Saturday, February 16, 2019

WM 117: Conjectural Emendation, White, Beza, and Rev 16:5

Image: Beza Street, Geneva, Switzerland

I just posted WM 117: Conjectural Emendation, White, Beza, and Rev 16:5 (listen here). My notes are below:


I wanted to do a follow up to recent discussion in WMs 114 and 115 spurred by comments made by JW in his “lecture” on the TR, aka twitter exchange review on Revelation 16:5 and the supposed conjecture made there by T. Beza in his 1598 Greek text.

I noted I was struck by JW’s statement that he rejected any conjectural emendations in the NT. Around the 52:34 mark he says:

I reject all conjectural emendations. I do not believer there is any need for conjectural emendations whatsoever…. CBGM has introduced conjectural emendations. I reject it.

This seemed to me to be inconsistent, since it is essential and foundational to the methodological approach of modern text criticism, based as it is on the assumption that the text of Scripture has been hopelessly corrupted in the course of its transmission and now must be reconstructed by modern scholars. See the classic subtitle of Metzger’s classic The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (first edition, 1968).

Part One: Survey of comments on conjectural emendation in modern text critical works:

B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament Greek in the Original (1882; Hendricksen reprint, 1988):

From Part II The Methods of Textual Criticism (pp. 19-72); ,Section VI Criticism as Dealing with Errors Antecedent to Existing Texts (pp. 66-72; paragraphs 85-95):

Section VI is broken into two Parts: Part A 85-92 Primitive errors; Part B 93-95 Removal of primitive errors by conjecture:

“The utmost result that can be obtained under this condition [i.e., given the existence of textual variants] is the discovery of what is relatively original: whether the readings thus relatively original were also the readings of the autograph is another question which can never be answered in the affirmative with absolute decision except where the autograph itself is extant, but which admits of approximate answers varying enormously in certainty according to the nature of the documentary evidence for the text generally” (p. 66, par. 85).

“In discussing the corruption of texts antecedent to extant documents, the forms in which it presents itself, and the nature of the critical process by which it is affirmed, we have reserved till last a brief notice of the critical process which endeavors to remedy it, that is, Conjectural Emendation…. The evidence of corruption is often irresistible, imposing on an editor the duty of indicating the presumed unsoundness of the text, although he may be wholly unable to propose any endurable way of correcting it, or have to offer only suggestions in which he can place full confidence” (p. 71, par. 93).

“The place of Conjectural Emendation in the textual criticism of the New Testament is however so inconsiderable that we should have hesitated to say even this much about it…..” (p. 72, par. 95).

From Part III Application of Principles of Criticism to the Text of the New Testament (pp. 73-287); Chapter IV Substantial Integrity of the Purest Transmitted Text (pp. 271-287, paragraphs 356-374):

“The way has now been cleared for the final question,—Is it or is it not reasonable to expect that in any considerable number of cases the true reading has now perished? Have we a right to assume that the true reading always exists somewhere among existing documents? The question is often foreclosed on one or both of two grounds which in our judgment are quite irrelevant. First, some think it incredible that any true words of Scripture have perished. In reply it is a sufficient argumentum ad hominem to point to the existence of various readings, forming part of the various texts accepted for long ages, and the frequent difficulty of deciding between them, even though we say nothing of difficulties of interpretation: on any view many important churches for long ages have had only an approximately pure New Testament, so that we have no right to treat it as antecedently incredible that only an approximately pure New Testament should be attainable now, or even in all future time. For ourselves we dare not introduce considerations which could not reasonably be applied to other ancient texts, supposing them to have documentary attestation of equal amount, variety, and antiquity. Secondly, the folly and frivolity of once popular conjectures have led to a wholesome reaction against looking beyond documentary tradition….” (pp. 276-277; par. 361).

“It will not be out of place to add here a distinct expression of our belief that even among the numerous unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes” (p. 282; par. 369).
“The text of this edition of course makes no pretension to be more than an approximation of the purest text that might be formed from existing materials.” (p. 284; par. 371).

“There is no royal road to the ascertainment of the true texts of ancient writings” (p. 286; par. 373).

