THE integrity of the sacred canon being once placed beyond the reach of the objector’s exceptions; the main object of the present inquiry may be said to be already accomplished. The great end which the inspired founders of the Church had in view, in delivering to their successors a written Instrument, was to furnish them with an unerring rule of faith and manners. But it is not necessary to the perfection of this Instrument, that it should be guarded by a perpetual miracle from the chances of literal errors. The real practical advantages of any rule of faith or morals must result from a religious adherence to the precepts which it inculcates. But it will not be disputed, that those precepts might have been conveyed in an endless variety of manners by the inspired writers; and that the language in which they chose to deliver the precepts may be endlessly varied, while the doctrine is preserved unchanged in its intention and substance. Were an exact literal acquaintance with the phraseology of the sacred text indispensably necessary to an attainment of the important truths which it reveals, it is obvious the inspired writings could be beneficial to a very limited number of readers, and to those merely in the time of their perusal. The impression which the facts and precepts of the divine work leave on the mind is indeed vivid and permanent, but when the volume is closed few retain an accurate remembrance of the language in which they are expressed, and no memory was ever adequate to the task of retaining the whole work without many omissions and misrepresentations.
The general and doctrinal integrity of the sacred canon being preserved from corruption, there exists no obvious or necessary cause that the text should be preserved immaculate. How fully impressed with this conviction the inspired writers were, must be directly apparent from the use which they have made of the Septuagint, which was ever considered a free translation. Those who were best qualified to inform us on this subject have expressly declared that the apostles have quoted from that version. Yet while they are no where observed to follow it where it misrepresents the sense, they are frequently observed to quote it where it merely deserts the letter. While the circumstance of their writing in Greek clearly demonstrates the prevalence of that language among their early converts, it is observable, they made no provision that the primitive church should possess a better translation of the Old Testament than that of the Septuagint. It must be therefore inferred, from their practice that they considered the literal errors of that translation a matter of minor importance.
We are not however at liberty to conclude that the inspired writers abstained from revising the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures because they considered a purer text of no importance to the early converts. It is rather implied in their practice that they considered the advantages resulting from a purer text would not be compensated by the inconveniences which would arise from disturbing a settled state of affairs. The authority of the Greek version was already acknowledged by multitudes of the Gentile proselytes to Judaism; and through the instrumentality of it numbers might be led to a knowledge of Christianity who would be so far from accepting a new version from the hands of the apostles, that they rejected the notion of their divine commission. On these grounds I will not say it was politic, but I believe it was agreeable to the principles of the apostles, who never gave unnecessary offence, to retain the received text as read in the synagogue. And on these grounds I conceive we may meet the advocates for a Corrected Text or improved Version of the New Testament in defending the Received Text or Vulgar edition. Admitting that we were agreed on the discovery of such a text, which, for my own part, I reject as an idle chimera, the general reception of the Vulgar Text and Authorized Version, and the existing prospect of its extensive diffusion, would still render it a question whether a change would not be for the worse instead of the better. And in favor of these prejudices we may plead a very ancient prescription. On the first endeavor to impose a new version on the Latin Church similar apprehensions were felt, and like discontent was manifested by its members.
Though on these grounds the Greek Vulgate would admit of a fair defence, I am prepared to dispute its claims to a preference over every text and edition on different principles. It challenges the testimony of tradition in its favor for full eleven hundred years, even by the concession of its opponents; and unless I am altogether wrong in my calculations, that period may be demonstrably extended to full fourteen hundred. The inferences flowing from these circumstances have been already made; and if any force be allowed to what I have advanced, it must be allowed at the least, that this text is of the best edition, and that it is free from any considerable corruption in the general tenor of the text, and in the parts affecting any point of doctrine.
With respect to the verbal integrity of the text, I am far from asserting that I conceive the Greek Vulgate immaculate. On the contrary, I believe it may be inferred, in the strictest consistency with what has been hitherto advanced, that the Byzantine test may possess verbal errors, while the Egyptian and Palestine editions preserve the genuine reading. As these different texts underwent the revisal of separate hands, it is possible that the care which was employed in removing an imaginary defect might have created a positive error; and that the error which thus arose might have been propagated through all the copies which have descended from the same edition. I here only enter my protest against the inference that these errors could have extended to important points, or that the edition in which they abounded could have prevailed for more than a limited period, and during the operation of some powerful cause against the received text, which generally prevailed in the Christian world, as published by the apostles.
On this possibility we may fairly ground an inquiry into the verbal integrity of the sacred canon. And the undertaking affords additional inducements to invite investigation, as it is not only curious in itself, but promises the most favorable. result to the reputation of the Greek Vulgate. In the course of this inquiry, I am wholly deceived, or it may be shown, that the principles on which the Vulgar Text has been judged, are wholly fallacious; and that there are criteria by which we can not only establish the relative purity of that text, and evince the imperfections of other editions; but trace the corruptions of the latter to the very source in which they have originated.
I. The most formidable objections to which the credit of the Greek Vulgate is exposed arise from the complicated apparatus of M. Griesbach. Some idea of the manner in which he proceeded in forming his Corrected Text may be collected from his critical description of those manuscripts which he denominates Codd. L, 17. The principles of his criticism are reducible to two canons, which are laid down in his description of the latter manuscript. In judging between different readings he decides that attention must be paid, l. to the internal marks of authenticity; 2. to the consent of the oldest and best witnesses consisting of manuscripts, versions, and fathers, especially if they are of different kinds of text, or follow different recessions.
With respect to the internal evidence, he makes it depend upon various circumstances, to determine which he lays down a variety of rules applicable to most possible cases. In estimating the external evidence he considers the Alexandrian and Western editions ancient and separate witnesses. Of the fathers and versions which he principally quotes, he joins in alliance with the Alexandrian text Origen and the Coptic version, or by their joint or separate authority determines those readings which he deems Alexandrian. To these witnesses he unites other vouchers, whenever he finds them coincident, combining the testimony of Clement, Eusebius, Athanasius, Basil, and Cyril, with that of Origen, and strengthening the evidence of the Coptic by that of the Vulgate and Syriac version. With the Western text he, of course, endeavors to unite the testimony of the Western fathers, combining as far as is possible the evidence of Tertullian and Cyprian with that of the Latin translation. To those readings, which are supported by the greatest weight of evidence, he necessarily gives the preference. But he attaches very different degrees of importance to his different witnesses, according to the following scale of gradations. l. The testimony of both recensions must be received in subjection to the internal marks of perfection or error. 2. A reading which, when internally regarded, is apparently good, is admissible on the single testimony of either the Western or Alexandrian recension, in opposition to that of the Byzantine. 3. The authority of the Alexandrian is preferable to that of the Western, as it is less generally corrupted, but the conspiring testimony of these witnesses is of the greatest weight in recommending a peculiar reading.
The main stay of this complicated system, which is intended to form an alliance between the Alexandrian and Western texts in order to outweigh the authority of the text of Byzantium, is rested on the supposition that both the former are ancient and separate witnesses. But this is a supposition which is certainly founded in error With respect to the antiquity of those editions, it remains to be proved that it is prior to the times of either of those persons of the name of Eusebius, who published the Alexandrian or Palestine text and revised the Western version. And the intercourse which St. Eusebius and St. Jerome maintained with the East renders it wholly inadmissible that their versions should be considered separate witnesses from the Alexandrian or Palestine. Their known predilection for Origen leaves their testimony, when quoted as separate authority for the same text, entitled to something less than respect. Not to insist on later intermixtures of the Eastern and Western texts, which are antecedent to the existence of almost every manuscript with which we are acquainted; we need not pass those concessions, which the force of truth has extorted from our opponents, for a proof that these texts are inextricably confused, and blended together.
Admitting any force to exist in the foregoing remarks, it is still a point in dispute that the Palestine or Western text is antecedent to the text of Byzantium. If all that has been hitherto advanced be not fundamentally erroneous, neither of those texts can be antedated to the fourth century, at which period the last-mentioned text demonstrably existed. A priority may be indeed claimed for the Alexandrian or Palestine text on account of its alliance to Origen’s writings. But not to insist on the possibility of this text having been interpolated from his writings, the inconstant readings of that early father renders this plea at best inconclusive, as it evinces the antiquity of the Byzantine text by the same proof that it establishes that of the Alexandrian.
