Textual Criticism Made Easy

Dean Burgon
For Dummies!

Modern Language Version of: Dean John Burgon,
The Traditional Text of the NT, Intro & Chapt. 2 (1896)

Page Index

Prologue: - Introduction to Burgon and Scrivener
    Burgon and Scrivener - through the eyes of their opponents

A History of the
Textual Criticism of the NT
: - by Marvin R. Vincent (1899)
    F. H. A. Scrivener
    Scrivener's Introduction
    Scrivener's Textual Principles
    John Burgon
    Scrivener and Burgon on the WH Text

The Traditional Text: - by J. Burgon / E. Miller (in Modern Language)
    Dean Burgon for Dummies - Our Purpose

    Miller's Introduction to The Traditional Text
        Section 1. The First Christian Centuries (30-200 A.D.)
        Section 2. Two Old Manuscripts (Aleph & B)
        Section 3. The Current Bible Text (Textus Receptus)
        Section 4. The Last Few Centuries (1500-1900 A.D.)
        Section 5. Are the Oldest MSS Best?
        Section 6. The Opposing School of Thought
        Section 7. The Basis of the New Viewpoint

    Chapter I. : Historical Background
        Section 1. Preliminaries
        Section 2. Some Fundamentals
        Section 3. The Purpose of the Holy Spirit
        Section 4. The Historical Role of the Church
        Section 5. Mutually Exclusive Positions

    Chapter II. : Textual Critical Principles
        Section 1a. The Goal of Textual Criticism
        Section 1b. The Progress of the Work
        Section 2. Evidence of Divine Preservation
        Section 3. Proper Evaluation of Textual Evidence
        Section 4. Principles of Textual Criticism
        Section 5. General Issues regarding Age
        Section 6. The Character of Key Uncials

Return to Index


We have chosen to give a portrayal, a view, of Dean John Burgon and F. H. A. Scrivener, by Marvin R. Vincent.

The reason is this: Often one can get valuable insight about someone, not from their promoters or supporters, but rather from their enemies, especially their friendlier ones. In many ways, M. R. Vincent was a peer of Burgon and Scrivener, as well as a contemporary. He was well versed on the issues and debates at this critical time, and in vigorous correspondence with those who held an interest in Textual Critical issues.

His History... is surprisingly fair and informative, even though Vincent himself was not favourably disposed to the position of Burgon and Scrivener. He had himself already been swayed by the elaborate arguments of F. J. A. Hort and his supporters, and no doubt viewed the Revised Version (1882) as more good than evil.

Although he rejected the arguments of Burgon and Scrivener, both manners and a strong sense of fairness required that he present them accurately in their essence, as outsiders like himself saw them. Vincent's concise descriptions of Scrivener, Burgon and others of the more conservative position are both readable and insightful, cutting to the heart of the matter, and giving the reader leave to research further on his own and make up his own mind on the matter.

Return to Index

Vincent on Burgon

Excerpt on Dr. Scrivener, Burgon and Miller, from :
A History of Textual Criticism
of the New Testament

by M. R. Vincent, (MacMillan NY, 1899)

F. H. A. Scrivener

..."the leading representative of the conservative school of Textual Criticism in England [was] Dr. Frederick Dr Henry Ambrose Scrivener, Prebendary of Exeter and Vicar of Hendon. Dr. Scrivener s attitude is set forth in his own words in the second edition of his Introduction, repeated in the fourth and last edition.

"All that can be inferred from searching into the history of the sacred text amounts to no more than this: that extensive variations, arising no doubt from the wide circulation of the NT in different regions and among nations of diverse languages, subsisted from the earliest period to which our records extend. Beyond this point our investigations cannot be carried without indulging in pleasant speculations, which may amuse the fancy but cannot inform sober judgment."

-Scrivener, Introduction

Scrivener's Published Works

Dr. Scrivener, in 1860, edited Stephen's text of Scrivener, 1550, adding the readings of the Elzevirs, Beza, Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles. Six editions are noted by Dr. Gregory, the latest in 1877.

In 1881 appeared The New Testament in the Original Greek according to the Text followed in the Authorised Version (T. R. Beza, 1598), together with the Variations adopted in the Revised Version.

An appendix gives a list of the passages in which the Authorised Version departs from Beza's text and agrees with certain earlier editions of the Greek Testament.

Scrivener's Plain Introduction

An important contribution to the study of Textual Criticism was his Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 1861. The 4th edition, revised, and enlarged to two volumes, appeared in 1894, edited by the Rev. Edward Miller, an earnest supporter of the conservative school.

The list of manuscripts has been increased to 3791, and most of the accounts of ancient Versions have been rewritten by eminent specialists. Notwithstanding its extremely conservative character, the work is valuable. Dr. Scrivener was possessed of large learning on textual questions, but fought every inch of the ground yielded by the Received Text.

His experience led him gradually to modify his views on some points, and to make some concessions. At the time of his death he was moving in the direction of the substitution of the older, uncial text for that of the Textus Receptus. He gave up 1 John 5:7, 8, and decided for ος against θεος in 1 Timothy 3 : 16. The movement, however, was slow and hesitating. In his last edition of Stephen s text (1887) he characterised Westcott and Hort's edition as "splendidum peccatum, non κτημα ες αει."

With Dean Burgon he stood for the position that all available authorities, and not the most ancient only, should be considered in the settlement of the text, and earnestly combated the tendency to rely too exclusively on the testimony of Aleph (א) and B.

He was, however, more moderate than Burgon, who pronounced Codex א and B to be the most corrupt of manuscripts. Scrivener says :

" We accord to Codex B at least as much weight as to any single document in existence ; " and again, " We have no wish to dissemble the great value of the Codex Vaticanus, which, in common with our opponents, we regard as the most weighty single authority that we possess."

He also differed with Burgon on 1st Tim. 3 : 16.

Scrivener's Principles of Textual Criticism

In the last edition of the Introduction his discussion of principles is summed up in four practical rules :

(1) That the true readings Critical of the Greek New Testament cannot safely be derived from any one set of authorities, whether manuscripts, Versions, or Fathers, but ought to be the result of a patient comparison and careful estimate of the evidence supplied by them all.

(2) That where there is a real agreement between all documents containing the Gospels up to the sixth century, and in the other parts of the New Testament up to the ninth, the testimony of later manuscripts and Versions, though not to be rejected unheard, must be regarded with great suspicion, and unless upheld by strong internal evidence, can hardly be adopted.

(3) That where the more ancient documents are at variance with each other, the later uncial and cursive copies, especially those of approved merit, are of real importance as being the surviving representatives of other codices, very probably as early, perhaps even earlier, than any now extant.

(4) That in weighing conflicting evidence we must assign the highest value, not to those readings which are attested by the greatest number of witnesses, but to those which come to us from several remote and independent sources, and which bear the least likeness to each other in respect to genius and general character.

He admits that the principle of grouping is sound, but with certain reservations. A full statement of his opinions on the late views of comparative criticism is given in the Introduction, II, X.

John Burgon

John W. Burgon, Dean of Chichester, was the friend and coadjutor of Scrivener. He is known principally by his elaborate defence of the authenticity of the last twelve verses of Mark s Gospel, and by his savage attack on the Revised Version (of 1882).

He was a learned scholar and an acute critic, and did much work in inspecting and collating manuscripts, especially cursives, in France and Italy. Much of his work was published in The Guardian, and is not easily accessible.

" Burgon's work is dominated by the conviction that every word of the Scriptures was dictated by the in spiration of the Holy Spirit ; that it is inconceivable that the Author of such a gift would allow it to become unavailing, and would not providentially interfere to guard it from being corrupted or lost ; that we may therefore rightly believe that He guided His church through the course of ages to eliminate the errors which the frailty of man had introduced, and consequently that the text which has been used by the church for centuries must be accepted as at least substantially correct."

- Dr. Salmon,
Some Thoughts on the Textual Criticism of the NT

Testing the value of the ancient manuscripts by comparison with the Textus Receptus, Burgon stated his conclusion as follows :

"By far the most depraved text is that exhibited by Codex D ;
next to D the most untrustworthy codex is א ;
next in impurity comes B ;
then the fragmentary Codex C ;
our own Codex A (British Museum) being beyond all doubt disfigured by the fewest blemishes of any."

