An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 3 - Section 55


§ 55. The Downfall of the ʽTextus receptusʼ and the latest Textual Criticism

[Cf. A. Rüegg, ʽDie N.T.liche Textkritik seit Lachmannʼ (1892, 97 pp.]

1. In 1830, the celebrated philologist Carl Lachmann1 undertook the task of drawing up a New Testament text strictly according to the approved methods of philological criticism. The first small edition appeared in 1831; a larger one, produced in collaboration with P. Buttmann of Berlin, between 1842 and 1850. The printed editions and the whole of the Byzantine group are ignored; it is left to the oldest Greek and Latin manuscripts to decide, not how the original text ran, but which text was most widely distributed in the Greek Church before the year 400. There was something sublime in this renunciation of the highest aim, and indeed the hope can no longer be cherished that the complete loss of all the autographs can ever be compensated for by the results of textual criticism. Lachmannʼs merit lies in his having demolished the ʽinfallibleʼ text once and for all, and in having set up a new and attainable goal and clearly pointed out the way to it. He himself, however, did not attain it: first, because he left out of account at least one whole class of valuable witnesses—the quotations from the Fathers and the translations (except the Latin)— and also that of the later Greek manuscripts, which are at any rate not wholly to be despised; and, secondly, because the knowledge of the all-important authorities was not sufficiently advanced in his time.

9. The Leipzig Professor Constantin von Tischendorf2 devoted the whole energies of his life to the newly imposed task. As early as 1841 he issued one New Testament, and countless others followed, their texts differing very markedly one from another; the best he left behind him in the socalled eighth edition, ʽCritica Major,ʼ 1864-72, which was supplemented by C. R. Gregory.3¯ Here we have a comparatively good text, as complete a collection as possible of the variants to each verse, and a careful description of all the textual evidence extant. The work will long be indispensable for students in this department. It is true that the text thus presented is again only that of the fourth century, for Tischendorf decidedly prefers the oldest Greek Uncials; and in the supplementary apparatus there is much to improve, to add to, and to rearrange. But without Tischendorf this apparatus would never have been brought together, and a number of manuscripts, among them the two oldest Greek texts, have become accessible to science through him alone. It was perhaps due rather to his thirst for applause, which always drove him to use up his new treasures with undue haste in the recension of the New Testament text, than to his prejudices in dealing with fundamental historical questions, that, in spite of his enthusiasm and his rare endowment for such work, he did not attain to so much permanence in it as, in every phase of his development, he believed himself to have attained.

3. The co-operation of the modern English theologians in this department has been of special value. The first place must be given to S. P. Tregelles,4 who began his great edition of the Greek New Testament, based on the oldest authorities, in 1857, and only completed it after he had become paralysed. His text stands midway between Lachmannʼs and Tischendorfʼs; with far richer materials he seeks to carry out the principles of Lachmann consistently, but in so doing takes an important step in advance: when two readings are supported by equal evidence he does not reject the one, but draws attention to the uncertainty between them within the text itself.

