Last Updated:

Aug 4, 2010

Michaelis on John Mill

Excerpt from: J.D. Michaelis, the NT, ed. H. Marsh (London, 1802)

Page Index

John Mill - from J.D. Michaelis

Michaelis on John Mill

Mill's Greek NT

11. This is the celebrated edition of John Mill, which he finished only fourteen days before his death, after having bestowed on it the labour of thirty years. The origin and progress of it he has himself described in his Prolegomena 1 ; I will therefore make only such remarks on the value and contents of this publication, as relate immediately to points of criticism.

The collections of Various Readings, which had been made before the time of Mill, the Velesian, the Barberini, those of Stephens, the London Polyglot, and Fell's edition, with those which the bishop had left in manuscript, and whatever he was able to procure elsewhere, he brought together into one large collection. He made likewise very considerable additions to it. He collated several original editions more accurately than had been done before: he procured extracts from Greek manuscripts, which had never been collated, and of such as had been before collated, but not with sufficient attention, he obtained more complete extracts.

I will not enumerate the manuscripts at present, because they are too numerous ; and it is the less necessary, as, in the chapter relative to the manuscripts of the Greek Testament, whatever was performed by Mill, has been mentioned under each respective article. He also added, as far as he was able, readings from the ancient versions; and he displayed his critical judgement, in not filling the margin of his edition with quotations from the modern European versions, which have no weight in sacred criticism.

He is likewise to be commended for the great attention which he paid to the quotations of the fathers, the importance of which he had sagacity enough to discern: and he is the more to be commended, because In this point he had to contend with the opinion of his friend and patron bishop Fell, who advised him to hasten his work, and devote less time to the writings of the fathers.

It is laid, that he has collected from manuscripts, fathers, and versions, not less than thirty thousand various readings.

Mill was perhaps too painfully accurate in regard to trifles, and readings that are evident errata; whereas others have gone into the opposite extreme, and omitted things of importance. But he is not therefore to be censured; for in a capital work like Mill's Greek Testament, which every critic has occasion to consult, it is better to have too much than too little; and Mill never falls into the childishness betrayed by some collators, who, where there is little to gather, are resolved to gather all.

His adversaries, of whom many were wholly ignorant of criticism, were not aware that the manifest errors of a transcriber are sometimes worthy of notice, because we learn from them the character of the manuscripts themselves, and their relation to other manuscripts.

Before the time of Mill, the editors of the Greek Testament, and the collectors of various readings, were not accustomed to give a clear and accurate deicription of their manuscripts. This task was first undertaken by Mill, which he has executed in his elegant and learned Prolegomena , which consist of 168 folio pages : and he has not only described his manuscripts, but judged of the goodness of them from the readings, which he quotes from them as proofs. He was the first person, who attempted to give a genealogy of the editions of the Greek Testament, in which, it is true, he made several mistakes: but no man, who makes the first attempt, can expect to arrive at perfection.

His Prolegomena , notwithstanding those of Wetstein, still retain their original value; for they contain a great deal of matter, which is not in Wetstein, and of the matter, which is common to both, some things are explained more clearly by Mill. Wetstein travelled into different countries, examined with his own eyes a much greater number of manuscripts, than his predecessor, had more genius, and a much greater share of learning; but on the other hand, Mill was more diligent, had more critical phlegma, and, I believe, adhered more strictly to the truth. I find it necessary to mention these circumstances, because it seems to be the opinion of many, that Mill's edition, and especlally his Prolegomena , since the publication of Wetstein's Greek Testament, is become useless, and, as it were, obsolete.

Mill's collection of various readings, notwithstandlng its many imperfections, and the superiority of that of Wetstein, is still absolutely necessary to every critic : for Wetstein has omitted a great number of readings which are to be found in Mill, especially those, which are either taken from the Vulgate, or confirm its readings. I admit that Mill was too much attached to this version, yet he cannot be accused of partiality in producing its evidence, because it is the duty of a critic to examine the witnesses on both sides of the question : and Wetstein, by too frequently neglectlng the evidence in favour of the Vulgate, has rendered his collection less perfect, than it would otherwise have been.

Mill made no alterations in the text of the Greek Testament, but copied exactly the third edition of Stephens. But he delivered his opinion on particular readings, partly in his Prolegomena, partly in his collection of readings, that are printed under the text. In the one he often gives an opinion, which contradicts that which he had given in the other; which arose from his having acquired, during the progress of the work, as he himself confesses, a more comprehensive knowledge of the subject, for which he was chiefly indebted to Simon's Critical History, especially in respect to the proper use of the ancient versions.