- John Burgon, (The Guardian?)

According to Burgon, the antiquity of the most ancient manuscripts is due to their badness. They were known to be so bad that they were little used, and consequently remained untouched, and therefore have survived when better manuscripts have perished.

Many interesting particulars concerning Burgon will be found in Dr. Schaff's Companion to the Greek Testament and English Version, 3d ed., 84, 108, 119 ff., 191, 293 ff., 378, 426, 491.

Scrivener and Burgon's Critique of Westcott-Hort Text

Westcott and Hort's NT received a cordial welcome from many scholars in England and else where, from Roman Catholics as well as Protestants.

On the other hand, the work was severely attacked by the conservative critics, notably by Dr. Scrivener and Dean Burgon.

Perhaps the most vulnerable point was the very corner-stone of the textual theory the authoritative recension at Antioch of the Greek text, about the middle of the third century, which, in its turn, became the standard for a similar revision of the Syrian text, representing the transmutation of the Curetonian into the Peshitto, while the Greek recension itself underwent a second revision. Dr. Scrivener says :

" Of this twofold authoritative revision of the Greek text, of this formal transmutation of the Curetonian Syriac into the Peshitto, although they must have been, of necessity, public acts of great churches in ages abounding in councils, general or provincial, not one trace remains in the history of Christian antiquity ; no one writer seems conscious that any modification, either of the Greek Scriptures or of the vernacular translation, was made in or before his time.

It is as if the Bishops Bible had been thrust out of the English Church service and out of the studies of her divines, and the Bible of 1611 had silently taken its place, no one knew how, or when, or why, or, indeed, that any change whatever had been made.

Yet, regarding his speculative conjecture as indubitably true, Dr. Hort proceeds to name the text as it stood before his imaginary era of transfusion, a pre-Syrian text, and that into which it was changed, sometimes Antiochian, more often Syrian ; while of the latter recension, though made deliberately, as our author believes, by the authoritative voice of the Eastern Church, he does not shrink from declaring that all distinctively Syrian readings must be at once rejected, thus making a clean sweep of all critical materials, Fathers, Versions, manuscripts, uncial or cursive, comprising about nineteen- twentieths of the whole mass, which do not correspond with his preconceived opinion of what a correct text ought to be."

-Scrivener, Introduction (?)

Exception was also taken to the editors' omissions from the text ; to their inconsistency in rejecting Western readings on the one hand, and on the other in endorsing their omissions of what was attested by other authorities.

The names given to the families of texts were challenged. The term " Western " was declared to be inaccurate, since the type of text so designated was not confined to the West, and even the editors admit that readings of this class were current in the East as well as in the West, and probably, to a great extent, had originated there.

The name " Neutral " was condemned, as presupposing that all additions or alterations in the text were due to later corruptions. Also the name " Alexandrian," because used in a sense not previously employed.

It was further objected that the designation of the Curetonian Syriac as " the Old Syriac," and of the Peshitto as " the Vulgate," begged the whole question of the relative age of the two. The editors were severely taken to task for assigning undue weight to the testimony of א and B.

" That א B should thus lift up their heads against all the world is much, especially having regard to the fact that several Versions and not a few Fathers are older than they ; for while we grant that a simple patristic citation, standing by itself, is of little value, yet when the context or current of exposition renders it clear what reading these writers had before them, they must surely, for that passage, be equivalent as authorities to a manuscript of their own age "

-Scrivener, Introduction

The principal objections are well stated in the recent volume of Dr. George Salmon, Provost of Trinity College, Dublin : Some Thoughts on the Textual Criticism of the NT, London, 1897. The book has a peculiar interest as coming from a close personal friend of Dr. Hort. The textual theory of the two editors is handled with great candour and discrimination, and some of the points against it are very effectively made.

- Vincent, Intro.

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Dean Burgon
For Dummies


The idea for this work comes from two series of books on modern topics, the "(Subject) For Dummies", and the "(Subject) For Idiots" series. Although we are a little late for the series, the idea is doubly appropriate, because many modern textual critics really do think Dean John Burgon is "for dummies".

We strongly disagree with that view, but we admit two serious problems with Burgon's work:

(1) Burgon's wit (mostly sarcasm and hyperbole) is often too strong for most tastes, especially today. Even those who do acquire a taste for it, often fall asleep before reaching the punchline.

(2) Burgon's language is too long-winded and flowery for busy people with short attention spans ("...what did Nazaroo just say?").

So we are going to attempt to close that gap, with a popular account of Burgon's ideas for modern people. To make it clear, we are going to re-write Burgon in modern English.

Taken from: The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, chapter 2

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.


Just a few words to make it easier to understand.

New Testament (NT) Textual Criticism is an attempt to find out what the Bible (New Testament part) originally said.

This is a separate problem than finding out whether the Bible is true, and it actually it must be done first, so we know what we are talking about. 1

To find out what was originally written you need a scientific method, which is what this book is all about. The Dean, John Burgon tried to make this method plain, and Edward Miller too, but their explanation needs more work (so we're fixing it).

The first four books in the NT are called the Gospels, and each gives the story of Jesus. We'll focus on those.

The First Christian Centuries (50 - 400 A.D.)

In the early days, they told the stories a lot of different ways, so we get different versions of what happened. These books (booklets really) got copied by hand, so mistakes and changes happened.

Later a guy named Origen in Alexandria (a port in Egypt) tried to sort things out, and started checking the differences between copies of the Gospels. He moved to Caesarea (in Palestine) and started a central library, and then others carried on with his work, namely Pamphilus, then Eusebius, and so on.

Two Old Bible Manuscripts, "א" and "B"

It seems around Eusebius' time, about 330 A.D., two copies of the Bible were made, one called Codex 2 Vaticanus (labelled, "B" for short), and the other called Codex Sinaiticus 3 (labelled with the Hebrew letter 'Aleph', "א").

Not much else survived from the 4th century, but these two copies somehow did. They were both used for a while, one in a church and the other in a monastery in the East. Eventually Codex B was given to the Pope by an Eastern bishop, and ended up on the shelf in the Vatican library. Codex א was found in a monastery at Mount Sinai, and ended up in the British Museum.

These two copies are kind of special, because they are similar, and because they both omit some verses and their wording is different in various places.

The Current (Traditional) Bible Text

Now everybody agrees that just after that, around 350 A.D. people were copying another, different version and by about 400 A.D. this other text was the most popular. And by 800 A.D. it was pretty much the only version Christians everywhere used. So the question textual critics are asking is this:

Is the text that Christians have been using for the last 800 years really the right one, or could the text found in Codex Aleph and B more accurate?

A Quick Rundown on the last few Centuries

First around 1516, just after the invention of printing, a guy named Erasmus made the first printed copy of the Greek text. Although he only used a few manuscripts 4 to compare from, he basically printed the text everyone had been using, and so it was called the Textus Receptus (i.e., the "Received Text", or just TR for short). A few others, like Stephens, Beza, and the Elzevirs also tried to print improved versions of the standard text, with minor differences.

Then people started comparing more copies, and also other ancient translations, and quotations by the early Fathers. They collected notes on the variant readings 5 between copies. After gathering more data, people tried to organize the hand-written copies into 'families' and groups with similar texts.

The "Oldest manuscripts are the Best" Theory

Most copies were not that old. The later copies greatly outnumbered the earlier ones. But naturally some people thought the earlier ones should be more accurate.

At this time Protestants were very suspicious of any tradition and many believed that the Bible itself may have been tampered with. So they were convinced the numerous later copies were untrustworthy, and that the earlier manuscripts should be used to 'restore' or reconstruct the New Testament if necessary.

Naturally the great age and unusual readings of Codex B attracted attention.

People like Bentley wanted to give more weight to the age of a manuscript, while others, like Bengel and Griesbach felt that certain groups of similar manuscripts, called "Text-types" were more likely to be right than others.

Lachmann was the first to boldly dump the Received Text in favour of this one old manuscript. 6 He was extremely skeptical, and thought the regular text was only two centuries old! 7 He ignored all later evidence, and only used the oldest MSS and fragments, about seven 'authorities' altogether.

