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Sept 1, 2010

Richard Bentley (1720)



Excerpt from: M. Vincent, A History of the TC of the NT, and other sources, (London, 1899)


Page Index


Bentley: - from Edward Miller (1886)
    Bentley - documented by M. Vincent (1899)
      The Proposals - grandiose plans
      Bentley's Doubts - project abandoned

More Articles:

Wetstein - about-face


Richard Bentley (c. 1720)

English Academic and Textual Critic


"We now come to the grand design of Richard Bentley, Master of Trinity College, Cambr., which broke forth with lofty promise but never reached realization. He unfolded his plan to Archbishop Wake in a long letter, in which after explaining his own studies he professes his belief that he should be able to restore the Text of the NT to the form in which it was couched at the time of the Council of Nicea (4th cent.).

He was led in his enthusiasm to add, "so that there shall not be 20 words, or even particles, difference." After describing the history of the Vulgate, and the editorial labours since the invention of printing, he concludes,

"In a word, I find that by taking two thousand errors out of the Pope's Vulgate, and as many out of the Protestant Pope Stephen's, I can set out an edition of each in columns, without using any book under nine hundred years old, that shall so exactly agree, word for word, and, what amazed me, order for order, that no two tallies nor two indentures can agree better."

- Ellis, "Bentleii Critica Sacra",
Introductory Preface, p. xv.

This was in 1716, and in four years his plan was definitely made up. John Walker, fellow of Trinity College, who had already been employed in collating MSS in Paris for the edition, was announced as "overseer and corrector of the press." John Walker continued to labour; and Bentley himself too, so far as other occupations and the strife with the Fellows of his College would allow him: But the edition never came out.

He bequeathed a valuable collection of papers to his nephew, who made no use of them. After the death of the latter, they were published, including amongst several collations one which he had procured, and had got afterwards corrected, of the Vatican MS (B). This was transcribed by Woide and printed."

- Edward Miller,
A Guide to the TC of the NT,
(London, 1886), p. 14-15




Vincent on Bentley

History of TC of the NT p. 70-74


Bentley. This [previous] "glimpse of the genealogical method," which was the most important contribution to the criticism of the period between Mill and Lachmann, received a more definite development in the Proposals of Richard Bentley, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1691 he had urged Mill to publish in parallel columns the Greek text of A and the Graeco-Latin texts of D, D 2 , and E 2 .

In 1720 Bentley issued his Proposals for printing an edition of the Greek New Testament and the New Testament of the Vulgate Version, "per Stum. Hieronymum ad vetusta exemplaria Graeca castigatse et exactae," both from the most ancient codices, Greek and Latin. The Proposals closed with the last chapter of the Apocalypse in Greek and Latin as a specimen.

Bentley's hypothesis was, that the oldest manuscripts of the Greek original and of Jerome's Vulgate resemble each other so closely that, by means of this agreement, he could restore the text as it stood in the fourth century, so that there should not be a difference of twenty words, or even particles:

"By taking two thousand errors out of the Pope s Vulgate (the Clementine), and as many out of the Protestant Pope Stephen (ed. of 1550), I can set out an edition of each in columns, without using any book under nine hundred years old, that shall so exactly agree, word for word, and order for order, that no two tallies nor two indentures can agree better."

In order to confirm the readings introduced into the text, he proposed to make use of the Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, and Ethiopic Versions, and of all the Greek and Latin Fathers within the first five centuries, and to exhibit all the various readings within those five centuries.

For the prosecution of this design it was necessary Collections that the manuscripts of the Vulgate should be collated as carefully as those of the Greek Testament; and much work both in collection and collation was done by Bentley himself, and by his colleague, John Walker, in Paris, by Chevalier in Tours, and Casley in Oxford.

Their collations are preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. 1 They are more on the Latin Vulgate than on the original Greek.

The most valuable of the collations, that of B [codex Vaticanus 1209], was procured about 1720, at Bentley's expense, and by the labour of the Abbate Mico, and was revised by Abbate Eulotta in 1729.

These collations are all that remain of Bentley's enterprise, for the work itself never appeared. Yet the Proposals mark an important step in the history of textual criticism. They indicate an advance toward discrimination in the selection and use of Greek manuscripts, and a frank and vigorous protest against the tyranny of the Textus Receptus. Bentley was the first to lay down the great principle that the whole text is to be formed on evidence, apart from the influence of any edition.

He declared that after the Complutenses and Erasmus, who had but very ordinary manuscripts, the New Testament became the property of booksellers, and that Stephen's text stood as if an apostle was his compositor. He described Stephen as the Protestant Pope.

Of the text of the the Vulgate he asserted that Popes Sixtus and Clement were incompetent to execute its revision, since they were mere theologians, without experience in manuscripts, using inferior Greek copies, and mistaking later copies for earlier. He perceived the division-line between the old and the late codices, and insisted that the ancient manuscripts are the witnesses of the ancient text. He was even prepared to dismiss from consideration the testimony of the whole mass of modern copies.

