"A few words are requisite concerning the Text...
It has been already observed, that the present age possesses special advantages in the collations recently made of Manuscripts (MSS) of the NT.
But it must not be forgotten, that it is one thing to possess MSS and collations of them, and another thing to use them aright. Indeed it may sometimes happen, that the very abundance of MSS, and consequently of Various Headings, may become an occasion of error; and so, by a misuse of our advantages in this respect, the Text of the NT may be depraved and corrupted, rather than emended and improved.
There is reason to fear that this may be sometimes now the case. Certain canons of criticism, as they are called, have been propounded by Griesbach and others, as directions for the use of MSS of the NT. These canons contain true principles; but it may well be doubted, whether some evils may not arise, and may not already have arisen, from an overstrained application of them.
For example; "Proclivi lectioni praestat ardua" ("Prefer the Harder Reading") This is an excellent rule, if rightly used; for no one can doubt that an easy reading was more likely to be substituted by a transcriber for a difficult one, than a difficult reading for one that is easy. But this rule requires much caution in its application.
There are many concurrent circumstances to be considered, which may modify and neutralize it, and render it wholly inapplicable. For instance ; it must also be inquired, whether the difficult reading is supported by the testimony of ancient Versions and Fathers; or whether it stands on the authority of only one or two MSS of a particular family.
To force readings into the Text merely because they are difficult, is to adulterate the divine ore with human alloy ; it is to obtrude upon the reader of Scripture the solecisms of faltering copyists, in the place of the Word of God.
Again; it is doubtless true, that special deference is due, on the ground of superior Antiquity, to the Uncial Manuscripts of the New Testament. No one can question, in the abstract, the soundness of the principle propounded by Bentley, revived by Bengel, and recently applied by Lachmann. But the very application of the principle, without adequate restraints and correctives, has proved how dangerous a true principle of criticism may become, when applied beyond the proper limits of its applicability.
The Uncial MSS are of greater antiquity, as far as ink and parchment are concerned, than the Cursive MSS of the NT. The consent of all the Uncial Manuscripts, or of a majority of them, is of very high authority. But we do not know, that some of the Cursive MSS may not be transcripts of Uncial MSS still more ancient than any we now possess; and, therefore, to adopt the readings which are found in two or three Uncial MSS, to the exclusion of the testimony of the Cursive MSS, may be to corrupt the Text, while we profess to correct it.
Besides, the Uncial MSS are comparatively few, - and only represent the witness of a few places. But the Cursive MSS are very numerous, and come to us from all parts of the world; and, therefore, to confine ourselves to the testimony of the Uncial MSS, may be to prefer the witness of a few Churches to that of [all] Christendom.
Let, then, the Uncial MSS have all honour due; and it can hardly be doubted, that wherever that honour is rightly paid, it will be found to be more or less authorized by a concurrent testimony of Cursive MSS.
It is likewise certain, as was long since observed by S. Jerome, that a priori the shorter readings are preferable, and that the text of one Gospel has often been interpolated from another. But how much caution and circumspection is necessary in the application of these principles !
It is also true, that the MSS of the Greek Testament may be classified in Families. And, eventually, when they have been carefully examined, such an arrangement, according to Recensions, may be made. But it is premature, before such an examination has been faithfully and scrupulously completed, to prefer the readings of those particular MSS which belong, as it is supposed, to one favoured class, and to reject others, because they are not of the same pedigree, or because they do not seem to us to bear an affinity to those of that class on which we ourselves, in the exercise of our critical prerogative, may have been pleased to confer certain privileges of rank and nobility. Yet, on this principle, some of the Editions seem to have been constructed which profess to give an improved Text of the Greek Testament.
Some other illustrations of a similar kind might be added. Suffice it to say, on the whole, that though the canons of criticism which have been applied to the revision of the Text of the NT, are of unquestionable value, yet great circumspection is necessary, lest, by a vicious application of them, we do more to mar the Text, than has yet been done by their means to amend it.
The Text of the present edition is not a reprint of that hitherto received in any impression of the NT. The Editor has endeavoured to avail himself of the collations of MSS which have been supplied by others, and to offer to the reader the result at which he has arrived after an examination of those collations. He has not thought it requisite or desirable to lay before the eye a full apparatus of various readings. It would have swollen the volume to too great a bulk, and have occupied the place reserved for exposition. Besides, that important work has been done, or is now in course of being done, by others. And to their labours he would refer those, who are desirous of ascertaining the data, upon which the Text of the present Edition has been formed.
At the same time, he feels it his duty to state, that he has not deviated so far from the text commonly received, as has been done in some recent editions. Indeed he cannot disguise his belief, that a superintending Providence has ever been watching over the Text of the New Testament, and guiding the Church of Christ, as the Guardian and Keeper of Holy Writ, in the discharge of her duty.
A 7th Edition of the NT has recently been published under the Editorship of a learned person, to whom the present age is deeply indebted for his labours in collating manuscripts, and publishing Transcripts of early copies of the NT, Constantino Tischendorf. It will be found, on examination of the prospectus of that 7th Edition, that he frankly confesses that he had been induced to follow too implicitly the lead of certain favourite manuscripts in his earlier editions. And in his 7th Edition he abandons his former readings, and generally returns to those of the Received Text, in more than a hundred places in the Gospel of St. Matthew alone. "
(Christopher Wordsworth, Intro. vol. 1, Tour Gospels)