Thursday, December 8, 2022

Considering the Claims of the "Preserved Word" Website

            At the PreservedWord website, some material has been circulated that provides some insight regarding the basis for the motivation of some KJV-Onlyists.  Today, let’s evaluate the claims of the website.

l “Bible scholarship of the past 150 years has placed much attention on a very small number of manuscripts.”

This is not quite true, since attention has been given to newly discovered manuscripts such as Codex W and Codex Y, and the hundreds of minuscule manuscripts which have been catalogued in the past 150 years.   But the writer of the Preserved Word site is partly right:  special attention has been given to a small number of manuscripts, particularly Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (À), which, as the writer noted, have been described in Bible-footnotes as the “oldest and best” manuscripts.    Meanwhile, manuscripts which support the Byzantine Text have been treated as if they are “all irrelevant for textual criticism, at least for establishing the original form of the text and its development in the early centuries,” as Kurt & Barbara Aland dismissively acknowledged on p. 142 of The Text of the New Testament (Ó  1987 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

l “The public needs to know the truth about these manuscripts [À and B].”

This is certainly true; when NIV (1984) readers were told “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20,” it would have been helpful if, somewhere in the heading or footnote (unlikely to be seen by readers of digital Bibles), reader had been told that the “earliest manuscripts” was limited to two manuscripts, and that over 99.8% of the rest of the Greek manuscripts support the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 (as does earlier testimony from the 100s in Epistula Apostolorum, Preaching of Peter, Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus).  Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, for the most part, represent the Alexandrian Text, a form which was used in the early centuries of Christendom in Egypt, but which never dominated the Greek copying-centers where the Byzantine Text was used instead.

l “Contrary to what has been taught in most seminaries, these two manuscripts are worthless, and hopelessly corrupt.”

That is not quite true.  “Corruption” is a technical term in textual criticism; any manuscript that contains non-original material, or which fails to include material which was in the original text, is corrupt.  No doubt the texts found in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are corrupt – but not hopelessly.


l  “It has been speculated by some scholars that one or both were produced by Eusebius of Caesarea on orders of Emperor Constantine. If this is true, then these manuscripts are linked to Eusibus’s teacher Origen of Alexandria, both known for interpreting Scripture allegorically as opposed to literally.”

This is not quite true either.  The late T.C. Skeat (an erudite scholar)  did indeed suspect that Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were among the 50 copies of Scripture prepared by Eusebius of Constantinople for the Emperor Constantine.  But there is no evidence that Origen (d. 254) originated or edited the  Alexandrian Text; Origen appears to have used whatever text was already in use in the location he happened to be in.  


l   “Scholars have designated these manuscripts as Alexandrian, linking them with Alexandria, Egypt, the region responsible for early heresies such as Gnosticism and Arianism.”

This is not quite true either.  The Alexandrian Text was popular in Egypt, but there is little textual evidence that Gnostics or Arians were responsible for more than a smattering of readings in the Alexandrian Text.


l  “Vaticanus adds to the Old Testament the apocryphal books of Baruch, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Tobit, and the Epistle of Jeremiah.”

That is not quite true either.  Codex Vaticanus does indeed contain these books, but in this respect its scribes were simply perpetuating the canon of the Septuagint, which is also found in Codex Alexandrinus.


l  Vaticanus omits Mark 16:9-20, yet there is a significant blank space here for these verses. Sinaiticus also lacks these verses, but has a blank space for them.

That is not quite true either.  Vaticanus has a blank space following Mark 16:8 that is sufficient to hold verses 9-20 (in slightly compressed lettering).  But Sinaiticus, which contains replacement-pages for Mark 14:54-Luke 1:56, displays no special blank space after Mark 16:8; after Mark 16:8 in À there is an especially emphatic coronis, and the book’s closing-title, after which is the same blank space which the scribe normally would leave blank after the end of a book.  It is not sufficient for verses 9-20.  The Gospel of Luke begin in the next column.

l Tischendorf “found it [Codex Sinaiticus] in a trash can, waiting to be burnt!”

That is not quite true either.  Tischendorf did claim to have encountered pages of Sinaiticus in a basket, but he never described it as a “trash basket.”  It was simply a basket, of the sort which J. R. Harris (who visited St. Catherine’s Monastery) confirmed was used by the monks of the monastery to transport manuscripts. 


l  “Why would the monks of St. Catherine’s thrown out such a valuable manuscript?”