Such appear to be the fundamental errors in Griesbach’s system, which have spread unsoundness through his whole superstructure. But objections do not apply more forcibly to the plan on which he has built, than to the materials which he has employed in erecting his structure. We find neither solidity nor consistence in the different parts of his system. His theory, which is founded on an assumption of the existence of an Alexandrian and Western recension, is borne out by the coincidence of those manuscripts which he considers ancient, with the quotations of Origen. But we have only to take his own account of the state in which he finds the best part of his materials, in order to discover the extreme insecurity of the fabric which he has buttressed with props so unsound, and raised on so hollow a foundation.
With respect to the testimony of Origen, which is the basis of his system, he admits sufficient for us to see that when strict verbal accuracy is sought it is not entitled to the smallest attention. According to M. Griesbach’s voluntary concessions, his works must have gone through a course of progressive deterioration, which must leave us at a distance infinitely more remote from a knowledge of the pristine state of his text, than of that of the inspired writings. It appears, in the first place, that no reliance can be placed on the printed editions of his works as retaining his text, and as little on the fidelity of his different transcribers. Admitting his testimony subject to these errors, it is further conceded, that no dependence can be safely rested on his accuracy of quotation, as he constantly deserts his written authorities. And supposing that we have miraculously escaped an error in pursuing a reading through these chances, it is further granted that there is no security in depending on the very copies which he used, as they too were sufficiently often corrupted.
With regard to the character of those Manuscripts, on which our critic chiefly depends, it finally proves to be the case that they do not justify his speaking of them in terms more respectful. It does not appear that in the course of his inquiries he discovered one which preserved either of his favorite recensions, unless in a state of corruption. In numberless instances he demonstrates their defects and traces the error to its origin. Nay, in one sweeping clause, he demolishes their authority by openly proclaiming, even of those which he holds in the highest repute, that they are fouled in every page with corruptions from marginal scholia and from the interpretations of the ancient fathers.
With respect to the testimony of Versions, we find as little reason to repose a greater degree of confidence in them, than on the authority of particular Manuscripts. The Coptic and Sahidic, the later Syriac and Italic, cannot be accounted ancient or separate witnesses. As these versions are divided by the Eusebian sections, they possess internal evidence of having in some measure descended from the Palestine edition. An agreement between such witnesses may thus furnish evidence in favor of the reading of Eusebius’s text, but none whatever of the text of the Apostles and Evangelists. With respect to the Persian and Arabic, they follow the fate of the same edition. Of these versions, however, as well as of the Gothic, Saxon, and Slavonic, the testimony of which is unaccountably drawn into the decision of the present question, it must be observed that if they are admitted as ancient witnesses, they cannot be received as separate authorities.
Descending from the testimony of Manuscripts and Versions to that of the primitive Fathers, we find no more reason to admit their voice, as definitive, against the tradition of the Church and the authority of the Greek Vulgate. The testimony of Eusebius, Athanasius, Basil, and Cyril, cannot reckon as the evidence of ancient or separate witnesses; their concurrence proves no more than is proved by the coincidence of the Coptic and Philoxonian version, that this conformity is derived from the text of Eusebius. The concurrence of Clement and Origen in the East, with Tertullian and Cyprian in the West, may be conceived entitled to greater attention. But, in the first place, the very existence of such a coincidence of testimony must be disputed. And granting that it exists in some cases, it is still a point to be proved that it at all identifies the Scripture text used by those ancient fathers.
The works of those early writers lie under the positive imputation of being corrupted. The copies of Clement and Origen were corrupted in their life time; the manuscripts from which Tertullian’s works have been printed are notoriously faulty; and the copies of Cyprian demonstrate their own corruption, by their disagreement among themselves, and their agreement with different texts and revisals of Scripture. It is likewise indisputable, that these fathers not only followed each other, adopting the arguments and quotations of one another; but that they quoted from the heterodox as well as the orthodox. They were thus also likely to transmit from one to another erroneous quotations, originally adopted from sources not more pure than heretical revisals of Scripture. When a few of these readings were recommended by the successive adoption of different fathers, they were easily transferred from their comments to the margins of particular manuscripts, and were thence transplanted into the text from the margin. New revisals of Scripture were thus formed, which were interpolated with the peculiar readings of scholiasts and fathers. Nor did this systematic corruption terminate here; but when new texts were thus formed, they became the standard by which the later copies of the early writers were in succession corrected. From such progression in error, it is evident that nothing but uncertainty can be the result, when we proceed to determine the antiquity of any reading or text, by its consent with the present copies of the works of the early writers.
In fine, when this system is pushed to its necessary extent, it ends in establishing such paradoxes as subvert, by their inconsistency, the principles of the system out of which they arise. On estimating the antiquity of any text, by its coincidence with the readings of particular fathers, whose works have undergone successive corruption, it necessarily happens, that when that text is most systematically corrupted, it possesses the best claims to be accounted ancient. Such is the virtual concession which M. Griesbach is reduced to the necessity of making in explaining his system. He very freely admits that neither of those texts on which his system is built, is consistent in itself; as we might well conjecture, from the heterogeneous materials which enter into their composition. Nay more, he is forward to confess, that the manuscripts from which those ancient texts were originally formed were grievously corrupted. Reasoning from his own concessions, of course this corruption of the sacred text must have preceded the times of Clement and Tertullian, which are his earliest vouchers, and must be necessarily referred to the age which directly succeeded to the apostolical! After the concession of this point, it is difficult to discover what further objections remain to be made to this system. To me it appears, that the person would subvert M. Griesbach’s theory to the foundation, who would prove, that this conclusion necessarily followed from the principles on which it was founded. That the sacred text should have been thus grossly corrupted at this primitive period, and yet have so far preserved its characteristic peculiarities to the present day, that we should be able to recover any just notion of it, is a paradox so monstrous, that the man who maintains it, may, I conceive, be left in unmolested enjoyment of his opinion, as not worth the pains of convincing.
Thus hearing the advocate of this system out, and reasoning merely from his own concessions, it is, I trust, apparent, that no reliance can be placed on it, as it rests on the credit of vouchers, who, by his own confession, are grossly and systematically corrupted. In fact, it requires but a slight exertion of sagacity to discover that the theory of sacred criticism must be absolutely inverted in that system, which supposes the sacred text to have been grossly corrupted in two principal branches in the age which succeeded the apostolical. As it is impossible to proceed a step in inquiries like the present, without reasoning from some assumed probabilities, it is difficult to conceive what can be deemed probable, if the direct contradictory of what is here taken as true, be not considered morally certain. Assuming it as a fundamental principle that the sacred text could not have been corrupted at a period thus early; the text, of course, which merits no better character, must be referred to that early period, in subversion of the first principles, from which all our reasoning is deducible. It is vain to hang the authority of such a text on the testimony of ancient manuscripts, fathers, or versions, in violation of this fundamental principle. Until we have established the integrity of those vouchers, the principle on which we build must lack stability. To take the consent of those witnesses as an evidence of their integrity, is to reason against the undisputed fact of their having been corrupted by one another. And to refer them, in consequence of this coincidence, to the primitive age of the church, is to act in forgetfulness of an equally positive fact—that since that early period the sacred text has undergone revisals, in which it was not merely liable to interpolation, but positively acquired those peculiarities which are now taken as evidence of its antiquity. We may be indeed told, that a critic who is moderately skilled in his art, well knows how to clear those obstacles. But while ten lines of proof would be worth volumes of such modest assertions, it seems to be rather inauspicious to the success of such undertakings, that they should commence, and proceed, and terminate, without any attention to the changes which the text has positively undergone, since the time of its first publication.
II. Such appear to be the most striking objections which lie against the plan proposed by M. Griesbach for restoring the corrupted integrity of the canonical Scripture. As his fundamental rule, with which I am not in the least disposed to quarrel, is thus unapplied and inapplicable to his theory; it now remains that we should enquire how far it may be accommodated to the principles of that, on which I have ventured to believe the integrity of the same text may be defended. To such a mode of defence we may give the preference, not only because it is least exposed to the exceptions of the objector, but as it affords as advantageous ground as can be easily chosen, for vindicating the Greek Vulgate.
Laying it therefore down as a principle agreed upon, that the best witnesses of the integrity of the sacred text are those which are most ancient, and which deliver a separate testimony, the main point of enquiry consequently is, where such witnesses may be discovered. After this difficulty is surmounted, an appeal must be made to their joint testimony, to decide the point in dispute, respecting the relative purity of the Palestine and Byzantine editions.
