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the close of the second century, we have no manuscript remaining of an earlier date than the fourth century. There are “three manuscripts of earlier date than any others ” (we quote from Macmillan's Magazine, of several years ago, article by G. Grove, entitled, “The New Testament under a new aspect”). “The first of these, known as the Vatican Manuscript, is in the Vatican at Rome; the second, the Alexandrine Manuscript, in the British Museum ; and the Sinaitic Manuscript is at St. Petersburg. The date at which the first and third were written is somewhere between A.D. 330 and 350, the second is a century or so later, say 450. These three are now admitted, by those best qualified to speak on the subject, to contain the nearest approach which we yet possess, or are likely to possess, to the original writings of the New Testament.”
And what discrepancies exist between these and the more modern manuscripts? We will quote from the same article, two or three of the most striking : “There are few who, if asked to name the incident which most clearly embodied the justice, mercy, and tenderness of Christ, and supplied us with the most precious traits of his personal manners, would not quote the story of the woman taken in adultery. And yet there can be little doubt that this story (John vii. 53, to viii. 11) did not exist in the original Gospel ; in fact, did not make its appearance in any edition till the middle of the fifth century.” * “The words (Matt.
* This passage will be seen separated out by the revisers, who say,
V. 44) ‘Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,' and pray for them which despitefully use you, although they lie at the very foundation of Christian morality, must henceforth be swept away.” The following words also are "an interpolation in copies made after the middle of the fifth century, viz. ‘Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of; for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. Even the utterance of our Lord on the cross, Luke xxiii. 34, is an interpolation of later date than either the Sinaitic or Vatican manuscript : 'Father, forgive them ; for they know not what they do.'"
But, on the other hand,“ there is a saying attributed to Christ; it occurs as an interpolation in Luke vi. 4, in the later manuscripts, and is as follows :—'On the same day he saw a certain man working on the Sabbath, and he said unto him, Man, if indeed thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou ; but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed, and a transgressor of the law.''
It is obvious that omissions of any portions of the original text are far less likely to have been made than additions thereto, and as respects these latter, it is not to be concluded as certain, that they were made after the date of the earliest manuscripts, because not found therein ; it is known of some that they were in existence previously, having been quoted by the
“Most of the ancient authorities omit John vii. 53 to viii. 11. which contain it vary much from each other."
fathers before that date. But in either case their genuineness is doubtful.
And as to this test of the genuineness of any passage in the New Testament, viz. its having been quoted by the early fathers of the Church, it may be remarked that the alleged quotations, those of the second century, for example, differ so considerably from the existing manuscripts, that in many cases it is a subject of dispute among the critical schools as to whether they are quotations from our books at all or not, it being asserted by many that they are from other books not now existing.
Now, regarding the early date at which corruption of the New Testament abounded, we have the express testimony of Origen, who flourished some 120 years before the earliest of our manuscripts was written. The following is quoted from Dr. Scrivener, in Mr. Sanday's "Gospels in the second century.” “Origen's is the highest name among the critics and expositors of the early Church; he is perpetually engaged in the discussion of various readings of the New Testament, and employs language in describing the then state of the text which would be deemed strong if applied even to its present condition with the changes which sixteen more centuries must needs have produced. Respecting the sacred autographs, their fate, or their continued existence, he seems to have had no information, and to have entertained no curiosity: they had simply passed by and were out of his reach. Had it not been for the diversities of copies in all the Gospels on other points, he writes, he should not have ventured to object to the authenticity of a certain passage (Matt. xix. 19) on internal grounds. But now,' saith he, 'great in truth has become the diversity of copies, be it from the negligence of certain scribes, or from the evil daring of some who correct what is written, or from those who in correcting add or take away what they think fit.'”
It is, then, at least highly probable that even the earliest manuscripts we possess differ in many particulars from those written by the authors themselves. This is so, especially with the Gospels, and the result is that we can scarcely, in a single instance, be quite sure that we have had preserved to us a faithful transcript of the original record, whether of the sayings of Jesus or of the circumstances attending his actions.
But though this uncertainty exists, and will continue to exist respecting minor details, it does not follow that we need remain in a state of similar ignorance respecting what the Evangelists wrote of the more important matters.
If we except the first chapters of Matthew and Luke, relating to the birth and infancy, since opinions are somewhat divided as to whether or not those chapters formed part of the original Gospels, we may safely affirm, without fear of contradiction from any quarter, that if we had perfect translations of the original text of each of the Gospels, we should find no material difference between these and the four
Gospels of the Revised or even the Authorized Version in respect of their statements regarding these main features alleged of Jesus' life and work, viz. :
1. That he was morally stainless.*
2. That he was the Christ predicted, the Son of God.
3. That he wrought many miracles (all or nearly all those recorded in the respective Gospels).
4. That he a God-inspired preacher of righteousness, and as such ought to be obeyed.
5. That he was raised from the dead.
As to each and all of these important groups there is a general agreement, amongst those who ought to know, that our present Gospels are substantially faithful to the original texts, that is to say, each to each.
The same may be said of the following amplifications of Nos. 2, 5, and 3:—That his advent was foreseen hundreds of years before his birth by Isaiah and other supernaturally inspired Hebrew prophets, who foretold that a Divinely Anointed king of the Israelitish people should appear, and that these Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That Jesus, having been raised from the dead and having ascended into heaven, is the Lord, and will be the final judge of mankind. That
That among the miracles which he wrought when on earth are to be reckoned the feeding and satisfying of several thousand persons with a few loaves and fishes; and the
* We do not allege, however, that the moral perfection of Jesus is distinctly affirmed in every Gospel of our versions.