Until the release of the Revised Version in 1881 and the American Standard Version in 1901, the King James Version was, with few exceptions, the default English version of the New Testament from the 1600s onward. But there were exceptions. One of them was the 1836 Book of the New Covenant, translated by Granville Penn, for which Penn provided a supplemental volume, Annotations to the Book of the New Covenant.
Penn – grandson of William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania – began his Annotations with a 90-page Expository Preface, in which he briefly surveyed past English versions and past text-critical enterprises (up to the 1830 compilation made by Scholz), and explained his text-critical method. This preface is sharply written and is still definitely worth reading by students of New Testament textual criticism today – not only to see an erudite textual critic at work, but also to see in action the oversimplified assumptions that led to a nearly complete overthrow of the Textus Receptus.
After the preface, and a lengthy extract from Johann L. Hug’s 1810 work on Codex Vaticanus, Penn provided a point-by-point textual commentary on the text, focusing mainly on passages where the meaning of his base-text is different from the meaning of the rival reading in the Textus Receptus. Not only did Penn make many insightful observations regarding textual variants, and the meaning of some obscure terms, but he made doctrinal, apologetic, exegetical, and devotional comments as well, as if writing with a pastoral concern for his readers – occasionally drifting into outright preaching.
No doubt it would be edifying to explore Penn’s exhortations in more detail; somehow his study of the same variants that shocked Bart Ehrman 150 years later seems to have left Granville Penn’s faith intact and unshaken. But today I wish to focus on some remarkable parallels between Penn’s text and the text of the Revised Standard Version (the forerunner of versions such as the ESV, NIV, NLT, and NRSV). Here are 50 sample passages where Penn’s Book of the New Covenant, in 1836, forecast the contents of the 1946 RSV. I have added the symbol ♠ to indicate where the RSV and Penn’s compilation agree. (Penn re-numbered some chapters’ verses; I have resorted to the usual arrangement in this list.)
● 1. Matthew 1:25 – (♠) does not include firstborn
● 2. Matthew 5:22 – (♠) does not include without a cause
● 3. Matthew 5:44 – (♠) does not include bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you
● 4. Matthew 6:1 – (♠) says righteousness instead of alms (“piety” in RSV, but plainly based on the same reading)
● 5. Matthew 6:13 – (♠) does not include the doxology to the Lord’s Prayer
● 6. Matthew 6:33 – says seek ye first His justification and His kingdom
● 7. Matthew 8:28 – (♠) has Gadarenes
● 8. Matthew 11:19 – (♠) justified by her works
● 9. Matthew 14:24 – (♠) has many furlongs from land
● 10. Matthew 16:2-3 – non-inclusion
● 11. Matthew 17:21 – (♠) non-inclusion
● 12. Matthew 18:11 – (♠) non-inclusion
● 13. Matthew 20:7 – (♠) does not include and whatever is right you shall receive
● 14. Matthew 20:16 – (♠) does not include For many are called, but few are chosen.
● 15. Matthew 27:49-50 – includes Vaticanus’ interpolation which states that someone took a spear and pierced Jesus’ side, and water and blood flowed, before He died.
● 16. Mark 1:14 – (♠) says gospel of God instead of gospel of the
kingdom of God
● 17. Mark 6:36 – (♠) says buy themselves something to eat
● 18. Mark 7:16 – (♠) verse not included
● 19. Mark 9:29 – (♠) does not include and fasting
● 20. Mark 10:24 – (♠) does not include for those who trust in riches
● 21. Mark 11:26 – (♠) verse not included
● 22. Mark 13:14 – (♠) does not include spoken of by Daniel the prophet
● 23. Mark 15:3 – (♠) does not include but He answered nothing
● 24. Mark 15:8 – (♠) has going up, instead of crying aloud
● 25. Mark 16:9-20 – (♠) verses not included
● 26. Luke 1:28 – (♠) does not include blessed are you among women
● 27. Luke 9:55-56 – (♠) says But he turned, and rebuked them; and they went on to another village.
