Sept 1, 2010
Excerpt from: J. Porter, Principles of Textual Criticism, (London, 1848), and other material
Modern Introduction: - Wetstein
Note: Wettstein is the proper spelling. "Wetstein" derives from the Latin "Wetstenius". See J. Miller, JTS 28 (1977) p.118. But we have adopted here the spelling found in the literature.
Wetstein - Michaelis
J.J. Wetstein (Wettstein) was acknowledged by both defenders and opponents of the Textus Receptus (TR = the Traditional NT text) as one of the more important editors of the first critical Greek texts of the NT. Alongside John Mill, he collated and checked many manuscripts and thousands of variants. He used the TR as a text, and built upon Mill's apparatus, adding many new readings, but leaving out others. His edition (1752) was considered the best critical edition since Mill's (1707), and was not superceded until Griesbach's (1775) Greek NT.
The remarkable thing about Wetstein, is that after 21 years of carefully collating and studying manuscripts, he reversed his position on the newly forming text-critical canon, which was gaining popularity among German critics and Protestant ideologues:
"Prefer the Older Reading."
His careful study had led him to conclude that these older 4th century Uncial manuscripts had been heavily edited, were seriously corrupt, and could not be trusted as guides to the original text.
Although Wetstein, like John Burgon 130 years later, still believed that the TR needed some significant corrections, he had now come down on the side that the Textus Receptus and the many less ancient manuscripts which supported it, were in fact more consistently accurate and reliable guides to the original text than a handful of altered, edited copies from the 4th century.
Wetstein's position, moreover, had not come from any naive adoration of the TR. He had started on the other side of the fence. It was a result of decades of immersion in the study of all the ancient manuscripts available.
Steven Avery, commenting on Wetstein's flip-flop had the following remarks:
"The Latinization theory I believe was also given by Erasmus. One difficulty with such theories is that the omissions (and corruptions) are far more extensive in the Alexandrian manuscripts than in the Latin mss. Is that probative against the theory? (This would not make Wetstein less right, only would cause a review of the reasons for the corruption.)"
Mr. Avery is right. A single comprehensive and adequate explanation for the many diverse readings in the early MSS is in fact impossible. Wetstein can hardly be faulted for trying and failing to provide a plausible theory for the diversity of the 4th century texts.
Wetstein remains correct in his basic assessment of their state of corruption. Nothing changes the blatant fact that the early Uncials vary so greatly from one another, in spite of unique shared readings. In any reasonable definition, the 4th century Uncials must be extensively corrupted, because they do not agree among themselves in the majority of significant variations they present.
A Grudging Admission
Before the Hort camp of textual criticism became an organized, entrenched group, John Porter openly acknowledged this startling fact, while dismissing the validity of Wetstein's conclusions. Porter had already joined the new Unitarian movement to revise the NT along non-Trinitarian lines:
"John James Wetstein, [Greek NT] published at (Amsterdam, 1751-2) 2 vols, folio.
The work is divided into four parts, corresponding with the usual divisions of the MSS.:
1. the Gospels;
2. the Epistles of Paul ;
3. the Acts and Catholic Epistles ; and
4. the Apocalypse.
Each part has its own Prolegomena, specifying the authorities which are quoted in that division ; and General Prolegomena are prefixed to the whole, giving a clear account of the materials and principles of textual criticism employed in this edition.
The Prolegomena had been printed separately in 1730: but in the interval, Wetstein, as might be expected, had found many things to be added, and some which he judged it necessary to alter: — in respect to the principles of Textual Criticism, his changes are far from being improvements.
When he first published his Prolegomena, he was disposed to attribute to MSS. an authority proportioned to their antiquity.
But in 1751, when the entire work appeared, he had altogether changed his opinion, denouncing some of the most ancient and valuable MSS. as altered and corrupted from the Latin Version, and as possessing no higher authority, and lending no farther sanction to those readings in which they agree with the Latin, than the Latin would have conferred without their assistance.
Both these principles are erroneous, as has already been seen in part, and hereafter will more clearly appear : but of the two, the latter is incomparably the worse. It is, indeed, the fundamental mistake of Wetstein's theory of Criticism: in practice he did not consistently or uniformly adhere to it; but the principle, being recommended by his authority, required all the learning and talent of Semler, Griesbach, and Michaelis to remove it.
