Make your own free website on Tripod.com
New Page 1

 


 

 


 

The Singular Care and Providence of God,

and the Textus Receptus

 

By Bishop D. A. Thompson

 

In the unhappy reign of King Charles I what became known as the Long Parliament first met on the third of November 1640. Its members were burdened not only by the unconstitutional policy of the monarch but also by the anti-evangelical administration of Dr. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. This prelate was virtually destroying the reformed character of the Church of England. His tyrannical and cruel ways were begetting in the minds of many faithful ministers the thought that the solution of their problems lay in presbyterianism or independency (i.e. in what afterwards were called the Baptist and Congregational Church systems).

 

At this time the majority of the Members of Parliament wished to see the Established Church cleansed of Laudianism and a revival of pure religion throughout Great Britain. With this end in view they nominated a body of 121 divines with 30 lay assessors, to assist Parliament, when requested, in religious matters. This company first met on July 1st, 1643 in the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey. Hence it is known as the Westminster Assembly. When the cold weather set in the members moved to the adjoining Jerusalem Chamber, which has a large fire-place, by which means they could meet, debate and work in a comfortable temperature.

 

Parliament directed this august assembly to revise the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. But this was soon countermanded, as relations between London and Edinburgh became more cordial, and eight Scottish Commissioners were welcomed as additional members of this body. The request was then made for a new and fuller credal statement, for a Longer and a Shorter Catechism, and other ecclesiastical documents.

 

Richard Baxter affirmed, 'The divines there congregated were men of eminent learning and godliness, ministerial ability and fidelity'. Amongst their number were some of the greatest scholars, preachers and theologians of Christendom. They reflected the mind of the Puritans throughout England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. They were united on the great doctrines of the historic Christian and Reformed Faith but differed on such matters as Church order and ministry, the sacrament of baptism and events connected with the return of our Lord from Heaven.

 

These divines fell into five groups. There was a small band of learned, pious Episcopalians, of whom the most outstanding was Dr. James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh. He was so respected for his great scholarship, tolerance and sincerity, that when he died in 1656, (in England), by order of the Protector, Oliver Cromwell, he was given a state funeral and buried in Westminster Abbey.

 

The most numerous group consisted of those of presbyterian outlook. Of these the minority were convinced adherents of that form of Church polity advocated by John Calvin. The majority were incumbents of the Church of England who had little quarrel with the Prayer Book, provided it was interpreted in accordance with the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. They were perfectly happy with the episcopal form of Church government, provided it was of the primitive type, and functioned so as to comprehend some of the principles of presbyterianism and independency (as in the Church of Ireland and other Provinces of the Anglican Communion today), and was divorced from the monstrous error of sacerdotal apostolic succession. They had been driven into the arms of the minority by the intolerance and ritualism of Archbishop Laud as well as by his claim that episcopacy was of divine right. Of the former were Matthew Poole, the scholarly commentator on Holy Scripture, and Edmund Calamy. Of the latter were Dr. William Twisse—who was chosen by the Assembly to be its prolocutor—most learned yet most humble, and Dr. E. Reynolds, who at the Restoration was consecrated Bishop of Norwich, and contributed the General Thanksgiving Prayer to the 1662 Prayer Book.

 

Amongst the small group of Independents were Thomas Goodwin, Jeremiah Burroughs and Philip Nye. Amongst the Erastians was the great Hebrew scholar Dr. John Lightfoot. Of the Scottish Commissioners, the name of Samuel Rutherford is almost a Christian household word.

 

The King frowned upon the Assembly and as a consequence the Episcopalians rarely attended, though in another but very true sense Archbishop Ussher was present all through! In 1615 he had drawn up the One Hundred and Four Articles of the Church of Ireland (which eventually, under royal pressure, had to be abandoned for the Thirty-nine Articles of the sister Church in England). The Westminster Assembly took the One Hundred and Four Articles almost word for word and rearranged them so as to form the Westminster Confession, only adding by direction of Parliament, the proof texts. From the Archbishop's Body of Divinity, the Catechisms were woven. These great theological works, with slight changes, were approved by Parliament and adopted by the General Assembly at Edinburgh (1648). They became the subordinate standards of Presbyterians throughout the English-speaking world. Before the close of that century they had been adapted for use by the Baptists and Congregationalists. How great is the debt of these three Christian Communions to the erudite Archbishop of Armagh!

