"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 3, Number 4, April 2000

 

["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  They may also be downloaded at http://www.kjvonly.org.

 

All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only.  Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand.  Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]

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JOHN GILL, HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS: AN EVALUATION

 

Among British Baptists of the 18th century, none cast a bigger shadow or had a wider influence than John Gill (1697-1771).  Born into a Baptist family (his father was a deacon), Gill was from his youth a prodigy in learning.  He gained an extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek even before entering his teen years, and was a voracious reader.  "As sure as John Gill is in the bookseller's shop" became a local by-word.  Because of his religious affiliation, he had no chance of entering either of the two universities Cambridge or Oxford, which restricted admission to members of the established state church, the Church of England.  Gill, in fact, did not even complete the formal course work at the local grammar school.  He was withdrawn by his parents because the headmaster, an Anglican, tried to compel the children of Dissenters to attend Anglican church services.  What he lacked in formal schooling, however, he more than made up for by continued application to his studies.

 

Deeply convicted of his sins at age 12 and professing faith in Christ in his teen years, Gill was immersed shortly before his 19th birthday and soon thereafter began to preach and pastor.  In 1719, at age 22, he was called as pastor of a Baptist church at Horsley-down, a mile south of London Bridge.  Among Gill's predecessors in this pastorate was the famous Benjamin Keach, and among his successors were John Rippon and Charles Spurgeon.  Gill continued in this pastorate for over 51 years.

 

Gill was a lifelong diligent student, laboring early and late in his study.  To his knowledge of Latin and Greek he added Hebrew and Aramaic and perhaps other tongues.  He read extensively in the classics, the church fathers and the reformers.  He also labored through nearly the whole corpus of rabbinic literature (he had acquired much of this literature from the library of a deceased preacher, and most of the rest through a rabbi)--the Talmuds, the Targumim, the Mishnah, Tosefta, the medieval commentators and much else, and gleaned these for information that would illustrate or illuminate the meaning of the Biblical text. 

 

From his prodigious reading and study, Gill generated a torrent of writing, including a detailed and often technical commentary on the entire Bible (the New Testament part appeared in three volumes in 1746-7), a separate commentary on Song of Solomon consisting of a series of sermons, one per verse, through the whole book, a lengthy BODY OF DIVINITY (systematic theology) originally in three volumes, covering both doctrinal and practical theology, and various booklets, pamphlets, sermons and topical books on a wide variety of subjects, some of them hotly controversial.

 

Gill is not always or even often an original commentator.  Anyone who will first read Matthew Poole's comments on a given passage (whether his English commentary or the much larger Latin one), then Matthew Henry's, followed by Gill's will discover that quite frequently Gill reproduces in great measure the comments of these two famous earlier commentators, and in this regard, Gill is no great advance on those who went before.  Indeed, sometimes Gill's dependence on these earlier writers even led him astray.  By way of example, Gill's remarks concerning manuscript support for I John 5:7 are almost entirely erroneous (and grossly overstate the evidence supporting the inclusion of the verse), and came directly from Poole's Latin commentary (I have not yet tracked down where Poole got his mis-information).

 

Gill's commentary is also all but wholly devoid of devotional warmth.  It is an analysis of the text and of diverse interpretations of the text, with Gill's own opinions forthrightly presented and vigorously defended.

 

However, in one particular area, Gill does shine: relating his gleanings from rabbinic literature to the illustration and illumination of the Biblical text.  If rabbinic literature identified a particular Old Testament text as messianic, he tells who and where and how.  If rabbinic literature explains or illustrates an obscure phrase or term found in either Testament, Gill is almost guaranteed to note it.  If a Jewish custom or practice explains a Biblical usage, he will tell us.  Other commentators have utilized this same Jewish literature for purposes of commenting on the New Testament.  John Lightfoot in the 17th century, Wettstein in the 18th, and Strack and Billerbeck in the 19th are the chief examples, but Lightfoot's work is very much hit-and-miss and covers only a portion of the New Testament (though it is good as far as it goes), while Wettstein's commentary is both rare and in Latin, and that of Strack and Billerbeck is in German and exceedingly expensive.  So, Gill remains the most accessible source for the light rabbinic literature can cast on the meaning of the Bible, especially the New Testament, and Gill is worth consulting if for this alone.  The preface to the first volume of his commentary on the New Testament has a good brief survey of rabbinic literature and its importance to New Testament interpretation.

