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Dear visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find helpful? Please make a gift today. Thank you. Wishing you a blessed Lenten season.

Biblical Criticism

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Criticism, BIBLICAL, in its fullest comprehension is the examination of the literary origins and historical values of the books composing the Bible, with the state in which these exist at the present day. Since the sacred Scriptures have come down in a great variety of copies and ancient versions, showing more or less divergence of text, it is the province of that department of Biblical criticism which is called textual, or lower, to study these documents with a view to arriving at the purest possible text of the sacred books. The name higher criticism was first employed by the German Biblical scholar Eichhorn, in the second edition of his “Einleitung”, appearing in 1787. It is not, as supposed by some, an arrogant denomination, assuming superior wisdom, but it has come into use because this sort of criticism deals with the larger aspects of Bible study; viz., with the authorship, date, composition, and authority of whole books or large sections, as distinguished from the discussion of textual minutiae, which is the sphere of the lower, or textual, criticism. The subject will, therefore, be treated in this article under the two heads: I. HIGHER CRITICISM; II. TEXTUAL CRITICISM.


Taken in this limited sense, Biblical criticism, in the light of modern philological, historical, and archaeological science, and by methods which are recent in their development, subjects to severe tests the previously accepted and traditional views on the human authorship, the time and manner of composition, of the sacred writings, and discriminates as to their objective historical value. In reaching its results it sets more store on evidences internal to the books than on external traditions or attestations, and its undeniable effect is to depreciate tradition in a great measure, so that there exists a sharply-drawn line between the exegetes of the critical and those of the traditional school. In the process by which the critics arrive at their conclusions there is a divergence of attitude towards the supernatural element in Holy Writ. Those of the rationalistic wing ignore, and at least tacitly deny, inspiration in the theological meaning of the term, and without any doctrinal preoccupations, except some hostile to the supernatural, proceed to apply critical tests to the Scriptures, in the same manner as if they were merely human productions. Moderate critics of Protestant persuasion—a school that predominates in Great Britain—hold to inspiration and revelation, though with a freedom incompatible with Catholic orthodoxy. Catholic Biblical critics, while taking as postulates the plenary inspiration and the inerrancy of the sacred Writings, admit in a large measure the literary and historical conclusions reached by non-Catholic workers in this field, and maintain that these are not excluded by Catholic faith. With the exception of Abbe Loisy and his followers, no Catholic scholar has claimed autonomy or complete independence for criticism, all proceeding on the principle that it cannot validly, and may not lawfully, contradict the established dogmatic teaching of the Church. Its Christian exponents insist that a reverent criticism is quite within its rights in sifting the elements which enter into human aspects of the Bible, as a means of a better understanding of the written word, since its component parts were given their form by men in certain historical environments and under some of the limitations of their age and place, and since, moreover, inspiration does not dispense with ordinary human industry and methods in literary composition. (See Inspiration of the Bible.)

Higher Criticism may be called a science, though its processes and results do not admit of nicety of control and demonstration, as its principles are of the moral-psychological order. Hence its conclusions, even in the most favorable circumstances, attain to no greater force than what arises from a convergence of probabilities, begetting a moral conviction. While some attempts have been made to elaborate a system of canons for the higher criticism, it has not, and probably never will have, a strictly defined and generally accepted code of principles and rules. Some broad principles, however, are universally admitted by critical scholars. A fundamental one is that a literary work always betrays the imprint of the age and environment in which it was produced; another is that a plurality of authors is proved by well-marked differences of diction and style, at least when these coincide with distinctions in view-point or discrepancies in a double treatment of the same subject. A third received canon holds to a radical dissimilarity between ancient Semitic and modern Occidental, or Aryan, methods of composition.


1. Before the eighteenth century

The early ecclesiastical writers were unconscious of nearly all the problems to which criticism has given rise. Their attention was concentrated on the Divine content and authority of sacred Scripture, and, looking almost exclusively at the Divine side, they deemed as of trifling account questions of authorship, date, composition, accepting unreservedly for these points such traditions as the Jewish Church had handed down, all the more readily that Christ Himself seemed to have given various of these traditions His supreme confirmation. As for the N. T., tradition was the determining factor here too. As exceptions we may note that Origen concluded partly from internal evidence that St. Paul could scarcely have written the Epistle to the Hebrews, and his disciple Dionysius adduced linguistic grounds for rejecting the Apocalypse as a work of St. John. The Fathers saw in every sentence of the Scripture a pregnant oracle of God. Apparent contradictions and other difficulties were solved without taking possible human imperfection into view. Only in a few isolated passages does St. Jerome seem to hint at such in connection with history. Except in regard to the preservation of the sacred text there was nothing to elicit a critical view of the Bible in the age of the Fathers, and this applies also to the Scholastic period. Even the Humanist movement preceding the Reformation gave no impulse to the critical spirit beyond fostering the study of the Scriptures in their original languages. It was not a Humanist, but the erratic Reformer Carlstadt, who first broke with tradition on the authorship of an inspired book by declaring that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, because the account of his death is in the same style as the rest of his book. But though Carlstadt adduced a critical argument he cannot be styled a critic. Hobbes (1651), Pereyre (1655), Spinoza (1670) attacked the Mosaic authorship, but merely incidentally, in works in which anything like a systematic criticism found no place. A French priest, Richard Simon (1638-1712), was the first who subjected the general questions concerning the Bible to a treatment which was at once comprehensive in scope and scientific in method. Simon is the forerunner of modern Biblical criticism. The broadening opportunities for the study of Oriental languages, a keen and methodical mind, probably, too, a reaction against the rigid view of the Bible which reigned amongst both Catholics and Protestants of the age were the factors which produced Simon’s first great work, the “Histoire critique du Vieux Testament”, which was published in 1678. In this he called attention to the double narratives and variation of style in the Pentateuch, and thence deduced that, aside from the legal portion, which Moses himself had written down, much of the remaining matter was the work of several inspired annalists, a class to whom are due the later historical books, and who in subsequent generations added touches to the inspired histories by their predecessors. This theory did not survive its author, but the use of internal evidence by which Simon arrived at it entitles him to be called the father of Biblical criticism. His novel view of the Mosaic books excited only condemnation, and his critical work, being an isolated effort which did not win the support of a school, found appreciation only in recent times. A continuously developing higher criticism was not to begin till the middle of the eighteenth century. But a capital distinction is to be made between criticism as applied to the Old and as applied to the New Testament. The two have followed different courses. O.—T. criticism has been developed along the lines of linguistic and historic research. Philosophico-religious prejudices have been kept in the background. But in respect to the N. T., criticism began as the outgrowth of philosophic speculations of a distinctly anti-Christian character and, as exercised by rationalists and liberal Protestants, has not yet freed itself from the sway of such a priori principles, though it has tended to grow more positive—that is, more genuinely critical—in its methods.

2. Since the eighteenth century

(1) Old-Testament Criticism outside the Church.—In 1753 Jean Astruc, a French Catholic physician of considerable note, published a little book, “Conjectures sur les memoires originaux dont it parait que Mosse s’est servi pour composer le livre de la Genese”, in which he conjectured, from the alternating use of two names of God in the Hebrew Genesis, that Moses had incorporated therein two pre-existing documents, one of which employed Elohim and the other Jehovah. The idea attracted little attention till it was taken up by a German scholar, who, however, claims to have made the discovery independently. This was Johann Gott-fried Eichhorn, the author of an Introduction to the O. T., issued 1780-83, and distinguished by vigour and scientific acumen. Eichhorn was indebted not a little to his friend Herder, the noted German litterateur, and the two conjointly originated the critical habit of looking upon the O. T. as a collection of Oriental literature whose several parts are to be read and interpreted as the productions of the Semitic genius. Eichhorn greatly developed Astruc’s hypothesis by observing that the Elohim and Jehovah sections of Genesis bear other characteristics, and by extending the analysis thus derived to the whole Pentateuch. But the German savant was not so orthodox an adherent of the Mosaic authorship as was Astrue, since he left to the Hebrew legislator a very uncertain part of the work. When Eichhorn composed his “Introduction” he was somewhat influenced by free-thinking views which later became very pronounced. His criticism, therefore, had as its antecedents not only Astruc’s fruitful conjecture and Herder‘s poetic insight into Oriental literature, but also eighteenth-century German rationalism. This was in part native to the soil, but it drew much nurture from the ideas of the English Deists and Sceptics, who flourished towards the end of the seventeenth century and in the first part of the eighteenth. Such authors as Blount (1654-93) and Collins (1676-1729) had impugned miracles and prophecy and in general the authority of the O.—T. writings. The standpoint of the German Orientalist Reimarus was that of the English Deists; the whole drift of his “Wolfenbuttel Fragments”, first appearing 1774-78, is one of antagonism to the super-natural. Lessing (1729-81), his literary executor, without departing so offensively from the path of orthodoxy, defended the fullest freedom of discussion in theological matters. Contemporary with Lessing was J. S. Semler, who rejected inspiration, attributed a mythical character to episodes in O.—T. historical books, and, on lines parallel to Lessing’s philosophy of religion, distinguished in Scripture elements of permanent and others of transitory and negligible value.

