Notes and Criticisms on Theodore P. Letis' Book,
Edward Freer Hill's Contribution to the Revival of the Ecclesiastical Text

by Doug Kutilek


General Observations

Instead of enhancing Hill's stature as a scholar (the apparent aim of the work), Letis succeeded in exposing Hill's incompetence as a specialist in the field of textual criticism of the New Testament. The incident of Hill's involuntary termination of his studies by the faculty at the University of Chicago was especially telling. He clearly deserved the boot.

And the fact that even Letis backs away from Hill's defence of the possible genuineness of I John 5:7 shows that Letis had questions at times as to Hills' ability to credibly reason with regard to variant readings and manuscript evidence. (Of 350+ surviving Greek manuscripts of I John, only 4 contain the passage in question in the text, and these differ among themselves in their precise wording; 4 other manuscripts have the verse written in the margin. All these manuscripts give evidence of tampering or deliberate late [even 17th century in some cases] insertion. No Greek father before the 13th century ever quotes the verse; no ancient translation includes the verse except the Latin, and there in only a minority of Old Latin manuscripts, and only in some late Vulgate manuscripts Jerome did not include it in the original Vulgate. The words can be traced to an allegorical application of v. 8 by Cyprian in the 3rd century. Yet in spite of all this evidence, Hills defended the words as possibly, even probably genuine!!!!).

Letis labors long to prove Warfield's view of the text was not Owen's view. So what? Letis certainly does not prove Owens alleged view is correct.

Letis generally ignores the fact that in the copying process, scribes copying NT manuscripts demonstrably made exactly the same kinds of errors as copyists of secular works deletion, substitution, repetition, transposition, etc. And he seems to ignore or be ignorant of the fact that theologically motivated changes in NT manuscripts can be shown in many (perhaps most) cases to have been made to strengthen or support orthodox doctrine, not undermine it.

Particular Observations

Pages 5, 6 That Collins (a deist) and Buckminster (Unitarian) tried to make theological hay out of textual variants is irrelevant (Letis is trying to make textual criticism a theological bogeyman). They were fully answered in the 1700s by Richard Bentley of Cambridge.

8 Falsely assumes "textus receptus" is the same as "majority text," when in fact they differ in over 1,800 places, a number of times involving whole verses.

Falsely assumes Erasmus' text is a standard. Erasmus never thought it was, nor did Burgon.

10 To suggest that Hills' work was rejected because of neo-evangelical influence, and a heavily-financed promotion of the NIV is absurd. It was rejected because his views did not coincide with the facts.

13 Linguistic training alone does not qualify a man as "eminently able to do the work of a text critic"; it is a sine qua non, but it is rather knowledge of manuscripts, scribal habits, patterns of scribal errors, etc. which is the chief qualification.

14 Of course Calvin relied on Erasmus' text; it was the only kind available!

Erasmus' text could by no stretch of the imagination be called an "established" textual tradition by 1540, since in the 5 editions (1516, 1519, 1522, 1527, 1534), no two were identical (differing in 100s of places in some cases), and none was very old at that time.

To call the use of Coline's text a conscious departure from Erasmus is absurd. They differ very little, and it may have been the only text Calvin found conveniently accessible.

15 Calvin could have "turned" but not "returned" to Stephens' 3rd edition (1550), unless he had used it previously, which is not indicated.

The quote from Stephens on following the "majority of the best books" must certainly refer to the majority of printed editions, not manuscripts, since his edition contains several readings found in no Greek manuscripts (e.g., Rev. 22:19).

Allegation that Calvin deliberately adopted a "consensus text" is unfounded.

19 The "obviously..." comment is betrayed by the facts just cited: Beza did precious little manuscript work, even with his own prized texts.

20 Ascribes to Beza far too much deliberation in his textual "method."

21 Pretends any text variants in Greek would undermine Protestants' claim to an infallible authority. Sic. Rome had similar, yea, and even more severe problems with text variants in its "infallible" Vulgate.

22 Cincellaeus' quote is exactly correct.

25 Contrary to the assertion, Stephens did reproduce Erasmus' text all but unaltered (as did Beza later).

While Erasmus may have seen other manuscripts, in the actual text production he had only one manuscript for each section of the NT (Gospels & Acts; Epistles; Revelation), supplemented by sometimes one or two others. For Revelation, he had only one.

25, 26 Alleges early text editions were seeking some criterion for judging readings, and lighted upon the "majority rules" principle. Letis is reading in a great deal that isn't there. Erasmus hastily threw together a provisional text, and later editors merely hesitated to alter it, tradition being quickly (if erroneously) fixed.

