Seven Tests to Determine the True New Testament Text
(Antiquity, Number, Variety, Continuity, Credibility, Context, Internal Evidence)
Dean Burgon gives these seven tests to indicate which readings are correct.
1. Antiquity. We may allow only those witnesses who 'spoke' before 400 AD. These are:
i) Over 70 Church Fathers. iii) Early Papyri.
ii) Aleph, B, and some Uncials. iv) Earliest Versions.
For example: Ever since 1881, ‘vinegar’ in Matthew 27:34 has been despised by Westcott and Hort and others as a ‘late Byzantine’ reading. ‘They gave him vinegar...’
Question: What is the verdict of antiquity?
Answer: (a) For "wine": Aleph, B, Latin, Coptic versions, Apocryphal Acts, Gospel of
Nicodemus, Marcarius Magnes. (7 witnesses) eg: NIV, GNB, RSV, NWT.
(b) For "vinegar": Gospel of Peter, Acta Philippi, Barnabas, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Celsus,Origen, pseudo-Tatian, Athanaseus, Eusebius of Emesa, Theodore of Heraclea, Didymus, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ephraem Syrus, Lactantius, Titus of Bostra, Syriac version. (18 witnesses). "Vinegar", the KJV reading has much more support.
2. Number of Witnesses. A reading found in a majority of independent witnesses,
should be the original.
The fewer witnesses, the less likely it is to be genuine;
The more witnesses, the more likely it is to be the original reading;
Unanimous witnesses, means it is certainly the original reading.
3. Variety of Witnesses, is the agreement of independent witnesses.
Variety means that the reading is found in:
i) many geographical areas, and by
ii) different kinds of witnesses - eg: Greek manuscripts, Versions, Fathers, Lectionaries.
A good variety of witnesses are from: different countries, speaking different languages, who never met, and who never colluded. This is not true of Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus.
The vast majority of uncials and cursives have KJV type readings and have good variety:
i) They cover at least 1000 years (350-1550 AD).
ii) Belong to so many countries such as Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Palestine,iii) Exhibit so many strange characteristics and peculiar sympathies.
Variety helps us to evaluate the independence of witnesses. If the witnesses which share a common reading come from only one area, such as Egypt, then their independence is doubted. It is quite unreasonable that an original reading should survive in only one location.
Witnesses supporting a reading in one limited area cannot be the original, as is the case with Aleph, B, and some papyri.
To illustrate: Many of the most ancient manuscripts come from Egypt. This is due to the hot, dry climate of Egypt favouring manuscript preservation more than the wet Mediterranean climate. Moisture is bad for manuscripts. The Egyptian texts are not an exact representation of texts in other parts of the world. To sample the flora and fauna of Egypt does not guarantee to be the same flora and fauna of Greece, Turkey or Italy, etc.
Variety + Number = Validity. Variety means independence of witnesses. Lack of
variety (as is the case for Aleph, B, papyri of Egypt) imply dependence. This is a strong reason to reject modern versions based on Egyptian manuscripts. Burgon said, ‘Generally, the testimony of 2, 4, 6 or more witnesses from many regions, is far weightier than the same number of witnesses from one locality, between which there probably exists some collusion or sympathy’. Hence, many witnesses only from Egypt is a weak case for NIV.
4. Continuity. A reading to be a serious candidate for the original, should be found
throughout the ages of transmission, from beginning to end. A reading is invented if it died out in the 5th century, or if it is not found before the 12th century. Where a reading has variety (or agreement of independent witnesses), it almost always has continuity over time.
The majority of manuscripts are independent witnesses, and must be counted. Westcott and Hort reject this absolutely, accounting for the Majority text by an assumed Lucian recension or revision of the New Testament text around 300 AD. Since there is no evidence that this Lucian recension ever happened, continuity is valid. Hence, number, variety and continuity, form a three-strand rope of textual criticism that is not easily broken. These 3 arguments strongly oppose B, Aleph, NIV and modern versions.
5. Credibility of Witnesses or weight, judged by the manuscripts ‘own performance’.
If manuscripts go wrong continually, their character and credibility must be low. The oldest manuscripts can be objectively, statistically shown to be habitually wrong, witnesses of very low character, and with many mistakes. Their credibility is near zero.
If you read Sir Herman Hoskier's book Codex B and its Allies carefully, you will lose all respect for B, Aleph, etc and modern versions based on them.
Since modern Greek critical texts are based on B, Aleph, some papyri, etc, it is clear that modern scholars have severely ignored 'credibility of witnesses' as an objective criterion.
If considered seriously, 'credibility' will overthrow the modern text type and the NIV.
6. Context is the behaviour (degree of corruption) of a manuscript in the immediate
vicinity of the problem. If in a certain manuscript, the context is clearly in a very corrupt state, then it is self-evident that this manuscript has very low credibility.
For example, Westcott and Hort in Luke 22-24, made 16 omissions from the Received Text based solely on Codex D. In Luke 22:19,20; 24:3,6,9,12,36,40,52 W&H's sole authority for changing the Textus Receptus was a single Greek Codex Beza (D), the most depraved of all.
Codex D in Luke 22,23,24 omits 354 words, adds 173 words, substitutes 146 words,
transposes 243 words, totalling 916 changes. In 8 places they omitted material from the Bible on the sole authority of D (Burgon, p.77,78).
With the scribe on a wild omitting spree, how can any value be given to Codex D here, much less prefer it above the united voice of every other witness?
Modern scholars and versions have completely ignored this Context test
7. Internal Evidence, concerns readings which are grammatically, logically,
geographically, or scientifically impossible, such as in Luke 19:37; 23:45 (impossible 3 hour eclipse of the sun at full moon in Aleph, B, and RV); 24:13; Mark 6:22; II Corinthians 3:3.
Conclusion: So then, how are we to identify the original wording?
1. We must gather the evidence: Greek manuscripts, Lectionaries, Fathers, and Versions.
2. We must evaluate the evidence to see which readings enjoy the earliest, widest, most numerous, most credible, and most varied attestation.
3. The independent, credible witnesses must then be counted.
4. This is how we arrive at the Received Text of the KJV.