Eichhorn is the first typical representative of modern Biblical criticism, the especial home of which has been Germany. He gave the first impulse to the literary analysis of the Scriptures, applying it not only to the Pentateuch, but also to Isaias and other portions of the O. T. Outside of Germany the views of Eichhorn and his school found little currency. Yet it was a Catholic priest of Scottish origin, Alexander Geddes (1737-1802), who broached a theory of the origin of the Five Books (to which he attached Josue) exceeding in boldness either Simon’s or Eichhorn’s. This was the well-known “Fragment” hypothesis, which reduced the Pentateuch to a collection of fragmentary sections partly of Mosaic origin, but put together in the reign of Solomon. Geddes’ opinion was introduced into Germany in 1805 by Vater. For the fuller account of this and later stages of the criticism of the Pentateuch the reader is referred to the article under that heading. With some essays of a young scholar, De Wette, which were published 1805-07, properly began the historical criticism of the Bible. De Wette joined to the evidences supplied by vocabulary and style (i.e. those of literary criticism) arguments drawn from history, as contained in the sacred narratives themselves, and the discoveries of antiquarian research. He refused to find anything but legend and poetry in the Pentateuch, though he granted it a unity of plan, and a development in accordance with his conception of Israel’s history, thus laying the foundation for the leading hypothesis of the present day. De Wette’s ideas also furnished the basis for the Supplement-theory, systematized later by Bleek and others. He was the first to attack the historical character of the books of Paralipomenon, or Chronicles. Bleek (1793-1859), Ewald (1803-75), and the Catholic Movers (1806-56), while following critical methods, opposed the purely negative criticism of De Wette and his school, and sought to save the authenticity of some Mosaic books and Davidie psalms by sacrificing that of others. Bleek revived, and brought into prominence, the conclusion of Geddes, that the book of Josue is in close literary connection with the first five books of the Bible, and thenceforth the idea of a Hexateuch, or sixfold work, has been maintained by advanced exegetes. Hupfeld, in 1853, found four instead of three documents in the Pentateuch, viz., the first Elohist, comprising the priestly law, a second Elohist (hitherto unsuspected except by a forgotten investigator, Ilgen), the Jehovist, and the Deuteronomist. He allowed to none of these a Mosaic origin. With Hupfeld’s view the idea of one large source, or Grundschrift, supplemented by smaller ones, began to give place to the “Document” hypothesis. Meanwhile these conclusions, so subversive of ancient traditions regarding the Five Books, were stoutly contested by a number of German scholars, prominent among whom stood Ranke, Havernick, Hengstenberg, and Keil, among Protestants; and Jahn, Hug, Herbst, and Welte, representing Catholic learning. These, while refusing to allow the testimony of Jewish tradition to be ruled out of court as invalid against internal evidence, were compelled to employ the methods of their adversaries in defending the time-honored views. The questions were agitated only in countries where Protestantism predominated, and, among these, in England the conservative views were strongly entrenched.

The critical dissection of books was and is accomplished on the ground of diversity of vocabulary and style, the phenomena of double narratives of the same event varying from each other, it is claimed, to the extent of discrepancy, and differences of religious conceptions. The critics appeal for confirmation of this literary analysis to the historical books. For example, Moses could not have enacted an elaborate ritual legislation for a people leading a nomad life in the desert, especially since we find (say the critics) no trace of its observance in the earliest periods of Israel’s settled existence. These and like tests are applied to nearly every book of the O. T., and result in conclusions which, if allowed, profoundly modify the traditional beliefs regarding the authorship and integrity of these Scriptures, and are incompatible with any strict notion of their inerrancy.

The Hegelian principle of evolution has undoubtedly influenced German criticism, and indirectly Biblical criticism in general. Applied to religion, it has powerfully helped to beget a tendency to regard the religion of Israel as evolved by processes not transcending nature, from a polytheistic worship of the elements to a spiritual and ethical monotheism. This theory was first elaborated by Abram Kuenen, a Dutch theologian, in his “Religion of Israel” (1869-70). Without being essential to, it harmonizes with the current system of Pentateuchal criticism, sometimes called “the Development Hypothesis”, but better known as “the Grafian”. This hypothesis is accepted today by the great body of non-Catholic Biblical scholarship. It makes the Pentateuch a growth formed by the piecing and interlacing together of documents representing distinct epochs. Of these the oldest is the Jehovistic, or J, dating from the ninth century B.C.; E, the Elohistic work, was composed a little later. These elements are prophetic in spirit and narrative in matter. D, the Deuteronomic Code, was the organ and instrument of the prophetic reform under Josias; it appeared 621 B.C. P, the great document containing the Priestly Code, was drawn up after the Babylonian Exile, and is the outcome of the sacerdotal and ritual formalism distinguishing the restored Jewish community; it therefore dates from the fifth century B.C. This ingenious and coherent hypothesis was formulated first by E. Reuss of the University of Strasburg, but presented to the public many years later (1866) by his disciple H. K. Graf. It was skillfully elaborated by Julius Wellhausen, professor (in 1908) at the University of Gottingen, in works published in 1883 and 1889 (“Prolegomena to the History of Israel” and “Composition of the Ilexateuch and the Historical Books of the O. T.”), and today it dominates the critical treatment of the Hexateuch. The shifting of the Priestly Code (formerly called the First Elohist) from the earliest to the latest in time, a characteristic of the Grafian system, has had a marked influence on the drift of O. T. criticism in general, notably with regard to the books of Paralipomenon. It has reversed the chronological order of the prophetical and priestly elements running through the greater part of the O. T.

Only within the last two decades has higher criticism made notable progress in English-speaking lands, and this has been rendered possible by the moderation of its leading spokesman there. Foremost among these semi-orthodox critics of the O. T. is Professor Driver of Oxford, whose “Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament” first appeared in 1891. W. Robertson Smith in “The Old Testament and the Jewish Church” had previously (1880), though less systematically, presented the Grafian hypothesis to the English-speaking world. The results of British conservative criticism are embodied in Hastings’ “Dictionary of the Bible“, while the radical wing in England is represented by the “Encyclopaedia Biblica” edited by Professors Cheyne and Black. In America most of the conclusions of German criticism have found advocates in Professors C. H. Briggs (“The Bible, the Church and Reason“, 1892; “Higher Criticism of the Hexateuch“, 1893), H. P. Smith, and C. H. Toy.

The higher criticism claims to have discerned great inequalities in the value of those portions of the O. T. which are historical in form. In the same book we may find, it asserts, myth, legend, and material of real historical worth, the last of these elements being abundant in Judges and the Books of Kings, though even here a careful sifting must be used. In parts of the Hexateuch, especially in the priestly document and the cognate Paralipomenon writing, history is freely idealized, and existing institutions are projected artificially into the remote past. Esther, Tobias, Judith, Jonas, and portions of II Machabees belong to the class of Jewish Haggadah, or moralizing fictions. The Psalms have few if any compositions by David; they are the religious poetry of Israel. Isaias is a composite, containing messages of prophets widely separated in time and circumstances. The prophets spoke and wrote primarily in view of definite contemporary situations. Job is an epic, and Canticles a pastoral drama. The book of Daniel is an apocalypse of the Machabean period, describing history of the past and present under the semblance of visions of the future. To conclude this outline of the critical results, the human element in Scripture is given prominence and represented as clothed with the imperfections, limitations, and errors of the times of its origin; many books are exhibited as the products of successive literary accretions, excluding any unity of authorship; in fact, for most of the histories, the unknown writers retire into the shadow to give place to the unifying labors of the equally unknown “redactor” or “redactors”.

(2) The Reaction against Criticism.—This has been aided by the antithesis between the conclusions of certain Assyriologists of note (viz., A. H. Sayce and F. Hommel) and the prevailing school of criticism. Recent discoveries in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia prove that a developed civilization existed in Western Asia in times contemporary with Abraham, and earlier. (See Babylonia; Assyria.) The inference drawn by the above scientists (Sayce, “Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments”, 1895; Hommel, “Ancient Hebrew Tradition”, tr., 1897) is that the elaborate ritual and legal code of the Israelites could well have been framed by Moses. They charge the critics with not taking Oriental discoveries sufficiently into account, and argue that, since the monuments confirm the substantial truth of some of the historical books, a presumption is raised in favor of the veracity of Hebrew literature in general. The historical character of the narratives is upheld by other considerations of a more minute and technical nature. In America the old views of the Bible were defended with zeal and learning by Dr. William H. Green, of Princeton, author of a series of Biblical works extending from 1863 to 1899; also by E. C. Bissel and W. L. Baxter. In Great Britain the conservatives have been represented in recent times by Alfred Cave, J. J. Lias, and others. In Germany, J. K. F. Keil, who died in 1888, was the last exegete of international name who stood without compromise for tradition. But a contemporary group of Protestant German theologians and Orientalists have championed the claims of the O. T. as a Divinely inspired literature, whose narratives, on the whole, are worthy of belief. Prominent among these are Dr. F. E. Konig of Bonn (“Neue Prinzipien der alttestamentlichen Kritik”, 1902, “Bibel-Babel Frage and die wissenschaftliche Methode”, 1904); Julius Bohm, a pastor; Dr. Samuel Oettli, professor at Greifswald. The resistance to the so-called scientific criticism in Germany has been greatly stimulated by the radical positions recently taken by some Assyriologists, beginning with a lecture delivered in 1902 before the German court by Friedrich Delitzsch. The still-continuing discussion it provoked is known as the Bibel-Babel controversy. Delitzsch, Jensen, and their followers contend that the Bible stories of the Creation, the Fall, the Deluge, etc. were borrowed by the Hebrews from Babylonia, where they existed in their pure and original form. This school relegates all the events and personages of Genesis to the region of myths and attributes a Chaldean origin to the Jewish conception of Paradise and Sheol, angels and devils. Of still more recent beginning and extravagant character is the theory of astral myths defended by Stucken, Winckler, and Jeremias, according to which the narrations not only of the Pentateuch, but of large portions of the later books as well, represent in human guise merely the nature and movements of the heavenly bodies.

