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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Text of the New Testament

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TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT . 1 . The text of the NT as read in ordinary copies of the Gr. Testament, and as translated in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] of 1611, is substantially identical with that printed by Stephanus (Robert Estienne) in 1550, and by the Elzevirs in their popular edition of 1624. To this text the Elzevirs in their next edition (1633) applied the phrase ‘Textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum’; and by the name of Textus Receptus (TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] ) or Received Text, it has since been generally known. The edition of Stephanus was based upon the two earliest printed texts of the NT, that of Erasmus (published in 1516), and that of the Complutensian Polyglot (printed in 1514, but not published until 1522); and he also made use of 15 MSS, mostly at Paris. Two of these (Codd. D [Note: Deuteronomist.] and L, see below, § 7 ) were of early date, but not much use was made of them; the others were minuscules (see § 5 ) of relatively late date. The principal editor of the Complutensian Polyglot, Lopez de Stunica, used MSS borrowed from the Vatican; they have not been identified, but appear to have been late, and ordinary in character. Erasmus, working to a publisher’s order, with the object of anticipating the Complutensian, depended principally upon a single 12th cent. MS for the Gospels, upon one of the 13th or 14th for the Epistles, and upon one of the 12th for the Apocalypse. All of these were at Basle, and were merely those which chanced to be most accessible.

The TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] is consequently derived from (at most) some 20 or 25 MSS, dating from the last few centuries before the invention of printing, and not selected on any estimate of merit, but merely as being ready to the editor’s hands. They may be taken as fairly representative of the great mass of Gr. Test. MSS of the late Middle Ages, but no more. At the present time we have over 3000 Greek MSS of the NT, or of parts of it, and they range back in age to the 4th cent., or even, in the case of a few small fragments, to the 3rd. The history of Textual Criticism during the past two centuries and a half has been the history of the accumulation of all this material (and of the further masses of evidence provided by ancient translations), and of its application to the discovery of the true text of the NT; and it is not surprising that such huge accessions of evidence, going back in age a thousand years or more behind the date of Erasmus’ principal witnesses, should have necessitated a considerable number of alterations in the details of the TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] . The plan of the present article is, first to set forth a summary of the materials now available, and then to indicate the drift of criticism with regard to the results obtained from them.

2 . The materials available for ascertaining the true text of the NT (and, in their measure, of all other ancient works of literature) fall into three classes: (1) Manuscripts, or copies of the NT in the original Greek; (2) Versions, or ancient translations of it into other languages, which were themselves, of course, originally derived from very early Greek MSS, now lost; (3) Quotations in ancient writers, which show what readings these writers found in the copies accessible to them. Of these three classes it will be necessary to treat separately in the first instance, and afterwards to combine the results of their testimony.

3 . Manuscripts . It is practically certain that the originals of the NT books were written on rolls of papyrus , that being the material in universal use for literary purposes in the Greek- and Latin-speaking world. Each book would he written separately, and would at first circulate separately; and so long as papyrus continued to be employed, it was impossible to include more than a single Gospel or a group of short Epistles in one volume. Consequently there could be no collected ‘New Testament’ at this early stage, and no question (so far as the conditions of literary transmission were concerned) of fixing a Canon of books to be included in such a collection. Papyrus is a material (made from the pith of the stem of the Egyptian water-plant of that name) which becomes brittle with age, and quite unable to resist damp; consequently papyrus MSS have almost wholly perished, from friction and use if they remained above ground, from moisture if they were buried beneath it. Only in Middle and Upper Egypt, where the soil is extraordinarily dry, have buried papyri survived. Literary works and business documents have been dug up of late years in Egypt in very large numbers, ranging from about b.c. 500 to a.d. 700, so that the styles of writing in use at the time when the NT books were written are well known to us; but Christianity and its literature are not likely to have penetrated much beyond Lower Egypt in the first two centuries of their existence, and consequently it is perfectly natural that no manuscripts of the NT of this period are now extant. From the latter part of the 3rd cent. a.d. a few small fragments have been recovered, which show that some of the NT books were known in Middle Egypt at that date; but the only papyrus MS as yet discovered which can be said to have substantial textual importance, is one (Oxyrhynchus Pap. 657, 3rd 4th cent.) containing about a third of Hebrews, which is the more valuable because Cod. B is defective in that book. Besides the natural causes just mentioned for the disappearance of early Biblical MSS, it should be remembered that Christian books (especially the official copies in the possession of Churches) were liable to destruction in times of persecution.

