This volume is my contribution towards the better understanding of a subject which is destined, when it shall have grown into a Science, to vindicate for itself a mighty province, and to enjoy paramount attention. I allude to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament Scriptures.
That this Study is still in its infancy, all may see. The very principles on which it is based are as yet only imperfectly understood. The reason is obvious. It is because the very foundations have not yet been laid, (except to a wholly inadequate extent,) on which the future superstructure is to rise. A careful collation of every extant Codex, (executed after the manner of the Rev. F. H. Scrivener's labours in this department,) is the first indispensable preliminary to any real progress. Another, is a revised Text, not to say a more exact knowledge, of the oldest Versions. Scarcely of inferior importance would be critically correct editions of the Fathers of the Church; and these must by all means be furnished with far completer Indices of Texts than have ever yet been attempted. -- There is not a single Father to be named whose Works have been hitherto furnished with even a tolerably complete Index of the places in which he either quotes, or else clearly refers to, the Text of the New Testament: while scarcely a tithe of the known MSS. of the Gospels have as yet been satisfactorily collated. Strange to relate, we are to this hour without so much as a satisfactory Catalogue of the Copies which are known to be extant.
But when all this has been done, -- (and the Science deserves, and requires, a little more public encouragement than has hitherto been bestowed on the arduous and -- let me not be ashamed to add the word -- unremunerative labour of Textual Criticism,) -- it will be discovered that the popular and the prevailing Theory is a mistaken one. The plausible hypothesis on which recent recensions of the Text have been for the most part conducted, will be seen to be no longer tenable. The latest decisions will in consequence be generally reversed.
I am not of course losing sight of what has been already achieved in this department of Sacred Learning. While our knowledge of the uncial MSS. has been rendered tolerably exact and complete, an excellent beginning has been made, (chiefly by the Rev. F. H. Scrivener, the most judicious living Master of Textual Criticism,) in acquainting us with the contents of about seventy of the cursive MSS. of the New Testament. And though it is impossible to deny that the published Texts of Doctors Tischendorf and Tregelles as Texts are wholly inadmissible, yet is it equally certain that by the conscientious diligence with which those distinguished Scholars have respectively laboured, they have erected monuments of their learning and ability which will endure for ever. Their Editions of the New Testament will not be superseded by any new discoveries, by any future advances in the Science of Textual Criticism. The MSS. which they have edited will remain among the most precious materials for future study. All honour to them! If in the warmth of controversy I shall appear to have spoken of them sometimes without becoming deference, let me here once for all confess that I am to blame, and express my regret. When they have publicly begged S. Mark's pardon for the grievous wrong they have done him, I will very humbly beg their pardon also.
In conclusion, I desire to offer my thanks to the Rev. John Wordsworth, late Fellow of Brasenose College, for his patient perusal of these sheets as they have passed through the press, and for favouring me with several judicious suggestions. To him may be applied the saying of President Routh on receiving a visit from Bishop Wordsworth at his lodgings, -- |I see the learned son of a learned Father, sir!| -- Let me be permitted to add that my friend inherits the Bishop's fine taste and accurate judgment also.
And now I dismiss this Work, at which I have conscientiously laboured for many days and many nights; beginning it in joy and ending it in sorrow. The College in which I have for the most part written it is designated in the preamble of its Charter and in its Foundation Statutes, (which are already much more than half a thousand years old,) as Collegium Scholarium in Sacra Theologia studentium, -- perpetuis temporibus duraturum. Indebted, under GOD, to the pious munificence of the Founder of Oriel for my opportunities of study, I venture, in what I must needs call evil days, to hope that I have to some extent |employed my advantages,| -- (the expression occurs in a prayer used by this Society on its three solemn anniversaries,) -- as our Founder and Benefactors |would approve if they were now upon earth to witness what we do.|
J. W. B.