« AnteriorContinua »
is not to be imagined, whatever might be the inclinations of some individuals, or of particular churches, to corrupt the Scriptures, that all churches of all nations would agree in the same interpolations or omissions. Some of the countries where christianity was professed were beyond the limits of the Roman empire: and it is not to be believed that the christians of these countries would suffer their versions to be altered to conform to the peculiarities of the church of Rome. The general agreement, therefore, of the ancient versions with the Greek copies which are now extant, forms a very strong presumption in favour of the genuineness of the books of the New Testament. Nevertheless, as the Received Text is not perfectly correct, the ancient versions are often of singular use in discovering the true reading of a doubtful passage. They are sometimes preferable even to manuscripts themselves; for some of these versions were made from manuscripts which were more ancient and more correct than any which are now extant. They are not all of equal value, some being of greater antiquity, and more correctly translated than others. Some indeed are not original versions, but are merely translations of preceding versions.
Of all the ancient versions the Syriac is reckoned to be of the most remote antiquity and of the highest authority. There are two Syriac versions. The most ancient and valuable, called the Peshito, was brought into Europe A. D. 1552, and printed at Vienna at the expense of the Emperor Maximilian. It contains only those books which according to Eusebius were universally acknowledged; together with the Epistle of James: and it is in general use among the Syrian christians of every sect. These are strong presumptive evidences of its great antiquity.
A later Syriac version, more literal, but less elegant, was made in the sixth century under the inspection of Philoxenus, bishop of Hierapolis, from whom it is called the Philoxenian Version. An edition of this was published at Oxford by Professor White, A. D. 1778.
Two very ancient versions of the New Testament, of high repu tation, in the old Egyptian language, for the use of the christians who abounded in Egypt, are still extant. One is called the Coptic, the other, the Sahidic. The former is the dialect of the Lower, the latter of the Upper Egypt. The Sahidic version has never yet been published. Two valuable manuscripts of it are in the British Museum, from which some curious readings were extracted by the late Dr. Woide, who conjectures that this version was made in the second century. The Coptic version is still read in the churches of Lower Egypt, though it is not understood. It is accompanied with an Ara. bic translation which is more intelligible to the hearers.
The Ethiopic version is used in Abyssinia. It contains the whole
of the New Testament, and is supposed to have been made in the fourth century. It agrees with the Alexandrine edition. This version was first published at Rome, A. D. 1548, by three Ethiopian editors. They had a very imperfect copy of the book of the Acts, the chasms of which, that is, as they acknowledge, the greater part of the book, they supplied by translating from the Greek and Latin into the Ethiopic. Similar liberties have probably been taken with other books, which greatly impairs the credit of the version; of which, if a genuine copy could be obtained, the authority would be very high. Mr. Bruce the celebrated traveller brought over a copy of the Old Testament, but he could not succeed in procuring the New *.
Many Arabic versions are extant, but it is believed that none of them is of greater antiquity than the seventh century. The Armenian version was made in the fifth century: it would be of great value if genuine copies could be procured, but those which we have are notoriously corrupted from the Latin.
There are many Latin versions of the New Testament, some of which are of great antiquity, and some are full of barbarisms. By order of pope Benedict XIV. A. D. 1749, a magnificent edition of four of these versions was published at Rome in four folio volumes. These are sometimes called the Italic versions, to distinguish them from the Vulgate.
The Latin Vulgate version was made by Jerome in the fourth cen◄ tury, by order of pope Damasus. Jerome was well qualified for the office by his abilities, learning, and industry: he performed it with great care, and completed his undertaking A. D. 384. This translation was very generally received and read in the Latin churches. The Council of Trent pronounced it to be authentic, and ordered it to be used wherever the Bible was publicly read, and in all disputations, sermons, and expositions. In pursuance of an order of this council a pompous edition of the Vulgate was printed at Louvain A. D. 1573. Sixtus V. published a new edition A. D. 1590, which he declared to be the authentic Vulgate, and that it was to continue for ever: notwithstanding which his successor Clement VIII. published another edition very different from and in some passages contradictory to that of Sixtus: this he asserted to be the only authentic copy:-a difference of judgement which exposed the pretensions of the popes to infallibility to the sarcastic animadversions of the protestant writers.
The protestant divines of the sixteenth century underrated the value of the Vulgate version, from opposition to the papists who were too eagerly attached to it. The truth is, that the Vulgate is found in its most important various readings to agree with the most approved
• Marsh's Michaelis, vol. ii. chap. vii. sect. 17:
manuscripts, and with the ancient versions of the best authority: so that the character of this version has risen greatly in the estimation of modern critics*.
III. The Received Text is corrected by comparing it with quotations from the New Testament which occur in the works of the ancient ecclesiastical writers.
These quotations are very numerous in the writings of the Fathers from the second century downwards, and are of the greatest use in rectifying the text of the New Testament.
It ought, however, to be remembered that these writers sometimes quoted from memory, and sometimes merely by way of accommodation; in which cases they often quote loosely and inaccurately, and their citations are of little use. Citations therefore are of the greatest value when the writers profess to quote from manuscripts which lie before them, and especially if they criticize or comment upon the text itself. And in disputed passages this is sometimes the only cri terion by which we can judge how the text was read by the author who cites it. For the editors of the works of the Fathers have sometimes taken the liberty to alter the reading of the author whose works they publish, to make it correspond with the Received Text. Thus, in the works of Gregory Nyssen, the printed text reads, 1 Tim. iii. 16: "God manifest in the flesh :" whereas it is evident from his comment, that the word God was not in his copy; nor is it found in any ecclesiastical writer till the sixth century +.