 

The Westminster Confession and the Hebrew and Greek Texts of Scripture

 

The Westminster Confession consists of thirty-three chapters, each on some special doctrine of the Christian Faith, and each divided into numbered paragraphs. The first chapter is entitled, Of the Holy Scripture, and paragraph eight begins:

 

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them.”

 

Here it is to be noted that the members of this famous Assembly—godly, learned men, 'mighty in the Scriptures' (Acts 18.24), after discussion and debate, unhesitatingly declared that Holy Writ (a) was 'inspired by God', and (b) its text, 'by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages'.

 

These scholarly theologians recognized that there was a Providence of God and that its operations are sometimes clearly seen as the past is reviewed (see 2 Chron. 16.9 and Westminster Confession, Chapter 5). For instance, taking the life of Joseph in retrospect, it is evident that Divine Providence ruled and overruled in all his vicissitudes, so that his being sold and taken into Egypt, and his unjust imprisonment there, were links in a chain which led to his becoming the powerful minister of Pharaoh, in which capacity he was able to succour his father and his brethren in their necessity. The same over-ruling Providence is seen in the life of Moses, in that he was wondrously rescued from a watery grave as an infant, brought up as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, received the best education and training that Egypt could give, and thus qualified, later, to be God's ambassador to Pharaoh, and to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness.

 

So these learned men, as they turned over the pages of history, felt convinced that the overruling Providence of God had been exercised for the preservation, and that too in its purity, of the Written Word. Doubtless they called to mind, that when Jehoiakim, king of Judah, cut the leaves out of the book of the prophecies that Jeremiah had dictated to Baruch the scribe, and cast them into the fire that was on the hearth, so that they were burnt, the Lord in 'His singular care and providence' ordered the prophet to commit the Divine messages a second time to writing (Jeremiah, chapter 36).

 

Again, when the forces of the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes (d. 164 b.c.) had overrun the Holy Land, and were bent on destroying the Jewish religion, the very existence of the Old Testament was at stake. Not only was the Temple desecrated, the Levitical sacrifices proscribed, the performance of the rite of circumcision forbidden, but the possession of any of the Holy Scriptures was punished with death. Yet God in 'His singular care and providence' raised up Judas the Maccabee and endued him and his patriotic followers with such courage that again and again they inflicted decisive defeats upon the oppressors, drove them out of Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple. This from the human angle saved the Holy Oracles from perishing from off the earth.

The Temple Standard Old Testament

 

Just before our Lord Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem the humble Temple of Zerubbabel was replaced by the magnificent Fane of Herod (John 2.20). In it, in a special chamber, were deposited and preserved several standard codices of the entire Old Testament from which copies of the whole or parts of it could be made, or existing copies checked and if necessary corrected (cf. Deut. 17.18; 31.9 and 24-26; 1 Sam. 10.25; 2 Kings 22.8, The expression, To the Chief Musician' attached to so many of the Psalms (e.g. 4, 5, 6, etc.), Prov. 25.1 and Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 1, Section 7 and Book 5, Chapter 1, Section 17).

 

Thus when our Lord said, 'It is written' (Matt. 4.4,6,7,10; 21.13; 26.24,31, etc.), or 'Have ye not read?', or others used the same or a similar expression (Matt. 2.5; 12.3 and 5; 19.4; 21.16 and 42; 22.31; 24.15, etc.), it meant that the text quoted was to be found in that Temple Standard Scripture and in accurate copies of it. No one ever disputed the purity and accuracy of those sacred writings and objected that the text was 'corrupt', 'hopelessly corrupt', or that the original text was 'irretrievably lost' (as do many critics today).

 

In a. d. 70 Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans and destroyed. In that conflict the Temple was set on fire. The Legionaries rushed into the burning courts and removed (a) The Table of Shewbread, (b) The Golden Candlestick or Lampstand, (c) One of the priestly silver trumpets, and (d) One of the standard copies of the Law (definitely the Pentateuch, but it may have been the entire Old Testament). The visitor passing through the Arch of Titus, Rome, can see, sculptured on the inside, Roman soldiers bearing some of these trophies on their triumphal return to the capital. This has been a silent witness for almost nineteen hundred years to the accuracy of the record that Josephus wrote concerning that pathetic event (The Wars of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 5, Sections 5 and 7).