4 . These conditions, which amply account for the disappearance of the earliest MSS of the NT, were fundamentally altered in the 4th century. The acceptance of Christianity by the Roman Empire gave a great impulse to the circulation of the Scriptures; and simultaneously papyrus began to be superseded by vellum as the predominant literary material. Papyrus continued to be used in Egypt until the 8th cent. for Greek documents, and, to a leaser and decreasing extent, for Greek literature, and for Coptic writings to a still later date; but the best copies of books were henceforth written upon vellum. Vellum had two great advantages: It was much more durable, and (being made up in codex or book-form, instead of rolls) it was possible to include a much greater quantity of matter in a single manuscript. Hence from the 4th cent. it became possible to have complete copies of the NT, or even of the whole Bible; and it is to the 4th cent. that the earliest extant Biblical MSS of any substantial size belong.

5 . Vellum MSS are divided into two classes, according to the style of their writing. From the 4th cent. to the 10th they are written in uncials , i.e. in capital letters, of relatively large size, each being formed separately. In the 9th cent. a new style of writing was introduced, by the adaptation to literary purposes of the ordinary running hand of the day; this, consisting as it did of smaller characters, is called minuscule , and since these smaller letters could be easily linked together into a running hand, it is also commonly called cursive . In the 9th cent. the uncial and minuscule styles are found co-existing, the former perhaps still predominating; in the 10th the minuscules have decidedly triumphed, and the uncial style dies out. Minuscules continue in use, with progressive modifications of form, until the supersession of manuscripts by print in the 15th cent.; at first always upon vellum, but from the 13th cent. onwards sometimes upon paper.

6 . Uncial MSS being, as a class, considerably older than the minuscules, it is natural to expect that the purest and least corrupted texts will be found among them; though it is always necessary to reckon with the possibility that a minuscule MS may be a direct and faithful representative of a MS very much older than itself. Over 160 uncial MSS (including fragments) of the NT or of parts of it are known to exist, of which more than 110 contain the Gospels or some portion of them. In the apparatus criticus of the NT they are indicated by the capital letters, first of the Latin alphabet, then of the Greek, and finally of the Hebrew, for which it is now proposed to substitute numerals preceded by O. Further, since comparatively few MSS contain the whole of the NT, it is found convenient to divide it into four groups: (1) Gospels, (2) Acts and Catholic Epistles, (3) Pauline Epistles, (4) Apocalypse; and each group has its own numeration of MSS. The uncial MSS which contain all of these groups, such as those known as A and C, retain these designations in each group; but when a MS does not contain them all, its letter is given to another MS in those groups which it does not contain. But here again it is now proposed to adopt a simpler system, by which nearly every MS will have one letter or number to itself, and one only.

7 . A selection of the most important uncial MSS will now be briefly described, so as to indicate their importance in the textual criticism of the NT:

א . Codex Sinaiticus , originally a complete codex of the Greek Bible. Forty-three leaves of the OT were discovered by Tischendorf in the monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai in 1844, and acquired by him for the University Library at Leipzig; while the remainder (156 leaves of the OT, and the entire NT, with the Epistle of Barnabas and part of the ‘Shepherd’ of Hermas, on 148 leaves) were found by him in the same place in 1859, and eventually secured for the Imperial Library at St. Petersburg. The Bible text is written with four columns to the page (the narrow columns being a survival from the papyrus period); and palæographers are now generally agreed in referring the MS to the 4th cent., so that it is one of the two oldest MSS of the Bible in existence. Tischendorf attributes the original text of the MS to four scribes, one of whom he believes (though, in the opinion of many, this is very questionable) to have been also the scribe of the Codex Vaticanus (B); and the corrections to six different hands, of whom the most important are א a (about contemporary with the original scribe), and א ca and א cb (of the 7th cent.). The corrections of א ca were derived (according to a note affixed to the Book of Esther) from a MS corrected by the martyr Pamphilus, the disciple of Origen and founder of the library of Cæsarea. It has been held that א itself was written at Cæsarea, but this cannot be regarded as certain. The character of its text will be considered in § 40 ff. below.

