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Bible Dictionaries

Morrish Bible Dictionary

Various Readings

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These have been briefly considered under the word BIBLE, but as the subject is important more detail is here added, confining attention however to the N.T. 'Readings' must be distinguished from different 'translations.' Thus, for instance, the Revised Version omits a part of the verse in John 5:3 , and the whole of the verse in John 5:4 , placing it in the margin with the words, "Many ancient authorities insert wholly or in part, 'Waiting for the moving of the water,'" etc.

As such alterations may cause surprise and uneasiness to simple students of scripture, who believe in its verbal inspiration, an effort is here made to elucidate the subject.

In the first place it must be observed that such variations as the above, and all "various readings," belong to the Greek text, and do not refer to translation. It is easy to see that the same Greek words may be translated differently by different persons; but the 'readings' refer to different Greek words being substituted; or words may be added by copyists in various MSS, or words or sentences may be omitted as in the above instance from John 5:3,4 .

It must be borne in mind that from the time the New Testament was originally written till about A.D. 1452, when printing was invented, copies could only be multiplied by being written with the pen, and that all the ancient copies are in manuscript, and all vary more or less from each other, no two copies being exactly alike. This is not to be wondered at when we consider how difficult it is for lengthy subjects to be copied without mistakes being made; and if they are not discovered and rectified, it can easily be understood how the errors would increase — each copyist adding to the list. Therefore the more ancient the manuscript the more value is placed upon its readings, not that any particular one could, however, be followed entirely.

Printed copies could only be made from the manuscripts, and it is not now known what manuscripts were used for the early printed Testaments.

The COMPLUTENSIAN Edition was the first to be printed: it was finished with the O.T. in A.D. 1517, but was not published till 1522.

In the meantime the learned ERASMUS brought out his first edition, with a Latin translation (on which he had worked for years), in 1516. It was done in great haste, Erasmus being urged on by John Froben, printer at Basle, so that it could be issued before the Complutensian. The book was gladly hailed by those who desired the light of the word of God, but was strongly opposed by many of the papal clergy. Next to Wycliffe's edition of the N.T. in English among the people, stands Erasmus' Greek Testament among the learned as an instrument used by God in forwarding the Reformation in England. Bilney, Tyndale, and Fryth, three English martyrs, trace their conversion to reading, under God's enlightenment, Erasmus' Greek Testament.

The Editions of STEPHEN, a printer in Paris, followed. The first in 1546, and his most renowned one in 1550 (the one generally reprinted in England as the commonly received text), it was the first to give readings of the MSS in the margin; a fourth edition was issued in 1551, in which he had divided the text into verses. This reminds one that there is no authority for the divisions of chapters and verses, though they are very useful for reference.

The ten Editions of BEZA followed, the first in 1565 and his last in 1611.

The ELZEVIR Editions came next, in 1624 and 1633. The latter is the one which is called the textus receptus, or 'the text received by all': "textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum. " It is the one commonly reprinted on the continent: and is the same in the main as that of Stephen reprinted in England, there being only about 287 minor differences between them.

All the above editions are very similar, but at this period more attention was called to the variations in the manuscripts, and they were carefully compared, with the laudable aim to discover what was the text as it stood originally .

MILL's Edition appeared in 1707. He had laboured for thirty years in his work: he reprinted Stephen's 1550 edition, and gave the fruits of his research in notes and appendix.

BENGEL's Edition followed in 1734.

WETSTEIN's Edition was published in 1751-2. He had increased the material by which the common text could be improved.

GRIESBACH's Edition followed. His principal editions were in 1796-1806, and a smaller one in 1805. He was the first who altered the commonly received text where he judged it to be incorrect. He laboured to classify the Greek MSS and arranged them in families to indicate where they had apparently been copied from one another, or had followed one recension.

SCHOLZ's Edition came next in 1830-36: it is not reliable.

LACHMANN's principal Edition was published in 1842-50. He confined his attention to early Greek MSS — not later than the fourth century, though he did not keep rigidly to this rule. He wholly set aside the "received text."

TISCHENDORF's Editions followed: his last, the eighth, was issued in 1865-72. He laboured many years in his work, and, in searching for more manuscripts, was rewarded by discovering and issuing the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the most valued copies, though erroneous in many places.

TREGELLES's followed. He also laboured many years and collated more manuscripts; but he confined his attention to ancient copies. It is dated 1857-72.

ALFORD's came next, but is not remarkable for fresh critical matter.

WORDSWORTH's followed. He is distinguished by his conservatism. He believed that God had overruled the issuing of the commonly received text, and he kept to that except where he believed that the Greek manuscripts and other evidence warranted him in making an alteration.

WESTCOTT AND HORT are the last to be mentioned. Their principle may perhaps be said to be the very reverse of that of Wordsworth, altering the text freely where others have hesitated. It dates A.D. 1881.

The REVISERS of 1881, J. N. DARBY, and others, who have translated the Greek Testament have either chosen one of the above texts, or selected for themselves what they should translate, without, however, issuing the Greek separately. The Greek Testament with the Revisers' readings was issued by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1881.

In Dr. Scrivener's Cambridge Greek Testament, 1887, all the readings of Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, and the Revisers, are given in the notes. The readings of these Editors with those of Alford and Wordsworth are also given in an appendix to the Englishman's Greek Concordance. The readings from Griesbach to Wordsworth are also given in the notes to the Englishman's Greek New Testament. These collations are judged to be all that in an ordinary way is needed by most Christians.

It is deemed needful to add as a caution that Dean Burgon (in "The Revision Revised") brings serious charges against the Revisers of the New Testament in that they deviated from the instructions they received in regard to their translation as well as to the Greek text they adopted, and that they followed too often the venturesome readings of Westcott and Hort; also in throwing needless doubts upon many passages with the words "many ancient authorities, etc." in the margin.

This is to be regretted; but it all the more confirms the wisdom of Wordsworth in keeping to the common Greek text except where there is good authority for leaving it. And may it not also be added, amid so many English translations from different texts, that it is better to keep to the text of the Authorised Version (which with few exceptions follows the commonly received Greek text) except where there are godly reasons for differing from it.

The Greek Manuscripts naturally fall into two classes:

1. Those called the Uncial from uncia , 'an inch,' not that the letters were actually made as large as that, but they are all capitals, have no spaces between the words, and few if any points. A specimen is here given from the Codex Sinaiticus. It is John 6:14,15 . It shows how the words were divided at the ends of lines without any mark being attached (at the end of lines 1,3,7 and 9), and sometimes without any regard to syllables, also how contractions were made, IC for Ιησοῦς (Jesus), the line showing that it was a contraction. In some instances the line became invisible in old MSS and then the reading became doubtful. The mark at the end of line 4 shows that a letter has been omitted: in this case it is the letter ν. The specimen also shows how corrections were often made by the writer or by later hands.

The letters in the left hand margin answered a similar purpose to the marginal references of the A.V. They are known as the Ammonian Sections. In the third century Ammonius of Alexandria arranged this numerical system to aid the reader in finding parallel passages in the Gospels; and in the fourth century Eusebius, the historian, in a set of Canons arranged the Ammonian Sections so as to make any particular one more easily found. The ΝΑ refers to the Ammonian Section No. 51 of John, which was to be found in Eusebius' canon Δ, that is, No. 4, which was a collation of sections that occurred only in Matthew, Mark and John. They point out Matthew 14:23 b -27; Mark 6:47-50; John 6:16-21 . These references are given in full in Scrivener's Greek Testament of 1887, and in Wordsworth's Greek Testament.

The principal Uncial Manuscripts, omitting small portions and mere fragments, are:


Å Sinaiticus IV. The whole of the New Testament.

A Alexandrinus V. The whole, but defective in places.

B Vaticanus IV. Matthew to Hebrews 9:14 , including the Catholic Epistles,

which are inserted, as in other early MSS, after the Acts.