Bengel has observed, that Mill was at first more attentive to the number, than to the goodness of his manuscripts, but that he afterwards corrected his error. It may be observed in general, that Mill was more inclined to favour the readings, which coincided with the Vulgate, than those which differed from it. Yet his critical Judgement prevented him from adopting a reading as genuine, because it was smooth and easy; and in this respect he has introduced among the critics a taste, which is perfectly just, but contrary to that which prevailed at the revival of learning.

The great diligence, which he displayed In collecting so many thousand readings, exposed him to the attacks of many writers both in England and Germany, who formed not only an unfavourable, but unjust opinion of his work. Not only the clergy in general, but even Professors in the Universities, who had no knowledge of criticism, considered his vast collection of various readings, as a work of evil tendency, and inimical to the Christian religion. And perhaps a still greater number of years would have elapsed, before the merits of his Greek Testament would have been acknowledged, if Bengel, who was universally celebrated, as a man of uncommon piety, had not given it authority, by treading in the footsteps of its author.

It cannot be denied that Mill's Greek Testament has many imperfections, and some of real importance. His extracts from manuscripts are often not only incomplete, but erroneous; and it is frequently necessary to correct the mistakes in Mill, from the edition of Wetstein. This arose from Mill's not having travelled, like Wetstein, to collate manuscripts himself; he was obliged to depend on the diligence and accuracy of others, who collated rather out of friendsliip, and to whom therefore he could prescribe no fixed and determinate plan.

If Mill had had the fame pecuniary assistance for his edition of the New Testament, which Kennicott had in his publication of the Old, these imperfections might have been avoided: but instead of laying them to the charge of the learned editor, we must rather consider it as a merit, that he ventured, in spite of numerous obstacles, on so great and extensive an undertaking.

Still less perfect are his extracts from the Oriental versions, because he was unacquainted with those languages, and in selecting readings from the Syriac, the Arabic, and Ethiopic, was obliged to have recourse to the Latin translations, which are annexed to those versions in the London Polyglot. My late father, in his Tractatio critica de variis lectionibus N. T. caute colligendis, has taken particular notice of the mislakes of this kind in Mill's edition, which amount not to hundreds, but to thousands. To be convinced of the truth of this afler- tion, the reader needs only to have recourse to the seventh paragraph of my Curae in Actus Apostolorum Syriacos, where he will see that they amount to at least five hundred in the Acts of the Apostles alone. In the year 1767, Professor Bode published a treatise, entitled, Pseudocritica Millio-Bengeliana, in which the mistakes of this kind, which had been committed by Mill, are pointed out, and corrected. It is a work, with which no man can dispense, who would make a critical use of Mill's Greek Testament, if he is unacquainted with Syriac and Arabic.

In the description of manuscripts, and other critical documents, which he had never seen himself, Mill is too often led away by the force of his imagination, and he relates his own conjectures with as much confidence, as if they were real facts. His description of the Codex Vaticanus, as a manuscript used by the Complutensian editors, his quotation of an hundred readings from this manuscript, because those readings are in the Complutensian edition, and the opinion which he thence forms of the manuscript itself, confirm the truth of this assertion.

The contradictions, which have been observed in the opinions delivered by Mill, in different places, on the same subject, of which Whitby has collected examples in a publication, that bears the illiberal title of Millius εαυτου τιμωρομενος 2. , I consider as no fault in that eminent critic: on the contrary, it redounds to his honour, that he not only acquired a more extensive knowledge of the subject during the progress of his work, but had candour enough to confess his former mistakes. Whoever has to form an opinion on several thousand readings, in which it is often difficult to disliinguish what is spurious from that which is genuine, and where the decision depends frequently on a seeming trifle, is unavoidably exposed to the danger of deciding in one instance upon principles, that contradict those which he had adopted in another, unless, like Whitby, he is predetermined to give the constant preference to one particular edition, or, instead of forming an unbiassed judgement in each particular instance, has constant recourse to former decisions, in order to be uniform at the expence of partiality.

The greatest objection, which can be made to Mill, is that he frequently gives an opinion, where it is wholly superfluous, and that he often makes a positive decision in cases, where neither of the readings has a manifest superiority of evidence. In readings, which make no alteration in the sense, we seldom find a decided preponderance in favour of any one in particular, especialiy if we balance the number of witnesses in one scale, by the goodness and authority of those in the other. We must not therefore be surprised, that Mill, in the description of his manuscripts, makes mention, not of one, two, or three, but frequently of an hundred readings, peculiar to a particular manuscript, which he describes as genuine, and as proofs of the goodness of the manuscript, in retaining so much of the true text, which is not to be found in other documents.

