An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate – Part 2

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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)

Section I.b.


And on descending to a closer view of the subject., and considering the affinity observed to exist between the Old Italic version and the original Greek, there is at the first glance something suspicious in the conformity, which betrays an alliance of a recent date. For this affinity was not discoverable in the Italic version of St Jerome’s days. At the command of Pope Damasus, he undertook the revisal of the Latin translation, on account of its deviation from the original. This undertaking alone would sufficiently declare St. Jerome’s opinion of this dissimilarity, which he undertook to remedy; if he had not in numerous places pointed it out. And his declarations are fully supported by the testimony of St. Augustine , who was no friend to innovation, and who to the last declined using the version retouched by St. Jerome.

To approach, somewhat nearer, to the source of the difficulty, we must look from the period which produced the Vulgate of St. Jerome, to that which brought it into general use. About the middle of the sixth century, this mystery begins to clear up: At that period, Cassiodorus, who observed the dissimilarity still existing between the original Greek and Latin translation, which Pope Damasus had in vain undertaken to remedy by publishing a more correct version, took a more effectual mode of curing the evil. Calling in the aid of the Greek original, and taking St. Jerome’s version as its best interpreter, he undertook the correction of the Old Italic by the Vulgate and Greek. And the method in which he performed this task effectually removed the dissimilarity between them, which had so obstinately continued to his times. The monks who were employed in this work, were commanded to erase the words of the former translation, and to substitute those of the latter; taking due pains to make the new writing resemble the old. The manuscripts thus corrected, in which, on the basis of the old translation, the corrections of the new were engrafted, he had incorporated with the Greek original in the same volume. To the bibles which contained this text he gave the name of Pandects, causing some of them to be copied in the large, or uncial character; and some of them, for the convenience of general readers, to be copied in a smaller.

Here therefore I conceive, the main difficulty before us finds an easy solution. To this cause is to be attributed the affinity discoverable between the Greek and Latin text, in which the patrons of the German method of classification seem to have discovered the marks of a high original, ascending to the apostolical days; but which really claim no higher authors than the illiterate monks of a barbarous age. And here it is likewise conceived the probable origin is traced for that peculiar class of manuscripts termed Codices Graeco-Latini, which are now found of such utility in correcting or in corrupting the sacred text. Every circumstance connected with their history seems to identify them with that part of the Pandects of Cassiodorus, which contained the New Testament. Their age is nearly that of the sixth century, the places from whence they have been taken, the French monasteries. And with these circumstances their general appearance comports. The text is nearly obliterated with corrections; the margin defaced by notes; the orthography abounding with barbarisms; and the Greek original and Latin translation aiming at a literal affinity, yet frequently at variance, not only with each other, but with themselves. Such, or I am grossly deceived, is the true pedigree of the Cambridge, the Laudian, the Clermont, and St. Germain manuscripts, &c. which occupy a principal rank in the new classification.

The first of these manuscripts appears to have been brought out of Egypt, where it was seemingly composed for the use of some convent of Latin ascetics: this appears probable not only from some internal evidence in its margin, but from its ancient and barbarous orthography; the former of which seems to indicate, that it was not composed for domestic purposes; the latter, that it was not written in a country where Greek or Latin was the vernacular, at least the primitive, tongue.

Submitting these observations to the consideration of my readers, I now leave them to estimate what authority they leave to the testimony of the old Italic version, quoted in favor of the German method of classification. To me it appears a matter capable of demonstration, that it can be entitled to none. The undertaking of Jerome and Cassiodorus, had they been silent upon this subject; would prove a dissimilarity once existing between the old Italic and the Vulgate and Greek of the Alexandrian recension. That dissimilarity has now disappeared, and they are found to coincide. To what therefore; but the correction of those pious fathers, is the affinity now to be attributed?

But it will be objected, the affinity of the Old Italic with the Syriac, which cannot be traced through the Greek, as not discoverable in it, still stands in support of the original position ; and while it remains otherwise unaccounted for, the evidence of an affinity derived from the apostolical age is sufficiently apparent to support the German classification. Yet even this difficulty is not too stubborn to be conquered. And, turning to the consideration of the next revision, which the sacred text underwent, it seems to supply us with an easy solution. 