 

 Some of these spoils were deposited in the Temple of Peace shortly afterwards erected, but the Standard Old Testament Codex was kept in the Imperial Palace. Here it remained for rather more than one hundred and fifty years. Then a sincerely religious Emperor, especially friendly to Jews and Christians, Alexander Severus, ascended the throne (a.d. 222-235). He took as his motto, 'Do unto others as thou wouldst have them do unto thee'. He was accustomed to pray every morning in his private chapel where he had images of Apollonius and Orpheus and effigies of Abraham and Jesus Christ! His mother, an artful, ambitious and cruel woman, when passing through Antioch, called for Origen to visit her, and conversed with him (Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XVI). But little impression was made on the Queen Mother.

 

This emperor seems to have been deeply grateful to the Jewish merchants in Rome for never failing to keep his armies supplied with food in their long and arduous campaigns. To mark his appreciation he built them a synagogue (like a certain centurion in the Gospel story—Luke 7.1-10). When the day came for it to be opened, he showed still further his good pleasure by presenting the Temple Scripture to this Jewish community. (See Introduction to Massoretico—Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, by Dr. C. D. Ginsburg, pp. 408-421, Dr. E. W. Bullinger's The Massorah (being a popular summary of Dr. C. D. Ginsburg's work), also How to read the Bible, by the Rev. J. Urquhart, Volume 1, pp. 132-134).

 

It is evident that this Standard Scripture taken from the Temple was used by the Jews during the 3rd and 4th centuries for making fresh copies of their Holy Oracles, for references to it are found in the Massorah. These were the notes made in the upper, lower and side margins as well as between the columns in the Hebrew manuscripts, to aid the scribes in preserving and reproducing the original text in its purity.

 

It is very striking that Josephus states in his autobiography that the other Temple Scriptures ('the holy books') were given to him by the express concession of Titus (Autobiography, paragraph 75). Nothing is known of their subsequent history but it cannot be doubted that they were specially treasured. From these Temple Scriptures all the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament are derived—either directly or indirectly. This text was first printed by the Jewish Soncino Press (in Italy), 1482-1488, and is the Hebrew Textus Receptus.

 

In the 4th and 5th centuries there was the irruption of the Barbarians. The Imperial City was sacked, first by the Goths under Alaric in 410 and again by the Vandals under Genseric in 455. Many important buildings were destroyed by these intruders. It seems that the aforementioned synagogue and its priceless Scripture were amongst those that thus suffered, for they disappear from history at this time.

 

 

Those who drew up the Westminster Confession, and those who afterwards most warmly and gratefully endorsed it, and also followed the history of that Temple Codex rescued from the flames in a.d. 70, have seen in it another instance of God's 'singular care and providence' operating for the preservation in its purity of the text of that inspired and inerrant literature to which the Lord Jesus referred whenever He used the expression, 'It is written' or a similar phrase.

 

The New Testament

 

Until about one hundred years ago most evangelical Protestants had the same convictions with respect to the Greek New Testament. They felt that in the Textus Receptus they had substantially the reproductions of the autographs of the New Testament writers. They saw the hand of God in the warnings uttered by the early Church Fathers when heretics began deliberately to corrupt the New Testament text. It enabled the scribes, when the persecutions ceased, to weed out these corruptions. They gave attention also to every place where there were variant readings and uncertainties, so much so that before the close of the 4th century the text had become uniform, in the type known as the Byzantine.

 

These Protestants considered that the Reformation was the greatest blessing the Lord had sent to the Visible Church since Pentecost, and that it largely centred around the work of Erasmus, Ximenez, Stephens and Beza, whose labours led to the printing of the text common to the great majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. In all this they could see nothing less than the 'singular care and providence of God' giving them substantially the text of the autographs.

The work of collecting manuscripts of the New Testament and of studying them did not, however, end with the death of Beza. It was continued by a succession of scholars. Their devotion to this branch of sacred learning has been touched on in an earlier study but a reminder of the salient features of their researches and of the emergence of two schools of thought therefrom becomes necessary here.

