Textual Criticism: Rival Schools

Miller: Rival Schools
of Textual Criticism (1897)

Excerpt from: Edward Miller, THE OXFORD DEBATE..., preface, (Oxford, 1897)

Page Index

Miller's Review:
    Introduction: Two Schools of Thought

    I. Hort's System: followed Griesbach
       Manuscript Groups: more weight than MSS
       "Conflate" Readings: longer readings not original
        Groups Localized: using Early Fathers
        "Syrian" Readings Late: originated in Antioch
        "Western" Group: paraphrase and expansion/insertion
        "Alexandrian" Group: Origen and Cyril , stylistic editing
        "Neutral" Group: absence of any editing

    II. Burgon's System: followed by Miller
        The True Text: requirements for candidates
        The "Neutral" Text: fails tests of originality
        The Received Text: needs some improvement
        The Traditional Text: can be established
        Origin of Corruptions: early lack of knowledge
        Disagreement with Hort: key points against Hort's theories

Return to Index


Return to Index

Rival Systems
of Textual Criticism


Taken from:
, (Oxford, 1897)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.


PREFACE: Edward Miller


The debate, of which the following pages contain a report, was the result of an offer courteously made by the Rev. Dr. Sanday, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, when I asked him whether those who are devoted to the study of Theology in Oxford would be ready, to hear an explanation from me of the system of Textual Criticism advocated by the late Dean, John Burgon and myself, in order to remove any misconceptions of it.

The speeches made in the debate have been referred both in manuscript and in type to the several speakers for their approval and corrections.

In compliance with a thoughtful suggestion, the ensuing descriptions of the two present systems have been prefixed to the Report of the discussion, for the purpose of reference in the case of readers who have not a familiar acquaintance with them ready for use. And it is hoped that, taken together with the debate, they may form an easy means to many students of the Bible of learning some of the chief points in a very important study and controversy.

The former of these two descriptions, according to Dr. Sanday's suggestion, has been taken with the kind leave of the author from Our Bible and the Ancient Monuments, by Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, M.A., D.Litt.,of the British Museum.

Dr. Kenyon's description has received special praise from Mr. Hort in the Life... of his illustrious father. The second description I have prepared especially for this book.

I. Dr. Hort's System.

The Westcott and Hort Theory.

' One critic of earlier days, Griesbach by name, at the end of the last century, essayed the task of grouping, and two distinguished Cambridge scholars of our own day, Bishop Westcott and the late Professor Hort, have renewed the attempt with much greater success. They believe that by far the larger number of our extant MSS. can be shown to contain a revised (and less original) text ; that a comparatively small group has texts derived from manuscripts which escaped, or were previous to, this revision ; and that, consequently, the evidence of this small group is almost always to be preferred to that of the great mass of MSS. and versions. It is this theory, which has been set out with conspicuous learning and conviction by Dr. Hort, that we propose now to sketch in brief ; for it appears to mark an epoch in the history of New Testament criticism.

Groups of MSS in New Testament.

'An examination of passages in which two or more different readings exist shows that one small group of authorities, consisting of the uncial manuscripts B, א , L, a few cursives such as Evan. 33, Act. 61, and the Memphi- tic and Thebaic versions, is generally found in agreement ; another equally clearly marked group consists of D, the Old Latin and Old Syriac versions, and cursives 13, 69, 81 of the Gospels, 44, 137, and 180 of the Acts, and Evst. 39, with a few others more intermittently ; while A, C (generally), the later uncials, and the great mass of cursives and the later versions form another group, numerically overwhelming. Sometimes each of these groups will have a distinct reading of its own ; sometimes two of them will be combined against the third; sometimes an authority which usually supports one group will be found with one of the others. But the general division into groups remains constant and is the basis of the present theory.

Combined or "Conflate'' Readings.

