Which Version, by Philip Mauro_Chapter 5

V. The Principle of “Ancient Evidence Only” Examined

We come now to the examination of the principle adopted by the various editors of the Greek Text of the table, a principle that was imposed upon the Revision Committee, though that imposition was accomplished in such a way (as hereinafter pointed out) that many of them apparently were not azure of it until after they disbanded.

We fully admit that the principle of following the most ancient manuscripts is, on its face, reasonable and safe; for it is indisputable that (other things being equal) the copies nearest to the original autographs are most likely to be freest from errors. If therefore it were a question whether or not we should follow, in the fashioning of a Greek Text, the earliest as against later manuscripts, there would be no “question” at all; for all would agree.

But, as me cue actually stands, it is impossible for us to follow the earliest manuscripts, for the simple reason that they no longer exist. Not a single copy of the many thousands that were made, circulated, and read in the first three centuries is known to exist today. We do have Versions and patristic quotations that date back to the second century, and these, according to the principle we are discussing, are entitled to great weight. Is it not strange therefore, that those who justify their course by appealing to, and by professing to follow blindly, that principle, should cast it aside and accept the reading of fourth century Codices, where these are in conflict with second century Versions and quotations?

Seeing then that the earliest manuscripts are no longer in existence, we cannot follow them, and hence it is clear that the problem which confronts us is one that cannot be solved by application of the simple rule we are discussing.

Briefly, the situation is this: We have on the one hand, we Greek Text of 1611 which served as the basis for the A.V.- a Text that represents and agrees with a thousand manuscript ts going back as far as the fifth century, and with Versions and quotations going back to the second. As to this there is not dispute at all; for Drs. Westcott and Hort admit the existence of this Text, and even assume that it was discussed and approved by convocations of the Eastern churches as early as the third century.

On the other hand, we have the Codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Beza, supposedly dating, as to the first two, from the fourth century, and as to the last from the sixth, which manuscripts present thousands (of divergencies (ornip sions, additions, substitutions, transpositions, and modifications) from the Received Text.

Upon such a state of things the question presented for decision is this: Shall we stand by the Received Text (accepting corrections thereof wherever they can be established by preponderating proof and putting those ancient Codices on the level of other witnesses, to be tested as to their credibility like all others)? Or shall we abandon the Textus Receptus in favor of that of Westcott and Hort, or of some other of the half dozen that profess to be shaped by the principle of following the ancient manuscripts? This is the question we propose to discuss in the present chapter.

It should be observed, before we proceed with this question, that the agreeing testimony (where they do agree) of the Vatican and Sinaitic Mss. cannot be properly regarded as having the force Of two independent witnesses;for there are sufficient evidences, both internal and external, to warrant the conclusion that these two Codices are very closely related, that they are, in fact, copies of the same original, itself a very corrupt transcript of the New Testament.

It is admitted on all hands that the Text used as the basis of the Authorized Version correctly represents a Text known to have been widely (if not everywhere) in use as early as the second century (for the  Peschito and Old Latin Versions, corroborated by patristic quotations afford ample proof of that). On the other hand it is not known that the two Codices we are discussing represent anything but copies of a bad original, made worse in the copying.

Divine Safeguards to the Text

It is appropriate at this point to direct attention to the Divinely ordained means which have thus far protected the Sacred Text from serious corruption. He who gave to men the Holy Scriptures to serve throughout the age as the sure foundation of that “faith of the Son of God” which alone avails for personal salvation, and to be also the sufficient rule of life and conduct for “the household of faith,” has not failed to devise effectual means for the preservation of His written Word.

The means in question are, according to (God’s usual way of continuing the line of a living thing, incidental to and inherent in the thing itself, and not something extraneous thereto. For it is a part of the normal life of every individual to provide for the continuance and multiplicacation of individuals of its own kind. Thus, as the grain supplies not only bread to the eater, but also seed to the sower, so in like manner God has provided that His living Word should both feed every generation of saints, and should also increase and multiply itself. As it is written, “And the Word of God increased” (Acts 6:7); and again, “But the Word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:24); and once more, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” (Acts 19:20).