Meanwhile, people began to find hundreds more manuscripts ("MSS" for short). Most were recent copies, but all pretty much supported the Received Text. It seemed an enormous amount of work to compare them all, only to confirm that they were in substantial agreement. And all this evidence cramped the idea that the "Oldest manuscripts are the Best".

So skeptical scholars opted to pretty much ignore the later MSS entirely. They put the late MSS into a single group or 'Text-Type' and used the genealogy 8 analogy, to argue that all the later copies should be reduced down to just one "vote" . They reasoned that MSS should not be counted, but that Text-Types should be counted instead. Groups should be compared, given weight and counted as to one reading or another.

Tischendorf in the 1800's found Codex א, and chose this manuscript as his favourite, but the basic idea was the same: Prefer the oldest MSS, and reject the bulk of later evidence.

Hort favoured Codex B instead, but took the two old MSS (א and B) together to form his "Neutral Text", supposing it to be the original text. He theorized that the Traditional Text (the 'TR') was just a "Syrian Recension" (an artificially edited creation) made at Antioch in the 3rd century, and so rejected it.

The Development of an Opposing School

We give the opposing group of critics last, not because people admit yet that theirs is best view, but because the value of this school of thought will be shown in this book. More recent evidence also will support this final view.

Dr. F. H. A. Scrivener, and the Dean, John Burgon are the proponents of this view, which is continued by Edward Miller, with modifications. They don't suggest that the Received Text is perfect, or that it needs no improvement. They agree it needs revision. Burgon has suggested some 150 places for correction in Matthew alone.

But they support the Traditional Text, meaning the one used by the majority of Christians for the last 1000 years, and which can be traced back to earliest times.

As a corollary, they suppose that the readings in the handful of ancient manuscripts appear to be corruptions of one kind or another. These are mainly omissions, not always deliberate, but often copied with knowledge of alternate readings. Thus in the context of the original text and its restoration, Codex B and Codex א are important evidence, but not trustworthy witnesses to the original text.

The Scientific Claim and Basis of The New View

These textual scholars believe that the Traditional text which has been used by Christians for centuries is trustworthy and genuine.

As a result of this observation, they also agree that historically God used the Holy Spirit to protect the New Testament writings, and oversee the Church's duty in keeping the Holy Scriptures safe.

But they claim to base their preference for the Traditional Text specifically on the actual evidence, all of it, properly accounted for and reasonably and scientifically weighed.

The would deny that their scientific investigation of the evidence has been distorted by their own view of God's action in history. And they would certainly deny that their view is based on "faith alone", or that it flew in the face of acknowledged historical fact or scientific method and evidence.

Just as their opponents claim it (justly or not), they claim that their position is reasonable and consistent with the known facts, and that contrary to their opponents' view, it has a better fit and stronger claim to the objective truth of the matter.

Modern Footnotes:

1. Finding out what was actually written is called "Lower Criticism", while finding out what it meant is called "Higher Criticism", but thats not important now.

2. A "Codex" just means 'book' (with pages), as opposed to a scroll of parchment or roll of papyrus.

3. Just call it "Aleph" for the Hebrew letter there. We'll just call these two copies 'codex B' and 'codex Aleph' to keep it simple.

4. Up to this time, (around 1500), all books were hand-copied, and the copies were called "manuscripts" (meaning "hand-written"); "MSS" is short for 'manuscripts', and "MS" is short for a single manuscript.

5. When one copy differed from another at some point in the text, that spot was called a "variant", and the different versions of the sentence at that point were called "readings".

6. "MS" is short for manuscript, the plural, 'manuscripts' is written "MSS".

7. That is, he thought the Received Text or traditional Bible had been edited and standardized around 1300 A.D. We now know that this extreme skepticism is ridiculous, since there is tons of evidence showing that the Traditional Text has been around since at least the late 4th century (about 350 A.D.)!

8. The idea from 'genealogy' is that all later copies were descended by chains of copying from one common 'arch-type' or "Ancestor" manuscript, which contained all the common shared readings.
  This single ancient 'editor' then, was responsible for both the deliberate changes and any unique accidental errors found in most of the later copies. Although some copies might be individually corrected, most would not, and so by 'agreement in error' the early form of the ancestor-text (not the original text!) could be reconstructed.
  The fact that the majority of MSS agreed upon the basic text was taken as a sign that they were all desended from a common "edition", not that they were independant witnesses to the original text. Whether this argument is true or a fallacy is what needs to be proven.

Chapter I

Section 1. - Preliminaries

The most important question is, what method should we use to determine the NT text? That is, to determine the Greek text that we will then translate into English, we need a consistent and universally accepted method. 9

The ideal method must be scientific and obvious; that is, transparent and verifiable.

There was no systematic scientific method before 1880. People made suggestions here, a conjecture there, but the theories and results varied widely from person to person. 10 Some made sustained efforts and significant progress, all good in their own way, but even then there was the glaring absence of any convincing and universal scientific procedure.

Everyone from beginner to expert thought they could naively decide any textual question, but nobody offered a real theory or method that others could use to duplicate their results. 11

Everyone claimed to have 'sound critical principles', but nobody could tell us what they were, before Hort came along. Unfortunately, Hort's theory violates too many generally accepted principles and lacks too much proof to win a real consensus. Hort goes against both the historical view of the body of Christ and previous critics too.

Some Fundamentals of Our Position

I will not lay down by my own authority some set of arbitrary and dubious rules, like my opponents have. I ask the reader to listen instead to some more universal statements that we hope will be self-evident. I also think the reader may see that these fundamentals are bound to lead to very different results than those favoured by natural critics.

I don't expect the reader to be free of preconceived notions. I just ask him to stay open minded and give our thesis a fair chance. Let him take nothing for granted that can be checked. We will provide any evidence that we have to help the reader decide matters.

For instance, I will ask the reader not to just assume a 4th century copy will automatically be more accurate than a 10th century one. Of course if all things were equal, we might expect that to be true.

But the point is this: the fact that texts differ at all proves things aren't equal when it comes to copies of the Bible. So we shouldn't be surprised that a 14th century copy might have the original reading while a 4th century one has been corrupted. We know that ALL manuscripts have mistakes somewhere, and every case must be carefully checked, not assumed on the basis of mere age.

Scientific consistency requires that we be equally skeptical of all evidence, and put every witness to the same tough tests.

Section 2. Some Fundamentals

What makes NT Textual Criticism different than the treatment of ordinary books?

The New Testament is Inspired and Authored by God Himself. It cannot be hidden like an elitist war-manual, or superstitiously venerated like an incomprehensible religious text. It was meant to be spread to the ends of the earth, and shouted from the housetops. It was foredestined to suffer severe resistance and the hatred of unbelievers, and face formidable opponents.

Yet somehow textual critics vainly imagine that it merely experienced the same accidental and random forces as any other classical work of fiction, history, or poetry. Its as if the book were just ignored by its most violent enemies for 2,000 years.

And so, absurdly, critics make no allowances for forces and processes entirely different in both severity and kind than any copy of Homer or baudy song would experience. The same naive rules would somehow still apply, and adequately repair any damage to its integrity.

But when we examine the manuscripts of the NT, we discover to the contrary unique phenomenae unheard of in classical texts, or even imagined. No experience of classical textual errors can prepare one for the theological complexities and the overwhelming phenomenae of NT textual variants.

In case some reader thinks we are exaggerating, lets look at some agreed upon historical facts.

The Violent Attack upon the Holy Scriptures

No sooner had the NT been written than it suffered the same persecution and violent fate as Jesus himself did. Vicious forgers and heretics like Marcion, Valentinus, Basilides, etc. mutilated and changed the Gospels to support their own ideas. Others attempted 'harmonies' or paraphrases, while the authentic writings were still relatively unknown.

This was compounded by some sloppy copying. Well meaning correctors, not knowing the true depth and nature of the danger applied ineffective and counter-productive methods. Such "Correcting" could actually make things worse.