The space to which our enquiries are limited, in seeking those ancient and separate witnesses, is necessarily bounded by that tract of country, in which we are infallibly assured the Gospel was planted and copies of the Scripture dispersed at the earliest period. This consideration directly fixes our attention on the Syriac Church in the East, and the Latin in the West, as being witnesses possessing, above all others, the necessary requisites of being ancient and separate. Situated at nearly equal distances on each side of the Greek Church, which must be considered the natural witness of the sacred text, as speaking the language of the New Testament; those churches are of the most remote antiquity, as founded by the apostles. The versions which they used, whether made in the apostolical age or not, are confessedly more ancient than any with which we are acquainted.
The antiquity of these vouchers is, however, determinable for a definitive and an immense period. The old Syriac version cannot be brought down lower than the fourth century, the Old Italic not lower than the third, as both translations are quoted by the writers who lived at these different periods. Though both versions underwent considerable alterations at this period, two revisals of the Latin version having been published by St. Eusebius and St. Jerome, and probably of the Syriac version also, by some unknown persons, it is probable, that both retained most of the characteristic peculiarities which distinguished them when they were originally published. But this point will be placed beyond mere conjecture by the consent of those versions with the Greek Vulgate, when it is rendered apparent that they were neither corrected by it at that time, nor at any subsequent period. For assuming this to be the case, there can be no mode of accounting for their agreement among themselves, but by supposing them to preserve their conformity to the common source from whence they have respectively descended.
The antiquity of these versions being not less remote than the fourth century, it follows of course, that they must be separate witnesses, as far, at least as they are coincident with the Greek Vulgate. For let us assume that they have been corrected by each other, and either the original or one of the translations must be considered the common source of their agreement. But that the Vulgar Greek, with which we are at present concerned, could have been corrupted from either of those versions is a supposition so utterly improbable as not to deserve a moment’s consideration. The point before us consequently admits of no alternative, but that it must be the source of the agreement of the original and these translations, admitting that they have had an immediate influence on each other. The antiquity, however, of both versions, renders it wholly impossible that they could have been new-modeled by this text.
According to the principles of our opponents, the vulgar text, or Byzantine edition, had scarcely an existence in the fourth century, when those versions were generally received. It is therefore utterly impossible that at that period it could be taken as the model by which they were corrected, unless indeed the point be conceded, which is the main object of this inquiry to evince, that the vulgar Greek is of the most remote antiquity.
The fact, however, is that so enlightened was that age, and so intimately are we acquainted with its history, that we can give a clear and consistent account of every considerable change which the sacred text underwent at the same period. Christianity then assumed a new form under the Emperor Constantine, in becoming the established religion. Under the auspices of this monarch a new revisal of the sacred writings was published by Eusebius, to the influence of which we must impute almost every considerable change which the text underwent in the original or in translations. The extension of Christianity about this period, added to the list of Versions a Gothic and Ethiopic, if not an Armenian and Arabic, translation. Revisals of the Old Italic and Syriac, undertaken in the same century, produced the Latin Vulgate and Jerusalem Syriac. The agreement of these versions with each other, and with the Greek manuscripts imported into the West from Palestine, and divided by the sections of Eusebius, enables us very clearly to determine his edition, which was authorized from the reign of Constantine to that of Theodosius. As the Syriac and Italic provinces were exposed to the same casualties which destroyed the sacred books as far westward as Britain, the versions which were generally received in those regions most probably underwent some change at this period. But this change proceeded not from the Byzantine, but the Palestine text. And we consequently find that the revisal of Eusebius has had some influence on the Old Italic and Syriac, as both versions agree with the Palestine text in omitting some remarkable passages. But this consideration does not affect the main point in dispute, that those versions are wholly free from the influence of the Byzantine text; admitting which to be the case, it must follow, that they are separate, as we have seen, they are ancient witnesses.
As the influence of Eusebius’s text, and the authority of those Emperors who favored the Arian heresy, render it next to impossible that the Byzantine text should have had any effect on the Old Italic and Syriac versions, at this early period the history of those versions, and the state of the Latin and Syrian Churches render it wholly impossible that the vulgar Greek should have attained, at a subsequent period, such influence over the Oriental and Western versions that it should betaken as the standard by which they were corrected.
The case of the Western version may be summarily decided. At the close of the fourth century it was revised by St. Jerome, and the extraordinary reputation of that learned father renders the supposition not merely improbable, that any person would undertake to do over again what he had so ably accomplished, but absurd in the extreme, that such a person would complete the task without availing himself of the improvements made by St. Jerome. This, however, has not been the case with the text of the Brescia manuscript, which I am alone concerned in defending, as it contains those errors of the primitive Latin version which were corrected in the modern Vulgate. These characteristic marks, and some others which have been already pointed out, very decisively evince that the text of this manuscript cannot be brought lower than the close of the fourth century.
The case of the Syriac version is not involved in greater difficulty. As the Peshito, or Syriac Vulgate, is the received text of the two great sects into which this Church is divided, it is impossible that any general corruption of this text could have taken place since the year 451 and the meeting of the Council of Chalcedon. After the period, those religious differences, which had commenced under Ibas, Theodorus Mopsuestenus, and Theodorit, and which were widened under Barsumas, Philoxenus, and Severus, rapidly spread through the East, from Edessa and Antioch, to Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Armenia. It is therefore wholly inconceivable that both sects should agree in correcting the received text, or that one of them, having introduced any change into that text, could prevail on the other to accept it as the authorized version. During the period which intervenes between this early age and that in which Eusebius revised the original Greek, it is equally inconceivable that any other Greek text but the Palestine could have had any influence on the Syriac translation. The internal evidence of the later Syriac version, which was made under the auspices of Philoxenus, by whose exertions Eutychianism was established in Syria, clearly proves that the influence of the Palestine text had continued during the whole of this period, as that version corresponds with the Palestine text, where the vulgar Syriac corresponds with the Byzantine. During the reigns of the elder and younger Theodosius, which nearly occupy the space of time intervening between the years 400 and 450, it is not possible to conceive how the Byzantine text could have acquired such authority in Syria as to influence the authorized version. Previously to that period the preponderancy of the Arian faction in this country rendered it wholly impossible, that any text should have prevailed over the edition of Eusebius, whose interests were identified with those of that heresy.
It is indeed true that the Emperor Charlemagne undertook the correction of the Latin translation by the Syriac and Greek, from whence it may be conceived those versions have acquired a resemblance which cannot be deduced from their common original. But we have only to remember that the correction of the former version was undertaken in the middle of the eighth century, and that the Vulgate of St. Jerome became the authorized text from the middle of the sixth, in order to discover that this consideration does not affect the main point in dispute, which is confined to the primitive Latin version. It may indeed account for some resemblances which the old Syriac bears to the modern Vulgate, and to those manuscripts on which the latter version has had some influence, but it has little relevancy to the pure copies of the Old Italic, and none whatever to the Brescia manuscript which is free from that influence. At all events, however adequate such a supposition may be deemed to account for the affinity of the Latin and Syriac versions, it is wholly inadequate to account for that of the Syriac translation and the original Greek, which are the witnesses whose integrity I am particularly employed in defending against any charge which may affect their integrity, as forming separate witnesses to the text of Scripture.
Regarding therefore the subject before us in every view and judging of it by the light reflected on it from the history of the text and versions of the New Testament, it as certainly appears that the primitive Syriac and Latin versions are ancient and separate witnesses when adduced in favor of the Byzantine Greek, as that the later Western and Oriental versions, which are cited in support of the Alexandrian text, derive their common affinity from the immediate influence of the Palestine text as revised by Eusebius.
Here therefore we may lay the foundation of the defence of the Greek Vulgate, in asserting that the Latin and Syriac versions, to which an appeal is now to be made on the verbal integrity of the text, are ancient and separate witnesses.