With these limitations, quotations from the New Testament which occur in the works of ancient ecclesiastical writers are of the highest value and authority for they quoted from manuscripts of more remote antiquity than any which are now extant : so that their authority in favour of a various reading is sometimes paramount to every other.
The ecclesiastical writers sometimes cite as scripture, texts which are not to be found in any manuscript or version now extant. On the other hand, their silence with respect to some disputed texts is a demonstration that such texts were not in their copies. That 1 Tim. iii. 16, "God manifest in the flesh;" and 1 John v. 7, "There are three that bear record in heaven," &c. were never cited by any ecclesiastical writer before the fifth or the sixth century, notwithstanding the vehemence with which the Arian controversy was conducted, is a full proof that these texts were not to be found in any manuscripts then existing, and therefore that they are certainly spurious.
The works of those writers who are called heretics, such as Valen. tinian, Marcion, and others, are as useful in ascertaining the value of a reading as those of the fathers who are reputed orthodox: for the
* See Michaelis on N. T. with Marsh's Notes, vol. ii, ch. vii
heretics were often more learned and acute, and equally honest. Citations from scripture even in the works of the ancient enemies of christianity, such as Celsus and Porphyry, also have their use. They show what was the common reading in their time *.
IV. Attempts have been made to correct the Received Text by Critical Conjecture.
This is a remedy which ought never to be applied but with the utmost caution, especially as we are furnished with so many helps for correcting the text from manuscripts, versions, and ecclesiastical writers. This caution is doubly necessary where the proposed emendation affects a text which is of great importance in theological controversy; as the judgement of the critic will naturally be biassed in favour of his own opinions. It ought perhaps to be laid down as a general rule, that the Received Text is in no case to be altered by critical, or at least by theological conjecture, how ingenious and plausible soever.
Nevertheless there is no reason why critical conjecture should be entirely excluded from the New Testament, any more than from the works of any other ancient author; and some very plausible conjectures, of no inconsiderable importance, have been suggested by men of great learning and sagacity, which, to say the least, merit very attentive consideration. See particularly Matth. xxviii. 17. John i. 1 ; vi. 4; and Romans ix. 5.+
Critical Editions of the Greek Testament.-Mill, Kuster, Bengel, Wetstein, Mattha, Alter, Birch, Griesbach.
AFTER the publication of the beautiful Elzevir edition of the New Testament in 1624, the learned world appeared to remain satisfied with the Received Text, as if it were absolutely perfect and incapable of improvement, till the commencement of the eighteenth century, when the text of the New Testament again became the object of diligent and accurate revision.
1. The first thing which roused the attention of the learned to this interesting inquiry was the appearance of the celebrated edition of Dr. John Mill, which was published at Oxford, A. D. 1707. It was the fruit of thirty years' laborious application; and the author survived the publication but fourteen days. He was encouraged and assisted in the work by Dr. John Fell, bishop of Oxford. He took as his text the third edition of Stephens; and from ancient manu+ lbid. ch. x,
* Marsh's Michaelis, ibid. ch. ix.
scripts, versions, and quotations, he has collected about thirty thousand various readings, which he has printed under the text. His collations are made with great diligence, sagacity, and fidelity. In his Prolegomena he introduces a description of the Canon of the New Testament, a history of the text, and an account of his own undertaking. He was the first writer who gave an accurate and clear account of the manuscripts and other authorities which he used. He made no alteration in the text; but his opinion on particular readings is contained in his Notes and Prolegomena. Michaelis says, that with Mill's edition commences the manhood of criticism, with respect to the New Testament; and that this work is absolutely necessary to every critic*.
2. Ludolphus Kuster, A. D. 1710, published at Rotterdam a new and correct edition of Mill's Greek Testament, enriched with various readings from twelve manuscripts not collated by Mill, some of which were of considerable antiquity and value +.
3. John Albert Bengel published a critical edition of the Greek Testament at Tubingen, A. D. 1734. He was a man of great ability and learning, and of high character for integrity and piety. He made considerable improvements in the Received Text; but, that he might not be charged with arbitrary innovation, he made it a rule to introduce no alteration which had not been sanctioned by some printed edition, excepting in the Apocalypse. Select various readings he placed at the bottom of the page, distinguishing their different gradations of authority by the five first letters of the Greek alphabet— (a) expressing that the reading was, in his estimation, genuine, (B) probable, (y) uncertain, (8) improbable, and (e) certainly spurious though by some critics approved. The excellence of Bengel's character, and the orthodoxy of his sentiments, brought biblical criticism into repute among the German theologians. Bengel's various readings are chiefly taken from Mill, with the addition, however, of some valuable ones of his own collected from manuscripts and other authorities. His "Introductio in Crisin" contains a clear, concise and correct account of manuscripts and editions, together with some ❝ excellent critical rules ‡.
4. The celebrated edition of John James Wetstein was published at Amsterdam in two volumes folio, A. D. 1751, 1752. Of this " edition Michaelis says, that "it is of all editions of the Greek Testament the most important, and the most necessary for those who are engaged in sacred criticism.” And his learned and acute translator and annotator, Dr. Herbert Marsh, now bishop of Llandaff, speaks of
See Mill's Prolegomena. Marsh's Michaelis, vol. ii. ch. xii. sect. 1.
+ Kuster's Præf. Marsh's Michaelis, ibid.
Bengelii Apparatus Criticus. Marsh's Michaelis, vol. ii, ch. xii. sect. 1. p. 464.