|F. H. A. Scrivener
I am unfeignedly anxious to present to the reader a clear and even forcible statement of the principles of textual criticism maintained in Dr. Tregelles’ “Account of the Printed Text of the Greek Testament.” I assure him I do not criticize his book unread,1 or reject his theory without patient examination. [1 – “Let me request anyone who may wish to understand the principles of textual criticism which I believe to be true, to read what I have stated,” etc. (Tregelles, Addenda, p. 2). A moderate request certainly, but I should hope it was hardly needed.]
I presume he would wish it to be enunciated in such terms as the following:
The genuine text of the Greek New
Testament must be sought exclusively from the most ancient authorities,
especially from the earliest uncial copies of the Greek. The paramount weight and importance of the
last arises not from the accidental circumstance of their age, but from their
agreement with the other independent and most ancient authorities still extant,
viz. the oldest versions and citations by the fathers of the first four
To which proposition must be
appended this corollary as a direct and necessary consequence:
“The mass of recent documents [i.e.
those written in cursive characters from the tenth century downwards] possess
no determining voice, in a question as to what we should receive as genuine
readings. We are able to take the few
documents whose evidence is proved to
be trustworthy, and safely discard from present consideration the eighty-nine
ninetieths, or whatever else the numerical proportion may be” (Tregelles, p.
In the ordinary concerns of social life, one would form no favorable estimate of the impartiality of a judge (and such surely is the real position of a critical editor) who deemed it safe to discard unheard eighty-nine witnesses out of ninety that are tendered to him, unless indeed it were perfectly certain that the eighty-nine had no means of information, except what they derived from the ninetieth. On that supposition, but on that supposition alone, could the judge’s reputation for wisdom or fairness be upheld. That mere numbers should decide a question of sacred criticism never ought to have been asserted by any one; never has been asserted by a respectable scholar. Tischendorf himself (Proleg. p. xii) cannot condemn such a dogma more emphatically than the upholders of the general integrity of the Elzevir text.
But I must say that the counter-proposition, that numbers have “no determining voice,” is to my mind just as
unreasonable, and rather more startling. I agree with Dr. Davidson (p. 333) in holding
it to be “an obvious and natural rule” that the reading of the majority is so far preferable. Not that a bare
majority shall always prevail, but that numerical preponderance, especially
where it is marked and constant, is an important element in the investigation
of the genuine readings of Holy Scripture. For on what grounds shall we justify ourselves
in putting this consideration wholly aside? Is the judge convinced to a moral certainty
that the evidence of the eighty-nine is drawn exclusively from that of the
ninetieth? It has never I think been
affirmed by any one (Dr. Tregelles would not be sorry to affirm it, if he could
with truth) that the mass of cursive documents are corrupt copies of the
uncials still extant: the fact has
scarcely been suspected in a single instance, and certainly never proved. I will again avail myself of Davidson’s words,
not only because they admirably express my meaning, but because his general bias
is not quite in favor of the views I am advocating. “Ceteris
paribus," he observes, “the reading of an ancient copy is more likely
to be authentic than that of a modern one. But the reading of a more modern copy may be
more ancient than the reading of an ancient one. A modern copy itself may have been derived not
from an extant one more ancient, but from one still more ancient no longer in
existence. And this was probably the case in not a few instances” (p. 101).
No one can carefully examine the readings
of cursive documents, as represented in any tolerable collation, without
perceiving the high probability that Davidson’s account of them is true. But it is not essential to our argument that
the fact of their being derived from ancient sources now lost should be established, though internal evidence
points strongly to their being so derived: it is enough that such an origin is possible, to make it at once
unreasonable and unjust to shut them out from a “determining voice” (of course
jointly with others) on questions of doubtful reading. I confess that Tregelles is only following his
premises to their legitimate conclusion in manfully declaring his purpose in
this respect; but we are bound to scrutinize with the utmost jealousy and
distrust a principle which involves consequences so extensive, and he must
forgive me if I add, so “perilous.”