25, n. 56 Letis states Erasmus was suspicious of Origenists. Sic. Of all the church fathers, Origen was the one Erasmus most admired. And Erasmus looked to the Vulgate as being frequently superior to Greek manuscripts, adopting for his Greek text Vulgate readings unsupported by Greek manuscripts known to him (e.g., Acts 9:4,5; 20:28; Rev. 22:19; etc.); and Erasmus frequently favored it where he did not adopt it (e.g., Mt. 6:13).

27 Erasmus and Luther both recognized that the Vulgate was in some places badly translated. That is not the same thing as saying that its basic (underlying) text was bad.

Letis assumes an excessive veneration and respect for Erasmus' work by Stephens and Beza.

28 Letis is apparently ignorant of the fact that Erasmus rejected John 7:53-8:11 (and Mark 16:9-20, etc.) as not a genuine, original part of the NT, though he included it in his text (probably to spare himself from facing an uproar).

It is highly doubtful that there was such a degree of "conscious rejection of eccentric readings."

32 Faulty explanation given. Had Beza possessed a manuscript less extreme in its peculiarities or readings, say A (Alexandrinus), he might well have been more inclined to follow it.

Beza was deficient in knowledge of the better ancient manuscripts B, Aleph, A, C, L, etc.

I have demonstrated in "Erasmus and His Greek Text" (IBRI edition) that Erasmus gives solid evidence of favoring an Alexandrian-type text.

43 Motives imputed to Walton for wanting to issue/circulate a polyglott Bible are all highly speculative and devoid of evidence. Could he not simply have been zealous for linguistic and Biblical study? or, to make a name for himself (a common human desire)?

45 "amending the Hebrew on the basis of translations" is a practice suggested by Robert Dick Wilson as sometimes justified (see his Scientific Investigation of OT, p. 61)

On Grotius' suggestion of conjectural emendation-Erasmus, too, offered his share (see Nestle text, note on James 4:2).

46 I can find no fault in Walton's remark which Letis criticizes as incipient "Enlightenment."

47 Owen seems to have erroneously assumed that all room for collection of manuscripts and variants had already been filled.

50 Owen's rejection of the reading evidence of ancient versions is certainly an error of judgment.

51 Owen falsely rejected the idea that Biblical scribal activity would be like non-Biblical scribal activity.

Owen asserts "the promise of God for the preservation of His Word" Where does God expressly so promise?

68 Owen is obviously laboring long to establish that the Biblical text in the original languages are superior to any and all translations, because of priority in time and superiority in quality or state of preservation of the text. (On the whole and in most details, we would grant that this is true).

69 Turretin's evidence on John 7:53-8:11 is incorrect. This section is not, as he claims, in all Greek manuscripts, but is absent in all Greek manuscripts before the 8th century--except D--and other later copies, for a total of over 100 in all that lack it.

Also, I John 5:7 is absent from around 350 Greek manuscripts, and present in only four in the text and another four in the margin, with all 8 of these being late and suspect of deliberate scribal corruption.

Mark 16:9-20 is absent from the two oldest manuscripts of Mark (B, and Aleph), some ancient versions, and the remaining witnesses sport a considerable variety of alternative endings.

83 "Inextricable relationship of the higher criticism to the lower." Pure nonsense. The two are plainly distinct disciplines.

The explanation imputed to Warfield for the insertion of Mark 16:9-20 is one I've never heard, and doubt if it is genuine.

85 Burgon's view of "the text that the church had used since the fourth century"--such a `text' is a pure phantom. The Western Church (numerically the larger part) used a Western-based text, the Vulgate. What the Eastern Church used, I cannot say.

89 If Burgon's remarks are accurately presented by Warfield, then Burgon's remarks could be torn to shreds (e.g., which is the "Church" recognized text? Byzantine? or Vulgate-type? The latter was far more common in manuscripts and usage in the West.

Criticism of Warfield's view of restoration loses its steam, when it is realized that Erasmus' text might also be viewed in its day, not as a preservation but a restoration (supplanting the Vulgate-type text with a Byzantine-type).

90 The whole issue of "Providential" preservation is surrounded with problems of interpretation: 1. God did allow the manuscript variants now extant. 2. God did allow Western Christianity to use almost exclusively for 1,000 years a non-Byzantine text type, and this did not particularly destroy or taint the Gospel message (witness Wycliff and the Waldensians, who used the Vulgate as the basis of their translations). 3. And even the allegedly directly providentially (and best) preserved textus receptus is problematic--it departs from the simple majority reading in over 1,800 places. Where is the high degree of precision in preservation in that?

