Internal Evidence

Burgon on
Internal Evidence (PA)

Excerpt from: Dean John Burgon, The Revision Revised, (London, 1886), etc.

Page Index

Last Updated: Feb 23, 2010

Internal Evidence: - Pericope de Adultera (Jn 7:53-8:11)
    Introduction: Uncials Unreliable
    Test Passage: Mark 2:1-12
    Internal Evidence: How its interpretation grades critics

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Dean Burgon on
Internal Evidence for PA


Taken from:
Dean John Burgon, The Revision Revised, &
"" "" , The Woman Taken in Adultery etc.

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

Burgon on Uncials, Internal Evidence, and Textual Critics

Burgon's Evaluation of the 4th century Uncials

An interesting twist to the controversy regarding the 4th century ecclesiastical Bible manuscript called Vaticanus (Vatican MS 1209, Codex "B"), came about when Dean John Burgon came to examine its details in 1886.

Burgon acknowledged that Codex B did indeed represent an earlier text, where it was found in agreement with Codex Sinaiticus (א) and a few other witnesses:

"...instead of accepting these codices [א/B] as two 'independant' Witnesses to the inspired Original, we are constrained to regard them as little more than a single reproduction of one and the same scandalously corrupt and (comparatively) late copy." (Burgon, Revision Revised, p.318)

Hort had claimed that when א and B agreed they had the original reading:

" the absence of specially strong internal evidence to the contrary", "the readings of א and B combined may safely be accepted as genuine." (Hort, Introd.)

But Burgon showed that neither codex was trustworthy, in fact no 4th century manuscript could be relied upon when it differed from others of the same period, even with minority support. He did this, not by comparing readings to the Textus Receptus (as some opponents have claimed), but by simply comparing them to each other.

Test Passage: Mark 2:1-12 - with א and A, B, C, D

Ignoring 4 obvious blunders and the spelling variations, Burgon takes א and A, B, C, D in hand and an example passage, Mark 2:1-12:

Burgon found 60 variant readings, 55 of which are "depravations...the result of innattention or licentiousness".

Hort adopts 23 of them: the breakdown is as follows:

18 readings: with א and B and
2 readings: B without א, and
2 readings: א without B
1 reading: C and D without א and B,

Burgon notes that here the Uncials support no particular tradition or recension, e.g., Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine etc., and are "inconsistent in every verse.... it is unreasonable to place [unqualified] confidence in such documents." (ibid., p31). Burgon continues the collation. Each manuscript stands alone against the others, with the following frequency:

5 times - א, A - 2 times,
B - 6 times,
C - 3 times,
D - 17 times:
Total 33 singular readings among the 5 MSS.

Burgon also tabulates where they collude in random groups of 2 or 3 against the standard text (24 more times, ibid., p.31).

Burgon also finds many (10+) instances of 'assimilation' (harmonization):

Mark 2:5 και ιδων from Matt. 9:2 / Luke 5:20 (א B C)
Mark 2:5 "be of good cheer" from Matt. 9:2 (C)
Mark 2:5 "My son" (א),
Mark 2:5 σου αι αμαρτιαι from Matt. 9:5 (sic) or Mark v.9 (א B D)
Mark 2:6 λεγοντες from Luke 5:21 (D)
Mark 2:7 "because this man thus speaks, he blasphemes" (B)
Mark 2:7 "why does this man speak so? he blasphemes" from Matt. 9:3 (א D)
Mark 2:9 υπαγε from v. 11 (א),
Mark 2:9 υπαγε εισ τον οικον σου from v. 11 (D)
Mark 2:12 υδεποτε ουτως εφανη εν τω Ισαραηλ from Matt. 9:33 (א) etc.

This amount of harmonization among the 4th century Uncials is remarkable, for a mere 12 verses.

The Value of the 'Internal Evidence' Against the PA

Burgon now turns to the fact that these same "ancient witnesses" (א B etc.) omit John 7:53-8:11 (the Pericope de Adultera), and that Hort had followed them in deleting the passage.

Hort had also embraced 'internal' arguments put forward by S. Davidson:
Davidson on PA < - - Click here.

Burgon had made his own evaluation (1886) of the supposed "Internal Evidence" 40 years after Davidson (Introduction, 1848), and was not impressed with Davidson's case, or Hort's remarks:

"To come now to particulars, we may readily see from its very texture that it must needs have been woven on a heavenly loom. Only too obvious is the remark that the very subject matter of the chief transaction recorded in these twelve verses would be sufficient in and by itself to preclude the suspicion that these twelve verses are a spurious addition to the genuine Gospel.

And then we note how entirely in St. John's manner is the little explanatory clause in verse 6: 'This they said, tempting Him, that they might have to accuse him.'

We are struck besides by the prominence given in verses 6 and 8 to the act of writing, allusions to which are met with in every work of the last Evangelist.

It does not of course escape us how utterly beyond the reach of a Western interpolator would have been the insertion of the article τον so faithfully retained to this hour before λιθον in verse 7.

On completing our survey, as to the assertions that the Pericope de Adultera... "...has no right to a place in the text of the four Gospels," - and is "...clearly a Western interpolation, though not Western of the earliest type" (whatever that may mean), and so forth:

We can but suspect that the authors [Westcott & Hort] very imperfectly realize the difficulty of the problem with which they have to deal."

- Burgon, The Causes of Corruption..., Appendix 1, pp.232-265

Burgon now summarizes the situation in terms that are loud and clear:

"- the man who is of opinion that the incident of the Woman Taken in Adultery (filling 12 verses), 'presents serious differences from the diction of St. John's Gospel,' ...- treats it as 'an insertion in a comparatively late Western text' and declines to retain it even within brackets, on the ground that it '...would fatally interrupt' the course of the narrative if suffered to stand: ...such an one is not entitled to a hearing when he talks about 'the ring of genuineness'.

He [Hort] has already effectually put himself out of court. He has convicted himself of a natural infirmity of judgment, - has given proof that he labours under a peculiar Critical inaptitude for this department of enquiry, - which renders his decrees nugatory, and his opinions worthless."

- Burgon, Revision Revised, p. 309-310

Here Burgon wholly dismisses the allegedly negative 'internal evidence' re: authorship and authenticity (i.e., vocab., style)

In this, even S.P. Tregelles agreed here with Burgon, stating that if the manuscript evidence supported the passage, the supposed 'internal' questions were insubstantial and posed no serious difficulty. We must leave Tregelles' failure to properly evaluate the textual evidence to another article. His judgment of the internal evidence remains sound:

"I do not rest at all on [i.e., bother with] the internal difficulties connected with this passage, on the supposition that it is genuine Scripture; because, if it had been sufficiently attested, they would not present anything insurmountable. The peculiarities of the language are indeed remarkable, and very unlike anything else in St. John's Gospel; but to this it might be said, that the copies differ so much that it is almost impossible to judge what the true phraseology is. Perhaps the difficulties in the passage have been over-estimated: at least we have no reason to conjecture that any omitted it on account of such difficulties..."

- S.P. Tregelles, An Account..., pp.236-243
Tregelles on PA < - - Click here.

Tregelles quite insightfully notes that the ancients found nothing "non-Johannine" in this passage, and they were naturally better adepts at their own language and times than modern critics.

But here Burgon has gone a step further, and uses the evidence of the manuscripts themselves, to evaluate the textual critics, in a quite reasonable about-face.

This throws the whole enterprise of 'reconstructing' the text open to a frank investigation of both the qualifications of critics, and also of the right to alter the Sacred Scriptures.

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