It is agreed then on all hands that the
antiquity of a document is only a presumption, a primâ facie ground for expectation, that it will prove of great
critical importance. “The oldest MSS,”
writes Dr. Davidson again, “bear traces of revision by arbitrary and
injudicious critics. Good
Very well: this immeasurable superiority claimed for the
early uncials over all later authorities (so that the former shall be
everything in criticism, the latter absolutely nothing) rests not on an axiom
intuitively true; it has to be proved
by an induction of scattered facts; and we are bound to watch the process of
proof with the greater care, from our previous knowledge that when once
established it will inevitably lead us to conclusions which seem hardly
consistent with even dealing towards a whole legion of honest and reputable
Now Dr. Tregelles
produces no less than SEVENTY-TWO passages from various parts of the New
Testament (pp. 133-147), as a kind of sample of some two or three thousand
which he reckons to exist there, wherein “the more valuable ancient
versions (or some of them) agree in a particular reading,
or in which such a reading has distinct
patristic testimony, and the mass of MSS stand in opposition to such a lection,
[while] there are certain copies which habitually
uphold the older reading” (Tregelles, p. 148). Of course I cannot follow him step by step
through this long and labored catalogue; an adequate specimen taken without unfair selection will
amply suffice to show my opponent’s drift and purpose. I will therefore transcribe all the places he
cites from the Gospel of St. Mark (they amount to seven), making choice of that
Gospel partly for its shortness, partly because I wish, in justice to Dr.
Tregelles, to discuss in preference those texts which remain unmutilated in the
four uncial codices of the first class (see above, vide supra, p. vi.); in the following list they all are complete,
except C in Mark 13:14 alone. As
Tregelles “for the sake of brevity” has laid before us these passages “without
any attempt to state the balance of evidence” (p. 148), l have ventured to
supply within brackets an omission which I cannot help considering a little
(l). “Mark 3:29. Common
text, αἰωνίου κρίσεως. Vulg. has,
[But κρίσεως is found in AC**
(whose primitive reading seems quite doubtful) EFGHKMSUVΓ1 being
all the other uncials that contain the passage.
Of the cursive copies, all go with the received text, except the six
named above, and three which have κολάσεως. The Peshito Syriac reads [Syriac word] judicii; thus also the Harclean Syriac
of the 7th century, the Ethiopic (“in condemnatione”), the Codex Brixianus f of the Italic (or Old Latin), the
Codex Toletanus of the Vulgate, and any Fathers not named by Tregelles, many of
whom must have cited this remarkable passage.]
[1 – Of the uncials cited for these texts
B (Tregelles’ favorite) is least accurately known. ACDLΔ have been edited in full; EFGHKMSUVΓ
have been so repeatedly collated (recently by Tischendorf or Tregelles or both)
that when they are not cited as supporting variations so marked as those under
discussion, their testimony even sub
silentio in behalf of the received text may be fully relied upon. In these seven texts, however, they are
expressly cited by Tischendorf’s seventh edition for the readings here ascribed
(2). “Mark 4:12. τὰ ἁμαρτήματα of the common text is omitted
by Origen twice; by one MS of the Old Latin [two b. i. in Treg. N. T.], the Memphitic, and Armenian, with BCL, 1
(and some other MSS)” [i.e. “22. 118. 209. 251. 340* al.” Scholz: τὰ ἁμαρτήματα Theophyl. and eight MSS].
[τὰ ἁμαρτήματα is read in
ADEFGHKMSUVΔ (hiat. Γ), all cursives not named above, Syriac both Peshito and
Harclean, Ethiopic, Gothic, Vulgate, all Italic MSS except two].
(3). “Mark 4:24. τοῖς
ἀκούουσιν omitted by the Old Latin, Vulgate, Memphitic, Eth, with BCDLΔ, and
some other copies.” [credentibus f
Gothic, Treg. N. T.].
[Tischendorf, even in his seventh
edition, adds G (Harl. 5684), but on reference to the MS, I find he is wrong. Griesbach adds “item 13. 69 semel,” yet
69 in this verse reads τοῖς ἀκούουσιν,
as do AEFGHKMSUV (hiat. Γ), all other cursive MSS, both Syrr.].
(4). “Mark 10:21. ἄρας τὸν σταυρὸν omitted by the Old Latin in
most copies [b. c. f. ff2. g1,2 k. l.
Treg. N. T.], Vulgate, Memphitic [by Schwartze], (so too Clem. Alex. and Hil.),
with BCDΔ.” [L is here defective, and so for the first time deserts its allies:
add to the list Scholz’s 406].
[ἄρας τὸν σταυρὸν is read in
AEFHKMSUVXΓ, the whole mass of cursive copies, the Harclean Syriac, Wilkins’
Memphitic and the Gothic. The words are
placed before δευρο in G 1. 13. 69. 118. 124 and four other cursives; in
Peshito Syr., Eth., Armenian, the Vercelli MS. a. of the Old Latin, and Irenaeus].
(5). “Mark 12:4. λιθοβολήσαντες omitted by Old Latin, Vulgate,
Memphitic, [Theb., Treg. N. T.], Armenian, with BDLΔ, 1, 33 and four other
copies.” [i.e. 28. 91. 118. 299.]
[But λιθοβολήσαντες is found in
ACEFGHKMSUVXΓ, all other cursive copies, both Syrr,, Gothic, Eth.].