The bond of connection by which every part of the system, which rises upon this foundation, is held together, is the connected testimony of tradition. Whether we consider the original Greek, or the two versions which are the witnesses of its integrity, the evidence of these vouchers is held together by this connecting principle, for the immense period of fourteen centuries. From the very concessions of our adversaries, it appears that the vulgar text of the Greek, the Latin, and the Syriac Church, has existed for the whole of that time. As the tradition extended far above this period, it is implied in the very nature of this species of evidence, that it could not have sustained any considerable change during the earlier part of that term, unless from the operation of some powerful cause, and for a very limited time. It is wholly inconceivable that any age would accept a text, transmitted by their immediate predecessors, having weaker evidence of its integrity than their predecessors had, in adopting it from those who preceded them. This reasoning is applicable to the present age, and may be applied to every age which has preceded, until we ascend from our own times to those in which the tradition commenced. The testimony of tradition is thus adequate to its own vindication; and admitting its integrity to be thus unimpeachable, we must thence necessarily infer the integrity of the text which it supports. This mode of reasoning, which is true in theory, may be easily verified in fact. By the destruction of the sacred books in the persecution of Dioclesian, and the publication of a new text under Constantine, the course of tradition was interrupted in the region occupied by the Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts. Yet, though these causes must have powerfully operated to turn the stream in a new direction, it speedily recovered its natural course. In forty years the traditionary chain was reunited, and the vulgar Greek restored at Byzantium. The Latin and Syriac texts, as existing merely in a translation, and consequently as separated from the parent source, had greater obstacles to surmount in regaining their original tenor. The immediate authority of St. Jerome and Eusebius in the different regions where the Latin and Syriac were received must have also given these versions a stronger bias towards the Palestine text than to the Byzantine. Yet against the operation of these causes the influence of tradition insensibly prevailed; and notwithstanding the near alliance between these versions and the former text, they possess a close affinity to the latter. Now, as we have just seen, that this relationship cannot be in the collateral degree, but in the hereditary line, since those versions have not been corrected by the vulgar text, the affinity sufficiently proclaims how far they are supported by the authority of tradition, as it is only through it, that they can possess an alliance to the Greek Vulgate.
The foundation of the system which it is my object to establish, is therefore, I trust, not less securely laid, than the connecting principle by which it is held together, firmly cemented. But the same strength and consistency will, I hope, be found to exist in the materials which are employed in the superstructure. And in evincing this point not less than the preceding, sufficient is granted us in the concessions of our opponents, to bear out all our deductions.
With respect to the evidence of Manuscripts, on which our main dependence is rested, it is not disputed that they are faithful to the tenor and testimony of tradition, as far as it extends. Through the fourteen centuries for which the vulgar text has confessedly existed they agree with one another, and though their number is proportionally multiplied with the progression of time, at the end of this immense period, this agreement is preserved. Among the many concessions which are made us, this is not the least important to the establishment of the conclusion for which I contend. It is indeed true, that the Egyptian and Palestine texts are almost wholly preserved, in manuscripts which are of greater antiquity than any which preserve the Byzantine; the Alexandrian, Vatican and Cambridge manuscripts coming to the former editions instead of the latter. But while it can be never inferred from the antiquity of these manuscripts that the Egyptian or Palestine text is prior to the Byzantine, it may be concluded from their preservation for so long a time, that the manuscripts have not been in use, and that the text which they contain is of course unsupported by the uninterrupted testimony of tradition. From their antiquity, in fact, we can only infer that they were written at a period and in a country wherein the Egyptian or Palestine texts respectively prevailed; and from their preservation, that they have been regarded as relics in the monasteries in which they have been preserved. Yet, waving these considerations, the testimony of two of these manuscripts, and those which are apparently the most ancient, may be fairly cited in favor of the vulgar text. With this text the Vatican manuscript is found to coincide in the opening chapters of St. Matthew, and the Alexandrian in the whole of the Gospels, whatever be the antiquity of these manuscripts, it is consequently subsequent to that of the Byzantine text. Such being the case with the oldest manuscripts with which we are acquainted, the Greek Vulgate has nothing to apprehend from the testimony of the Codex Cantabrigiensis. As this manuscript is divided by the sections of Euthalius it cannot be older than the middle of the fifth century, but that the Byzantine text existed previously to this period is fully allowed us; by this concession, of course, the testimony of the Cambridge manuscript is left little weight, when cited against the Greek Vulgate.
With regard to the testimony of Versions, our choice is principally limited to the Latin and Syriac translations. It is however sufficient that in their evidence we possess the testimony of ancient and competent witnesses, and that their testimony is admitted, even by the concession of our adversaries, to be virtually on our side. And however the intrinsic weight of this evidence may be disputed, its momentum is increased by the comparative lightness of the testimony by which it is counterpoised. The Coptic, and later Syriac, the Ethiopic, Armenian, and Gothic versions, which are the natural allies of the Palestine text, cannot stand in competition with the old Italic, the ancient Syriac and the Vulgate, which are the unbiased witnesses of the Byzantine Greek. That the former versions should possess an affinity to the corrected text of Eusebius instead of the vulgar Greek, has been owing to circumstances which have been already explained. Their immediate connection with that edition, if not their direct descent from it, renders the joint testimony of such witnesses entitled to very little attention, when weighed against the concurring evidence of witnesses like the Greek, Syriac, and Latin texts, which have not been yet even presumptively proved to have had the smallest influence on each other.
With respect to the testimony of ancient Fathers, the Greek Vulgate is not left unsupported by their authority. Of those who preceded the Council of Nice, none but Clement and Origen of the Greek Church, and Tertullian and Cyprian of the Latin, have made copious extracts from Scripture; but sufficient has been already advanced to prove that implicit reliance cannot be always placed on their authority. It may be however observed in support of the vulgar text, that in all points of importance, their testimony may be cited in its favor. We may, however, appeal to still earlier witnesses among the apostolical fathers on the integrity of the Greek Vulgate. Though those primitive writers are not copious in their Scripture quotations, they are often found to correspond with the Vulgar Greek in readings wherein that text differs from the Palestine. With regard to those writers who flourished in the age which succeeded the Council of Nice, our adversaries are free to claim Eusebius, Basil, Cyril, and others, who followed the latter edition as the authorized text, while they give us up their contemporaries, who favored the text of Byzantium.
From the premises thus laid down, we may proceed to make the necessary inferences. Instead of the rules for determining the verbal integrity of the sacred text deduced by M. Griesbach from the testimony of the Alexandrian and Western recensions, I would beg leave to propose the following, founded on the testimony of the Greek Vulgate and the Old ltalic and Syriac Versions, viewed comparatively with that of the Egyptian and Palestine texts, and the later Eastern and Western Versions.
When the Palestine text agrees with either the Egyptian or Byzantine, the coincidence can reckon but as the testimony of a single witness, but when the Egyptian and Byzantine texts agree, they confirm the reading which they support, by the testimony of ancient and separate witnesses.
When the Egyptian and Palestine texts agree, and yet dissent from the text of Byzantium, the consent of the Old Italic or Syriac Version with the Byzantine Greek outweighs the testimony of the antecedent witnesses.
When the Old Italic and Syriac Versions agree with the Palestine text, and dissent from the text of Byzantium, the consent of the later Eastern and Western Versions with the Byzantine text will adequately confirm a various rending of the Greek Vulgate.
The reasonableness of these rules may he easily evinced from the foregoing observations. It must be here evident at a glance, that there is scarcely any witness from which the Palestine text can receive support, scarcely any but the Palestine from which the Byzantine text must not derive confirmation. From the fundamental principles already laid down it appears, that in order to entitle any witness to a voice, it must deliver a separate testimony. But so universal has been the ascendancy of Eusebius’s text, which is identical with the Palestine edition, that not a text or version with which we are acquainted can be said to be free from its influence. No other text of course, not excepting the Byzantine, can appeal to its testimony or afford it support, as a separate witness. But as every text and version, which we know, was originally formed independent of the text of Byzantium, as none of them has subsequently possessed any influence on it, and as it has had no influence on any of them, the concurrence of any with this text must reckon as the testimony of a separate witness. A very few observations will now enable us to determine the weight of testimony which may be adduced in favor of a various reading from an application of the foregoing rules.
When the Egyptian text agrees with the Byzantine, the Palestine edition must stand by itself; as there is no fourth edition with which it can be coincident. In this case the Palestine text must lack every requisite which can give it authority as an adequate witness. Of itself it is destitute of the support of tradition, and it lacks by supposition the support of an ancient and separate witness. But the weight of this species of testimony is, in this case, on the side of that reading which is supported by the joint evidence of the Egyptian and Byzantine editions. It possesses the authority of tradition in the testimony of the latter text, and that of consent in the concurrence of the former.
When the Egyptian and Palestine texts agree, their consent can reckon but as the testimony of a single witness, as these texts have had an immediate influence on each other. When opposed, in consent to the Byzantine, the various readings which are avouched by the different witnesses thus opposed to each other, are supported by equal authority. The testimony of either the old Italic, or Syriac version, if adduced on the side of the Byzantine text, must of course turn the scale in its favor. And the reading which is supported by this weight of evidence, possesses every thing requisite to prove it genuine. It possesses the authority of tradition in the Byzantine text, and that of consent in those ancient and separate witnesses, the Italic and Syriac Versions.