91 "updating of Scripture" remark (mid-page)--rather, an updating of printed editions of the text, and subsequent translation. Rather than revising Scripture, it is actually a case (so he believed) of restoring Scripture to its original condition.

92f. R. L. Dabney, in his writings on textual matters, revealed himself to be GROSSLY misinformed and uninformed even on the basic matters of textual evidence, to say nothing of the praxis of textual criticism. A less-competent "authority" is hard to imagine. In this area, his opinion is worthless and undeserving of any hearing at all.

93 Dabney's remarks aimed at German methodology clearly relate to "higher" criticism, and are irrelevant in "lower"/textual criticism.

94 n.65 This is one of Dabney's extremely inaccurate articles.

n.66 Ditto (both are in Discussions Evangelical and Theological .

95 Quote by Dabney vis-a-vis the accuracy and adequacy of the textus receptus with regard to its theology is also applicable to the revised Greek text.

n.68 More ignorance.

95-6 Insistence by R. L. Dabney on leaving the t. r. unaltered even where it demonstrably does not represent the original NT is absurd enslavement to mere tradition and is a dishonest act.

96 The list of passages Dabney objects to changing in the t.r. is clear evidence of his ignorance of the facts in the case--the evidence against the genuineness of I John 5:7 is overwhelming, and similarly Acts 8:37; 9:5,6; at Acts 20:28, the t.r. gives an Alexandrian reading (picked up by Erasmus from the Latin Vulgate, and which agrees with B and Aleph) while the majority does not (apparently) read "church of God" there!

103 Blaming Warfield's views of lower (textual) criticism for the inroads of higher criticism before and especially after his death is the height of absurdity. The disciplines are unconnected and unrelated.

106 Boer's quote on the basic oneness of lower and higher criticism is devoid of any truth.

111 Merging form/redaction/source/criticism with textual criticism is utter nonsense. They are wholly unrelated matters (the former treats of how the text came to be written, i.e., the composition process; while the latter treats how the text was transmitted, i.e., the copying process).

124 The declaration that Machen, by virtue of his adherence to Warfield's textual views, would have been no help to Hills, is a cheap shot. An a priori and prejudicial remark.

142 and preceeding pages--it seems clearly evident that Hills was an incompetent scholar in his days at Chicago, and his dismissal was fully justified.

149 Hills revealed as a real `turkey': unsociable in demeanor and lacking good sense.

151 Falsely imputes to the Westminster Confession a belief in "the priority of the Textus Receptus." It was the only Greek text then published, and hence, available to them.

154 Falsely speaks of O. T. Allis' opposition to some 20th century translations as though it were a case of "opposing the modern translation impulse." Rather, it is criticism of certain unreliable versions (e.g., RSV, NEB).

155 The quote does draw the clear distinction between higher and lower criticism--a distinction Letis fails to see.

160 Hills' declaration that use and defense of the ASV (over KJV) leads to downright modernism, exposes Hills (in my thinking) as a down-right ignoramus. Somehow, the ASV was used and recommended by all the following over the KJV, and they never fell into modernism: R. A. Torrey, A. T. Robertson, John Broadus, B. H. Carroll, G. Campbell Morgan, W. B. Riley, Noel Smith, etc.

164 The claim that Hills' expertise in textual criticism equalled Warfield's is very highly debatable.

165 The quote from Alfred Martin is certainly valid, and expresses a view I've long held .

168 A gross over-generalization that dispensationalists at Dallas Seminary believe the Byzantine text to be closest to the original. In fact, only some of them do (evidentally only a minority), while several certainly favor the Alexandrian text (notably, Norman Geisler) [now departed from Dallas].

175 The argument on Mark 13:14 is not valid (i.e. regarding homoiteleuton), since in critical texts, the words in question do not end similarly.

Regarding Fee's following the "majority text" in Matthew 13:35 (and not Mark 7:2)--the answer is simple: the supporting evidence, not just a majority, but including those witnesses deemed most reliable.

178 The summary of Beza's "method" is inaccurate. Beza reproduced Erasmus' text, without significant revision on the basis of manuscript evidence. His text, like Erasmus', departs from the majority of manuscripts in well over 1,00 places (hence, his text was not a reconstruction based on manuscript evidence carefully collected, sifted and counted).

It is an overstatement of no small measure to say that the Westminster Confession gives "final creedal sanction" to the t.r.