Benjamin B. Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Third Edition (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1886):

From Chapter Three: The Praxis of Criticism (pp. 182-201):

“Before we close our discussion of the praxis of criticism, therefore, we must explicitly recognize the legitimacy and duty of examining the text of the whole New Testament with the most scrupulous care, with a view to discovering whether its transmission has been perfect; and of appealing to internal evidence to suggest and settle for us the true text in all cases of variation where the evidence is hopelessly in conflict, and in all cases where, the absence of variation, an examination of the text has resulted in leading us to suspect corruption….  The technical name given to this extension of criticism is ‘conjectural emendation,’ which is meant to describe it as a process which suggests the emendation which the text is shown either by the presence of irreconcilable variations or by internal considerations to need, from the conjecture of the mind, working on internal hints… (p. 207; see pp. 207-210).

Bruce Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Fourth Edition (Oxford University Press, 1964, 1968, 1992, 2005):

From Chapter Six “Modern Methods of Textual Criticism” (205-249):

“The method of textual criticism that has been generally practiced by editors of classical Greek and Latin texts involves two main processes, recension and emendation. Recension is the selection, after examination of all available material, of the most trustworthy evidence on which to base a text. Emendation is the attempt to eliminate the errors that are found even in the best manuscripts” (205).

An extended discussion of “Conjectural Emendation” is found on pp. 226-231:

“The classical method of textual criticism regularly involves, as was mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the exercise of conjectural emendation. If the only reading, or each of several variant readings, that the document supply is impossible or incomprehensible, the editor’s only remaining resource is to conjecture what the original reading must have been” (226-227).

“In their edition of the Greek New Testament, Westcott and Hort marked with obeli about 60 passages that they (or one of them) suspected involve a “primitive error,” that is an error older than the extant witnesses, for the removal of which one is confined to conjectural emendation” (229).

“One must admit the theoretical legitimacy of applying to the New Testament a process that has so often been found essential in the restoration of the right text in classical authors. But the amount of evidence for the text of the New Testament, whether derived from manuscripts, early versions, or patristic quotations, is so much greater than that available for any ancient classical author that the necessity of resorting to emendation is reduced to the smallest dimensions” (230).

Howard Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, Revised Edition (1964, 1995):

“If examining the available MSS (manuscripts) fails to indicate satisfactorily the original text of a certain word or phrase, a scholar may resort to an ‘educated guess’ known as a conjectural emendation. In the case of literature where there are only a few extant MSS this procedure may sometimes be necessary. When a larger number of MSS are available, as in the case of the New Testament, conjecture is less often, if ever, necessary, and tends to become what Kenyon called, ‘a process precarious in the extreme, and seldom allowing anyone but the guesser to feel confidence in the truth of its results’” (5).

Part Two: Historical questions about pre-modern use of conjectural emendations:

Clearly, conjectural emendation is a standard aspect of modern text criticism as it has been typically practiced.

My question, however, is when the making of conjectural emendations, as practiced, by modern text critics, became an accepted part of text criticism. Was this something that would have been done in pre-modern era? I recently ran across a possible example of a conjecture in Calvin’s commentary on John 18:1 where he questions what the proper article should be for the noun kedrōn. Would Beza have ventured to make a pure conjecture?

What does Erasmus tell us?

To get a sense of the importance of having a Greek manuscript to support a reading, and thus not having to rely on a bare conjecture, recall the controversy over Erasmus’s omission of the CJ in the first two editions of his TR (1516, 1519). Erasmus (1466-1536) was criticized for this omission by the Protestant Edward Lee of England and the RC Jacobus Stunica of Spain. Why had Erasmus not included it in those early edition? Because it did not appear in the Greek manuscripts he consulted in preparing them. Grantley McDonald observes, “Had he found one Greek manuscript with the comma, he certainly would have added the missing phrase from that one textual witness, but since that had not happened, he had no choice, but to indicate that the comma was absent from the Greek manuscripts available to him” (Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe, 19). NB: This is not to affirm the legendary “rash wager” anecdote! The point is to say that Erasmus wanted to base his text on an extant Greek manuscript, and he eventually restored the CJ in the third edition of his TR (1522) when he was satisfied that he had found it.

What did Beza really say about Revelation 16:5?

The question now is what would have been the scholarly approach of Theodore Beza (1519-1605)? Would he have held a position closer to Erasmus (Greek ms. needed to support text) or Westcott & Hort (pure conjectural emendation justified in rare and extreme cases)?