When the old Italic and Syriac versions agree with the Palestine and Egyptian texts, the concurrence of these witnesses may be merely owing to the influence of Eusebius’s edition; their joint evidence can then of course reckon but as the testimony of a single witness. The testimony of the later Versions, for instance, the Italic or Syriac, when cited on the side of the Byzantine text, will of course turn the scale in favor of the latter, and this weight of testimony will be fully adequate to support the various reading, which is of doubtful authority. In supposing the extensive influence of Eusebius’s text, we easily account for the dissent of the older versions from the vulgar Greek; for this variation has proceeded from their being modeled after the former edition. But the consent of the later versions with the vulgar Greek, can be only accounted for, by admitting their agreement with the primitive translation, from which the old and later versions have respectively descended, to which also, it is presumed, they conformed previously to the influence of Eusebius’s text, or to their having been recast into new translations. As the later versions have been formed on the basis of some primitive translation, it is self-evident that many of the readings of the primitive version must be preserved in the derivative. It is possible of course, that the latter may preserve the primitive reading, while the former has undergone those changes by which it has been obliterated. And where the reading, which is thus preserved, agrees with the original Greek text, from which all translations have been made, the very coincidence is adequate to identify it as a reading of the primitive version. Though a later version is but a modern witness, it may thus deliver an ancient testimony. Consequently the reading which is supported by this weight of evidence, possesses every thing requisite to prove it authentic.
With respect to the Manuscripts which may be cited in favor of this system, it remains to be observed, that the weight of their testimony does not depend on the age of the copies, but on their number and coincidence as witnesses, and the antiquity of the text which they support by their concurring evidence. From the conspiring testimony of manuscripts, versions, and fathers, it appears that this text must have existed at least at the close of the fourth century. But no manuscript with which we are acquainted possesses internal evidence which will warrant our placing it higher than this early period. The testimony of none of course can be cited, as disproving the priority of the text which exists in the most modern of those manuscripts that conform to the vulgar edition. To establish the integrity of this text is the main object of our endeavors, and if it be not evinced by the concurrence of those innumerable witnesses who agree in a testimony, which has been perpetuated for fourteen hundred years, the labor must be unavailing which endeavors to prove it by the coincidence of a few manuscripts, of which we cannot certainly know the origin.
Beyond these considerations, and above this period, we cannot extend our positive proofs in favor of the integrity of the Byzantine text; but I am not aware how they can be extended above it, in favor of the Palestine edition. After examining the testimony of versions and manuscripts as far as it extends, our only appeal lies to the external evidence of the fathers. And here, it must be confessed, appearances seem to set strongly in favor of the text of Palestine. The early writers who have been cited in support of this text, as having followed it in their quotations, may be thought to outweigh the strongest presumptive evidence which may be adduced in favor of the Byzantine. But the testimony of none of them but Origen reaches higher than the fourth century. After a little further insight into the nature of his evidence, we may be probably led to admit that it is not so decidedly against the vulgar edition as may be imagined.
As the main object of the advocates of the Palestine text has been to rest the credit of this text on the authority of Origen, my object has been to shift it upon that of Eusebius. Sufficient, I trust, has been already advanced to prove that the testimony of Origen rather identifies it as the text of Palestine than of Alexandria, and consequently proves it the text of Eusebius, who revised the Palestine edition. It is certain that the works of Origen in which it is conceived to be preserved, were written in Palestine, and that in the precipitancy with which Origen fled from the enmity of Demetrius, when he sought refuge in that country, he was compelled to leave his books at Alexandria. Of the remains of his writings, which have descended to our times, only some fragments of the “Principia,” and two short books of his “Commentaries,” were written in this city.. The last books of his expositions of St. John, and the whole of those of St. Matthew together with his treatise on Prayer, and his reply to Celsus, were written on his settlement in Palestine. These last works, however, contain the only parts of his writings which possess any Scripture references from which we can discover the text that he followed in his quotations; the Philocalia, which preserves the remains of his “Principles,” being miscellaneous in its subject, possesses no references to the New Testament, but those which have been already specified.
The whole of the presumptive evidence which arises from these preliminaries, consequently tends to prove that the text which Origen followed in his Commentaries was the Palestine, not the Alexandrian. The remark is of importance, as in forming a running exposition, he must have followed the text which was before him, and he has indeed prefixed it in several instances to the comment. It is of importance also to observe that in composing his Commentaries he preserved a peculiar plan in his quotations, which he neglected in delivering his Homilies, having followed the corrected text of his Hexapla in the former, and that of the Greek Vulgate in the latter compositions. These circumstances, being kept fully in view, a few considerations will enable us to appreciate the weight of the testimony which he has borne to the verbal integrity of the inspired writings.
In the first place, the Commentaries of Origen, which are the main support of the Palestine text, abound in references to apocryphal works and heretical revisals of Scripture. They were undertaken at the request of Ambrose, who had been a convert from heresy, and who gave them to the world without the consent of their author, who lived to repent of the errors, which they contained. That compositions of this equivocal character, and which have been notoriously corrupted should frequently deviate from the vulgar Greek, seems rather to convey a negative proof of its integrity. But Origen likewise affords the same text positive support, in his inconstant readings; occasionally agreeing with the Byzantine text, while he deviates from the Palestine; nor can it be certainly concluded from his express references, that the text which he used did not conform to the former edition. When due allowance is also made for the influence which his peculiar readings have had on the Palestine text, as revised by Eusebius; it seems to take from his testimony its entire weight, in deciding the question at issue.
When the testimony of Origen is set out of the way, no further obstacle opposes the application of the foregoing rules to the vindication of the vulgar edition. As the general integrity of this text is attested by vouchers which render it absolutely unquestionable, our attention is only called towards those passages which have been impeached on evidence apparently credible. This evidence has been collected and embodied by M. Griesbach, and on the strength of it he has rejected several passages from the sacred canon, as spurious. Of these passages, however, a very limited number are of the smallest importance, eleven only affecting, and that in a remote degree, any point of doctrine or morals. I shall lay these, in the first place, without exception, before the reader; adding the testimony of the Western Church in corroboration of that of the Eastern; and subjoining the express testimony of some writer, who as living in the age which succeeded the apostolical, must have written before the sacred text could have been corrupted. In determining the present question, the testimony of the Syriac Church cannot be admitted as authority. Having been infected at an early period in the third century with the heresy of Paul of Samosata, it wholly lapsed into Arianism in the fourth; and was finally rent in the fifth into the different sects of Nestorians and Eutychians. High therefore as its testimony must rank, where merely the verbal integrity of the sacred text is concerned, it can have little weight on the doctrinal. The Arabic numerals, annexed in the subjoined examples to the testimony of the Latin church, indicate the different editions of the Italic version which support the prefixed reading: the primitive or Brescia text, the revised or Verceli, and the new or Vulgate of Jerome, being numbered in their order. An asterisk is added to the readings adopted by M. Griesbach in his Corrected Edition.
[There follows quotes of the following Scripture texts: Matthew 19:17; Mark 13:32; Luke 2:33; Luke 11:13; Luke 22:43,44; John 3:4; Acts 8:37; Acts 15:28; Col. 1:14; Col. 2:2; and 1 John 4:3. These texts are quoted in Greek and in Latin. The Greek quotes are from the Byzantine text and the Palestine text. The Latin the quotes are from the Italic or Latin Bibles, that is they are from the Old Italic, the Verceli revision, and Jerome’s revision, the Latin Vulgate, as noted above. These quotes are also followed by supporting Greek and Latin quotes from the early church fathers. The quotes from the Latin Bibles and from the church fathers are all quoted in support of the distinctive readings of the Byzantine text.]
In the concurring testimony of the Eastern and Western Churches thus adduced in favor of the Greek Vulgate, we have the entire weight of the presumptive evidence which is adducible on the present question; that each of the readings, supported by those early vouchers, existed in the sacred text from time immemorial. This evidence is, however, rendered positive by the express testimony of the primitive fathers, who have appealed to the texts before us, in the age which succeeded the apostolical. In the examples which have been adduced, and which constitute the whole of those of the smallest importance which have been impeached by M. Griesbach; one only is destitute of the authority of some one of those primitive witnesses. And this example is so firmly sustained by the external testimony of the vulgar texts of the Greek, Latin, and Syriac churches, and by the internal evidence of the sacred context, that not a doubt can be entertained of its being authentic. As to the remaining texts, the testimony of St. Polycarp, Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian, speak so plain a language with respect to them, as not to leave room for a cavil on their authenticity. Two testimonies from St. Irenaeus have been indeed adduced from a Latin translation, but the least attention to the scope and context of this primitive writer must convince the most skeptical inquirer, that the reading of the vulgar text must have been before him while he was writing. A little closer attention to the testimony of Clemens Alexandrinus, will, I trust, also evince, that a similar conclusion must be formed respecting his allegation, and that we must infer from his mode of quotation that he read in his copies, as we read at this day, in the Greek and Latin Vulgate. I do not long delay to anticipate any objections which may be made to those testimonies on the suspicion of their being interpolated from the vulgar edition. As the passages involve peculiarities, not merely verbal, they could not have been altered with ease, and as they do not relate to any contested point of doctrine, and have never been quoted to decide any, there could be no object in such a sophistication. They are indeed so completely interwoven with the subjects of the different writers, in whose works they are found, that they cannot be removed without making such a rent in the context as would directly evince their removal. Infinitely greater, and indeed insuperable, must have been the obstacles with which any sophisticator would have to contend in inserting such passages in the writings of those primitive fathers.
