Biblical Preservation

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Let's Examine This One

Dr. Warfield's treatment of the New Testament text illustrates this cleavage in his thinking. In the realm of dogmatics he agreed with the Westminster Confession that the New Testament text had been "kept pure in all ages" by God's "singular care and providence,"

The problem for Dr Hills, of course, is this: does not 'all ages' include the first three centuries where there is not a shred of UNAMBIGUOUS evidence that the Byznatine text-type even existed?

but in the realm of New Testament textual criticism he agreed with Westcott and Hort in ignoring God's providence and even went so far as to assert that the same methods were to be applied to the text of the New Testament that would be applied to the text of a morning newspaper. It was to bridge the gap between his dogmatics and his New Testament textual criticism that he suggested that God had worked providentially through Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort to preserve the New Testament text. But this suggestion leads to conclusions which are extremely bizarre and inconsistent.

It would have us believe that during the manuscript period orthodox Christians corrupted the New Testament text Since no two manuscripts agree completely, this pretty much seems to me to be a basic fact that Hills is attempting to deny.

, that the text used by the Protestant Reformers was the worst of all, and that the True Text was not restored until the 19th century, when Tregelles brought it forth out of the Pope's library, when Tischendorf rescued it from a waste basket on Mt. Sinai, This statement: a) is nothing short of a flat out lie - see Tischendor's own account where it was presented to him in a folded cloth; and b) Who preserved this text - God or Satan? And why?

and when Westcott and Hort were providentially guided to construct a theory of it which ignores God's special providence and treats the text of the New Testament like the text of any other ancient book. But if the True New Testament Text was lost for 1500 years, how can we be sure that it has ever been found again?” (Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, The Christian Research Press, 1973, pp. 109-110.)


This, to me, is one of the most amusing arguments Hills produces. In Hills' own theory of textual criticism, a ROMAN CATHOLIC OPPONENT OF THE REFORMATION (see, I can play that rhetorical game, too) named Erasmus invoked readings into the Greek that have ZERO MANUSCRIPT support. In other words, Erasmus put Vulgate readings into the TR in 1516 - some that have NEVER been found in a single Greek manuscript.

Can somebody tell me what is the difference between the true NT text being lost for 1500 years (as Hills accuses naturalistic critics of believing) and the true NT text being lost for, oh, 1500 years (Hills' own position as the 'true text' was not fully there until Erasmus was 'divinely guided' to choose which Latin readings were inspired)?

Is there really any difference in a text lost for 1500 years and a text lost for 1500 years?

I'm unaware of one.
Bill, to the statement, “Tischendorf rescued [Codex Sinaiticus] from a waste basket on Mt. Sinai” you retorted,

This statement: a) is nothing short of a flat out lie - see Tischendorf's own account where it was presented to him in a folded cloth; and b) Who preserved this text - God or Satan? And why?”​

In A General Introduction to the Bible, by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, they write concerning Codex Sinaiticus,

This fourth century Greek manuscript is generally considered to be the most important witness to the text because of its antiquity, accuracy, and lack of omissions. The story of the discovery of Aleph is one of the most fascinating and romantic in textual history. It was found in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai by the German Count Tischendorf, who was living in Prussia by permission of the czar. On his first visit (1844), he discovered forty-three leaves of vellum, containing portions of the LXX (I Chronicles, Jeremiah, Nehemiah and Esther), in a basket of scraps which the monks were using to light their fires. He secured it and took it to the University Library at Leipzig, Germany. It remains there, known as the Codex Frederico-Augustanus [after his patron, Frederick Augustus, King of Saxony]. Tischendorf's second visit, in 1853, proved unfruitful; but in 1859, under the authority of Czar Alexander II, he returned again. Just before he was to return home empty-handed, the monastery steward showed him an almost complete copy of the Scriptures and some other books. These were subsequently acquired as a “conditional gift” to the czar. This manuscript is now known as the famous Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph). It contains over half the Old Testament (LXX), and all of the New, with the exception of Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. All of the Old Testament Apocrypha, with the addition of the "Epistle of Barnabus", and a large portion of the "Shepherd of Hermas" are also included. This codex was written in large clear Greek uncials on 364½ pages (plus the forty-three at Leipsig), measuring 13½ by 14 inches. (pp. 273-274)​

Apart from the blatant errors in the first sentence regarding “accuracy, and lack of omissions” (this has been discussed by me elsewhere here at PB), what interests me is their statement in the last sentence, that it was written on “364½ pages (plus the forty-three at Leipsig)” – do they include those forty-three in the Codex? Let’s let Count Tischendorf answer this himself. Telling of his first visit in April of 1844, he writes,