The Textual Critics

 

Amongst those who so laboured was Brian Walton (1600-1661), Bishop of Chester, whose Polyglot New Testament consisted of the Greek Text of Stephens (1550) with variants from the recently acquired Codex Alexandrinus (which had arrived in London in 1627) and sixteen other manuscripts collated by Archbishop James Ussher, together with the Syriac, Latin, Ethiopian and Persian versions. He was followed by John Fell (1625-1686), Dean of Christ Church and afterwards Bishop of Oxford, who added the readings of eighteen more manuscripts (mostly in the Bodleian) and of the Coptic or Bohairic and Gothic versions. His disciple, Dr. John Mill (1645-1707), Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, and Principal of St. Edmund Hall, extended these researches and included the evidence of patristic quotations. This work was carried still further by Richard Bentley (1662-1742), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

 

Although these scholars noted variant readings, this in no wise undermined their confidence in the general accuracy of the Textus Receptus. But during this period Religious Rationalism had grown apace in Germany, and the unbelief it generated was to have most sad and serious spiritual repercussions in that land and in Britain. It created an atmosphere which facilitated attacks upon the Reformation Text. Strange as it may seem, it was a devout evangelical, the German Lutheran, J. A. Bengel (1687-1752) who was one of the first to turn from this text. He declared that he preferred the most ancient authorities, and on the strength of such convictions altered the Textus Receptus. Yet his  knowledge of the texts of the oldest manuscripts was very meagre, for their publication for the use of scholars did not, and indeed could not, appear until the period of from fifty to one hundred years and more, after his death! He must be held largely responsible for making so fashionable, in this connection, the slogan, that the older the manuscript the greater its weight. He, and those carried away by this adage, never seem to have paused and reflected, that a document can be written in a very great hurry and under very difficult or dangerous circumstances, as in times of persecution, and consequently be marked by great carelessness and many mistakes. In other words an ancient manuscript is not necessarily an accurate copy of an exemplar: it can be the very reverse.

 

J. J. Wettstein, of Basle, who had been an assistant of Richard Bentley, of Cambridge, and was experienced in such matters, lost no time in pointing out that the manuscripts on which Bengel placed such great reliance and used to 'correct' and 'improve' the Textus Receptus were characterized by many careless mistakes and omissions and hence could only be regarded as untrustworthy.

 

This most regrettable example set by the otherwise excellent Bengel was followed by another German, J. S. Semler (1725-1791), a thorough-going religious Rationalist, and he by his disciple J. J. Griesbach (1745-1812), a foe of orthodox Christianity. Griesbach had a distinct animus against the historic Christian Faith. He declared, 'Among the several readings of one place, that must deservedly be regarded as suspect which more than the others manifestly favours the dogmas of the orthodox.' Surely it is incomprehensible that born-again believers should give any wieght to the judgment of such a textual critic. Karl Lachmann (1793-1851) also rejected the Textus Receptus. On the other hand C. F. Matthaei (1744-1811), although a German, became a professor at Moscow, and collated a large number of Russian manuscripts. He upheld the Textus Receptus and regarded the early manuscripts with their many differences and omissions as unreliable. The Roman Catholic scholar, J. M. A. Scholz (1794-1852), travelled through Europe, examining all the manuscripts he could find. He considered that the Textus Receptus was authentic, and he was one of the first, if not the first, to pronounce that the oldest manuscripts have only survived because, being erroneous, they had been less used.

 

Thus by the early 19th century there had emerged two schools of thought with respect to the text of the Greek New Testament. The first was convinced that by 'the singular care and providence of God', the text of the writers of the New Testament was preserved in that which was common to the great majority of the manuscripts. When these scholars were charged with lightly esteeming the few most ancient manuscripts, their reply was, that there was sufficient evidence from their many omissions, additions and mistakes to stamp them as being carelessly copied from bad, perhaps even corrupted copies of still earlier manuscripts. When it was objected that this textual school had few manuscripts of a really early date, the reply was, that this was only to be expected. Copies of the Bible would chiefly be found in churches or in the buildings of religious communities. In these, several services would be conducted every week and in many cases several every day. Consequently, within fifty to one hundred years, the Codex would be so much the worse for wear that it would have to be discarded and perhaps reverently destroyed, and a new transcription take its place.