A. Codex Alexandrinus , probably written at Alexandria in the 5th cent., and now in the British Museum. From an uncertain, but early, date it belonged to the Patriarchs of Alexandria; it was brought thence by Cyril Lucar in 1621, when he became Patriarch of Constantinople, and was presented by him to Charles i. in 1627, and so passed, with the rest of the Royal Library, to the British Museum in 1757. It contains the whole Greek Bible, with the exception of 40 lost leaves (containing Matthew 1:1 to Matthew 25:6 , John 6:50 to John 8:52 , 2 Corinthians 4:13 to 2 Corinthians 12:6 ); it also originally contained the two Epistles of Clement and the Psalms of Solomon, but the Psalms and the conclusion of the Second Epistle have disappeared, together with one leaf from the First Epistle. The text of the NT is written by three scribes, with two columns to the page: there are many corrections by the original scribes and by an almost contemporary reviser (A a ).

B. Codex Vaticanus , No. 1209 in the Vatican Library at Rome, where it has been since about 1481. It is probably the oldest and the best extant MS of the Greek NT, and its evidence is largely responsible for the changes of text embodied in the English RV [Note: Revised Version.] . It is written in a small, neat uncial, probably of the 4th cent., with three columns to the page. It originally contained the whole Bible (except the Books of Maccabees), possibly with additional books, like א and A ; but it has lost from Hebrews 9:14 to the end of the NT, including the Pastoral Epistles (but not the Catholic Epistles, which follow the Acts and hence have escaped) and Apocalypse.

C. Codex Ephraemi , in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. This is a palimpsest , i.e. a manuscript of which the original writing has been partially washed or scraped off the vellum in order to use it again to receive other writing. In this case the original writing was the text of the Greek Bible, written in the 5th cent., in one broad column to the page; and this was sacrificed in the 12th cent. in order to inscribe on the same vellum some treatises by St. Ephraem of Syria. Only 64 leaves of the OT now survive, and 145 of the NT (out of 238); and often it is impossible to decipher the original writing. The MS is therefore only fitfully and intermittently of service.

D. Codex Bezae , in the University Library at Cambridge, to which it was presented in 1581 by Theodore Beza, who obtained it in 1562 from the monastery of St. Irenæus at Lyons. It contains the Gospels and Acts, in Greek and Latin, the former occupying the left-hand pages and the latter the right. It is mutilated, Acts 22:29 to end being lost, together with all, except a few words of the Catholic Epistles, which followed. It is generally assigned to the 6th cent., though some would place it in the 5th. Its place of origin has been variously supposed to besouthern France, southern or western Italy, or Sardinia, but the evidence is not decisive in favour of any of these. Its text is very remarkable, containing a large number of additions and some notable omissions as compared with the TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] ; in some places the Latin version seems to have been accommodated to the Greek, and in others the Greek to the Latin. As will be shown below, its type of text belongs to a family of which the other principal representatives are the Old Latin and Old Syriac versions.

D 2. Codex Claromontanus , in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. Contains the Pauline Epistles in Greek and Latin, written probably in the 6th century. The Latin text is practically independent of the Greek. Before the Epistle to the Hebrews is a list of the books of the NT, with the number of stichoi (or normal lines of 16 syllables each) in each of them, which must be descended from a very early archetype, since it places the books in an unusual order, and includes in the list several uncanonical books (cf. descriptions of א and A ); the order is Mt., Jn., Mk., Lk., Romans 1:1-32 and 2 Cor., Gal., Ephesians 1:1-23 and 2 Tim., Tit., Col., Philippians 1:1-2 Peteret., James 1:1-27 ; James 2:1-26 , James 2:3 Jn., Jude, Barnabas, Apoc [Note: poc Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] , Acts, Hennas, Acts of Paul, Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] of Peter (Th., He., and Phil, being omitted). The MS was in the monastery of Clermont, whence it was acquired by Beza, who was also owner of D [Note: Deuteronomist.] . It may probably have been written in Italy. Other Græco-Latin MSS of the Pauline Epistles are E3 F2 G3 , which all go back to the same archetype as D2.

