Introduction to Authorized English Version of the New Testament

When the King James translators did their work, the earliest Greek manuscript available for their use was from the tenth century, a millennium after the original Hebrew and Greek books of the Bible had been written. In the hand copying of the manuscripts over the centuries, slight variations had entered into the texts. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, archaeologists and Bible scholars discovered numerous Bible manuscripts written earlier, many in the second through fourth centuries, much closer to the date of their original writing. One of those manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus, now in the British museum, was discovered in 1844 by Constantine Tischendorf, while visiting a monastery in Egypt. Copied in the middle of the 4th century, this was the earliest complete copy of the New Testament known. Tischendorf and some other Bible scholars held that these earlier manuscripts were more faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek and sought to revise the King James Bible to accord with these manuscripts. The first revised English edition of the New Testament was issued in 1880. The revised American edition was issued in 1881, with Constantine Tischendorf providing an introduction.


by Constantine Tischendorf

As early as the reign of Elizabeth, the English nation possessed an authorized translation, executed by the Bishops under the guidance of Archbishop Parker; and this, half a century later, in the year 1611, was revised at the command of James the First by a body of learned divines, and became the present “Authorized Version.” Founded as it was on the Greek text at that time accepted by Protestant theologians, and translated with scholarship and conscientious care, this version of the New Testament has deservedly become an object of great reverence, and a truly national treasure to the English Church. The German Church alone possesses in Luther’s New Testament a treasure of similar value.

But the Greek text of the apostolic writings, since its origin in the first century, has suffered many a mischance at the hands of those who have used and studied it; the mere process of constant copying and recopying alone having given rise to many alterations. The Authorized Version, like Luther’s, was made from a Greek text which Erasmus in 1516, and Robert Stephens in 1550, had formed from manuscripts of later date than the tenth century. Whether those manuscripts were thoroughly trustworthy — in other words, whether they exhibited the apostolic original as perfectly as possible — has long been matter of diligent and learned investigation. Since the sixteenth century Greek manuscripts have been discovered of far greater antiquity than those of Erasmus and Stephens; as well as others in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Gothic, into which languages the sacred text was translated between the second and fourth centuries; while in the works of the Fathers from the second century downwards, many quotations from the New Testament have been found and compared. And the result has been, that while on the one hand scholars have become aware that the text of Erasmus and Stephens was in use in the Byzantine Church long before the tenth century, on the other hand, they have discovered thousands of readings be compared and corrected [sic]. Indeed it is not too much to hope by their means a Greek text of the New Testament may sooner or later be settled, which shall serve as the basis of translation for all Christian communities. But before this can come about, it is of the greatest interest to all Christians who value the sacred Scriptures, to understand the relation which the ordinary Bibles of Europe and America bear to the very ancient documents of which we have been speaking.

The effect of thus comparing the common English text with the most ancient authorities will be as often to disclose agreement as disagreement. True, the three great Manuscripts alluded to differ from each other both in age and authority, and no one of them can be said to stand so high that its sole verdict is sufficient to silence all contradiction. But to treat such ancient authorities with neglect would be either unwarrantable arrogance or culpable negligence; and it would be indeed a misunderstanding of the dealings of Providence if, after these documents had been preserved through all the dangers of fourteen or fifteen centuries, and delivered safe into our hands, we were not to receive them with thankfulness as most valuable instruments for the elucidation of truth.

It may be urged that our undertaking is opposed to true reverence; and that by thus exposing the inaccuracies of the English Version, we shall bring discredit upon a work which has been for centuries the object of love and veneration both in public and private. But those who would stigmatize the process of scientific criticism and test, which we propose, as irreverent, are greatly mistaken. To us the most reverential course appears to be, to accept nothing as the word of God which is not proved to be so by the evidence of the oldest, and therefore the most certain, witnesses that He has put into our hands. With this view, and with this intention, the writer of the present Introduction has occupied himself, for thirty years past, in searching not only the libraries of Europe, but the obscurest convents of the East, both in Africa and Asia, for the most ancient manuscripts of the Bible, and has done all in his power to collect the most important of such documents, to arrange them, and to publish them for the benefit both of the present age and of posterity, so as to settle the original text of the sacred writers on the basis of the most careful investigation. And it is this same conviction that has led him to undertake the more popular task of preparing the present edition of the English New Testament. In no country have his labors and happy discoveries been so warmly received and so thoroughly appreciated as in England, since his first visit to Oxford, Cambridge, and London, more than a quarter of a century ago; and he has therefore good ground for hope that the present work will meet with interest and success in the same quarters.

Before proceeding to speak more particularly of the present edition it will be advisable to say something in detail about the three great manuscripts so often already referred to.

The first which came into the possession of Europe was the Vatican Codex. Whence it was acquired by the Vatican Library is not known; but it appears in the first catalogue of that collection, which dates from the year 1475.

