TEXT OF THE GOSPELS
1. The problem.—All true criticism must begin by taking cognizance of, and as far as possible accounting for, existing facts. The leading facts in regard to the text of the Gospels may be briefly stated as follows:
(i.) A Greek text substantially the same as the text underlying the Authorized Version has been almost universally accepted by Christendom as the authentic Greek text from about the year a.d. 350 till the development in modern times of the critical study of the text of the NT. This text is found in the great mass of existing Greek Manuscripts , and was used by almost all ecclesiastical writers from Chrysostom onwards. Translated into Syriac, under the name of the Peshitta version, it was used by most of the Syriac-speaking Churches from at least the 4th cent. onwards. It was the only Greek text printed on the revival of learning in the West, and received the name of Textus Receptus (Textus Receptus ) from an expression used in the preface to the second Elzevir edition, 1633: ‘textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum, in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus.’
(ii.) Against this general unanimity in regard to the Greek text must be set the fact that the Churches of the West read the Gospels in the Latin translation of Jerome (a.d. 384), according to a text substantially different from the Textus Receptus . Moreover, existing Manuscripts and Patristic quotations of the earlier Latin versions differed from the Textus Receptus even more fundamentally, and similar types of text are found to have been very widely spread, speaking in a geographical sense, and occur in some important Manuscripts , in many ancient Versions, and in the quotations of many Christian writers, especially in the earliest times. This text (or, more correctly speaking, texts of this type) has been named ‘Western’; and, although it has long been well known that the term is not exclusively applicable in a geographical sense (indeed, it is quite possible that at least some members of this family may have had their rise in the East), yet for the sake of convenience it must for the present be employed.
(iii.) But a few of our earliest Greek Manuscripts , supported by the quotations of the most scholarly Fathers of the earlier centuries, and by a few Versions, present a different text, which has commended itself on its intrinsic merits, as well as on account of its proved antiquity, to most modern critical scholars: it forms the base of practically all the modern critical editions, and of our English Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 .
2. The Received Text.—A text substantially the same as the Textus Receptus has been called by Dean Burgon and his school the ‘Traditional Text’; by Dr. Hort (in the Introduction*
to Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in the Original Greek) the ‘Syrian’ Text. Hort also suggests the name ‘Antiochian,’ which is preferable, because it avoids any chance of confusion with the totally distinct Syriac versions. For reasons that will be explained later on in this article, Hort considers that the Antiochian text affords practically no evidence for the reconstruction of the original Greek of the NT, and he may therefore be considered as the most extreme opponent of the Textus Receptus . In his opinion (Introduction, § 185) the Antiochian text ‘must be the result of a recension in the proper sense of the word, a work of attempted criticism, performed deliberately by editors and not merely by scribes.’ He further distinguishes two stages in the revision, and thinks (§ 190) that the final process was completed by 350 or thereabouts, and that the first process took place at some date between 250 and 350. According to Burgon and his close follower Miller, these recensions are purely imaginary creations; they believe the Church of Antioch (in company, no doubt, with practically all the Greek-speaking Churches) to have preserved the pure text from the first. It is at any rate certain that Chrysostom used this text: he was born at Antioch about the middle of the 4th cent., and lived in that city till 398, when he became bishop of Constantinople. We have seen above that even the main opponents of this text allow that it took its final shape probably about the time of Chrysostom’s birth. From that time onwards it held practically undisputed sway, and the main mass of later Manuscripts contain it. When at length, some time after the introduction of printing, the first New Testaments in Greek were published, they naturally rested on the Manuscripts in ordinary ecclesiastical use, and thus the Antiochian text became the ‘Received’ Greek text of modern Christendom, from which our own Authorized Version was made.
As has been shown above, the history of the printed text in the 16th cent. is part of the history of the Antiochian text; although of no critical importance, it is a subject very full of interest.
. The NT was first printed in Greek as vol. v. of the Complutensian Polyglott Bible. This magnificent work was prepared at the cost of Francis Ximenes de Cisneros, Cardinal-Archbishop of Toledo, and was printed at Alcalá (Complutum), where he had founded a university. The OT was given in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek; the Apocrypha and NT in Greek and Latin. The volume containing the NT (which was the first to be printed) was completed on 10th Jan. 1514; but owing to the death of the truly great Cardinal, the publication of the whole work was delayed, the Pope’s license not being granted till 22nd March 1520. Meanwhile, in order to forestall the Spanish edition, John Froben, the celebrated publisher at Basle, employed Erasmus to prepare an edition of the NT in Greek, accompanied by a revised Latin version: this was hurried through the press, and published in 1516. Erasmus published other editions in 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1535. Other important editions are those of Robert Stephen (especially the folio of 1550, which is regarded by many as the standard text), Theodore de Bèze (Beza), and the brothers Elzevir. All printed editions, even those prepared by the great founders of textual criticism, were based upon the Textus Receptus until 1831, when Lachmann published a text constructed directly from the ancient documents.