It has been asserted, and we shall see upon good authority, that Charlemagne directed his attention not only to the revision of the text of the Vulgate, but to the correction of the Gospels after the Syriac and Greek. This, it will appear in the sequel, was in his days no impossible task, from the veneration in which Jerusalem was held, and the pilgrimages undertaken to the Holy Land. We have, however, internal evidence of the matter in dispute. For the Latin and Syriac translations are observed to have some literal coincidences, particularly in the Gospels, which are alone said to have been retouched, while the Greek original is not found to partake of the affinity. Professor Alter, in a letter to Professor Birch, describing the version of the Jerusalem Syriac, specifies five places in St. Matthew, in which it agrees literally with the old Italic, while it dissents from the Greek. And Professor Michaelis has observed of the Montfort manuscript, which has been confessedly corrected by the Latin, that in the short space of four chapters of St. Mark, it possesses three literal coincidences with the old Syriac, two of which agree with the old Italic, while they differ from every known manuscript extant in Greek. 

The inferences which follow from these circumstances, are sufficiently obvious. And the affinities thus traced between the Oriental and Western text contained in the old Italic and Syriac versions are seemingly to be attributed, not to the original autographs of the apostles and evangelists, but to the corrected translations of Jerome, Cassiodorus, and Charlemagne. Indeed the existence of affinities between those versions, which the originals do not acknowledge, ought to be taken as definitive in establishing the fact. For surely it is of all suppositions the most improbable, that the latter, which descended immediately from the common source of the whole, should lack that conformity to the original, which was discoverable in two branches, which flowed from it, in collateral channels, and by a devious course. 

And probably these considerations which seem to reduce the distance placed between the Montfort manuscript and those manuscripts which occupy the first rank in the new classification, will entitle the former to somewhat more serious attention than it has latterly received. The general opinion entertained of that manuscript is that it was written in the interval between the years 1519 and 1522, for the purpose of furnishing Erasmus with an authority for inserting the text of the three heavenly witnesses in his third edition of the Greek Testament. But this notion, which is rendered highly improbable by the appearance of the manuscript, is completely refuted by the literal affinities which have been already observed to exist between it and the Syriac. The knowledge of that oriental version in Europe was not earlier than 1552, when it was brought by Moses Mardin to Julius III, and even then there was but one person who could pretend to any knowledge of the language, and who was obliged to receive instruction in it from the foreigner who imported it from the East, before he could assist him in committing it to print. Yet, admitting that the knowledge of this version and language existed thirty years previously, which is contrary to fact, still, an attempt to give an appearance of antiquity to this manuscript, by interpolating it from the Syriac is a supposition rendered grossly improbable by the state of literature at the time. For no fabricator could have ever calculated upon these evidences of its antiquity being called into view. Notwithstanding the curiosity and attention which have been latterly bestowed on these subjects, and which no person, in the days of Erasmus, could have foreseen, they have been but recently observed. These affinities, which cannot be ascribed to accident, consequently claim for this manuscript, or the original from which it was taken, an antiquity which is very remote.

But its affinities with the Syriac are not the only peculiarities, by which it is distinguished. It possesses various readings in which it differs from every known Greek manuscript, amounting to a number, which excited the astonishment of Prof. Michaelis and Dr. Mills. Some of them, we have already seen, are coincident with the Syriac and old Italian version; but as it has other readings which they do not acknowledge, we cannot so easily account for these peculiarities, as by admitting its relation to some other source, which, as not immediately connected with them, is probably very remote. And if this source be traced by the analogy which it preserves to the old Italic, it must be clearly of the very highest kind. 

Though the testimony of the old Italic version cited in favor of the German classification must be given up, still it may be contended, that the concurrence of the Syriac and the Vulgate with the Greek of the Alexandrian recension, is adequate to support the entire weight of this system. To this I reply that with respect to both translations they must stand and fall with the original text and that of a very late edition. The origin of the Vulgate is well known; and not long previous to the commencement of the fifth century. Nor can the Syriac claim a much higher original; the oldest proofs of its antiquity are found in the quotations of St. Ephrem, who flourished near the close of the fourth. Near the beginning of this century, an edition of the original Greek was published by Eusebius of Caesarea under the sanction of Constantine the Great. A brief examination of this point will probably enable us to account for the coincidence between the original Greek and those translations, on which the German mode of classification now rests its entire support. 