Under assault from all sides, Christians survived this early period with their NT writings intact by using the only weapon that could possibly have worked: careful copying of known good copies, resisting any temptation to 'improve' without certain knowledge. This stubborn loyalty, combined with patience let them weather the fads and heretical movements that died off as quickly as they sprung up.

In the end, the Christians found truly that,

"...in your patience, you possess your souls." (Luke 21:19).

It was not lightly that the NT writers themselves encouraged Christians to use "patience" some 30 times!

Even the most skeptical observer can admit that no ordinary book was ever subjected to such an intensity of attack, or such a wide variety of hostile forces as the NT writings. How can ordinary, feeble techniques, designed to handle minor accidental copying errors, possibly cope with such a bewildering array of causes and effects?

Special understanding of the problem, and appropriate technique is needed to handle NT variants. They are not like anything in the classical world.

Section 3. The Purpose of the Holy Spirit

Before ascending to Heaven, Jesus told the disciples He would send the Holy Spirit to take His place on earth and stay with His people (the church) forever.

The Holy Spirit would "bring to memory all He had told them",
and "guide them into all truth." (John 14:26, 16:13)

There's no reason to think the Holy Spirit abandoned His purpose and stopped caring about the Holy Scriptures. He must have prevented errors from overcoming the text, and stopped enemies from successfully corrupting the Bible in the long run.

The Holy Spirit could certainly grant the wisdom to set up reasonable safeguards against corruption, and give correctors the knowledge to spot fabricated texts.

Its hard to believe that by our time 995 out of 1000 copies could be untrustworthy, and that a few lost MSS from the 4th century would have the 'true text'.

Can God Himself have been so derelict of duty that the 'real Gospel' for instance had to be rescued from the garbage-can suddenly by a German critic visiting an Egyptian monastery? (For this is how Codex א was found...) Or that one other 'precious' copy would have been sitting on a back shelf in the Vatican library for 500 years unnoticed? (Codex B).

Would this be the action of the Lord who said,

"Go then and teach all nations, ...
Whatsoever I have commanded you:
And behold: I am with you always,
Even unto the end of the world."

(Matt. 28:19-20)


Lets put it another way for those unfamiliar with such promises.

There were many copies of the Gospels even from early days. The Christians always tried to protect their Holy Scriptures. It was the Christians who preserved for the world the authentic books and who rejected the forgeries.

At the time the text was supposedly altered (in the 4th century according to critics), the church was in its Golden Age of Literature. Eight out of ten educated thinkers were Christians settling doctrines at international councils. The science of manuscript copying and production was at its peak.

And ever since that time one single Traditional Text has been carefully handed down to us, from all areas of Christendom.

The Conspiracy that Never Was

Its obvious that in this situation the text could not have been greatly altered or replaced without a universal conspiracy or a vigorous battle.

But there was no public argument or discussion whatever about a wholesale recension or substitution, or even an official revision of the Greek text in the 4th century.

The only thing known is a revision of the Latin (384 A.D.) in the West by Jerome, who used the oldest Greek text that could be found. 12

So if anything, there must have been a Conspiracy of Silence, while the text was quietly replaced.

No mere conjectures will suffice to demonstrate such an incredible thing here. So instead, an incredible conspiracy must be proved.

To show such a massive conspiracy, real evidence is needed; a powerful, tightly knit case. A thorough scientific investigation with utterly clinching proofs.

The critics must show that a massive and universal conspiracy occurred, to replace and standardize the bumbling and contradictory texts of the early 4th century manuscripts (Codex א, A, B, C, D, etc.) with the uniform Traditional Text that followed for the next 1500 years.

It must have been swift and successful, and would seem to have required:

(1) Centralized organization: - the authority of a pope. The operation would have to exert control which extended to monasteries and scriptoriums throughout the Roman Empire.

(2) Grassroots Cooperation: - it would require cooperation of an almost unimaginable level: - the cooperation of every honest Christian, and especially copyists and teachers.

(3) A conspiracy of silence: - would have had to accompany this substitution, preventing almost everyone anywhere in the Empire from speaking about it or writing about it, to explain the historical absence of any evidence.

(4) A Mopping Up Operation: - A frighteniningly efficient one, to stomp out any trace of protest or even signs of the existance of this milestone revision. This might take generations to accomplish, and would need sustained action.

But the ancient manuscripts themselves testify against this ever happening! It could never have happened!

For these manuscripts have been heavily corrected and re-corrected by dozens of hands extending over seven centuries. Still no copyist or corrector, no army of correctors was able to beat these texts into any kind of real conformity with the Traditional Text. Nor did they apparently even try to!

Not a single old Uncial has been corrected to conform to the Traditional Text in any systematic or thorough way. Why? Because nobody wanted to do this, nor were they under any orders to do so.

Instead what we see is this:

Many skilled scribes and correctors, over seven centuries, individually attempt to fix the manuscripts.

They fix a dozen errors here and there, a hundred spelling errors, a half verse or a clause skipped by accident. They add a thousand marginal notes indicating a variation in the text.

But there is NO PLAN in operation to re-shape a single old copy into the Traditional Text.

And these correctors are from every time and place, writing in Greek, Latin, capitals, miniscule and cursive scripts. But not a single corrector or copyist anywhere at anytime seems to know of any conspiracy or plan to conform to the Traditional Text.

As though by magic, every surviving copy from the 4th to 9th century has escaped the notice of the conspirators, and has only been haphazardly edited in a few dozen places. Miraculously, every old copy had fallen again and again into the hands of ordinary copyists outside the conspiracy loop, doing their usual work.

Again and again, the real conspirators, as successful as they were in replacing thousands of copies with near-perfect clones of the Traditional Text, somehow missed all the manuscripts destined to survive. They let them all slip through their net with only errratic and pointless marginal scribbles.

The Real Conspiracy

But there is a more plausible alternative: What if Copyists and Correctors were all about the same in talent and as unfocussed in intent as the many dozen we see working in the margins of Codex א, A, B, C, D, etc. ?

In that case, the reason for the later dominance of the Traditional Text was that it was always dominant, and even ordinary copyists were able to faithfully copy it for a few centuries. Bad copies were copied too, but these had no chance to take over because the copying stream was already dominated by Traditional Text.

The sloppy texts we see in early manuscripts just reflects some errors in copying and some deliberate editing to match the early Lectionary Texts. These copies were made for church use and public reading.

But in any case, the real history of the text must be determined by careful scientific investigation, and not wild speculations or unprovable theories. The historical facts must be evaluated with scientific disinterest, not biased by loyalty to any theory or critical opinion. There can be no favouritism toward unfounded conjectures.

Section 4. The Historical Role of the Church

No one has paid enough attention to another simple fact: Like it or not, both the NT text, and even the NT Canon, have been decided and preserved by the 'catholic' Church (i.e., mainstream Christianity) throughout the entire 2,000 years of Christian history.

And this authority and action took place through the hands and agency of the Christian bishops, in every century.

Dr. Hort admits:

' The fundamental text of late extant Greek MSS generally is, beyond all question, identical with the dominant Antiochian or Graeco-Syrian text of the second half of the fourth century. . . . The bulk of extant MSS. written from about three or four to ten or eleven centuries later must have had in the greater number of extant variations a common original either contemporary with, or older than, our oldest MSS.'

(And again,) 'Before the close of the fourth century, as we have said, a Greek text, not materially differing from the almost universal text of the ninth century and the Middle Ages, was dominant, probably by authority, at Antioch, and exercised much influence elsewhere .'

- Hort, Introduction, p. 92, 142

Hort's talk of 'Antioch' is conjecture. But the Traditional Text has prevailed in the Church everywhere from the 4th century till now. And this text is as old as Codex א and B.

The Lectionary copies too (The Greek Church Lessons) have this same essential text.

Now lets add one more fact: Since the 16th century (the invention of printing and the Reformation), all the churches Catholic and Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Russian, have been using this very same text too.

We're not defending the Textus Receptus at the moment, just stating the fact it exists. That it can be made even more accurate nobody denies. That the printed text is not identical to the Traditional Text in every detail is freely admitted.

But to be corrected, improved, sharpened yet more, requires the most careful investigation and the fullest and fairest use of evidence.