(6). “Mark 12:23. ὅταν ἀναστῶσιν om. some copies of Old Latin [b
(ut vid.). (c). (k) Treg. N. T.], Memphitic, Syr, [i.e. Peshito; Treg. N. T. adds
Theb. Eth.] with BCDLΔ, 33.
[ὅταν ἀναστῶσιν is read in
AEFGHKMSUVXΓ, all cursives but one (13. 69. 346 alio ordine), Vulgate, a. ff.
g2. i. of Old Latin, Harclean Syriac, Gothic, Armenian].
(7). “Mark 13:14. τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ Δανιὴλ τοῦ προφὴτου om. most
copies of Old Latin [a. ff. g1.
only in Treg. N. T., where he adds Theb.], Vulgate, Memphitic, Armenian, also
Augustine expressly, with BDL.”
[Scholz adds “nec attingunt Victor et Theophylact.”]
[The words are read in AEFGHKMSUVXΓΔ,
all cursives (with some variation in my y and eight others), both Syriac, Eth, c. k. of Old Latin].
I do not think the reader will
desire more than these specimens, transcribed as they are consecutively from Dr.
Tregelles’ list without the possibility
of undue selection. I fully believe
him that they may be increased twenty-fold. It is time to offer a few remarks on the facts
that have been alleged by each of us. Meanwhile
I must beg that the design of my learned opponent in producing his examples be
carefully borne in mind. He does not so
much aim at showing that the readings of Codex B and its adherents are
preferable to those of the received text (though this he implies throughout),
as at demonstrating that the united testimonies of early uncials, primitive
versions, and ecclesiastical authors of the first four centuries form together
such a mass of evidence as will overhear the voice of the vast majority of
witnesses of all ages and countries.
We may grant that his favorite documents are
entitled to great weight in the process of critical investigation, and this I
admit fully and without reserve: we might even prefer many of their readings to
those of the received text, which on the whole I am not quite disposed to do:
and yet we must demur as firmly as ever to the claim of paramount and exclusive
authority he sets up for them. With
these preliminary observations I pass on to an analysis of the state of
evidence in the passages Dr. Tregelles has brought to our notice.
(1). First then it
is obvious that the uncial documents, even the earliest of them, are much
divided in every place he has cited. I hardly know why the Alexandrine MS. (A)
has come to be considered a little younger than the Codex Vaticanus (B); we
have free access to and minute knowledge of the one; through the jealousy of
the Papal librarians our acquaintance with the other is still very imperfect1; [1 – Since writing the above I have examined Cardinal Mai’s long-expected edition of the Vaticanus (5 Tom. Roman 1857) – the text of which was ten years passing through the press (1828-38), and was then kept back from publication till within the last few months. I regret that I cannot even now modify my statement of the precariousness of our knowledge of this great document. I must needs add my voice to the loud chorus of disappointment this work has called forth throughout
much doubt hangs over many of its readings; it seems barely certain whether its accents and breathings are prima or secunda manu.2 [2 – On this point however Vercellone’s testimony should be heard. After correcting Birch’s statement that the breathings and accents are prima manu, he adds, “etenim amanuensis ille, qui cunctas totius codicis litteras, vetustate pallescentes, atramento satis venuste, servata vetere forma, renovavit, idem accentus etiam spiritusque imposuit, qui nulli fuerant a prima manu; ut illae codicis particulae ostendunt, quas certis de causis (id est vel quia repetitas in codice vel ab eo improbatas) non attigit. Rei hujus veritatem codicis spectatores ipsi per se deprehendent.” (Cod.
We will adopt however the usual opinion about them: no competent critic places A later than the fifth, or B earlier than the fourth century.3 [3 – I find no traces in Mai’s Codex Vaticanus of the absurd opinion once imputed to him, that this MS dates as far back as the second century; Vercellone acquiesces in the date usually assigned to it, that of the fourth or early in the fifth century, but refers to Hug for the proof.]
Now in each of these seven places A sides with the Elzevir text against B. Is it an argument in favor of B that its readings are ancient? The same plea might be entered for those of A. And their divergencies, it will be noted, are not merely accidental exceptions to a general coincidence, but perpetual, almost systematic. While I confess freely the great importance of B, I see not why its testimony ought, in the nature of things, to be received in preference to that of A. I cannot frame a reason why the one should be listened to more deferentially than the other.
