Textual Evidence

Burgon on
Haplography (1882)

Excerpt from: Dean John Burgon, The Causes of Corruption in the NT Text, (London, 1882)

Page Index

Introduction: - Dean Burgon

Chapter 3: - Accidental Causes of Corruption - Homoeoteleuton:
    Luke 2:15 - example 1: an easy case to spot
    John 6:11 - example 2: ancient errors proliferate
    Homoeoteleuton - mechanism & results: John 6:55, Matt. 23:14
    Ancient Errors - more examples: Matt. 19:9, Luke 16:21
    Summary: Burgon's view of the early text.

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Dean Burgon's writing style may be an acquired taste, but after making the effort of getting to know his manner and mood, his seriousness in approaching the Sacred Scriptures, and his humour and wit, he becomes a joy to read, like a familiar old friend.

It is with great pleasure that I re-format yet another piece of Burgon, with some minor modifications in headings and language, and updates, to make him come alive again for a new generation of readers and Bible students.

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Burgon on


Exerpted from: Dean John Burgon,
The Causes of Corruption in the New Testament Text, Chapter 3

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

Chapter 3:

(Likeness of Ending)

Luke 2:15

"No one who finds the syllable 'οι' recurring six times over in about as many words is suprised to learn that MSS, of a certain type exhibit serious perturbation in that place. Accordingly manuscripts B, L & Ξ (Xi) leave out the words 'και οι ανθρωποι' and in that mutilated form the modern critical editors are contented to exhibit St. Luke 2:15.

 ...και εγενετο ως
απηλθον απ αυτων εις
τον ουρ
ανον οι αγγελοι
και οιανθρωποι οι
ποιμενες ειπον προς
αλληλους διελθωμεν δη
εως βηθλεεμ...

And it came to pass, when
were gone away from them
into the heavens,the messengers,

also those men, the
shepherds, said to each other, "We may go
over indeed unto Bethlehem,..."

One would have thought that Tischendorf's eyes would have been opened when he noticed that in his own Codex Sinaiticus (א) another 'οι' is dropped, and by this nonsense is made of the passage ( viz. 'οι αγγελοι ποιμενες'). It is evident that the line with a like ending has been omitted by the copyist of the same very early codex of St. Luke's Gospel, [skipping from 'οι αγγελοι' to 'ποιμενες', leaving out either 'και οι ανοι οι' or else 'και οι ανοι' and putting the other 'οι' with 'ποιμενε'.

John 6:11

Another such place is found in St. John 6:11. The Evangelist certainly described the act of our Savior on a famous occasion in the well-known words

και ευχαριστησας διεδωκε τοις
μαθηταις οι δε μαθηται τοις

It is clear that some scribe has allowed his eye to wander from 'τοις' in line [1] to 'τοις' in line [2] and by this, St. John is made to say that our Savior Himself distributed to the 5,000. But the tesitmony of the MSS, proves the Recieved Text to be right, and moreover we are expressly assured by St. Matt. 14:19, St. Mark 6:41 and St. Luke 9:16 that dealt out the Loaves to the disciples to distribute.

The blunder is a very ancient one, for it has crept into the Syriac, Bohairic and Gothic versions, besides many copies of the Old Latin: and has established itself in the Vulgate. And some Fathers (beginning with Origen) so quote the place.

But א, B, L, N, W, Π &c. are contradicted by D and twelve other unicals, besides the body of the cursives, the Ethiopic and two copies of the Old Latin, as well as Cyril Alex.

Updated Textual Evidence List: John 6:11

Include Line: א(Corr2), D, Δ, Θ, Ψ, f13, 1071, Byz, Maj (Majority of all continuous MSS), Lat: b, d, e, j, Syr-S, Ac2, Syr-Bo(mss), (157, 1424)

Omit Line: P28(3rd CE), P66, P75, א*, A, B, L, N, W, Π, 063, 0141, f1, 33, 565, 579, 1241, al, Lat, Sy-C, Sy-P, Sy-H, sa, bo(pt), arm, goth

Lacuna: C, X (a commentary)
Notes: B has an umlaut here! (1357 c 1 R).

(taken from W.Willker's Textual Commentary on John)

Haplography: Homoeoteleuton

There does not exist a source of error which has proved more fatal to the transcibers of MSS, than the proximity of identical, or nearly identical, combinations of letters. And because these are generally met with in the final symbols of words, the error referred to is familiarly known by a Greek name denoting “likeness of ending” (Homoeoteluton).

The eye of the scibe on reverting from his copy to the original before him is apt sometimes to alight on the same word,or what looks like the same word, a little lower down. The consequence is obvious; all that should have come in between gets omitted, or sometimes it is duplicated. However inconvenient it may prove to find five, ten, twenty, perhaps thirty words omitted in this way, at times no serious consequence ensues. But the result is often sheer nonsense. When this is the case it is usually admitted by all [Here Burgon is unusually optimistic!].