Whatever may be the ultimate verdict of textual criticism, the Textus Receptus must always remain a monument worthy of deep veneration and of close study. It is an essential factor in the history of the development of Christianity. Through it the Spirit of God has, during the greater part of the existence of the Church of Christ, spoken to the greater number of her members. It has controlled the doctrine and the life of Christians, and by its means we have been freed, in part at least, from the heavy yoke of mediaeval sacerdotalism and superstition. Those who translated it into modern languages have left us in their work something of their own life and spirit. If extent of influence for good is to be our criterion, then surely, whatever its origin, the Textus Receptus and the translations made from it bear the impress of the seal of God’s Spirit, and have an unsurpassed and almost unsurpassable claim to the veneration and gratitude of mankind.
This much every thinking Christian will surely grant. But it is a different thing to go on to say: ‘therefore this text must be the original authentic text.’ It would be as logical to argue that because the gospel was given to the world in the Greek language, therefore Jesus must have spoken in the same language. It is quite in accordance with our experience of God’s methods of working that He should employ an instrument fashioned and conditioned not only by the circumstances under which it took its rise, but also by those through which it has passed in the course of its history.
It is an unfortunate thing that Burgon and Miller’s writings seem to imply (we believe, indeed, that the Dean stated it in so many words) that of necessity God must have provided for the accurate preservation of the text of the book which He had given to man. It appears to have been inconceivable to Burgon that the true text should be any other than that commonly accepted by the Church: to him the Church was the guardian of Holy Writ in the same sense as some people believe her to be the guardian of doctrine. If this view, even though not expressly stated, is felt to underlie the student’s conclusions, then those conclusions are removed from the domain of matters with which the critic can deal. They may, as in the case of views as to the authority of the Church in matters of faith, or of theories as to the inspiration of the Bible, conceivably rest on a true spiritual perception, but they do not rest on evidence, with which alone the critic is competent to deal. We have pointed out above that a large, and the most enlightened, portion of the Christian Church read the Scriptures in the Vulgate, or Latin translation of Jerome, and regarded it as the only authoritative exponent of the true text and sense of the original. There never has been a unanimous tradition as to the text of Scripture: only for the three centuries that followed the first printing of the Greek NT has there been even an appearance of such unanimity. But though the writings of Burgon and Miller force one to the conclusion that for them personally their theory rested on a priori grounds, yet they have with great labour, assiduity, and learning collected a vast amount of evidence in support of the ‘Traditional Text.’ Unfortunately, Burgon wrote in such a contemptuous manner of the leading textual critics and of the most ancient Manuscripts of the NT that most of his work has the appearance of an ex parte statement rather than of a solid contribution to the investigation of a difficult problem. Miller, who edited and completed many of Burgon’s papers after his death, adopted a more temperate tone; but so much of Burgon’s language is incorporated, that the subject is still treated rather after the fashion of a polemical controversy than of a critical investigation, Moreover, Burgon’s contention was that the ‘Traditional Text’ is the only one that has any claim to be regarded as the true text; all documents that differ from it are treated as of practically no value. Hort, on the other hand, considered the ‘Traditional’ or ‘Antiochian’ text to be valueless as evidence. Thus the subject has been treated at its extreme points, and neither side has taken sufficient trouble to discover how much truth is contained in the views of the other side. We lay a good deal of stress on this matter, because we think there has been a strong disposition to regard the ‘Traditional Text’ as a hobby of Burgon’s, and to treat his defence of it with the same contempt that he poured so freely on others.
