by E.W. Bullinger

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How to Enjoy the Bible
E. W. Bullinger

Part II—The Words

Canon XII

The Place of Various Readings

In speaking on or of the "words" of God, references are sometimes made to variations in the Original Text of the Old and New Testaments.

It may be well, therefore, to put the general reader, who has not time to devote to this subject, in possession of a few elementary facts in connection with it.

The Word of God has come down to us in manuscript form; and not until the invention of printing was it possible to have it in any other form.*

* This (in England) was in 1455, but as early as 1475 there are two dated books. These are in Hebrew. The first printed books of the Bible were the Hebrew Psalter, 1477, and the Hebrew Pentateuch, 1482 (Bologna).

These manuscripts are written by different hands at different times, and existing copies date from the fourth century.

Translations of them made before the fourth century are also in existence, though the MSS of these versions (still in existence) are, of course, not so old.

There are also many quotations from these MSS preserved in the writings of those who lived before the fourth century, though the MSS of their works are not so old.

These transcriptions all bear the marks of human frailties and infirmities, notwithstanding the great care in copying them. In spite of all the safeguards invented and provided for insuring accuracy, there are many variations.

The human element in the transmission of the Divine Word is neither more nor less than in the transmission or ordinary literature.

Variations in reading are the normal characteristics of all manuscripts, and it has ever been a copyist's or editor's aim to spare no pains in securing a good copy and a sound text.

The mere mechanical act of copying, extending as it did for many hours a day, and often for many months and even years, not to speak of drowsy intelligences and numbed fingers in a draughty scriptorium, will easily account for deviations from an authentic text.

The many editions of Shakespeare, carried out by numerous editors, show a remarkable tendency to a progressive deterioration in textual accuracy.*

* Especially in the four well-known folio editions between 1623 and 1685. Milton, Pope, Gray, Keats, Shelley, Cowper, and Wordsworth have all suffered at the hands of their editors. Dr. Bentley's outrages, in 1732, on the text of Paradise Lost are inexcusable.

The original texts of the Bible have had a singularly happy exemption from the treatment of the texts of modern writers.

Emendations are confined for the most part to the pages of commentators, while the vast majority of textual variations are trivial in the extreme, very many being only a difference in spelling. Those which are really vital and which affect doctrine or teaching may be counted on one's fingers, if not on those of one hand.

There are many, of course, which are full of interest, and are of more or less importance. We speak first of


The Hebrew MSS (The Old Testament).

There were two great schools, or recensions of MSS, where they were transcribed between the sixth and tenth centuries. One at Babylon in the East, and the other at Tiberias in the West.

The variations are neither numerous* nor important, being confined to the vowel-points with a few exceptions.

* They are estimated at 864 for the whole of the Old Testament.

There are five great standard Codices from which all subsequent copies have been made.

  1. The Codex of Hillel, which Rabbi Kimchi (cent. xii.) says he saw at Toledo.
  2. The Codex of Ben Asher, President of the School at Tiberias in the early part of the eleventh century, known as the Jerusalem Codex.
  3. The Codex of Ben Naphtali, President at Babylon, and hence known as the Babylonian Codex.
  4. The Pentateuch of Jericho, which was held by Elias Levita to be the most perfect and correct.
  5. The Codex of Sinai, also of the Pentateuch, and differing from that of Jericho only in some of the accents.

Besides these there are various readings noted in the Massorah, i.e., the writing in small characters which is seen at the head, foot, and in the margins of all the ancient Hebrew MSS. No one MS contains the whole of this Massorah, and no one man had set himself to collect the whole from vast numbers of MSS until Dr. Christian D. Ginsburg devoted his life to it. His edition of the Hebrew Bible is the only one which exhibits these Various Readings; and his Introduction to the Hebrew Bible is the only one which contains a complete history of the Hebrew written and printed text.

Unfortunately, the work was so long neglected by scholars, that we do not yet possess an Apparatus Criticus or recognized list of MSS. The scholars of various nations have not yet agreed on a universal or standard list by which the MSS may be referred to or known by letters, numerals, or symbols, as is the case with the New Testament. This is a great work which is still needed to be done.


The New Testament.

The Greek MSS of the New Testament (in whole or in part) are over five hundred in number.

They are divided into two great classes, known as Uncial (i.e., written in capital letters), or Cursive (i.e., written in running-hand). The former are mostly earlier than the eighth century, the latter date from the tenth.

There is a further classification, according to certain characteristics, into Recensions (which in the case of printed books, we speak of as Editions).

  1. The Alexandrine or Egyptian.
  2. The Western or Occidental.
  3. The Oriental or Byzantine.

But the collators and editors of these MSS are not all agreed, and their reckonings often overlap. There are other Recensions than these recognized and named by other scholars and critics.

The chief MSS of the New Testament are known and referred to as follows:—

"A" is the recognized symbol of the Codex Alexandrinus. The MS is so called because it was brought from Alexandria by Cyrillus Lucaris, a native of Crete and patriarch of Constantinople, who sent it by Sir Thomas Rowe, the British Ambassador, to King Charles I. The proprietor of the MS, before it came into the hands of Cyrillus Lucaris, had written a subscription in Arabic, stating that it was written by Thecla, a Christian martyr, about 1300 years before. This would make the date of the MS about the end of the fourth century. It could not be earlier, as it contains a letter of Athanasius. It is preserved in the British Museum.

"B" is the Codex Vaticanus. This MS is so called because it is preserved in the Vatican Library at Rome.

It is generally supposed to belong to the fourth or fifth century.

"C" is the Codex Ephraemi. It is so called because the MS contains, in the first part, several Greek writings of Ephrem the Syrian. It is generally believed to have been written in Egypt in the fifth or sixth century. It is preserved in the National Library at Paris.

"D(1)" is the Codex Bezae. It is known also as the Codex Cantabrigensis because it was presented, in 1581, by Theodore Beza to the library of the University of Cambridge, where it is still preserved. It is believed to belong to the fifth century. It contains only the Gospels and Acts.

"D(2)" is another MS found by Beza at Clermont and called the Codex Claromontanus. It contains the Pauline Epistles and Hebrews; and is in the National Library at Paris.

")" denotes the Codex Sinaiticus, which is regarded by some as the most ancient and important of any of the MSS at present known. It is so called from the fact that it was discovered by Tischendorf so recently as 1844 and 1859 at the Convent of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. Its date may be fixed about the middle of the fourth century, and its authority is very great.

It will be noted that, from the dates assigned to the discovery of these several MSS, they were for the most part unknown to the translators of the Authorized Version; so that due allowance must be made for the weight (or the reverse) of their authority when we have to consider any particular passage.

The above are the principal Uncial MSS. There are many more; and it is quite possible that some of the later Cursive MSS may be transcripts of MSS still older than any of the existing Uncial MSS. So that no one critic can speak with absolute authority.


The Ancient Versions.

have also to be taken into account. Passing over the Jewish (Hebrew) Targums or Commentaries,

1. The oldest is the Greek Version of the Old Testament, made about BC 277,* for the Jews dwelling in Egypt. It is known as THE SEPTUAGINT, from the traditional belief that it was made by seventy or seventy-two translators. Hence it is referred to by the abbreviation LXX or by the Greek letter (sigma) for this number, s.

* It could not be earlier than this date because in Proverbs 8:18 gaisoV, a word of Gallic origin, is used for a short javelin, first known in Greece by an invasion of Gauls in BC 278.

2. The Peschito, or Old Syriac Version, was one of several versions made by Christians in the earliest period of the Christian Era. It is called "Peschito," which means literal, and it was so named because it was a literal translation from the Hebrew. It was made at the close of the first century or the early part of the second century.

There is a later Syriac Version, made in AD 488-518. It is known as the "Philoxenian," or "Syro-Philoxenian" Version, from the name of Philoxenus, Bishop of Hierapolis, in Syria, who employed Polycarp to make it.

3. The Coptic (or Memphitic) Version was made from the Septuagint in the third century, but not printed till 1716, at Oxford.

4. The Ethiopic (or Abyssinian) Version was made certainly in the second century.

5. The Armenian Version, made also from the Septuagint towards the close of Cent. IV, or early in Cent. V.

6. The Vulgate Version dates from the fourth century. As Latin gradually displaced the Greek as the common language of the people, so there soon sprang up a number of versions in that language. These were translated, part by one translator and part by another, until one complete copy was made by combining the several parts. This was known by the name of Itala, or the Italic Version, called by Jerome sometimes the Vulgate (or Common) Version, and sometimes the Old. Both Old and New Testaments were translated from the Greek.

This was revised by Jerome, who re-translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew. The work occupied him from AD 385-405, and by the year 604 had superseded all others, being known as the Vulgate Version. Since the seventh century it has been adopted by the Church of Rome, and in the sixteenth century it was declared by the Council of Trent to be the "Authentic" Version.

With the multiplication of copies came, inevitably, the multiplication of errors. An attempt at correcting these was ordered by Charlemagne in the eighth century. A further revision was attempted by Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the eleventh century, and by other scholars during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

It was first printed by Robert Stephens in 1528, and a revision of this was printed by Pope Sixtus V at a printing office set up in the Vatican in 1590. So many corrections were introduced by Sixtus V that another edition was prepared and printed by Pope Clement VIII in 1592, which contained even more and greater divergencies, which gave Protestants like Thomas James the opportunity of exposing the numerous additions, omissions, and alterations between these two Editions.

In spite of all this, the Vulgate has its place in the consideration of the subject of Various Readings.


The Printed Text of the Greek Testament.

The manuscripts mentioned above have been collated at various times by many who have, from this, been termed "Textual Critics."

These are quite different from the more modern generation of the so-called "Higher" Critics.

The former base their conclusions on documentary evidence which they see before them; while the latter base theirs on hypotheses which are the productions of their own imagination.

Some of the Textual Critics have published from time to time Greek Testaments which they have compiled from the manuscripts to which they have had access, and to which they have attached the greatest weight.

The most important are as follows:—

The Complutensian Polyglot 1514
Erasmus (1st Edition) 1516
Stephens 1546-9
Beza* 1624
Elzivir 1624
Griesbach 1774-5
Scholz 1830-6
Lachmann 1831-50
Tischendorf 1841-72
Tregelles 1856-72
Alford 1862-71
Wordsworth 1870
Revisers' Text 1881
Westcott and Hort 1881-1903
Scrivener 1886
Weymouth 1886
Nestle 1904


* This, with the Elzivir, forms the Text used by the AV translators, and is known as the Textus Receptus, or Received Text.

All these have based their respective Texts on a careful consideration of the value they put upon the various MSS, Versions, etc.

We have put Dr. Scrivener's Text among these; but it differs from them all in one important particular which makes it the very best Text for general use.

It gives the Textus Receptus, but prints every word which is the subject of a Various Reading in thicker type, quoting at the foot of the page the initial letter of the names of the above Editors, according as they are in favour of or reject the Reading in question.

All that now remains to be done is for us to give an idea of the principles on which they base their respective Texts, so that our readers may, as the net result of our own labours, be able to estimate, each one for himself, the value of the authority for or against any particular Reading.

GRIESBACH (G.) based his Text on the theory of Three Recensions of the Greek manuscripts (referred to above p. 409), regarding the collective witness of each Recension as one; so that a Reading having the authority of all three was regarded by him as genuine. It is only a theory, but it has a foundation of truth, and will always retain a value peculiarly its own.

LACHMANN (L.), disregarding these Recensions, professed to give the Text based only on the evidence of witnesses up to the end of the fourth century. All were taken into account up to that date; and all were discarded after it, whether Uncial MSS, or Cursives, or other documentary evidence. He even adopted Readings which were palpably errors, on the simple ground that it was the best attested Reading up to the fourth century.

TISCHENDORF (T.) followed more or less the principles laid down by Lachmann, but not to the neglect of other evidence as furnished by Ancient Versions and Fathers. In his eighth edition, however, he approaches nearer to Lachmann's principles.

TREGELLES (Tr.) produced his Text on principles which were substantially the same as Lachmann, but he admits the evidence of uncial manuscripts down to the seventh century, and includes a careful testing of a wide circle of other authorities.

The chief value of his Text lies not only in this, but in its scrupulous fidelity and accuracy; and is probably the best and most exact presentation of the Original Text of the Old Testament ever published.

ALFORD (A.) constructed his Text, he says, "by following, in all ordinary cases, the united or preponderating evidence of the most ancient authorities."

When these disagree he takes later evidence into account, and to a very large extent.

Where this evidence is divided he endeavours to discover the cause of the variation, and gives great weight to internal probability; and, in some cases, relies on his own independent judgment.

He says, "that Reading has been adopted which, on the whole, seemed most likely to have stood in the Text. Such judgments are, of course, open to be questioned."

Consequently, he sometimes is found adopting a Reading contrary to all the ancient manuscripts. A word is retained because it is "more usual"; or, it is omitted because it appears to be a "grammatical correction" of some transcriber; or, it is rejected because it seems to have been inserted "carelessly from memory"; or, is a "mechanical repetition."

All this necessarily deprives his Text of much of its weight, especially where he differs from the other Editors; and places it far below them in critical value; though, where it is in agreement with them, it adds to the weight of the evidence as a whole.

It follows, from the above, that, for the general reader, who has not had the opportunity of becoming expert in the value of the evidence of Ancient Manuscripts and Versions, it is better to be guided by a consensus of the above Textual Editors.

When Tregelles is supported by any (one or more) of the others, his Readings may be relied upon as being the best attested and most worthy of being regarded as the original and inspired Text of the Greek New Testament.

We have already said that the best Greek Testament to use is that of Dr. Scrivener, not merely because it is not a new Text of his own, but because it gives the Received Text which the Authorized Version practically follows, while every word which is the subject of a Various Reading is, as we have said, printed in different type. The student, therefore, is able to see at a glance every such word; and at the foot of the page may learn which of the above Critical Editors favours or rejects the variation.

On the other hand, if he uses any of the other Texts, he has, after all, to refer to the Textus Receptus to see in what the variation consists.

In this, and in all our other works, we have adopted the plan of using the initials of the Various Critics, putting the word "All" where they are all in agreement as to the omission or the retention of any Various Reading.

If the Bible student desires to go further, then, without the necessity of consulting either the MSS or all the Printed Texts referred to above, he will find all that he needs in a little book entitled Textual Criticism of the New Testament for English Bible Students, by C. E. Stuart (published by Samuel Ragster & Sons, London.)


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