* Next, it is possible to distinguish the origins and relative priority of the groups. In the first place, many passages occur in which the first group described above has one reading, the second has another, and the third combines the two. Thus in the last words of St. Luke's Gospel (as the Variorum Bible shows); א , B, C, L, with the Memphitic and one Syriac version, have " blessing God " ; D and the Old Latin have " praising God " ; but A and twelve other uncials, all the cursives, the Vulgate and other versions, have " praising and blessing God." Instances like this occur, not once nor twice, but repeatedly. Now it is in itself more probable that the combined reading in such cases is later than, and is the result of, two separate readings. It is more likely that a copyist, finding two different words in two or more manuscripts before him, would put down both in his copy, than that two scribes, finding a combined phrase in their originals, would each select one part of it alone to copy, and would each select a different one. The motive for combining would be praiseworthy — the desire to make sure of keeping the right word by retaining both ; but the motive for separating would be vicious, since it involves the deliberate rejection of some words of the sacred text. Moreover we know that such combination was actually practised; for, as has been stated above, it is a marked characteristic of Lucian's edition of the Septuagint.

Localisation of Groups by aid of the Fathers.

'At this point the evidence of the Fathers becomes important as to both the time and the place of origin of these combined (or as Dr. Hort technically calls them " conflate ") readings. . They are found to be characteristic of the Scripture quotations in the works of Chrysostom, who was bishop of Antioch in Syria at the end of the fourth century, and of other writers in or about Antioch at the same time ; and thenceforward it is the predominant text in manuscripts, versions, and quotations. Hence this type of text, the text of our later uncials, cursives, early printed editions, and Authorised Version, is believed to have taken its rise in or near Antioch, and is known as the " Syrian " text. The type found in the second of the groups above described, that headed by D, the Old Latin and Old Syriac, is called the " Western " text, as being especially found in Latin manuscripts and in those which (like D) have both Greek and Latin texts, though it is certain that it had its origin in the East, probably in or near Asia Minor. There is another small group, earlier than the Syrian, but not represented continuously by any one MS. (mainly by C in the Gospels, A, C, in Acts and Epistles, with certain cursives and occasionally א and L), to which Dr. Hort gives the name of" Alexandrian." The remaining group, headed by B, may be best described as the " Neutral " text.

The "Syrian" Readings are latest.

(The italics are Mr. Kenyon's:) 'Now among all the Fathers whose writings are left to us from before the middle of the third century (notably Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, and Cyprian), we find readings belonging to the groups described as Western, Alexandrian, and Neutral, but no distinctly Syrian readings. On the other hand, we have seen that in the latter part of the fourth century, especially in the region of Antioch, Syrian readings are found plentifully. Add to this the fact that, as stated above, the Syrian readings often show signs of having been derived from a combination of non-Syrian readings, and we have strong confirmation of the belief, which is the corner-stone of Dr. Hort's theory, that the Syrian type of text originated in a revision of the then existing texts, made about the end of the third century in or near Antioch. The result of accepting this conclusion obviously is, that where the Syrian text differs from that of the other groups, it must be rejected as being of later origin, and therefore less authentic ; and when it is remembered that by far the greater number of our authorities contain a Syrian text, the importance of this conclusion is manifest. In spite of their numerical preponderance, the Syrian authorities must be relegated to the lowest place.

The "Western" Group.

Of the remaining groups, the Western text is characterised by considerable freedom of addition, and sometimes of omission. Whole verses, or even longer passages, are found in manuscripts of this family, which are entirely absent from all other copies. Some of them will be found enumerated in the following chapter in the description of D, the leading manuscript of this class. It is evident that this type of text must have had its origin in a time when strict exactitude in copying the books of the New Testament was not regarded as a necessary virtue. In early days the copies of the New Testament books were made for immediate edification, without any idea that they would be links in a chain for the transmission of the sacred texts to a distant future ; and a scribe might innocently insert in the narrative additional details which he believed to be true and valuable. Fortunately the literary conscience of Antioch and Alexandria was more sensitive, and so this tendency did not spread very far, and was checked before it had greatly contaminated the Bible text. Western manuscripts often contain old and valuable readings, but any variety which shows traces of the characteristic Western vice of amplification or explanatory addition must be rejected, unless it has strong support outside the purely Western group of authorities.

The "Alexandrian" Group.

' There remain the Alexandrian and the Neutral groups. The Alexandrian text is represented, not so much by any individual MS. or version, as by certain readings found scattered about in manuscripts which elsewhere belong to one of the other groups. They are readings which have neither Western nor Syrian characteristics, and yet differ from what appears to be the earliest form of the text ; and being found most regularly in the quotations of Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, and other Alexandrian Fathers, as well as in the Memphitic version, they are reasonably named Alexandrian. Their characteristics are such as might naturally be due to such a centre of Greek scholarship, since they affect the style rather than the matter, and appear to rise mainly from a desire for correctness of language. They are consequently of minor importance, and are not always distinctly recognisable.

The "Neutral" Group.

' The Neutral text, which we believe to represent most nearly the original text of the New Testament, is chiefly recognisable by the absence of the various forms of aberration noticed in the other groups. Its main centre is at Alexandria, but it also appears in places widely removed from that centre. Sometimes single authorities of the Western group will part company with the rest of their family and exhibit readings which are plainly both ancient and non- Western, showing the existence of a text preceding the Western, and on which the Western variations have been grafted. This text must therefore not be assigned to any local centre. It belonged originally to all the Eastern world. In many parts of the East, notably in Asia Minor, it was superseded by the text which, from its transference to the Latin churches, we call Western. It remained pure longest in Alexandria, and is found in the writings of the Alexandrian Fathers, though even here slight changes of language were introduced, to which we have given the name of Alexandrian. Our main authority for it at the present day is the great Vatican manuscript known as B, and this is often supported by the equally ancient Sinaitic manuscript (א ), and by the other manuscripts and versions named above (p. vi). Where the readings of this Neutral text can be plainly discerned, as by the concurrence of all or most of these authorities, they may be accepted with confidence in the face of all the numerical preponderance of other texts ; and in so doing lies our best hope of recovering the true words of the New Testament.'

Reference may also be made, for a short account, to the Life and Letters of Fenton John Anthony Hort, by his Son (Macmillan & Co.), vol. ii. pp. 244-352 ; and for more information, to Dr. Hort's celebrated Introduction (Macmillan, 1881).


§ 1. The True Text.

The great object of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament is the ascertainment of the actual or genuine words of the original autographs of the writers. Such an ascertainment can only be made with soundness and rest upon a broad basis, if all the evidence that can be collected be sifted and taken into account, and in the case of readings where the evidence is not consistent a balance be struck with all impartiality and justice. The words thus ascertained must constitute the True Text, of which the following must be the essential characteristics : —

1. It must be grounded upon an exhaustive view of the evidence of Greek copies in manuscript in the first place ; and in all cases where they differ so as to afford doubt, of Versions or Translations into other languages, and of Quotations from the New Testament made by Fathers and other early writers.

2. It must have descended from the actual composition of Books of the New Testament, and must thus possess the highest possible antiquity.

3. It must be the outcome, not of one stem of descent, but of many. Consentient copies, made by successive transcription in the different countries where the Holy Scriptures were used, revered, and jealously watched, must confirm and check one another.

4. The descent must be continuous, without break or failure, or it would be no real descent, but a fragmentary or stunted line of genealogy, broken up or prematurely closed.

5. The Readings, or Text, must be such as to commend themselves to the enlightened judgement of Christendom.

A. The Neutral Text.

Judged by these canons, the ' Neutral ' Text of Dr. Hort must be rejected : —

(1) It rests upon a very few documents arbitrarily selected, and is hopelessly condemned by the vast majority. It cannot reckon, therefore, number or variety. Aspiring to be the expression of the standard work of the Catholic Church, it fails in catholicity.

(2) As a collection of readings, apart from separate readings of early date, we maintain that it does not go further back than the School of Caesarea, and that in consequence it does not as a Text possess the highest antiquity.

(3) It has only one stem by hypothesis, — the probable archetype of B and א (the Vatican and Sinaitic), which Dr. Hort — gratuitously in our contention — thrusts back into the second century.

(4) It fails in continuity, because (a) there is thus a break or chasm in the earliest period, and (b) because by the admission of Dr. Hort himself it was superseded by the Traditional Text, by him termed ' Syrian,' before the end of the 4th century in which the latter Text acquired permanent expression.

(5) We contend that the Text itself is strangely blurred by numerous omissions of more or less length, including in some instances passages held by its supporters to be genuine extracts from the words or life of our Lord, and by other blemishes.

B. The Received Text.

The Textus Receptus, ('Received Text') which was adopted in the revival of Greek learning, though it agrees substantially with our Canons, fails under the first, which is the virtual embodiment of them all ; because some of its readings are condemned by the balance struck upon all the evidence which has been assembled under the unprecedented advantages afforded in this century. There remains therefore, in accordance with the Canons already laid down, only

C. The Traditional Text.

We maintain, then, that the Traditional Text, duly ascertained according to all the evidence with all fairness of judgement, will represent the Text which issued from the pens of the writers of the New Testament and was used all over the Church; and which after contracting corruption to a large extent, perhaps in most places, was gradually purged in the main as years went on, though something is left still to be done.

In the ascertainment of this Text or these Readings, guidance is to be sought under seven Notes of Truth, viz.

1. Antiquity of witnesses
2. Number
3. Variety
4. Weight
5. Continuity
6. The Context of Passages
7. Internal Evidence.

These Seven Notes of Truth, which are essential to the Traditional Text, sufficiently exhibit the agreement of it with the Canons laid down. In fact, coincidence with the first Canon implies coincidence with all the rest. But the age and the uninterrupted existence of the Traditional Text must be further proved.

Now Dr. Hort has admitted that the Traditional Text has existed ever since the later years of the fourth century. The question remains only as to the period between that date and the issue of the autographs.

That the Traditional Text existed in that period is proved, in the absence of contemporaneous MSS. (except B and Aleph in the same century),

(1) By its undeniable prevalence afterwards. Such an almost universal prevalence implies a previous existence widely disseminated, and carried down in numerous stems of descent.

(2) The verdict of contemporaneous Fathers proves this position amply.

(3) The witness of the Peshitto and Old Latin Versions confirm it, to say nothing of occasional witness to separate readings found in the Egyptian Versions.

§ 2. Origin and Prevalence of Corruption.

We hold that Corruption arose at the very first propagation of stories or accounts of our Lord's Life, probably even before the Gospels were written. It must have infected teaching spread from mouth to mouth, as well as writings more or less orderly, and more or less authorized. From this source mistakes must have crept in course of time, and in constant process of copying, into the authorized copies. In early though in later days as well, when or where education was not universal in the Church, and Christians had not yet imbibed familiarity with the words of Holy Scripture, Corruption spread further. A great deal of such Corruption, as we believe, found its way into the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts. It was persistent and multiform ; and has been analyzed and explained in our second volume.

§ 3. Dr. Hort's disagreement with us.

(1) We entirely traverse the assertion, that 'no distinctly Syrian (i. e. Traditional) readings' are found amongst the earliest Fathers. Very many of the readings in the Traditional Text which are rejected by the other school are supported by those Fathers : and there is no evidence, as we maintain, to show that they pertain to the other side or to any other Text rather than to us, or that readings confessedly old and found in the Traditional Text did not belong to that Text.

(2) We deny the existence of any Neutral Text, except as a collection, chiefly in B and Aleph, of corrupt readings, though we admit that many of those readings, if not most of them, are of very high antiquity. Considerable danger must attend all systems founded upon Texts or Groups, — valuable as these classifications are for subsidiary employment, — because they open the way more or less to speculation and are apt to foster a shallow and delusive sciolism instead of a judicial view of evidence. Readings depending upon actual evidence afford the only true basis, though study of the causes of corruption, as well as other investigations, sheds light upon the matter.

(3) Important points of contention exist with reference to the age of the Peshitto or great Syriac Version (as to which the age of the Curetonian or Lewis is mainly a distinct question), the Theory of the Western Texts and the Latin Versions (or Version), and of Texts in general, as will be seen in the Report of the debate.

For more information, reference may be made to:
The Traditional Text, Burgon and Miller (George Bell & Sons, 1896), and
The Causes of Corruption (Bell. 1896). Also to Burgon's
The Revision Revised, (1883, John Murray), and to Miller's
Textual Guide (1885), and
upon the question of the Peshitto, to an article in
The Church Quarterly Review for April, 1895.

Edward Miller
Oxford, May 24, 1897.

Return to Index