Which Version, by Philip Mauro_chapter 2

II. The Various Greek Texts

Stephens (A.D. 1550)

The Text of Stephens is that which served as the basis of the A.V. In its production the compiler was guided in large measure, though not exclusively, by the comparatively recent manuscripts (ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries) which had been in use in various churches of Europe, Asia and Africa.

It might be supposed that Stephens was at a disadvantage with respect to later compilers in that he did not have the benefit of the manuscripts, particularly the Vatican and Sinaitic, which were available to later editors, as Tischendorf, Tregelles and Westcott and Hort. But the fact is, and this we hope to make quite plain, that the comparative excellence of the Text of Stephens (and the Elzevir or Textus Receptus-see next sub-heading below) is due in no small degree to the fact that in its composition the Vatican and Sinaitic Mss. were not consulted.

The comparatively late Mss., from which the Stephens and Elzevir texts were mainly compiled, were, of course, copies of older ones, which were in time used up, and which themselves were copies of others still more ancient. In all this copying and re-copying, there would inevitably have crept in the various errors to which copyists are liable. Moreover, in some cases there were alterations purposely made, from one motive or another.

When an error crept into a copy, or was purposely introduced, it would naturally be perpetuated in copies made from that one; and thus variations from the original would tend to multiplication. There was, however, a check upon this tendency. For such was the reverence paid to the sacred Text, and such the desire that copies used in the churches should be pure, that every opportunity would be embraced for comparing one Text with another; and where differences were observed there would be naturally an investigation for the purpose of establishing the true reading. Thus, by examination and comparison of a moderate number-say ten or twenty-comparatively late manuscripts from widely separated points, it would be possible to establish, almost to a certainty, the original reading of any disputed passage, or, if it were a passage whose authenticity as a whole was questioned, to decide whether it were genuine Scripture or not.

Elzevir or “Textus Receptus” (A.D. 1624)

This edition, with which the name and fame of the great Erasmus are associated, has been for centuries, and still is, the best known and most widely used of all the Greek Texts. While this justly famous edition is later by some years than the publication of the A.V., the differences between it and its immediate predecessor, the Stephens edition, are so few and unimportant that the two may be regarded for all practical purposes as one and the same. Thus all the scholarship back of the Textus Receptus is an endorsement of the Text which served as the basis for the translation of our A.V.

it is apparent from what has been said already that if the Revisers of the 19th century had used the same Greek Text, either as it stood, or with such corrections as might seem justified by discoveries made subsequently to 1624, they would have given us a Version having a comparatively small number of changed readings. In fact it is within bounds to say that, if the Revisers had given us simply a corrected translation of the Textus Receptus, instead of a translation of an entirely “New Greek Text.” we should not have more than a small fraction, say less than ten percent, of the changes found in the R.V. And what is more, not one of those changes which are regarded as serious, and against which such a storm of protest has been raised (and that from men of the highest scholarship and deepest piety) would have been made. In that case it is likely also that the changes would have commended themselves to the majority of discriminating Bible users.

Lachmann (A.D. 1842-1850)

This editor appears to have been the first to act upon the theory or principle that the more ancient the manuscript the more worthy of credence. The extent to which this idea has been allowed to control in the settling of disputed readings, without regard to other weighty considerations whereby the credibility of the contradictory witnesses should properly have been determined, is very extraordinary.

This matter calls for special attention, not only because of the important part it played in settling the Text of the R.V., but because it seems to be quite generally taken for granted that the older the manuscript the more worthy to be believed where there is a conflict of testimony.

We propose, therefore, to examine this rule of evidence with some care later on; and in that connection we will endeavor to show why we believe that the principles which controlled in the compilation of the Textus Receptus are far more conformable to the sound rules of evidence, and hence more likely to lead to right conclusions, than that adopted by Lachmann and his successors.

Lachmann seems to have conceived a prejudicial dislike for the Received Text, and (as a good authority expresses it) to have “set to work to form a text independent of that, right or wrong. He started with the theory of ancient evidence only, thus sweeping away many copies and much evidence, because they dated below his fixed period.” In fact he did not seek to arrive at the original inspired Writings, but merely “to recover the Text as it was in the fourth century.”

This principle, first adopted by Lachmann, and followed with well-nigh calamitous results by his successors, including Drs. Westcott and Hort (who were responsible for the Text which underlies the R.V.) is based upon the tacit assumption that there existed in the fourth century a Greek Text which was generally accepted, and which was also virtually pure. But it is now recognized that the very worst corruptions of the original Writings are those which occurred prior to this time.

And not only so, but, at the time of the appearance of the R.V. Drs. Westcott and Hort put forth an elaborate explanation of the principles adopted by them in the making of their “New Greek Text” (which up to that time had been privately circulated among the Revisionists, and under injunctions of strictest secrecy) and in it they admitted that the Textus Receptus is substantially identical with the Text used in the Churches of Syria and elsewhere in and prior to the fourth century.