Modern writers seem to assume that Beza made a pure conjectural emendation at Revelation 16:5 in preferring the reading ho esomenos, rather than ho hosios. It is so identified by Hills in The King James Version Defended (208).

Let’s return, however, to his Latin notes on Revelation 16:5 in his 1598 NT, and to this key sentence:

How is it be translated? What did Beza mean?

James White, like Hills, takes the reference as referring to a conjectural emendation. He quotes part of the sentence untranslated:

“So why does the KJV read ‘and shalt be’? Because John Calvin’s successor at Geneva, Theodore Beza, conjectured that [sic] the original reading differently. To use his words, ‘ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice restitui.’ Beza believed that there was sufficient similarity between the Greek terms hosios and esomenos (the future form, ‘shall be’) to allow him to make the change to harmonize the text with other such language in Revelation. But he had no manuscript evidence in support of his conjecture” (The King James Only Controversy, 2009: 237).

That Beza made a conjecture here is also assumed by the KJV today article on Beza and Revelation 16:5, which translates this sentence:

“And so without doubting the genuine writing in this ancient manuscript, I faithfully restored in the good book what was certainly there, ‘ο εσομενος.”

Is this translation correct? It does not appear so to me. Here again is the sentence and a breakdown of the words:

Itaque ambigere non possum quin germana sit scriptura quam ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice restitui, nempe ο εσομενος.

Translation notes:

Itaque: adverb: therefore
Ambigere: verb, present active infinitive, from ambigo: to doubt
Non possum: negative particle + verb, present active indicative, first person, singular, possum: I am not able
Quin: combination of the pronoun qui and the negative suffix ne: quine; in subordinate clauses with subjunctive verb and after negative verbs of doubting: “but that”
Germana: adjective, nominative feminine singular, modifying scriptura
Sit: verb, present active subjunctive, third person singular, from esse: It should be
Scriptura: noun, nominative feminine singular, from scriptura: writing, piece of writing, or “reading”
Quam: comparative adverb: as
Ex: preposition: out of, takes object in the ablative case
Vetusto: adj., masculine ablative singular, vetustus, -a, -um, here modifying codice: ancient
Bonae: adjective, genitive feminine singular, bonus, -a, -um, here modifying fidei: good
Fidei: noun, genitive feminine singular, fides, fidei: trust
Manuscripto: adjective, masculine ablative singular, manuscriptus, -a, -um, modifying codice: manuscript or hand-written
Codice: noun, masculine ablative singular, object of the preposition ex: codex or book
Restitui: Verb, Perfect Active Indicative, first person singular, from restituo: I restore
Nempe: adverb: truly, certainly, to be sure

So, here is the Latin again and a translation:

Itaque ambigere non possum quin germana sit scriptura quam ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice restitui, nempe ο εσομενος.

“Therefore, I am not able to doubt but that the true reading should be as I have restored it from an ancient manuscript [hand-written] codex of good faith, truly ο εσομενος.

The implication: Beza did not simply make a pure conjecture, but he had taken this reading ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice, “from an ancient manuscript [hand-written Greek] codex.” What was this codex? We do not know, but this challenges the whole notion that Beza’s text at Revelation 16:5 was merely a hypothetical conjecture.


First, conjectural emendation is a necessary aspect of the reconstructionist modern historical critical method. It is based on the notion that the “true text” is irretrievably lost and can, therefore, at points, only be hypothetically approximated. To affirm the use of that method and then to reject the use of such conjectures is inconsistent.

Second, based on Beza’s notes, a question might be raised as to whether his reading at Revelation 16:5 was, in fact, a true conjectural emendation.



Textus Receptus said...

Hi Jeff, I came to the same conclusion about 6 years ago concerning Beza mentioning that he had a manuscript, but have changed from that, seeing he also mentioned in context that he has a Vulgate manuscript warn at the kai.

In my article I touch on the difference in the definition of a conjecture between Metzger & Erhman, and White.

My article goes in to show that there was no conjecture by Beza, but he mentioned in his notes on 16:5 to see his previous vote on 1:4. That is where he explains the Sacred Name concept.

Am enjoying your teaching...

