SEP 11 Greetings from the manse
In the years after 1611 the text of the King James Bible was produced in different centres by different printers, consequently ssuccessive printings of the Authorized Version were notably less careful than the 1611 edition had been, compositors freely varying spelling, capitalization and punctuation and also over the years, introducing about 1,500 misprints. One edition of 1631had the omitted the "not" from the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” earning the name “Wicked Bible!” I mustn’t laugh because I did a similar thing some years ago much to the mirth of the congregation! The two Cambridge editions of 1629 and 1638 attempted to restore the proper text – while introducing over 200 revisions of the original translators' work, chiefly by incorporating into the main text a more literal reading originally presented as a marginal note.
By the mid-18th Century the wide variation in the various modernized printed texts of the Authorized Version, combined with the notorious accumulation of misprints, had reached the proportion of a scandal, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge both sought to produce an updated standard text. First of the two was the Cambridge edition of 1762 edited by F.S.Parris. This was effectively superseded by Benjamin Blayney’s 1769 Oxford edition, which became the Oxford standard text, and is reproduced almost unchanged in most current printings. The editors of these revisions sought consistently to remove those elements of the 1611 and subsequent editions that they believed were due to the vagaries of printers, while incorporating most of the revised readings of the Cambridge editions of 1629 and 1638, and each also introducing a few improved readings of their own. They undertook the enormous task of standardising the wide variation in punctuation and spelling of the original, making many thousands of minor changes to the text; although some of these updates do alter the supposed sense ,as when the original text of Genesis 2:21 "in stead" ( Old English for place, hence, "in that place") was updated to read "instead” as an alternative.
In addition, Blayney and Parris thoroughly revised and greatly extended the italicisation of "supplied" words not found in the original languages by cross-checking against the presumed source texts. Unfortunately, Blayney assumed that the translators of the 1611 New Testament had worked from the 1550 Stephanus edition of the Textus Receptus, rather than from the later editions of Beza. Accordingly the current standard text mistakenly "corrects" around a dozen readings where Beza and Stephanus differ. Altogether, Blayney's 1769 text differed from the 1611 text in around 24,000 places. Since that date, only six further changes have been introduced to the standard text - although 30 of Blayney's proposed changes have subsequently been reverted. The Oxford University Press paperback edition of the "Authorized King James Version" provides the current standard text.
The texts of the books that were later to comprise the New Testament were neither fixed in stone nor flawlessly reproduced. They were copied by hand, one manuscript serving as an exemplar for the next, copied by errant human beings of differing degrees of ability, temperament and vigilance. The earliest scribes were by and large private individuals not paid professionals, and in most cases their work was not checked for accuracy. A bit like my articles! As we have seen, mistakes, scores of them were made. In recent years scholars have another set of questions. “Were any of these “mistakes” intentional alterations?It seems that there is evidence to suggest that some were. After all the copyists were warm blooded Christians living in religious landscape of wide ranging theological debates that mirrored vast diversity that existed in early Christianity. Copyists and scribes must surely have been aware of these crucial issues and debates that raged in the early centuries, debates about the person and work of Christ, the nature of salvation and authority in the Church to name just a few. Did their passionately held convictions affect the way these Christians copied the texts that they construed as Scripture? Many scholars would say that the evidence points to the conclusion that they did indeed. Scribes of the second and third centuries altered their texts of scripture at significant points in order to make them more orthodox on the one hand and less susceptible to heretical construal on the other. Their motivation in the heat of controversy was to make scripture at crucial points say what they thought and believed it clearly said in its entirely and totality. One would have thought that those espousing what became to be condemned as heretical views were responsible for altering and corrupting the text. However it is the case that orthodox hands were responsible for textual changes to support orthodox views and deny scriptural support for the views of their opponents. Walter Bauer, writing perhaps the most important work in its field, “Orthodoxy and Heresy in early Christianity” in 1934, suggested that diversity became uniformity rather than the traditional view that a primal unity became compromised by dissent and diversity in early Christianity. The use of scripture was an important tool then as now in maintaining the right beliefs, which is the meaning of “orthodoxy.”
There are so many examples that could be cited to show alteration of the text. I shall mention just one as space does not permit more. At the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3;22) the oldest well attested manuscripts has the divine voice saying that Jesus is God’s “begotten” son. This was displaced by the doctrinally orthodox “beloved” son in later manuscripts. Some Christians believed that Jesus was completely human and “adopted” or elected or anointed by God at that moment and endowed with special powers. The orthodox community held that Jesus was God’s divine son from before the beginning, uncreated and un- begotten. It was this view that became the official line in time as the Trinitarian relationship in the Godhead became formularised and fixed and other views denounced and postscribed.
Many orthodox writers were aware that various groups were altering their texts to suit their purposes and to claim scriptural support for their views. One expressed this view at the end of his book (Revelation 22; 18-19) as we find in these verses a standardised curse formula to protect the text of his apocalypse from malevolent tampering.
In conclusion, I hope this mini series has rekindled a connection with the Bible and its message. I know that I have taken a different route in order to achieve this aim. I believe that modern scholarship and its methods enhance the reading of scripture. Others would sincerely and legitimately disagree. I would simply point to the text. It is first and foremost to be read and wrestled with as both inspired word and historical document.
With every blessing,
Rev. Kim Nally
Hunstanton Methodist Church.
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