 

The other school of textual critics felt strongly that the text of the few most ancient codices of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries must over-ride the readings of later copies. They took it for granted that the most ancient must be the most accurate, without any qualifying clause. It must be pointed out that towards the close of the century, these critics, especially their leader, Dr. Hort, were so carried away by their theory, that they could not see the unsatisfactory nature of the principles, or lack of principles, upon which they built up their new and revolutionary text.

 

But at the beginning of the 19th century both sides to this controversy were handicapped by the inability to be sure of the readings of some of the most ancient manuscripts. How and when those disabilities were removed must now be briefly explained.

 

The Five Most Ancient Manuscripts

 

By common consent the oldest Codex of the Bible is that in the Vatican Library known as Vaticanus (designated B). It was first listed in the catalogue of 1481 and its previous history is unknown. Certain  facts concerning it should be noted. First, neither Cardinal Ximenez nor Eramus considered that its text should override that of others. On the contrary these first two editors of the earliest printed Greek and Latin New Testaments preferred manuscripts of a later date. Again, a number of attempts to collate, and to have facsimiles printed of this venerable Codex proved either unsatisfactory or abortive. Napoleon had it transported (with other treasures) from Rome to Paris, where the Roman Catholic scholar J. L. Hug (1765-1846) examined it and stressed its great age. From that time it has generally been accepted as having been written about 340.

 

In 1815 the Codex was returned to Rome. Then the Vatican authorities showed a most strange indisposition to allow scholars to inspect it. Sir Frederic Kenyon records that in 1843 Tischendorf, after waiting for several months, was allowed to see it for six hours. Next year De Muralt was permitted to study it for nine hours. In 1845 Dr. S. P. Tregelles was allowed to see it but not to copy a word. His pockets were searched before he might open it, and all writing materials were taken away. Two clerics stood beside him and snatched away the volume if he looked too long at any passage! Deans Alford and Burgon had similar experiences.

 

At long last the opinion of scholars throughout the world forced the hands of the papal authorities, and a worthy copy of the Vaticanus New Testament was printed in 1868 (followed in due course by the rest of the sacred volume). In 1889-1890 a complete photographic facsimile of the whole manuscript made its contents the common property of all scholars.

 

Dr. F. H. A. Scrivener states: 'One marked feature, characteristic of this copy, is the great number of its omissions, which has induced Dr. Dobbin to speak of it as presenting "an abbreviated text of the New Testament"; and certainly the facts he states on this point are startling enough. He calculates that Codex B leaves out words or whole clauses no less than . . . 2,556 times in all. That no small proportion of these are mere oversights of the scribe seems evident from the circumstance that this same scribe has repeatedly written words and clauses twice over' {Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, Volume 1, p. 120).

 

The reference to the large number of omissions refers to words and clauses found in the vast majority of other manuscripts and in the Textus Receptus. That most of these were found in manuscripts which are no longer extant but were written much earlier than the Vaticanus is evident from a study of the works of the Fathers who quote them.

 

It would be well for the reader to pause and consider these figures and facts. Do they suggest to his mind that the readings of this oldest Codex, the Vaticanus, must be the most accurate, and used to correct all others? Or would the assessment be that although the most ancient of the manuscripts, the Vaticanus bears evidence that it is a carelessly written copy of a still earlier copy, which may well have been hastily transcribed during those difficult times of persecution and marred by defects including the omissions?

 

The next oldest manuscript is that which Dr. L. F. C. Tischendorf (1815-74) found in the year 1844 in the monastery of St. Catherine near to what is called Mount Sinai. Hence, it is known as the Codex Sinaiticus and designated by the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph. It is thought that it was written about ten years after Codex Vaticanus. Through the influence of Czar Alexander II of Russia, it was sent to St. Petersburg in 1859 and through his munificence and the indefatigable labours of the discoverer copies were available to scholars in 1862.

 

By 1871 Dean Burgon had thoroughly studied the printed copies of these two oldest codices and wrote: 'Ought it not sensibly to detract from our opinion of the value of their evidence to discover that it is easier to find two consecutive verses in which the two MSS differ, the one from the other, than two consecutive verses in which they entirely agree? . . . On every such occasion only one of them can possibly be speaking the truth. Shall I be thought unreasonable if I confess that these perpetual inconsistencies between Codex Vaticanus and Codex Aleph—grave inconsistencies, and occasionally even gross ones—altogether destroy my confidence in either?' (Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel of Mark, pp. 77-78; in Sovereign Grace Book Club reprint, pp. 155-6).