 

Gill's BODY OF DIVINITY is a work of particular merit in most regards.  Though I have not read it all, most of what I have read has been a straightforward presentation of the Biblical teaching concerning the spectrum of doctrines regularly discussed in systematic theologies.  The long digressions into analyses of the opinions of various theologians which plague many modern systematic theologies are thankfully absent.  The focus is the teaching of the Scriptures themselves, which is, after all, what I want to know above all else.  Gill's BODY OF DIVINITY also serves as a window into what were "normative" English Baptist views of the 18th century, and is valuable as a source for studying the historic views of Baptists.  His remarks on the relationship of inspiration and Bible translations, for example, are the finest I have yet found.

 

In one regard, Gill, while certainly representing the views of one faction of Baptists, is decidedly out of step with the majority of Baptists historically, and that is in regard to his brand of "Calvinism."  Gill was a self-styled "supralapsarian," meaning, in his analysis of the order of the decrees of God (a subject scarcely treated at all in Scripture, and very much over-discussed by Gill and others), he believed that God decreed to choose the elect even before decreeing to allow the fall.  At any rate, Gill's system, logically pressed, led him to omit the free offer of the Gospel to all men (as the Bible clearly and repeatedly commands us to do).  He divided his congregation into "the elect" and "enquirers" (who may or may not be among "the elect") and strictly refused to offer the Gospel to the enquirers lest he by so doing work contrary to what he perceived as God's sovereign electing grace.  The logical outcome of "Gillism" (as this viewpoint came to be called) was typified in John Ryland's remark to William Carey when Carey first proposed the creation of a society for the sending out of missionaries to the heathen.  Ryland is reported to have said, "When God is pleased to convert the heathen, he will do so without consulting either you or me." [See the quote from David Benedict elsewhere in this issue for some account of this controversy].

 

One of Gill's books, THE CAUSE OF GOD AND TRUTH, was expressly written to refute so-called Arminian interpretations of various Biblical texts employed to teach unlimited atonement and the universal offer of the Gospel.  Frankly, to me this book seems on the whole to be a vigorous--and highly strained--attempt to explain away the obvious meaning of the texts addressed.  Baker reprinted this book some years ago in print so small (perhaps "five-point" type?) as to be almost unreadable, which I think is just as well.

 

Disregarding Gill's ultraism on this aspect of soteriology, I still value Gill's commentary, but especially his systematic theology.  I stand amazed at the vastness of his erudition and the extent of his writings.  Such sustained diligence is worthy of emulation.

 

Various editions of Gill's works have been issued at fairly regular intervals by numerous publishers, virtually from their first appearance.  In the last half century, Gill's BODY OF DIVINITY has been reprinted at least five times that I know of--an edition in 1950, at least one printing by The Primitive Baptist library in the 1960s or 1970s, another by Sovereign Grace in 1971 (which omits an important 30-page appendix on Jewish proselyte baptism), a two-volume Baker reprint in the 1980s, and a Baptist Standard Bearer reprint in 1984.  As with all of Gill's works, the Primitive Baptist Library edition is the finest, reprinted in large octavo size and bound in library grade buckram (this publisher is now defunct, I believe).

 

Gill's commentary has been reprinted in recent decades by Sovereign Grace, Primitive Baptist Library, Baker (in 1980, with Rippon's biography of Gill included), and Baptist Standard Bearer.  His lesser works have also found various reprinters in recent years.

 

Almost the only biography of Gill that has been widely accessible is that of his successor at Carter Lane, John Rippon.  As noted earlier, that biography was published in the front of Gill's commentary in the 1980 Baker reprint (and the 1852-54 edition from which that was taken, as well as earlier editions).  August 7, 1980, the day I got my set of Baker's reprint of Gill's commentary, I devoted more than five hours to reading the 36 very large pages with very small print that made up Rippon's biography of Gill.  That biography has also been recently reprinted in standard book format (144 pages, hardback) by Gano Books.  It is informative, sometimes tedious and sometimes even entertaining reading.