Why indeed?  It appears that the monks had no intention of throwing it out, or of burning it.  Tischendorf either concocted the story about what he was told (that “two heaps of papers like these, mouldered by time, had been already committed to the flames”), or he misunderstood what he was told.  He may have happened to serendipitously encounter, in 1844, pages of Sinaiticus at the same time the monks were undertaking a fresh re-binding of its pages. 


l [Quoting John Burgon] “Tregelles has freely pronounced that “the state of the text, as proceeding from the first scribe, may be regarded as very rough.”


That is true.  Tregelles’ observation, however, should be complemented by an understanding of how the New Testament portion of À was made:  there was the main copyist, and there was also the proofreader, or diorthotēs; the main copyist was truly a terrible speller, and frequently inattentive, but much of his carelessness was undone by the proof-reader, so, before the manuscript left the scriptorium, many of the main copyist’s mistakes had already been corrected.

l  “Sinaiticus has also been corrected by “…at least ten revisers between the IVth and XIIth centuries…”

That is true, but all this means is that, in addition to the corrections made by the diorthotēs,
À features readings drawn from manuscripts besides its exemplar. The “corrections” are not all true corrections (i.e., they do not all bring the text in the manuscript closer to the original text), but testify to the contents of manuscripts valued by the correctors. 


l Codex Sinaiticus “looks like a much-corrected rough draft.”

That is true – but looks can be deceiving.  What is shown in the image presented at the PreservedWord website is part of a page of Codex Sinaiticus that contains the Greek text from Second Esdras 21 and 22, and a variety of corrections, all of which can be seen at the website. 

l “Sinaiticus also includes spurious, uninspired, apocryphal books, including 2 Esdras,Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach in the Old Testament.”

That is true, but, again, the scribes of the manuscript were simply perpetuating the (unfixed) canon of the Septuagint handed down to them. 


l Sinaiticus includes the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. “These two false writings (Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas) promote New Age and Satanism.”

This statement springs from a profound misunderstanding of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.  Neither composition supports the doctrines of the “New Age,” and neither one supports Satanism.  They were both generally regarded as orthodox in the early church, but their authors were not considered equal in authority to the authors of the New Testament books.

l “Burgon had personally examined these two manuscripts, and noted that their text differed greatly form that of 95% of all manuscripts.”

Another way of saying that their text differed greatly from the form of text found in 95% of all manuscripts is that the Alexandrian Text (of which
À and B are the fullest Greek representatives) differs greatly from the Byzantine Text, which is attested by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts.  The Alexandrian Text, though supported by early manuscripts such as Papyrus 75, circulated mainly in Egypt, and when the dominant language in Egypt shifted away from Greek, the Greek Alexandrian Text gradually was supplanted by manuscripts written in the local dialects (Sahidic, Bohairic, etc.).


l “When examining the Gospels as found in Vaticanus, Burgon found 7578 deviations from the majority, with 2370 of them being serious. In the Gospels of Sinaiticus, he found 8972 deviations, with 3392 serious ones.”


Four thousand deviations are indeed serious, but the simple fact that the text of manuscript #1 disagrees with the text of manuscript #2 four thousand times does not automatically settle any specific textual variant.  Those 3,392 variants counted by Burgon only show that the majority of manuscripts disagree with the text of À in 3,392 places; they do not mean that the reading in Sinaiticus is non-original every time (nor does it mean that the reading of the majority of manuscripts is non-original every time). 


l Burgon found that “In the Gospels alone, Vaticanus has 197 particular readings, while Sinaiticus has 443.” 

The number of singular readings in B, and in
À, does not say a lot for the carefulness of their scribes.  On the other hand, quite a few of the singular readings in B are orthographic and do not affect translation.  Meanwhile, many of the singular readings in À are the effects of (a) the main scribe’s carelessness and abysmal spelling, and (b) the use, in the first seven chapters of John, of a different exemplar. 


l “Manuscripts repeatedly proven to have incorrect readings loose respectability.”

This is not quite true.   The singular readings in B and
À are not indicative of unreliable exemplars (except, perhaps, in the opening chapters of John in À); they are indicative of the shortcomings of the manuscripts’ scribes.  Other early manuscripts have comparable rates of singular readings in the Gospels. 


l “These two manuscript witnesses constantly disagree with the majority of the manuscript evidence, showing them to be suspect witnesses.”