The authority with which Eusebius was vested to prepare this edition was conveyed in the following terms, as nearly as the original can be literally expressed. “It seemeth good unto us to submit to your consideration that you would order to be written on parchment prepared for the purpose, by able scribes and accurately skilled in their art, fifty codices, both legible and portable, so as to be useful; namely, of the sacred scriptures whereof chiefly you know the preparation and use, to be necessary to the doctrine of the church.” 

If we now compare the authority thus committed to Eusebius, which seems to have vested him at least with a discretionary power of selecting chiefly those sacred scriptures which he knew to be useful and necessary to the doctrine of the church, with the state of the sacred text as it is now marked in the corrected edition lately put forth by M. Griesbach; we shall perhaps discover how far it is probable he acted to the full extent of his powers, and removed those parts of scripture from the circulated edition, which he judged to be neither conducive to use nor doctrine and which are now marked as probable interpolations in the Received Text. They amount principally to the following; the account of the woman taken in adultery, John 8:53.? viii 11, and three texts which assert in the strongest manner the mystery of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, and Redemption, 1 John v. 7, 1 Tim. iii. 16, Acts xx. 28. 

If two points can be established against Eusebius, that he lacked neither the power, nor the will, to suppress these passages, particularly the latter; there will be fewer objections lying against the charge, with which I am adventurous enough to accuse him; in asserting that the, probabilities are decidedly in favor of his having expunged, rather than the Catholics having inserted, those passages in the sacred text. 

There will be less reason to dispute his power over the copies of the original Greek, when we know that his high reputation for learning, aided by the powerful authority of the emperor, tended to recommend his edition to the exclusion of every other; and when it is remembered that the number of the copies of scripture was in this reign above all others considerably reduced on account of the destruction made of them in the preceding. Let us add to these considerations, these further circumstances, that the pious emperor who had employed him to revise the text had been at considerable pains and expense to multiply copies of the scripture, and that the edition thus dispersed, as altered by Eusebius, was peculiarly accommodated to the opinions of the Arians, who from the reign of Constantine to that of Theodosius held an unlimited sway over the church; and there will arise something more than presumptive proof in favor of the opinion which I have advanced; that at this period an alteration was made in the sacred text, of which it still retains a melancholy evidence, particularly in the translations made from the edition of Eusebius.

With respect to the influence which his edition had upon the sacred text at large, it is most strongly evinced in the early translations. If it can be shown that it affected these, its more powerful operation upon the original cannot be reasonably disputed. 

On reviewing the translations of the eastern text, and considering the Coptic, in the first place, which reads, in the disputed passages, against the Received Text, and with the Corrected, the fact is not to be denied. For it possesses the divisions which Eusebius applied to the scripture, in inventing his celebrated canons, with the aid of Ammonius’s harmony, and accommodating, them to the Gospels. And this remark may be in some measure extended to the Syriac, which, in possessing an affinity to the Vulgate, on which incontestably Eusebius’s edition had some influence, betrays very decisive evidence of having directly proceeded from the same original. But as more immediately to our purpose, it may be stated, that a copy of this version preserved in the Laurentian library, bearing date as far back as the year five hundred and eighty-six, has subjoined to it the canons of Eusebius and the epistle to Carpianus, describing their use in finding the correspondent passages of scripture.

With these versions, those of the Ethiopic, the Armenian, the Arabic, and Persian, must stand or fall, in admitting its influence upon the former, we must admit it upon the latter, as made after them, instead of the original. Indeed the Coptic and Syriac have long become dead languages, being superseded by the Arabic, which is the learned language of the East, as being that of the Mohammedan scriptures. The Coptic and Syriac versions are consequently attended in general with an Arabic translation added in a separate column; out of which the priests, having first read the original which they rarely understand, then repeat the translation to the people.

Great as the influence which it thus appears, the edition of Eusebius possessed over the Eastern text, it was not greater than it possessed over the Western. If a doubt could be entertained that St. Jerome, revising that text at Bethlehem, (in the heart of Palestine, where Eusebius revised the original), would not have neglected his improvements; the matter would be placed beyond controversion by the epistle which he has prefixed to the work, and addressed to Pope Damasus. It places beyond all doubt, that, in correcting the text, the edition of Eusebius was before him, as it describes his canons which are consequently represented as applied to the text by St. Jerome. We consequently find, that the manuscripts of the Vulgate, of which several of the highest antiquity are still preserved in England and France, have the text accurately divided by the Eusebian sections.