“Its singularly corrupt text,” observes Davidson, “in connection with its great antiquity, is a curious problem, which cannot easily be solved.” (p. 288)4 [4 – Dr. Tregelles, indeed, in partial reference to Codex D, is good enough to say, “Some people rest much on some one incorrect reading of a MS, and then express a great deal of wonder that such a MS could be highly valued by critics. The exposure of such excessive ignorance as this might be well dealt with by one who knows Greek MSS as well as Mr. Scrivener” (p. 137 note). Thus appealed to, I will reply, that, putting aside the case of mere errors of the scribe, I do think that the admitted corruptions and deliberate interpolations which we all recognize in the Codex Bezae have a natural tendency to detract from the credibility of its testimony in more doubtful cases.]
Now in the seven passages under consideration, C accords with B in four cases, with A once; once its reading is doubtful, once its text has perished. Codex D agrees with B five times, much resembles it once, and once sides with A. Thus these documents of the second class favor B rather than A, C however less decidedly than D.
(4). On coming down from uncial to cursive MSS the preponderance is enormous. Dr. Tregelles does not object to the rough estimate of ninety to one; and those few copies which often maintain the readings of BL are by no means steadfast in their allegiance. Yet even here the resemblance to A or B or to each other is but general. The materials accumulated in the present volume and elsewhere show isolated readings of the most recent codices, even of those which approach nearest to the Elzevir edition, for which no ancient authority can be produced except the Codex Vaticanus. No one who has at all studied the cursive MSS can fail to be struck with the individual character impressed on almost every one of them. It is rare that we can find grounds for saying of one manuscript that it is a transcript of some other now remaining. The fancy which was once taken up, that there existed a standard Constantinopolitan text, to which all copies written within the limits of that Patriarchate were conformed, has been “swept away at once and for ever” (Tregelles, p. 180) by a closer examination of the copies themselves. Surely then it ill becomes us absolutely to reject as unworthy of serious discussion, the evidence of witnesses (whose mutual variations vouch for their independence and integrity) because their tendency on the whole is to uphold the authority of one out of the two most ancient documents against the other.
One of the arguments on which Dr.
Tregelles lays most stress is the accordance of the oldest versions with Codex
B rather than with A. So far as the
Latin versions are concerned the passages he has alleged must be admitted to
prove the correctness of his assertion. The
Vulgate agrees with A but twice, with B five times. The Old Latin translations
(for the term Italic, it seems, is
obsolete), though in six instances some of them countenance A, give a clear
majority for B. I do not like to speak
of the Coptic or Armenian translations, as I am totally ignorant of the
languages wherein they are written: Tregelles, I perceive, labors under the
same disadvantage (p. 171), and will be as reluctant as
I am to dogmatize about matters on which we are both disqualified from
pronouncing a trustworthy opinion. Certainly
these versions incline powerfully to the Latin, if we may rely on the common
representation of them, and one of the editors of the Armenian (Zohrab) denies the correctness of the
suspicion revived by Tischendorf, “Ætate multo seriori [than its origin in the
fourth or fifth century] armenos codices passim ad latinam versionem correctos
esse, virorum doctorum opinio fert” (Proleg.
It is time to turn to the Queen of
the primitive versions, the graceful and perspicuous Peshito Syriac. Here, at any rate, there is no ambiguity as to
the preference bestowed on Codex A: it is supported by the Syriac in six cases
out of the seven. Nor is this the result
of mere accident in the Gospel of St. Mark; no one who has studied its readings
will question that a like proportion is steadily maintained throughout the New
Testament. Here then is a venerable
translation, assigned by eminent scholars to the first century of our era [Now,
in 2021, usually assigned to the late 300s – JSJ], undoubtedly not later than
the second, which habitually upholds the readings of one of the two oldest uncial copies, of the later uncials, and of
the vast majority in cursive characters. Our conclusion shall now be drawn, mutatis mutandis, in the words of
Tregelles, when he sums up the results of his induction of the seventy-two
passages I have so often alluded to. “Here
then is a sample of very many passages, in which, by the testimony of the most
ancient version, that such a reading was current in very early times, the fact
is proved indubitably; so that even if no existing MS supported such readings,
they would possess a strong claim on our attention; and such facts might have
made us doubt, whether the old translators were not in possession of better
copies than those that have been transmitted to us. Such facts so proved might lead to the
inquiry, whether there are not some
MSS which accord with these ancient readings; and when examination shows that
such copies actually exist (nay that they are the many in contrast to the few),
it may be regarded as a demonstrated point that such MSS deserve peculiar
attention” (Tregelles, p. 147) . . . . But here I pause; it is enough that I
claim for Codex A and its numerous companions “peculiar attention” by reason of
their striking conformity with the Peshito Syriac. I ask not, I have no right to ask, that Codex
B and its scanty roll of allies, strengthened as they are by the Latin, perhaps
by other versions, should be overlooked in forming an estimate of the merits of
conflicting readings. I am content to lay myself open to the poet's humorous
οὐδὲ ἴσσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός.