A Dialogue Between a Traditional Text Advocate and a Critical Text Advocate

Traditional Text vs Critical Text

While the following excerpt is over a hundred years old, the substance of its criticisms remains highly relevant today. The modern Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies texts continue to follow the flawed text critical assumptions and methodologies of Westcott and Hort. As D. A. Carson recently stated:

“The theories of Westcott and Hort… [are] almost universally accepted today…. Subsequent textual critical work accepted the theories of Westcott and Hort. The vast majority of evangelical scholars hold that the basic textual theories of Westcott and Hort were right and that the church stands greatly in their debt.” (The King James Version Debate, p. 75).

Dean John William Burgon
Revision Revised
pp. 315-342

Two of the Most Untrustworthy Copies in Existence.

(1) The impurity of the Texts exhibited by Codices B [Vaticanus] and Aleph [Sinaiticus] is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. [740] These are two of the least trustworthy documents in existence. So far from allowing Dr. Hort’s position that—“A Text formed” by “taking Codex B as the sole authority,” “would be incomparably nearer the Truth than a Text similarly taken from any other Greek or other single document” (p. 251),—we venture to assert that it would be, on the contrary, by far the foulest Text that had ever seen the light: worse, that is to say, even than the Text of Drs. Westcott and Hort. And that is saying a great deal. In the brave and faithful words of Prebendary Scrivener (Introduction, p. 453),—words which deserve to become famous,—

“It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed: that Irenaeus [A.D. 150], and the African Fathers, and the whole Western, with a portion of the Syrian Church, used far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephens thirteen centuries later, when moulding the Textus Receptus.”

And Codices B and Aleph are, demonstrably, nothing else but specimens of the depraved class thus characterized.

Vaticanus and Sinaiticus Not Independent Witnesses.

Next—(2), We assert that, so manifest are the disfigurements jointly and exclusively exhibited by codices B and Aleph, [741] that instead of accepting these codices as two “independent” Witnesses to the inspired Original, we are constrained to regard them as little more than a single reproduction of one and the same scandalously corrupt and (comparatively) late Copy. By consequence, we consider their joint and exclusive attestation of any particular reading, “an unique criterion” of its worthlessness; a sufficient reason—not for adopting, but—for unceremoniously rejecting it.

Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are Corrupt Copies.

Then—(3), As for the origin of these two curiosities, it can perforce only be divined from their contents. That they exhibit fabricated Texts is demonstrable. No amount of honest copying,—persevered in for any number of centuries,—could by possibility have resulted in two such documents. Separated from one another in actual date by 50, perhaps by 100 years, [742] they must needs have branched off from a common corrupt ancestor, and straightway become exposed continuously to fresh depraving influences. The result is, that Codex Aleph, (which evidently has gone through more adventures and fallen into worse company than his rival,) has been corrupted to a far graver extent than Codex B, and is even more untrustworthy. Thus, whereas (in the Gospels alone) B has 589 Readings quite peculiar to itself, affecting 858 words,—Aleph has 1460 such Readings, affecting 2640 words.

One solid fact like the preceding, (let it be pointed out in passing,) is more helpful by far to one who would form a correct estimate of the value of a Codex, than any number of such “reckless and unverified assertions,” not to say peremptory and baseless decrees, as abound in the highly imaginative pages of Drs. Westcott and Hort.

Vaticanus and Sinaiticus Forgotten because They Were Considered Corrupt.

(4) Lastly,—We suspect that these two Manuscripts are indebted for their preservation, solely to their ascertained evil character; which has occasioned that the one eventually found its way, four centuries ago, to a forgotten shelf in the Vatican library: while the other, after exercising the ingenuity of several generations of critical Correctors, eventually (viz. in A.D. 1844 [743]) got deposited in the waste-paper basket of the Convent at the foot of Mount Sinai. Had B and Aleph been copies of average purity, they must long since have shared the inevitable fate of books which are freely used and highly prized; namely, they would have fallen into decadence and disappeared from sight. But in the meantime, behold, their very Antiquity has come to be reckoned to their advantage; and (strange to relate) is even considered to constitute a sufficient reason why they should enjoy not merely extraordinary consideration, but the actual surrender of the critical judgment. Since 1831, Editors have vied with one another in the fulsomeness of the homage they have paid to these “two false Witnesses,”—for such B and Aleph are, as the concurrent testimony of Copies, Fathers and Versions abundantly proves. Even superstitious reverence has been claimed for these two codices: and Drs. Westcott and Hort are so far in advance of their predecessors in the servility of their blind adulation, that they must be allowed to have easily won the race.

LIV. With this,—so far as the Greek Text under review is concerned,—we might, were we so minded, reasonably make an end. We undertook to show that Drs. Westcott and Hort, in the volumes before us, have built up an utterly worthless Textual fabric; and we consider that we have already sufficiently shown it. The Theory,—the Hypothesis rather, on which their Text is founded, we have demonstrated to be simply absurd [pp. 235-315]. Remove that hypothesis, and a heap of unsightly ruins is all that is left behind,—except indeed astonishment (not unmingled with concern) at the simplicity of its accomplished Authors.

Dialogue Between a Traditional Text Advocate (T. T.) and a Critical Text Advocate (C. T.).

Here then, we might leave off. But we are unwilling so to leave the matter. Large consideration is due to ordinary English Readers; who must perforce look on with utter perplexity—not to say distress—at the strange spectacle presented by that Text (which is in the main the Text of the Revised English Version) on the one hand,—and this Review of it, on the other:—

Are Older Extant Manuscripts Necessarily Better than the More Recent?

(1) C. T. “And pray, which of you am I to believe? I pretend to no learning. I am not prepared to argue the question with you. But surely, the oldest Manuscript must be the purest! It even stands to reason: does it not?—Then further, I admit that you seem to have the best of the argument so far; yet, since the three most famous Editors of modern times are against you,—Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf,—excuse me if I suspect that you must be in the wrong, after all.”

T. T. “You are perfectly right. The oldest Manuscript must exhibit the purest text: must be the most trustworthy. But then, unfortunately, it happens that we do not possess it. ‘The oldest Manuscript’ is lost. You speak, of course, of the inspired Autographs. These, I say, have long since disappeared.”

(2) C. T. “No, I meant to say that the oldest Manuscript we possess, if it be but a very ancient one, must needs be the purest.”

T. T. “Oh, but that is an entirely different proposition. Well, apart from experience, the probability that the oldest copy extant will prove the purest is, if you please, considerable. Reflection will convince you however that it is but a probability, at the utmost: a probability based upon more than one false assumption,—with which nevertheless you shall not be troubled. But in fact it clearly does not by any means follow that, because a MS. is very ancient, therefore the Text, which it exhibits will be very pure. That you may be thoroughly convinced of this,—(and it is really impossible for your mind to be too effectually disabused of a prepossession which has fatally misled so many,)—you are invited to enquire for a recent contribution to the learned French publication indicated at the foot of this page, [744] in which is exhibited a facsimile of 8 lines of the Medea of Euripides (ver. 5-12), written about B.C. 200 in small uncials (at Alexandria probably,) on papyrus. Collated with any printed copy, the verses, you will find, have been penned with scandalous, with incredible inaccuracy. But on this head let the learned Editor of the document in question be listened to, rather than the present Reviewer:—”

[“We see that the text of the papyrus is bristling with the most serious faults. The most recent and the worst of our Euripides manuscripts are infinitely better than this copy, made two thousand years ago in the country where Hellenic scholarship and the Critique of Texts flourished.”] [745] —(p. 17.)

“Why, the author of the foregoing remarks might have been writing concerning Codex B!”

(3) C. T. “Yes: but I want Christian evidence. The author of that scrap of papyrus may have been an illiterate slave. What if it should be a schoolboy’s exercise which has come down to us? The thing is not impossible.”

T. T. “Not ‘impossible’ certainly: but surely highly improbable. However, let it drop. You insist on Christian evidence. You shall have it. What think you then of the following statement of a very ancient Father (Caius [746]) writing against the heresy of Theodotus and others who denied the Divinity of Christ? He is bearing his testimony to the liberties which had been freely taken with the Text of the New Testament in his own time, viz. about A.D. 175-200:—”

“The Divine Scriptures,” he says, “these heretics have audaciously corrupted: … laying violent hands upon them under pretence of correcting them. That I bring no false accusation, any one who is disposed may easily convince himself. He has but to collect the copies belonging to these persons severally; then, to compare one with another; and he will discover that their discrepancy is extraordinary. Those of Asclepiades, at all events, will be found discordant from those of Theodotus. Now, plenty of specimens of either sort are obtainable, inasmuch as these men’s disciples have industriously multiplied the (so-called) `corrected’ copies of their respective teachers, which are in reality nothing else but `corrupted’ copies. With the foregoing copies again, those of Hermophilus will be found entirely at variance. As for the copies of Apollonides, they even contradict one another. Nay, let any one compare the fabricated text which these persons put forth in the first instance, with that which exhibits their latest perversions of the Truth, and he will discover that the disagreement between them is even excessive.”

“Of the enormity of the offence of which these men have been guilty, they must needs themselves be fully aware. Either they do not believe that the Divine Scriptures are the utterance of the Holy Ghost,—in which case they are to be regarded as unbelievers: or else, they account themselves wiser than the Holy Ghost,—and what is that, but to have the faith of devils? As for their denying their guilt, the thing is impossible, seeing that the copies under discussion are their own actual handywork; and they know full well that not such as these are the Scriptures which they received at the hands of their catechetical teachers. Else, let them produce the originals from which they made their transcripts. Certain of them indeed have not even condescended to falsify Scripture, but entirely reject Law and Prophets alike.” [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History v. 28]

“Now, the foregoing statement is in a high degree suggestive. For here is an orthodox Father of the 2nd century inviting attention to four well-known families of falsified manuscripts of the Sacred Writings;—complaining of the hopeless divergences which they exhibit (being not only inconsistent with one another, but with themselves);—and insisting that such corrected, are nothing else but shamefully corrupted copies. He speaks of the phenomenon as being in his day notorious: and appeals to Recensions, the very names of whose authors—Theodotus, Asclepiades, Hermophilus, Apollonides—have (all but the first) long since died out of the Church’s memory. You will allow therefore, (will you not?), that by this time the claim of the oldest existing copies of Scripture to be the purest, has been effectually disposed of. For since there once prevailed such a multitude of corrupted copies, we have no security whatever that the oldest of our extant MSS. are not derived—remotely if not directly—from some of them.”

(4) C. T. “But at all events the chances are even. Are they not?”

T. T. “By no means. A copy like Codex B, once recognized as belonging to a corrupt family,—once known to contain a depraved exhibition of the Sacred Text,—was more likely by far to remain unused, and so to escape destruction, than a copy highly prized and in daily use.—As for Codex Aleph, it carries on its face its own effectual condemnation; aptly illustrating the precept fiat experimentum in corpore vili. It exhibits the efforts of many generations of men to restore its Text,—(which, ‘as proceeding from the first scribe,’ is admitted by one of its chief admirers to be ‘very rough,’ [748])—to something like purity. ‘At least ten different Revisers,’ from the 4th to the 12th century, are found to have tried their hands upon it. [749] —Codex C, after having had ‘at least three correctors very busily at work upon it‘ [750] (in the 6th and 11th centuries), finally (in the 12th) was fairly obliterated,—literally scraped out,—to make room for the writings of a Syrian Father.—I am therefore led by a priori considerations to augur ill of the contents of B, Aleph, C. But when I find them hopelessly at variance among themselves: above all, when I find (1) all other Manuscripts of whatever date,—(2) the most ancient Versions,—and (3), the whole body of the primitive Fathers, decidedly opposed to them,—I am (to speak plainly) at a loss to understand how any man of sound understanding, acquainted with all the facts of the case and accustomed to exact reasoning, can hesitate to regard the unsupported (or the slenderly supported) testimony of one or other of them as simply worthless. The craven homage which the foremost of the three habitually receives at the hands of Drs. Westcott and Hort, I can only describe as a weak superstition. It is something more than unreasonable. It becomes even ridiculous.—Tischendorf’s preference (in his last edition) for the bêtises of his own Codex Aleph, can only be defended on the plea of parental partiality. But it is not on that account the less foolish. His ‘exaggerated preference for the single manuscript which he had the good fortune to discover, has betrayed him‘—(in the opinion of Bishop Ellicott)—’into an almost childlike infirmity of critical judgment.‘” [751]

(5) C. T. “Well but,—be all that as it may,—Caius, remember, is speaking of heretical writers. When I said ‘I want Christian evidence,’ I meant orthodox evidence, of course. You would not assert (would you?) that B and Aleph exhibit traces of heretical depravation?”

T. T. “Reserving my opinion on that last head, good Sir, and determined to enjoy the pleasure of your company on any reasonable terms,—(for convince you, I both can and will, though you prolong the present discussion till tomorrow morning,)—I have to ask a little favour of you: viz. that you will bear me company in an imaginary expedition.”

“I request that the clock of history may be put back seventeen hundred years. This is A.D. 183, if you please: and—(indulge me in the supposition!)—you and I are walking in Alexandria. We have reached the house of one Clemens,—a learned Athenian, who has long been a resident here. Let us step into his library,—he is from home. What a queer place! See, he has been reading his Bible, which is open at S. Mark 10. Is it not a well-used copy? It must be at least 50 or 60 years old. Well, but suppose only 30 or 40. It was executed therefore within fifty years of the death of S. John the Evangelist. Come, let us transcribe two of the columns [752] (selides) as faithfully as we possibly can, and be of. We are back in England again, and the clock has been put right. Now let us sit down and examine our curiosity at leisure. [753] It proves on inspection to be a transcript of the 15 verses (ver. 17 to ver. 31) which relate to the coming of the rich young Ruler to our Lord.”

“We make a surprising discovery. There are but 297 words in those 15 verses,—according to the traditional Text: of which, in the copy which belonged to Clemens Alexandrinus, 39 prove to have been left out: 11 words are added: 22, substituted: 27, transposed: 13, varied; and the phrase has been altered at least 8 times. Now, 112 words out of a total of 297, is 38 percent. What do you think of that?”

(6) C. T. “Think? O but, I disallow your entire proceeding! You have no business to collate with ‘a text of late and degenerate type, such as is the Received Text of the New Testament.‘ When this ‘is taken as a standard, any document belonging to a purer stage of the Text must by the nature of the case have the appearance of being guilty of omissions: and the nearer the document stands to the autograph, the more numerous must be the omissions laid to its charge.‘ I learnt that from Westcott and Hort. See page 235 of their luminous Introduction.”

T. T. “Be it so! Collate the passage then for yourself with the Text of Drs. Westcott and Hort: which, (remember!) aspires to reproduce ‘the autographs themselves‘ ‘with the utmost exactness which the evidence permits‘ (pp. 288 and 289). [754] You will find that this time the words omitted amount to 44. The words added are 13: the words substituted, 23: the words transposed, 34: the words varied 16. And the phrase has been altered 9 times at least. But, 130 on a total of 297, is 44 percent. You will also bear in mind that Clement of Alexandria is one of our principal authorities for the Text of the Ante-Nicene period. [755]”

“And thus, I venture to presume, the imagination has been at last effectually disposed of, that because Codices B and Aleph are the two oldest Greek copies in existence, the Text exhibited by either must therefore be the purest Text which is anywhere to be met with. It is impossible to produce a fouler exhibition of S. Mark 10:17-31 than is contained in a document full two centuries older than either B or Aleph,—itself the property of one of the most famous of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.”

C. T. “Do you consider, Sir, what it is you are about? Surely, you have been proving a vast deal too much! If the foregoing be a fair sample of the Text of the N. T. with which Clemens Alex. was best acquainted, it is plain that the testimony to the Truth of Scripture borne by one of the most ancient and most famous of the Fathers, is absolutely worthless. Is that your own deliberate conviction or not?”

T. T. “Finish what you have to say, Sir. After that, you shall have a full reply.”

(8) C. T. “Well then. Pray understand, I nothing doubt that in your main contention you are right; but I yet cannot help thinking that this bringing in of a famous ancient Father—obiter—is a very damaging proceeding. What else is such an elaborate exposure of the badness of the Text which Clemens (A.D. 150) employed, but the hopeless perplexing of a question which was already sufficiently thorny and difficult? You have, as it seems to me, imported into these 15 verses an entirely fresh crop of ‘Various Readings.‘ Do you seriously propose them as a contribution towards ascertaining the ipsissima verba of the Evangelist,—the true text of S. Mark 10:17-31?”

T. T. “Come back, if you please, Sir, to the company. Fully appreciating the friendly spirit in which you just now drew me aside, I yet insist on so making my reply that all the world shall hear it. Forgive my plainness: but you are evidently profoundly unacquainted with the problem before you,—in which however you do not by any means enjoy the distinction of standing alone.”

“The foulness of a Text which must have been penned within 70 or 80 years of the death of the last of the Evangelists, is a matter of fact—which must be loyally accepted, and made the best of. The phenomenon is surprising certainly; and may well be a warning to all who (like Dr. Tregelles) regard as oracular the solitary unsupported dicta of a Writer,—provided only he can claim to have lived in the 2nd or 3rd century. To myself it occasions no sort of inconvenience. You are to be told that the exorbitances of a single Father,—as Clemens; a single Version,—as the Egyptian: a single Copy,—as Cod. B, are of no manner of significancy or use, except as warnings: are of no manner of interest, except as illustrating the depravation which systematically assailed the written Word in the age which immediately succeeded the Apostolic: are, in fact, of no importance whatever. To make them the basis of an induction is preposterous. It is not allowable to infer the universal from the particular. If the bones of Goliath were to be discovered tomorrow, would you propose as an induction therefrom that it was the fashion to wear four-and-twenty fingers and toes on one’s hands and feet in the days of the giant of Gath? All the wild readings of the lost Codex before us may be unceremoniously dismissed. The critical importance and value of this stray leaf from a long-since-vanished Copy is entirely different, and remains to be explained.”