The edition of the Cambridge Professors B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort (1881)5 carries this system of alternative readings to a still finer point. In vol. i. they give the text, a statement of their critical principles and premisses, and a list of thirdand fourth-rate readings, which cannot seriously enter into competition with those offered in the text or on the margin, but which deserve special consideration on account of their good and early attestation, or else on grounds of internal probability. The end is formed by an index of the Old Testament quotations. The second volume contains a detailed Introduction to New Testament textual criticism, and a justification of the authorsʼ innovations. The Appendix is mainly devoted to a technical commentary on the ʽselect readingsʼ of vol. i. A complete supplementary apparatus is not given, but the history of individual typical passages is carefully examined, and, based on these, a genealogical tree is prepared, in the branches of which all the records extant find a place. This enables them to be estimated, not as individual records according to the mere accident of their age, but according to their place in the family tree. The connection with Bengelis more than a mere superficial one, though the difference in result shows in a most satisfactory manner how far the history of the text has advanced since his time. Westcott and Hort consider it necessary to distinguish: (1) a neutral text, mainly represented by B, and still free from characteristic deformities; (2) an Occidental text, which had already spread from Antioch to Rome before the year 200, became the foundation for the Itala and the Peshitto, and is plentifully represented in the quotations of early Western Fathers and also in early manuscripts such as the Gospel Codex D: it has a tendency towards glossing and paraphrasing; (3) an Alexandrian text, represented specially by x and A, and showing attempts at polishing and the eradication of grammatical errors; and (4) a late Syriac text, more and more widely distributed from the year 300 onwards, and at last reigning alone, with Constantinople as its head-quarters; it arose through the mingling of all the others and has a special tendency towards the removal of difficulties. Naturally No. 4 stands at the bottom of the scale, while what is peculiar to 2 and 8, if not vouched for elsewhere, should also be rejected. But unfortunately the representatives of 2 and 8 often follow a parallel course, and it is also extremely uncertain whether we may venture to speak of a neutral text at all.

4. A survey of the present New Testament text, the result of such gigantic efforts of unwearied industry and of the besttrained learning, presents no very encouraging picture. The authorities of the nineteenth century still differ very considerably amongst themselves—how much, may be conveniently studied in ʽThe Resultant Greek Testamentʼ of R. F. Weymouth (1886). The same service is rendered within humbler limits by the best of the Pocket Editions, by O. Von Gebhartʼs second stereotyped edition entitled ʽDas Neue Testament griechisch nach Tischendortfʼs letzter Recension, und deutsch nach dem revidirten Luthertext, mit Angabe abweichender Lesarten beider Texte und ausgewahlten Parallelstellenʼ (Leipzig, 1884), and by the marvellously cheap edition published in 1898 by the ʽWirtembergische Bibelanstalt.ʼ In this latter E. Nestle bases his text upon Tischendorf, Westcott and Weymouth, on the principle of adopting such readings as a majority of the three authorities are agreed upon, while noting the deviations of the minority regularly in his footnotes. But what constitutes the peculiarity of his edition is that he feels bound to include certain readings from manuscripts which had not found favour with any of the other great editors; in fact, in the historical Books this part of his supplementary material is often the fullest. Moreover, a comparison, say, between the texts of the Acts adopted first by Hilgenfeld in his ʽActa Apostolorum graece et latine sec. antiquissimos testesʼ (1899), and next by B. Weiss in his ʽTextkritische Untersuchungen tiber das N. T.ʼ (1894-99), shows how slight is the unanimity of critics even in fundamental questions; the Codex D, which the one writer regards as by far the most valuable authority, is considered by the other to be unusually corrupt, and in his reliance on B, Weiss decidedly outbids the English. Practically, only one point is admitted by all the different schools of criticism —the worthlessness of the Textus receptus; otherwise the only department in which tolerable unanimity has been attained is that of the Pauline Epistles. With the other Books of the New Testament we are at this moment further removed from such a goal than ever, partly because the interests of the socalled Higher Criticism interfere with the progress of the Lower. Thus we see the British Bible Society calmly continuing to advertise the exploded Receptus, but even most of those who use worthier editions have no conception of the uncertainty that still clings to the text of the New Testament at innumerable points, nor of the number of mistakes on which the translations, revered by many as Holy Scripture, are based.