Wrote Bentley:

"The New Testament has been under a hard fate since the invention of printing.

After the Complutenses and Erasmus, who had but very ordinary manuscripts, it became the property of booksellers No heathen author has had such ill fortune.

Terence, Ovid, etc., for the first century after printing, went about with twenty thousand errors in them. But when learned men undertook them, and from the oldest manuscripts set out correct editions, those errors fell and vanished. But if they had kept to the first published text, and set the various lections only in the margin, those classic authors would be as clogged with variations as Dr. Mill's Testament is.

Popes Sixtus and Clement, at a vast expense, had an assembly of learned divines to recense and adjust the Latin Vulgate, and then enacted their new edition authentic; but I find, though I have not discovered anything done dolo malo, they were quite unequal to the affair. They were mere theologi, and had no experience in manuscripts, nor made good use of Greek copies, and followed books of five hundred years before those of double age. Nay, I believe they took these new ones for the older of the two; for it is not every body knows the age of a manuscript."




Bentley's Proposals

Eight Paragraphs


Bentley s Proposals were comprised in eight paragraphs: the first spoke of the actual condition of the printed Greek Testament and the Latin Vulgate, and the importance of the service of revising both, on the authority of manuscripts of more than a thousand years old.

The second related to the view which Bentley took of certain passages in St. Jerome:

" where he declares, that (without making a new version) he adjusted and reformed the whole Latin Vulgate to the best Greek exemplars, that is to say, to those of the famous Origen,"

- and also of the passage containing Jerome's statement that the order even of the words is important in translations of Holy Scripture. From these passages he concluded that the oldest Greek and Latin copies ought to agree both in words and in their order, "and upon making the essay (he says) he has succeeded in his conjecture beyond his expectation or even his hopes."

In the third paragraph he states his belief that the mass of various readings may, from his collations, be so reduced in number as to leave only about two hundred places in which the true text of a passage can be a matter of doubt.

In the fourth, he says that he uses as subsidiary, in order to confirm the readings which he adopts, "all the old versions, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, and Ethiopic, and all the Fathers, Greeks and Latins, within the first five centuries" ; and he gives in his notes all the various readings (now known) within the said five centuries. So that the reader has under one view what the first ages of the church knew of the text ; and what has crept into any copies since is of no value or authority.

In the fifth paragraph, Bentley disclaims the use of conjecture altogether in the text itself of the sacred volume; the notes are to contain all the evidence on which every word rests; and also the common readings of Stephen's Greek and Clement the VIIIth s Latin are to be plainly exhibited.

In the sixth, the reader is told that any conjectures of the editor will be given, as such, in the Prolegomena, in which, also, there was promised a full account of the manuscripts, etc., used.

The seventh paragraph informed the reader of the terms of subscription, three guineas for smaller paper, five for large.

The concluding paragraph promised that the edition should be put to press as soon as a sufficient sum was subscribed.




Bentley's Doubts

Abandonment of Project


Conyers Middleton attacks the Proposals.

Bentley s Proposals were attacked in an anonymous pamphlet by Conyers Middleton, which was severely replied to in another anonymous pamphlet, commonly attributed to Bentley. Middleton rejoined in a longer and abler pamphlet; but he was no match for Bentley, and his reply did not bear upon the critical points at issue. An unhappy consequence of the controversy was the impression that criticism could not be safely applied to the text of the New Testament, and that it is better to retain traditional readings without evidence than to revise them according to competent testimony.

Had Bentley's edition appeared, it would have presented an invaluable body of critical materials. It would have been an important contribution to the establishment of a settled text, and a severe blow at the traditional Textus Receptus. His text would have been that of the Greek manuscripts which resemble the oldest copies of the Vulgate; but this would have been only the text current in the West, and not that of the whole body of Christian readers in the third and fourth centuries.


Bentley's faith in his hypothesis weakened.

But this hypothesis of substantial identity between the oldest Greek and Latin copies was more favoured by A than by any other really ancient document.

The impossibility of settling the text by the application of this principle appears to have grown upon him, especially after his acquaintance with the Vatican readings; and it is to this that some impute the abandonment of his project. 2


1. See Catalogue in Scrivener's Introduction, II, 89 f.

2. See Tregelles, Printed Text, 57-68. Tischendorf, Prolegomena, 231. Wordsworth, White, and Sanday, Old Latin Biblical Texts, I, XXV. J. H. Monk, Life of Richard Bentley, D.D. The Works of Richard Bentley, D.D., collected and edited by A. Dyce, London, 1836. Bentlei et Doctorum Virorum ad eum Epistolw, 2d ed., Leipzig, 1825.






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