Saturday, May 7, 2011

Webster (1855) on the TR

Here is the pertinent section from Webster's Introduction to his Greek NT:


Some explanation of the circumstances which have led to the appearance of the present work seems required by the consideration that the New Testament has already and recently been edited in a form adapted for general use. Our intention of undertaking this task was conceived more than twenty years ago, when Dr. Valpy's was the only annotated edition in the hands of students at our Universities.
Though since that period the labours of Bloomfield, Burton, Trollope have supplied to some extent the defect which then existed, we cannot regard the amount of attention which the New Testament in the Original has received from English annotators, as at all commensurate with the theological or classical literature of our day. The execution of this design was commenced in the preparation of notes for the instruction of pupils, at the City of London School, in detached portions of the Greek text. These original draughts, the germ of this production, have more than passed the period of probation assigned by the Latin poet in his salutary caution against rash and hasty publication.
Our conviction of the desirableness of an attempt like the present has only been strengthened by the lapse of time ; and the work went on at a very uncertain rate of advance, usually in the hours of relaxation from the tutorial and pastoral duties in which we were engaged, but not unfrequently in close connexion with them, and as the immediate sequel of their preparation and performance. Six years ago, this volume was in a state of considerable forwardness, when the announcement of a similar publication by Mr. Alford caused us to pause, till we saw how far the reception of his labours might render the prosecution of our own unnecessary. Sufficient time has elapsed for the public to form their opinion of that work. We expressed our own judgment of its merits in a joint review early in 1851, in the following language :
' We have no hesitation in pronouncing the opinion that Mr. Alford's edition of the Gospels is by far the best which has been published in this country. His superiority to his predecessors is apparent in almost every department of his task, and especially in those labours which are necessarily common to all critics and commentators.'
At the same time, we remarked that Mr. Alford had not completely exemplified our beau ideal of an annotated Greek Testament, for the use of educated laymen, and for those who were engaged in delivering formally theological instruction. We concluded our review with a list of desiderata which we should almost be glad to suppress, being well aware how far our execution has fallen below our design. To the favourable expressions we then uttered we still adhere, though our inclination, after a closer examination of that edition, would be to strengthen rather than to qualify the remarks, by which we implied that the subject was by no means exhausted ; that the mode of treating it Avas capable of further improvement, and that the system of Biblical interpretation might be established on principles at once more safe, more certain, and more intelligible.
In preparing this volume, we have endeavoured to keep in view the wants and necessities of the pupils who have been under our own tuition. These, indeed, have been of all ages, of all grades of mental capacity and intellectual attainment, from the student of highly-cultivated mind, well furnished from the stores of classical erudition, armed with critical acumen and adorned with polished taste, down to the raw, ignorant schoolboy, who has entered his teens having learnt little on any subject, and knowing nothing well ; or rather, harder task still, both for the teacher and the taught, down to the seri studiorum, the men of full age, who, after spending some years in other pursuits, begin to apply their long dormant powers of acquiring a language ; — powers which, perhaps, were never exercised in youth, to the mastery of the Greek Accidence. From the results of a lengthened experience in tuition at the University, at four large and distinguished schools, and in private, we trust that our labours will in some degree contribute to the promotion of sound learning and religious education.
We wish it, then, to be distinctly understood that our object has been to write for learners rather than the learned. We trust we have fixed our standard sufficiently high, so that those who use our work will find it fully adequate for the College Lecture Room, and for those examinations in the Greek Testament which are passed by candidates for degrees, or for admission to Holy Orders; but we have endeavoured not to aim too high, as if we expected our readers, by our help alone, to take honours in Divinity.
This limitation of aim has led us to deviate to a considerable extent from the path of our predecessors :

I. to omit altogether the department of Textual Criticism ;
II. to modify, or decline as superfluous to our purpose, much that is common to preceding annotators ; and in lieu thereof.
III. to dwell upon points which have hitherto received but partial attention.