We naturally say that before a single word or phrase of the current Traditional Text be removed, altered or added to, the evidence in favour of the change had better be of the most convincing and utterly certain kind.

For (rightly or wrongly), the current text has the approval throughout Western Christendom for the last 1,500 years at least.

There can be no 'science of Textual Criticism' based on some subjective opinion, a personal conjecture, or individual judgment.

Instead, as Proverbs tells us,

'..in the multitude of councellors there is safety.'

(Prov. 11:14, 15:22, 24:6)

There can be no avoiding the requirement of continued consultation among the faithful and the full consensus of the Body of Christ, for any significant alterations in the Holy Scriptures.

In the next chapter I will explain the scientific principles we give for a solid and reliable Textual Criticism. But I have a few more words to say here first.

Section 5. Mutually Exclusive Positions

Surprisingly, it comes down to this:

Does the True Text rest in the vast multitude of ordinary copies, both old and new, whose only special feature is their close agreement?

Or can the True Text only be found in a small handful of old copies, that contradict one another as often as they do the vast majority?

Supporters of the Traditional Text urge that so many diverse and independant witnesses should be taken as trustworthy and followed, unless there can be a clear demonstation that they shouldn't be, in some specific readings.

Supporters of the 'Old Uncials', i.e., א A B C D etc. claim the original text will be found exclusively among these older MSS (whether they agree or not), in all significant cases.

These men claim 'antiquity', but really seem to just use their own subjective judgment, and rely upon mere conjectures when they side with the 'Old Uncials'. It seems that these textual critics assume the very thing to be proved.

Yet further, א , B, D are often preferred in any combination or even alone, over A & C, even when they stand together with the Traditional Text.

Even more problematic is the fact that all five (א A B C D) never agree unanimously against the Traditional Text. But surely if they were closest to the original, they would do this at least sometimes. How is it the 'oldest and best' never stand together in intelligent agreement?

Law of the Excluded Middle

We'll talk about that more later. But here we want to make one more point. Often when two parties disagree, the truth is found somewhere in the middle. But this just isn't one of those cases. Not only are the positions mutually exclusive, but they also exclude any artificially constructed 'middle position'. This isn't a question of bad attitude on either side, but a point of scientific logic.

There are only two basic schools of thought, and they are diametrically opposed negations of each other. By the Logical Law of the Excluded Middle, only one theory can be correct, and if one side is proven wrong, the corollary must then be essentially right. 13

Modern Footnotes:

9. Its stunning that some should think Textual Criticism is unimportant, and base this on the claim that important doctrine can be established using 'accepted' passages. Its as if all errors and attacks on Holy Scripture just happened to occur on the least important parts. But this flies in the face of common sense:

(a) We must determine what the complete text is before we can interpret it safely.

(b) Good passages can't simply be surrendered just because they've been attacked by opponents of every type, from within and without.

(c) How can Holy Scripture be of two kinds of value, where some passages are critically important, and others are merely curiosities that can be taken or left? Why only two kinds for instance, and who should decide this by deleting Holy Scriptures?

(d) Many passages under attack actually ARE important, like the last 12 verses of Mark, the first Word from the Cross, the Garden Agony, the Pericope de Adultera (Jn 8:1-11) and numerous others.

(e) It is impossible to decide beforehand what parts of Holy Scripture will be important in some future situation. How can we risk cutting off future Christians from potentially important teachings and facts?

10. Results even varied from decade to decade with the same person: Tischendorf for example changed his mind (and his text) some 3,572 times between his 1859 and 1872 editions of the text.

11. Consistent, reproducable results are an absolute requirement for real science.

12. For this, Jerome travelled to Constantinople, to the religious center of the Greek churches. The need for a standardized Latin text shows that the Latin stream of transmission had not been conformed to any official revision (and was Jerome's whole reason for doing it).

Jerome mentions two earlier revisions/recensions of the Greek text, one by Lucianus in the East and one by Hesychius in Alexandria. But even though both of these were popular in their own local areas, neither achieved any universal acceptance.

In fact, Jerome tells us that he himself deliberately avoided both of these revisions and instead sought out much older 'pre-revision' copies from at least a hundred years earlier.

On the one hand, Jerome's text is essentially the Traditional Text, which critics say is a revision. But if Jerome found it in manuscripts from a hundred years earlier, and simply copied it, then any revision of the Greek must have happened before that.

But on the other hand, if such a text did eventually achieve dominance, it would have been because it was seen as older and superior to later attempts at revision, like the popular Lucianic and Heschyian recensions!

If Jerome's work influenced the Greek copyists, then it must have been a quiet grassroots adoption of a text with a known superior pedigree and claim to authenticity. And it must have happened very gradually over hundreds of years, because none of the 4th century Greek Uncial manuscripts show real conformity to Jerome's text.

This is the most plausible scenario if we believe that our handful of 4th century manuscripts (Codex א, A, B, C, D, etc.) really reflect the Greek text at that time. It would mean that the Greeks, far from adopting a new revision, had simply corrected their corrupted copies back to the older, more original text, and quietly cleaned up the stream of transmission.

But a more likely alternative is at hand: Its also possible that the few 4th century manuscripts that have survived simply do not represent the mainstream line of transmission, nor do they reflect the state of the text in the 4th century, which then was actually in very good shape throughout the empire at the height of the Literary Golden Age. This text simply held its dominance, while flakey copies like (Codex א, A, B, C, D, etc.) were abandoned through neglect.

13. This is not to deny that either side can contribute useful, accurate research, historical data, or good arguments on individual issues, which can be incorporated into the complete picture. Just that each side has chosen mutually exclusive but universal premises and principles, which if falsified, necessarily leave behind the opposing view. Dean Burgon argued elsewhere, that the real point was that entirely false premises were bound to lead to at least some wrong conclusions, as a result of misinterpretation of fact or the failure of a logical argument.

Return to Index

Chapter II:
Solid Principles

Section 1. The Goal and Progress of TC

1a. The Focus of Textual Criticism

The goal of Textual Criticism ('TC') is to determine the exact words, spelling, even the word order of the NT writers. So it takes real expertise and must logically come before any final interpretation of the text. And those who love Holy Scripture should find it exciting.

This science has two basic branches:

(1) Collecting, studying and organizing the evidence of the early NT copies, the early translations (Versions), and the quotations by early Christian writers. This takes real patience and stamina, requires accurate methods, and involves a lot of tedious work. People in this branch of TC compare and collate manuscripts, 'back-translate' Versions, and hunt down quotations in early Christian writings. They publish their findings in articles, critical editions of ancient books, and also sometimes in the form of a 'critical apparatus' or set of footnotes alongside a working copy of the NT (a 'critical edition'). Such researchers often work in teams, or collaborate to combine their discoveries.

(2) Application of the Historical Evidence; creating a clear, detailed and thorough historical framework, allowing the interpretation of the evidence so that we can discover or confirm the exact words of Holy Scripture. And this is a more difficult task, requiring a vast amount of accurate information. It also requires scientific thinking and the neutralization of bias, to avoid serious mistakes.

1b. The Progress of the Work

(1) Data Collection and Collation

(a) The Manuscripts : In this first department, very little has been done, although the work so far has been excellent. Although thousands of copies have been gathered, only a few hundred have been collated and compared.

(b) The Ancient Translations (Versions): Sadly, very little is understood or agreed upon about their origins or their evolution. The most important versions are engulfed in controversy as to age, content, variation etc.

(c) The Early Christian Writers: These have in many cases been examined and translated, but critical editions must await many years of future research. Only a few (such as Dean Burgon) have begun the labourious task of collating and evaluating their quotations and their supporting texts.

In summary, only a small portion of the data has been thoroughly examined and collected.

(2) Theorizing and Attempts at Correction / Reconstruction

Here unfortunately (on the prestigious side of the work), we have a copious number of attempts to 'solve' the problem of the NT text, but all of them deeply flawed and disappointing. These all suffer from the same defects and symptoms:

(a) The Rush to Publish: The critics were in too much of a hurry, making naive assumptions and unsubstantiated conclusions. Wonderful examples are Bentley, Griesbach and Alford, who attempted 'critical Greek texts' before any MSS were even accurately collated, - their results having little use.