John 6:55

A single example may stand for a hundred; In St. John 6:55 that most careless of careless transcripts, Codex א omits seven words, and thus makes nonsense, causing the scriptures to say “my flesh... is drink indeed”(!). The transcriber of א let his eye pass from one 'αληθως' to another, and characteristically enough the various correctors of this corrupt MS allowed the error to remain until it was removed in the 7th century.

But occasions must inevitably occur when the result is calamitous, and even perplexing in the extreme. The writings of Apostles and Evangelists, and the Discourses of our Divine Lord Himself abound in short formulae. The intervening matter on such occasions is constantly an integral part of the message.

Matt. 23:14

Occasionally such may be discovered from the context without evident injury to the general meaning of the place. In this way, St. Matt. 23:14 was omitted by some copyists in an early age, owing to the recurrance of 'ουαι υμιν' at the beginning.

The error was repeated in the Old Latin versions. It passed to Egypt, as some of the Bohairic copies, the Sahidic and Origen testify. The Vulgate is quite consistent and of course that concord of bad witnesses (especially in St. Matt.) א, B, D, L, Z follow suit, in company the Armenian, the Lewis MS and five more cursives - enough to make the more emphatic the condemnation by the main body of the cursives.

Witnesses for Inclusion: Besides the verdict of the cursives, thirteen uncials including Φ and Σ, the Peshitto, Harkleian, Ethiopic, Arabian, some MSS of the Vulgate, with Origen (iii.838, latin), Chrysostom (vii, 707 bis; ix.755); Opus Imperf. 185 bis; 186 bis; John Damascene (ii.517); Theophylact (i, 124); Hilary (89;725); Jerome (iv.276; v 52; vi. 138; vii. 185).

Ancient Errors

Worst of all it will sometimes of necessity happen that such an omission took place at an exceptionaly remote period, for there have been careless scribes in every age. And consequently the error is pretty sure to have propogated itself widely. If it is observed to be in several of the known copies - and if it is discoverable in two or more of teh old unicals, - all hope of its being extirpated is ended.

Instead of being recognized as a blunder - which it clearly is - it is forthwith charged upon the Apostle or the Evangelist, as the case may be. In other words, it is taken for granted in some quarters that the clause in dispute can have had no place in the sacred autograph. It is from that time forward treated as an unauthorized accretion to the text. It is quite idle to appeal to the ninety-nine copies out of a hundred which contain the missing words. [Burgon is being sarcastic here, but deadly accurate in describing the results of modern textual criticism as it has often been practiced.]

Matthew 19:9 - an Instance of Homoeoteluton

In S. Matt. 19:9 our Savior had declared that whoever puts away his wife, except for fornication, then added these words:
'και ο απολελθμενην γαμησας μοιχαται'
(“and shall marry another, commits adultery”)

Those five words are not found in Codd. א, B, D, L, S , nor in several copies of the Old Latin, nor in some copies of the Bohairic and the Sahidic. Tischendorf and Tregelles accordingly reject them. Yet it is perfectly certain that the words are genuine. Those thirty-one letters probably formed three lines in the oldest copies of all.

For they are observed to exist in the Syriac (Peshitto, Harkleian and Jerusalem), the Vulgate, some copies of the Old Latin, the Armenian and the Ethiopian versions, besides at least seventeen unicals, including B, Φ, Σ, and the vast majority of the cursives. There can be no question of the genuineness of the clause.

Luke 16:21

A somewhat graver instance of omission resulting from the same cause is seen in St. Luke 16:21, where there is a threefold recurrence of the letters 'των':

'ΤΩΝ ψιχιων ΤΩΝ πιπτον ΤΩΝ'

This plainly caused the dropping of the words 'ψιχιων ΤΩΝ' from the copies.

Unhappily the sense is not destroyed by the omission. It is therefore not suprising to discover that the words are missing from א, B, L, or to find that they are supported here by copies of the Old Latin, and as usual by the Egyptian versions, nor by Clemens Alex and the author of the Dialogus.

On the other hand Jerome condemns the Latin reading, and the Syriac versions are observed to approve Jerome's verdict, as well as the Gothic.

But what settles the question is the fact that every known Greek MS except those three testifies against the omission – as do Ambrose, Eusebius, Alex, Gregory Naz., Asterius, Basil, Ephraim Syr., Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria.

So it is perplexing to discover, and distressing to have to record, that all the recent (critical) Editors of the Gospels are more or less agreed in abolishing “the crumbs which fell from the rich mans table”.


The foregoing instances are but to afford specimens of the influence of accidental causes on the transmission from age to age of the Text of the Gospels.

Before the sense of the exact expressions of the Written Word was impressed on the collective mind of the Church - when the Canon was not definitely defined and acknowledged, and the halo of antiquity had not yet gathered around writings which had been recently composed - severe accuracy was not to be expected.

Errors would be sure to arise, especially from accident, and early ancestors of these errors would be certain to have a numerous offspring. Besides, the evil would increase, and slight deviations would give rise in the course of natural development to serious and perplexing corruptions.

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