● 28. Luke 15:21 – includes Make me as one of your hired servants
● 29. Luke 22:43-44 – verses not included
● 30. Luke 23:17 – (♠) verse not included
● 31. Luke 23:38 – (♠) does not include written in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew
● 32. Luke 23:34 – does not include Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do
● 33. Luke 24:1 – (♠) does not include and certain other women with them
● 34. Luke 24:42 – (♠) does not include and a piece of honeycomb
● 35. John 3:13 – (♠) does not include who is in heaven
● 36. John 5:3-4 – (♠) does not include anything between “blind, lame, and withered” and “And a certain man was there”
● 37. John 7:53-8:11 – (♠) verses not included
● 38. John 13:32 – does not include If God is glorified in him
● 39. Acts 28:16 – (♠) does not include the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard, but
● 40. Romans 9:28 – (♠) has only for, the Lord will finally, and summarily, settle an account with the land:
● 41. Romans 14:6 – (♠) does not include and he who does not regard the day, to the Lord he does not regard it
● 42. First Cor. 10:28 – (♠) does not include for the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness
● 43. Galatians 4:26 – (♠) does not include all
● 44. Galatians 6:15 – (♠) does not include in Christ Jesus
● 45. Ephesians 3:9 – (♠) has dispensation instead of fellowship (fellowship is an ultra-minority reading in the Textus Receptus), and does not have through Jesus Christ
● 46. Ephesians 6:1 – does not include in the Lord
● 47. Hebrews 1:3 – reads making all things manifest (instead of sustaining all things), and does not include by himself and our (RSV does not include by himself and our)
● 48. Hebrews 2:9 – reads apart from God instead of by the grace of God
● 49. First Peter 4:14 – (♠) does not include the final sentence of the verse
● 50. Jude verse 5 – refers to Joshua (Greek: Ἰησοῦς) instead of to “the Lord”
These readings, mere samples, clearly show that while the New Testament base-text of the RSV – a primarily Alexandrian base-text – can be traced back to the 1881 revision by Westcott and Hort, a very similar compilation had already been created by Granville Penn in 1836 – when Westcott was eleven and Hort was eight. How did he foresee this? Is Penn also among the prophets?
What was the method that was used by Penn in 1836, using fewer than 700 manuscripts, and without Sinaiticus, without Washingtonianus, without the Sinaitic Syriac, and without any papyri? Did Granville Penn develop a coherence-based genealogical method? No; his method was very simple: adopt the reading of Codex Vaticanus almost all the time!
To Grenfell Penn, “The only text which we can take hold of, palpably and securely, as having really existed in the most ancient time to which our retrospective researches can attain, is undeniably that of the ‘
In several respects Penn anticipated the theories and proposals that were later expressed by Hort in his 1881 Introduction – including Hort’s pivotal theory regarding conflations. Penn’s analysis of Mark 6:33 and Mark 9:38 may sound somewhat familiar to those who have read Hort’s Introduction, §134-141.
Penn seems to have sincerely believed that distinct readings in the Textus Receptus “are consequences of the depravation of the copies during the dark ages.” His belief that Byzantine readings are late accretions provided the platform for its corollary that the oldest manuscripts must contain the oldest readings.
This belief, however, was not confirmed by subsequent research. In E. C. Colwell’s view, “the overwhelming majority of readings were created before the year 200.” George D. Kilpatrick proposed (on page 42 of his article The Bodmer and Mississippi Collection of Biblical and Christian Texts) that if one sets aside accidental readings, “Almost all variants can be presumed to have been created by A.D. 200.” Aland & Aland (in The Text of the New Testament, page 290) have stated, “Practically all the substantive variants in the text of the New Testament are from the second century.” This may cause some to wonder why the critical text of 2020 is so little changed from the critical text of 1836.
In closing, I would like to raise two questions.
First: what would happen if compilers of the text of the New Testament, instead of inventing new excuses to adopt the readings in Codex Vaticanus (besides “It’s older!”), acknowledged that the ancient texts displayed in younger manuscripts were transmitted in transmission-lines that were much more stringent than the transmission-lines from which our earliest manuscripts emanated? That is, what if textual critics stopped favoring a reading on the grounds that it is attested in a manuscript that was stored in a drier climate? (For this is what one is really doing when one casually adopts whatever reading is attested in the earliest manuscripts because they are earlier: what was the chief factor that allowed those manuscripts to outlast others, and thus become the oldest, if not dry weather?) We might then get a truly eclectic text that amounts to something significantly different from what Granville Penn produced in 1836 using the Codex-B’s-God’s-Mouthpiece method.
Second: seeing that there’s not much special about Westcott and Hort’s compilation, if one were to remove Hort – and his theory about the Lucianic recension, and his séance, and his liberalism, and his racism, etc., etc. – from the picture, one would still have to grapple with the erudite and well-presented arguments that Granville Penn enunciated 50 years before Hort, adding subsequent discoveries to the picture in the process. How far from the Byzantine Text might that take us?
Readers are invited to double-check the data in this post.