As the manner in which the early fathers have quoted even the remarkable texts already adduced renders any dependence on their testimony wholly unsafe, where the verbal integrity merely of the text is concerned, our only appeal lies in this case to the testimony of the primitive versions. The primitive Italic and Syriac translations have been already pointed out as the best and earliest witnesses; to their decision let us now submit the determination of the question. The following collection of texts constitute the whole of the passages of any the smallest importance, which M. Griesbach has rejected from the Gospels, in his Corrected Edition.
[There follows quotes of the following Scripture texts: Matthew 6:19; 15:8; 18:29; 18:35; 19:17; 20:22-23; 27:35; Mark 4:24; 6:11; 6:33; 13:14; Luke 4:18; 9:55; 10:22; 11:2; 11:4; 11:44; 17:36; John 1:27; 5:16; 6:22 and 8:59. These quotes are in Greek, Latin, and Arabic. The Greek quotes are from the Byzantine text. The Latin quotes are from the various Italic or Latin Bibles as previously noted, as well as from the Syriac. The Arabic quotes of course are from the Syriac as well.]
In the whole of these extracts there are but three passages which are not supported by the concurring testimony of the Oriental and Western Churches; one only which is not supported by the positive testimony of either of those ancient unimpeachable witnesses. For Mat. xv. 8. is destitute of the support of the Syriac version; and Luk. x. 22. Joh. vi. 22. of that of the primitive Italic; while Mat. xxvii. 35. is not only absent from the latter translation, but lacking in many copies of the former, as well as in many of the Greek Vulgate. But the dissent of those ancient versions from the former passages does not in the least impeach their authenticity. As in these omissions the Syriac and Italic Versions accord with the Palestine text, their negative testimony against the vulgar Greek must be imputed to the influence of Eusebius’s edition; while their positive testimony in favor of the same text can be only accounted for by admitting their coincidence with the original Greek text from which all editions have descended. That in Mat. xv. 8. the Brescia manuscript possesses the genuine reading, has been already rendered apparent, from a comparative view of the copies of the Italic translation. In fact the dissent of the latter copies of this version from the vulgar Greek may be traced to the influence of Origen’s writings, to which we must impute the deviation of the Palestine text, in the instances before us, from the Greek Vulgate. And the extensive influence of Eusebius’s text renders it difficult to pronounce on the authenticity of Matt. xxvii. 35. The absence of this text from the Palestine edition is easily accounted for, as I hope in the sequel to prove; its total absence from the primitive Italic version, and partial absence from the Syriac, is of course accounted for in the former consideration. But its partial introduction into the Syriac, and general admission into the Greek, create a difficulty which is not. so easily solved. Could we admit the truth of the account which St. Jerome has given of Lucianus’s text; the interpolation of the original might be laid to his account, as it perfectly answers the description which he has given of Lucianus’s alterations, and as such is omitted in the modern Vulgate. The influence of Lucianus, whose text prevailed from Byzantium to Antioch, of which latter city he was a presbyter, would fully account for the admission of this verse into the Syriac translation. But we have every reason to believe St. Jerome mistaken in his judgment of Lucianus’s edition. And in favor of this verse, it must be observed, that its introduction into the Gospel of St. Matthew is most conformable to the manner of that Evangelist, who is always so particular in his quotations from the prophetical Scriptures, that it can be scarcely conceived he could have wholly omitted this extraordinary passage. The oblique manner in which it is referred to by the other Evangelists, seems to establish the same conclusion; as its explicit citation in the Gospel of St. Matthew rendered it merely necessary that they should refer to it obliquely.
In making the above citations, I have confined my attention to the passages rejected by M. Griesbach from the Gospels, not merely from choice, but necessity. Neither the primitive Italic nor Syriac Version extend beyond that part of the New Testament; the Acts and Epistles of the former Version being wholly lost, and those of the latter having been considerably altered since the Gospels were rendered, if not wholly translated, at a subsequent period. But in this loss there is not so much to regret, as may be at first imagined; for we do not require the remaining parts of those versions to determine the matter at issue. As in the different classes of manuscripts, one species of text prevails through every part of the text; those copies which are of the same class having the Gospels agreeing with the Acts and Epistles; when we establish the superior purity of any class, in the principal part of the text, we may thence legitimately infer that of the remainder. Or to reduce this matter to more certain principles, when by the assistance of those auxiliaries, the Eastern and Western versions, we have ascertained what manuscripts of the original Greek will furnish the genuine text, on a comparative view of the subject, we may thence relinquish the accessories, and on the comparative testimony of the principals, determine the authentic text of Scripture. In this undertaking considerable use may be likewise made of the versions; whatever be the changes which they may have undergone, since their first formation. As we know the original text by which they have been retouched, and the points in which they have been affected, the Palestine text being the model by which they were shaped, and points of doctrine being those in which they have been influenced, a slight calculation will enable us, if not to recover the primitive reading of the translation, yet to appreciate its lightness when weighed against the authority of the original. In fact, a very small allowance made for the alterations which the Syriac Vulgate may have sustained, still leaves the testimony of that version as fully on the side of the vulgar Greek in the Epistles and Acts, as in the Gospels. Taking into account, together with its testimony, the evidence of those later witnesses, to whom an appeal lies in the present subject; we may thence deduce a perfect defence of the Greek Vulgate on every point of the smallest importance in which its integrity has been impeached as corrupted.
That no other text of the Greek but the Palestine edition has had any influence on the old Italic and Syriac, or their descendants, the versions of Philoxenus and St. Jerome, I have already endeavored to prove. The corrections which the Latin Vulgate received under the Emperor Charlemagne may be indeed conceived to invalidate its testimony, when adduced as a separate witness with the Syriac in favor of the original Greek. But when we observe the distinction which must be made between the Byzantine and Palestine texts, no corrections which the Latin version could have sustained at this period, or antecedently, can affect its testimony when adduced on the side of the former edition.
From the fourth to the eighth century inclusive there were few persons who were adequate to the task of revising the Latin translation, and from the knowledge which we possess of their history it must be inferred that none but St. Jerome and St. Eusebius engaged in this undertaking. In the fourth and fifth centuries a knowledge of Greek was a rare attainment among the Latins. Many were certainly able to read it, but destitute of so inconsiderable yet necessary assistance as a Lexicon, few would undertake to translate it. St. Jerome and his contemporary, Ruffinus, are remarkable exceptions, but the reputation which they acquired as translators, the latter on very slender pretensions, sufficiently reveal how very rare the endowment was at this period. As we descend below this period, instances are still more rare of those who possessed this qualification. The subjugation of the Western Empire by the Goths, who extended their arms into Africa, rendered this age particularly unpropitious to study. Sedulius Hibernensis, who impelled by an insatiable thirst for information, traveled as far eastward as Asia, whither literature was now retiring from the West, is a singular instance of a person acquainted with Greek in an age, when the light of science had nearly set in the western hemisphere. The difficulties with which Cassiodorus had to contend in the next age, in procuring a competent person to revise the Latin translation, sufficiently proclaim how very unusual the same qualification was in the age when he flourished, the school of Nisibis, situated at the extreme borders of Syria, having been the nearest place from whence a person qualified to discharge this office could be procured. Junilius, a contemporary of Cassiodorus, mentions as an unusual circumstance his having seen one person, a Persian, who had been educated at Nisibis and possessed this rare though humble endowment.