“You are to remember then,—perhaps you have yet to learn,—that there are but 25 occasions in the course of these 15 verses, on which either Lachmann (L.), or Tischendorf (T.), or Tregelles (Tr.), or Westcott and Hort (W. H.), or our Revisionists (R. T.), advocate a departure from the Traditional Text. To those 25 places therefore our attention is now to be directed,—on them, our eyes are to be riveted,—exclusively. And the first thing which strikes us as worthy of notice is, that the 5 authorities above specified fall into no fewer than twelve distinct combinations in their advocacy of certain of those 25 readings: holding all 5 together only 4 times. [756] The one question of interest therefore which arises, is this,—What amount of sanction do any of them experience at the hands of Clemens Alexandrinus?”

“I answer,—Only on 3 occasions does he agree with any of them. [757] The result of a careful analysis shows further that he sides with the Traditional Text 17 times:—witnessing against Lachmann, 9 times: against Tischendorf, 10 times: against Tregelles, 11 times: against Westcott and Hort, 12 times. [758]”

“So far therefore from admitting that ‘the Testimony of Clemens Al.—one of the most ancient and most famous of the Fathers—is absolutely worthless,’—I have proved it to be of very great value. Instead of ‘hopelessly perplexing the question,’ his Evidence is found to have simplified matters considerably. So far from ‘importing into these 15 verses a fresh crop of Various Readings,’ he has helped us to get rid of no less than 17 of the existing ones… ‘Damaging‘ his evidence has certainly proved: but only to Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort and our ill-starred Revisionists. And yet it remains undeniably true, that `it is impossible to produce a fouler exhibition of S. Mark 10:17-31 than is met with in a document full two centuries older than either B or Aleph,—the property of one of the most famous of the Fathers.’ [759] Have you anything further to ask?”

Where and When Did Purity of Text Begin?

(9) C. T. “I should certainly like, in conclusion, to be informed whether we are to infer that the nearer we approach to the date of the sacred Autographs, the more corrupt we shall find the copies. For, if so, pray—Where and when did purity of Text begin?”

T. T. “You are not at liberty, logically, to draw any such inference from the premises. The purest documents of all existed perforce in the first century: must have then existed. The spring is perforce purest at its source. My whole contention has been, and is,—That there is nothing at all unreasonable in the supposition that two stray copies of the 4th century,—coming down to our own times without a history and without a character,—may exhibit a thoroughly depraved text. More than this does not follow lawfully from the premises. At the outset, remember, you delivered it as your opinion that ‘the oldest Manuscript we possess, if it be but a very ancient one, must needs be the purest.’ I asserted, in reply, that ‘it does not by any means follow, because a manuscript is very ancient, that therefore its text will be very pure‘ (p. 321); and all that I have been since saying, has but had for its object to prove the truth of my assertion. Facts have been incidentally elicited, I admit, calculated to inspire distrust, rather than confidence, in very ancient documents generally. But I am neither responsible for these facts; nor for the inferences suggested by them.”

“At all events, I have to request that you will not carry away so entirely erroneous a notion as that I am the advocate for Recent, in preference to Ancient, Evidence concerning the Text of Scripture. Be so obliging as not to say concerning me that I ‘count‘ instead of ‘weighing‘ my witnesses. If you have attended to the foregoing pages, and have understood them, you must by this time be aware that in every instance it is to Antiquity that I persistently make my appeal. I abide by its sentence, and I require that you shall do the same.”

“You and your friends, on the contrary, reject the Testimony of Antiquity. You set up, instead, some idol of your own. Thus, Tregelles worshipped Codex B. But Codex B is not Antiquity!—Tischendorf assigned the place of honour to Codex Aleph. But once more, Codex Aleph’ is not Antiquity!—You rejoice in the decrees of the 6th-century-Codex D,—and of the 8th-century-Codex L,—and of the 10th, 11th, and 14th century codices, 1, 33, 69. But will you venture to tell me that any of these are Antiquity? Samples of Antiquity, at best, are any of these. No more! But then, it is demonstrable that they are unfair samples. Why are you regardless of all other Copies?—So, with respect to Versions, and Fathers. You single out one or two,—the one or two which suit your purpose; and you are for rejecting all the rest. But, once more,—The Coptic version is not Antiquity,—neither is Origen Antiquity. The Syriac Version is a full set-off against the former,—Irenaeus more than counterbalances the latter. Whatever is found in one of these ancient authorities must confessedly be an ancient Reading: but it does not therefore follow that it is the ancient Reading of the place. Now, it is the ancient Reading, of which we are always in search. And he who sincerely desires to ascertain what actually is the Witness of Antiquity,—(i.e., what is the prevailing testimony of all the oldest documents,)—will begin by casting his prejudices and his predilections to the winds, and will devote himself conscientiously to an impartial survey of the whole field of Evidence.”