 

Besides Rippon's brief biography of Gill, other sources of information are generally accessible.  Far and away the fullest treatment is George M. Ella, JOHN GILL AND THE CAUSE OF GOD AND TRUTH.   I had hoped to review that book in this issue of AISI, but constraints of time and space require that it be held to a later issue.  Beyond this book, a very sympathetic and commendable treatment is that of Timothy George, in BAPTIST THEOLOGIANS, edited by Timothy George and David Dockery (Nashville: Broadman, 1990), pp. 77-101.  In contrast, the article on Gill in Cathcart's BAPTIST ENCYCLOPEDIA is so fawning and fulsome as to be embarrassing for its excess.

                                                ---Doug Kutilek

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Excerpts from John Rippon's A BRIEF MEMOIR OF THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF THE REVEREND AND LEARNED JOHN GILL (page numbers according to the Baker reprint, 1980):

 

"How could any one man perform all this labour?   It is fair to answer--it must have been naturally impossible for any person to have done it, without method, unremitting exertion, and cheerful perseverance.  These were perennially the companions of his labours; and delight must occasionally have mingled in their society.  Indeed it may be literally said that he was never tired of reading and study.  General good health also administered to the execution of his design, and a very retentive memory." (p. xxxi)

 

"But it may also be inquired, how he distributed his time, and whether he indulged himself in any relaxations.  When the Dr. was once asked by the late Mr. Ryland . . . how it was he had waded through such vast labours; he answered that it was not done by very early rising, nor by sitting up late--the latter, he was confident, must be injurious to any student, and not helpful.  The truth is, 'he rose as soon as it was light in the winter, and usually before six in the summer.'  In the last part of his life, not quite so early.  He breakfasted in his study, and always on chocolate.  But came down with his family at dinner, and, even to the last affliction, carved for them.  Through the latter years of his life, he seldom went into his study after tea, . . . but sat below reading some book, or correcting his sheets as they were issuing from the press. . . . Never was he to be seen indolent.  He neither wanted, nor wished for, relaxation from study " (ibid.)

 

"The Doctor's person was of the middle stature, neither tall nor short, well proportioned, a little inclined to corpulency; his countenance was fresh and healthful, expressive of vigour of mind, and of a serene cheerfulness, which continued with him almost to the last" (p. xxiv; it is because of this comment that I refer to the portrait of Gill affixed to the Baker reprint of his commentary as "the Last."

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Some Published Opinions of Gill and His Writings

 

A. O. Gillette, ed., MINUTES OF THE PHILADELPHIA BAPTIST ASSOCIATION (American Baptist Publication Society, 1851.  Reprint), for 1807, p. 439--

 

"Understanding that Mr. W. W. Woodward of Philadelphia, has issued proposals for the publication of Dr. Gill's 'Exposition of the Old and New Testaments,' this Association resolves to support the publishing of the work to the utmost; they also recommend to each church to subscribe for a copy of this incomparable work for the use of their minister, and urge on all their sister Associations to aid in the accomplishment of this desirable object."

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Adam Clarke [1762-1832], Methodist, in his 6-volume commentary, vol. I, p. 10--

 

"Dr. John Gill, an eminent divine of the Baptist persuasion, is author of a very diffuse commentary on the Old and New Testaments, in nine vols. folio.  He was a very learned and good man, but has often lost sight of his better judgment in spiritualizing his text."

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John Ryland [whether the father, 1723-1792, or the son, 1753-1825 is not stated], Baptist, quoted in William Cathcart, THE BAPTIST ENCYCLOPEDIA, p. 454--

 

"Dr. Gill leads us into an ocean of divinity by a system of doctrinal and practical religion, and by a judicious and learned exposition of the Old and New Testaments."