The manuscript embraces both the Old and New Testaments. Of the latter, it contains the four Gospels, the Acts, the seven Catholic Epistles, nine of the Pauline Epistles, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, as far as ix.14, from which verse to the end of the New Testament it is deficient; so that not only the last chapters of the Hebrews, but the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, as well as the Revelation, are missing. It is in three columns to a page. The peculiarities of the writing, the arrangement of the manuscript, and the character of the text — especially certain very remarkable readings — all combine to place the execution of the Codex in the fourth century, possible about the middle of it. Owing to the regulations of the Papal library, it was for a long time very difficult to make use of the manuscript. But in the year 1828, an edition of it was undertaken by Angelo Mai, afterwards Cardinal, at the instance of Pope Leo XII. The work did not, however, appear until 1857, three years after Mai’s death, and is extremely inaccurate. Many hundreds of its errors are corrected by the present writer in his Novum Testamentum vaticanum, 1867; and further corrections were supplied by the facsimile edition of Vercellone and Cozza, 1868, which are included in the Appendix Novi Testamenti Vaticani, 1869.

The Alexandrine Codex was presented to King Charles the First in 1628 by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, who had himself brought it from Alexandria, of which place he was formerly Patriarch, and whence it derives its name. It is written in pages of two columns, and contains both the Old and New Testaments. Of the New, the following passages are wanting: – Matt. i.1 to xxv.6; John vi.50 to viii.52; 2 Cor. iv.13 to xii.6. In addition to the Bible the manuscript contains the Epistle of Clemens Romanus (the only known copy), a letter of Athanasius, and a treatise of Eusebius upon the Psalms. On palòographic and other grounds, it would appear to have been written which had escaped the notice of those editors [sic]. The question then arose, which reading in each case most correctly represented what the apostles had written. By no means an easy question, since the variations in the documents are very ancient. Jerome notices them, and many were in existence even as early as the fourth century. Scholars are much divided as to the readings which most exactly convey the Word of God, but one thing is agreed upon by the majority of those who understand the subject, namely, that the oldest copies approach the original text more nearly than the later ones.

Providence has ordained for the New Testament more sources of the greatest antiquity than are possessed by all the old Greek literature put together. And of these, two manuscripts have for long been especially esteemed by Christian scholars, since, in addition to their great antiquity, they contain very nearly the whole of both the Old and New Testaments. Of these two, one is deposited in the Vatican, and the other in the British Museum. Within the last ten years a third has been added to the number, which was found at Mount Sinai, and is now at St. Petersburg.

These three manuscripts undoubtedly stand at the head of all the ancient copies of the New Testament, and it is by their standard that both the early editions of the Greek text and the modern versions are to about the middle of the fifth century [sic]. The New Testament was published in quasi-facsimile in 1786 by C.G. Woide, and has been recently re edited, with corrections, in a smaller shape, by B. Harris Cowper.

The Sinaitic Codex I was myself so happy as to discover in 1844 and 1859, at the Convent of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, in the latter of which years I brought it to Russia to the Emperor Alexander the Second, at whose instance my second journey to the East was undertaken. It is written in four columns to a page, and contains both Old and New Testaments ¬ the latter perfect, without the loss of a single leaf. In addition, it contains the entire Epistle of Barnabas, and a portion of the “shepherd” of Hermas, two books which down to the beginning of the fourth century were looked upon by many as Scripture. All the considerations which tend to fix the date of manuscripts lead to the conclusion that the Sinatic Codex belongs to the middle of the fourth century. Indeed, the evidence is clearer in this case than in that of the Vatican Codex; and it is not improbable (which cannot be the case with the Vatican MS.) that it is one of the fifty copies of the Scriptures which the Emperor Constantine in the year 331 directed to be made for Byzantium, under the care of Eusebius of Còsarea. In this case it is a natural inference that it was sent from Byzantium to the monks of St. Catherine by the Emperor Justinian, the founder of the convent. The entire Codex was published by its discoverer, under the order of the Emperor of Russia in 1862, with the most scrupulous exactness, and in a truly magnificent shape, and the New Testament portion was issued in a portable form in 1863 and 1865.

These considerations seem to show that the first place among the three great Manuscripts, both for age and extent, is held by the Sinaitic Codex, the second by the Vatican, and the third by the Alexandrine. And this order is completely confirmed by the text they exhibit, which is not merely that which was accepted in the East at the time they were copied; but, having been written by Alexandrine copyists who knew but little of Greek, and therefore had no temptation to make alterations, they remain in a high degree faithful to the text which was accepted through a large part of Christendom in the third and second centuries. The proof of this is their agreement with the most ancient translations — namely, the so-called Italic, made in the second century in proconsular Africa; the Syriac Gospels of the same date, now transferred from the convents of the Nitrian desert to the British Museum; and the Coptic version of the third century. It is confirmed also by their agreement with the oldest of the Fathers, such as Irenòus, Tertullian, Clement, and Origen.

These remarks apply to the Sinaitic Codex — which is remarkably close in its agreement to the “Italic” version — more than they do to the Vatican MS, and still more so than to the Alexandrine, which, however, is of far more value in the Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse than it is in the Gospels.

A few readings, as remarkable for the correspondence with they disclose in the date of the manuscripts, as for the testimony which they bear to their authority, I propose now to bring before my readers.

1. The ordinary conclusion to the Gospel of St. Mark, namely, xvi. 9-20 is found in more than five hundred Greek manuscripts, in the whole of the Syriac and Coptic, and most of the Latin manuscripts, and even in the Gothic version. But by Eusebius and Jerome (the former of whom died in the year 340) it is stated expressly that in nearly all the trustworthy copies of their time the Gospel ended with the 8th verse; and with this, of all existing known Greek manuscripts, only the Vatican and the Sinatic now agree.

2. The opening of the Epistle to the Ephesians in our Bibles contains the words, “to the saints which are at Ephesus.” The words “at Ephesus” were not in the copies used either by Marcion (A.D. 130-140) or Origen (185-254); Basil the Great (who died in 379) also states that they were wanting in the old manuscripts of his time, and the omission agrees well with the encyclical character of the Epistle. At the present day the words are found in many ancient Greek manuscripts, and in all the ancient versions; and even to Jerome no copy was known which did not contain them. Now, however, the Sinatic and Vatican manuscripts alone agree with Basil, Origen and Marcion..

3. Origen states — and the statement is confirmed by various quotations before his time — that in John i.4 some copies contained “in Him is life,” instead of “in Him was life.” Whereas that reading is now found only in the Sinatic manuscript, and in the famous Cambridge copy of the Gospels known as the “Codex Bezò”; although it is shown in most copies of the Italic version, in the old Syriac, and the oldest Coptic version.

4. Jerome mentions in reference to Matt. xiii.35 that Porphyry, the opponent of Christianity in the third century, accused the Evangelist of having said “which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah,” a reading which is exhibited also by an authority of the second century. To which Jerome adds that well-informed people had long before removed the name of Isaiah from the passage. Now, of all our manuscripts of a thousand years old, not one exhibits the name of Isaiah except the Sinaitic, with which a few of later date agree.

5. The passage of John xiii.10 is cited six times by Origen; but the Sinaitic MS. alone (with a few copies of the old Italic version) gives it as Origen does, namely, “He that is washed needeth not to wash, but is clean every wit.”

6. In John vi.51 — where the passage is very difficult to settle- the Sinaitic Codex alone among all the Greek manuscripts has the undoubtedly right reading, namely, “If any man eat of My bread he shall live for ever. The bread which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh,” which is confirmed by Tertullian, at the end of the second century.

Many other examples of the kind might be given.

In the facsimile steel engraving on the opposite page of this volume [see above], my readers may examine for themselves the style in which each of the three great manuscripts so often mentioned is written. Initial letters are found in the Alexandrine Codex only, and in not having them the other two agree with the Herculanean rolls of the first century.

I have only further to speak of the method pursued in the printing of this edition.

The text of the English “Authorized Version,” exactly reproduced; and in the notes are given the variations from that text in the three manuscripts above named: –

S denotes the Sinatic MS.

V ” the Vatican; and

A ” the Alexandrine.

S*, V*, and A* denote that the words so accompanied are the original reading of the respective MSS., though altered by a later hand; while the later readings themselves are denoted by S2, V2, or A2 respectively. But my readers will bear in mind that, as a rule, I give only the original readings, and very rarely the ancient corrections.

The sign “om.” denotes that the words to which it is prefixed are omitted; “add” or “add” that they are added. For instance: “SV om. ever” signifies that in the Sinaitic and Vatican MSS. The word “ever” given in the English text is omitted: while “A adds saying” signifies that the Alexandrine MS adds that word to the passage referred to in the English text.

Notes belonging to the same words in the text are divided by a comma; those belonging to a fresh passage by a semicolon. When words from the text are quoted in the notes they are followed by a colon, and then by the correction of the manuscript. Thus, “suffered their manners: A bore he as a nurse” — which denotes that the last five words are given in the Alex. MS instead of the first four which stand in the English.

Many obvious blunders which are found in the manuscripts are passed over in silence. But others, evidently wrong, are so denoted by the words “an error” or “a mere error.” I have no doubt that very shortly after the books of the New Testament were written, and before they were protected by the authority of the Church, many arbitrary alterations and additions were made in them. On the other hand, many variations are obviously only matters of pronunciation, and of little importance; others again arise only from the Greek idiom, and therefore need not be noticed.

Inaccurate or insufficient renderings I have denoted by the words “translate” or “all MSS.” Thus “translate by the well” denotes that that is a more accurate rendering than the “on the well” of the English Bible. Scholars like Trench, Scrivener, and Alford, whom I have usually followed in such cases, will know how to add to these latter corrections, but the plan of my work did not allow me to give more than I have actually given.

Lastly, I have to acknowledge the kind assistance that I have received in this work from my learned friend Mr. B. Harris Cowper.

No single work of ancient Greek classical literature can command three such original witnesses as the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrine Manuscripts, to the integrity and accuracy of its text. That they are available in the case of a book which is at once the most sacred and the most important in the world is surely matter for the deepest thankfulness to God.

Constantinue Tischendorf

Leipzig, Christmas, 1868