Wetstein took much pains in preparing this edition, having repeatedly visited France, England, Holland, and Germany, to collate MSS. and Versions, besides making diligent use of materials found in his native Bale.
The text of his edition is that of Elzevir [i.e., the Textus Receptus]; for though Wetstein, in his notes, proposed several emendations, he did not venture to introduce them [into the text] himself; - and the changes which he has recommended have, in almost every instance, been approved by the best of succeeding critics."
A Clear Picture
W. Baird gives us a good picture of the actual contents of the final form (1752) of this set of essays:
"In the prolegomena, - a revision of the earlier  one - Wettstein declares that two things are necessary for understanding Scripture: the establishment of the text and the interpretation of its words. Wettstein also presents his questionable theory that many early Greek manuscripts had been corrupted by a Latinizing influence. He gives a full description of the major textual materials: Greek codices, Latin translations, patristic authors, and other ancient versions.
In discussing the modern [critical] editions, Wettstein is his typical irascible self. Excerpts from his correspondence with Bentley are included that present the Cambridge scholar in an unfavourable light. Bengel is criticized at length for, among other things, printing a revised text of the Apocalypse. Iselin & Frey, his conservative opponents at Basel, are attacked. Included is a letter dated 1733 from J.A. Turretin in which he encourages Wettstein to abandon Basel for a more peaceful place to pursue his work. This sort of petulant personal material seems quite out of place in the introduction to a critical edition of the NT text."
Regarding Wetstein's views on key Variation Units, Baird leaves us in no doubt:
"Wettstein's apparatus can illustrate the character of his textual-critical results.
In a long note on 1st Tim. 3:16, 31 Wettstein concludes that the relative pronoun should be read rather than (as in the Nestle text) or 'ΘΣ' = θεος (as in the TR). Thus the text would be translated,
"the mystery of our religion: which was manifest in the flesh,"
"the mystery of our religion: God was manifest in the flesh,".
Actually, Wettstein had reached this conclusion earlier when he detected in Codex Alexandrinus evidence that the original Greek omicron had been misread as a theta, so that θεος was mistakenly introduced into the text. In supporting his conclusion, Wettstein reviews the manuscript and patristic evidence, and he asks how Cyril of Alexandria - if θεος had stood in his text - could have failed to mention this verse in his argument with Julian the Apostate, who claimed that Paul had never referred to Christ as God.
Another lengthy note discusses the problematic 1st John 5:7. 32 Wettstein concludes that the three heavenly witnesses of 5:7 - the Father, the Logos, and the Spirit - represent a gloss, added for dogmatic purposes in opposition to the Arians. Wettstein surveys the MS and patristic evidence anc reviews the opinions of modern editors. He notes that Erasmus omitted the verse from his first two editions. Bengel, who included it, comes in for harsh criticism."
31. Wettstein, Novum Testamentum Graecum 2.330-35. 32. Ibid. 2.721-27.
From all this, it is clear that Wetstein did not let his "Majority Text" view affect his critical acumen or text-critical judgment regarding important textual variants.
Nor is there any evidence that he allowed his personal theological quirks affect his method. (See Michaelis for an analysis of this).
Finally, while his general explanation for the corruption of the 4th century Uncials was oversimplified and unsound (their quirky readings cannot be accounted for in the main as interpolations from the Latin), his assessment of these manuscripts as corrupt is amply vindicated by their disagreement among themselves (this is more fully documented by Burgon, Hoskier, etc.).
Again, Baird gives us the best in-depth view of Wetstein's mind:
"...on the Gospels, Wettstein supports traditional authorship and believes that ehey were written in canonical order; ...John the son of Zebedee is accepted as the author of the Apocalypse, which he composed on Patmos. After returning to Ephesus he wrote the Fourth Gospel, which supplements the others.
Wettstein devotes a long discussion to the question of the authorship of Hebrews. ... Wettstein finally opts for Paul.