E 2. Codex Laudianus , in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Contains the Acts, in Greek and Latin, the latter holding the place of precedence on the left. Probably 7th cent.; was in Sardinia at an early date, and may have been written there; thence came to England (probably with Theodore of Tarsus in 669), and was used by Bede. The Greek text is somewhat akin to that of D [Note: Deuteronomist.] ; the Latin has been accommodated to the Greek, and is of little independent value. It is the earliest MS extant that contains Acts 8:37 , though the verse was in existence in the time of Irenæus (late 2nd century).

H 3. Codex Coislinianus 202. Fragmentary remains of a copy of the Pauline Epistles, written in the 6th (or perhaps the 7th) century. Originally at Mt. Athos, in the Laura monastery, where 8 leaves still remain. The rest was used as material for binding MSS, which became scattered in various quarters; 22 leaves are at Paris; 3 each at St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kieff; and 2 at Turin. The text of 22 more pages has been more or less completely recovered from the ‘set-off’ which they have left on the surviving leaves. The MS represents the text of the Pauline Epistles as edited by Euthalius of Sulca in the 4th century.

L. Codex Regius , in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. Contains the Gospels; of the 8th century. It is remarkable as containing the shorter conclusion of Mk. (see RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ) as well as the usual longer one (16:9 20); and its readings often agree with those of B against TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] .

N. Codex Petropolitanus . Contains the Gospels, written in large silver letters on purple vellum, in the 6th century. Forty-five leaves have long been known (33 at Patmos, 6 in the “Vatican, 4 in the British Museum, and 2 at Vienna); and 182 more leaves came to light in 1896 in Asia Minor, and are now at St. Petersburg. Rather less than half the original MS is now extant, including portions of all Gospels. The MS forms part of a group with three other purple MSS, Σ , Σ b , and Φ , all probably having been originally produced at Constantinople, and descended from a single not remote ancestor.

R. Codex Nitriensis , in the British Museum. A palimpsest copy of Lk. of the 6th cent., imperfect. The text differs frequently from the TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] .

T. A number of fragments from Egypt, mostly bilingual, in Greek and Coptic (Sahidic). The most important (T or T a in the library of the Propaganda at Rome) consists of 17 leaves from Lk. and Jn., of the 5th cent., with a text closely akin to that of B and א . T 1 (otherwise 099 ) has the double ending to Mark.

Z . Codex Dublinensis , at Trinity College, Dublin. A palimpsest, containing 295 verses of Mt., of the 6th cent., probably from Egypt, with a text akin to א .

Λ . Codex Tischendorfianus III., in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Contains Lk. and Jn., of the 9th cent.; Mt. and Mk., written in minuscules, are at St. Peters burg (Evan. 566). This MS is chiefly notable for a subscription stating that its text was derived ‘from the ancient copies at Jerusalem.’ Similar subscriptions are found in about 12 minuscule MSS.

Σ . Codex Rossanensis , at Rossano in Calabria, 6th century. Contains Mt. and Mk., written in silver letters on purple vellum, with illustrations. Its text is closely akin to that of N, both being probably copies of the same original.

Σ b (in future to be known as O). Codex Sinopensis , in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris; of the 6th cent.; 43 leaves from Matthew 7:1-29 ; Matthew 8:1-34 ; Matthew 9:1-38 ; Matthew 10:1-42 ; Matthew 11:1-30 ; Matthew 12:1-50 ; Matthew 13:1-58 ; Matthew 14:1-36 ; Matthew 15:1-39 ; Matthew 16:1-28 ; Matthew 17:1-27 ; Matthew 18:1-35 ; Matthew 19:1-30 ; Matthew 20:1-34 ; Matthew 21:1-46 ; Matthew 22:1-46 ; Matthew 23:1-39 ; Matthew 24:1-51 , written in gold letters on purple vellum, with 5 illustrations similar in style to those in Σ . It was picked up for a few francs by a French naval officer at Sinope in 1899. Its text is akin to that of Ν and Σ .

