Textual Evidence

Kenyon on
Haplography (1901)

Excerpt from: Sir Fredrick Kenyon, Handbook to the TC of the NT, (London, 1901)

Page Index

Kenyon on Haplography: - Common Scribal Errors:
    Introduction: Examples of Haplography in Aleph/B
    Accidental Omissions: & Scribal glosses
    Bengel's Canon: doesn't apply to Accidental Errors
    Conjecture: unecessary procedure

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Kenyon on


Although caught up in the popularity of Westcott/Hort's new critical Greek Text, and their theory of the textual history of the NT, Sir Fredrick Kenyon maintained his simple insight and common sense regarding textual criticism in general. He was one of the great English scholars of that era who defended the essential integrity of the Holy Scriptures, while fully assenting to the value of the new historico-critical methods.

Here he speaks openly about scribal errors and there causes, and has no hesitation using both of the popular manuscripts Codex B and Aleph as examples of Accidental omission through the mechanism of Haplography, in this case homoioteleuton (similar endings of line).

Kenyon also discusses the intelligent application of earlier 'text-critical canons', like Bengel's famous guideline. Finally, Kenyon talks frankly of the (non) value of purely conjectural emendation of the New Testament.

Taken from:
Sir Fredrick Kenyon,
Handbook to the TC of the NT, (London, 1901)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.


The Function of Textual Criticism (p.7-8)

Errors of Omission: Haplography


"Another form of error, very common in all manuscripts, is that of omission. This may be due to mere unaccountable accident, and then the lost word or words can only be recovered either by comparison with other manuscripts or by sheer guessing. Oftener, however, it arises from the similarity of adjoining words, which led the scribe's eye to slip from one to the other, and so omit the intervening words.

Homoioteleuton in Codex Vaticanus (B)

For instance, in John 17:15 the correct text runs:

ουκ ερωτω ινα αρης αυτους εκ του
κοσμου αλλ ινα τηρησης αυτους εκ του

...but the scribe of the Codex Vaticanus let his eye slip from the first 'εκ του' to the second, and so gives the passage as:

ουκ ερωτω ινα αρης αυτους εκ του πονηρου,...

Homoioteleuton in Codex Sinaiticus (א)

Similarly, in John 3:20-21 where the true text runs:

πας γαρ ο φαυλα πρασσων μισει το φως
και ουκ ερχεται προς το φως

ινα μη ελεγχθη τα εργα αυτου
ο δε ποιων την αληθειαν ερχεται προς το φως
ινα φανερωθη
τα εργα αυτου

οτι εν θεω εστιν ειργασμενα

...the scribe of Codex Sinaiticus has made two mistakes from this same cause (technically known as homoioteleuton), omitting "και ουκ ερχεται προς το φως", and "ο δε ποιων ... αυτου", - the former owing to the double occurence of το φως, the latter owing to the double occurence of τα εργα αυτου.

Often the omissions are smaller than these, and cause less trouble, as when a scribe writes KATHN for KATATHN (κατα την) or επεμψε for επεπεμψε. But in one form or another the error is a very common one, and has to be borne in mind constantly in the criticism of manuscripts.

Accidental Insertions: Scribal Glosses

Various other classes of error exist and may be briefly mentioned. One that is frequently invoked in the criticism of classical authors is the intrusion into the text of words which were originally explanatory notes written in the margin. Sometimes the paraphrase has extruded the original phrase, sometimes the true and the false remain side by side. This, however, is a form of corruption which occurs less often in the Biblical writings than in profane authors, and even in the latter the instances where it is proved to have taken place are much fewer than those in which it is assumed by some critics." (p 7-8)


"In some cases [the textual critic] will see that homoioteleuton wil account for an omission; in others, that the intrusion of a marginal comment accounts for an addition; in others, that two or three letters have been mistaken by the scribe for others which resemble them.

Sometimes he may suspect deliberate alteration, whether with the object of bringing out a doctrine more clearly, or to improve the literary form of the passage, or to reconcile two divergent readings which the scribe had before him.

By these methods considerable progress may be made in weeding out errors, and at the same time the critic will be accumulating materials for the second stage of his work, namely, the discernment of the comparative merits of his various authorities. He will learn which manuscripts are most often right, which are closely akin to one another, which groups are nearest in the line of descent to the original autograph.

Hence he will have some clue to guide him when the choice between divergent readings is not evident at first sight. In such cases it is clearly the safest to follow, as a rule, the authority which has shown itself to be most trustworthy." (p. 12)

Bengel's Canon & Accidental Errors: "Prefer the Harder Reading."?

"One proposition is so often stated as a leading principle in textual criticism as to deserver a brief separate mention. It is that which is formulated by Bengel (c. 1734) in the words, Proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua., or, as it is sometimes expressed, Difficilior lectio potior; "The harder reading is to be preferred to the easier."

Stated so absolutely, this proposition is misleading. Many forms of mistake produce a reading harder than the true one. ...Similarly, errors due to homoioteleuton often produce nonsense, as in the case quoted on p.8 from the Codex Vaticanus.

In fact, it may be said generally that in the case of accidental errors the principle is not sound; but in the case of errors due to deliberate alteration it is generally true.

Deliberate Changes:

A scribe or commentator fails to understand a passage, and puts some word which he thinks makes it easier; and odd word is replaced by a commoner one; a marginal paraphrase extrudes the phrase which it was intended to explain; an expression which may give offence is omitted or toned down. In all such cases the more difficult reading is likely to be the true one. A hard reading will not be deliberately inserted instead of an easy one; but the reverse may, and not infrequently does, take place.

The difficulty of course, is to determine whether a discrepancy between two or more manuscripts is due to accidental or deliberate alteration; and where this cannot be discerned with certainty, Bengel's canon must be applied with great caution." (p. 13)

Pure Conjecture: No Place in Biblical Criticism

"It remains to ask what place is left for the second weapon of textual criticism, conjecture; and it has been usual to answer that in the criticism of the New Testament it has no place at all.

Where manuscript evidence is scanty, as it is for many of the classical authors, it happens at times that a passage is obviously and certainly corrupt in all the extant copies; and then the defect must be healed by conjecture, if it is to be healed at all. But where the evidence is so plentiful and varied as it is for the NT, the chances that the true reading should have been lost by all [sources] are plainly very much smaller.

The Skeptical School of Criticism

Whether, however, conjecture is to be absolutely excluded depends in a large measure on the view which the critic takes of the character of the existing manuscript evidence. As will be shown in a later chapter, one school of critics regards the large majority of extant manuscripts as representing a relatively late recension of the sacred text, and therefore considers its evidence as of little value.

The number of authorities which remain is thus comparatively small, and they differ considerably among themselves; and hence the critics of this school are prepared to admit that, here and there, the original readings may have been wholly lost. ...

It is universally agreed, however, that the sphere of conjecture in the case of the New Testament is infinitesimal; and it may further be added that for practical purposes it must be treated as non-existant. No authority could be attached to words which rested only upon conjecture; and a critic who should devote himself to editing the Scriptures on conjectural lines would be merely wasting his time.

Where nothing but questions of literary style are involved, we may be willing to accept a reading upon conjecture, if no better evidence is to be had; but where it is a question of the Word of Life, some surer foundation is required." (p.14-15)

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