In discussing exegetical issues, Wettstein is largely traditional, although he presents material his critics found disturbing. ...Wettstein includes references to the myths of the pagans which depict unique births. Although he argues that these, in contrast to the birth of Jesus, involved shameful deeds of the deities, his opponents considered pagan parallels unmentionable. In his discussion of the miracle at the wedding in Cana, Wettstein's parallel to the fable about Bacchus turning water into wine was similarly offensive.
At the end of the 2nd volume of his text, Wettstein discusses methods of interpretation. 34 He acknowledges that ordinary people can read the Bible in the vernacular and learn all they need for salvation but argues that trained scholars can make the meaning clearer.
Like Turretin, Wettstein maintains that one should interpret the BIble as one interprets any other book:
"Since with the same eyes we read both sacred books and the edicts of a ruler, both ancient and modern books, therefore the same rules should be used in the interpretation of the former, which we use in the understanding of the latter." 35
34. Wettstein, "De interpretatione Novi Testamenti", in idem. Nov.Test.Graecum, 2.874-89.
35. Ibid. 2.875.
"In following this principle, Wettstein formulates rules that essentially lead to the literal and historical understanding of the text. when interpreting a word or phrase, attention must be given to what comes before and after, in other words, the context. Meanings are to be discerned more from usage than from etymology. Usage is assessed by first investigating the use of the term elsewhere by the same author, then its use by other writers of the NT and the LXX, and finally its use by writers of the same historical situation. Wettstein's Seventh Rule is especially enlightening:
"There is another rule which is more useful and easier to understand: if you desire to understand the books of the NT more clearly and fully, assume the personage of those to whom they were first delivered by the apostles for reading; transfer yourself in understanding into that time and place where they first were read: take care, in so far as possible, that you understand the rites, habits, customs, opinions, accepted sentiments, proverbs, parables, and daily expressions of those people, and the ways and means for persuading others and the occasions for establishing faith. 36 (Ibid. 2.878.)
In comparison with a critic like Bengel, Wettstein's textual judgments, freed from orthodox presuppositions, represented an advance in the direction of the modern, critical text. Although his prejudice against the Latin texts was questionable, Wettstein's criticism of the Received Text was prophetic.
To be sure, ...some of his theological views, tainted with rationalism and reflecting a low Christology, were clearly in conflict with Calvinist orthodoxy."
This survey of Wetstein is quite revealing. On the one hand, he suffered from over-confidence in the rationalism of his age. His theology would be considered sub-standard for many mainstream Christians, especially evangelicals and fundamentalists, as well as Roman Catholics.
On the other hand, he was not a 'devoted evangelical' who suffered "loss of faith" due to being confronted with some variant readings in a few 4th century Uncials, as Bart Erhman attempts to claim (see below). He was a seasoned, highly intelligent Protestant Christian who maintained the same standard of faith throughout his life, based on a reasoned historical approach to the Holy Scriptures, which he continued to hold in reverence.
His textual-critical judgments may be challenged (especially by new evidence), but they were basically well-reasoned and unaffected by his theological preferences. Many of his opinions on key Variation Units are held by most textual critics today.
The only real flaw in Wetstein appears to be his excessive attacks on contemporaries, and his oversimplification as to the source(s) of variant readings among the corrupt 4th century Uncials.
Wetstein on the PA
Reuss is more informative on Wetstein's radical departure from the TR, and his views on three key passages of the NT:
"Among the Germans who followd in the footsteps of these Britons we mention first John Jacob Wetstein, a preacher's son of Basle. As to time, it is true, he had still other predecessors, but his work belongs in the line of those just mentioned.
He had been obliged to leave his native land on account of suspicions of heresy, and had found a reception among the more liberal-minded Arminians at Amsterdam, after that, on journeys and in other ways, he had by unremitting diligence possessed himself of a vast amount of material.
He would gladly have gone farther and made use of the results obtained by criticism for an actual and thorough revision of the text; but his bad reputation had followed him, and he too was obliged to sacrifice his convictions to the spirit of the age, and to content himself with designating the readings preferred as approved, because otherwise he would have found no press for his edition:
Wetstein's Edition: N.T. gr. editionis receptae cum lectt. var. codd. MSS. edd. verss. et patrum nec non commentario pleniore ex scriptoribus hebr. gr. et lat....op. et stud. J.J. W., (Dommer, Amst. 1751) f., 2 vols. folio.
