Thursday, June 17, 2021

Scrivener’s “Preface” to the 1881 New Testament

References to the New Testament Greek Textus Receptus Bible edited by F. H. A. Scrivener often appear in the Bible Versions Debate. It seems to me that both sides often portray Scrivener and/or the edition as something they are not. I have read a KJVO rate Scrivener as near the top of KJVO advocates. I have read an anti-KJVO act as if Scrivener took the King James Bible and back translated it into Greek to create The New Testament in the Original Greek, according to the Text Followed by the Authorised Version. Both beliefs are basted in baloney butter. In contrast, I post here the “Preface” of The New Testament in the Original Greek so that you may read it for yourself and come to some of your own conclusions.


 The special design of this volume is to place clearly before the reader the variations from the Greek text represented by the Authorised Version of the New Testament which have been embodied in the Revised Version. One of the Rules laid down for the guidance of the Revisers by a Committee appointed by the Convocation of Canterbury was to the effect “that, when the Text adopted differs from that from which the Authorised Version was made, the alteration be indicated in the margin.” As it was found that a literal observance of this direction would often crowd and obscure the margin of the Revised Version, the Revisers judged that its purpose might be better carried out in another manner. They therefore communicated to the Oxford and Cambridge University Presses a full and carefully corrected list of the readings adopted which are at variance with the readings “presumed to underlie the Authorised Version,” in order that they might be published independently in some shape or other. The University Presses have accordingly undertaken to print them in connexion with complete Greek texts of the New Testament. The responsibility of the Revisers does not of course extend beyond the list which they have furnished.

The form here chosen has been thought by the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press to be at once the most convenient in itself, and the best fitted for giving a true representation of the Revisers’ work. In their Preface the Revisers explain that it did not fall within their province to construct a continuous and complete Greek text. Wherever a variation in the Greek was of such a nature that it could properly affect the English rendering, they had to decide between the competing readings: but in most other cases they refrained from spending time on work not needed for the purposes of an English translation. It was therefore impossible to print a continuous Greek text which should include the readings certified as adopted by the Revisers, without borrowing all the intervening portions from some printed text which had not undergone their revision, and in which, to judge by analogy, they would doubtless have found many readings to disapprove. It is true that all variations in this unrevised part of the text must from the nature of the case be comparatively unimportant: but they include many differences of order and grammatical form expressive of shades and modifications of meaning which no careful reader would neglect in studying the Greek original. The Cambridge Press has therefore judged it best to set the readings actually adopted by the Revisers at the foot of the page, and to keep the continuous text consistent throughout by making it so far as was possible uniformly representative of the Authorised Version. The publication of an edition formed on this plan appeared to be all the more desirable, inasmuch as the Authorised Version was not a translation of any one Greek text then in existence, and no Greek text intended to reproduce in any way the original of the Authorised Version has ever been printed.

In considering what text had the best right to be regarded as “the text presumed to underlie the Authorised Version,” it was necessary to take into account the composite nature of the Authorised Version, as due to successive revisions of Tyndale’s translation. Tyndale himself followed the second and third editions of Erasmus’s Greek text (1519, 1522). In the revisions of his translation previous to 1611 a partial use was made of other texts; of which ultimately the most influential were the various editions of Beza from 1560 to 1598, if indeed his Latin version of 1556 should not be included. Between 1598 and 1611 no important edition appeared; so that Beza’s fifth and last text of 1598 was more likely than any other to be in the hands of King James’s revisers, and to be accepted by them as the best standard within their reach. It is moreover found on comparison to agree more closely with the Authorised Version than any other Greek text; and accordingly it has been adopted by the Cambridge Press as the primary authority. There are however many places in which the Authorised Version is at variance with Beza’s text; chiefly because it retains language inherited from Tyndale or his successors, which had been founded on the text of other Greek editions. In these cases it is often doubtful how far the revisers of 1611 deliberately preferred a different Greek reading; for their attention was not specially directed to textual variations, and they might not have thought it necessary to weed out every rendering inconsistent with Beza’s text, which might linger among the older and unchanged portions of the version. On the other hand some of the readings followed, though discrepant from Beza’s text, may have seemed to be in a manner sanctioned by him, as he had spoken favourably of them in his notes; and others may have been adopted on independent grounds. These uncertainties do not however affect the present edition, in which the different elements that actually make up the Greek basis of the Authorised Version have an equal right to find a place. Wherever therefore the Authorised renderings agree with other Greek readings which might naturally be known through printed editions to the revisers of 1611 or their predecessors, Beza’s reading has been displaced from the text in favour of the more truly representative reading, the variation from Beza being indicated by *. It was manifestly necessary to accept only Greek authority, though in some places the Authorised Version corresponds but loosely with any form of the Greek original, while it exactly follows the Latin Vulgate. All variations from Beza’s text of 1598, in number about 190, are set down in an Appendix at the end of the volume, together with the authorities on which they respectively rest.