3. Hort’s ‘Syrian’ or ‘Antiochian’ Text.—In part iii. of Hort’s Introduction, chapter ii. bears the heading, ‘Results of Genealogical Evidence proper.’ Section i. (§§ 130–168) is devoted to proving the posteriority of Antiochian to other known types of readings. We hope to show later on that the evidence here adduced is not entitled to be called ‘genealogical’ in a strict sense, but with this we are not for the moment concerned. Hort begins (§ 130) by stating the incontrovertible fact that all great variations of text were prior to the 5th cent., since the text of Chrysostom and other Syrian Fathers of the 4th cent, is substantially identical with the common late text; and (§ 131) the text of every other considerable group of documents is shown by analogous evidence of Fathers and Versions to be of equal or greater antiquity. If we were living in the age of Chrysostom, the problem to be solved would in all essential points be the same as it is now. Hort then adduces three lines of evidence to prove the posteriority of Antiochian readings: (i.) by analysis of conflate readings (§§ 132–151), (ii.) by Ante-Nicene Patristic evidence (§§ 152–162), (iii.) by internal evidence of Syrian (i.e. Antiochian) readings (§§ 163–168). We must deal with each of these divisions separately.
(i.) When one reading is found in one group of documents, another in a second group, and the two different readings are found combined in a third group, this reading is said to be ‘conflate.’ Of course it has to be assumed that the first two readings are prior to the conflate reading, or else it is not a conflate reading at all. Thus the argument goes in a circle, unless either it can be proved that the two separate readings existed at a time when it can be shown that the conflate reading did not, or the conflate reading is so obviously wrong that it cannot conceivably be the original reading. If neither of these conditions is fulfilled, then conclusions based on the so-called conflate readings are matters of judgment, not of evidence. Hort adduces and examines eight eases of readings which he believes to be conflate: in each case, according to his view, the Antiochian text has combined two separate readings found in earlier texts. Obviously eight examples, taken four from Mark and four from Luke, afford but a slender foundation on which to build: it may be, and has been, urged that these eight examples are only specimens taken from a large number available, but until further examples are collected and published the case must be judged by the eight given.
For the sake of illustration, we give here the main readings in the instance selected for special discussion by Hort. In Mark 6:33
(following and the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran there together on foot from all the cities) we find the following readings:
καὶ προῆλθον αὐτούς (and outwent them), אB lect 49 Lat. vg Boh Arm and (with προσῆλθον for προῆλθον) LΔ 13 lect 39; Syr.
vg has καὶ προῆλθον αὐτὸν ἐχεῖ.
καὶ συνῆλθον αὐτοῦ (and came together there), D
gr 28, 604 b (2pe d ff r have καὶ ἦλθον αὐτοῦ, a simply et venerunt, Syr.
sin and when they came: these documents might be taken to support either of the shorter readings).
καὶ προῆλθον αὐτοὺς καὶ συνῆλθον πρὸς αὐτόν (and outwent them, and came together unto him), all known uncials, except the five named above, all cursives except eight, f q Syr.
In this case it will be noticed that there is no evidence to show that καὶ συνῆλθον πρὸς αὐτόν alone was ever read; moreover, the evidence for καὶ συνῆλθον αὐτοῦ is very slender, and quite possibly later than the supposed conflation. Mill suggested with much probability that D
omitted the words and outwent them because they contradicted Matthew 14:13
and Luke 9:11
‘the crowds followed him.’ Swete, ad loc., quotes 33 as reading συνέδραμον πρὸς αὐτοὺς καὶ συνῆλθον πρὸς αὐτον: this appears to have been another way of getting rid of the words objected to. The reading of the mass of Manuscripts gives such good sense that Hort himself says (§ 136), ‘There is nothing in the sense that would tempt to alteration: all runs easily and smoothly, and there is neither contradiction nor manifest tautology’; and again (§ 138), ‘Had it been the only extant reading, it would have roused no suspicion.’ He does, indeed, argue that the fresh point made by and came together unto him ‘simply spoils the point of ἐξελθών in Luke 5:34
; the multitude “followed” (Mt., Luke) the Lord to the desert region (ἐκεῖ), but the actual arrival at His presence was due to His act, not theirs, for He “came out” of His retirement in some sequestered nook to meet them.’ But Swete, ad loc., far more naturally takes the ἐξελθών to mean ‘having landed,’ and thus the only objection that Hort could find to the language of the fuller reading falls to the ground: the crowd were the first to reach the spot whither Jesus and His disciples were going, they ran together on the beach to meet Him; and as He landed He saw them, and realized that He could not secure the quiet He sought. It is therefore quite possible that the reading of אBL
Δ is due to the accidental omission of a clause.