(b) Too Narrow a Base: Work was based on the meager information available, when the patience to wait for fuller, more accurate data was required. Glaring examples include Lachmann, who deliberately narrowed his sources to a mere seven MSS and authorities out of thousands.

(c) Hairbrained Beliefs: Lachmann's belief that the Traditional Text was only 200 years old, and Tischendorf's superstitious trust 14 in Codex א are just a few cases that come to mind.

(d) Naive Assessments: For instance, Bentley's quaint idea that he could take 2000 errors from the Vulgate, and as many from the TR, and achieve a universal text. The true immensity of the task, which will require the work of many experts over several generations for satisfactory results, has never been fully grasped.

(e) Faulty Foundations: - completely unsound premises, such as Griesbach's three great 'Recensions', the "Western, Alexandrian, Byzantine", for which however, no historical evidence has ever been found.

A dozen more such severe flaws could be listed in the various current popular theories, such as those of Tregelles, and Hort, but this is enough to show the shakey state of the present art.

2. Evidence of Divine Preservation

Its only natural to expect that the Holy Spirit of God would take special care to protect and preserve His Central Literary Masterpiece, the Eternal Gospel.

Every new discovery about the Gospel only convinces us more that the Living God would have made supernatural provision for this Everlasting Message.

Interestingly, no skill or planning of men could have achieved what the God of History has apparently provided to safeguard the New Testament:

(1) Vast Numbers of Copies were Made: By necessity, Gospels and Letters were copied in extraordinary numbers throughout the Ages all over the Roman Empire. As a result, even though the originals have passed away, there are even now thousands of copies, some with very ancient wordings. We examine them and find:

(a) Independant Sources: from all different countries and lands.

(b) Testimony of Ages: they span over 1,000 years of history.

(c) Deeper Roots: all copied from even older MSS no longer existing.

And so we have a body of evidence for this Traditional Text vastly superior to that of any other writings of equal antiquity, of any type, found anywhere else in the world. 15

Church Lectionary Practice and Community

Add to this the ancient practice of reading Scripture aloud to the congregation, stemming from pre-Christian synagogue practice. The Gospels were segmented into Lessons from early times and separately copied as a backup system. This gave increased protection as follows:

(a) An authoritative Lectionary (Public Reading) System was quickly developed, which worked as an independant backup system for the key content of passages.

(b) A Public Commentary Program was also perpetuated, refreshed and updated, to guarantee that the meaning of the ancient texts would remain familiar and not become confused.

(c) A Weekly Reading Schedule provided easy public access of the Holy Scriptures and sermons to every Christian, even the blind, and illiterate, giving everyone accurate knowledge of the written Gospel stories.

(d) Frequent public oral recitation made it difficult to alter either the meaning or the original wording of Holy Scripture.

(e) A continuous core of Christian community and congregations made sure continuity was maintained for all of the above, through inter-church contact and assistance.

Thousands of Lectionaries and Commentary copies also are preserved alongside the Gospels in Christian communities all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

And this uniquely fortunate situation compels us to make intelligent scientific use of this massive block of evidence.

(2) Translations into Many Tongues:

As the Gospel spread it was quickly translated into other languages. Latin and Syriac versions were needed even in the Apostolic Age. (Note the 3 languages even on Jesus' cross!). 1st century testimony (e.g. Papias) concerning the Gospel Acc. to the Hebrews confirms early translations, as well as copious 2nd century Latin evidence (e.g. Tertullian etc.).

The Gospel was preached in various languages from the beginning (i.e. Pentecost), and by the 4th or 5th century had been transfered to Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Gothic.

This also helped to protect against further changes. These Foreign churches have often jealously guarded their received texts, and have independantly preserved the NT from early times.

(3) Voluminous Writings by Christian Preachers:

By far the most powerful provision for protecting the content of the NT in popular memory was the activity of hundreds of preachers, pastors, bishops, public orators, doctors and theologians, constantly discussing and interpreting the Holy Scriptures.

This vast wealth of supplementary materials provides overwhelming support for the content and meaning of the Gospels. In many cases the copies the early writers were reading from are centuries older than our oldest copies of the NT. This threefold chord of Copies, Translations, Commentators is the most remarkable and powerful witness to any ancient text ever created.

The Holy Scripture itself hints at this amazing system of protection and preservation:

A threefold cord is not easily broken.

(Eccl. 4:12)

3. Proper Evaluation of Textual Evidence

Although MSS can be divided according to their style of writing, that is as Uncials (hand-printed capitals) or Cursives (connected handwriting), this is not very useful for two good reasons:

(1) Their production overlaps by at least a century (Uncials were produced until 950 A.D. or more, while Cursives began to be made in the early 800s).

(2) Uncials seem mostly to have been produced in Eastern centers like Caesarea. But recent discoveries in Egypt suggest that many Cursives were copied from early Papyrus, not from Uncials, and so have a much wider base and different origins.

So there is often no special significance to a MS being written in Capital (Uncial) letters.

And worse, the importance of older Uncials has not so much been exaggerated as completely misunderstood. Because of the undue attention already given to five of them by critics in the first place (Codex א, B, A, C, D, ), we also have to spend some extra time on them.

In the first place, these five are really spread across 3 centuries: Codex א, B (4th cent.), A, C (5th cent.), and D supposedly the 6th century.

Not surprisingly, two often neglected MSS, Codex Beratinus (Φ), and the Rossanensian Codex (Σ), also come from the 5th century, and generally support the Traditional Text against the others.

Nor should the old age of those first five MSS be thought anything profound. They can often be found wrong using evidence of an even earlier period and of a much wider scope.

The Collective Value of the Manuscripts

Of course no one denies that the manuscripts generally are the primary evidence for Textual Criticism, because of their continuous text, their great number and their variety. The MSS as a group offer us this:

(1) they are scattered over every century from the 2nd until the 16th.

(2) they make an unbroken chain of textual evidence from early times to now.

(3) They are the collective product of all the independant Christian Centers.

From this we see there can have been no 'collusion', and no universal textual fraud is even possible. Individual conjectural changes would have limited reach and short lifetimes, as did even the major attempts at revision by individuals like Lucian and Hesychius.

Nor could the Early Fathers have imposed any textual changes. Their own witness is random, fragmentary, lacking any plan or motivation to make changes. It is remarkable that the early writers agree with the Traditional Text in a near constant 2/3 ratio. But this is not from any desire to change or adopt any other specific text. It comes by quoting from memory, paraphrasing, or simple sloppiness. And so their very naivety confirms their basic honesty as witnesses.

The Versions, while giving great general confirmation, by their nature as translations and paraphrases are less useful for points of detail. Their value is undeniable on many points, because they will likely have been based on more than one Greek copy. But their peculiarities and quirks can naturally be unreliable and dangerous to follow. And our surviving copies are mostly only a few hundred years old.

So after prioritizing our categories of evidence, (1) Greek copies, (2) Early Fathers, (3) Versions, we are left with the Golden Precept of Bentley:

"The real text of the sacred writers does not now, (since the originals have been so long lost), lie in any one MS or edition, but is dispersed among them all."

- Richard Bentley

This obvious truth is at the heart of reliable textual criticism.

To opt for two or even five old manuscripts seems easy and natural enough. But it fails to acknowledge a massive amount of diverse evidence that must be accounted for on a convincing historical basis. To merely put aside inconvenient evidence, especially of this magnitude is contrary to science. The problem is too deep and complex to be solved so cheaply.

4. Seven Principles of Evaluation

We are forced then to turn to the vast array of evidence that lays before us. And we need sound principles to use it intelligently. Its a lack of a clear method that has caused many to run to the nearest ancient MS that forms an island in a sea of overwhelming evidence.

1. Clear Statement of the Goal: We must never abandon our main purpose and quest - to establish the original text as given by the inspired authors themselves.

For practical reasons we might indeed trace the geneology an error here, or innovation there. Or we might find on our travels that it was important for our historical understanding to sketch or reconstruct some ancient revision or local flurry of editing activity at some time or place.

But no such investigations or constructions can be mistaken for the Original Text.