Nick Sayers.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Thanks Nick, DV, I will get to a review of your article on Rev 16:5 eventually. I also hope to translate the rest of Beza's note. This central sentence translated here, however, seems to suggest Beza introduced this reading from a hand-written codex (presumably a Greek ms.), not from a purely logical conjecture. This seems enough to refute JW on this point. I look forward to reading your study.

James Snapp Jr said...

If all goes as planned, a book by Jan Krans this year will address this note by Beza (among other things). I think the basic idea Krans will maintain is that Beza did indeed write that he got his reading from a manuscript -- but that this is because Beza himself misinterpreted an earlier handwritten note that he had made about the passage.

So I wouldn't lean on this at all.

Plus, maximizing Beza's note to the stretching-point, it would still be a singular reading.

diathyky said...

Jeff, I would refine your translation of the Latin. I think quam is a feminine relative pronoun, accusative singular, agreeing with scriptura as the antecedent. Also, manuscripto is I think dative case and the indirect object of restitui.
So Beza is saying that from an ancient codex he restored to the manuscript the reading. I suspect that codex will be a greek text, though I would have to check Beza's usage of the term 'codex'.
In that case, what Beza is saying is that although the common reading is 'holy' favours a minority Greek text reading over it.
I am amazed that the mistranslation of Beza's Latin has never before apparently been noticed.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the comment and insights.

I think the suggestion of quam as a feminine relative pronoun, accusative singular, is possible. Assuming just this change, the meaning would be pretty much the same:

“Therefore, I am not able to doubt but that the true reading should be [that] *which* I have restored from an ancient manuscript [hand-written] codex of good faith, truly ο εσομενος.”

The other suggestion I am less sure about.

Yes, manuscripto in form could be either dative or ablative. Here, however, it appears to be modifying codice, which is in the ablative, as the object of the preposition ex:

"ex vetusto .... manuscripto codice"

If manuscripto were meant to be a dative noun (substantive adjective) and the indirect object of the verb restitui, would it not have been placed either before (manuscripto ex vetusto ... codice) or after (ex vetusto... codice manuscripto) the prepositional phrase?

Of course, the bonae fidei also seems strange in its location in the sentence.

Anyhow, I still think manuscripto is an ablative adjective modidying codice.

It is a good question as to what Beza meant by codex. I assumed he was referring to a Greek ms., as the term is used today, but that might be anachronistic. Please let me know what you discover.


diathyky said...


Having examined 'manuscripto' again, I think that you are likely correct that it is an adjective qualifying 'codice', so it is a 'handwritten codex'. I looked at other examples of the use of 'manuscriptus' from the 16th Century and it does appear to be used in this way. I guess I assumed it was a noun, but it does not seem to be used in that way, only as an adjective. I am trained in Classical Latin and I was looking for the usual dative indirect object of 'restituo', but in this case there does not appear to be any explicit object of the verb. Later Latin is also slighlty different to Classical with simpler word order.

I still would incline toward 'quam' being a relative pronoun, rather than the adverb. It just does not look to me like an adverbial use of 'quam', especially when there is the simpler explanation at hand, that is, that it is a relative pronoun with the clearly identifiable antecendent of 'scriptura'.

So I would translate:

And so I can not doubt but that the writing is genuine which I have restored from an ancient hand written codex of good reliance, namely 'o esomenos'.

The 'is' in 'is genuine' is the English rendering of the Latin subjunctive 'sit', 'quin' being regularly followed by the subjunctive in Latin. To render it 'should be' in English gives, I think, a slightly different meaning than is contained in the Latin.

The important point is that Beza evidently followed a minority reading, but one which had good credentials, and certainly not one that was completely unattested. It was therefore no conjecture on his part, as is commonly asserted on the basis of a faulty translation of his note.

I will examine further the use of 'codex' by Beza and others of that era.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


I like your refinement of the translation.

Yes, I agree that the key point is that Beza did not suggest this reading as a pure conjecture, but claims to have taken it "from an ancient hand written codex."

The more I study issues related to the TR, the more I find it is important to go back and examine the evidence first-hand, since I have found it is not always accurately represented by scholars, especially those from the nineteenth century who were keen to undermine the TR in favor of the modern critical text and its readings.

Thanks again, JTR