An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate – Part 1

In Frederick Nolan, Preservationist Textual Criticism, Textual Criticism by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

Section I of Frederick Nolan’s An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate or Received Text of the New Testament

(The complete book found here. The whole series can be found under the category Frederick Nolan)

Section I.a


ALTHOUGH the art of printing was applied, at an early period, to the purposes of sacred learning; the slow progress which Greek literature made in Europe, from the difficulties of acquiring the Greek language, prevented an edition of the New Testament from being attempted; until a comparatively late period. At nearly a century subsequent to the invention of printing, the Complutensian Polyglot was undertaken, under the patronage of Cardinal Ximenes, which contained the first printed copy of the Greek Testament. From the edition which was then prepared for publication, the subsequent editors varied little. Erasmus, who anticipated the publication of this work by his third edition, formed his fourth on similar principles ; Stephens and Beza adopted his text with scarcely any variation; and Elzevir, in whose edition the Received Text is properly contained, very closely followed the steps of his learned predecessors.

From the text, which has thus grown into general use, all those deviations are calculated, which constitute the various readings of the Greek manuscripts. Stephens, in his splendid edition, which forms the basis of the Received Text, had noted a variety of those in his margin; having collated fifteen manuscripts, besides the Complutensian edition, for the purpose of rendering his text more pure and perfect. In the editions of Curcelaeus and Bishop Fell, the number was considerably augmented from a collation of additional manuscripts. But in the elaborate edition of Dr. Mills they received an infinitely greater accession; being computed to amount to thirty thousand. The labors of subsequent collators are asserted to have augmented the number with more than an hundred thousand; though on what grounds I am not at present acquainted.

So great a number of various readings as has been collected by the labors of these editors, has necessarily tended to weaken the authority of the Received Text; as it is at least possible that a great proportion of them may constitute a part of the original text of Scripture. And various expedients have been, in consequence, devised, in order to determine the authentic readings from the spurious, and to fix. the character of those manuscripts which are chiefly deserving of credit, in ascertaining the genuine text of the sacred canon. The most ingenious and important of these expedients is decidedly that suggested in the classification of manuscripts which originated with the German critics; which had been suggested by MM. Bengel and Seinler, but reduced to practice by the learned and accurate M. Griesbach.

It is not to be conceived that the original editors of the New Testament were wholly destitute of plan in selecting those manuscripts, out of which they were to form the text of their printed editions. In the sequel it will appear, that they were not altogether ignorant of two classes of manuscripts; one of which contains the text which we have adopted from them; and the other that text which has been adopted by M. Griesbach. A project had been also conceived by Dr. Bentley, to dispose of the immense number of various readings which had been collected by Dr. Mills; to class his manuscripts by the Vulgate, and to form a Corrected Text, which should literally accord. with that translation as corrected by the hand of St. Jerome.

But these schemes have been surpassed and superseded by the more highly labored system of M. Griesbach. His project for classing, the Greek manuscripts, in order to form a more correct text, is not only formed on more comprehensive views, but rested on a higher basis. Instead of the authority of St. Jerome, who flourished in the fifth century, he builds upon that of Origen who flourished its the third. Instead of the existence of two species of text, one of which corresponds with the Vulgate, and the other with the generality of Greek manuscripts, he contemplates the existence of three, which he terms the Alexandrian, the Western, and the Byzantine, from the different regions in which he supposes them to have prevailed.

According. to this division, he has formed his classification of manuscripts, which he consequently distributes into three kinds. A choice among their respective texts he determines by the authority of Origen; whose testimony seems entitled to this respect, from the attention, which he, above all the ancients, bestowed upon biblical criticism. Finding a striking coincidence to exist between his scripture quotations and the celebrated manuscript brought from Alexandria, which was the scene of Origen’s literary labors, he thence determines the manuscripts, which belong to that class which he distinguishes as the Alexandrian. The manuscripts, which differ from this class, and coincide, in their characteristic peculiarities, with those which have been directly imported to us from Constantinople, he distinguishes as the Byzantine. His third class, which contains the Western text, consists of a set of manuscripts, which have been principally found in Europe, and which possess many coincidences with the Latin translation, where they differ from the peculiar readings of both the preceding classes.

To the manuscripts of the Alexandrian class, it may be easily conceived, the highest rank is ascribed by M. Griesbach: the authority of a few of these outweighing in his estimation that of a multitude of the Byzantine. The peculiar readings which he selects from the manuscripts of this class, he confirms by a variety of collateral testimony, principally drawn from the quotations of the ancient fathers, and the versions made in the primitive ages. To the authority of Origen he however ascribes a paramount weight, talking it as the standard by which his collateral testimony is to be estimated; and using their evidence merely to support his testimony, or to supply it when it is deficient. The readings which he supports by this weight of testimony, he considers genuine; and introducing a number of them into the sacred page, he has thus formed his Corrected Text of the New Testament.