In replying to the critical systems, conservatives, both Catholic and Protestant, reenforce the argument from Jewish and Christian traditions by methods borrowed from their opponents; linguistic distinctions are countered by linguistic arguments, and the traditionists also employ the process of comparing the data of one book with another, in an endeavor to bring all into harmony. Not the methods so much as the conclusions of criticism are impugned. The difference is largely one of interpretation. However, the conservatives complain that the critics arbitrarily rule out as interpolations or late comments passages which are unfavorable to their hypotheses. The advocates of tradition also charge the opposite school with being swayed by purely subjective fancies, and in the case of the more advanced criticism, by philosophico-religious prejudices. Moreover, they assert that such a piece-meal formation of a book by successive strata, as is alleged for many parts of the O. T. is without analogy in the history of literature. The Catholic criticism of the O. T. will be described in a separate section of this article.

(3) New-Testament Criticism Outside the Church.—Before the eighteenth century N.—T. criticism did not go beyond that of the Latin and Greek texts, if we except the ancient remarks on the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse already noticed. When the German Rationalism of the eighteenth century, in imitation of the English Deism of the seventeenth, had discarded the supernatural, the N. T. became the first object of a systematic attack. Reimarus (1694-4768) assailed the motives of its writers and cast aspersions on the honesty of Jesus Himself. J. S. Semler (1725-91) used the greatest latitude in discussing the origin and credibility of the sacred Scriptures, arguing that these subjects should be dealt with without regard to any Divine content. Semler was the first to question the authenticity of N.—T. books from a critical standpoint. His exegetical principles, if admitted, would largely destroy the authority of the Gospels. Paulus (1761-1851), professor at Jena and Heidelberg, granted the genuineness of the Gospels, and their authors’ honesty of purpose, but taught that in narrating the miraculous and super-natural the Apostles and Evangelists recorded their delusions, and that all the alleged superhuman occurrences are to be explained by merely natural causes. Eichhorn, the pioneer of modern German criticism, carried his inquiries into the field of the N. T. and, beginning with 1794, proposed a theory to explain the similarities and differences of the Synoptic Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some phases of what is now known as “the Synoptic Problem” were examined by Griesbach as early as 1776, and again, in 1781, by a posthumous essay of Lessing treating of the Evangelists “considered simply as human historians”. The problem was first clearly formulated by Lachmann in 1835. The dangerous tendencies of the rationalistic writers were ably combated by J. L. Hug, a Catholic exegete, whose “Introduction to the N. T.” was completed in 1808. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was the earliest of those German theologians who acknowledge the religious force of the sacred writings, but imperil their authority by a free and independent treatment of their origin and historical contents; his view of the N. T. was influenced by Semler’s criticisms. Somewhat akin to Schleiermacher’s attitude is that of De Wette, but his conclusions are often negative and doubtful. The Evangelistic school of Protestant German commentators, represented earliest by Guericke, Olshausen, Neander, and Bleek, were in the main adherents to the genuineness and truthfulness of the Gospels, though influenced by the mediating or mystico-rationalistic tendencies of Schleiermacher. As N.—T. scholars they belong between 1823 and 1859.

The “Life of Jesus” by David Friedrich Strauss, which appeared in 1835, marked a new departure of view with regard to the N. T., and made a great sensation. Strauss was an Hegelian and one for whom the “idea” obscured the objective facts, while it rested upon them. He held that the orthodox conception of Christ was the creature of the ardent Messianic hopes of the Jewish-Christians of the primitive Church, who imagined that Jesus fulfilled the O.—T. prophecies, and who, soon after His death, invested His personality and the whole tenor of His life with mythical qualities, in which there was nothing but a bare kernel of objective truth, viz., the existence of a rabbi named Jesus, who was a man of extraordinary spiritual power and penetration, and who had gathered about him a band of disciples. Echoes of these ideas are to be found in Renan’s “Vie de Jesus”. Strauss’s relatively refined philosophy of religion was more in the spirit of the age than the moribund, crude naturalism of Paulus, though it only substituted one form of rationalism for another. The “Life of Jesus” soon called forth refutations, but in the advanced circles of German thought the finishing stroke was not given to it until Ferdinand Christian Baur, the founder of the Tubingen, or a To11-dency”, school of exegesis and criticism, published the mature fruit of his speculation under the title “Paulus der Apostel Jesu Christi”, in 1845. Baur, like Strauss, was a disciple of Hegel, but had taken from that philosopher a different key to the significance of the N. T., viz., the principle of the evolution of all truth through the conciliation of contradictions. He taught that the N. T. is the outcome of an antagonism between Jewish, or Petrine, and Pauline tendencies in the primitive Church. The Pauline concept of Christianity—one of a philosophic and universal order—is represented by the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, which alone Baur admitted as the certainly authentic works of St. Paul. The Apocalypse was composed in direct opposition to the spirit of the Pauline writings. The above works were written before A.D. 70. Between 70 and 140 appeared St. Matthew’s Gospel, Petrine in character; St. Luke’s Gospel, Pauline, though retouched in a conciliatory spirit; Acts, adapted similarly to St. Luke; and latest the Gospel of St. Mark, also of an irenic type. This second period is one of transition between antagonism and complete reconciliation. This latter is the note of the third period, reaching to about A.D. 170, which produced the Gospel and Epistles bearing the name of St. John, and the pastoral Epistles, which therefore cannot have come from St. Paul. The scheme excluded the authenticity of all the Gospels. Baur’s theory has not survived except in the very mitigated form seen in the works of Hilgenfeld and Pfleiderer. Nevertheless, aside from his philosophic assumptions, the principles and methods of Baur have left a deep impress on later N.—T. criticism. He first practiced on a consistent and developed plan the habit of scrutinizing the sacred documents themselves for evidences of the times which gave them birth, and led the way in the present critical trend towards a division of the N. T. into Judaistic, Pauline, and Johannine elements.

The Tubingen ideas evoked a reaction against their destructive and purely rationalistic conclusions. This movement has been twofold: on one side it is orthodox Protestant, though critical in its method; this section is the natural continuation of the earlier Evangelistic exegesis, and counts as its ablest representatives Zahn, B. Weiss, and Godet; the other branch is partly the outgrowth of the Schleiermacher school and acknowledges as its founder Albert Ritschl, whose defection from the Tubingen group (1857) proved a serious blow to Baur’s system. The Ritschlian theology insists on the religious value of the N. T., especially in the impression its picture of Christ makes on the individual soul, and on the other hand allows a free rein to the boldest and most searching criticism of the origin and historical worth of the N.—T. books, in a blind mystic confidence that nothing that criticism can do will impair their religious value. The indifference of the Ritschlians to the consequences of criticism is also shown towards the miraculous element in our Lord’s life and in the N. T. in general. This tendency is very manifest among other contemporary German critics, who, while influenced by Ritschlianism, belong rather to the “scientific” and evolutionary school. Holtzmann, Bousset, Julicher, Harnack, Schmiedel by critical procedure eliminate from the Gospels, or at least call into doubt, all the miraculous elements, and reduce the Divinity of Christ to a moral, pre-eminent sonship to God, and yet, by a strange inconsequence, exalt the saving and enlightening power of His personality. This latest school, however, admit dates which approach much nearer to the traditional ones than to those of Baur. Harnack, besides affirming the genuineness of all the Pauline Epistles except the pastoral ones, and of Mark and Luke, places the Synoptic Gospels between A.D. 65 and 93, and fixes the year 110 as the latest limit for the Gospel and Epistles of St, John and the Apocalypse.

In Great Britain, N.—T. criticism with few exceptions has been moderate and, on the whole, conservative. Excellent service has been done in the defense of contested books by the British divines J. B. Light-foot, B. F. Westcott, W. H. Sanday, and others. Holland has produced a small group of radical critics, Van Manen, Pierson, Loman, who, with Steck in Germany, have revived Bruno Bauer’s total denial of authenticity to St. Paul’s Letters. In France and French Switzerland conservatism has been the key-note of the Protestant scholars Pressense and Godet; a rationalizing evolutionism that of Sabatier. Abbe Loisy’s work will be spoken of below.