. To this important feature of the case we will refer more in detail later on; for it proves that the authors of the Text adopted by the Revisers, while appealing to the principle of “ancient evidence” as the reason for their departures from the Received Text, have made admissions which show that they in fact acted directly contrary to that principle.

Now, as to the assumption that because a given Text or Ms. dated from the fourth century it would be purer than one of later date, we quote the following statement of one who was generally regarded as the ablest textual critic of those days, Dr. Frederick H. A. Scrivener, who, in his Introduction to the Text of the N.T. (3d ed. p. 5 1 1) says: “It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected originated within a hundred years after it was composed; that Irenaeus and the African Fathers, and the whole Western church, with a portion of the Syrian, had far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephens, thirteen centuries later, when moulding the Textus Receptus.

But Lachmann proceeded in disregard of this fact, and no doubt because ignorant of it. He thus set a bad example; and unfortunately his example has been followed by editors who came after him, men of great learning unquestionably, and having accurate knowledge of early Greek, but apparently knowing little of the history of the various Greek manuscripts, and nothing at all of the laws of evidence, and how to deal with problems involving the investigation of a mass of conflicting testimony.

Tischendorf (A.D. 1865-1872)

This scholar, whose great abilities and unremitting labors are widely recognized, has had a dominating influence in the formation of the modern Text. Tischendorf proceeded upon a plan which we give in his own words: “This text is to be sought only from ancient evidence. and especially from Greek Mss., but without neglecting the testimonies of Versions and Fathers.”

From this we see that Tischendorf thoroughly committed himself to the principle of giving the “ancient evidence” the deciding voice in all disputed readings. That he should have adopted this principle was specially unfortunate because of the circumstance that Tischendorf himself was the discoverer of the famous Codex Sinaiticus (of which we shall have occasion to speak more particularly later on) which manuscript is reputed the most ancient but one of all the now existing Greek manuscripts of the N.T., and which therefore, upon the principle referred to, is entitled to the highest degree of credibility.

But whether or not the Sinaitic Ms. is the most ancient of all now known to exist, it is, beyond any doubt whatever, the most defective, corrupt, and untrustworthy. Our reasons for this assertion (reasons which are ample to establish it) will be given later on. We wish at this point merely to note the fact (leaving the proof thereof for a subsequent chapter) that the most serious of the many departures of the R.V. from the A.V. are due to the unhappy conjunction of an unsound principle of evidence and the fortuitous discovery, by a scholar who had accepted that principle, of a very ancient Greek Ms. of the N.T., a Ms. which, despite its unquestioned antiquity turns out to be about the worst and most “scandalously corrupt” of all the Greek Texts now known to exist.


This editor was contemporary with Tischendorf. As stated in his own words his purpose was “to give the text on the authority of the oldest Mss. and Versions, and with the aid of the earlier citations, so as to present, so far as possible, the text commonly received in the fourth century.”

This, it will be observed, is substantially the plan proposed by Lachmann; and these are the precedents which seem to have mainly influenced Westcott and Hort in the compilation of their Text, which is virtually the Text from which the R.V. was made.

Dr. Scrivener says (Introduction p. 342): “Lachmann’s text seldom rests on more than four Greek Codices, very often on three, not infrequently on two, sometimes on only one.” His fallacy, which was adopted by Tregelles, necessarily proved fatal to the text prepared by the latter, who in fact acted upon the astounding assumption that “eighty-nine ninetieths” of our existing manuscripts and other authorities might safely be rejected, in order that we might be free to follow a few early documents of bad repute.

This tendency in a wrong direction found a still further development in Tischendorf, and came to full fruition in Westcott and Hort, who were allowed to fashion according to their own ideas the Greek Text of the R.V.


The work of this editor (who is rated high as a Greek scholar, though we know not how competent he was to decide questions of fact where there was conflict of testimony) was subsequent to that of the two preceding editors. Concerning their work he says that “If Tischendorf has run into a fault on the side of speculative hypotheses concerning the origins of readings found in those Mss., it must be confessed that Tregelles has sometimes erred on the (certainly far safer) side of scrupulous adherence to the more literal evidence of the ancient Mss.” Alford’s text was constructed-to state it in his own words-“by following in all ordinary cases the united or preponderating testimony of the most ancient authorities.” Later evidence was taken into consideration by him only when “the most ancient authorities did not agree or preponderate.”

It seems not to have occurred to this learned man, any more than to the others, that mere antiquity was not a safe test of reliability where witnesses were in conflict, and that a late copy of a correct original should be preferred to a corrupt Ms. of earlier date.

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