 

[This comment no doubt sparked Robert Hall's famous reply noted below]

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Robert Hall, THE WORKS OF ROBERT HALL, A.M. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1844), vol. I , p. 175--

 

"He [Robert Hall, Baptist, 1764-1831] did not like Dr. Gill as an author.  When Christmas Evans was in Bristol, he was talking to Mr. Hall about the Welsh language, which he said was very copious and expressive.  'How I wish, Mr. Hall, that Dr. Gill's works had been written in Welsh.'  'I wish they had, sir; I wish they had, with all my heart; for then I should never have read them.  They are a continent of mud, sir.' "

---

 

Thomas Hartwell Horne [1780-1862], Anglican, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CRITICAL STUDY AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES (8th edition, 1839; reprinted 1970), vol. II, part II, p. 256--

 

"In rabbinic literature Dr. Gill has no equal, and he has hence been enabled to illustrate many passages of Scripture.  But he has often spiritualized his text to absurdity.  'The massy volumes of Dr. Gill might almost form a class of their own, as they comprehend every method of interpretation; and sometimes, by giving to the same passage too great a variety of meanings, they leave the weak reader to doubt whether that book can contain any certain meaning, which an ingenious expositor can interpret, or rather torture, in so many different ways.'  An occasional reference to this learned work is all, perhaps, that can be recommended."

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Milton S. Terry, Methodist, BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS (Zondervan reprint), p. 702--

 

"John Gill, an eminent English Baptist, was especially distinguished for his rabbinical learning.  His exposition of the Old and New Testaments, in nine large octavo volumes, is a monument of industry and research, but is too diffuse to be of practical value, and sometimes runs into spiritualizing processes."

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L. E. Smith, CYCLOPEDIA OF BIBLICAL, THEOLOGICAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL LITERATURE, ed. by John M'Clintock and James Strong (New York: Harper and Bros., 1894), vol. III, p. 871--

 

"His Rabbinical studies were extensive and profound.  The fruits of his learning are chiefly deposited in his commentary, a work valuable to consult, but so heavy and prolix in style as to repel any but very courageous readers."

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James Orr, INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA (1929 edition), vol. II, p. 682--

 

"learned, but ponderous and controversial."

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We shall allow Charles Spurgeon [1834-1892], Gill's distant successor in his London pastorate and himself a very diligent Bible student, to have the "last word" regarding Gill.

 

Even before he entered into his London pastorate, young Spurgeon subscribed to a reprinting of Gill's commentary, which was being issued in monthly installments.  When the set was complete, he had them bound (when in August, 1983, I visited the remains of Spurgeon's library now preserved at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, I had my picture taken holding one of these volumes of Gill's commentary).  In volume IV, he wrote, "Many sneer at Gill, but he is not to be dispensed with.  In some respects, he has no superior.  He is always well worth consulting." (see C. H. SPURGEON'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY [London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1897], vol. I, pp.254, 255).

 

"A very distinguished place [in the roll-call of Bible commentators] is due Dr. Gill.  Beyond all controversy, Gill was one of the most able Hebraists of his day, and in other matters no mean proficient.  When an opponent in controversy had ventured to call him a 'botcher in divinity,' the good doctor, being compelled to become a fool in glorying, gave such a list of his attainments as must have covered his accuser with confusion. His great work on the Holy Scriptures is greatly prized at the present day by the best authorities, which is conclusive evidence of its value, since the set of the current of theological thought is quite contrary to that of Dr. Gill.  No one in these days is likely to be censured for his Arminianism, but most modern divines affect to sneer at anything a little too highly Calvinistic: however, amid the decadence of his own rigid system, and the disrepute of even more moderate Calvinism, Gill's laurels as an expositor are still green.  His ultraism is discarded but his learning is respected: the world and the church take leave to question his dogmatism, but they both bow before his erudition.  Probably no man since Gill's day has at all equalled him in the matter of Rabbinical learning.  Say what you will about that lore, it has its value: of course, a man has to rake among perfect dunghills and dustheaps, but there are a few jewels which the world could not afford to miss.  Gill was a master cider-sifter among the Targums, the Talmuds, the Mishna, and the Gemara.  Richly did he deserve the degree of which he said, 'I never bought it, nor thought it, nor sought it.'