C. T. “Well but,—you have once and again admitted that the phenomena before us are extraordinary. Are you able to explain how it comes to pass that such an one as Clemens Alexandrinus employed such a scandalously corrupt copy of the Gospels as we have been considering?”

T. T. “You are quite at liberty to ask me any question you choose. And I, for my own part, am willing to return you the best answer I am able. You will please to remember however, that the phenomena will remain,—however infelicitous my attempts to explain them may seem to yourself. My view of the matter then—(think what you will about it!)—is as follows:—”

LVII. “Vanquished by the word Incarnate, Satan next directed his subtle malice against the Word written. Hence, as I think,—hence the extraordinary fate which befell certain early transcripts of the Gospel. First, heretical assailants of Christianity,—then, orthodox defenders of the Truth,—lastly and above all, self-constituted Critics, who (like Dr. Hort) imagined themselves at liberty to resort to ‘instinctive processes‘ of Criticism; and who, at first as well as ‘at last,’ freely made their appeal ‘to the individual mind:’—such were the corrupting influences which were actively at work throughout the first 150 years after the death of S. John the Divine. Profane literature has never known anything approaching to it,—can show nothing at all like it. Satan’s arts were defeated indeed through the Church’s faithfulness, because,—(the good Providence of God had so willed it,)—the perpetual multiplication, in every quarter, of copies required for Ecclesiastical use,—not to say the solicitude of faithful men in diverse regions of ancient Christendom to retain for themselves unadulterated specimens of the inspired Text,—proved a sufficient safeguard against the grosser forms of corruption. But this was not all.”

“The Church, remember, hath been from the beginning the ‘Witness and Keeper of Holy Writ.’ [760] Did not her Divine Author pour out upon her, in largest measure, ‘the Spirit of Truth;’ and pledge Himself that it should be that Spirit’s special function to ‘guide‘ her children ‘into all the Truth‘? [761] That by a perpetual miracle, Sacred Manuscripts would be protected all down the ages against depraving influences of whatever sort,—was not to have been expected; certainly, was never promised. But the Church, in her collective capacity, hath nevertheless—as a matter of fact—been perpetually purging herself of those shamefully depraved copies which once everywhere abounded within her pale: retaining only such an amount of discrepancy in her Text as might serve to remind her children that they carry their ‘treasure in earthen vessels,’—as well as to stimulate them to perpetual watchfulness and solicitude for the purity and integrity of the Deposit. Never, however, up to the present hour, hath there been any complete eradication of all traces of the attempted mischief,—any absolute getting rid of every depraved copy extant. These are found to have lingered on anciently in many quarters. A few such copies linger on to the present day. The wounds were healed, but the scars remained,—nay, the scars are discernible still.”

“What, in the meantime, is to be thought of those blind guides—those deluded ones—who would now, if they could, persuade us to go back to those same codices of which the Church hath already purged herself? to go back in quest of those very Readings which, 15 or 1600 years ago, the Church in all lands is found to have rejected with loathing? Verily, it is ‘happening unto them according to the true proverb‘—which S. Peter sets down in his 2nd Epistle,—chapter 2 verse 22. To proceed however.”

“As for Clemens,—he lived at the very time and in the very country where the mischief referred to was most rife. For full two centuries after his era, heretical works were so industriously multiplied, that in a diocese consisting of 800 parishes (viz. Cyrus in Syria), the Bishop (viz. Theodoret, who was appointed in A.D. 423,) complains that he found no less than 200 copies of the Diatessaron of Tatian the heretic,—(Tatian’s date being A.D. 173,)—honourably preserved in the Churches of his (Theodoret’s) diocese, and mistaken by the orthodox for an authentic performance. [762] Clemens moreover would seem to have been a trifle too familiar with the works of Basilides, Marcion, Valentinus, Heracleon, and the rest of the Gnostic crew. He habitually mistakes apocryphal writings for inspired Scripture: [763] and—with corrupted copies always at hand and before him—he is just the man to present us with a quotation like the present, and straightway to volunteer the assurance that he found it ‘so written in the Gospel according to S. Mark.‘ [764] The archetype of Codices B and Aleph,—especially the archetype from which Cod. D was copied,—is discovered to have experienced adulteration largely from the same pestilential source which must have corrupted the copies with which Clement (and his pupil Origen after him) were most familiar.—And thus you have explained to you the reason of the disgust and indignation with which I behold in these last days a resolute attempt made to revive and to palm off upon an unlearned generation the old exploded errors, under the pretence that they are the inspired Verity itself,—providentially recovered from a neglected shelf in the Vatican,—rescued from destruction by a chance visitor to Mount Sinai.”

A Better Method of Textual Criticism.

C. T. “Will you then, in conclusion, tell us how you would have us proceed in order to ascertain the Truth of Scripture?”

T. T. “To answer that question fully would require a considerable Treatise. I will not, however, withhold a slight outline of what I conceive to be the only safe method of procedure. I could but fill up that outline, and illustrate that method, even if I had 500 pages at my disposal.”

LVIII. “On first seriously applying ourselves to these studies, many years ago, we found it wondrous difficult to divest ourselves of prepossessions very like your own. Turn which way we would, we were encountered by the same confident terminology: — ‘the best documents,’ — ‘primary manuscripts,’ — ‘first-rate authorities,’ —’primitive evidence,’ — ‘ancient readings,’ — and so forth: and we found that thereby Cod. A or B, — Cod. C or D — were invariably and exclusively meant. It was not until we had laboriously collated these documents (including Aleph) for ourselves, that we became aware of their true character. Long before coming to the end of our task (and it occupied us, off and on, for eight years) we had become convinced that the supposed ‘best documents‘ and ‘first-rate authorities‘ are in reality among the worst:—that these Copies deserve to be called ‘primary,’ only because in any enumeration of manuscripts, they stand foremost;—and that their ‘Evidence,’ whether ‘primitive‘ or not, is contradictory throughout.—All Readings, lastly, we discovered are ‘ancient.’”

“A diligent inspection of a vast number of later Copies scattered throughout the principal libraries of Europe, and the exact Collation of a few, further convinced us that the deference generally claimed for B, Aleph, C, D is nothing else but a weak superstition and a vulgar error:—that the date of a MS. is not of its essence, but is a mere accident of the problem:—and that later Copies, so far from ‘crumbling down salient points, softening irregularities, conforming differences,’ [765] and so forth,—on countless occasions, and as a rule,—preserve those delicate lineaments and minute refinements which the ‘old uncials‘ are constantly observed to obliterate. And so, rising to a systematic survey of the entire field of Evidence, we found reason to suspect more and more the soundness of the conclusions at which Lachmann, Tregelles, and Tischendorf had arrived: while we seemed led, as if by the hand, to discern plain indications of the existence for ourselves of a far ‘more excellent way.’”

LIX. “For, let the ample and highly complex provision which Divine Wisdom hath made for the effectual conservation of that crowning masterpiece of His own creative skill,—The Written Word,—be duly considered; and surely a recoil is inevitable from the strange perversity which in these last days would shut us up within the limits of a very few documents to the neglect of all the rest,—as though a revelation from Heaven had proclaimed that the Truth is to be found exclusively in them. The good Providence of the Author of Scripture is discovered to have furnished His household, the Church, with (speaking roughly) 1000 copies of the Gospels:—with twenty Versions—two of which go back to the beginning of Christianity: and with the writings of a host of ancient Fathers. Why out of those 1000 MSS. two should be singled out by Drs. Westcott and Hort for special favour,—to the practical disregard of all the rest: why Versions and Fathers should by them be similarly dealt with,—should be practically set aside in fact in the lump,—we fail to discover. Certainly the pleas urged by the learned Editors [766] can appear satisfactory to no one but to themselves.”

LX. “For our method then,—It is the direct contradictory to that adopted by the two Cambridge Professors. Moreover, it conducts us throughout to directly opposite results. We hold it to be even axiomatic that a Reading which is supported by only one document,—out of the 1100 (more or less) already specified,—whether that solitary unit be a Father, a Version, or a Copy,—stands self-condemned; may be dismissed at once, without concern or enquiry.”

“Nor is the case materially altered if (as generally happens) a few colleagues of bad character are observed to side with the else solitary document. Associated with the corrupt B, is often found the more corrupt Aleph. Nay, six leaves of Aleph are confidently declared by Tischendorf to have been written by the scribe of B. The sympathy between these two, and the Version of Lower Egypt, is even notorious. That Origen should sometimes join the conspiracy,—and that the same Reading should find allies in certain copies of the unrevised Latin, or perhaps in Cureton’s Syriac:—all this we deem the reverse of encouraging. The attesting witnesses are, in our account, of so suspicious a character, that the Reading cannot be allowed. On such occasions, we are reminded that there is truth in Dr. Hort’s dictum concerning the importance of noting the tendency of certain documents to fall into ‘groups:’ though his assertion that ‘it cannot be too often repeated that the study of grouping is the foundation of all enduring Criticism,’ [767] we hold to be as absurd as it is untrue.”

LXI. “So far negatively.—A safer, the only trustworthy method, in fact, of ascertaining the Truth of Scripture, we hold to be the method which,—without prejudice or partiality,—simply ascertains which form of the text enjoys the earliest, the fullest, the widest, the most respectable, and—above all things—the most varied attestation. That a Reading should be freely recognized alike by the earliest and by the latest available evidence,—we hold to be a prime circumstance in its favour. That Copies, Versions, and Fathers, should all three concur in sanctioning it,—we hold to be even more conclusive. If several Fathers, living in different parts of ancient Christendom, are all observed to recognize the words, or to quote them in the same way,—we have met with all the additional confirmation we ordinarily require. Let it only be further discoverable how or why the rival Reading came into existence, and our confidence becomes absolute.”


LXII. “An instance which we furnished in detail in a former article, [768] may be conveniently appealed to in illustration of what goes before. Our Lord’s ‘Agony and bloody sweat,’—first mentioned by Justin Martyr (A.D. 150), is found set down in every MS. in the world except four. It is duly exhibited by every known Version. It is recognized by upwards of forty famous Fathers writing without concert in remote parts of ancient Christendom. Whether therefore Antiquity,—Variety of testimony,—Respectability of witnesses,—or Number,—is considered, the evidence in favour of S. Luke 22:43-44 is simply overwhelming. And yet out of superstitious deference to two Copies of bad character, Drs. Westcott and Hort (followed by the Revisionists) set the brand of spuriousness on those 26 precious words; professing themselves ‘morally certain‘ that this is nothing else but a ‘Western Interpolation:’ whereas, mistaken zeal for the honour of Incarnate Jehovah alone occasioned the suppression of these two verses in a few early manuscripts. This has been explained already,—namely, in the middle of page 82.”

LXIII. “Only one other instance shall be cited. The traditional reading of S. Luke 2:14 is vouched for by every known copy of the Gospels but four—3 of which are of extremely bad character, viz. Aleph, B, D. The Versions are divided: but not the Fathers: of whom more than 47 from every part of ancient Christendom,—(Syria, Palestine, Alexandria, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Crete, Gaul,)—come back to attest that the traditional reading (as usual) is the true one. Yet such is the infatuation of the new school, that Drs. Westcott and Hort are content to make nonsense of the Angelic Hymn on the night of the Nativity, rather than admit the possibility of complicity in error in Aleph, B, D: error in respect of a single letter! The Reader is invited to refer to what has already been offered on this subject, from p. 41 to p. 47.”

The Reading with the fullest, the widest, and the most varied attestation.

LXIV. “It will be perceived therefore that the method we plead for consists merely in a loyal recognition of the whole of the Evidence: setting off one authority against another, laboriously and impartially; and adjudicating fairly between them all. Even so hopelessly corrupt a document as Clement of Alexandria’s copy of the Gospels proves to have been—(described at pp. 326-31)—is by no means without critical value. Servilely followed, it would confessedly land us in hopeless error: but, judiciously employed, as a set-off against other evidence; regarded rather as a check upon the exorbitances of other foul documents, (e.g. B, Aleph, C, and especially D); resorted to as a protection against the prejudice and caprice of modern Critics;—that venerable document, with all its faults, proves invaluable. Thus, in spite of its own aberrations, it witnesses to the truth of the Traditional Text of S. Mark 10:17-31—(the place of Scripture above referred to [769])—in several important particulars; siding with it against Lachmann, 9 times;—against Tischendorf, 10 times;—against Tregelles, 11 times;—against Westcott and Hort, 12 times.”

“We deem this laborious method the only true method, in our present state of imperfect knowledge: the method, namely, of adopting that Reading which has the fullest, the widest, and the most varied attestation. Antiquity, and Respectability of Witnesses, are thus secured. How men can persuade themselves that 19 Copies out of every 20 may be safely disregarded, if they be but written in minuscule characters,—we fail to understand. To ourselves it seems simply an irrational proceeding. But indeed we hold this to be no seeming truth. The fact is absolutely demonstrable. As for building up a Text, (as Drs. Westcott and Hort have done,) with special superstitious deference to a single Codex,—we deem it about as reasonable as would be the attempt to build up a pyramid from its apex; in the expectation that it would stand firm on its extremity, and remain horizontal for ever.”

[740] To some extent, even the unlearned Reader may easily convince himself of this, by examining the rejected “alternative” Readings in the margin of the “Revised Version.” The “Many” and the “Some ancient authorities,” there spoken of, almost invariably include—sometimes denote—codices B, Aleph, one or both of them. These constitute the merest fraction of the entire amount of corrupt readings exhibited by B, Aleph; but they will give English readers some notion of the problem just now under consideration.

See here for the rest of the extensive footnotes: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36722/36722-h/36722-h.html#note_740


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