The means which mainly have served to accomplish the purpose referred to, are these:

1. The necessity that there should be a great and steadily increasing multiplication of copies; for this provides automatically the most effectual security imaginable against corruption of the Text.

2. The necessity that the Scriptures should be translated into divers languages. This translation of the Written Word into various tongues is but a carrying out of that which the miracle of Pentecost indicated as a distinctive characteristic of this age, namely, that everyone should hear the saving truth of God in the tongue wherein he was born. Thus, the agreement of two or more of the earliest Versions would go a long way toward the establishment of the true reading of any disputed passage.

It is appropriate at this point to direct attention to the very great value of a Version as a witness to the purity of the original Text from which it was translated. Those who undertake a work of such importance as the translation of the New Testament into a foreign language would, of course, make sure, as the very first step, that they had the best obtainable Greek Text. Therefore a Version (as the Syriac or Old Latin) of the second century is a clear witness as to the Text recognized at that early day as the true Text.

This point has an important bearing upon the question we are now examining. For, remembering that “we have no actual copies (i.e., original Greek Texts) so old as the Syriac and Latin Versions (i.e. translations) by probably more than 200 years” (The Traditional Text, Burgon and Miller, and that “The oldest Versions are far more ancient than the oldest (Greek) manuscripts” (Canon Cook), and remembering too that those venerable Versions prove the existence in their day of a standard Text agreeing essentially with our Textus Receptus, and it will be recognized that “the most ancient evidence” is all in favor of the latter.

3. The activity of the earliest assailants of the church necessitated, on the part of the defenders of the faith, and that from the very beginning, that they should quote extensively from every part of the New Testament. In this way also a vast amount of evidence of the highest credibility, as to the true reading of disputed passages has been accumulated, and has come down to us in the writing of the so-called “Church Fathers.”

But of what avail would all these checks and safeguards have been if men had been allowed to follow a principle so obviously unsound as that the most ancient manuscripts are to have the deciding voice it every dispute? However, God can be trusted to see to it that all attempts to sweep away His protecting means should fail-as is this case.

The Value of Comparatively Late Mss.

It is quite true that most of the extant copies of the Greek New Testament date from the 10th to the 14th century. Thus they are separated from the inspired original Writings by a thousand years or more. Yet, that they faithfully represent those originals, and that the concurrence of a large majority of them would correctly decide every disputed reading, no reasonable person should ever doubt.

The extant texts of secular writers of antiquity (as Herodotous, Thucydides, and Sophocks) are but few in comparison with the thousand manuscripts of the Scriptures, and are separated from their originals by 500 additional years. Moreover, they lack the extraordinary safeguards, mentioned above, whereby the integrity of the Scriptures has been protected. Yet no one doubts that we have correct texts of those ancient writers. So the fact is that the security which the Text of the Scriptures has enjoyed is as has been well said, “altogether unique and extraordinary.”

Errors of Omission

In considering the principle of following the most ancient manuscripts it is important to note how it works in the case of that commonest of all errors-errors of omission; and in discussing this point we would take as an example the question of the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark (referred to specifically later on). Those verses are absolutely necessary to the completeness of the Gospel; yet because they are not in “The two most ancient Mss.” the Revisionists have marked them as probably spurious.

Here then we may propose a question upon which the merits of the R.V. may be decided, at least to a very large extent: Should the purely negative testimony of those two Codices (ie., the fact that certain words and passages are not found in them) be allowed to overthrow the affirmative testimony of hundreds of other Greek Manuscripts, Versions, and quotations from the church Fathers?” This a question which anyone of ordinary intelligence can be trusted to decide correctly when the following points (to which Dr. Hort and the majority of the Revision Committee must have been strangely blinded) are taken into account:

I. The commonest of all mistakes in copying manuscripts, or in repeating a matter, are mistakes of omission, or lapses of memory, or the results of inattention. Hence it is an accepted principle of evidence that the testimony of one competent witness, who says he saw or heard a certain thing, carries more weight than that of a dozen who, though on the spot, can only say that they did not see or hear it, or that they do not remember it. Therefore, other things being equal, the affirmative evidence of the other three ancient Codices and Versions, and that of the “Fathers” who quote those verses as unquestioned Scripture, is an hundredfold more worthy of credence than the negative testimony of the two which were allowed to control in settling the text of the R. V.