A brief summary of the situation of particular books in contemporary non-Catholic criticism follows:

The Synoptic Gospels.—The prevalent critical solution of the problem they present is the “two-document” hypothesis, which explains what is common to all of them by supposing that Matthew and Luke drew from the very early Gospel bearing St. Mark’s name or an anterior Apostolic document on which Mark is based, and refers the material which is common to Matthew and Luke only to a primitive Aramaic source compiled by one or more immediate disciples of Christ, possibly St. Matthew. St. Luke’s Gospel is recognized as authentic; our canonical Mark as at least virtually so.

Acts.—The integrity and entire genuineness of the Acts of the Apostles have been assailed by a few recent critics: Hilgenfeld, Spitta, Clemen. They would analyze the work into a number of sections, by different authors, including St. Luke, rearranged by successive editors, and containing materials varying much in value. No conscious falsification was used, but legendary narratives crept in. These critics are by no means unanimous as to particulars.

Epistles of St. Paul.—Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians are acknowledged by all serious scholars to be authentic writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. About Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, and Philemon there is diversity of opinion. First Thessalonians is generally admitted to be genuine, but the Pauline authorship of the second letter of that name is strongly contested. The weight of non-Catholic critical opinion is against the authenticity of the pastoral Epistles, viz., the two to Timothy and the one to Titus. The Epistle to the Hebrews is assigned to an Alexandrian Jewish convert, contemporary, or almost so, with St. Paul, and a disciple of his teaching. This is also the view of Catholic exegetes of the new school. First Peter is generally held to be the work of that Apostle, but the composition of Second Peter is placed in the second century, even some Catholics inclining to this date. The question whether the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude are from the pens of the Apostles of those names is variously answered outside the Church.

The Johannine Writings.—The authenticity and authority of St. John’s Gospel form the great battle-field of present N.—T. criticism. They had been attacked as early as 1792 by a certain Evanson. The majority of contemporary critics incline to Harnack’s view, which is that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Presbyter or the “elder” referred to in a fragment by Papias, and asserted by the Harnackians to be distinct from the Apostle and a disciple of the latter. He wrote in the beginning of the second century. Loisy attributes it to an unknown writer of the second century who had no affiliations with St. John. But the historical value of this Evangel is the more vital aspect of the question. The German school of criticism characterizes the Gospel as theology and symbolism, not history; Loisy agrees with them. The Apostolic authorship and historicity of the Fourth Gospel have been vindicated by such critical scholars as Sanday, Stanton, and Drummond in England, and Zahn and B. Weiss in Germany. Orthodox Catholic exegetes, while always holding to the Catholic tradition of the Johannine authorship and historical quality of the Fourth Gospel, admit that St. John’s theol. ogy indicates reflection and a development over and beyond that of the Synoptists. The first Epistle of St. John is universally admitted to be by the same hand as the Gospel. The criticism of Apocalypse is still in an immature stage. There is much diversity of view as to its author, the Anglican school inclining to St. John. It has been recently proposed that the book is a Jewish apocalypse retouched by a Christian; so Vischer, Harnack. Nearly all critics acknowledge that there is much apocalyptic element in it, admitting that some of its visions in a veiled manner depict historical situations under the guise of events to come.

(4) The Critical Movement Within the Church.—Old Testament Criticism.—France, the country of Richard Simon and Astruc, has been also that of the beginning of the present-day Catholic criticism. Francois Lenormant, a distinguished Catholic Orientalist, in the preface to his “Origins de l’histoire d’apres la Bible et les traditions des peuples Orientaux” (1880-84), declared no longer tenable the traditional unity of authorship for the Pentateuch, and admitted as demonstrated that the fundamental sources of its first four books were a Jehovist and Elohist document, each inspired and united by a “final redactor”. Minor discordances exist between them. The earlier chapters of Genesis contain mythical and legendary elements common to Semitic peoples, which in the hands of the inspired writers became the “figured vestments of eternal truths”. The same preface bespeaks entire liberty for the critic in the matter of dates and authors. Lenormant’s work was placed on the Index, December 19, 1887. The basis of his literary analysis was supplied by the conclusions of higher criticism, up to that time unaccepted, at least publicly, by any Catholic savant. E. Reuss, a liberal Protestant professor at the university of Strasburg, had published at Paris, in 1879, “L’Histoire Sainte et la Loi; Pentateuque et Josue”. In 1883 appeared Wellhausen’s influential “Prolegomena to the History of Israel”, reedited in 1889 under the title, “Composition of the Hexateuch and the Historical Books of the O. T.”


Alfred Loisy, then professor of Sacred Scripture at the Institut Catholique of Paris, in his inaugural lecture for the course of 1892-93 made a clear-cut plea for the exercise of criticism in the study of the human side of the Bible (“Enseignement Biblique”, November—December, 1892; reprinted in “Les etudes bibliques”, 1894). In an essay which appeared in 1893, Loisy discussed the “Biblical Question”, reasserted the right of Catholic science to treat critically the general aspects of Holy Scripture and also its interpretations, and rejected its absolute inerrancy, while holding to its total inspiration. The historical portions offer data which have only a “relative truth”, i.e. with reference to the age in which they were written. The author enumerated conclusions of the criticism which he regarded as fixed; these included the non-Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the unhistorical character of the first chapters of Genesis, the development of Biblical doctrine. Early in the same year Msgr. d’Hulst, rector of the Institut Catholique of Paris, had drawn acute attention to the progress of critical ideas in Catholic scientific circles by an article in the “Correspondant” of January 25, 1893, entitled “La Question Biblique”, in which he expressed the opinion that the admission of inaccuracies in Scripture is theologically tenable. The discussion of these questions was the occasion of the encyclical “Providentissimus Deus”, issued by Leo XIII, November 18, 1893, in which the total inerrancy of the Bible was declared to be the necessary consequence of its Inspiration (q.v.). The unwarranted concessions of Catholic writers to rationalistic criticism and the exclusive use of internal arguments against historical authority were condemned as contrary to correct principles of criticism. Sound Biblical criticism was commended. Similar commendation was given in the Apostolic letter, “Vigilantia”, establishing the Biblical Coin-mission, October 30, 1902.

In a paper read before the Catholic Scientific Congress of Fribourg, 1897 (Revue Biblique, January, 1898), Father M.—J. Lagrange, superior of the Dominican school of Biblical studies at Jerusalem, defended a literary analysis and an evolution of the Pentateuch which are substantially identical with those of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. He distinguished between the tradition that Moses was the historical author or founder of the Pentateuch, which he retained, and the tradition of the Mosaic literary authorship, which he abandoned. Like Loisy, the learned Dominican maintained that the literary methods of the ancient Orient are sharply differentiated from those of our civilization. During the last decade a considerable number of Catholic Biblical scholars have coalesced into what has been called the “progressive” school. Naturally disagreeing somewhat in details, they agree in holding (a) the composite texture and progressive formation of a number of sacred books, and in abandoning therefore their traditional unity of authorship; (b) in allowing a theological and moral development in the O. T.; (c) in admitting an extensive tacit insertion of popular traditions and written sources, which contain unhistorical statements. Nevertheless these exegetes hold firmly to the objective truth of the essential and larger lines of the history of the Old Dispensation as embodied in the Bible. They assert that in general the question of the literary procedure of Biblical writers is not one of faith. Their position has met with repeated attacks by Catholic adherents of the conservative school, who have combated them with arguments drawn chiefly from the irreconcilability of the new views with the Catholic dogmatic tradition of inspiration and inerrancy as witnessed, it is alleged, in the N. T., the Fathers, the teachings of the councils of Trent and the Vatican, and particularly the encyclical of Leo XIII. (See Inspiration of the Bible). The principal adversaries of the advanced conclusions are the Jesuits Delattre (Autour de la question biblique, 1904), Brucker (contributions to the “Etudes” between 1894 and 1905), Fontaine, Fonck, Pesch, (De Inspiratione Sac. Scrip., 1906), Murillo, Billot; also Professor Hoberg and Abbe Mangenot (L’Authenticite du Pentateuque, 1907).

The Biblical Commission (q.v.), whose decisions have now the force of acts of the Roman Congregations, declared, February 13, 1905, that the fallibility of implicit citations in the Bible might be admitted, provided solid arguments prove that they are really citations, and that the sacred writer does not adopt them as his own. The Commission conceded on June 23, 1905, that some passages may be historical in appearance only, always saving the sense and judgment of the Church. On June 27, 1906, the commission declared that the arguments alleged by critics do not disprove the substantial authorship of the Pentateuch by Moses. This decision has necessarily modified the attitude of such Catholic writers and teachers as favored in a greater or less degree the conclusions of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. The decree of the Inquisition “Lamentabili” (July 3, 1907) and the encyclical “Pascendi Dominici Gregis” (September 8, 1907) reasserted against the Modernists the sound, Catholic principles to be followed in the study of Sacred Scripture.