I. The object of Biblical criticism has usually been to ascertain the purity or corruption of the text. We have not introduced into our notes the repeated enunciation and application of those principles and canons by which the critic decides upon the genuineness of disputed readings, and aims at restoring, as nearly as possible, the original words of inspiration.
Above forty years have elapsed since the followers of Socinus in this country scornfully alleged that our Authorized Version was taken from a text which rested on the authority of less than thirty manuscripts of recent date and small value, while their Improved Version presented a faithful copy of the original, derived from the examination of more than 800. The labours of Griesbach, Scholz, and Tischendorf, which have been well taken up of late by Bloomfield, Alford, and Tregelles, in our own country, present us with the results of a collation of above 600 MSS., for the whole or part of the New Testament. And what has been the result? Their researches have confirmed the accuracy of the Textus Receptus far beyond what could reasonably have been expected. Modern Rationalists find that they cannot support their views by any fair application of Biblical criticism. These can only be maintained by a subtile nonnatural mode of interpretation to which common sense and common honesty are equally opposed. Hence we cannot but consider an array of Various Readings, with corresponding references and comments, as an incumbrance on the pages of a work designed for general use, and an obstacle to the progress of the early student. We would refer the learner to the language which Dr. Bentley used above a hundred years ago, in reference to the various readings, as a proof that he need not trouble himself with this subject during his academical course, and to convince the general student in theology, lay or clerical, that minute attention to this point is not necessary for his own assurance, or for his defence of the faith once delivered to the saints.
'If a corrupt line, or dubious reading, chances to intervene, it does not darken the whole context, or make an author's opinion or his purpose, precarious. Terence, for instance, has as many variations as any book whatever in proportion to its bulk ; and yet with all its interpolations, omissions, additions, or glosses (choose the worst of them on purpose), you cannot deface the contrivance and plot of one play ; no, not of one single scene ; but its sense, design, and subserviency to the last issue and conclusion shall be visible and plain through all the mist of various lections. And so it is with the sacred text ; make your 30,000 as many more, if numbers of copies can ever reach that sum ; all the better to a knowing and serious reader, who is thereby more richly furnished to select what he sees genuine. But even put them into the hands of a knave or a fool, and yet with the most sinistrous and absurd choice he shall not extinguish the light of any one chapter, nor so disguise Christianity but that every feature of it shall still be the same.'
— Phileleutherus Lipsiensis.1
The text presented in this edition is substantially that of Robert Stephens, 1550, adopted by the late Professor Scholefield, and printed under his care at the Pitt Press, 1836. In the arrangement of the paragraphs, the punctuation, accentuation, and similar points, we have consulted the editions of Lachmann, Theile, and Scholz. Occasionally, as in Matt. 9:36, we have commented on the true reading in the notes, though we have retained the inaccurate reading in the text, deeming it advisable to depart as little as can be avoided from the text which was preferred by the translators of the Authorized Version. Yet we should be sorry to foster the notion that the labours of Bengel, 1734, Wetstein, 1751, Griesbach, 1775-1796, and others to the present day, have been comparatively fruitless. Their chief value has been to silence the boastful language of those who presumptuously argued that the collation of 300 additional MSS. would materially alter the text which had been received upon the authority of 30. The subordinate use has been to establish with something like catholic consent that the Textus Receptus admits of emendation, as is evident from the language of Dr. Burton. After stating that he had adopted Mill's text (Oxford, 1707) because it had the greatest number of followers, and had lately been printed under the care of Bishop Lloyd, that eminent theologian thus proceeds : —
' I have examined with no small labour and attention the copious materials which have been collected by Griesbach ; and after weighing the evidence which he has adduced in favour of any particular reading, I noted down all those variations from the received text, which seem to have a majority of documents in their favour. This abstract of Griesbach's critical apparatus may be seen in White's Criseis Griesbachiance in N. T. Synopsis, and Vater in his edition of the Greek Testament, published in 1824, has not only mentioned the reasons for preferring certain variations, but has admitted them into the text.  Though the accuracy of these two persons might spare us the necessity of consulting Griesbach's notes, I preferred going through the same analysis myself ; and it has been satisfactory to me to find that my own conclusions were generally supported by these two independent authorities. Whoever may be induced to pursue a similar plan will find that the common rules of criticism would require him to alter the Received Text in several places.'
— Preface to the First Edition.

1. The language of Valekuer in his notes on Lk 9:41 is to the same effect. ' We may observe once for all that out of these thousands of various readings which occasion some persons so much alarm, there are very few which are of any consequence, fewer still which make any alteration in the sense. For the most part they are clerical errors, and exceedingly trivial ; arising very frequently from a difference of pronunciation scarcely worthy of the serious notice bestowed upon them.' A writer in the journal of Sacred Literature (October, 1854, p. 178), remarks, 'We may, however, express our conviction that we at present feel but little confidence in any new text of the Greek Testament, and much prefer the Textus Receptus to be retained as the common ground on which critical questions may be discussed, and a common centre of reference.'

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