Admitting that the Greek text had any influence on the Latin Vulgate, it must have been that text which existed in the Palestine edition, for with it alone the orientalists were acquainted. When we are therefore informed, that the correction of this translation was undertaken from the Syriac and Greek, the only reasonable inference is that the Syriac was the Philoxenian version, the Greek the Palestine text, which were employed in the revisal. This supposition is fully confirmed by the coincidence which exists between that text and version, and the affinity which both possess to the modern Vulgate. That the readings of the latter version were more than collated with the Greek and Syriac texts, and the true readings more than ascertained from different copies of the translation which was originally made from the Palestine edition, is rendered wholly improbable by many considerations. To recast the translation by a different test, if practicable, would have been an useless attempt and inconsistent with the high veneration in which St. Jerome’s translation was held. It was this veneration which must surely have directed the authors of this revisal to Palestine, where they could not be ignorant the Vulgate was framed, in search of the Greek, from whence that version. was made originally. And the preface prefixed by St. Jerome to the Gospels, directed them not merely to the original, from whence it was derived, but to extraneous sources which were naturally conceived to exist in the Palestine text and Syriac translation. Whatever might have been the care employed in correcting the modern Vulgate, it could thus have extended to little more than restoring its original readings. And thus much is apparent from the internal evidence of the copies of the Vulgate, which were corrected by Alcuine under Charlemagne, and which have descended to our times; it does not appear that these copies approximate more to the vulgar text of the Syriac and Greek, than any other copies of that translation.
Nor is the integrity of the Syriac Vulgate less capable of vindication from the charge of those who would insinuate that it has been corrupted from the Greek Vulgate. That such a corruption could not have taken place subsequently to the year 450, when the Philoxenian version was formed, has been already evinced from the history of the Syrian church since the middle of the fifth century. And the bare consideration that this version was framed, at that period, by the Palestine text, renders the conception absurd in the extreme that the primitive version could have previously coincided with the same edition; the eviction of which agreement is essentially necessary to the establishment of the assumption, that the latter version has been subsequently altered, to correspond with the text of Byzantium. As the Peshito, or Syriac Vulgate, has never sunk in the esteem of the Syrian church, the formation of a new version cannot be imputed to the circumstance of the old having become obsolete in its language, or fallen in its reputation, nor to any other cause but the publication of a Greek text which attained to higher repute than that from which the original version was formed. Had it been in consequence of the corruption of the primitive translation from some modern Greek text, it must be obvious that the only plan left to those who would undertake to remedy this evil, would have been to restore the primitive readings by a collation of the old copies of the version with those of the original. But this is a supposition which is not only refuted by the internal evidence of the version, which possesses no such corrections, but is wholly irreconcilable with the veneration in which the vulgar version is held by the Syrians. In fact, the whole of the circumstances of the case tend as fully to prove that the text with which the primitive version agrees was ancient, as that by which the latter version was formed, was modern. From which consideration the priority of the Byzantine to the Palestine text, follows of course, as it is with the former that the primitive version corresponds, while the revised corresponds with the latter. Admitting this to be the case, which it will not be found easy to disprove, the unsupported assumption that the Syriac Vulgate has been. corrected by the Byzantine Greek requires no further refutation. Such an assumption can be only maintained on the grounds of the affinity discoverable between the Syriac and Greek, which affinity must be thus attributed to this obvious cause, that the one was originally made from the other.
As these considerations seem adequate to vindicate the integrity of the Syriac Vulgate, they involve an equally strong argument in favor of the antiquity of this translation, which is universally admitted to be the most ancient of the Oriental versions. That this version existed in its present mutilated form, previously to the fourth century, I cannot be easily brought to. conceive. The extravagant antiquity ascribed to it by the native Syrians and Orientalists is clearly entitled to no attention. So great a work as the translation of the whole Bible into the language of that people must have been effected by labor and time. That part of the version which contains the Old Testament has been attributed to the Jews, and the mere circumstance of this part of the canon having been the first that was translated, seems decisive of the fact. The Christians possessed no knowledge of the Hebrew, from which this version was made, and were not even in possession of the original, until the publication of Origen’s Hexapla. In compiling this great work in the third century, Origen probably made some use of the Syriac version, having frequently referred to it in his margin. In the fourth century it is noticed by Eusebius, Basil, and Ambrose, and is expressly quoted out of the old and New Testament by Ephrem, the Syrian. In this century, of course, the translation must have been completed. But the difference of style existing between the Gospels and the Acts and Epistles renders it not merely probable that the translation was formed at different times, but that the Gospels, as might naturally be conceived, were formed at a comparatively early period. This supposition is not merely confirmed by the peculiar character of the style, which is more pure than that of the Acts and Epistles, and bears internal evidence of greater antiquity, but by the absence of Eusebius’s sections, which cannot be supposed to have existed in the Palestine text, when the version of the Gospels was made. All these considerations taken together, claim for the first part of this version an antiquity not less remote than the third century: And this assumption is rendered more probable by many corroborating circumstances. The establishment of the Palestine school under Origen excited a spirit of literary exertion among the Syrians at this period, and directed their attention to biblical criticism. With the declension of the Greek power in the East, on the extension of the Roman conquests to the remotest bounds of the civilized world, the authority of the Greek language simultaneously declined. The Syrians now began to cultivate their native tongue, and one of the first efforts to give it a written existence was employed in converting the best of books into the vernacular language. But the peculiar character of that part of the version which was first formed, conveys a proof which is at once demonstrative of its antiquity and of its freedom from later corruption, a proof which is rendered decisive by the wide and early dispersion of this translation, which rendered its general corruption impossible. From the extraordinary agreement of the primitive Syriac version and the Greek Vulgate, we of course deduce a like conclusion to that which has been already deduced from a similar agreement between the vulgar Greek and the primitive Latin translation. From hence we must infer that the original text, which corresponds with those most ancient versions, must be nearly coincident with that from which these versions were at least formed in part, in the primitive ages.
The testimony of those ancient and separate witnesses, the primitive Latin and Syriac Versions, now bears down the scale with accumulated weight in favor of the Greek Vulgate, which is confessedly supported by the uninterrupted testimony of tradition for fourteen hundred years. Beholding the age of this text identified with the fourth century by the concurring testimony of manuscripts, versions, and fathers, let us, by a single glance of thought, connect that period with the times of the Apostles and those in which we live. Let us consider the uniformity which pervades the Manuscripts of every age, ascending from the present period to those times, and their coincidence with the writings of those Fathers who flourished in the intervening ages. Having this positive proof of the integrity of tradition for the whole of that period in which the testimony of Manuscripts can be ascertained, let us then follow up that of the authorized Versions of the oldest Churches, which we are infallibly assured were received in the age where the testimony of Manuscripts fails. Supported by these vouchers, which carry us up to a remote and indefinite period, let us consider the history of the original text for the period which remains unto the apostolical age. Let us estimate the possibility of its having been corrupted in the earliest ages, of its having been sophisticated by Lucianus, who professed merely to transmit the vulgar text, and who possessed no authority to impose a sophisticated text upon his contemporaries. Observing that St. Jerome attests the prevalence of Lucianus’s text at the very period to which our demonstrative proofs of its integrity extend, let us then remember by how few links the chain of tradition is connected from the age in which he flourished to that in which the apostles wrote, that the intervention of two persons connects the times of Athanasius with those of Origen, and two more the times of Origen with those of the Apostles. Finally observing, that amid the mass of evidence which has been adduced by modern collators against the vulgar edition, the coincidences with this text are unnoticed, while the minutest deviations from it are sedulously noted down, let it be remembered, that every attempt to impeach its general and doctrinal integrity, even in the most trivial, points, has totally failed. Without taking a comparative view of the hollowness of the system by which the rival text which is opposed to it is sustained, I conceive, that to make the just inference which flows from these premises in favor of the integrity of the Greek Vulgate, requires not so much a sound judgment as an honest mind.
In closing the vindication of the Received Text, nothing more remains for its advocate, than to reply briefly to the charge of incompetence which has been urged against those by whom it was formed. The pedigree of this text has been traced by a few steps to Erasmus, and a lack of the most necessary helps to correct the text, of which it is conceived he was destitute, has been urged as a sufficient proof of the inefficiency of his attempt. Of Manuscripts, it is said, he knew little, having possessed none of those ancient copies of which his successors have made so much use in amending the text. Of Versions he was even more ignorant, having been wholly unacquainted with those of the Oriental and Western Church. And of Fathers he made little use, having merely followed Athanasius, Nazianzen, and Theophylact, without being conscious of the value of Clement, Origen, and Cyril’s testimony, in correcting the text.
