Rant about textual criticism

I had to bow out of a conversation several times the other night because I knew it would do no good. An elderly relation was proclaiming the superiority of the KJV not on the grounds I would give — sonorous beauty, a sense of the English language, and a reliable rendering of the text used — but on the grounds that the KJV, unlike all the modern translations, was based “on the ancient manuscripts themselves”, whereas modern translations are based on Westcott and Hort “who weren’t even believers.”

Honestly — this person has been told that the Rt Rev. Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham, and the Rev. Fenton John Anthony Hort (a Church of England priest) weren’t believers. Astonishing. And, even if they weren’t, I do not see how the technical skill of textual criticism and editing is influenced by one’s faith. But, then, I’m a textual critic.

In fact, Westcott and Hort acknowledge the fact that no critical doctrine of the Christian faith is affected by the emendations they made to the work of earlier scholars such as Erasmus and Tischendorff.

I am more astonished by this sort of argument because it argues for the superiority of Erasmus’ and Stephanus’ texts as well as Codex Bezae — not to mention the fact that somehow a few early printed editions and a manuscript are worth more than all the mss of Westcott and Hort combined.

I must say, first of all, that as philologists, few of us today will be as naturally attuned to the ancient Latin and Greek languages as people like Erasmus and Stephanus. This simple fact is both blessing and curse to early modern editors, however. The more interventionist among them were willing to change the Latin and Greek so that it was “correct” by textbook standards. To my knowledge, neither Erasmus more Stephanus did that sort of thing.

Second, however good Erasmus and Stephanus may have been as text editors, the greatest problem facing their text was a lack of earlier, reliable manuscripts, which Westcott and Hort had — including two fourth-century pandects known as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. They used what they had available — fairly recent, late Byzantine manuscripts.

Third, the idea that we should trust Erasmus and Stephanus with the so-called Textus Receptus always comes from unlikely corners — anti-traditionalists. If we are to accept that late mss of the Textus Receptus are superior to the papyri of Egypt and the mss Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, we must therefore accept that the tradition of the Byzantine Church was so good at textual transmission that the true line of descent from the Apostles was maintained by it — and accept this in the face of older texts that differ from the Byzantine world.

Aside: Even accepting the “better not older” dogma of textual criticism, we need at least to know about the older before we can judge whether they are better.

Fourth, Westcott and Hort produced a critical edition of the New Testament of the variety that any Classicist would recognise. This means that if any preacher or translator disagrees with their readings, they can check and see what the Textus Receptus has to say on the matter. The careful user of a critical edition does not simply read the redacted text in large type up top, but the notes at the bottom as well.

Fifth, even if Lancelot Andrewes and his team had had an edition such as Westcott and Hort at hand, the English language has had some shifts in 419 years. As a result, for those unused to Jacobean English, it can be misread and misinterpreted.

Sixth, Lancelot Andrewes would probably have been happy to use Westcott and Hort.

Seventh, to return to the point about tradition, I find myself continually astonished that low church, non-conformists who reject Anglicanism and tradition not only prefer a traditionalist Greek text, but an English translation produced by Anglican priests.

Eighth, there are unbelievers who know this stuff. And they know it well. Propagating this nonsense is damaging to Christian witness in two ways. First, it makes our religion look like the faith of simpletons and morons that has no room for people interested in the life of the mind and serious inquiry. Second, it makes us look like the bunch of cantankerous, in-fighting idiots we are.

*End rant.*

Saint of the Week: Lancelot Andrewes

Chances are, you’ve probably read something by Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). ‘What is that?’ you may ask me. A fairly sizeable book that turns 400 this year. That’s right, the Authorised Version (KJV) of the Bible. Not that Lancelot Andrewes wrote the Bible. That would be worse historical revisionism than people who say the Roman Emperors chose the canon of Scripture, for goodness’ sake! Nor did he even do the whole of the KJV translation. He was, however, Dean of Westminster Abbey at the time of the translation’s preparation and one of the secretaries of the Translation Company.

Since, however, the KJV was a group effort and owes something like 60% of its phraseology to Tyndale, Andrewes must be memorable for more than this. And he is.

Andrewes was born three years before the accession of Elizabeth I to the throne of England. He was one of the notables when he studied at Cambridge, and was later to be a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1580 he took holy orders, and preached about the Ten Commandments, drawing great interest in his work. Indeed, he moved upward from there, as quoted Alexander Whyte: ‘Scholar and Fellow of Pembroke, Vicar of St. Giles’, Cripplegate, Prebendary, first of Southwell and then of St. Paul’s, Master of his College, Chaplain to Whitgift and to Queen Elizabeth, and Dean of Westminster.’ (Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, p. 5)

Under James VI/I, he was consecrated Bishop of Chichester in 1605. In 1606, he preached a sermon recalling the Gunpowder Plot that recommended people remember such events in years to come to keep them from happening. Thus, Guy Fawkes’ Night today. 1617 saw him in Scotland with King James in a (failed) attempt to convince the Kirk that episcopacy is a much better way of organising the church.

A shame that he failed, really.

He was translated to being Bishop of Winchester. One of his last public acts was to be present at the coronation of King Charles I; he was quite ill himself. In 1627, after a fairly successful career in the Church of England, Lancelot Andrewes entered the rest of the saints.

His churchmanship was that typically Anglican way of trying to steer between the Puritans and the Papists. Hurrah for that!

My first acquaintance with Lancelot Andrewes — besides a name in the Calendar in the front of my Book of Common Prayer — was through his Private Devotions. These were never meant for publication, but we can be grateful they have been put abroad. He organises his devotions along Times of Prayer, Places of Prayer, Circumstances and Accompaniments of Prayer, and then a Course of Morning Prayers for the Seven Days of the Week, Other Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Meditations and Prayers for Various Times and Seasons, and Communion Prayers and Meditations.

These are wonderful devotions, and I well recommend them to you. His sermons are also worthy of commendation.

It is evening when I write this, so here are some appropriate thoughts from Bishop Andrewes:

Meditations before Evening Prayer

In war there is the note of charge, fitted for the onset: of recall, whereby stragglers are recalled;

And the mind of man, as it must be stirred up in the morning, so in the evening, as by a note of recall, is it to be called back to itself and to its Leader by a scrutiny and inquisition or examination of self, by prayers and thanksgivings.

An Act of Thanksgiving

By night I lift up my hands in the sanctuary,
and bless the Lord.
The Lord hath commanded His lovingkindness
in the daytime,
and in the night His song shall be with me
and my prayer unto the God of my life.
I will bless Thee while I live,
and lift up my hands in Thy name.
Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense;
and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God,
the God of our fathers,
Who hast ordained the changes of day and night,
Who givest songs in the night,
Who hast delivered us from the evil of this day,
Who hast not cut off like a weaver my life,
nor from day even to night made an end of me.