 

The Codex Alexandrinus (Codex A) is that which was presented by Cyril Lucar, the evangelical Patriarch of Constantinople, to the King of England in 1627. Thus it arrived in this land sixteen years too late for use to be made of it in preparing the Authorized Version. Later King George II handed it over to the care of the British Museum. Scholars consider that it was written in the first half of the 5th century.

 

A collation of the New Testament was prepared for Walton's Polyglot (1657), and another by C. G. Woide, a distinguished Coptic scholar and Assistant Librarian in the British Museum (1786). A photographic reproduction of the whole was published in 1879-83.

 

Different parts of the New Testament have been copied from different originals. The text of the Gospels approximates to the Byzantine, but that of the Acts and of the Epistles is nearer to the Vaticanus. Dr. Scrivener states that the Codex has been judged to be carelessly written. Some words have been written twice over by mistake.

 

The next manuscript in respect to age and importance in this connection is Codex Ephraemi (Codex C). It once belonged to the Italian Medici family but has long been housed in the National Library of Paris. The original manuscript contained the whole Greek Bible. But a scribe appropriated about two-thirds of the leaves of the Old and New Testament, washed or scraped off the ink giving the text of Scripture, and wrote over the first faded writing the works of Ephraem the Syrian. This is known as a 'palimpsest' (i.e. a manuscript the original writing of which has been effaced to make room for a second). This is what can be seen in the Paris Library. The most diligent searches have failed to discover the other leaves. The application of chemicals has sufficiently restored the original writing to enable the text to be deciphered, although often not without great difficulty.

 

Thus there are portions of every book of the New Testament except 2 Thessalonians and 2 John. Various scholars had worked at this palimpsest with partial success, but after the device of applying chemicals had been tried, the tireless and enthusiastic Dr. Tischendorf in 1843 printed all that it held of the New Testament. The text is partly Byzantine, partly Vaticanus and other types.

 

The last manuscript to call for attention is one which was rescued from a monastery in Lyons when the city was sacked in 1562. It passed into the hands of Theodore Beza (the assistant of Calvin) and hence is called Codex Bezae (denoted Codex D). It contains little more than the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Beza presented it to the University of Cambridge in 1581, but expressed the hope that it would not be printed, as it appeared to be so faulty. Nevertheless, it was collated by scholars from time to time. By order of the University it was published in full by Dr. Kipling in 1793. A new edition was issued by Dr. Scrivener in 1864, and a photographic facsimile was published in 1889. It is reckoned to be of the early 6th century.

 

Dr. Scrivener states: 'No known manuscript contains so many bold and extensive interpolations (six hundred, it is said, in the Acts alone) ... Its variations from the sacred text are beyond all other examples'. Two of the least offensive, out of those listed by Sir Frederic Kenyon, shall be given. In this manuscript in Acts 19.9, the detail is added that Paul preached daily in the school of Tyrannus 'from the fifth hour to the tenth'. In the first verse of this same chapter, the Bezae text runs very differently from that found in our Bibles: 'Now when Paul desired in his own mind to journey to Jerusalem, the Spirit spake unto him that he should turn back to Ephesus; and passing through the upper parts he cometh to Ephesus, and finding certain disciples he said unto them'.

 

The Controversy

 

This can now be summarized. Since the days of Bengel there had been a call, feeble at first, but steadily growing stronger with the passing of over a hundred years, for the discarding of the Textus Receptus (the old Byzantine or Traditional Text), and the construction of a new New Testament text, based on the readings of the oldest manuscripts. These scholars, well-intentioned but most misguided, were obsessed with their slogan that 'the older the manuscript, the closer must its text be to the autographs'. While in general, other factors being equal, this would be true, these textual critics blinded themselves to the fact that it was possible for an old manuscript to be a bad copy of an earlier bad copy, in which case there might be many omissions or additions of words and clauses, and other careless mistakes.