The Prolegomena were printed anonymously at Amsterdam, 1730, and put before the separate portions of the large edition, and in the appendix as Animaduv. et cautiones ad examen var. lectt. necessariae. The former edited separately, with notes and additions, by Semler, Halle, 1764. The latter, with other essays by the same author, under the title Wetstenii libelli ad crisin et interpr. N.T., 1766. The new edition of the whole work announced by A. Lotze, Rotterdam, 1831, brought only the prolegomena.
The text printed is the Elzevir of 1624, with the exception of a few Stephanic readings. Immediately under it (or, where a gloss was to be struck out, within it, by means of a dash) stand the variants which Wetstein unconditionally preferred.
Doubtless it was something unheard of at that time, when:
the Lord's Prayer in Lk. 11:4 was curtailed,
a whole pericope stricken out [Jn. 7:53-8:11],
θεος set aside in Acts 20:28,
ος read in 1st Tim. 3:16,
1st Jn. 5:7 expunged, and
the closing Romans doxology moved to ch. 14;
not to speak of many glosses struck out, or of readings which had nowhere appeared since the Complutensian.
...He had an inordinate prejudice against the Latin version and everything connected with it, and could not adopt the system of families put forward by Bengel while he was at work. (On the commentary, rich, but certainly not collected in an orthodox spirit, see below, ¶563.)
...the editions prepared by the London printer W. Bowyer... profess to give the text according to Wetstein's marginal readings; (Lond. 1763,1783,1812) - This system however, was not carried through completely; in particular, Bowyer often contents himself with brackets where Wetstein strikes out [the text].
From Reuss we learn the full extent of the radical changes Wetstein proposed. He became the first editor of a Greek NT to openly suggest deleting the Pericope Adulterae (Jn. 7:53-8:11).
This is why the Unitarians were obsessed with Wetstein, while attempting to downplay his complete rejection of the corrupt 4th century manuscripts wherever they agreed with the Latin Vulgate, and his evaluation of them as near-worthless.
& The Betrayal by Selmer
Wetstein and Semler.
In 1713 John James Wetstein, or Wettstein, Deacon of Basle, prepared a dissertation on Various Readings in the New Testament.
In 1716 he met Bentley in England, and at his instance went to Paris in order to collate Codex Ephraemi (C), which he did with great labour and patience. In 1718 he published a specimen of various readings, which brought upon him a charge of Arian and Socinian heresy, and resulted in his deposition and in his expulsion from Basle in 1730.
In the same year his Prolegomena were published anonymously at Amsterdam, giving an outline of his proposed edition of the New Testament and an account of his critical authorities. The edition was described as "acuratissima," derived from the oldest NT manuscripts, and treating of the manuscripts of the New Testament, the Greek writers who have made use of it, the ancient versions, the former editors, and the distinguished interpreters; besides "animadversiones et cautiones" for the examination of the various readings of the New Testament.
Wetstein Attacks Bengel
In 1735 he wrote the preface to a new edition of Gerhard von Maestricht's Greek Testament, in which he referred to the labours of Bengel, for whom he had a great contempt.
He severely reviewed Bengel's Testament immediately upon its appearance, and endeavoured to disparage the critical principles on which Bengel had selected his readings, asserting that read ings should be adopted which are supported by the greatest number of manuscripts, and entirely ignoring the theory of families.
In 1751-1752 appeared his own edition of the New Testament, in two volumes folio, with various readings of manuscripts, other editions, Versions, and Fathers; also with a commentary illustrating the history and force of words from ancient writers, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The influence of the Textus Receptus was still apparent, although, in his critical remarks, he laid down the principle that the prescription of the common text should have no authority whatever. His text was the Elzevirian with a few changes.
The readings which he preferred, and which amounted to less than five hundred, mostly in the Apocalypse [Revelation], were placed below the text.
It is said that he adopted the Received Text at the request of the Remonstrants or Arminians, whom he had joined on leaving Basle.
