibly be mistaken for the first syllable of the next, or vice versa, it is safe sooner or later to have misled somebody. Thus, we are not at all surprised to find St. Mark's a` pare'labon (vii.4) transformed into haper elabon, but only by B.

[Another startling instance of the same phenomenon is supplied by the substitution in St. Mark vi.22 of tes thugatro`s autou Herodia'dos. for tes thugatro`s autes tes Herodia'dos. Here a first copyist left out tes as being a repetition of the last syllable of autes, and afterwards a second attempted to improve the Greek by putting the masculine pronoun for the feminine (AUTOU for AUTEC). The consequence was hardly to have been foreseen.]

Strange to say it results in the following monstrous figment: -- that the fruit of Herod's incestuous connexion with Herodias had been a daughter, who was also named Herodias; and that she, -- the King's own daughter, -- was the immodest one who came in and danced before him, his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee,' as they sat at the birthday banquet. Probability, natural feeling, the obvious requirements of the narrative, History itself -- ,for Josephus expressly informs us that Salome,' not Herodias,' was the name of Herodias' daughter , -- all reclaim loudly against such a perversion of the truth. But what ought to be in itself conclusive, what in fact settles the question, is the testimony of the MSS., -- of which only seven ('BDLD with two cursive copies) can be found to exhibit this strange mistake. Accordingly the reading AUTOU is rejected by Griesbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf and Alford. It has nevertheless found favour with Dr. Hort; and it has even been thrust into the margin of the revised Text of our Authorized Version, as a reading having some probability.

This is indeed an instructive instance of the effect of accidental errors -- another proof that 'BDL cannot be trusted.

Sufficiently obvious are the steps whereby the present erroneous reading was brought to perfection. The immediate proximity in MSS. of the selfsame combination of letters is observed invariably to result in a various reading. AUTECTEC was safe to part with its second TEC on the first opportunity, and the definitive article (tes) once lost, the substitution of AUTOU for AUTEC is just such a mistake as a copyist with ill-directed intelligence would be sure to fall into if he were bestowing sufficient attention on the subject to be aware that the person spoken of in verses 20 and 21 is Herod the King.

[This recurrence of identical or similar syllables near together was a frequent source of error. Copying has always a tendency to become mechanical: and when the mind of the copyist sank to sleep in his monotonous toil, as well as if it became too active, the sacred Text suffered more or less, and so even a trifling mistake might be the seed of serious depravation.]

§ 5.

Another interesting and instructive instance of error originating in sheer accident, is supplied by the reading in certain MSS. of St. Mark viii.1. That the Evangelist wrote pampollou o'chlou the multitude being very great,' is certain. This is the reading of all the uncials but eight, of all the cursives but fifteen. But instead of this, it has been proposed that we should read, when there was again a great multitude,' the plain fact being that some ancient scribe mistook, as he easily might, the less usual compound word for what was to himself a far more familiar expression: i.e. he mistook PAMRPOLLOU for PALIN POLLOU.

This blunder must date from the second century, for iterum' is met with in the Old Latin as well as in the Vulgate, the Gothic, the Bohairic, and some other versions. On the other hand, it is against every true principle of Textual Criticism' (as Dr. Tregelles would say), that the more difficult expression should be abandoned for the easier, when forty-nine out of every fifty MSS. are observed to uphold it; when the oldest version of all, the Syriac, is on the same side; when the source of the mistake is patent; and when the rarer word is observed to be in St. Mark's peculiar manner. There could be in fact no hesitation on this subject, if the opposition had not been headed by those notorious false witnesses 'BDL, which it is just now the fashion to uphold at all hazards. They happen to be supported on this occasion by GMND and fifteen cursives: while two other cursives look both ways and exhibit pa'lin pampollou.

In St. Mark vii.14, pa'lin irciaLv was similarly misread by some copyists for panta, and has been preserved by 'BDLD (PALIN for PANTA) against thirteen uncials, all the cursives, the Peshitto and Armenian.

So again in St. John xiii.37. A reads du'nasai' soi by an evident slip of the pen for du'namai' soi. And in xix.31 megalE E Emera has become mega'le eme'ra in 'AEG and some cursive copies.

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