 

He was always at work; it is difficult to say when he slept, for he wrote 10,000 folio pages of theology.  The portrait of him which belongs to this church, and hangs in my private vestry, and from which all the published portraits have been engraved, represents him after an interview with an Arminian gentleman, turning up his nose in a most expressive manner, as if he could not endure even the smell of free-will.  In some such vein he wrote his commentary.  He hunts Arminianism throughout the whole of it.  He is far from being so interesting and readable as Matthew Henry.  He delivered his comments to his people from Sabbath to Sabbath, hence their peculiar mannerism.  His frequent method of animadversion is, 'This text does not mean this,' nobody ever thought it did; 'It does not mean that,' only two or three heretics ever imagined it did; and again it does not mean a third thing, or a fourth, or a fifth, or a sixth absurdity; but at last he thinks it does mean so-and-so, and tells you so in a methodical, sermon-like manner. . . . For good sound, massive, sober sense in commenting, who can excel Gill?  Very seldom does he allow himself to be run away with by imagination, except now and then when he tries to open up a parable, and finds a meaning in every circumstance and minute detail; or when he falls upon a text which is not congenial with his creed, and hacks and hews terribly to bring the word of God into a more systematic shape.  Gill is the Coryphaeus of hyper-Calvinism, but if his followers never went beyond their master, they would not go very far astray."  (Charles H. Spurgeon, COMMENTING AND COMMENTARIES [London: Banner of Truth, 1969 reprint of 1876 edition], pp. 8, 9)

 

"His [i.e., Gill's] entire ministry was crowned with more than ordinary success, and he was by far the greatest scholar the church had yet chosen; but he cannot be regarded as so great a soul-winner as Keach had been, neither was the church at any time so numerous under his ministry as under that of Keach.  His method of address to sinners, in which for many years a large class of preachers followed him, was not likely to be largely useful.  He cramped himself, and was therefore straitened where there was no Scriptural reason for being so. . . .The system of theology with which many identify his name has chilled many churches to their very soul, for it has led them to omit the free invitations of the gospel, and to deny that it is the duty of sinners to believe in Jesus: but for this, Dr. Gill must not be altogether held responsible, for a candid reading of his Commentary will soon perceive in it expressions altogether out of accord with such a narrow system."  (C. H. SPURGEON'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, vol. I, pp. 308, 310)

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DAVID BENEDICT, BAPTIST HISTORIAN REGARDING GILLISM AND FULLERISM

 

"Forty years ago large bodies of our people were in a state of ferment and agitation, in consequence of some modifications of their old Calvinistic creed, as displayed in the writings of the late Andrew Fuller, of Kettering, England.  This famous man maintained that the atonement of Christ was general in its nature, but particular in its application, in opposition to our old divines, who held that Christ died for the elect only.  He also made a distinction between the natural and the moral inability of man.

 

Dr. John Gill, of London, was, in his day, one of the most distinguished divines among the English Baptists, and as he was a noted advocate for the old system of a limited atonement, the terms 'Gillites' and 'Fullerites' were often applied to the parties in this discussion.  Those who espoused the views of Mr. Fuller were denominated Arminians by the Gillite men, while they, in their turn, styled their opponents Hyper-Calvinists.  Both parties claimed to be orthodox and evangelical, and differed but little on any other points except those which have been named.  On Election, the Trinity, etc., they all agreed.

 

In the age when this discussion arose among the American Baptists, as none of the modern subjects of agitation had been introduced into their churches, the speculative opinions thus briefly described, for a number of years were the occasion of unhappy debates and contentions in many locations.

 

Our old Baptist divines, especially those of British descent, were generally strong Calvinists as to their doctrinal creed, and but few of them felt at liberty to call upon sinners in plain terms to repent and believe the gospel, on account of their inability to do so without divine assistance.  They could preach the gospel before the unconverted, but rousing appeals to their consciences on the subject of their conversion did not constitute a part of their public address.

 

In expatiating on the strong points of their orthodox faith they sometimes ran Calvinism up to seed, and were accused by their opponents of Antinomian tendencies.  In that age it was customary for many of our ministers to dwell much on the decrees and purposes of God, to dive deep, in their way, into the plans of Jehovah in eternity, and to bring to light, as they supposed, the hidden treasures of the gospel, which they, in an especial manner, were set to defend.  In doing this they discoursed with as much confidence as if they were certain that they were not wise above what is written, but had given a true report of the secrets of the skies.

 

This extreme of orthodoxy has been followed by laxity and indifference."

 

From: FIFTY YEARS AMONG THE BAPTISTS (New York: Sheldon & Co., 1860), pp. 135-137.