New Testament Criticism.—Catholic scholars who were willing to accept some of the critical theories have drawn a line of distinction between the criticism of the Old and that of the New Testament, not only because of the greater delicacy of the latter field, but because they recognize that the documents of the Old and New Dispensations were produced under quite different conditions. In the province of N. T. higher criticism Catholics have defended the traditional authenticity, integrity, and veracity of the books in question. Some exegetes admit in a slight measure divergencies in the Evangelical narratives, and the employment of older documents by at least two of the Synoptic writers. As to the “Synoptic problem”, it is allowed that at least St. Luke utilized St. Mark’s Gospel; so Batiffol, Minocchi, Lagrange, Loisy, Bonaccorsi, Gigot. Unduly influenced by contemporary German criticism, Abbe Loisy has in recent times broken with the orthodox traditions of N.—T. exegesis. In a reply to Harnack’s “What is Christianity?” he defended Catholic dogma as an evolution with its roots in the Primitive Church, but made dangerous concessions regarding Christ’s claim to Divinity, His Messianic vocation, knowledge, miracles, and Resurrection (“L’Evangile et l’Eglise”, 1902; “Autour d’un petit livre”, 1903). In “Le Quatrieme Evangile” (1903) Loisy rejects the Johannine authorship and the historicity of the Fourth Gospel, both of which were affirmed by the Biblical Commission (May 29, 1907). His system virtually severs the Catholic Faith from its historical credentials as found in the N. T., and the above works have been condemned by the Congregation of the Index. They have drawn out a number of refutations from Catholic apologists, such as the Abbe Lepin’s “Jesus Messie et Fils de Dieu” (1904). More recently Loisy published a work on the Synoptic Gospels (Les evangiles synoptiques, 1908) in which he follows the most extravagant rationalistic criticism. Loisy was excommunicated March 7, 1908. As has been remarked, the Church warmly recommends the exercise of criticism according to sound principles unbiassed by rationalistic presuppositions, but it must condemn undue deference to heterodox writers and any conclusions at variance with revealed truth. When doubt arises about the permissibility of hypotheses, it is for ecclesiastical authority to decide how far they consist with the deposit of faith or are expedient to the welfare of religion.



The object of textual criticism is to restore as nearly as possible the original text of a work the autograph of which has been lost. In this textual criticism differs from higher criticism, whose aim is to investigate the sources of a literary work, study its composition, determine its date and trace its influence and various transformations throughout the ages.

A. Necessity and processes of textual criticism

Textual criticism has no application except in regard to a work whose original does not exist; for, if extant, it could easily be reproduced in photogravure, or published, once it had been correctly deciphered. But no autograph of the inspired writings has been transmitted to us, any more than have the originals of profane works of the same era. The ancients had not that superstitious veneration for original manuscripts which we have today. In very early times the Jews were wont to destroy the sacred books no longer in use, either by burying them with the remains of holy personages or by hiding them in what was called a ghenizah. This explains why the Hebrew Bibles are, own individual opinion or the doctrine that is just comparatively speaking, not very ancient, although the Jews always made a practice of writing the Holy Books on skin or parchment. In the first centuries of the Christian era the Greeks and Latins generally used papyrus, a material that quickly wears out and falls to pieces. It was not until the fourth century that parchment was commonly used, and it is also from that time that our oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint and the New Testament date. Nothing short of a continuous miracle could have brought the text of the inspired writers down to us without alteration or corruption, and Divine Providence, who exercises, as it were, an economy of the supernatural, and never needlessly multiplies prodigies, did not will such a miracle. Indeed it is a material impossibility to transcribe absolutely without error the whole of a long work; and a priori one may be sure, that no two copies of the same original will be alike in every detail. A typical example of this is furnished by the Augsburg Confession, presented to the Emperor Charles V on the evening of June 25, 1530, in both Latin and German. It was printed in September of the same year and published two months later by its author, Melanchthon; thirty-five copies of it are known to have been made in the second half of the year 1530, nine of them by signers of the Confession. But, as the two originals are lost, and the copies do not agree either with one another or with the first editions, we are not sure of having the authentic text in its minutest details. From which example it is easy to appreciate the necessity of textual criticism in the case of works so ancient and so often transcribed as the books of the Bible.

Corruptions introduced by copyists may be divided into two classes: involuntary errors, and those which are either wholly or partly intentional. To these different causes are due the observed variations between maunscripts.

(a) Involuntary Errors

…may be distinguished as those of sight, hearing, and memory, respectively. Sight readily confounds similar letters and words. Thus it is that the 1 and the 1 are easily interchanged in square Hebrew writing, E and E and 0 and 0 in Greek uncial writing, and v and v in Greek cursives, etc. When the exemplar is written stichometrically, the eye of the copyist is apt to skip one or several lines. To this class of errors belongs the very frequent phenomenon of homceoteleuton (oµolor€Xevrov), i. e. omission of a passage which has an ending exactly like another passage which comes next before or after it. A similar thing happens when several phrases beginning with the same words come together. Secondly, errors of hearing are of common occurrence when one writes from dictation. But even with the exemplar before him, a copyist gets into the habit of pronouncing in a low tone, or to himself, the phrase he is transcribing, and thus is likely to mistake one word for another which sounds like it. This explains numberless cases of “itacism” met with in Greek manuscripts, especially the continual interchange of 04E4 and Ower. Lastly, an error of memory occurs when, instead of writing down the passage just read to him, the copyist unconsciously substitutes some other, familiar, text which he knows by heart, or when he is influenced by the remembrance of a parallel passage. Errors of this kind are most frequent in the transcription of the Gospels.

(b) Errors Wholly or Partly Intentional

Deliberate corruption of the Sacred Text has always been rather rare, Marcion’s case being exceptional. Hort [Introduction (1896), p. 282] is of the opinion that “even among the unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes.” Nevertheless it is true that the scribe often selects from various readings that which favors either his own individual opinion of the doctrine that is just then more generally accepted. It also happens that, in perfectly good faith, he changes passages which seem to him corrupt because he fails to understand them, that he adds a word which he deems necessary for the elucidation of the meaning, that he substitutes a more correct grammatical form, or what he considers a more exact expression, and that he harmonizes parallel passages. Thus it is that the shorter form of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke, xi, 2-4, is in almost all Greek manuscripts lengthened out in accordance with Matthew, vi, 9-13. Most errors of this kind proceed from inserting in the text marginal notes which, in the copy to be transcribed, were but variants, explanations, parallel passages, simple remarks, or perhaps the conjectures of some studious reader. All critics have observed the predilection of copyists for the most verbose texts and their tendency to complete citations that are too brief; hence it is that an interpolation stands a far better chance of being perpetuated than an omission.

From the foregoing it is easy to understand how numerous would be the readings of a text transcribed as often as the Bible, and, as only one reading of any given passage can represent the original, it follows that all the others are necessarily faulty. Mill estimated the variants of the New Testament at 30,000, and since the discovery of so many manuscripts unknown to Mill this number has greatly increased. Of course by far the greater number of these variants are in unimportant details, as, for instance, orthographic peculiarities, inverted words, and the like. Again, many others are totally improbably, or else have such slight warrant as not to deserve even cursory notice. Hort (Introduction, 2) estimates that a reasonable doubt does not affect more than the sixtieth part of the works: “In this second estimate the proportion of comparatively trivial variations is beyond measure larger than in the former; so that the amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text.” Perhaps the same thing might be said of the Vulgate; but in regard to the primitive Hebrew text and the Septuagint version there is a great deal more doubt.

We have said that the object of textual criticism is to restore a work to what it was upon leaving the hands of its author. But it is, absolutely speaking, possible that the author himself may have issued more than one edition of his work. This hypothesis was made for Jeremias, in order to explain the differences between the Greek and Hebrew texts; for St. Luke, so as to account for the variations between the “Codex Bez«?” and other Greek manuscripts in the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles; and for other writers. These hypotheses may be insufficiently founded, but, as they are neither absurd nor impossible, they are not to be rejected a priori.

B. General principles of textual criticism

In order to reestablish a text in all its purity, or at least to eliminate as far as possible, its successive falsifications, it is necessary to consult and weigh all the evidence. And this may be divided into: external, or that furnished by documents reproducing the test in whole or in part, in the original or in a translation—diplomatic evidence—and internal, or that resulting from the examination of the text itself independently of its extrinsic attestation—paradiplomatic evidence. We shall consider them separately.

1. External (Diplomatic) Evidence

The evidence for a work of which the original manuscript is lost is furnished by (a) copies, (b) versions, and (c) quotations. These three do not always exist simultaneously, and the order in which they are here enumerated does not indicate their relative authority.

(a) Manuscripts.—In regard to the copies of ancient works three things are to be considered, namely: (i) age, (ii) value, and (iii) genealogy; and we shall add a word on (iv) critical nomenclature, or notation.

(i) Age is sometimes indicated by a note in the manuscript itself; but the date, when not suspected of falsification, may simply be transcribed from the exemplar. However, as dated manuscripts are usually not very old, recourse must be had to various palaeographic indications which generally determine with sufficient accuracy the age of Greek and Latin manuscripts. Hebrew palaeography, though more uncertain, presents fewer difficulties, inasmuch as He-brew manuscripts are not so old. Besides, the exact age of a copy is, after all, only of minor importance, as it is quite possible that an ancient manuscript may be very corrupt while a later one, copied from a better exemplar, may come nearer to the primitive text. However, other things being equal, the presumption is naturally in favor of the more ancient document, since it is connected with the original by fewer intervening links and consequently has been exposed to fewer possiblities of error.