That is not quite true.  The primary reason why the text of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus disagrees with the majority of the manuscript evidence is that Vatican and Sinaiticus display the Alexandrian Text, which dominated a different locale (Egypt) (as opposed to the Byzantine Text, which was dominant in Byzantium, Syria, etc.).   It was natural for John Burgon to regard their text with suspicion in the 1870s – but a few decades later, Grenfell and Hunt made excavations at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt which uncovered manuscripts (including some papyrus manuscripts older than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) that also supported the Alexandrian Text.  These were not nearly as numerous as the manuscripts that support the Byzantine Text, but they were earlier, and thus provide a window upon the text of the New Testament that was used in Egypt in the first few centuries of Christendom.    


l “The telling sign of false witnesses is a disagreement in their testimony. It will be seen that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus do not pass the false witness test.”

A distinction must be made between false readings (which can be as simple as bad spelling - something of which the PreservedWord website is sometimes guilty) and false statements.  Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus do share some readings which are also false statements (most notably at Matthew 27:49), but such cases do not occur as often as the PreservedWord website’s author suggests. 


l “Herman Hoskier did a full collation of these two manuscripts in the Gospels, and counted the following disagreements” which yield a total of 3,036 disagreements between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.


That is true, and yet it should be observed that this is a comparison of the text in Vaticanus to the text written by the main scribe of Codex Sinaiticus, not to the text of Sinaiticus as it existed after passing inspection by its scriptorium’s diorthotēs.  And it should be noted that many of À’s disagreements with B, when they are not the effects of scribal carelessness, are clustered in the opening chapters of the Gospel of John, for which a different exemplar (with a form of the Western text) was used.


l “Therefore, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are worthless manuscripts.”

That is not true.  The quality of the performance of the scribes of Sinaiticus left much to be desired, and both manuscripts have undergone some damage (Vaticanus lacks the text of Hebrews after 9:14, the Pastoral Epistles, and Revelation).  But the Alexandrian Text, although it contains its fair share of disagreements with the Byzantine Text, is not worthless.  It simply lacks the level of scribal thoughtfulness (good and bad) which the Byzantine scribes displayed.  

l “They display horrible penmanship, and have been subject to many correctors.”

That is not quite true.  The penmanship of the main scribes of Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus is usually quite neat
.  And it is no automatic point against a manuscript that it has been “corrected” on multiple occasions; this was a side-effect of its use in locales where there were manuscripts that disagreed (rightly or wrongly) with its exemplar.


l “They are false witnesses of the Word of God.”

That is not quite true.  Granted, there are some readings in Vaticanus that are scribal blunders (such as its reading in John 17:15, “I am not praying that you protect then from the evil one”), and the problem is worse in the text of Sinaiticus (such as its attribution of Psalm 78:2 to Isaiah, in Matthew 13:35).  But scribal blunders are by no means unique to these two manuscripts.  As a whole, the Alexandrian Text is almost as accurate as the Byzantine Text, and the Alexandrian Text frequently preserves the original form of the text where it has been benignly modified in the Byzantine Text (via the substitution of a proper name where originally there was only a pronoun, or via a harmonization to a parallel-passage, or via a lectionary-related expansion).


l The PreservedWord website presents a long quotation from John Burgon:  “I am utterly unable to believe, in short, that God’s promise [of preservation] has so entirely failed, that at the end of 1800 years much of the text of the Gospel had in point of fact to be picked by a German critic out of a waste-paper basket in the convent of St. Catherine; and that the entire text had to be remodelled after the pattern set by a couple of copies which had remained in neglect during fifteen centuries, and had probably owed their survival to that neglect; whilst hundreds of others had been thumbed to pieces, and had bequeathed their witness to copies made from them.”

Burgon’s criticism of the text of Westcott and Hort, who relied extremely heavily upon
À and B, has much to commend it.  Westcott and Hort favored the Alexandrian Text far too much, and this has been granted by most modern textual critics (although one could hardly notice from the current compilations of Nestle-Aland and UBS).  Hort described the mostly Byzantine Textus Receptus – the base-text of the New Testament in the King James Version – as “villainous” in 1851, and his mind does not seem to have changed at all from 1851 to 1881, when the Westcott-Hort revision of the text (titled “The New Testament in the Original Greek”) was printed.