In none of the eight cases can it be proved that the two parts of the longer reading both existed separately at a time when the combined reading did not exist, and it is a matter of opinion whether the readings in which the two separate ones are combined are likely to be right or not.
Dr. Salmon (Some Thoughts on the Textual Criticism of the NT, p. 68) says that ‘Canon Cook elaborately discussed Hort’s eight cases, contending that in every one of them the conflation hypothesis gives the less probable account of the facts.’ He adds: ‘In each of these cases I did not myself follow Hort altogether without misgivings.’ Miller also discusses the supposed conflations in Appendix ii. of his ‘Causes of Corruption,’ and makes out a fairly good case for the originality of the supposed conflate readings.
(ii.) Hort’s next argument to prove the posteriority of Antiochian readings is founded on Ante-Nicene Patristic evidence.
It will be convenient to follow Hort’s example in giving at this point some general considerations in regard to the character and the use of Patristic evidence. We will speak first of the disadvantages and difficulties experienced in using it. To begin with, the material is necessarily very fragmentary in more senses than one. Each writer quotes but a limited number of passages, so that it is only in the case of a few specially prominent passages that we can get together a really representative collection of Patristic quotations. It follows that any kind of Patristic apparatus is more or less deceptive. It may be, for instance, that Origen has a reading which agrees with Manuscripts most approved by critical writers, but that the passage in which it occurs is not quoted by Clement of Alexandria. Here we are placed in a difficulty, because Clement and Origen did not by any means always agree, and, if a quotation had been preserved in which Clement used a different reading, it would be probable that Origen’s reading did not belong to the text traditionally current at Alexandria, but that he had obtained it from some other source; his evidence, therefore, would be simply of a personal character. It is necessary, therefore, in weighing Patristic evidence to deal with the author’s quotations as a whole, in order to form a judgment of the character of the text he used. When Clement’s and Origen’s quotations are thus dealt with, it is found that Origen in part agrees with the text most favoured by critical editors, but that his predecessor Clement used a substantially different text of a ‘Western’ type; Origen too, in part, followed ‘Western’ texts: the conclusions to which these phenomena lead will be discussed later on. The important point to note at this stage is that the whole mass of a writer’s quotations must be treated as one whole, and that, while we can discover the type of text he used, our knowledge of it is only fragmentary, and necessarily confined as far as details are concerned to the passages explicitly quoted.
A moment’s reflexion on the way in which the Bible is quoted in extempore sermons or in conversation will be sufficient to show that a writer’s quotations may not always reproduce the text that he considered the best, supposing him to have formed a critical judgment on the subject. Natural looseness of quotation from memory, familiarity with more than one text, and confusion between parallel passages in the Gospels, will account for many deviations that cannot be considered genuine variant readings. A knowledge of the proneness of the human brain to repeat a mistake once made, will render us cautious even when a writer quotes a passage more than once in the same unusual form. Even with great care and wide experience it is difficult for a student to feel sure that a quotation gives the reading which the writer, in answer to a direct question, would have deliberately stated to be the right one.
Moreover, we often feel great doubt whether the quotation stands in our printed editions in its original form. The works of many Greek Fathers have been notoriously badly edited, and it is only when we have had personal experience of the editor’s methods that we can feel any security that full advantage has been taken of the Manuscripts and other evidence available. Dr. Nestle (in his Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the Greek NT, English translation 1901, p. 145) refers to an extreme instance of supineness and ignorance on the part of even a fairly recent editor: he gave in his MS the first and last words of quotations, and left the printer to fill them up from a printed copy of the NT.
And when we go behind the editions, we often find that only comparatively late Manuscripts are now extant, and we have to allow for the natural tendency of scribes to substitute, both consciously and unconsciously, familiar for unfamiliar readings. Sometimes the comments that follow the quotation enable the student to detect the substitution, but such alterations must have been made by scribes in numberless passages in which there are no means of discovering them.
The case of Fathers writing in a language other than Greek presents further difficulties, because it is often impossible to say how far the form of the quotation is due to a knowledge of the original Greek, and how far to familiarity with the version in their own language. Analogous difficulties arise in the case of works which are preserved only in translations, because the translator was likely to introduce readings familiar to him in the vernacular.
We have enlarged somewhat on this matter in order to show how much care is needed in forming a judgment on the Patristic evidence in regard to individual readings. But, on the other hand, we desire to emphasize as strongly as possible the immense importance of Patristic evidence when employed with due precautions for its proper purpose, namely, the dating and localizing of special types of text.
