Monthly Archives: October 2017

Charles Spurgeon and Textual Criticism

Elijah Hixson has a fascinating article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society titled, “New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” (JETS 57/3 (2014) 555–70) I found a pdf here. In it he notes that “one of the most paradigm-shifting events in the discipline of NT textual criticism happened during Spurgeon’s ministry: the publication of Westcott and Hort’s NT in the Original Greek [1881]” (555). It was Hort who “dethroned the Textus Receptus,”and Spurgeon found himself having to account for this shift.

Spurgeon offered this in Commenting and Commentaries: “Do not needlessly amend our authorized version. It is faulty in many places, but still it is a grand work taking it for all in all, and it is unwise to be making every old lady distrust the only Bible she can get at, or what is more likely, distrust you for falling out with her cherished treasure. Correct where correction must be made for truth’s sake, but never for the vainglorious display of your critical ability.”

Hixson then gives examples from 9 texts containing significant variants and how Spurgeon handled them. Sometimes Spurgeon kept with the traditional reading (the longer ending of Mark), other times he went with the “oldest manuscripts.” In one case, he preached a whole sermon point on a variant that he rejected as original. (“In Christ No Condemnation,” point III.): “Now we come to the third point, upon which we shall speak only briefly, because this part of my text is not a true portion of Holy Scripture.” It reminds me of John Piper’s approach to texts like John 7:53–8:11.

At one point Spurgeon preached an entire sermon on a textual variant: “And We Are: A Jewel from the Revised Version.”

Spurgeon preached eight sermons from Mark 16:9–20, and four expositions (Hixson, 562).

Hixson concludes with three observations: “First, Spurgeon was an independent, critical thinker, knowledgable in the discipline of NT textual criticism, and he weighed the evidence and made his own judgments, rather than taking the word of any one individual… Second, Spurgeon only discussed variants when necessary… Finally, to Spurgeon, evangelistic preaching of the gospel of Christ was preeminent. NT textual criticism was merely a servant to this goal” (568).

He closes with a quote which is worth repeating in full. The sermon was from Luke 4:18 which Spurgeon did not believe contained the full quotation from Isaiah 61:1. “Spurgeon’s solution to this problem was simple: rather than preaching from the text in Luke, he preached from the same text in Isa 61:1” (562):

“Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and the Authorized Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to produce the correct text and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. For many years Baptists have insisted upon it that we ought to have the Word of God translated in the best possible manner, whether it would confirm certain religious opinions and practices, or work against them. All we want is the exact mind of the Spirit as far as we can get it. Beyond all other Christians we are concerned in this, seeing we have no other sacred Book. We have no Prayer Book or binding creed, or authoritative minutes of conferences. We have nothing but the Bible and we would have that as pure as ever we can get it. By the best and most honest scholarship that can be found, we desire that the common version may be purged of every blunder of transcribers, addition of human ignorance or human knowledge so that the Word of God may come to us as it came from His own hand. I confess that it looks a grievous thing to part with words which we thought were part and parcel of Luke, but as they are not in the oldest copies and must be given up, we will make capital out of their omission by seeing in that fact the wisdom of the great Preacher who did not speak upon cheering Truths of God when they were not needed and might have overlaid His seasonable rebuke. Although we have not the sentence in Luke, we do have it in Isaiah, and that is quite enough for me.

The whole article by Hixson is fascinating, and I commend it to anyone interested in textual criticism or Charles Spurgeon.

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