1/16/2019 0 Comments
The Textual Transmission of the Latin Vulgate and Its Relevance to Textual Criticism of the Greek New Testament
Dane K. Jöhannsson
Lead Pastor, Agros Church
What is the Latin Vulgate?
The Latin Vulgate is a term used specifically for the Latin translation of the Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church as their authoritative text. It also refers generally to the entire tradition of the translation of the Bible into Latin from some time in at least the 2ndcentury until the late 1600’s when standardized critical editions of the Latin Bible began to be printed. The “Vulgate” (from Latin ‘vulgare’, meaning: common) as we know it today is a collection of Latin texts compiled and translated/edited in large part by Saint Jerome in the 4thand 5thcenturies. However, the history and transmission of the “Vulgate” is a long and complexion journey filled with many revisions, corruptions, editions and dialect versions.
In the introduction to the Deutsche BibelGesellschaft’s ‘Biblia Sacra Vulgata’ (a critical edition of the Latin Vulgate), Roger Gryson writes:
“The term ‘Vulgate’ normally means the Latin Bible that has been in common use in the Western Church since the seventh century. This Bible is not the work of one author: nor is it the product of any one age. It is a collection of translations which differ both in origin and in character … The Vulgate, therefore, is far from being a unity, and the only justification for calling it ‘Jerome’s Vulgate’ (as we often do) is that there is more of his work in it than there is of anyone else’s. The text of the Vulgate is attested by a very large number of manuscripts indeed, and the many differences between the manuscripts reflect the fortunes of a ‘living’ text that has been continually adapted and revised.” (pg.XXXIII)
H.A.G. Houghton wrote a robust and well-studied volume in 2016 titled: ‘The Latin New Testament: A Guide to its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts’. In the first chapter he writes:
“The origins of the Latin New Testament are unknown. No-one is explicitly identified as a translator or reviser of the Bible before the end of the fourth century. Jerome and Augustine’s comments on the origins and previous history of the Latin translation have often been accepted without question, even though they are writing some two centuries later in justification of their own endeavours. A more reliable account has to be pieced together from surviving writings contemporary with the adoption of Latin in the early Church and the evidence of the biblical text itself. This results in a focus on Roman North Africa, where the shift from Greek to Latin appears to have preceded the same development in Italy and elsewhere in the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the paucity of texts preserved from this time means that significant gaps remain and it can be difficult to contextualize the evidence which survives.” (pg.3)
What is the relevance of the Latin Vulgate to the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament?
1. The Importance of the Latin Language for Christianity
Our modern English language, through a dialect of French (itself a dialect of Latin), brought over to the Anglo Saxons of modern day England during the Norman invasion of William the conqueror, is heavily influenced by Latin. Look at the following list of common words we use daily that are straight from Latin: literature, city, et cetera, judge, infinite, insane, honor, data, annual, alien, plus, pulse, habitual, janitor, legal, lunar, moral, media, paper, person and many, many more. This Latin influence in on language is seen even more clearly in medical, legal and scientific terminology (all of which are also Latin words).
The language we use to talk about God and theology has been impacted by Latin in perhaps the greatest way. Some of the brightest theologians of the Church spoke and wrote in Latin, and the great majority of the most important theological debates took place in this language or were translated into it. Tertullian, Jerome, Augustine, Isidore of Seville, Thomas Aquinas, Wycliffe, Erasmus, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Calvin, William Perkins, Richard Sibbes, Francis Turretin, Samuel Rutherford, John Owen, Herman Bavinck, and even C.S. Lewis all wrote in Latin either entirely or in part.
Understanding the Bible translations of the Latin Church helps us to have a better understanding of the development of Christian theological vocabulary. For example, the English word ‘propitiation’ (which we find in Rom.3:25 “[Jesus Christ] whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation in his blood”) comes directly from the Latin translation of ἱλαστήριον, “propitiationis– atonement or appeasement”. The same is true of ‘to justify’, which comes from the Latin “iustificare”, and, ‘redemption’ coming from “redemptionis”.
When we discuss theology our vocabulary is largely Latin. When describing the nature of God, we say that God is three persons in one substance. This came from the Latin Church’s declaration that God is “tres personae in unus substantia”.
When we talk about the God’s sovereignty over the world and over the salvation of individuals we talk about God’s “decretum absolutum” and that in His ways He is the “Deus absconditus”, the obscure God or the hidden God. The doctrine of predestination is discussed in terms of the “doctrina predestionatiae”.
2. The Importance of the Latin Bible for the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament.
In studying the translation of the Bible into Latin we will often be able to ascertain which Greek manuscripts they were copying. In this way, understanding the Latin Bible also helps us engage in the text-critical study of the Greek Testament.
To discount the early church’s witness to the text of the Bible by not examining the translations they made will only impoverish our understanding of the textual transmission of the Bible.
For example: Augustine (who lived from 354-430AD), in his book “De Adulterinis Coniugiis 2:7.6” (Concerning adulterous marriages)made comments about the story of the woman caught in adultery, often called thepericope adulterae(found in John 7:53-8:11), Augustine wrote:
"7.6 However, the pagan mind obviously shrinks from this comparison, (ita ut nonnulli modicae fidei vel potius inimici verae fidei) that some men of slight faith, or rather, some hostile to the true faith, fearing, as I believe, that liberty to sin with impunity is granted their wives, (auferrent de codicibus suisso) remove from their Scriptural texts the account of our Lord's pardon of the adulteress."
History of the Latin Vulgate
The origin of the Latin Bible is unknown. No one is explicitly identified as a translator until St. Jerome in, at earliest, 384AD. However we know that there were Latin translations of portions or the entirety of the Bible by at least July 180AD where mention is made of them in a document containing the proceedings of a trial of Christians in Carthage, wherein the procounsul asks Speratus what condemning evidence is brought against the Christians. Speratus replies, “Libros, et epistulae Pauli, viri iusti– Books, and the epistles of Paul, a righteous man.”
Prior to the translation of St. Jerome we know there was some kind of Latin biblical tradition which he took as his starting point. This text is often called the ‘Italic’ or ‘Old Latin’. This is best represented in a modern published edition called the ‘Vetus Latina’ projected to number in 27 volumes which will represent all of the surviving evidence of the ‘Old Latin’.
Houghton tells us that:
“[t]he two principal collections in surviving manuscripts are the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles. Figures from CLA show that forty-one surviving manuscripts of the Gospels and eleven of the Pauline Epistles were copied before 600, while 119 gospel manuscripts and twenty-five of the Pauline Epistles are preserved from 600 to 800.“ (194)
As well as manuscripts of the Biblical text we also have what are called ‘lectionaries’, which were readings from portions of the Scriptures given aloud during Church liturgies.
The first Christian author to write in Latin whose works survive is Tertullian, bishop in Africa in the late second century. Tertullian wrote in both Greek and Latin, which is important in that it shows us that he could read the Greek manuscripts as well as translate them. Within his surviving written works in Latin, the entire Canon of the New Testament books are represented in his quotations with the exception of 2Peter, 2John and 3John.
As important of a witness to the text of the Bible as the Church Fathers are, the problem with their Biblical quotations is that they rarely quote the same verse, even in the same book or sermon, in the same words. They often paraphrased Biblical quotations as they preached and wrote.
For example: Tertullian quotes John 3:5two different ways in his work, ‘De Anima et De Baptismo’. The first time he quotes it as, “nisi quis nascetur ex aqua et spiritu non intrabit in regnum Dei– Unless someone is born of water and spirit they will not go into the kingdom of God”, and the second time as, “nisi quis renatus fuerit ex aqua et spiritu sancto non intrabit in regno caelorum– Unless someone shall have been born again of water and the Holy Spirit, they will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
This is common of both the Latin and Greek church fathers. Often time their Latin readings will reflect two different known Greek readings but resemble no known Latin readings. So, although these quotations are helpful in understanding something of the original readings of the Greek Testament, they must be studied carefully and understood in their context.
“As Christian centres became established throughout the Roman Empire, Latin gained ground as the language of theological discourse and ecclesiastical administration. The oldest surviving manuscripts of the Latin New Testament were copied in the fourth century. These bear witness to a variety of textual forms, showing that multiple revisions had already introduced considerable diversity. However, a process of convergence may also be observed, culminating in the revision of the Gospels made by Jerome towards the end of the century. The writings of the earliest Latin Christian authors, Tertullian and Cyprian in particular, were extremely influential in subsequent generations, especially among those with little or no facility in Greek. Their texts, and collections of biblical extracts known as testimonia, perpetuated ancient forms of the Latin New Testament alongside the ongoing revisions.” (19)
“The Latin version of the Bible now known as the Vulgate is indissolubly linked with the name of Jerome (Hieronymus in Latin, hence the abbreviation HI). Born in Stridon in Dalmatia in 347 or 348, he initially studied in Rome, followed by periods in Trier and Aquileia, before heading to Antioch in 373–4 where he learnt Greek. After this he spent five years in Chalcis in Syria, where he was introduced to Hebrew, and then moved briefly to Constantinople where he began translating Greek texts. Having returned to Rome for six years, where he undertook the revision of the Latin Gospels, he left in 385 to spend the final three decades of his life as a scholar and ascetic near Bethlehem. Much of Jerome’s literary output took the form of translations or editions of the works of others.” (Houghton, page 31)
Interestingly, Jerome’s work was not called the ‘Vulgate’ until the Council of Trent (a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation) in the 1500’s.
“Christian literary activity in North Africa was considerably diminished after the death of Augustine and the establishment of the Vandal kingdom. Italy was the centre for the production of Latin biblical manuscripts and exegetical works in the fifth and sixth centuries, although the seventh century saw developments further afield, including Spain and the Insular regions of Britain and Ireland. The newly-revised text of the New Testament by Jerome and his unknown counterpart took some time to become established, despite its early adoption in influential commentaries. Most fifth-century New Testament manuscripts continue to have an Old Latin affiliation. The gradual alteration of biblical manuscripts towards what was to become the Vulgate resulted in ‘mixed texts’, combining features of both Vulgate and pre-Vulgate tradition. A similar mixture arose from the reintroduction of earlier readings to Vulgate texts: the sixth-century gospel books produced in North Italy are a good example of this. One of the editorial innovations of this period was the creation of manuscripts containing the whole New Testament and even pandects comprising the whole Bible, often with a new set of prologues or capitula.” (Houghton, page 43)
Lastly I would like to briefly look at a few well known textual variations in the Greek New Testament and see how the study of the Latin Vulgate can aid us in New Testament textual issues.
In the Authorised Version this verse reads,“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Internally this reading is supported even from our English text. The subject of John’s prologue is Jesus Christ, the Word, the λόγος who is the Son of God, so it would make most sense, contextually, for the reading to be “the only begotten Son”.
However, most modern editions of the Bible read, “the only God” (ESV) rather than, “the only begotten Son”. This is because they follow the reading of the NA 27th and 28th editions of the Greek New Testament which read μονογενὴς θεὸς “the unique/only God”, whereas, the KJV, based off of the Received Text, reads ὁ μονογενής υἱός “the only-begotten/unique Son”.
The NA28 takes the reading μονογενὴς θεὸςbased primarily on Codex Sinaiticus, or Aleph, which has this reading in the original hand (4th-6th) as well as 𝔓75 (3rd) and miniscule 33 (9th). Other than this it has no Greek witnesses. It appears also in quotations from Clement of Alexandria.
As for the Received Text reading of ὁ μονογενής υἱός we have support from:
When we look to the Latin Vulgate, the Biblia Sacra Vulgata has “unigenitus Filius– only begotten Son” and the Nova Vulgata reads “unigenitus Deus” based off of the NA28 and indicates in the apparatus that all known editions of the Vulgate read “unigenitus Filius”.
We see then that there is no good reason for rejecting the reading of ὁ μονογενής υἱός for the reading μονογενής θεὸς other than because of a presupposition based in the enlightenment that God has not preserved His word and we must restore His word based on pseudo-scientific enlightenment-based methodology. Therefore, the reading “only begotten Son” is the original reading, not only because it makes most sense internally or contextually, but also because the vast majority of Greek manuscripts of equal antiquity read this way as well as all of the Latin and Syriac manuscripts.
Both Bruce Metzger and Philip Comfort state that the external evidence is stronger for the reading ὁ μονογενής υἱός but give greater weight to the reading μονογενής θεός based on the discoveries of 𝔓66 and 𝔓75. (cf. Comfort: “Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament”, page 248 & Metzger, page 198)
In the KJV this verse reads, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: GOD was manifest in the flesh.”This reflects the reading of the Received Text θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί. Modern versions (such as the ESV) reflect the reading of the Modern Critical text of the NA28 ὅς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί “He was manifest in the flesh.”
The reading ὅς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί is supported by the following witnesses:
The Received Text reading θεὸς ἐφανερώθη ἐν σαρκί underlying the KJV has the following support:
Although the majority of Latin manuscripts support “He” (reading: “quod manifestatum est in carne”), we do see that one Latin manuscript reads “God - Deus”. We see once again the Latin’s usefulness in discussing the Greek text.
Phillip Comfort attributes the corrections in various manuscripts from ‘he’ to ‘God’ to scribal “gap-filling”. The problem is that there is no gap in the text, so Comfort attributes it to filling a ‘perceived’ gap in communication on the part of the scribe to the reader (Comfort: “Textual Additions”, page 132).
Metzger treats this variant more fairly and scholarly, stating, that the reading “God” is only found in the early texts by way of correction and that scribes likely changed the text to give a better grammatical and syntactical flow. (Metzger, page 641)
The Comma Iohanneum (1John 5:7)
In the KJV this text reads: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”which is based off of the Received Text’s reading, ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσίν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα, καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσι. The modern English versions omit this verse entirely, since they are based off of the Modern Critical Greek Text. This is likely one of the most difficult texts in the Received Text to defend, though it can be done, and we will spend an entire study on this variant at a later time.
The Received Text is supported by the following:
Philip Comfort states that this verse came into the Latin manuscript tradition from the fifth century forward. He asserts that it was originally a marginal gloss on 5:8 “the water, the blood and the Spirit”, which served to explain that these three elements symbolize the Trinity (the Father, the Word[Son], and the Spirit). It found its way into the actual text of the epistle and began to be included into more and more copies of the Vulgate. He then goes on to make a theological conclusion, stating that the marginal gloss was incorrect in the first place and that the words “water, blood and Spirit” have nothing to do with the Trinity but rather symbolize “three critical phases in Jesus’s life where he was manifested as God incarnate, the Son of God in human form. This was made evident at his baptism (= the water), his death (= the blood), and his resurrection (= the Spirit).” (Comfort: “Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament”, page 396)
Metzger, again, does a fuller job of explaining why he believes that this text is not authentic. He gives three main reasons:
“(1) The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight, and these contain the passage in what appears to be a translation from a late recension of the Latin Vulgate. (2) The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version of the (Latin) Acts of the Lateran Council in 1215. (3) The passage is absent from the manuscripts of all ancient versions (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic), except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form (Tertullian Cyprian Augustine), or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome (codex Fuldensis [copied a.d.541–46] and codex Amiatinus [copied before a.d.716]) or (c) as revised by Alcuin (first hand of codex Vallicellianus [ninth century]).
The earliest instance of the passage being quoted as a part of the actual text of the Epistle is in a fourth century Latin treatise entitled Liber Apologeticus(chap. 4), attributed either to the Spanish heretic Priscillian (died about 385) or to his follower Bishop Instantius. Apparently the gloss arose when the original passage was understood to symbolize the Trinity (through the mention of three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood), an interpretation that may have been written first as a marginal note that afterwards found its way into the text. In the fifth century the gloss was quoted by Latin Fathers in North Africa and Italy as part of the text of the Epistle, and from the sixth century onwards it is found more and more frequently in manuscripts of the Old Latin and of the Vulgate. In these various witnesses the wording of the passage differs in several particulars.” (Metzger, pages 647-648)
Thus we see that especially in the case of the Comma Iohanneum the Latin gives us critical information regarding the transmission of 1John and the original reading of the New Testament.
Metzger, Bruce Manning, United Bible Societies. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.). London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994.
Comfort, Philip Wesley. A Commentary on the Textual Additions to the New Testament.Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Academic, 2017.
Comfort, Philip Wesley. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Academic, 2015.
Houghton, H.A.G. The Latin New Testament: A Guide to its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Weber, Robertus, and R. Gryson. Biblia Sacra Iuxta Vulgatam Versionem. 5th revised edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1969.
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