But, again, we must remember that the remains of Ante-Nicene Christian literature that have come down to us are very fragmentary. ‘The only period for which we have anything like a sufficiency of representative knowledge consists roughly of three-quarters of a century, from about 175 to 250’ (Hort, § 158). Besides Clement and Origen, Hort names Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Novatian, belonging to the period named; Methodius towards the close of the 3rd cent.; and Eusebius of Caesarea in the first third of the 4th century. ‘The text used,’ writes Hort (§ 159), ‘by all those Ante-Nicene Greek writers, not being connected with Alexandria, who have left considerable remains, is substantially Western.’
We are now in a position to consider the value of the argument for the posteriority of Antiochian readings which Hort bases on Ante-Nicene Patristic evidence: it is an e silentio argument—that no extant writer before Chrysostom used the Antiochian text. The force of this argument is considerably lessened if we reflect that, had the writings of Origen perished, we should have had practically no Ante-Nicene Patristic evidence for the type of text contained in the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 .
Miller (The Traditional Text, p. 94 ff.) has attempted to prove the antiquity of the Traditional or Antiochian text by a wide appeal to Patristic evidence. In a sense he fails, because if a reading is shown to be older than the supposed revision which produced the Antiochian text, it is said by the school of Hort to be not distinctively Antiochian, but a ‘Western’ reading adopted by the revisers. To one who does not adopt an extreme view on either side, this will probably appear very like a fight over empty names. The Antiochian text confessedly contained an ancient element, and the real question is whether critical editors have paid sufficient attention to the evidence afforded by it. Call the text by what name you will, but let it be judged on the intrinsic value of its readings, not in accordance with uncertain theories. Its very existence forms evidence in favour of certain types of the Western text, which must go back to the 2nd cent., as is shown by Miller; and the real question at issue is, What weight is to be attached to the evidence of these texts?
(iii.) The judgment of such a scholar as Dr. Hort on the intrinsic value of the Antiochian readings must carry the greatest weight. It will be most satisfactory to quote his own words. ‘Another step is gained by a close examination of all readings distinctively Syrian (Antiochian) in the sense explained above, comparing them on grounds of Internal Evidence, Transcriptional and Intrinsic, with the other readings of the same passages. The result is entirely unfavourable to the hypothesis which was mentioned as not excluded by the phenomena of the conflate readings, namely that in other cases, where the Syrian text differs from all other extant ancient texts, its authors may have copied some other equally ancient and perhaps purer text now otherwise lost’ (§ 163). This decision may be regarded either as an expression of subjective judgment, in which case its value will vary according to the estimate formed of its author’s ability as a critic; or else it can be regarded as the result of certain lines of argument, in which case it is the business of other critics to examine those arguments.
The conclusions which Hort reached in regard to the conflate readings discussed above rest on, and indeed may be fairly considered to assume the truth of, his views as to the genealogical relations of the different families into which he divides all extant NT documents. His whole text is indeed based on those views; and therefore, if we are to discuss the problem before us intelligently, it is essential to have correct knowledge of the exact nature of genealogical evidence, and of how far it is available for the criticism of the NT text.
It is an obvious truth that, if the original of a document exists, no number of copies will possess any value for settling its text, which can be ascertained by reference to the document itself. This is the simple ground on which all genealogical evidence rests. If three independent copies have been made of a document which has itself perished, it may fairly be assumed that where all three agree they correctly represent the original; and further, in cases where two of the copies agree against the third, we shall confidently judge that these two preserve the right text, and that the third is in error. Now suppose that fifty copies have been made of this third original copy, and that it has itself perished, then it is clear that the evidence of the two extant primary copies outweighs the evidence of the fifty secondary ones. In this example it is assumed that the exact parentage of every copy is known. This is, of course, seldom the case with the Manuscripts of ancient authors; but. when the parentage of every MS concerned can be ascertained, then genealogical evidence gives results from which there can be no appeal.
This matter is of such importance that it is worth while to illustrate further what we have said, by reference to an actual instance. A fair number of Manuscripts exist of the Paedagogue of Clement of Alexandria. In one family of these, consisting of eight or more members, a passage of considerable length is left out. Now two leaves have been lost from a MS preserved at Florence (called F), which contained exactly this passage; it is therefore beyond doubt that the Manuscripts referred to were copied from F after the loss of these leaves, and they are therefore of no value as evidence. There exists also at Paris another MS (P