Φ . Codex Beratinus , at Belgrade in Albania: the fourth of the purple MSS, and belonging to the same school as the others, and probably of the same date. Contains Mt. and Mk., in a text akin to N and Σ , but not so closely related to them as they are to one another.

These are all the uncials of which it is necessary to give separate descriptions. A new MS of the Gospels, apparently of the 5th cent., and containing a text of considerable interest, was found in Egypt in 1907, and is now in America, but is still unpublished. Large fragments of a 6th cent. MS of the Pauline Epistles were found at the same time.

8 . Passing to the minuscules , we find the number of witnesses overwhelming. The last inventory of NT MSS (that of von Soden) contains 1716 copies of the Gospels, 531 of Acts, 628 of Pauline Epp., and 219 of Apoc [Note: poc Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] ; and of this total, as stated above, less than 160 are uncials. The minuscule MSS are usually indicated by Arabic numerals,* [Note: A new numeration has been introduced by von Soden, with the object of indicating the contents and date of each MS; but it is more cumbrous than the previous system. Thus A becomes δ 4, and Evan. 69 becomes δ 505. On the other hand, each MS always has the same designation, and the difficulty of finding enough letters for the uncial MSS is obviated. A revision of the old numeration, so as to secure the same objects without abandoning the familiar symbols of the more important MSS, has just been issued by Gregory and has received the adhesion of most NT scholars.] separate series being formed for the four divisions of the NT. The result of this is that when a MS contains all four parts (which is the case, only with about 40 MSS) it is known by four different numbers; thus a certain MS at Leicester bears the numbers Evan. 69, Act. 31, Paul. 37, Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] 14. It is, of course, impossible to give any individual account of so great a mass of MSS; indeed, many of them have never been fully examined. But it is the less necessary, because by far the greater number of the minuscule MSS contain the same type of text, that, namely, of the TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] . The fact that at least 95 out of every 100 minuscule MSS contain substantially the TR [Note: Textus Receptus.] may be taken as universally admitted, whatever may he the Inferences drawn from it; and it is only necessary to indicate some of those which depart most notably from this normal standard, and ally themselves more or less with the early uncials.

Thus in the Gospels 33* [Note: The numeration here used is that of Gregory (before the revision mentioned in the last note). That of Scrivener coincides as far as Evan. 449, Act. 181, Paul. 229, Apoc. 101, and again generally from Evan. 775, Act. 265, Paul. 342, Apoc. 123 on wards.] is akin to the text found in B א ; so, to a lesser extent, is the group of the four related MSS, 1 118 131 209; also 59, 157, 431, 496, 892; while the type of text found in D [Note: Deuteronomist.] and in the Old Latin and Old Syriac versions has left its mark notably upon 473, and more or less on 235, 431, 700, 1071, and on a group of related MSS (known from the scholar who first called attention to it as the ‘Ferrar group’) consisting of 13, 69, 124, 346, 348, 543, 713, 788, 826, 828. In Acts and Cath. Epp., 61 and 31 are the most notable adherents of B, while 31, with 137, 180, 216, 224, also shows kinship with D [Note: Deuteronomist.] . A group consisting of Acts 15:40 , 83, 205, 317, 328, 329, 393 seems to represent an edition of Acts prepared by Euthalius of Sulca in the 4th century. In Paul, the most noteworthy minuscules are 1, 17, 31, 47, 108, 238; the Euthalian edition is found in 81, 83, 93, 379, 381. In Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] (where uncials are scarce and minuscules consequently more important) the best are 1, 7, 28, 35, 38, 68, 79, 87, 95, 96. No doubt, as the minuscule MSS are more fully examined, more will be discovered which possess individual characteristics of interest; but with the large number of uncials of earlier date on the one hand, and the general uniformity of the great mass of minuscules on the other, it is not very likely that much important textual material will be derived from them. It may be possible to establish relationships between certain MSS (as in the case of the Ferrar group), and to connect them with certain localities (as the Ferrar group appears to be connected with Calabria); but not much progress has yet been made in this direction.