The influence of the Vulgate upon the Old Italic, which formed another branch of the Western text, has been already noticed. In the age of St. Augustine, it was making a sensible encroachment upon the antecedent translation. Ruffinus first followed it, and Cassiodorus brought it into general usage. In some of the oldest copies of the Italic notices appear declaring that they had been collated and corrected by the Vulgate. Bibles of this description, written in the age of Hugue de St. Chair, are still preserved with marginal references to St. Jerome and to the Greek; the readings of the latter were probably taken on the authority of the Vulgate which possessed the reputation of maintaining a scrupulous adherence to the original. After this period the new translation gradually superseded the old; and the former is now adopted by the Romish Church as of paramount authority to the original.

If the influence of the edition of Eusebius extended thus wide, embracing both extremes of the Roman Empire, as affecting the eastern and western translations; it is not to be disputed that its operation on the original Greek must have been more powerful, where it was aided by his immediate reputation, supported by the authority of Constantine. I have already stated the reasons which have induced me to ascribe such influence to the first edition of the Scriptures published with the royal authority. But a circumstance which tended to extend this influence, besides the great reputation of the person by whom it was revised, was the mode of dividing the text, which was introduced with the sections that were adapted to Eusebius’s Canons. This division of the text, as we have seen, St. Jerome was aware in adopting it in the Vulgate, was of infinite service to those who had to struggle with great inconveniences in reading from the lack of a systematic mode of punctuation. But the advantage of it was even more sensibly felt in reciting; for the practice of chanting the service, introduced into the Greek Church from the ancient Synagogue, was greatly facilitated from its portioning out the text in a kind of prosaic meter. It can be therefore little matter of surprise that we find those divisions introduced into the whole body of Greek manuscripts, and that the stated number of verses into which they are subdivided is generally subjoined at the end of each of the books of Scripture. The bare existence of those divisions, particularly those of the former kind, in the manuscripts of the original Greek, which, as we have already seen, extended to the Eastern and Western translations, contains a standing evidence of their partial descent from the edition set forth by Eusebius. They are found in the oldest of those which have descended to us; some of which contain declarations that they were adopted from older.

As it is thus apparent that Eusebius lacked not the power, so it may be shown that he lacked not the will, to make those alterations in the sacred text, with which I have ventured to accuse him.

In one or two instances I am greatly deceived, or the charge may be brought absolutely home to him. St. Jerome informs us that the latter part of St. Mark’s Gospel was lacking in most copies of the Evangelist extant in his times, the beginning of the fifth century. As the passage is absolutely necessary to bring the Evangelist’s narrative to a close, and as it introduces an apparent contradiction between the accounts which St. Matthew and St. Mark give of nearly the same incident, it is a moral certainty that it must have been expunged from the original text, and not a modern interpolation; for the contradiction affords a reason as conclusive for the former, as against the latter, supposition. As it existed in some copies in St Jerome’s day, it necessarily existed in more in the days of Eusebius; for we shall see that it evidently lost the authority to be derived from his powerful sanctions But though it contains many striking coincidences with the other Evangelists, Eusebius wholly omitted it in his Canons: there seems to be consequently no other reasonable inference, but that his edition agreed with them, and with the copies extant in the times of St. Jerome, in omitting this passage. Now those Canons, compared with the passage in question, convey all the certainty which can be derived from, presumptive evidence that he omitted this passage, not on the testimony of antecedent copies, but as unsuitable to his harmonical tables: for while they point out those passages in which each of the Evangelists relates something peculiar, as well as those in which they relate something in common with others, it contains, at first sight, an apparent contradiction, which would be only likely to strike a person employed in the task of composing such tables as those of Eusebius. The inference seems to be as strong, as the establishment of the point requires, that he first omitted this passage of St. Mark in the sacred text, as he has omitted it in his canons.