2. As we have already stated, a superstitious deference was paid to the Sinai and Vatican Mss. because of their (supposed) greater antiquity, the assumption being that the older the Ms. the more likely is it to be correct. But that assumption is wholly unwarrantable. In the concrete case before us, we have, in support of the Text of the A.V., the concurrent testimony of many manuscripts, from many different parts of the world; and though these were copies of older copies no longer in existence, yet, upon the soundest principles of the law of evidence, their concurrent testimony serves to establish conclusively the various disputed passages, where the two ancient Codices present variances.

The question of the authenticity of the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark is of such importance that we propose to cite the testimony in regard thereto more fully in a subsequent chapter. We are refer-ring to it here only as an impressive illustration of a general principle. That principle (the causes of errors of omission is of exceptional importance in this case because, as we have seen, the original scribe of the Sinaitic Codex was peculiarly given to errors of that sort.

A Test of the Principle of “Ancient Evidence”

Let us take an illustration of what we are here seeking to establish, namely, that the concurrent testimony of the manuscripts which support the Received Test conclusively establish its authenticity in parts where it differs from the new Greek text of Westcott and Hort.

For this purpose let us suppose that a hundred copies of a certain original document in a central business office were made by different copyists and sent to as many different branch-offices in various parts of the world; and suppose that, since the document contained directions for the carrying on of the business for many generations, it had to be copied again and again as the individual MSS. were worn out through usage.

Suppose further that, after centuries of time, one of the earliest copies should turn up which, upon examination, was found to lack a word or sentence found in later copies in actual service, and that it were deemed important to settle the question of the authenticity of that word or sentence.

Suppose further that, for the purpose in view, a dozen of the manuscripts then in actual use in various and far distant parts of the world, each one being a late copy of previously used and worn-out copies, were examined, and that the disputed word or sentence were found in each of those late copies, is it not clear that the authenticity thereof would be established beyond all reasonable dispute?

Such must be the conclusion, because the absence thereof in the ancient copy could easily be accounted for, whereas its presence in a number of later copies, each of which came from a distinct source, could not be accounted for except on the assumption of its genuineness.

But let us suppose that, in addition to the various copies in use in various places, there existed certain translations (versions in foreign languages) which translations were earlier than the very earliest of the existing manuscripts in the original tongue; and also that many quotations of the disputed passage were found in the writings of persons who lived in or near the days when the document itself was written; and suppose that the disputed word or sentence were found in every translation and every quotation, would not its genuineness be established beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt?

This suppositions case will give a good idea of the strength of the evidence in favor of the Text of the A.V. For in the settling of that text, due weight was given to the concurrent testimony of the numerous MSS. in actual use in different churches, widely separated from one another;  and also to the corroborating testimony of the most ancient Versions and of the patristic writings; whereas, in the setting of the text of the R.V. the evidence of highest grade was uniformly rejected in favor of that of the lowest grade.

The Strength of the Case in Favor of the Received Text

3. But the case in favor of the Greek Text of the A.V. is far stronger than this. For when the two MSS. which controlled the Westcott and Hort text are scrutinized,  they are found to contain such internal proofs of their unreliability as to impeach their own testimony, and render them utterly unworthy of belief. They present the case of witnesses who have been caught in so many misstatements as to discredit their entire testimony.

