The Procedure of the Revision Committee
Some of our readers will perhaps be asking how it was
possible that the learned men who composed the Revision Committee could have
allowed the great mass of testimony which sustains the authenticity of the
Received Text to be set aside upon the sole authority of two Codices so dubious
as the two we have been discussing?
The explanation is that the Revisionists did not consider these matters at all. They were not supposed to undertake the refashioning of the Greek Text - for that lay entirely outside their instructions - and they had therefore no occasion to go into the many intricate matters involved in the weighing of the evidence for and against the Received Text. Neither was it their province to decide upon the soundness of the principle of following ancient Mss. only; and the account of their proceedings (published by Dr. Newth, one of the Revisers) makes it quite plain that they did not have before them, or give any consideration to, the weighty matters of fact, affecting the character of those two "ancient witnesses," which we are now putting before our readers.
It is therefore to be noted (and it is an important point) that in regard to the underlying Greek Text of the R.V. and the principles that controlled its formation, no appeal can properly be made to the scholarship of the Committee, however great it might be. In view of all the facts it seems clear that, not until after the Committee had disbanded, and their work had come under the scrutiny of able scholars and faithful men, were they themselves aware that they had seemingly given their official sanction to the substitution of the "New Greek Text" of Westcott and Hort for the Textus Receptus. The Westcott and Hort Text had not yet been published, and hence had never been subjected to scrutiny and criticism; nor had the principles upon which it was constructed been investigated. Only after it was too late were the facts realized, even by the Revisers themselves.
The mischief has thus been traced back to those two scholars, and to a Text that had not yet seen the light of day and been subjected to the scrutiny of other scholars. And we now know that not until after the R.V. of the New Testament had been published was it known that the Westcott and Hort Text had been quietly imposed upon the Revisers, and that it was conformed to the two old Codices, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.
Dean Burgon was one of the first to call attention to the fact that the most radical departures in the R.V. were not new translations of the Received Text, but were departures that arose from changes in the Greek Text itself. No announcement of this important fact had been made by the Committee; and indeed there was seemingly a disposition to throw a veil over this part of the proceedings in Committee. "But," says Dean Burgon, "I traced the mischief home to its two authors - Dr. Westcott and Hort - a copy of whose unpublished text, the most vicious in existence, had been confidentially and under pledges of the strictest secrecy, placed in the hands of every member of the revising body."
Dean Burgon thereupon proceeded to publish some of these facts in a series of articles which appeared in the Quarterly Review in 1883; and subsequent events have amply proved the correctness of his anticipations at that time, namely that the effect of careful investigations would eventually convince all competent judges that the principles on which the "New Greek Text" was constructed were "radically unsound;" and that "the Revision of 1881 must come to be universally regarded as what it most certainly is - the most astonishing, as well as the most calamitous, literary blunder of the age!"
Dean Burgon had undertaken the examination of the R.V. upon the supposition that that work was what its name implies, and what its authors had been charged to produce, namely, a "Revision of the Authorized Version" But, as he puts it, "we speedily found that an entirely different problem awaited us. We made the distressing discovery that the underlying Greek Text had been completely refashioned throughout." This is the more serious because no one, upon reading the preface to the R. V. would find any hint at such a thing. But, thanks to the thorough investigations of scholars of the first rank (some of whom are quoted in this essay) it is now possible for all who are interested in this great and solemn question, to satisfy themselves that Drs. Westcott and Hort have indeed, as Dean Burgon said, " succeeded in producing a Text vastly more remote from the inspired autographs of the evangelists and apostles of our Lord, than any which has appeared since the invention of printing."
"A revision of the English Authorized Version (not, be it observed, a revision of the Greek Text having been sanctioned by the Convention of the Southern Province of the Church of England in 1871, the opportunity was eagerly grasped by two irresponsible scholars of the University of Cambridge (meaning Dr. Westcott and Hort) for obtaining the general sanction of the Revision body, and thus indirectly of the Convocation itself, for a private venture of their own - their privately devised Revision of the Greek Text. On that Greek Text of theirs (which I hold to be the most depraved that has ever appeared in print) with some slight modifications, our English Authorized Version has been silently revised: silently, I say, for in the margin of the English no record is preserved of the underlying Textual changes introduced by the Revisionists. On the contrary, use has been made of that margin to insinuate suspicion and distrust, in countless particulars as to the authenticity of parts of the Text which have been suffered to remain unaltered."
An account of the mode of procedure of the Revision Committee, whereby they settled the final reading of the English Text has been published by one of the members (Dr. Newth); and as detailed by him it is certainly not calculated to inspire us with confidence in the results thereby arrived at. This was the mode: A passage being under consideration, the Chairman asks, "Are any Textual changes proposed?" If a change be proposed then "the evidence for and against is briefly stated." This is done by "two members of the Company - Dr. Scrivener and Dr. Hort." And if those two members disagree "The vote of the Company is taken, and the proposed Reading accepted or rejected. The Text being thus settled, the Chairman asks for proposals on the Rendering" (i.e., the Translation).
Thus it appears that there was no attempt whatever on the part of the Revisionists to examine the evidence bearing upon the many disputed readings. They only listened to the views of two of their number (one of whom as we have seen, was fatally obsessed by a vicious theory) and thereupon, in summary fashion, they "settled" the Text by a majority vote. Can we possibly have any confidence in a Text that was "settled" by such a slap-dash method? Sir Edmund Beckett in his book, 'Should the Revised Be Authorized?' (p.42) aptly remarks concerning the above that, if Dr. Newth's description "of the process whereby the Revisionists 'settled' the Greek alterations is not a kind of joke, it is quite enough to 'settle' this Revised Greek Testament in a very different sense."
Canon Cook ( R. V. of the First Three Gospels Considered ) says concerning the above explanation by Dr. Newth, "Such a proceeding appeared to me so strange that I fully expected the account would be corrected, or that some explanation would be given which might remove the very unpleasant impression." But not so. On the contrary, the Chairman himself (Bishop Ellicott) is authority for the fact that Dr. Newth's account of the method whereby the Greek Text was "settled" is quite correct. Sir Edmund Beckett has, we think, put the matter very well when he said that Dr. Newth's account of the way the Committee on Revision "settled" the Greek Text "Is quite enough to 'settle' the Revised Version in a very different sense." For in the production of the "New Greek Text" the Revisers have departed from the Textus Receptus nearly 36,000 times. The question of every proposed change should have been made a matter of careful investigation, and should have been reached according to the weight of the evidence, for and against. But from the published account of the proceedings, vouched for by the Chairman (Bishop ]Ellicott) as correct, we understand that in no case was there any examination of the question, or weighing of the evidence by the Committee.
Upon this state of things Bishop Wordsworth remarks. "The question arises whether the Church of England, which sanctioned a revision of her Authorized Version under the express condition (which she most wisely imposed) that no changes should be made in it except such as were absolute necessary, could consistently accept a Version in which 36,000 changes have been made, not a fiftieth of which can be shown to be needed or even desirable.'
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