(ii) It is more important to ascertain the relative value than the age of a manuscript. Some evidences inspire but little confidence, because they have frequently been found to be defective, while others are readily accepted because critical examination has in every instance shown them to be veracious and exact. But how is the critic to discriminate? Prior to examination, the readings of a text are divided into three or four classes: the certainly or probably true, the doubtful, and the certainly or probably false. A manuscript is rated good or excellent when it presents in general true readings and contains few or none that are certainly false; under contrary conditions it is considered mediocre or worthless. Needless to add, the intrinsic excellence of a manuscript is not measured according to the greater or less care exercised by the scribes; a manuscript may teem with copyist’s errors, though it be made from a very correct exemplar; and one transcribed from a defective exemplar may, considered merely as a copy, be quite faultless.

(iii) The genealogy of documents, from a critical view-point, is most interesting and important. As soon as it is proved that a manuscript, no matter what its antiquity, is simply a copy of another existing manuscript, the former should evidently disappear from the list of authorities, since its particular testimony is of no value in establishing the primitive text. This, for instance, is what happened to the “Codex Sangermanensis” (E of the Pauline Epistles) when it was proved to be a defective copy of the “Codex Claromontanus” (D of the Pauline Epistles). Now, if a text were preserved in ten manuscripts, nine of which had sprung from a common ancestor, we would not therefore have ten independent testimonies but two, as the first nine would count for only one, and could not, therefore, outweight the tenth, unless it were shown that the common exemplar of the nine was a better one than that from which the tenth was taken. The consequences of this principle are obvious, and the advantage and necessity of grouping the testimonies for a text into families is readily understood. It might be supposed that the critic would be mainly guided in his researches by the birthplace of a manuscript; but the ancient manuscripts often travelled a great deal, and their nationality is rarely known with certainty. Thus, many are of the opinion that the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus emanated from Caesarea in Palestine, while others maintain that they were written in Egypt, and Hort inclines to the belief that they were copied in the West, probably in Rome (see Codex Vaticanus; Codex Sinaiticus). Hence the critics’ chief guide in this matter should be the careful comparison of manuscripts, upon the principle that identical readings point to a common source, and when the identity between two or more manuscripts is constant—especially in exceptional and eccentric variants—the identity of the exemplar is established. But this investigation encounters two difficulties. A first, and a very embarrassing, complication arises from the mixture of texts. There are but few texts that are pure; that is to say, that are taken from a single exemplar. The ancient scribes were nearly all to a certain extent editors, and made their choice from among the variants of the different exemplars. Moreover, the correctors or the readers often introduced, either on the margin or between the lines, new readings which were subsequently embodied in the text of the manuscript thus corrected. In such a case the genealogy of a manuscript is liable to become very complicated. It also sometimes happens that two manuscripts which are closely related in certain books are totally unrelated in others. As a matter of fact, the separate books of the Bible, in ancient times, used to be copied each upon its own roll of papyrus, and when they came to be copied from these separate rolls upon sheets of parchment, and bound together in one enormous “codex”, texts belonging to quite different families might very possibly be placed together. All these facts explain why critics frequently disagree in determining genealogical groupings. (On this subject consult Hort, “Introduction,” pp. 39-69: “Genealogical Evidence”.)

(iv) Critical Nomenclature, or Notation.—When the copies of a text are not numerous each editor assigns them whatever conventional symbols he may choose; this was for a long time the case with the editions of the original Greek and Hebrew, of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, not to mention other versions. But when, as nowadays, the number of manuscripts becomes greatly increased, it is necessary to adopt a uniform notation in order to avoid confusion.

Hebrew manuscripts are usually designated by the figures assigned them by Kennicott and De Rossi. But this system has the disadvantage of not being continuous, the series of figures recommencing three times: Kennicott MSS., De Rossi MSS., and other MSS. catalogued by De Rossi, but not belonging to his collection. Another serious inconvenience arises from the fact that the manuscripts not included in the three preceding lists have remained without symbol, and can only be indicated by mentioning the number of the catalogue in which they are described.

The notation of Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint is almost the same as that adopted by Holmes and Parsons in their Oxford edition 1798-1827. These two scholars designated the uncials by Roman figures (from I to XIII) and the cursives by Arabic figures (from 14 to 311). But their list was very defective, as certain manuscripts were counted twice, while others which were numbered among the cursives were uncials either wholly or in part, etc. For cursives the Holmes-Parsons notation is still retained; the uncials, including those found since, are designated by Latin capitals; but no symbols have been assigned to recently discovered cursives. (See the complete list in Swete, “An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek”, Cambridge, 1902, p. 120-170.)

The nomenclature of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament also leaves much to be desired. Wetstein, the author of the usual notation, designates uncials by letters and cursives by Arabic figures. His list was continued by Birch and by Scholz, and afterwards by Scrivener, independently, by Gregory. The same letters answer for many manuscripts, hence the necessity of distinguishing indices, thus Dev =”Codex

For the Vulgate the most famous manuscripts are designated either by a conventional name or its abbreviation (am=”Amiatinus”,fuld =” Fuldensis”); the other manuscripts have no generally admitted symbol. (The present nomenclature is altogether imperfect and deficient. Critics should come to terms and settle upon special symbols for the genealogical groupings for manuscripts which are as yet almost entirely deprived of them. On this subject see the present writer’s article, “Manuscrits bibliques” in Vigouroux, “Dict. de la Bible“, IV, 666-698).

(b) Versions.—The importance of the ancient versions in the textual criticism of the Sacred Books arises from the fact that the versions are often far anterior to the most ancient manuscripts. Thus the translation of the Septuagint antedated by ten or twelve centuries the oldest copies of the Hebrew text that have come down to us. And for the New Testament the Italic and the Peshito versions are of the second century, and the Coptic of the third, while the “Vaticanus” and the “Sinaiticus”, which are our oldest manuscripts, date only from the fourth. These translations, moreover, made on the initiative and under the superintendence of the ecclesiastical authorities, or at least approved and sanctioned by the Churches that made public use of them, have undoubtedly followed the exemplars which were esteemed the best and most correct; and this is a guarantee in favor of the purity of the text they represent. Unfortunately, the use of versions in textual criticism offers numerous and sometimes insurmountable difficulties. First of all, unless the version be quite literal and scrupulously faithful, one is often at a loss to determine with certainty which reading it represents. And besides, we have few or no ancient versions edited according to the exigencies of rigorous criticism; the manuscripts of these versions differ from one another considerably, and it is often hard to trace the primitive reading. When there have been several versions in the same language, as is the case, for example, in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, it is seldom that one version has not in the long run reacted on the other. Again, the different copies of a version have frequently been retouched or corrected according to the original, and at various epochs some sort of recensions have been made. The case of the Septuagint is well enough known by what St. Jerome tells of it, and by the examination of the manuscripts themselves, which offer a striking diversity. For these various reasons the use of the versions in textual criticism is rather a delicate matter, and many critics try to evade the difficulty by not taking them into account. But in this they are decidedly wrong, and later it will be shown to what use the Septuagint version may be put in the reconstruction of the primitive text of the Old Testament.

(c) Quotations.—That the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament, the Septuagint and the Vulgate has profited by quotations from the Fathers is beyond question; but in using this authority there is need of caution and reserve. Very often Biblical texts, are quoted from memory, and many writers have the habit of quoting inaccurately. In his Prolegomena to the eighth edition of Tischendorf (pp. 1141-1142), Gregory gives three very instructive examples on this subject. Charles Hodge, the author of highly esteemed commentaries, when informed that his quotation from Genesis, iii, 15, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head”, was a serious inaccuracy, refused to change it on the ground that this translation had passed into use. In his history of the Vulgate the learned Kaulen twice quoted the well-known saying of St. Augustine, once accurately: “verborum tenacior cum perspicuitate sentientiae”, and once inaccurately: “verborum tenacior cum sermonis perspicuitate”. Finally, out of nine quotations from John, iii, 3-5, made by Jeremy Taylor, the celebrated theologian, only two agree, and not one of the nine gives the words of the Anglican version which the author meant to follow. Surely we should not look for greater rigour or accuracy from the Fathers, many of whom lacked the critical spirit. Furthermore, it should be noted that the text of our editions is not always to be depended upon. We know that copyists, when transcribing the works of the Fathers, whether Greek or Latin, frequently substitute for Biblical quotations that form of text with which they are most familiar, and even the editors of former times were not very scrupulous in this respect. Would anyone have suspected that in the edition of the commentary of St. Cyril of Alexandria on the fourth Gospel, published by Pusey in 1872, the text of St. John, instead of being reproduced from St. Cyril’s manuscript, is borrowed from the New Testament printed at Oxford? From this standpoint the edition of the Latin Fathers undertaken in Austria and that of the ante-Nicene Greek Fathers published at Berlin, are worthy of entire confidence. Quotatations have a greater value in the eyes of the critic when a commentary fully guarantees the text; and the authority of a quotation is highest when a writer whose reputation for critical habits is well established, such as Origen or St. Jerome, formally attests that a given reading was to be found in the best or most ancient manuscripts of his time. It is obvious that such evidence overrules that furnished by a simple manuscript of the same epoch.