9 . One other class of MSS remains to be mentioned, namely the Service-Books or Lectionaries , in which the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles were divided into portions to be read on each day throughout the ecclesiastical year. These books fall into two classes, according as they contain the lessons from the Gospels ( Evangelia or Evangeliaria † [Note: The Greek term for a Gospel lectionary is Evangelia, a volume containing the four Gospels being called a Tetraeuangelion. The Latin name for a lectionary is Evangeliarium. Evangelistarium, which is sometimes used, means properly a table of lections.] ) or from the Acts and Epistles ( Praxapostoli ). Nearly 1100 MSS of the former class are known, and 300 of the latter. Over 100 of these are uncials, but with hardly an exception they are of relatively late date (9th cent. or later), the uncial style being retained later for these liturgical books than elsewhere. Of the value of their evidence little can definitely be said, since few of them have been properly examined. A priori they might be of considerable value, since service-books are likely to he conservative, and also to preserve local peculiarities. They might be expected, therefore, to be of great value in localizing the various types of text which appear in the MSS, and in preserving early variants from a period before the establishment of a general uniformity. As a matter of fact, however, these claims have not yet been substantiated by any actual examination of lectionaries, and it may be questioned whether, as a whole, any of them goes back to a period before the extinction of the local and divergent texts.

The standard lists of NT MSS are those of C. R. Gregory ( Prolegomena to Tischendorf’s NT Græce , ed. 8, 1894, reproduced in German, with additions, in his Textkritik des NT , 1900), and F. H. A. Scrivener ( Introduction to the Criticism of the NT , 4th ed. by E. Miller, 1894). The new list of H. von Soden ( Die Schriften des NT , vol. i. pt. i. 1902) contains rectifications and additions to Gregory’s list, with a new numeration. For Gregory’s revised list, which, it may be hoped, will be accepted as the standard, see Die griechischen Handschriften des NT (Leipzig, 1908).

10 . Versions. The second class of authorities, as indicated in § 2 , is that of Versions, or translations of the NT into languages other than Greek. It is only the earlier versions that can be of service in recovering the original text of the NT; modern translations are of importance for the history of the Bible in the countries to which they belong, but contribute nothing to textual criticism. The early Versions may be divided into Eastern (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Arabic, Ethiopic, etc.) and Western (Latin and Gothic), but the distinction is of little importance. Age is a more important factor than locality, and the two oldest and, on the whole, most important (though not necessarily the most trustworthy) are the Old Latin and Old Syriac versions, which, moreover, are in many respects akin to one another. Next in importance are the Coptic versions and the Latin Vulgate; and the Armenian and the later Syriac versions are also of considerable value. It will be convenient to describe the several versions under their respective countries in the first instance, and to defer the discussion of their characters and affinities until the tale of our authorities is complete.

A . Syriac Versions.

11 . The Old Syriac Version (OS). The evidence for the character, and even the existence, of the primitive version of the NT in Syriac is of comparatively recent discovery. Before 1842 the earliest extant Syriac version was the Peshiṭta (see below), to which, however, a much higher antiquity was assigned than is now generally admitted. In that year, however, Dr. W. Cureton discovered, among the manuscripts brought to the British Museum from the convent of S. Maria Deipara in the Nitrian desert in Egypt, an imperfect Gospel text very different from the Peshiṭta. This (which was not finally published by Cureton until 1858) was known for 50 years as the ‘Curetonian Syriac,’ and the relative age of it and the Peshiṭta was a matter of controversy among scholars. In 1892 two Cambridge ladies, Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gibson, discovered in the monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai a palimpsest MS, which was subsequently recognized from their photographs as containing a text closely akin to the Curetonian. Comparison of the two showed that they represented different recensions of the same version, the Lewis or Sinaitic MS (Syr.-Sin.) containing the earlier form of it. Neither is complete. The Curetonian (Syr.-Cur.) contains nothing of Mk. except Mark 16:17-20 , just sufficient to show that the last twelve verses were present in this form of the version, though they are absent from Sin.; of Jn. it has only about five chapters, and there are large gaps in Mt. and Luke. Sin. contains a large part of all four Gospels, but none is intact. Both MSS are assigned to the 5th cent., Sin. being probably the earlier; but the version which they represent must go back to a much more remote age. In text they are akin to the Codex Bezae and its allies, and are among the most important witnesses to this type of text.