Nor is the case materially different with respect to John 8:1?11, which contains the account of the woman taken in adultery. That this narrative constituted a part of the original text of St. John, there can be little reason to doubt. The subject of this story forms as convincing a proof, in support of this supposition, as it does in subversion of the contrary notion, that it is an interpolation. There could be no possible inducement for fabricating such a passage, but one obvious reason for removing it from the canon. It has besides internal evidence of authenticity in the testimony of the Vulgate, in which it is uniformly found; and external, in the express acknowledgement of St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Ambrose, that it is genuine, St. Augustine having specified the reasons of its having been withdrawn from the text of the Evangelist. Eusebius has however omitted all reference to it in his canons; for it is neither discoverable in the copies of the Greek, nor in those of the Vulgate. And in his Ecclesiastical History, he has obliquely branded it with some other marks of disapprobation; apparently confounding it with a different story. From these circumstances, I conceive, we may safely infer, that Eusebius’s copies agreed with his canons in omitting this passage: from which it was withdrawn by him, in strict conformity to the powers with which he was vested by Constantine.

As it is probable that he omitted those passages, it is not less probable that he omitted at least one of those verses, l John v. 7, the authenticity of which has been so long a subject of controversy. Indeed, the whole three inculcate a doctrine, which is somewhat at variance with what we know, on the most indisputable testimony, to have been his peculiar opinions. The doctrine of Christ being of one substance with the Father is asserted in all of them; though most particularly in St. John’s Epistle. But on the subject of this doctrine, it is notorious that Eusebius shamefully prevaricated in the celebrated Council of Nice. He first positively excepted against it, and then subscribed to it; and at length addressed a letter to his Church at Caesarea, in which he explained away his former compliance, and retracted what he had asserted. On a person of such versatility of principle no dependence ought to be placed; not that I am inclined to believe what has been often laid to his charge, that he was at heart, an Arian. The truth is, as indeed he has himself placed beyond a doubt, he erred from a hatred to the peculiar notions of Sabellius, who, in maintaining that Christ was the First Person incarnate, had confounded the Persons, as it was conceived he divided the substance. Into this extreme he must have clearly seen that the Catholics were inclined to fall, in combating the opposite error in Arius; and on this very point he consequently maintained a controversy with Marcellus of Ancyra, who was however acquitted of intentional error by St. Athanasius and the Council of Sardica. Whoever will now cast but a glance over the disputed texts as they stand in our authorized version, will directly perceive that they afford a handle by which any person might lay hold who was inclined to lapse into the errors of Sabellius. Will it be therefore thought too much to lay to the charge of Eusebius to assert; that in preparing an edition of the Scriptures for general circulation, he provided against the chance of that danger which he feared, by canceling one of those passages, 1 John 5:7; and altering the remainder, 1 Tim. 3:16. Acts 20:28?

Let the most prejudiced of the advocates of the German method of classing the Greek manuscripts, according to the coincidences of their respective texts, now take a retrospective view of their descent, as it has been traced from the edition of Eusebius. Let him compare the alterations which have been recently made on their authority in the text of Scripture, with his peculiar opinions. Let him then answer how far their collective authority ought to decide against the truth of any doctrine, or the authenticity of any verse which is at variance with the peculiar opinions of him by whom it was revised and published.

In this impeachment of the original reviser of that edition of the Scriptures, from which there is more than a presumption, that all manuscripts of [this] character have in some measure descended, its last feeble support seems to be withdrawn from the German system of classification. If any force be allowed to what has been hitherto advanced, the affinities on which it is founded are to be traced to a very different cause than a coincidence with the original text of Scripture, as published by the inspired writers. Nor will it be thought that I presume too far in explicitly denying-That it acquires any support from the authority of Origen: That it receives any from the original testimony of the eastern and western versions: That it derives any from the best and most ancient manuscripts, or is countenanced in its important deviations from the Received Text, by any which have not beer altered from the times of Eusebius.

Having thus removed the buttresses and drawn out the braces which uphold this vast and uncemented pile, we need no further earnest of its falling to the ground than the hollowness of its foundation. The same materials, when reduced to a heap may be employed in raising a new structure. Hitherto we have brought the integrity of the Received Text barely within the verge of probability. The only positive argument on which it is impeached has been indeed disposed of and a negative consequently established by which it is covered. To entitle it to stand as authority, positive evidence, however, must be cited in its favor. With this object it shall be my endeavor to suggest a new principle of classification and to determine what rank the Received Text may be assigned according to the proposed system. But more particularly it shall be my object to vindicate those important passages of the Received Text which have been rejected from the Scripture Canon on the principles of the German method of classification.

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