2. Internal or Paradiplomatic Evidence

It frequently happens that the testimony of documents is uncertain because it is discordant, but even when it is unanimous, it may be open to suspicion because it leads to improbable or impossible results. It is then that internal evidence must be resorted to, and, although of itself it seldom suffices for a firm decision, it nevertheless corroborates, and sometimes modifies, the verdict of the documents. The rules of internal criticism are simply the axioms of good sense, whose application calls for large experience and consummate judgment to ward off the danger of arbitrariness and subjectivism. We shall briefly formulate and expound the most important of these rules.

Rule 1. Among several variants that is to be preferred which best agrees with the context and most closely conforms to the style and mental habits of the author.—This rule is thus explained by Hort (“The New Testament in the Original Greek”, Introduction, London, 1896, p. 20): “The decision may be made either by an immediate and as it were intuitive judgment, or by weighing cautiously various elements which go to make up what is called sense, such as conformity to grammar and congruity to the purport of the rest of the sentence and of the larger context; to which may rightly be added congruity to the usual style of the author and to his matter in other passages. The process may take the form either of simply comparing two or more rival readings under these heads, and giving the preference to that which appears to have the advantage, or of rejecting a reading absolutely for violation of one or more of the congruities, or of adopting a reading absolutely for perfection of congruity.” The application of this rule rarely produces certainty; it usually leads only to a presumption, more or less strong, which the documentary evidence confirms or annuls as the case may be. It would be sophistical to suppose that the ancient authors are always consistent with themselves, always correct in their language and happy in their expressions. The reader is all too liable to imagine that he penetrates their thought, and to make them talk as he himself would have talked on a like occasion. It is but a step from this to conjectural criticism which has been so much abused.

Rule 2. Among several readings that is preferable which explains all others and is explained by none.—Gregory, in his “Prolegomena” (8th critical ed. of the New Testament by Tischendorf, p. 63), says apropos of this rule: “Hoc si latiore vel latissimo sensu accipietur, omnium regularum principium haberi poterit; sed est ejusmodi quod alius aliter lure quidem suo, ut cuique videtur, definiat sequaturque.” It is, in fact, subject to arbitrary applications, which only proves that it must be employed with prudence and circumspection.

Rule 3. The more difficult reading is also the more probable.—”Proclivi scriptioni prcestat ardua” (Bengel).—Although it may seem entirely paradoxical, this rule is, in a certain measure, founded on reason, and those who have contested it most vigorously, like Wetstein, have been obliged to replace it with something similar. But it is true only on condition that the clause be added, all other things being equal; else we should have to prefer the barbarisms and absurdities of copyists solely because they are more difficult to understand than the correct expression or the intelligently turned phrase. Indeed copyists never change their text merely for the pleasure of rendering it obscure or of corrupting it; on the contrary, they rather try to explain or correct it. Hence a harsh expression, an irregular phrase, and an unlooked-for thought are possibly primitive, but always, as we have said, on this condition: ceteris paribus. Nor must it be forgotten that the difficulty of the reading may arise from other causes, such as the ignorance of the scribe or the defects of the exemplar which he copies.

Rule 4. The shortest reading is, in general, the best.—”Brevior lectio, nisi testium vetustorum et gravium auctoritate penitus destituatur, prmferenda est verbosiori. Librarii enim multo proniores ad addendum fuerunt, quam ad omittendum (Griesbach).” The reason given by Griesbach, author of this rule, is confirmed by experience. But it should not be too generally applied; if certain copyists are inclined to put in an insufficiently authorized interpolation, others, in their haste to finish the task, are either deliberately or unknowingly guilty of omissions or abbreviations.

We see that the rules of internal criticism, in so far as they can be of any use, are suggested by common sense. Other norms formulated by certain critics are based on nothing but their own imaginations. Such is the following proposed by Griesbach: “Inter plures unius loci lectiones ea pro suspecta merito habetur quae orthodoxorum dogmatibus manifeste pre ceteris favet.” It would then follow that the variants suspected of heresy have all the probabilities in their favor, and that heretics were more careful of the integrity of the sacred text than were the orthodox. History and reason combined protest against this paradox.

C. Conjectural Criticism

As a principle, conjectural criticism is not inadmissible. In fact it is possible that in all existing documents, manuscripts, versions, and quotations, there are primitive errors which can only be corrected by conjecture. The phrase primitive errors is here used to denote those that were committed by the scribe himself in dictated works or that crept into one of the first copies on which depend all the documents that have come down to us. Scrivener, therefore, seems too positive when he writes (“Introduction”, 1894, Vol. II, p. 244): “It is now agreed among competent judges that Conjectural Emendation must never be resorted to even in passages of acknowledged difficulty; the absence of proof that a reading proposed to be substituted for the common one is actually supported by some trust-worthy document being of itself a fatal objection to our receiving it.” Many critics would not go thus far, as there are passages that remain doubtful even after the efforts of documentary criticism have been exhausted, and we cannot see why it should be forbidden to seek a remedy in conjectural criticism. Thus Hort justly remarks (“Introduction”, 1896, p. 71): “The evidence for corruption is often irresistible, imposing on an editor the duty of indicating the presumed unsoundness of the text, although he may be wholly unable to propose any endurable way of correcting it, or have to offer only suggestions in which he cannot place full confidence.” But he adds that, in the New Testament, the role of conjectural emendation is extremely weak, because of the abundance and variety of documentary evidence, and he agrees with Scrivener in admitting that the conjectures presented are often entirely arbitrary, almost always unfortunate, and of such a nature as to satisfy only their own inventor. To sum up, conjectural criticism should only be applied as a last resort, after every other means has been exhausted, and then only with prudent scepticism.

D. Application of the principles and processes of textual criticism

It remains briefly to explain the modifications which the principles of textual criticism undergo in their application to Biblical texts, to enumerate the chief critical editions, and to indicate the methods followed by the editors. We shall here speak only of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and of the Greek text of the New.

1. Hebrew text of the Old Testament

(a) The critical apparatus.—The number of Hebrew manuscripts is very great. Kennicott (“Dissertatio generalis in Vet. Test. hebraicum”, Oxford, 1780) and De Rossi (“Variae lectiones Vet. Testamenti”, Parma, 1784-88) have catalogued over 1300. Since their day this figure has greatly increased, thanks to discoveries made in Egypt, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and above all in the Crimea. Unfortunately, for the reason given above under A. Necessity and Processes, the Hebrew manuscripts are comparatively recent; none is anterior to the tenth century or at any rate the ninth. The “Codex Babylonicus” of the Prophets, now at St. Petersburg and bearing the date 916, generally passes for the oldest. According to Ginsburg, however, the manuscript numbered “Oriental 4445” of the British Museum dates back to the middle of the ninth century. But the dates inscribed on certain manuscripts are not to be trusted. (See on this subject, Neubauer, “Earliest MSS. of the Old Testament” in “Studia Biblica”, III, Oxford, 1891, pp. 22-36.) When the Hebrew manuscripts are compared with one another, it is amazing to find how strong a resemblance exists. Kennicott and De Rossi, who collected the variants, found hardly any of importance. This fact produces at first a favorable impression, and we are inclined to believe that it is very easy to restore the primitive text of the Hebrew Bible, so carefully have the copyists performed their task. But this impression is modified when we consider that the manuscripts agree even in material imperfections and in the most conspicuous errors. Thus they all present, in the same places, letters that are larger or smaller than usual, that are placed above or below the line, that are inverted, and sometimes unfinished or broken. Again, here and there, and precisely in the same places, may be noticed spaces indicating a hiatus; finally, on certain words or letters are points intended to annul them. (See Cornill, “Einleitung in die Kanon. Bucher des A. T.”, 5th ed., Tubingen, 1905, p. 310.) All these phenomena led Spinoza to suspect, and enabled Paul de Lagarde to prove (Anmerkungen zur griechischen Uebersetzung der Proverbien, 1863, pp. 1, 2) that all the Hebrew manuscripts known come down from a single copy of which they reproduce even the faults and imperfections. This theory is now generally accepted, and the opposition it has met has only served to make its truth clearer. It has even been made more specific and has been proved to the extent of showing that the actual text of our manuscripts was established and, so to speak, canonized between the first and second century of our era, in an epoch, that is, when, after the destruction of the Temple and the downfall of the Jewish nation, all Judaism was reduced to one school. In fact, this text does not differ from that which St. Jerome used for the Vulgate, Origen for his Hexapla, and Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotus for their versions of the Old Testament, although it is far removed from the text followed in the Septuagint.

As centuries elapsed between the composition of the various books of the Old Testament and the determining of the Massoretic text, it is but likely that more or less serious modifications were introduced, the more so as, in the interval, there had occurred two events particularly favorable to textual corruption, namely a change in writing—the old Phcenician having given way to the square Hebrew—and a change in spelling, consisting, for example, of the separation of words formerly united and in the frequent and rather irregular use of matres lectionis. The variants that supervened may be accounted for by comparing parallel parts of Samuel and Kings with the Paralipomena, and above all by collating passages twice reproduced in the Bible, such as Ps. xvii (xviii) with II Sam., xxii, or Is., xxxvi-xxxix, with II Kings, xviii, 17-xx, 19. [See Touzard, “De la conservation du texte hebreu” in “Revue biblique”, VI (1897), 31-47, 185-206; VII (1898), 511-524; VIII (1899), 83-108.]