It seems, as if he made his ear the Criterion for determining the genuineness of a reading, without considering that on this principle, not only different persons, but the same person at different times, must form different opinions; not to mention, that of any two readings, we seldom find either so offensive to the ear, as to warrant us to conclude, on that account alone, that it was not written by the author, whose works we examine.

Mill's principal opponent was Daniel Whitby, a man who was certainly endued with a considerable share of learning- His chief object was to defend the readings of the printed text, and to shew that Mill was mistaken in frequently preferring other readings. But how frequently foever Mill has been guilty of an error in judgement, in the choice of this or that particular reading, yet the value of the collection itself remains unaltered. To give the reader a notion of Whitby's design, in his attack upon Mill, I will quote the title-page at full length.

Examen variantium lectionum Johannes Millii S.T.P, ubi oftenditur,

1. Lectionum harum fundamenta incerta plane esse, et ad lectionum textus hodierni convellendam protinus inidonea.

2. Lectiones variantes, quae sunt momenti alicujus, aut sensum textus mutant, paucissimas esse, atque in iis omnibus 3 lectionem textus defendi posse.

3. Lectiones variantes levioris momenti, quas latius expendimus, tales esse, in quibus a lectione recepta rarissime recedendum est.

4. Millium in hisce varlantibus lectionibus colligendis saepius arte non ingenua usum esse, salsis citationibus abundare, et sibimet ipsi multoties contradicere.

Opera et studio Danielis Whitby S. T. B. et ecclesiae Sariiburiensis Praecentoris, 1710. It was afterwards annexed to his Paraphrase and Commentary on the New Testament, published in 1727.

Now Whitby, though a good commentator, was a bad critic. This appears from his very manner of arguing against Mill, for we may be allured, that whoever condemns another as a heretic, bccause he is of a different opinion, is wholly ignorant of the art of criticism. In the beginning of his preface, he describes Mill's collection of various readings as inimical to our religion, and as rendering the Word of God uncertain. He says that

"Mill has collated at least ninety manuscripts,and yet prefers frequently a reading that is found in only twenty, or thirty: that he must therefore have been either extremely negligent in collating, or that the reading, which he rejects, is supported by the greatest numper of manuscripts."

But this accusation betrays a total ignorance of manuscripts, and shews that Whitby had never read with proper attention even Mill's Prolegomena; from which he might have learned, that all these manuscripts do not contain the whole New Testament. 4

Ludolph Kuster reprinted Mill's Greek Testament at Rotterdam in 1710, and enriched it with the readings of twelve additional manuscripts. 54 These are nine Paris manuscripts, with those of Carpzov, Seidel, and Boerner.

This edition has likewise another advantage, that the readings which Mill had been obliged to place in his Appendix, are here transferred to their proper places. But Griesbach, in the preface to his Symbolae criticae, has observed that Kuster has not transferred them all.

Before I conclude the account of Mill's edition, I must take notice of that copy, which is in my own possession, because I should be sorry that the pains, which have been bestowed on it, should be lost to the world. This copy I inherited from my father, who has written marginal notes from one end of it to the other. They consist partly in new readings, which he himself had collected, partly in observations on the old. The readings, which he has added, are taken chiefly from Theophylact, from the Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions, particularly that published by Erpenius, and a manuscript of the Vulgate, which he procured from the library of Ludwig. The extracts from this manuscript are very numerous : but the most important are those, which are taken from the Oriental versions, because the readings, which Mill has quoted from them, are very imperfect, whereas those, which my father has collected, were assuredly not taken from the Latin translations, but drawn from the originals themselves. After my death, this copy will be deposited in the library of the Orphan House in Halle.

In the Bodleian library is a copy of Mill's Greek Testament, with additions and corrections from Mill's own hand : there are also some additions by Hearne. Griesbach, in the first volume of his Symbolae, p. 241 — 304. has printed as many of them, as relate to the seventeen first chapters of St, Matthew, and all the epistles. In the latter a Codex Hal. is frequently quoted; but what this abbreviation denotes no one at present knows.

1. Sect. 1412. to the end,

2. In the appendix to his Examen variantium lectionum Millii.

3. In omnibus defendi posse, though it implies not an absolute impossibility, is certainly a very bold assertion. Nor is it a proof of Whitby's impartial love of truth, unless he supposed that Robert Stephens was inipired.

4. Whitby was as much against the Latin readings, as Mill was in favour of them : and, though he was of opinion that the fathers quoted the Greek Testament from memory, yet he paid more deference to their quotations, than to any manuscript.

Return to Top

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional Valid CSS!

This page powered by: