Textual Evidence

B.B. Warfield on
Haplography (1887)

Excerpt from: B.B. Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the NT, 5th Ed. (London 1887), pp. 95-99

Page Index

B.B. Warfield: - On Haplography:

    Textual Variants - causes and classification

     I.  Intentional Corruptions: doctrinal alterations etc.

      II. Accidental Errors: Haplography

        homoeoteleuton: 1st Jn 2:23, Mt 9:28, Lk 18:39, Jn 6:39, Rev 1:1

    Codex Sinaiticus: - Scribal Errors in Hebrews (from Codex א)

    Internal Evidence: Problems and Limitations
    Rules for Internal Evidence - a hierarchy of Canons

    Warfield on PA - Pericope de Adultera (Jn 7:53-8:11), Long Ending of Mark, 1st Cor.

        Nazaroo's Notes: On Warfield and the PA (Jn 8:1-11)
        The 'Marginal Gloss' Theory: - refuted

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B.B. Warfield
on Haplography


Excerpt from:
B.B. Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the NT, 5th Ed. (London 1887), pp. 95-99

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.


Methods of Criticism (p. 94-100)

Textual Variants:
Causes & Classification

"...all readings may be broadly classified as intentional and unintentional corruptions. Every change brought into the text is the result either of a conscious and intentional alteration made by the scribe, or of an unintentional and unconscious slip into which he has fallen.

Taking the mass of various readings together, a very inconsiderable proportion of them can be attributed to intentional changes, and any detailed classification of them is so far arbitrary that many readings may be equally easily accounted for on two or more hypotheses, and hence may be assigned indifferently to either of two or more classes.

With this explanation a rough classification of the sources of error may be ventured, as follows: --

I. Intentional Corruptions: (Deliberate Changes)

1. Linguistic and rhetorical corrections.
2. Historical corrections.
3. Harmonic corrections.
4. Doctrinal corruptions.
5. Liturgical corruptions.

II. Unintentional Corruptions: (Accidental Errors)

1. Errors of the Eye.
2. Errors of the memory.
3. Errors of the judgment.
4. Errors of the pen.
5. Errors of the speech.

I. Intentional Corruptions:

"Most of the corruptions which may be fairly classed as intentional fall under the head of linguistic and rhetorical corrections, and were introduced, we may believe, almost always in good faith and under the impression that an error had previously crept into the text and needed correcting.

Sometimes they were the work of the scribe himself, and sometimes of the official corrector (somewhat analogous to the modern proof-reader) under whose eye the completed MS. passed before it left the "publishing house".


Doctrinal Changes:

On the other hand, it is doubtful if any doctrinal corruptions can be pointed to with complete confidence. Even the Trinitarian passage in 1st John 5:7 and part of 8 may have innocently got into the text. The most likely instances are the several passages in which fasting is coupled with prayer in some texts- as, e.g., in [Matt. 17:21], Mark 10:29, Acts 10:30, 1st Cor. 7:5; but even these are doubtful.

Liturgical Corruptions:

Liturgical corruptions, on the other hand, are common enough, but can seldom be assigned to intention except in the service-books, where they deceive nobody, or in certain MSS. redacted for use as service-books, which have been fitted for public reading by such changes as inserting "and turning to His disciples He said" at Luke 10:22 (the beginning of a lesson), or of "But the Lord said" at Luke 8:31, or the change of "His parents" into "Joseph and Mary" at Luke 2:41 and the like. (p. 96) ...

II. Accidental Errors

"The fecund causes of the abounding error that has crept into the text lie rather in the natural weakness of flesh, limiting the powers of exact attention.

From each of the sources of error which have been tabulated above as unintentional have sprang many kinds of corruption.

Errors of the Eye:

Under errors of the eye, for instance, are to be classed all those mistakes, of whatever kind, which have arisen through a simple misreading of the MS. that lay before the copyist to be copied. The ancient mode of writing in continuous lines, and the similarity that existed between some of the letters, facilitated such errors.

Examples of Haplography:
homoeoteleuton, homoeoarcton

A considerable body of omissions have arisen from what is called homoeoteleuton or "like-ending". When two succeeding clauses or words end alike, the last is apt to be omitted in copying; the copyist, having written out the first, glances back at the MS for the next clause, and his eye catching the like-ending of the second clause, he mistakes this for what he has just written, and so passes on to the following words, thus omitting the second clause altogether.

The same result often happens when the same sequence of letters occurs twice near together, and when two consecutive clauses begin alike instead of ending alike -- a case which differs in name rather than in fact from the one just described. ["homoeoarcton"]

1st John 2:23

An example of homoeoteleuton may be found at 1st John 2:23, where the whole clause,
"He that confesseth the Son, hath the Father also",
is omitted in some codices because both it and the preceding clause end with the words "τον πατερα εχει".

Matt. 9:28

An instance in which only a few letters are involved is the omission of ο Ιησους in Matt. 9:28, which is apparently due to the custom of writing Ιησους in abbreviation ΙΣ, thus:

ΛΕΓΕΙΑΥΤΟΙΣΟΙΣ in which ΟΙΣ was easily mistaken for the preceding one.

Other examples are the omission of the whole verse, Luke 18:39, in a few codices, and of a clause in John 6:39 by Codex C.


Another error of the eye of somewhat similar kind produces an assimilation of neighbouring terminations -- as for example, in Rev. 1:1, where
του αγγελου αυτου του δουλου αυτου stands for
του αγγελου αυτου τω δουλω αυτου."

(p. 99)

Codex Sinaiticus (א):
Scribal Errors in Hebrews

It may be useful to the student to look at a brief list of slips of the scribe of Aleph, gleand from the digest of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and to consider how many of them can be assigned to the several classes mentioned above: --

Scribal Errors of Codex א in Hebrews
verse variant
1:5Omit: αυτω from "I shall be [to him] for a father"
1:8Omit: της ευθυτητος ραβδος
1:12Add: και with συ δε
2:18Omit: πειρασθεις
4:9Omit the whole verse.
4:11Omit: τις
8:3Omit: και
8:10 μου for μοι
9:5 ενεστιν for εστιν
9:12 εις τα αγια written twice.
10:7Omit: ηκω
10:11Order changed to λειτ. καθ. ημερ.
10:26 της επιγνωσιαν for την επιγνωσιν
10:32 αμαρτιας for ημερας
10:36Change of order to χρειαν εχετε
10:39 εις απωλιας for εις απωλειαν
11:5 οτι for διοτι
11:8Change of order to κληρονομιαν λαμβα.
11:9Omit: της after επαγγελιας
11:20Omit: Ισαακ
11:31Insert επιλογομενη before πορνη
12:1 τηλικουτον for τοσουτον
12:10 ο μεν for οιμεν
13:2 την φιλοξενιαν for της φιλοξ.
13:12Omit: επαθεν
13:18 οτι καληνθα γαρ οτι καλην before πειθομε-.
13:22Omit: γαρ
13:23 ερχησθε for ερχηται

The Character of Errors:

There are in this list instances of errors of the eye (homoeoteleuton, the wandering eye catching a neighbouring word, confusion of similar letters), of the memory, of the judgement, of the pen, and of the speech, -- and others also. It looks as if the scribe were taking a sly nap when he was writing the 10th chapter, and as if he either nodded again or was interrupted by an unthinking chatterer at 13:18, where, at least, we find a very odd case of repetition. (p. 106-107)

Internal Evidence:
Problems and Limits

Too Many Good Explanations Possible from Internal Methods

Above all, it must be remembered that ...we are dealing with a writing that has had not one but many scribes sucessively engaged upon it, and that, therefore, we are to deal with a complex of tendencies which may have been engaged in progressively corrupting a text, and that in even exactly opposite directions.

The greatest difficulty of the process [of textual criticism] is found in experience to reside less, however, in inability to arrange any given series of readings in an order which may well have been, on known tendencies of scribes, the order of their generation, than in inability to decide which of many orders, in which they seem equally capable of being arranged, is the actual order of their origination.

Just because the tendencies to error ran through a very wide range and pulled in divergent directions, it often seems equally easy to account for each rival reading as a corruption of some other; and the acute editor is seldom at a loss to defend the reading which he prefers, by pointing out some way in which the rival readings may have grown out of it.

Checks and Balances: Textual Evidence vs. Internal Evidence

The only remedy against this ever-present danger is a more careful study of the MSS themselves, and a more rigid exclusion of all undue subjectivity from our judgments. What is difficult is not impossible; and, as experience grows, it is usually discovered that we can with ever-increasing confidence select from a body of readings the one which actually did stand at the root of all the others. Wherever this can be [independantly] done, Transcriptional evidence may be able to deliver a very decided verdict. (p.92)

Conflicts between Intrinsic & Transcriptional Evidence

Just because Intrinsic evidence asks after the best reading, and Transcriptional evidence after the reading that has been altered by the scribes, they are frequenly found, at first examination, in apparent conflict. ...the best reading...appears to be a scribe's correction of a lest obviously good or easy reading.

Rarely, this contradiction between the two forms of Internal evidence is ineradicable. Commonly, however, it is only the signal to us that we have carelessly performed our work in the one process or the other...The reading that seemed unlikely comes often on a deeper study to seem intrinsically certain; or else the reading which seemed at first certainly derivative, comes to be seen to be without doubt original.

Whenever these two so easily opposing forms of evidence can be shown to unite heartily and certainly in favour of one reading, they raise a presumption for it that will not yield to any other kind of evidence whatever.

But, for precisely the same reason, whenever they seem hopelessly set in opposition to one another, we may with the greatest justice suspect the conclusions at which we have arrived by the one or the other, or both. (pp. 93)

Rules of Internal Evidence:
The Hierarchy of Canons

Efforts have been made to generalise upon the phenomena of the various readings, and so to furnish "canons of criticism" for the guidance of the student. Transcriptional Evidence cannot, however, be reduced to stiff rules of procedure. All "canons of criticism" are only general averages, and operate like a probability based on a calculation of chances. A "chance" is always open that this particular instance is one of the exceptions. But, although to use them as strict rules to square our conclusions by were but to invite error, general rules are very useful, as succinctly embodying the results of broad observation.

If we use them only as general guides, and expect to find exceptions to them continually turning up, the following three rules are valuable: --

1. The more difficult reading is to be preferred. founded on the observed tendency of scribest o render the sense smooth by correction or unconscious tinkering.

2. The shorter reading is to be preferred. founded on the observed habit of scribes to enlarge rather than shorten the text.

3. The more characteristic reading is to be preferred: founded on the observed tendency of scribes to reduce all they touch to their own level, ans so gradually eliminate everything especially characteristic of an author.

"The One Great Rule":

Not co-ordinate with these, but above them and inclusive of them, stands the One Great Rule that embodies the soul of Transcriptional Evidence:

That reading is to be preferred from which the origin of all the others can most safely be derived.

Knowledge of the habits of scribes and of the phenomena of MSS is needed to interpret this rule. Common-sense here is even more than usually needed. But given the knowledge and common-sense, this one rule adequately furnishes the worker in this department of evidence. (p. 107-108)

The Danger of Bias in Applying Internal Evidence:

That much could be done towards settling the text of any work by the use of Intrinsic and Transcriptional evidence alone, which would be generally recognised as sound, is certain.

But it is equally clear that a special danger attends processes that are so nice and delicate, of the intrusion of those wishes that are fathers to thoughts; and in criticising the text of a book that stands in such close relation to our dearest beliefs as the New Testament, this danger reaches its maximum.

This does not render the method of Internal Evidence of readings invalid; nor does it exonerate critics from the duty of using it, -- with strict honesty and a severe exclusion of improper subjectivity.

But it throws sufficient doubt on individual judgment in attaining some of its results, to render it desirable to test its conclusions by some less easily warped method of investigation. We gladly remember then, that besides Internal Evidence of Readings, we have External Evidence of Readings to depend on, and proceed to inquire after the methods of using it. ...

Warfield on
The Pericope de Adultera (Jn 7:53-8:11)

Marginal Glosses

"As errors of the judgment may be classed many misreadings of abbreviations, as also the adoption of marginal glosses into the text, by which much of the most striking corruption which has ever entered the text has been produced.

Jn 8:1-11, Mk 16:9:20, 1st Cor 8:4-5

Even more important instances are the pericope of the adulteress inserted at John 7:53, and the last twelve verse of Mark, both of which appear to be scraps of early writings inserted from the margin, where they had been first written with an illustrative or supplementary purpose.

Marginal Gloss in 2 Cor. 8:4-5

What a sleepy or stupid scribe could do in this direction is illustrated by such a reading as

δεξασθαι ημας εν πολλοις των αντιγραφων ουτως ευρηται και ου καθως ηλπισαμεν

which stands in a miniscule copy at 2nd Cor. 8:4-5."

(Warfield, ibid, p. 100)

Nazaroo's Notes

(1) We have tracked this (2nd Cor. 8:4-5) reference by Warfield down to an apparent note by J. A. Bengel:

"It seems that a scribe added a note in the margin which read "in many of the copies thus it is found." A scribe of a subsequent manuscript, according to J. A. Bengel (1687-1752), incorporated this comment directly into his text as though it were part of Paul's words."

Source: Earlham School of Religion Richmond, Indiana
( http://www.earlham.edu/~seidti/iam/errs_judg.html )

Bengel's Gnomon is the probable source for Warfield's story, although it may have reached him second-hand through the work of some other textual critic. Without inspecting the original Medieval manuscript, it is impossible to verify whether this even happened, or if Bengel correctly interpreted what he found. At this point, it is not clear at all whether this is indeed a legitimate case, or or just an 'urban myth' about a manuscript.

The 'Marginal Gloss' Theory

(2) The essential idea here is that:

(a) Both John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20 were originally stories or traditions from some other source, oral or written.

(b) These were supposedly copied into the margin of some manuscript by one scribe, in very early times (c. 200 A.D.), as part of a commentary or Lection ('lesson').

(c) Then, another scribe assumed they were meant to be part of the original, and accidentally put them in the text of his new copy of the Gospel(s).

This allegedly common process is meant to account for the current state of the textual evidence, namely that both these passages are missing from some of the oldest surviving manuscripts (circa 200-350 A.D.)

There are several huge objections to this way of accounting for the textual evidence:

I.'Accidental Insertion' doesn't Fit the Cases in Hand

(1) This utterly fails to account for the problem of the Ending of Mark. Had the current ending been missing, it would have been instantly and universally known, and any attempt to add an ending could hardly have been kept secret.

That the church universally adopted this ending as authentic Holy Scripture suggests it originates from the remotest antiquity (i.e., Apostolic times), and must have had the approval and authority of Apostles or their immediate successors.

(2) The Pericope De Adultera was also well-known, and apparently disputed over. At several early periods, notably the 3rd/4th centuries, and again later in the Middle Ages, this passage was variously deleted or inserted, or marked and footnoted, and was the focus of intense scribal activity. Several early fathers reported its absence from some copies, while maintaining its authenticity, such as Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine etc. It also was embraced by Christians of all types.

Thus, an Accidental Insertion appears ludicrous in one case, and implausible in the other.

II. The Theory doesn't Explain either Textual Evidence or Origin

(3) The Textual Evidence is entirely different in the two cases. This is important, for with Mark's ending, it is found in almost every manuscript in existance. The Pericope De Adultera (PA) fairs quite differently, and obviously was the object of controversy even into the Middle Ages.

At the least, entirely different accounts of the history of these passages must be reconstructed, and the "explanation" is an over-simplification which fails to account for the textual evidence at all.

(4) The proposal fails to account for the contents of either passage. At best, the idea is a conjecture about how these passages came to be included in Mark and John. It offers no explanation whatever as to the real origin or even purpose of these two passages.

a) Mark's Ending could be accounted for on the basis of an unfinished Gospel or lost ending, and a need for the church to end the book appropriately. But this is an entirely different proposal than the 'Accidental Insertion' mechanism suggested.

b) With the PA, again we have no real explanation at all as to how this passage was placed where it is found in John. The connection is so vague as to cast the 'marginal note' theory in serious doubt.

So, each half of the explanation has a conflict with the circumstances of one passage.

(3) and (4) Together then, show that the theory is just a conjecture about a mechanism for initial entry of a chunk of material into each Gospel. It does not offer any plausible origin for the passages, nor even does it explain the current textual evidence. But these were the original reasons for considering it. And unfortunately, the theory actually contradicts what is reasonably known of the textual history of these gospels.

III. The Theory is Intrinsically and Transcriptionally Improbable

(5) Margins weren't big enough for 'marginal notes' of this size. Writing materials were costly and rare. No such manuscript exists which has margins large enough for such passages.

The only 'free space' available occurred when a new book would begin on a new page or column, sometimes leaving a significant space behind. This physical circumstance could happen for Mark's Ending, but not at John 7:53 for the Pericope de Adultera.

(6) Turning a marginal note this size into text could not be accidental. With a line or phrase, its easy to understand mistaking a marginal note for a textual correction or addition. But any scribe coming across a 12 whole verses, a self-contained pericope, would not likely make such a mistake. The alleged example of 2nd Cor. 8:4-5 is unconvincing, and fails to support the claim.

If we say the passage already looked like part of the text, we've simply avoided explaining how it got there. What could such a 'marginal note' have originally looked like? A free-standing passage would have had some accompanying text or note of explanation in the first place. Why wasn't that either included in the text or kept in the margin? If a note existed, the scribe would have preserved it, and there should be some evidence somewhere.

(7) The Pericope de Adultera (Jn 7:53-8:11) as a 'marginal note' is Intrinsically improbable. Currently, the consensus among Textual Critics is that this passage is disconnected and interrupts the smooth narrative when placed between 7:53 and 8:12.

Why would John 8:1-11 be a 'marginal note' for John 7:53? and regardless, how could it then be inserted here without conscious effort and purpose? What convincing connection can be made for it here, when the textual evidence also suggests its insertion at other places and even other gospels?

(8) The Combination of Improbabilities is Fatal to the Theory. Not only does it require a series of unlikely accidents, the same theory is applied to multiple implausible cases. Improbabilities multiply, and become 'fantastic' in nature. We must also add the further improbability that each combination of errors then became the Majority Text, through different mechanisms and histories.

Eliminating Mark's Ending as a candidate (even on good grounds!) doesn't help. Then the Pericope de Adultera (Jn 7:53-8:11) becomes an entirely unique case, with no other known example in the entire NT. If this is the only time it happened, why believe it ever happened at all?

Transcriptional and Intrinsic Probability are wholly against the 'Scribal Gloss' theory. Every aspect of the Pericope de Adultera (PA) goes against the theory, and makes it the most implausible "explanation" ever contrived.

- B.B. Warfield,
An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the NT,
5th Ed. (London 1887), pp. 95-99

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