In this post I’ll be looking at an example of pre-Enlightenment textual criticism of the Greek New Testament (if we may even call it “textual criticism”). We’ll be looking at the work of one of the men on the Westminster Assembly that relates to the subject at hand.
In the 4 points below, we have a brief argument from Edward Leigh written in 1646 defending the authenticity of the doxology in the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. The material I’ll be presenting is from “A Treatise of DIVINITY CONSISTING OF THREE BOOKES” (1646).
As a member of the Westminster Assembly, Leigh’s writings give us valuable insight into what the framers of the Confession meant when they confessed that God, “by his singular care and providence, kept [the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures] pure in all ages, [and] are therefore authentical.” (Westminster Confession 1.7)
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
(1) If Erasmus had understood that that passage had been taken out of the Book of Chronicles written by the pen of the Holy Ghost…he would no doubt have taken heed how he had called this conclusion of the Lords Prayer trifles, for it appeareth manifestly, that this sentence was borrowed from David, 1 Chron. 29:11. with some abridgment of the Prophets words.
(2) That cannot be spurious without the which we should not have had a perfect form of Prayer; for since Prayer standeth as well in praising of God and thanksgiving, as in petitions and requests to be made unto him; it is evident that if this conclusion had been wanting, there had wanted a form of that Prayer which standeth in praise and thanksgiving.
(3) If to give a substantial reason of that which goeth before be superfluous, then this conclusion may be so.
(4) For confirmation of this reading, we may allege besides the consent of the Greek Copies, the Syrian interpretation which is very ancient. Chrysostome, Theophylact, and Euthymius expound it. (B) The Lords Prayer in Luke is perfect in respect of the petitions, yet nothing hindereth but that in Matthew might be added the confirmation and conclusion; Matthew hath many other things in his Gospel, which Luke hath not.
What we see in this defense are the dogmatic commitments related to the text of the sacred Scriptures that would be expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith published only 1 year after Leigh’s treatise was written.
When we read chapter 1 of the Confession, it’s helpful to know what the framers actually meant by their words rather than anachronistically reading 21st century textual criticism into their words.
To sum up Leigh’s defense of the doxology to the Lord’s Prayer, he argues for its authenticity based upon (1) his belief that it is a citation of 2 Chronicles 29:11 and (2) is necessary to conclude a perfect, model prayer—for without it the prayer would lack praise and thanksgiving. He then goes on to state (3) that to argue that the doxology is not necessary is equivalent to saying all before the doxology is unnecessary, for praise is as necessary to prayer as petitions. It is only when we get to his final point (4) that he engages the evidence from the Greek manuscripts and ancient citations but even here (B) he doubles back on the dogmatic argument when he addresses the absence of the doxology in Luke’s gospel.
This excerpt is from Chapter 6 of the first book in his series. This chapter is entitled, “Of the Authentical edition of the Scripture.” In this chapter he is defending the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures against those who claim they had been corrupted (Roman Catholics). His defense of the doxology of The Lord’s Prayer is for the purpose of defending the integrity of the Greek New Testament overall. From this argument and the entirety of his defense in this chapter it is self-evident that he is not defending the lost text of the autographs, but the common text on hand in the current possession of the church.
If one is given to doubt on that point, Leigh even goes so far as to make the argument that Rome’s claim that the Latin Vulgate is the authentic text cannot stand because of unreconciled variants between its editions: “Since the Councell of Trent 2 Popes have set forth this vulgar Edition diversly; which of these shall be received as authenticall?”
It is self evident that when Leigh is referring to the “authentic edition,” he is actually referring to an edition in his possession, not a speculative text that is the product of never ending recension. This text would have no doubt been The Received Greek and Hebrew Testaments of The Reformation Era which largely reflect the text as found in the vast majority of the extant Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (with a few notable exceptions) and were canonically received in the printed editions of The Reformation.
The notable textual critic, Dr. Kurt Aland acknowledged this understanding of the historical Protestant position on the text of Scripture when he wrote:
Finally it is undisputed that from the 16th to the 18th century orthodoxy’s doctrine of verbal inspiration assumed this Textus Receptus. It was the only Greek text they knew, and they regarded it as the original text.”
~ Kurt Aland (Trinity Journal, Fall 1987)
“Yet no real progress was possible as long as the Textus Receptus remained the basic text and its authority was regarded as canonical.”
~ Kurt Aland (The Text of the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1981, P.4)
Dr. Aland was no advocate of the Received Text but even he acknowledged what he called the “undisputed” facts of history.
While Leigh’s arguments do not address the few important variants between the editions of The Received Text (Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza), they do clearly present the mindset and dogmatic commitments to the text of the Scripture reflected in The Westminster Confession of Faith and retained in both the Savoy Declaration and 1689 London Baptist Confession. Leigh’s ideas on the subject were not novel nor sectarian. Rather Leigh represents the mindset that was common to Protestants throughout the 15th and 16th centuries.
For 21st century Christians looking at the issue of textual variation in the manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, it’s important to realize that contemporary scholarship approaches the subject with a completely different set of presuppositions than those of our Protestant forbears. The Reformed fathers weren’t ignorant of textual issues, but they addressed them first and foremost as a dogmatic concern, which led to some very different conclusions than those reached by scholars today.