5. An effectual furtherance of the work of textual criticism —that is, the establishment of confidence in the form of the text already won by criticism—may perhaps best be expected from a more exhaustive study of the oldest versions and of the writings of the Fathers. There is little to be hoped from the discovery of new Greek manuscripts, unless indeed papyrus remains from the first centuries, containing the original Greek text, can be found. But the research into the Itala is only in its infancy; that into the Syriac Bible is scarcely further advanced. The individual ecclesiastical writers must be examined side by side with the manuscripts, and the text they used must be inserted in its place in the manuscripts known to us. But the hope that we may in every case recover the original text by this means is quite extinguished. Internal criticism, again, has its place as well as external; a reading supported by excellent evidence must nevertheless be rejected if one with apparently little in its favour is yet vouched for by the context, or by the style and thought of the author in question. The exegete must no longer treat the work of the textual critic as outside his province, but ought on the contrary to put the rules of textual criticism into practice himself—not, however, if he is one for whom the orthodox dogma forms, though perhaps unconsciously, the touchstone for the reading to be admitted. Under certain circumstances even conjecture may be permissible. When the original reading is only supported by two independent witnesses in one place, in another only by one, why should it not be supported by none at all (among those that we possess) in a third? In the very oldest times, into which none of our records of the New Testament extend, the text was often copied by quite unskilful hands, and it was precisely at that time that it was handled most freely, and that what the copyist did not understand or did not think suitable was remodelled without hesitation according to what was more convenient or seemed easier to say. Explanatory, softening or edifying additions were admitted with special readiness into the text, which, as we know, had not yet been pronounced sacrosanct; for Col. ii. 18, for instance, nothing but corrupted texts are preserved, either making no sense at all or else consisting of the worthless conjectures of ancient copyists, and in Rom. vii. 25 the first part of the verse at any rate is an inadmissible gloss. Now, these interpolations can be perceived by the eye of a practised student, for where it is a question of the distortion of the original form, a happy insight may guess just as well in the case of a sacred as of a profane text what first stood at a certain place and was then superseded by an early corruption. But prudence and moderation are here a sine qua non. Conjecture may never simply substitute an agreeable for a disagreeable version; it is merely called upon to supply the place of what is absolutely impossible, and the limits of what is possible in matters of thought and expression are extremely varied according to the literary attainments and the temperaments of different writers. Certainly a conjecture has some claim to acceptance in the text if it is able to explain the manner in which the traditional reading arose out of what it presumes to have been the oldest. This is the case, for instance, with Cobetʼs proposal to read ἡδίονα instead of πλ[ε]ίονα in Heb. xi. 4, because in the old Uncial hand the forms of the two words are extremely alike; or with that of Bois, to read καὶ τῆς ἐπιφανείας αὐτοῦ καὶ τῆς βασιλείας αὑτοῦ κήρυξον τὸν λόγον in 2 Tim. iv. 1 fol., on the ground that the copyist who introduced τὴν ἐπιφανείαν and τὴν βασιλείαν had not perceived the reference of the genitives to what followed, and had understood them merely as the objects of διαμαρτύρομαι. Still, the traditional versions are not absolutely inadmissible in these cases, and as yet not a single conjecture has found unanimous acceptance in the New Testament text, even with those who do not make a principle of rejecting them.

At a time when the secret of the Higher Criticism appears to many to lie in the dissection and piecing together of the New Testament, there is some danger that in the Lower Criticism also, inventive addition and arbitrary omission may gain the upper hand; in Holland the task of re-creating the text in this way is already in high favour, and in France and Germany, too, a few critics are beginning to practise the art. J. M. 8. Baljon has made a tolerably complete collection of the material in question in the notes to his ʽNovum Testamentum graeceʼ (Groningen, 1898); but the modest use which he makes of such conjectures in constituting his text, and the cautious reserve manifested by all exegetes of repute in dealing with these proposals, leave room for the hope that this branch of science will not be quite discredited by the irresponsible proceedings of certain omniscient experts. We are still aware that in an obscure path the ars nesciendi is the best; we know that our ultimate aim—that of determining the entire, original and indisputable text of the New Testament Books—is not to be attained by a light-hearted reliance on what are at best but possibilities; our hope lies rather in pressing back slowly and devotedly from the points of light into the darker regions around and beyond them, and in thus feeling our way gradually towards the primitive document itself.



1) † 1851.

2) † 1874.

3) See p. 576.

4) † 1875.

5) The New Testament in the original Greek; a new edition appeared in 1898 of vol.i. and in 1896 of vol. ii., containing a few corrections and additions.