Timothy, Titus, Philemon and the Revelation are lacking.

B Basilianus VIII. Also called Vaticanus 2066, contains the Revelation.

C Ephraemi V. Portions of the whole; about two thirds of N.T. altogether.

D Bezae VI. Nearly all the Gospels and Acts. Greek and Latin.

D Claromontanus VI Paul's Epistles. Greek and Latin.

E Laudianus VI. Most of the Acts. Greek and Latin.

P Porphyrianus IX. The Acts, the Epistles and the Revelation.

It should be noted that the same letter does not always refer to the same MS, as D above. Also in the two MSS shown as B, though bound in the same volume, one is some 400 years earlier than the other. Some of the MSS, as C above, are Palimpsests, that is, the old writing had been partly erased, and other works written over it, as shown under WRITING.

2. Other Greek MSS are called Cursives , because written in the common running hand and not all in capitals. These are of later date, from about the tenth century to the sixteenth: whereas the Uncial copies date from about the fourth century to the tenth. The earliest of these naturally stand in the first place, and the later ones and the Cursives take a secondary place.

The most important of the Cursive Manuscripts are:


No. 1 at Basle X. All but the Revelation.

" 33 at Paris XI. All but the Revelation. It is called 33 in the Gospels, 13 in the

Acts and General Epistles, and 17 in Paul's Epistles.

" 69 at Leicester XIV. All the New Testament. Called 69 in the Gospels, 31 in the Acts

and General Epistles, 37 in Paul's Epistles, and 14 in the


" 47 at Oxford XI. Paul's Epistles.

" 61 at Dublin XVI. All the New Testament, but is judged not to be all of one writer.

It is called 61 in the Gospels, 34 in the Acts and Catholic

Epistles, 40 in Paul's Epistles, and 92 in the Revelation.

There are hundreds of other manuscripts, but most of them are seldom quoted, and some have not been collated.

There is also a class of Greek manuscripts called EVANGELISTARIES, books containing portions of the Gospels which were used in religious services: there are more than 900 of these.

Besides the Greek manuscripts there are other helps by which to ascertain what was the original Greek text.

1. VERSIONS. It will easily be seen that when the early versions were needed they were made from some text that was then available, and the translations show in some degree what was in the text that was translated. For the principal of these translations see VERSIONS OF THE SCRIPTURE.

2. FATHERS. These, both Greek and Latin, are referred to because in their Biblical works they often quoted scripture, and these quotations show what was in the ancient copies from which they quoted. These date from the second century, which is earlier than any Greek manuscript extant.

From the above it may be conceived what labour was involved in the original examination of so many witnesses for or against a reading. These have now been given more or less fully in the editions of Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, and partially by J. N. Darby. Very few persons are competent to examine and weigh all the evidence pro and con; but with the aids now afforded by the above mentioned means it is not difficult to ascertain where all the editors agree upon a passage, and it is deemed safe to follow such. But in these questions, as in all others, the guidance of the Holy Spirit should be sought. A spiritual man is less liable to err than a great scholar.

As an illustration of all the editors agreeing in leaving the commonly received Greek text, 1 John 5:7,8 , may be referred to. All agree in omitting (what are known as 'the heavenly witnesses') from "in heaven" in verse 7 to "in earth" inclusive in 1 John 5:8 .

As explained under BIBLE, only a few passages remain really doubtful, and not one of these affect the fundamental truths of Christianity. This is of God's mercy: any poor sinner can look therein with confidence for the way of salvation, and Christians can learn what has been revealed as God's truth, and know what His purpose is concerning themselves, His ancient people the Jews, and the world at large.

The various readings do not affect in any way the doctrine of Verbal Inspiration. See INSPIRATION.

If any wish to examine further into the questions here considered they may consult Scrivener's "Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament,' G. Bell & Sons, or a brief work called "Our Father's Will,"G. Morrish.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Morrish, George. Entry for 'Various Readings'. Morrish Bible Dictionary. 1897.

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