Nor should they by any means find their way into the final results of our inquiry. These historical notes belong in a secondary history of the text, not a Bible for Christian use in pure and humble study and worship.

Our final product can be nothing less than our best effort at textual preciseness and purity, with all possible ambiguity and distractions removed.

John the Baptist's loud cry compels us to this uncompromisable standard:

"Make straight the Way of the Lord!"

(cf. John 1:23)

We need to state this because many a critic has been distracted by interesting and ancient readings. But from the facts we know that All readings are old when found in old documents, nothing is achieved by proving they are old. What is needed is additional clinching evidence that the reading is genuine. This is no play-area for intellectual cleverness.

2. Evidence must overrule Argument: The reading must always be selected based upon the better evidence, not based upon the cleverest argument or conjecture.

3. No Single Authority can Overrule the Traditional Text: Again in light of the nature of the large body of evidence we have, it is absurd to set up any single unsupported MS or reading as a serious candidate for the text. Without the kind of powerful corroborating evidence that could override the weight of all present counter-evidence, this kind of case must be dismissed.

Guidelines for Weighing Conflicting Evidence

It now remains then for us to set up rules and guidelines which are so self-evidently scientific that none will be tempted to fall into conjectures for lack of clear objective principles. We determine what evidence is "the best" by listing the features that ideal evidence should have:

Seven Tests of Truth

  1. Age or Primitiveness
    (both of content and container)
  2. Consent of Witnesses or Number
    (copiousness of evidence)
  3. Variety and Catholicity of Evidence
    (independance of witnesses and orthodoxy)
  4. Weight and Credibility of Witnesses
    (nature of MS or authority)
  5. Continuity and Reliability of Tradition
    (Historical Support)
  6. Evidence from Surrounding Contexts
    (Literary Context and Historical Background)
  7. Immediate and Local Considerations
    (copying issues, grammar & style)

These seven points will be discussed in detail further on.

5. General Issues regarding Age

Our Seven Principles will be fully discussed next chapter. But some key points need to be made:

Age by itself is Valueless. Readings cannot be adopted because they are merely old, but because they have the strongest support, and therefore must be the oldest. This is the whole point. And physical age of a witness has no relevance in this sense, because all surviving authorities are simply not old enough. Most serious errors crept into the text in the first 50-100 years (c. 40-120 A.D.), when they would least likely be detected, and have the greatest effect on the transmission stream. All our witnesses to this early period are second-hand or indirect. And again, all the earliest evidence is also by nature the most ambiguous, fragmentary and impoverished. These early witnesses often can do no more than confirm the existance of a book or passage, or the interpretation of a text.

Someone might object: "Do you condemn the whole bulk of the most ancient evidence as untrustworthy?"

Not at all. It is exactly the "whole bulk" of the evidence that needs to be taken into account in such difficult circumstances.

We shall take the "whole bulk" against any single MS or small cluster of witnesses in a clear minority and lacking corroborating support. As a concise example we would take any four MSS from (Codex א, B, A, C, D, ) against its lone rival, anytime. The opposite procedure would be both unscientific and disasterous.

So it is to AGE we wholeheartedly appeal, if and when it can be established by reasonable attestation. By 'Antiquity' or 'Age' we don't mean the Syriac OR the Latin OR codex B OR Origen, but rather the Syriac AND the Latin AND codex B AND Origen etc.

Because ALL readings are 'Old', no fragment of Antiquity standing alone in contradiction to its own contemporaries can be taken on the basis of its own age. And even more importantly, the other SIX Principles we mentioned must come into play.

6. On the Character of Key Uncials

[This section we do not attempt to paraphrase. The technical argument is best left as Burgon and Miller wrote it, since it is complex and subtle.]

II. The term ' various readings ' conveys an entirely incorrect impression of the grave discrepancies discoverable between a little handful of documents of which Codexes B-א of the fourth century, D of the sixth, L of the eighth, are the most conspicuous samples and the Traditional Text of the New Testament. The expression ' various readings' belongs to secular literature and refers to phenomena essentially different from those exhibited by the copies just mentioned. Not but what ' various readings,' properly so called, are as plentiful in sacred as in profane codexes. One has but to inspect Scrivener's Full and Exact Collation of about Twenty Greek Manuscripts of the Gospels (1853) to be convinced of the fact. But when we study the New Testament by the light of such Codexes as BאDL, we find ourselves in an entirely new region of experience ; confronted by phenomena not only unique but even portentous.

The text has undergone apparently an habitual, if not systematic, depravation ; has been manipulated throughout in a wild way. Influences have been demonstrably at work which altogether perplex the judgement. The result is simply calamitous. There are evidences of persistent mutilation, not only of words and clauses, but of entire sentences. The substitution of one expression for another, and the arbitrary transposition of words, are phenomena of such perpetual occurrence, that it becomes evident at last that what lies before us is not so much an ancient copy, as an ancient recension of the Sacred Text.

And yet not by any means a recension in the usual sense of the word as an authoritative revision : but only as the name may be applied to the product of individual inaccuracy or caprice, or tasteless assiduity on the part of one or many, at a particular time or in a long series of years. There are reasons for inferring, that we have alighted on five specimens of what the misguided piety of a primitive age is known to have been fruitful in producing. Of fraud, strictly speaking, there may have been little or none. We should shrink from imputing an evil motive where any matter will bear an honourable interpretation. But, as will be seen later on, these Codexes abound with so much licentiousness or carelessness as to suggest the inference, that they are in fact indebted for their preservation to their hopeless character. Thus it would appear that an evil reputation ensured their neglect in ancient times ; and has procured that they should survive to our own, long after multitudes which were much better had perished in the Master's service. Let men think of this matter as they will, whatever in fact may prove to be the history of that peculiar Text which finds its chief exponents in Codd. BאDL, in some copies of the Old Latin, and in the Curetonian Version, in Origen, and to a lesser extent in the Bohairic and Sahidic Translations, all must admit, as a matter of fact, that it differs essentially from the Traditional Text, and is no mere variation of it.

But why, it will be asked, may it not be the genuine article ? Why may not the Traditional Text be the fabrication ?

1. The burden of proof, we reply, rests with our opponents. The consent without concert of (suppose) 990 out of 1000 copies, of every date from the fifth to the fourteenth century, and belonging to every region of ancient Christendom, is a colossal fact not to be set aside by any amount of ingenuity. A predilection for two fourth-century manuscripts closely resembling one another, yet standing apart in every page so seriously that it is easier to find two consecutive verses in which they differ than two consecutive verses in which they entirely agree : such a preference, I say, apart from abundant or even definitely clear proof that it is well founded, is surely not entitled to be accepted as conclusive.

2. Next, Because, although for convenience we have hitherto spoken of Codexes BאDL as exhibiting a single text, it is in reality not one text but fragments of many, which are to be met with in the little handful of authorities enumerated above. Their witness does not agree together. The Traditional Text, on the contrary, is unmistakably one.

3. Further, Because it is extremely improbable, if not impossible, that the Traditional Text was or could have been derived from such a document as the archetype of B-א: whereas the converse operation is at once obvious and easy. There is no difficulty in producing a short text by omission of words, or clauses, or verses, from a fuller text : but the fuller text could not have been produced from the shorter by any development which would be possible under the facts of the case (see Vol. II). Glosses would account for changes in the archetype of B-א, but not conversely 2 .

All such questions are best understood by observing an illustration. In St. Matt. xiii. 36, the disciples say to our Lord, ' Explain to us (φρασον ημιν) the parable of the tares.' The cursives (and late uncials) are all agreed in this reading. Why then do Lachmann and Tregelles (not Tischendorf) exhibit διασαφησονOnly because they find διασαφησον in B. Had they known that the first reading of N exhibited that reading also, they would have been more confident than ever. But what pretence can there be for assuming that the Traditional reading of all the copies is untrustworthy in this place ? The plea of antiquity at all events cannot be urged, for Origen reads φρασον four times. The Versions do not help us. What else is but a transparent Gloss? διασαφησον (elucidate) explains φρασον, but φρασον (tell) does not explain διασαφησον.