Wherever a Greek reading adopted for the Revised Version differs from the presumed Greek original of the Authorised Version, the reading which it is intended to displace is printed in the text in a thicker type, with a numerical reference to the reading substituted by the Revisers, which bears the same numeral at the foot of the pages. Alternative readings are given in the margin by the Revisers in places “in which, for the present, it would not in their judgement be safe to accept one reading to the absolute exclusion of others,” provided that the differences seemed to be of sufficient interest or importance to deserve notice. These alternative readings, which are more than 400 in number, are distinguished by the notation Marg. or marg. In the Revised Version itself the marginal notes in which a secondary authority is thus given to readings not adopted in the text almost always take the form of statements of evidence, and the amount of evidence in each instance is to a certain extent specified in general terms. No attempt however has in most cases been made to express differences in the nature or the amount of this authority in the record of marginal readings at the foot of the page. For such details the reader will naturally turn to the margin of the Revised Version itself.

The punctuation has proved a source of much anxiety. The Authorised Version as it was originally printed in 1611, rather than as it appears in any later edition, has been taken as a primary guide. Exact reproduction of the English punctuation in the Greek text was however precluded by the differences of grammatical structure between the two languages. It was moreover desirable to punctuate in a manner not inconsistent with the punctuation of the Revised Version, wherever this could be done without inconvenience, as punctuation does not strictly belong to textual variation. Where however the difference of punctuation between the two Versions is incompatible with identical punctuation in the Greek, the stops proper for the Authorised Version are given in the text, with a numerical reference, without change of type, to the other method set forth in the foot-notes. Mere changes in punctuation, not consequent on change of reading, are discriminated from the rest by being set within marks of parenthesis ( ) at the foot of the page. The notes that thus refer exclusively to stops are about 157.

The paragraphs into which the body of the Greek text is here divided are those of the Revised Version, the numerals relating to chapters and verses being banished to the margin. The marks which indicate the beginning of paragraphs in the Authorised Version do not seem to have been inserted with much care, and cease altogether after Acts xx. 36: nor would it have been expedient to create paragraphs in accordance with the traditional chapters. Manifest errors of the press, which often occur in Beza’s New Testament of 1598, have been silently corrected. In all other respects not mentioned already that standard has been closely abided by, save only that, in accord not been represented as part of the speech or quotation which it introduces, and the aspirated forms αὐτοῦ, αὐτο, αὐτόν, &c. have been discarded. In a very few words (e. g. μαργαρίται) the more recent and proper accentuation has been followed. Lastly, where Beza has been inconsistent, the form which appeared the better of the two has been retained consistently: as νηφάλιος not νηφάλεος, οὐκέτι not οὐκ έτι, ἐξαυτῆς not ἐξ αυτῆς, ἵνα τί not ἵνατί, but τὰ νῦν not τὰνῦν, διὰ παντὸς not διὰ παντός, τοῦτ ἔστι not τουτέστι.


F. H. A. S.

Christmas, 1880.

“Preface,” The New Testament in the Original Greek, according to the Text Followed by the Authorised Version, together with the Variations Adopted in the Revised Version, F. H. A. Scrivener, Editor. Cambridge: University Press, 1881, pp. v-xi

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