It was at the foot of Mount Sinai, in the Convent of St. Catherine, that I discovered the pearl of all my researches. In visiting the library of the monastery, in the month of May, 1844, I perceived in the middle of the great hall a large and wide basket full of old parchments; and the librarian, who was a man of information, told me that two heaps of papers like these, mouldered by time, had been already committed to the flames. What was my surprise to find amid this heap of papers a considerable number of sheets of a copy of the Old Testament in Greek, which seemed to me to be one of the most ancient that I had ever seen. The authorities of the convent allowed me to possess myself of a third of these parchments, or about forty-three sheets, all the more readily as they were destined for the fire. But I could not get them to yield up possession of the remainder. The too lively satisfaction which I had displayed had aroused their suspicions as to the value of this manuscript. I transcribed a page of the text of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and enjoined on the monks to take religious care of all such remains which might fall in their way.​

A friend of his living in Egypt wrote him to say, “The monks of the convent have, since your departure, learned the value of these sheets of parchment, and will not part with them at any price.” Of his second visit the Count writes,

I resolved, therefore, to return to the East to copy this priceless manuscript. Having set out from Leipzig in January, 1853, I embarked at Trieste for Egypt, and in the month of February I stood for the second time in the Convent of Sinai. This second journey was more successful even than the first, from the discoveries that I made of rare Biblical manuscripts; but I was not able to discover any further traces of the treasure of 1844. I forget: I found in a roll of papers a little fragment which, written over on both sides, contained eleven short lines of Genesis, which convince me that the manuscript originally contained the entire Old Testament, but that the greater part had been long since destroyed.​

Finally, on a third visit in 1859, he strikes paydirt :

After having devoted a few days in turning over the manuscripts of the convent, not without alighting here and there on some precious parchment or other, I told my Bedouins, on the 4th February, to hold themselves in readiness to set out with their dromedaries for Cairo on the 7th, when an entirely fortuitous circumstance carried me at once to the goal of all my desires. On the afternoon of this day I was taking a walk with the steward of the convent in the neighbourhood, and as we returned, towards sunset, he begged me to take some refreshment with him in his cell. Scarcely had he entered the room, when, resuming our former subject of conversation, he said: “And I, too, have read a Septuagint” — i.e. a copy of the Greek translation made by the Seventy. And so saying, he took down from the corner of the room a bulky kind of volume, wrapped up in a red cloth, and laid it before me. I unrolled the cover, and discovered, to my great surprise, not only those very fragments which, fifteen years before, I had taken out of the basket, but also other parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament complete, and, in addition, the Epistle of Barnabas and a part of the Pastor of Hermas. Full of joy, which this time I had the self-command to conceal from the steward and the rest of the community, I asked, as if in a careless way, for permission to take the manuscript into my sleeping chamber to look over it more at leisure. There by myself I could give way to the transport of joy which I fat. I knew that I held in my hand the most precious Biblical treasure in existence--a document whose age and importance exceeded that of all the manuscripts which I had ever examined during twenty years' study of the subject. I cannot now, I confess, recall all the emotions which I felt in that exciting moment with such a diamond in my possession. Though my lamp was dim, and the night cold, I sat down at once to transcribe the Epistle of Barnabas. For two centuries search has been made in vain for the original Greek of the first part of this Epistle, which has only been known through a very faulty Latin translation. And yet this letter, from the end of the second down to the beginning of the fourth century, had an extensive authority, since many Christians assigned to it and to the Pastor of Hermas a place side by side with the inspired writings of the New Testament. This was the very reason why these two writings were both thus bound up with the Sinaitic Bible, the transcription of which is to be referred to the first half of the fourth century, and about the time of the first Christian emperor.​

Tischendorf’s published account:

From these accounts it appears that what the steward held forth in the red cloth were, along with the “very fragments” Tischendorf had seen years before, other vellum leaves likewise rescued from the burning pile by those monks who quickly realized their value and secured them. Geisler and Nix do seem to include the 43 leaves rescued from the fire with the rest of the Aleph codex, as part of it.

Bill, I think you owe somebody an apology, for the statement in question seems very far from a “flat out lie”.

[Note: see the P.S. in the following post for further information on this topic.]

Concerning your question, “Who preserved this text - God or Satan? And why?” that’s a proper query for a Reformed discussion board! Westminster Confession 3.1: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own free will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass [Ephesians 1:11]: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” The Lord preserved the codex, and many others as well. Why should we not have a wealth of MSS to choose from, to have abundant data so as to seek to discern intelligently the truth of the history of the transmission of the NT text?