4. But the chief reason is, Because, on making our appeal unreservedly to Antiquity to Versions and Fathers as. well as copies, the result is unequivocal. The Traditional Text becomes triumphantly established, the eccentricities of BאD and their colleagues become one and all emphatically condemned.

All these, in the mean time, are points concerning which something has been said already, and more will have to be said in the sequel. Returning now to the phenomenon adverted to at the outset, we desire to explain that whereas ' Various Readings,' properly so called, that is to say, the Readings which possess really strong attestation for more than nineteen-twentieths of the ' Various Readings ' commonly quoted are only the vagaries of scribes, and ought not to be called ' Readings ' at all do not require classification into groups, as Griesbach and Hort have classified them ; ' Corrupt Readings/ if they are to be intelligently handled, must by all means be distributed under distinct heads, as will be done in the Second Part of this work.

'It is not at all our design ' (remarks Dr. Scrivener) ' to seek our readings from the later uncials, supported as they usually are by the mass of cursive manuscripts ; but to employ their confessedly secondary evidence in those numberless instances wherein their elder brethren are hopelessly at variance.'

Plain Introduction, I. 277. 4th ed.

From which it is plain that in this excellent writer's opinion, the truth of Scripture is to be sought in the first instance at the hands of the older uncials: that only when these yield conflicting testimony may we resort to the 'confessedly secondary evidence' of the later uncials: and that only so may we proceed to inquire for the testimony of the great mass of the cursive copies. It is not difficult to foresee what would be the result of such a method of procedure.

I venture therefore respectfully but firmly to demur to the spirit of my learned friend's remarks on the present, and on many similar occasions. His language is calculated to countenance the popular belief (i) That the authority of an uncial codex, because it is an uncial, is necessarily greater than that of a codex written in the cursive character : an imagination which upon proof I hold to be groundless.

Between the text of the later uncials and the text of the cursive copies, I fail to detect any separative difference : certainly no such difference as would induce me to assign the palm to the former. It will be shewn later on in this treatise, that it is a pure assumption to take for granted, or to infer, that cursive copies were all descended from the uncials. New discoveries in palaeography have ruled that error to be out of court.

But (2) especially do I demur to the popular notion, to which I regret to find that Dr. Scrivener lends his powerful sanction, that the text of Scripture is to be sought in the first instance in the oldest of the uncials. I venture to express my astonishment that so learned and thoughtful a man should not have seen that before certain ' elder brethren ' are erected into a supreme court of judicature, some other token of fitness besides that of age must be produced on their behalf. Whence, I can but ask , whence is it that no one has yet been at the pains to establish the contradictory of the following proposition, viz. that Codexes BאCD are the several depositaries of a fabricated and depraved text : and that BאD, for C is a palimpsest, i. e., has had the works of Ephraem the Syrian written over it as if it were of no use, are probably indebted for their very preservation solely to the fact that they were anciently recognized as untrustworthy documents ?

Do men indeed find it impossible to realize the notion that there must have existed such things as refuse copies in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries as well as in the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh ? and that the Codexes which we call BאCD may possibly, if not as I hold probably, have been of that class? [It is very remarkable that the sum of Eusebius' own evidence is largely against those uncials. Yet it seems most probable that he had B and א executed from the ακριβη or 'critical' copies of Origen. See below, Chapter IX. ]

Now I submit that it is a sufficient condemnation of Codd. BאCD as a supreme court of judicature (i) That as a rule they are observed to be discordant in their judgements : (2) That when they thus differ among themselves it is generally demonstrable by an appeal to antiquity that the two principal judges B and א* have delivered a mistaken judgement : (3) That when these two differ one from the other, the supreme judge B is often in the wrong : and lastly (4) That it constantly happens that all four agree, and yet all four are in error.

Does any one then inquire, But why at all events may not resort be had in the first instance to Codd. BאACD ? I answer, Because the inquiry is apt to prejudice the question, pretty sure to mislead the judgement, only too likely to narrow the issue and render the Truth hopelessly difficult of attainment. For every reason, I am inclined to propose the directly opposite method of procedure, as at once the safer and the more reasonable method. When I learn that doubt exists, as to the reading of any particular place, instead of inquiring what amount of discord on the subject exists between Codexes ABאCD (for the chances are that they will be all at loggerheads among themselves), I inquire for the verdict as it is given by the main body of the copies. This is generally unequivocal. But if (which seldom happens) I find this a doubtful question, then indeed I begin to examine the separate witnesses. Yet even then it helps me little, or rather it helps me nothing, to find, as I commonly do, that A is on one side and B on the other, except by the way that wherever אB are seen together, or when D stands apart with only a few allies, the inferior reading is pretty sure to be found there also.

Suppose however (as commonly happens) there is no serious division, of course, significance does not attach itself to any handful of eccentric copies, but that there is a practical unanimity among the cursives and later uncials : I cannot see that a veto can rest with such unstable and discordant authorities, however much they may singly add to the weight of the vote already tendered. It is as a hundred to one that the uncial or uncials which are with the main body of the cursives are right, because (as will be shown) in their consentience they embody the virtual decision of the whole Church ; and that the dissentients be they few or many are wrong. I inquire however, What say the Versions? and last but not least, What say the Fathers ?

The essential error in the proceeding I object to is best illustrated by an appeal to elementary facts. Only two of the ' five old uncials ' are complete documents, B and tf : and these being confessedly derived from one and the same exemplar, cannot be regarded as two.

The rest of the 'old uncials' are lamentably defective.

From the Alexandrian Codex (A) the first twenty-four chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel are missing : that is, the MS. lacks 870 verses out of 1,071. The same Codex is also without 126 consecutive verses of St. John's Gospel. More than one-fourth of the contents of Cod. A are therefore lost (Viz. 996 verses out of 3,780.) D is complete only in respect of St. Luke: wanting 119 verses of St. Matthew, 5 verses of St. Mark, 166 verses of St. John. On the other hand, Codex C is chiefly defective in respect of St. Luke's and St. John's Gospel ; from the former of which it omits 643 (out of 1,151) verses ; from the latter, 513 (out of 880), or far more than the half in either case. Codex C in fact can only be described as a collection of fragments : for it is also without 260 verses of St. Matthew, and without 116 of St. Mark.

The disastrous consequence of all this to the Textual Critic is manifest. He is unable to compare ' the five old uncials ' together except in respect of about one verse in three.

Sometimes he finds himself reduced to the testimony of AאB : for many pages together of St. John's Gospel, he is reduced to the testimony of אBD. Now, when the fatal and peculiar sympathy which subsists between these three documents is considered, it becomes apparent that the Critic has in effect little more than two documents before him. And what is to be said when (as from St. Matt. vi. 20 to vii. 4) he is reduced to the witness of two Codexes, and those, אB? Evident it is that whereas the Author of Scripture hath bountifully furnished His Church with (speaking roughly) upwards of 2,300 copies of the Gospels, by a voluntary act of self-impoverishment, some Critics reduce themselves to the testimony of little more than one: and that one a witness whom many judges consider to be undeserving of confidence. [ Miller's Scrivener (4th edition), Vol. I. Appendix F. p. 397*. 1326 + 73 + 980 - 2379. ]

Modern Footnotes:

14. Tischendorf altered his 8th edition of his Greek NT from the 7th edition in over 3,369 places, mainly based on Codex א. "...to the scandal," Dr. Scrivener justly remarks, "of the science of Comparative Criticism, as well as to his own grave discredit for discernment..." (Scrivener, Plain Intro., p. 529).

"Much as we may and must ever feel indebted to Tischendorf for the invaluable results of his labours, we cannot regard him as a man of sober and solid judgment. His zigzag course does not impress us with the soundness of his position upon which he found himself throughout it." (Edward Miller, A Guide to the TC of the NT, 1886, p. 25)

15. There are for instance, only about 200 MSS of the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, two of the most popular classics in history. There aren't more than 30 copoies of Aeschylus, and only a handful (usually only single copies or fragments) of almost every other ancient book known.

There are over 5,000 Greek MSS alone for the NT, and perhaps two to ten times that many Latin copies etc. Each NT book is attested by hundreds, usually thousands of complete copies, ranging from the 2nd to the 15th century, in multiple languages.

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