To begin with, their history renders them justly open to suspicion. For why should a special MS. be carefully treasured in the Vatican, if not for the reason that it contained errors and textual corruptions favorable to the doctrines of Rome? And why was the other MS., discovered in the last century by Tischendorf, allowed to lie in disuse for hundreds of years from the fourth century (as supposed) until the nineteenth? A reasonable inference would be that the MS. was cast aside and ultimately consigned to the waste paper basket, because it was known to be permeated with errors of various sorts. And this inference is raised to the level of practical certainty by the fact that, time and again the work of correcting the entire manuscript was undertaken by successive owners.

But not to dwell longer upon mere circumstances, the two MSS., were carefully examined, are found to bear upon their face clear evidences that they were derived from a common, and a very corrupt, source. The late Dr. Edward Vining of Cambridge, Mass., has gone thoroughly into this, and has produced evidence tending to show that they were copies (and most carelessly made) of an original brought by Origen out of Egypt, where, as is well known, the Scriptures were corrupted almost from the beginning in the interest of the same ascetic practices as now characterize the church of Rome.

Dr. Scrivener (generally regarded as the ablest of the textual critics) says that “the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected originated within a hundred years after it was composed,” and “Irenaeus and African fathers used far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephens, thirteen centuries later, when moulding the Textus Receptus.”

In view of such facts as these, it is easy to see what havoc would result to the sacred text if (as actually happened in the production of the R.V.) its composition were controlled by two manuscripts of Egyptian origin, to the actual repudiation of the consensus of hundreds of later manuscripts of good repute, of the most ancient and trustworthy of the Versions, and of the independent witness of the earliest Christian writers.

4. Bearing in mind that, as Dr. Kenyon of the British Museum says, “the manuscripts of the New Testament are counted by hundreds and even thousands,” it is a cause for astonishment that credence should have been given in any instance to the Vatican or Sinai MSS. (or both together in cases where they agree) against the agreeing testimony of the multitude of opposing witnesses. But such was the rule consistently followed in compiling the Text for the R.V. Canon Cook in his book on the “Revised Version of the First Three Gospels,” says:

“By far the greatest number of innovations, including those which give the severest shocks to our minds, are adopted on the testimony of two manuscripts, or even of one manuscripts, against the distinct testimony of all other manuscripts, uncial and cursive….(1)

The Vatican Codex, sometimes alone, but generally in accord with the Sinaitic, is responsible for nine-tenths of the most striking innovations in the R. V.”

We have deemed it worthwhile to examine with some cue the principle whereby modem editors of the Greek Text of the New Testament profess to have been guided, and this for reasons, first, that the question here discussed, and the facts whereby it must be determined, lie beyond the reach of most of those for whose benefit we are writing; and second, that if we are right in our view that the principle we are discussing is utterly unsound, is contrary to the rules of evidence, and is certain to lead astray those who submit to its guidance, we have taken the foundation completely from under the Revised Version of 1881 and of every other Version that rests upon the same corrupt Greek Text, or one constructed upon the same principles.

We bring our remarks under this heading to a close by quoting the following from Scrivener’s Plain Introduction to the Text of the NT (1883):

“Dr. Hort’s system is entirely destitute of historical foundation.”

And again:

“We are compelled to repeat as emphatically as ever our strong conviction that the hypothesis to which he (Dr. Hort) has devoted so many laborious years is destitute not only of historical foundation but of all probability resulting from the internal goodness of the text which its adoption would force upon us.”

He quotes Dr. Hort as saying, “We cannot doubt that Luke 23:34 comes from an extraneous source,” and he replies, “Nor can we, on our part, doubt that the system which entails such consequences is hopelessly self-condemned.”

We conclude therefore, from what has been under consideration up to this point in our inquiry, that the R.V. should be rejected, not only because of the many unsupported departures from the A.V. it contains, but because the Greek Text whereon it is based was constructed upon a principle so unsound that the resulting Text could not be other than “hopelessly” corrupt.


1.For some centuries after Christ all Greek manuscripts were written entirely in capital letters. Such mss. (the most ancient) are called “uncial.” In later times the custom of using capitals at the beginning only of a sentence, or for proper names, came into existence. That style of writing is called “cursive.”

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