The necessary result of this process, as obviously proving the existence of a number of spurious readings in the Received Text, has been that of shaking the authority of our Authorized Version, with the foundation on which it is rested. Nor have the innovations of M. Griesbach become formidable, merely on account of their number, but their nature; as his corrections have extended to proscribing three important texts, in the fate of which the doctrinal integrity of the inspired text becomes necessarily implicated: for, a proof of the partial corruption of the sacred canon being once established in important matters, its character for general fidelity is necessarily involved. And what heightens the alarm which may be naturally felt at the attempts thus made to undermine the authority of the Received Text, is the singular ability with which they have been carried into execution. The deservedly high character which M. Griesbach’s elaborate work has attained, affords the justest cause of apprehension from its singular merit. The comprehensive brevity of his plan, and the scrupulous accuracy of his execution, have long and must ever command our respect. Such are concessions which I frankly make to M. Griesbach, while I withhold any applause from his critical emendations. However divided the opinions may be which are held on the purity of his text, the merit of his notes is not to be denied. As a general and correct index to the great body of Greek manuscripts, they are an invaluable treasure to the scholar, and necessary acquisition to the divine. Indeed, admitting his classification, of manuscripts to be erroneous, as I am inclined to believe his text is corrupt, yet from the clear and comprehensive manner in which the various readings are disposed, by merely varying the principle of arrangement, they may be applied to any system of classification, whenever a better is devised.

But these observations are strictly limited to the accuracy of his execution; to the merit of his plan I have many objections to make. In his predilection for the Alexandrian text, which he conceives he has discovered in the works of Origen, I am far from acquiescing. For I cannot see that M. Griesbach has evinced, by the production of characteristic affinities, that the text used by Origen was rather the Alexandrian than the Byzantine. There is in fact an indecision is Origen’s testimony, arising from those readings, termed inconstant, in which he quotes as well against, as with the Alexandrian text, that destroys the force of his partial testimony in its favor. Did they merely consist in occasional deviations from this text, they would be of little moment: for Origen, like every divine, in quoting from memory, and by accommodation, must have constantly deserted the letter of the text. But when, his deviations from one text prove to be coincidences with another, there is something more than accident in the variation. There seem, indeed, to be three modes of accounting for this circumstance; any one of which being admitted, destroys the weight of his testimony, wherever it is placed. He either quoted from both texts, or one of them has been interpolated from his writings, or his writings interpolated from it. Until the possibility of these cases is disproved, it seems vain to appeal to his testimony in favor of any one to which he but generally and occasionally conforms.

But on whatever side his testimony is placed, there seems at first sight to be little reason to doubt, that it cannot be the Alexandrian. It is, indeed, true, that he was a catechist of Alexandria, but this circumstance goes but a short way to prove that the text which he used was that which, in the German mode of classification, is termed the Alexandrian. The fact is, that he lived and died in a state of excommunication from that church, in which his principles were execrated, and his writings condemned: and the principal part of his commentaries were published in Palestine, instead of Alexandria. From the former circumstance we may infer, that in adopting a text, the Alexandrian church was not influenced by him; from the latter, that, on the same subject, he was not influenced by it; but followed the copies of the country in which his writings were published and dispersed. And this deduction is confirmed in an extraordinary manner by internal and collateral evidence. We are assured, on the highest authority, that while Palestine adopted the text of Origen, Alexandria adopted that of Hesychius. And an extraordinary proof of this assertion exists in the manuscript termed the Alexandrian, as brought from that city. It contains a complete copy of the version of the Septuagint, which, it is well known, Origen corrected, and inserted in his Hexapla; yet while a nearly perfect copy of his revisal is preserved in the Vatican manuscript, it is. found to be different from that which is contained in the Alexandrian.

It is indeed with little appearance of justice that Origen’s authority can be claimed in favor of the Alexandrian text. At an early period he settled at Caesarea in Palestine: here he was ordained presbyter, and had a special license to expound the scriptures: and here the principal part of his commentaries were composed and published; which were subsequently collected by Pamphilus and Eusebius his professed apologists and imitators, and deposited in the library of Caesarea. By those works the latter extraordinary person, when bishop of that city, was assisted in revising that edition of the scripture at the command of Constantine, which, it is a curious fact, became the basis of the Byzantine text, instead of the Alexandrian. As to the churches of Rome and Alexandria, they respectively convened councils, in which he was condemned; and in the sentence which was pronounced against him, all the churches acquiesced, except those of Palestine, Phoenicia, Achaia, and Arabia.

From the authority of Origen, little support can be consequently claimed to the Alexandrian text, or to the German method of classification. And deserted by it, that text must be sustained by the character and coincidence of the manuscripts, in which it is preserved. This, it cannot be dissembled, is the natural and proper basis, on which this system of classification rests. The extraordinary agreement of those manuscripts, not only with each other, but with the western and oriental versions of the scriptures, is so striking and uniform as to induce a conviction with many, that they contain the genuine text of scripture.

Nor can this conformity, which appears at first sight extraordinary, be in reason denied. It is asserted with one consent, by all who have inspected the principal of those manuscripts that contain the Alexandrian text, and who have compared their peculiar readings with the Old Italic and Syriac versions. It had been observed by M. Simon before the German classification had existed even in conception, and it has been confirmed by Prof. Michaelis since it has been formed. The latter profound orientalist has formed those deductions, which have been already made, from the conformity of the witnesses, who are thus coincident, though remotely situated; that, as currents preserve, by their uniform tenor, the purity with which they have descended from their common source, we may learn from the united testimony of those witnesses, what is to be considered the genuine text of Scripture.

Such is the groundwork of M. Griesbach’s system, which is so broad and deep, as not to be shaken by the destruction of its outworks. If it is susceptible of any impression, its very foundation must be sapped: and we must commence by accounting for the extraordinary affinities by which it is held together. A simpler principle must be in fact suggested to account for those affinities, than that which traces them to the original publication of the sacred text, by the inspired writers.

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