(The various readings were afterward inserted in the text of a Greek Testament published in London, in 1763, by W. Bowyer.)
Superiority to Bengel Admitted
Although his Prolegomena of 1730 had announced that his edition was to be derived from the oldest manuscripts, and although he had originally shown a disposition to take Codex A as the basis of his text, his views as to the oldest Greek uncials had evidently undergone a change before the publication of his Testament, in which he attacked the whole body of the older codices under the name of "codices Latinizantes," [i.e., "Latinized"] as being conformed to the Latin Version. Everything in them which agreed with the Latin was denounced as an interpolation from that version.
But notwithstanding Wetstein's defects, his services Services to to the cause of textual criticism were of great value. criticism. The number of manuscripts collated by him was a little over a hundred, and about eleven were examined for him by others.
Besides his own collations, he collected the collations of Mill and others, and re-examined many of the Versions and Fathers. His collations, though not up to the modern standard of accuracy, were more careful than had been usual. He was the first to investigate the Philoxenian Version.
He was superior to Bengel as a collator, and his knowledge of authorities was more extensive ; but he was not Bengel's equal in judgment. He was more acute in observing phenomena than accurate in accounting for them.
His critical disquisitions were disfigured by the introduction of his personal controversies; but his account of the Versions, Fathers, and early editions was the most extensive and methodical that had ever been published; and his "animadversiones et cautiones" in his second volume were discriminating and valuable. 1
1 A summary of the principal points is given by Tregelles, Printed Text, 79 f.
The 'Offshore' Betrayal
Wetstein's Prolegomena were [rewritten and] reprinted at Halle, in 1765, by Johann Salomo Semler, Professor of Theology at Halle.
Semler was the leader of the reaction in Germany against the traditional views of the canon of Scripture. [i.e., a Rationalist, Unitarian]
His edition of Wetstein's GNT bore the title,
Wetstenii Libelli ad Crisin et Interpretationem Novi Testamenti.
It contained notes and remarks of his own, with facsimiles of manuscripts. He defended the Graeco-Latin codices against Wetstein's charges.
(Still later, in 1831, the Prolegomena were issued in a condensed form by J. A. Lotze, Rotterdam.)
Selmer's Theory of Recensions
Semler took up Bengel's theory of families and expanded it. He was the first to apply the term "Recension" to the ancient texts, an error which has caused some confusion.
A 'Recension' is properly a work of criticism by editors ; but it is used, even by some modern critics, as synonymous with "family." (See Tregelles, Printed Text, p.84.)
Semler classified manuscripts, at first, under two "Recensions":
(1) Oriental, or that of Lucian ;
(2) Western or Egypto-Palestinian, and that of Origen, agree ing with the Itala, the Memphitic, and the Armenian.
The Vulgate, he thought, proceeded from a less ancient text. In 1767 he made [proposed] three recensions:
(1) Alexandrian, used by the Egyptian writers, the pupils of Origen, and the Syriac, Memphitic, and Ethiopic Ver sions ;
(2) Oriental, used at Antioch and Constantinople ;
(3) Western. In the later codices he thought that all the recensions were mixed.
Like Bengel, he insisted that codices were to be weighed and not numbered." 1
1 Semler s editorial work on Wetstein is sharply criticised by Tregelles, Printed Text, 82.
On Wetstein: Tischendorf, Prolegomena, 243 ff. C. K. Hagenbach, J. J. Wetstein der Kritiker und seine Gegner, Zeitschr. filr d. histor. Theologie, Leipzig, 1839, Bd. IX, fasc. 1. Tregelles, Printed Text, 73-82. Carl Bertheau, article " Wett- stein," Herzog s Real-Encyklopddie.
On Semler : Tischendorf, Prolegomena, 187. A. Tholuck s article "Semler," in Herzog s Real-Encyklopddie, rev. by Tzschirner. J. S. Semler, Hermeneutische Vorbereitung , Halle, 1765. Id., Apparatus ad Liberalem N. T. Interpretationem, Halle, 1767.