An evident consequence of what has just been said is that the comparison of extant manuscripts enlightens us on the Massoretic, but not on the primitive text. On the latter subject the Mishna and, for still stronger reasons, the remainder of the Talmud cannot teach us anything, as they were subsequent to the constitution of the Massoretic text; nor can the Tar-gums, for the same reason and because they may have since been retouched. Therefore, outside of the Massoretic text, our only guides are the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint version. The Samaritan Pentateuch offers us an independent recension of the Hebrew text, dating from the fourth century before our era, that is, from an epoch in which the Samaritans, under their high-priest Manasseh, separated from the Jews; and this recension is not suspected of any important modifications except the rather inoffensive, harmless one of substituting Mount Gerizim for Mount Hebal in Deut., xxvii, 4. As to the Septuagint version, we know that it was begun, if not completed, about 280 B.C. To Paul de Lagarde especially belongs the credit of drawing the attention of scholars to the value of the Septuagint for a critical edition of the Hebrew Bible.

(b) Critical editions of the Hebrew text.—After the publication of the Psalms at Bologna in 1477, of the Pentateuch at Bologna in 1482, of the Prophets at Soncino in 1485, and of the Hagiographa at Naples in 1487, the entire Old Testament appeared at Soncino (1488), at Naples (1491-93), at Brescia (1494), at Pesaro (1511-17), and at Alcala (1514-17). Then, between 1516 and 1568, came the four Rabbinic Bibles of Venice. It is the second, edited by Jacob ben Chayim and printed by Bomberg in 1524-1525, that is generally looked upon as containing the textus receptus (received text). The list of the innumerable editions which followed is given by Pick in his “History of the Printed Editions of the Old Testament” in “Hebraica” (1892-1893), IX, pp. 47-116. For the most important editions see Ginsburg, “Introduction to the Massoretic-critical edition of the Hebrew Bible” (London, 1897), 779-976. The editions most frequently reprinted are probably those of Van der Hoogt, Hahn, and Theile; but all these older editions are now supplanted by those of Baer and Delitzsch, Ginsburg, and Kittel, which are considered more correct. The Baer and Delitzsch Bible appeared in fascicles at Leipzig, between 1869 and 1895, and is not yet complete; the entire Pentateuch except Genesis is wanting. Ginsburg, author of the “Introduction” mentioned above, has published an edition in two volumes (London, 1894). Finally, Kittel, who had called attention to the necessity of a new edition (Ueber die Notwendigkeit and Moglichkeit einer neuen Ausgabe der hebraischen Bibel, Leipzig, 1902) has just published one (Leipzig, 1905-06) with the assistance of several collaborators, Ryssel, Driver, and others. Almost all the editions thus far mentioned reproduce the textus receptus by correcting the typo-graphical errors and indicating the interesting variants; all adhere to the Massoretic text, that is, to the text adopted by the rabbis between the first and second centuries of our era, and found in all the Hebrew manuscripts. A group of German, English, and American scholars, under the direction of Haupt, have undertaken an edition which claims to go back to the primitive text of the sacred authors. Of the twenty parts of this Bible, appearing in Leipzig, Baltimore, and London, and generally known under the name of the “Polychrome Bible“, sixteen have already been published: Genesis (Ball, 1896), Leviticus (Driver, 1894), Numbers (Paterson, 1900), Joshua (Bennett, 1895), Judges (Moore, 1900), Samuel (Budde, 1894), Kings (Stade, 1904), Isaiah (Cheyne, 1899), Jeremiah (Cornill, 1895), Ezekiel (Toy, 1899), Psalms (Wellhausen, 1895), Proverbs (Kautzsch, 1901), Job (Siegfried, 1893), Daniel (Kamphausen, 1896), Ezra-Nehemiah (Guthe, 1901), and Chronicles (Kittel, 1895); Deuteronomy (Smith) is in press. It is needless to state that, like all who have thus far endeavored to restore the primitive text of certain books, the editors of the “Polychrome Bible” allow a broad margin for subjective and conjectural criticism.

2. Greek text of the New Testament

(a) Use of the critical apparatus.—The greatest difficulty confronting the editor of the New Testament is the end-less variety of the documents at his disposal. The number of manuscripts increases so rapidly that no list is absolutely complete. The latest, “Die Schriften des N. T.” (Berlin, 1902), by Von Soden, enumerates 2328 distinct manuscripts outside of lectionaries (Gospels and Epistles), and exclusive of about 30 numbers added in an appendix, October 30, 1902. It must be acknowledged that many of these texts are but fragments of chapters or even of verses. This enormous mass of manuscripts is still but imperfectly studied, and some copies are scarcely known except as figuring in the catalogues. The great uncials themselves are not yet all collated, and many of them have but lately been rendered accessible to critics. The genealogical classification, above all, is far from complete, and many fundamental points are still under discussion. The text of the principal versions and of the patristic quotations is far from being satisfactorily edited, and the genealogical relationship of all these sources of information is not yet determined. These varied difficulties explain the lack of agreement on the part of editors and the want of conformity in the critical editions published down to the present day.

(b) Brief history of the critical editions and principles followed by editors.—The first New Testament published in Greek is that which forms the fifth volume of the Polyglot of Alcala, the printing of which was finished January 10, 1514, but which was not delivered to the public until 1520. Meanwhile, early in 1516, Erasmus had published his rapidly completed edition at Basle. The edition that issued from the press of Aldus at Venice in 1518 is simply a reproduction of that of Erasmus, but Robert Estienne’s editions published in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551, the first three at Paris and the fourth at Geneva, although founded on the text of the Polyglot of Alcala, presented variants from about fifteen manuscripts, and into the last, that of 1551, was introduced the division of verses now in use. Theodore Beza’s ten editions which appeared between 1565 and 1611 differ but little from the last of Robert Estienne’s. The Elzevir brothers, Bona-venture and Abraham, printers at Leyden, followed Estienne and Beza very closely; their small editions of 1624 and 1633, so convenient and so highly appreciated by booklovers, furnish what has been agreed upon as the textus receptus.—”Textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum, in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus” (Edition of 1633). It must suffice to mention here the editions of Courcelles (Amsterdam, 1658) and of Fell (Oxford, 1675), both of which adhere pretty closely to the textus receptus of Elzevir, and those of Walton (London, 1657) and of Mill (Oxford, 1707), which reproduce in substance the text of Estienne, but enrich it by the addition of variants resulting from the collation of numerous manuscripts. The principal editors who followed—Wetstein (Amsterdam, 1751-1752), Matthaei (Moscow, 1782-1788), Birch (Copenhagen, 1788), and the two Catholics, Alter (Vienna, 1786-1787), and Scholz (Leipzig, 1830-1836) are noted chiefly for the abundance of new manuscripts which they discovered and collated. But we must here limit ourselves to an appreciation of the latest and best-known editors, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort.

In his second edition (1796-1806) Griesbach, applying the theory that had previously been suggested by Bengel and subsequently developed by Semler, distinguished three great families of texts: the Alexandrian family represented by the codices A, B, C, by the Coptic versions and the quotations of Origen; the Western family, represented by D of the Gospels and the Acts, by the bilingual codices, the Latin versions, and the Latin Fathers; and lastly the Byzantine family, represented by the mass of other manuscripts and by the Greek Fathers from the fourth century onward. Agreement between two of these families would have been decisive; but, unfortunately, Griesbach’s classification is questioned by many, and it has been proved that the agreement between Origen and the so-called Alexandrian family is largely imaginary. Lachmann (Berlin, 1842-1850) endeavored to reconstruct his text on too narrow a basis. He took account of only the great uncials, many of which were then either entirely unknown or imperfectly known, and of the ancient Latin versions. In his choice of readings the editor adopted the majority opinion, but reserved to himself the conjectural amendment of the text thus established—a defective method which his successor Tregelles has not sufficiently avoided. The latter’s edition (1857-1872), the work of a lifetime, was completed by his friends. Tischendorf contributed no less than eight editions of the New Testatment in Greek, but the differeneea among them are decidedly marked. According to Scrivener (Introduction, II, 283) the seventh edition differs from the third in 1296 places, and in 595 it goes back to the received text. After the discovery of the “Sinaiticus”, which he had the honor of finding and publishing, his eighth edition disagreed with the preceding one in 3369 places. Such an amount of variation can only inspire distrust. Nor did the edition contributed by Westcott and Hort (The New Testament in the Original Greek, Cambridge and London, 1881) win universal approval, because, after eliminating in turn each of the great families of documents which they designate respectively as Syrian, Western, and Alexandrian, the editors rely almost exclusively on the “Neutral” text, which is only represented by the “Vaticanus” and the “Sinaiticus”, and, in case of disagreement between the two great codices, by the “Vaticanus” alone. The excessive preponderance thus given to a single manuscript was criticized in a special manner by Scrivener (Introduction, II, 284-297). Finally, the edition announced by Von Soden (Die Schriften des N. T. in ihrer altesten erreichbaren Textgestalt) gave rise to lively controversies even before it appeared. (See “Zeitschrift fur neutest. Wissenschaft”, 1907, VIII, 34-47, 110-124, 234-237.) All this would seem to indicate that, for some time to come, we shall not have a definite edition of the Greek New Testament.


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