12 . The Diatessaron . The question of the age of this version is complicated by that of its relations to another very early embodiment of the Gospels in Syriac. Tatian, an Assyrian Christian and a disciple of Justin Martyr, compiled (probably about a.d. 170) a Harmony of the four Gospels, known by the name of the Diatessaron . Whether it was originally composed in Greek or in Syriac is uncertain. The Greek name which it bore, and the fact that a Latin version of it was in existence, are arguments in favour of a Greek origin; on the other hand, Tatian’s activity was mainly in the East, the Diatessaron circulated most extensively in Syria, where it was almost the sole form of the Gospels in use until the 5th cent., and a commentary on it was written by the Syrian Father Ephraem. It was certainly in Syria that it was most influential, and it is in its evidence as to the Syriac version that its textual importance now consists. It is only of late years that its evidence has been available at all. Until 1880 it existed only in name, and the very fact that it was a compilation from our four canonical Gospels was a matter of controversy. In that year, however, Dr. E. Abbot called attention to the fact that in 1876 Dr. G. Moesinger had published a Latin translation of an Armenian treatise which had been printed so long ago as 1836, and which was in fact St. Ephraem’s commentary on the Diatessaron . Subsequently two copies of an Arabic version of the Diatessaron itself were discovered, in Rome and in Egypt, and from these the text was published in 1888, in a form modified, it is true, by transmission through many centuries and an Arabic version, but still making it possible to draw some conclusions as to the text and character of Tatian’s work.

It is now certain, as a result of the recovery of the Diatessaron , that the Gospels existed in a Syriac dress in the second half of the 2nd cent.; but whether the Diatessaron was the earliest form of the Syriac Gospels, or whether the version represented by Syr.-Sin. and Syr.-Cur. was previously in existence and formed the basis of Tatian’s compilation, is still uncertain. The opinion of Syriac scholars at the present day appears to be in favour of the priority of the Diatessaron . Even so the origin of the Old Syriac version can hardly be placed later than a.d. 200, and all its characteristics stamp it as representing a very early type of the Gospel text. For some two centuries it existed side by side with the Diatessaron , the former being known as Evangelion-da-Mepharreshê (‘the Gospel of the Separated’) and the latter as Evangelion-da-Mehalletê (‘the Gospel of the Mixed’); and then both alike were superseded by the Peshiṭta. There is some slight evidence (chiefly in the Armenian version, which was derived from the Syriac, and in references in Syrian authors) of the existence of an Old Syriac version of Acts and Paul (Cath. and Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] formed no part of the original Syriac NT); but for textual purposes they no longer exist.

13. The Peshiṭta . Previous to the discovery of Syr.-Cur., the Peshiṭta was believed to be the oldest Syriac version, and was sometimes regarded as the queen of all the versions. Its date was supposed to be referable to the 2nd century. Even when the superior claims of Syr.-Cur., and still more of Syr.-Sin., came to be generally (though not quite universally) admitted, the Peshiṭta was assigned to the 4th cent. at latest, on the ground that traces of it were supposed to be found in the Biblical quotations of St. Ephraem, who died in a.d. 378. Since, however, it has been shown (by Prof. Burkitt, S . Ephraem’s Quotations from, the Gospel , 1901) that the treatises in which the use of the Peshiṭta is observable are not the genuine work of Ephraem, this evidence falls to the ground, and there is now nothing to prove the existence of the Peshiṭta before the 5th century. Its origin may now be assigned with some confidence to Rabbûla, bishop of Edessa 411 435, who is recorded to have made a translation of the NT from Greek into Syriac, and to have been active in suppressing the use of the Diatessaron . This new translation, which was to some extent based on the Old Syriac, but was assimilated to the type of Greek text then current, completely superseded its predecessors, and from this point onwards its use in Syriac literature is universal. It appears in both branches of the Syrian Church (Nestorian and Monophysite), whose quarrel dates back to 431. The name Peshiṭta means ‘the simple,’ but whether it was used to distinguish it from its predecessors or its successors is uncertain.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Text of the New Testament'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/t/text-of-the-new-testament.html. 1909.

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