[Modern Note: For both Wetstein and Selmer, Vincent here sends us to Tischendorf's Prolegomena, (8th ed.), which however was again ghost-written by Gregory, Tregelles, and S. Davidson, after Tischendorf's death. All three were Unitarians, and ringleaders in the assault on the Textus Receptus, and can hardly be counted on for a balanced view.]
History ReWritten by the Hortians
Steven Avery has helped bring yet more misdirection and falsehoods surrounding Wetstein to light, in his recent post on TC-ALternate-List. He brings McCarthy's notice to our attention:
Daniel McCarthy gives us the essential picture of the spin that Bart Erhman has put on the Wetstein Story:
"Wettstein... is described by Erhman as starting out in University as a devoted evangelical who saw that God had, “bestowed this book (Bible) once and for all on the world as an instrument for perfection of human character.” (32) Wettstein’s goal was to become expert on the Bible and further its cause for mankind.
On a trip to England where was he was given full access to the Codex Alexandrinus, he had his faith shaken. While studying the text, he found that many of the references to Jesus’ divinity involved textual variants. Similar to Erhman’s loss of faith due to his loss of trust in the inerrancy of the Bible, Wettstein lost his faith because of the problems he saw the text posed in verses like 1 John 5:7-8, the Johannine Comma."
32. Erhman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, p. 112.
1. As noted in the more accurate history provided by M. Vincent above, Wetstein did not go to England to study Alexandrinus (A), but actually to work for Bentley collating Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C), a much more difficult and serious job: it is a palimpsest which exists in loose pages and is nearly unreadable. This may be a minor point, but it affects the major points of Wetstein's story, which is much more accurately described as follows:
Wetstein was already on the rationalist/Unitarian team that rejected the Bible-believing doctrines of both the RC conservatives and the Reformers. He had gone to England specifically to work for Bentley, as we are told by W. Baird (See W. Baird below on Wettstein).
"Wettstein ignored the advances in method made by Bentley (for whom he had once worked, collating manuscripts) and Bengel (whom he considered an enemy) and maintained that the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament could not be trusted because, in his view, they had all been altered in conformity with the Latin witnesses."
Thus Wetstein's faith was not "shaken" at all by his English visit. Instead something quite different happened. After working for Bentley and observing Bengel, he had become convinced that they were fraudulently altering the text, and he attacked them publicly.
Bentley was attacked for his absurd method, and fawning over ancient copies that Wetstein was now convinced were corrupt: Bengel was attacked for being "too conservative" and unrealistic in regards textual-critical matters like the Johannine Comma (1st John 5:7). In this particular reading, Wetstein had rejected the TR as an obvious gloss, while Bengel had retained it on shakey grounds.
In the end, Wetstein had more faith in the TR generally than most other critics who were fawning over 4th century manuscripts. He ended up aligning himself with a strong faith-based group (the Arminian party), and retained his faith in the Bible throughout. He quite willingly adopted the TR as a base text, and avoided bringing his critical suggestions into the text. Nor did he allow his personal (Socinian/Arminian) beliefs seriously affect his critical judgments, if Michaelis is accurate (see Michaelis on Wetstein).
A Review of Shameful Acts
The posthumous takeover of Wetstein's Greek NT by Selmer may have been one of the first in a series of frauds and deceptions by the Unitarians, but it was not to be the last.
At this time, we can list at least four major deceptions perpetrated by the Unitarians in their zeal to destroy the Textus Receptus and with it mainstream Christian doctrine:
1. 1765: J. Selmer's Takeover and Rewrite of Wetstein's Prolegomena.
2. 1808: T. Belsham's Takeover and edit of Bishop Newcome's English NT.
3. 1856: S. Tregelles' Takeover and rewrite of Horne's Introduction.
4. 1862: C. Gregory's Takeover and ghost-write of Tischendorf's Prolegomena.
The similarities of the fraud in each case are stunning: (1) in each case, the success and reputation of the original author is capitalized on. (2) in each case, permission was either not obtained, or fraudulently obtained. (3) in each case, the author was dead or dying when the Unitarians stepped in. (4) In each case, history was rewritten, and minds diverted from what was really happening. (5) In each case, the original authors are praised but at the same time dismissed as in significant 'error' for deviating from the Unitarian/Hortian party position on the NT text.
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