            But Burgon’s other statements should be considered as well.  Burgon insisted that the Textus Receptus needed to be revised, writing in 1883 in The Revision Revised, p. 21, “Once for all, we request it may be clearly understood that we do not, by any means, claim perfection for the Received Text.  We entertain no extravagant notions on this subject.  Again and again we shall have occasion to point out (e.g., at page 107) that the Textus Receptus needs correction.”
            Burgon lamented that his generation lacked sufficient materials to undertake such a revision.  But nowadays, in 2022, when the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text and the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform have been produced, as well as the Patriarchal Text (which is primarily Byzantine), what was envisioned by Burgon is obtainable – and the textual adjustments/corrections involved in such an undertaking, giving readers an accurate reconstruction of the original text of the books of the New Testament, should take readings from the Alexandrian Text into consideration; i.e., if an Alexandrian reading is to be rejected, it should be rejected on the basis of internal or external evidence (or both), not merely because the manuscripts that support it are in a minority.

l “As Sinaiticus has been exalted in the public’s eye by the Codex Sinaiticus Project, I would not be surprised if Vaticanus is also exalted and placed online for all to see and venerate.”

This has already happened.  The Polonsky Foundation Digitalization Project has financed the digitalization of not only Codex Vaticanus, but many other manuscripts as well (including Papyrus 72, Papyrus 75, Codex S, and many minuscules, several of which are described here).  But the online images do not encourage idolatry; they are simply digital pictures.


l “These manuscripts may be the driving force to get “Protestants” to accept the Apocrypha as well as the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, books so heretical that even the Roman Catholic Church does not accept them as Scripture.”

The issue of whether or not to accept the Apocrypha will not be settled by the introduction of À and B into the equation; the issue, rather, is a matter of respecting the Hebrew Bible (in 24 books, or 39 as Protestants usually divide them) or the longer canon of the Septuagint.


l “We need to be alert, and not fall for these manuscript idols.”


While it is incontestable that Christians should be alert, as First Corinthians 16:13 says, it does not follow that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, or any other New Testament manuscript, is an idol.  This is a touch of pejorative language from the writer at the PreservedWord website.


l “We also need to be aware that most Bible versions, other than the KJV, rely heavily on these manuscripts.”

In the case of the NIV, ESV, NLT, CSB, and NRSV, this is certainly true, but there are also translations which are based on the Textus Receptus (such as the MEV) and translations which are based on the Byzantine Text (such as the World English Bible) and the Patriarchal Text (such as the Eastern Orthodox Bible’s New Testament).


l “The NKJV, while using the correct text, includes “alternate readings” from Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in the margin. (Such as “The oldest MSS. say…”) We need to reject these for the tried and true King James Version.”

The NKJV’s margin also includes some “M” readings – “M” as in “majority.”  The KJV’s base-text contains about 1,000 minority readings which impact translation.  If Burgon’s hope – for a competently-made revision of the Textus Receptus – is to ever be achieved, it will involve acknowledging what Burgon knew very well:   “The Textus Receptus needs correction.”  Such correction will never take place as long as those who could contribute to it instead choose to demonize the Alexandrian Text, and set the Textus Receptus in concrete, so to speak, pretending that it is as close as we can come to the original text. 

            The PreservedWord website states, on another page, “The Word of God is found in the Byzantine text-type.”  If its writer, Luke Mounsey, ever wants to see the original text of the New Testament, he should engage in textual criticism, and consider all the available evidence, not just the relatively late manuscripts upon which the Textus Receptus was based.


mike wynn said...

Great response - scholarly and objective

Unknown said...

This is an excellent, gracious, and truthful response to the KJVO view.

Daniel Buck said...

Can you point us to all examples of this smattering of readings in the Alexandrian Text that support heresy?

Joel Metzger said...

Thanks James for your analysis and your equitable approach it is refreshing, I am a bit confused with regards to your view of a good translation, in a post back in February you said that the EOB NT is the best English translation ever and possibly embodied the kind of revision of the traditional NT text that Burgon wished for in his day. In this latest post if I understand you correctly you seem to be saying that what Burgon envisioned is obtainable, but we are not quite there yet, without bringing in a few original readings preserved in the Alexandrian text. I’m I getting your point correctly?

James Snapp Jr said...

Daniel Buck,
<< Can you point us to all examples of this smattering of readings in the Alexandrian Text that support heresy? >>

Sounds like a good subject for a future post!