 

From the facts just given, the reader will note that from 1786, when reliable copies of the Codex Alexandrinus became available to scholars, well-edited copies of the other oldest codices followed in fairly rapid succession. The Ephraemi appeared in 1843, the Sinaiticus in 1862, the Bezae in 1864, and finally the Vaticanus in 1868. This no doubt gave more force to the call of the liberal theologians for a revision of the Greek New Testament Text. The wise of both schools of thought urged that the time was not yet, for ample opportunities must be given to the scholars of Christendom to study, to debate and if possible to resolve the problems of the many and great diversities of readings in the oldest manuscripts.

 

Yet on February 10th, 1870, the Convocation of Canterbury decided that the Authorized Version of the Bible should be revised and 'clear and plain errors', whether in the Greek Text or the English translation, rectified. Translation companies, one for the Old Testament and another for the New were appointed. Their membership was very mixed—learned conservatives had to work with those of the rising English school of German neology. There could not have been happy team work.

 

The Chairman of the New Testament Company was Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, of Winchester. He was the son of that great philanthropist who had worked both inside and outside of Parliament for the suppression of the slave trade and the liberation of its victims. At its first meeting two discordant notes were struck. First, it was proposed that a Unitarian (Dr. Vance Smith) should be co-opted on to the Translation Panel. Professor B. F. Westcott (later Bishop of Durham), Dr. (later Professor) F. J. A. Hort and Dean Stanley, of Westminster, probably the three most influential members of the Company, let it be known that they would resign if the Unitarian was excluded. The proposal was passed on a majority vote. This started a chain of incidents and acute controversy. Bishop Wilberforce registered his abhorrence by never again attending the meetings of the Company. (He met with a fatal accident on July 19th, 1873.) His place was taken by Bishop C. J. Ellicott of the then united sees of Gloucester and Bristol.

 

The New Text of Prof. B. F. Westcott and Dr. F. J. A. Hort

 

The second divisive matter related to the Greek Text. Dr. Hort, a most studious but very aggressive and dominating personality, had worked with his close friend Prof. Westcott for nearly twenty years on the Greek Text of the New Testament. Neither of these scholars had been evangelical and as the influence of the German neology increased they moved slowly and discreetly with the times. Dr. Hort, in particular, held the Textus Receptus in the utmost reproach. With the publication of the text of the Vaticanus in 1868 these two Cambridge dons lost no time in correcting, as they considered it, the Textus Receptus by means of the purer(?) texts of the Vaticanus, first and foremost, and then of the other four oldest codices. As these-five manuscripts differed considerably, Dr. Hort used his 'intuitive power' to decide which of the alternatives was 'intrinsically probable'.

 

At the first meeting of the Revisers, Dr. Hort and Prof. Westcott distributed the page-proofs of their new text, on the pledge of secrecy, and with the evident design that it should replace the Textus Receptus. This embarrassed many of the members. They felt that their commission to rectify only 'plain and clear errors' did not envisage the construction of a new Greek text, which had not been known to Christendom for, quite definitely, about fifteen hundred years, and for which there was no proof that it was generally accepted as the genuine reproduction of the autographs in the period preceding the close of the 4th century.

 

Moreover, while all members were first-class Greek scholars, only one other amongst them was at home in textual criticism—Prebendary F. H. A. Scrivener. He, like Westcott and Hort, had graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, and was considered by many to be equal, if not superior, to the two dons. It was agreed that at each meeting Dr. Scrivener should first state the case for the Textus Receptus, and be followed by Dr. Hort, who was determined that the Revised Version should go forth to the world based on his new text.

 

Most of the members were out of their depth in this controversy, and it would appear that usually about one third of those present stood by Dr. Scrivener while the rest deferred to the dons mainly because of their standing in the academic world.

 

There is evidence that there was not a little dissatisfaction on these grounds. Dean Merivale, after attending nineteen meetings, withdrew in disgust. Other scholars, for example Bishop Moberly, of Salisbury, and Archbishop Trench, of Dublin, showed their unhappiness by their rare attendances. Bishop Wordsworth, of St. Andrews, and the learned Archdeacon Lee, of Dublin, openly expressed their disillusionment (see Revision Revised, by Dean Burgon, pp. 228-232).