You remarked, “The problem for Dr Hills, of course, is this: does not 'all ages' [in the WCF 1:8] include the first three centuries where there is not a shred of UNAMBIGUOUS evidence that the Byzantine text-type even existed?”

In another thread (see below) this topic has been closely looked at. It is clear for all to see the Byzantine/Majority/Traditional text-type had to have an existence prior to the third century now that a) the Hortian theory of an “Antiochian recension” has been debunked due to utter lack of historical attestation, and b) the remarkable textual phenomena of spoken of by Zane and David Hodges:

No one has yet explained how a long, slow process spread out over many centuries as well as over a wide geographical area, and involving a multitude of copyists, who often knew nothing of the state of the text outside of their own monasteries or scriptoria, could achieve this widespread uniformity out of the diversity presented by earlier forms of the text. Even an official edition of the New Testament—promoted with ecclesiastical sanction throughout the known world—would have great difficulty achieving this result as the history of Jerome’s Vulgate amply demonstrates. But an unguided process achieving relative stability and uniformity in the diversified textual, historical, and cultural circumstances in which the New Testament was copied, imposes impossible strains on our imagination. (Appendix C, The Identity of the New Testament Text, by Wilbur Pickering, p. 168)​

You say, “there is not a shred of UNAMBIGUOUS evidence that the Byzantine text-type even existed” in the first three centuries, and yet you can only baldly assert this without ANY evidence that it did not (and contrary to the presence of distinctive Byzantine readings in the papyri), while offering no cogent explanation for the existence of this text-type in overwhelming numerical superiority to the other text-types from the fourth century onward. Hort’s theory is defunct, an alternative explanation is not to be found, and I am not sure you can account for this data.

Robinson and Pierpont, remarking on this in their Introduction, say,

Jerome’s revision was absolutely necessary to unify the Latin tradition. Apart from a similar “Byzantine revision” (of which there is no historical evidence), the Byzantine Textform dominance cannot be satisfactorily explained by those who reject its possible “autograph archetype” status. Nor can appeal to a simplistic “process” hypothesis solve the problem.

An unrestricted “process” would lead only to greater mixture and less and less unity of text, such as had occurred with the Old Latin manuscripts. Only a common pre-existing archetype will permit order to come out of chaos. [Italics theirs]

(from The New Testament in the Original Greek according to the Byzantine/Majority Textform, p. xxix)​

So, while you cannot account for these things, we do posit a cogent history of the transmission of the NT text, and the emergence of the Byzantine text-type from the autographs.

Incidentally, the Introduction quoted from just above will provide an excellent overview of the “Byzantine priority” hypothesis, and a refutation of the critical principles upon which the Critical Text is built.

Bill, you ask,

Can somebody tell me what is the difference between the true NT text being lost for 1500 years (as Hills accuses naturalistic critics of believing) and the true NT text being lost for, oh, 1500 years (Hills' own position as the 'true text' was not fully there until Erasmus was 'divinely guided' to choose which Latin readings were inspired)?

Is there really any difference in a text lost for 1500 years and a text lost for 1500 years?​

These are excellent and nuanced questions you bring up!

In the thread “What is the authentic New Testament text?” I interact with some of your views of Dr. Hills’ writings – as well as James A. Price’s online article, “The King James Only View of Edward F. Hills”. Perhaps I should bring that thread back to the fore as it is pertinent to these present discussions.

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P.S. Some further info on the finding of Codex Sinaiticus. This is from Easton’s Bible Dictionary:

"On that day, when walking with the provisor of the convent, he spoke with much regret of his ill-success. Returning from their promenade, Tischendorf accompanied the monk to his room, and there had displayed to him what his companion called a copy of the LXX., which he, the ghostly brother, owned. The MS. was wrapped up in a piece of cloth, and on its being unrolled, to the surprise and delight of the critic the very document presented itself which he had given up all hope of seeing. His object had been to complete the fragmentary LXX. of 1844, which he had declared to be the most ancient of all Greek codices on vellum that are extant; but he found not only that, but a copy of the Greek New Testament attached, of the same age, and perfectly complete, not wanting a single page or paragraph." [bold and underlined emphases mine –Steve]​

What the above indicates to me, if it be accurate, is that – corroborating the facts provided in the previous post – Tischendorf found in this bundle the missing parts (such as had not yet been burned) of the LXX he had, in 1844, rescued from the flames, these being what remained of those very vellum parchments, and attached to them, being part of the same MS, was the NT we now call a, Aleph, or Sinaiticus.

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