How far the lack of those necessary helps to correct the Greek text have occasioned the failure of Erasmus may, I conceive, be easily appreciated from the use which has been made of them by those who have succeeded him in that task. The merit of the Vulgar edition which he published, and of the Corrected Text, which M. Griesbach has edited, must be decided by the internal evidence, and without extending our attention beyond the three doctrinal texts to which M. Griesbach has limited the sum of his important improvements, there is now little reason to doubt which of those candidates for praise is best entitled to our approbation. Had the late editor established the integrity of his text in all other points, in which he has disturbed the received reading; there can be no room to question, (until the principles of common sense become as inverted as the theory of sacred criticism), that the advantages which the text would have gained from his corrections would be more than counterbalanced by the disadvantages which it has sustained from his corruptions. But in this undertaking, I am free to conclude, until what I have advanced to the contrary is refuted, he has totally failed. His system appears to be as unsound in theory as it is deleterious in practice. Among all the passages which have been examined, and which include the whole of those of any importance in which he has violated the integrity of the sacred canon, he has not adduced a single witness whose testimony is admissible, while he has set aside numbers whose credit, I scruple not to assert, he was unable to impeach.
Nor let it be conceived in disparagement of the great undertaking of Erasmus, that he was merely fortuitously right. Had he barely undertaken to perpetuate the tradition on which he received the sacred text he would have done as much as could be required of him, and more than sufficient to put to shame the puny efforts of those who have vainly labored to improve upon his design. His extraordinary success in that immortal work may be clearly traced to the wisdom of the plan on which he proceeded. And little more is necessary than to follow him in his defence of that plan, in order to produce in his own words, a complete refutation of the objections on which he has been condemned, and a full exposure of the shallowness of those principles on which his labors would be now superseded by a different system of critical emendation.
With respect to Manuscripts, it is indisputable that he was acquainted with every variety which is known to us, having distributed them into two principal classes, one of which corresponds with the Complutensian edition, the other with the Vatican manuscript. And he has specified the positive grounds on which he received the one arid rejected the other. The former was in possession of the Greek Church, the latter in that of the Latin. Judging from the internal evidence, he had as good reason to conclude the Eastern Church had not corrupted their received text, as he had grounds to suspect the Rhodians, from whom the Western Church derived their manuscripts, had accommodated then to the Latin Vulgate. One short insinuation which he has thrown out, sufficiently proves, that his objections to these manuscripts lay more deep, and they do immortal credit to his sagacity. In the age in which the Vulgate was formed the Church, he was aware, was infested with Origenists and Arians; an affinity between any manuscript and that version, consequently conveyed some suspicion that its text was corrupted. So little dependence was he inclined to place upon the authority of Origen, who is the pillar and ground of the Corrected edition.
With regard to Versions, it is true he was unacquainted with the ancient Italic and later Oriental translations. But were the history of those versions known to the objector, I trust they would be scarcely opposed to the system of one, who was aware of the necessity of avoiding the contagion of the Arian and Origenian heresies. With the primitive Italic and Syriac Versions he was unacquainted, but I yet remain to be informed of what other use they could have been made, than to confirm him in the plan which he had judiciously chosen. I have yet to hear of a single text which they could have led him to adopt, which is not found in his edition. His whole dependence was rested on the Greek and Latin Vulgate; and if we may believe himself, he used some ancient copies of the latter. Of these he made the best use, confronting their testimony and estimating the internal evidence of the context with the external testimony of the Eastern and Western Churches, he thence ascertained the authentic text of Scripture. A particular vindication of this part of his plan cannot be demanded from me, who have advanced so much to prove that it affords the only rational prospect of ascertaining the primitive or genuine text of the New Testament; whatever aid may be derived from other versions and texts in defending contested readings.
In using the testimony of ancient Fathers it appears never to have entered his conception that any utility could be derived from collating them verbatim with the text of Scripture. Before the labors of modern critics, the monks of Upper Egypt and Palestine, who divided their time between this profitable employment and the perusal of Origen’s speculative theology, were probably the only persons who ever engaged in this interesting pastime. Of the value of the works of those early writers in ascertaining and vindicating the doctrinal integrity of the text, no man was more conscious than Erasmus. With this view he read over the works of the principal writers and commentators, bequeathing the task of collating their quotations with the text of Scripture to his more dull and diligent successors. With what effect he engaged in such an office, those who are curious to be informed will best ascertain by examining the text which he has published. The advocates of the Received Text have little to apprehend from a comparison with the Corrected Text, by which it is now supposed to be wholly superseded. In all those passages in which the integrity of the sacred text has been defended, the vindication of Erasmus’s text is inseparable from that of the vulgar edition.
It is not, however, my intention to assert, that I conceive the text of Erasmus absolutely faultless, but with the exception of some places, in which the reading of the Greek Vulgate has not been preserved, I know not on what authority we might venture to correct it. The Egyptian and Palestine texts have been so often convicted of error in points where the Byzantine text admits of the fullest defence, that their testimony, when opposed to the vulgar Greek, cannot be entitled to the smallest attention. And when the verbal integrity merely of the sacred text is concerned, no one it is presumed, will set the testimony of Versions and Fathers in competition with that of the vulgar edition. I am well aware, that many manuscripts of reputed antiquity exist, which contain the Byzantine text and yet differ from the Received Text set forth in the printed edition, but numberless circumstances prohibit our correcting it on their authority.
Nothing can be more fallacious than the criteria by which the age of Greek manuscripts is in general determined. To be written in the large or uncial character, without accents or spirits, is among the most decisive masks of antiquity. But I would submit it to the profound in antiquarian research, whether more can be safely inferred from these peculiarities, than that the use of spectacles was not known when those manuscripts were written; a larger character being necessary for the eye, when impaired by age, as the defect admitted of no remedy from optical assistance. And what evinces the uncertainty of such criteria, is the certainty of the fact, that the use of accents was well known in the fourth century, previously to the existence of almost every manuscript with which we are acquainted; and the use of small connected characters must have been known at a much earlier period. St. Epiphanius describes the different accents which occur in the Greek, as adopted in copies of the sacred writings, in the age when he flourished. And the accounts which are recorded of the notaries or swift-writers, which attended Origen and St. Chrysostom, when delivering their Homilies, sufficiently prove that a small and connected character must have been in use when they lived, similar to that which exists in the most modern manuscripts. The little certainty which can of course be attained in determining the age of manuscripts by the form or the size of the letter, consequently deprives those which are written in the uncial character of any paramount weight in determining the genuine text of Scripture.
For some slight verbal and literal errors in the vulgar Greek we must indeed compound, as the unavoidable effect of careless transcription, but these do not in the least impeach the integrity of the Received Text or Authorized Version. In the investigation or defence of the truth, they must be lighter than dust in the balance. As they rarely if ever affect the sense, and even in this case do not relate to any point of doctrine or morals, they cannot prove the source of error or form the ground of controversy. They generally relate to verbal niceties, which are not capable of being expressed in a translation, and as such cannot be deserving of the smallest consideration from divines, of whatever importance they may be regarded by critics or grammarians. Whatever may have been the original reading of the sacred text, there can be little doubt that the inspired writers could find no difficulty in sanctioning the authorized reading. This inference is clearly deducible from their practice with respect to the Septuagint, and indeed the variations discoverable in their quotations from the Old Testament and in their narratives of our Lord’s discourses, must convince us that they considered that strict literal accuracy which is now required in their works, as far beneath their attention. In the uncertainty which must attend every attempt to recover their precise words and expressions, where the Greek manuscripts differ, the only wise plan appears to lie in preserving a settled state of things, and in retaining of course that reading which is most general. That reading, however, it is not disputed, is found in the vulgar text of our printed editions. Admitting that in choosing a text among the manuscripts which contain the vulgar Greek, we have fixed on the worst, any advantage which would arise from a change, would be more than counterbalanced by the disadvantages of innovation. But that the Greek Vulgate merits this character, is a point which will not be readily conceded by its defenders: and the advocates for an improved edition have infinitely more to advance in favor of their schemes of emendation, than they have been hitherto able to urge, before we can assign their Corrected Text the smallest authority. It is sufficient for us that all their attempts to invalidate the integrity of the Received Text in any point of the smallest importance have proved wholly abortive. The same plea will not be easily established in favor of the text which they have undertaken to advocate. If I am not greatly deceived, the corruption of this text may be not only demonstrated, but traced to the source in which it has originated. If this undertaking be practicable, as I trust it is, it must add the greatest weight to the authority of the Greek Vulgate, as it will annihilate the force of every objection which can be raised to the Received Text from the opposition of a rival edition; and by affording an adequate opportunity of vindicating the tradition of the Church from every suspicion of corruption, add the last confirmation to that system by which the authority of the Received Text has been defended.