 

The work was completed by the end of 1880. On May 12th, 1881, the 'Westcott and Hort' (designated WH) New Testament in Greek was published, followed a few months later by Dr. Hort's Introduction, justifying his (approximately) six thousand departures from the traditional Greek text on the ground that his corrections were based on the Vaticanus or one of the four other ancient manuscripts. On May 17th the English Revised Version New Testament came from the press. Both books met with a storm of criticism. Canon F. C. Cook, the editor of the Speaker's Commentary (reputed to be familiar with fifty-two ancient and modern languages) opposed the WH text in his Revised Version of the first three Gospels considered, while Dean J. W. Burgon wrote a series of articles in the Quarterly Review, afterwards published as Revision Revised. Most regrettably both books are now out of print and only obtainable from libraries.

 

The WH Text, the restoration, or the adulteration, of the autographs?

 

Common sense asserts that if the texts of these five manuscripts, being the most ancient, are therefore pure and reliable reproductions of the writings of the New Testament pen-men, then there will be no, or at the most very little, difference between them. Dean Burgon subjected them to this test. He, as all textual critics had done before him, took the Textus Receptus as the most convenient standard of comparison (but not as the absolute standard of excellence). The figures have been given before, but as it is so rare to come across them and they are of such importance, they will bear repetition. In the four Gospels alone, the Dean found that the deflections from this standard, and therefore the extent to which they stood apart from one another were in the following proportions: Alexandrinus, 842; Ephraemi Rescript, Paris, 1798; Vaticanus, 2370; Sinaiticus, 3392; Bezae, 4697. The first conclusion he drew from these figures registering differences was, that four out of the five must be, while all five may be outrageously faulty copies. Further, he noted the readings in the Gospels peculiar to each codex. Those peculiar to the Alexandrinus number 133; to the Parisian Rescript 170; to the Vaticanus 197; while Sinaiticus exhibits 443; and the Bezae no fewer than 1829. Yet again, within the same limits, the Vaticanus is found to omit at least 2877 words; to add 536; to substitute 935; to transpose 2098; to modify 1132—in all 7578. The corresponding figures for Sinaiticus are respectively 3455, 839, 1114, 2299, 1265—in all 8972. Moreover the omissions, additions, substitutions, transpositions and modifications, are by no means the same in both. These five old uncials, the Dean asserted, are never once found to be in accord in respect of any single variant reading. The Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus and the Bezae codices were on this account, he considered, the depositories of the largest amount of fabricated readings, ancient blunders, and intentional perversions of truth, which are discoverable in any known copies of The Word of God (Revision Revised, XIX, 14, 16)'.

 

This great textual scholar concludes his survey with these words: 'Will anyone, after a candid survey of these premisses, deem us unreasonable, if we avow that such a specimen of the concordia discors which everywhere prevails between these oldest uncials (but which especially characterizes the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus and the Bezae), indisposes us greatly to suffer their unsupported authority to determine for us the text of Scripture?' (Revision Revised, 17).

 

These particular manuscripts must ever be venerable on account of their age and also by their history. But they are certainly not the best, and because of the persistent use of that inaccurate term, we must in future refer to them as what they really are.

 

The WH text (together with its many modifications) represents the erosion of some of the outer defences of the 'Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture'. It repudiates and casts doubt upon many passages and clauses which the Church as a whole has always regarded as part and parcel of Holy Scripture. It cannot be considered as promoted by the 'singular care and Providence of God' but rather has been the subtle and undermining work of Satan, preparing the way for a succession of translations which are not accurate versions but painful perversions of Holy Writ.

 

This tampering with the Greek New Testament Text has many features similar to another grievous error let loose upon Christendom and the world about the same time—the theory of evolution. As Darwin's work undermined the belief of many in the biblical Doctrine of Divine Creation, so Westcott and Hort's theories have led to the disparagement of the Textus Receptus and the craze for a new Greek text and fresh translations of the Bible. As Darwin's followers generally ignore the objections to the theory of evolution, so the new textual critics never attempt to answer the classic works of a scholar like Dean Burgon in defence of the Reformation Text. As evolutionists have captured most of the key positions in the universities, colleges and schools, it has become common to exclude those who still believe in the Genesis account of Creation from teaching positions, and to regard them as behind the times. Very often those who from deep conviction uphold the Traditional Text and the Authorized Version of the Bible, are considered a nuisance, incomprehensible and cranks. But those who stand in the 'old paths' (Jer. 6.16) of morality and of evangelical religion are content to bear reproach, confident that the Protestant Reformed theology, built upon the Textus Receptus and the King James Version, will be vindicated before the throne of God.