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BOOK REVIEW

 

S. EPHRAIM'S QUOTATIONS FROM THE GOSPEL collected and arranged by F. Crawford Burkitt.  vol. VII, no. 2 of TEXTS AND STUDIES: CONTRIBUTIONS TO BIBLICAL AND PATRISTIC LITERATURE, ed. by J. Armitage Robinson.  Cambridge: University press, 1901.  91 pp. paperback.

 

While the title of this brief work seems (and no doubt IS) rather obscure, it is nevertheless of real significance in its particular field.

 

Ephraim  (d. A.D. 373) was one of the two most important "fathers" among Syriac-speaking Christians (the other being Aphraates).  He was a voluminous writer (his "selected" works occupy over 200 pages in the NICENE AND POST NICENE FATHERS set edited by Philip Schaff).  He is important specifically in the matter of the date of the Peshitta Syriac version of the New Testament.

 

And why is THAT important?  The date of the Peshitta Syriac NT is important in the matter of the date and attestation of the Byzantine or majority Greek text-type.  The "conventional wisdom" before the latter half of the19th century was that the Peshitta was made in the mid-2nd century A.D., and since the Peshitta is largely in agreement with the Byzantine text, it was deduced that the Byzantine text-type must date back at least to the mid-2nd century since the Peshitta attested to the existence of this text-type at that date, and therefore, any claims of the priority of the Alexandrian text-type over the Byzantine were deemed invalid.

 

However, in the 19th century, several important discoveries were made.  First, around 1840, a Syriac version (now designated "C") of the Gospels was discovered in materials brought from Egypt.  It bore a text different from and apparently earlier than the Peshitta.  A second early Syriac version (called "S") was discovered in the 1890s in a monastery in the Sinai desert.  It too differed from the Peshitta and had striking agreements with the earliest of the Old Latin versions and with the Alexandrian text-type. 

 

Added to these discoveries was a much fuller knowledge of the Syriac Diatessaron of Tatian.  The Diatessaron was a harmony of the Gospels, not in parallel columns like modern harmonies, but with the words of the four Gospels intricately woven together into one continuous narrative.  This harmony was in Syriac (possibly translated from a Greek original) and was made in the second half of the 2nd century A.D.  The Diatessaron in Syriac has been lost for centuries, except for some fragmentary excerpts, though complete or nearly complete copies of it in translation into Armenian, Arabic, and other languages are known.  The nature of the Diatessaron became better known during the 19th century.

 

How does this all come together?  Simply this: Ephraim, as a prominent leader among the Syrian Christians, can be expected to have quoted the Bible commonly used among the Syrian Christians of his day.  If the Peshitta did in fact exist from the mid-2nd century, we should expect that Ephraim's Bible quotations would pretty much conform to the Peshitta.  Indeed, a study of this very matter made before Burkitt's work had concluded that Ephraim did quote the Scriptures in a form more or less conforming to the Peshitta, thereby supporting the thesis of a 2nd-century date for the Peshitta.

 

However, there were some serious flaws in the earlier study.  First, the writer had depended on printed editions of Ephraim's works rather than manuscripts, and had quoted as Ephraim's works certain writings that either probably or certainly had not been written by Ephraim.  (It is a frequent occurrence in church history that writings have been ascribed to famous individuals who were in fact not the authors.  This was done to add the authority and prestige of the famous writer to the spurious work). 

 

Burkitt, on examining the manuscripts of Ephraim's works, discovered that very frequently the editors of the published works had abandoned or altered the wording of the manuscripts and had conformed the Scripture quotations to the familiar Peshitta, or had made other wholesale or unwarranted alterations, additions or deletions to the text.  As regards the question of genuine or spurious writings of Ephraim, Burkitt carefully examined the works ascribed to him to determine if they were certainly genuine, probably genuine, probably not genuine, or certainly not genuine, and used only those writings which were certainly Ephraim's.

 

The study was limited to Gospel quotations simply because it is here alone that we can tell whether Ephraim was quotings from some version other than the Peshitta when his quotations differ from the Peshitta.  We have two ancient and somehow related Syriac versions of the Gospels, namely C and S, as well as the Diatessaron translation of the Gospels, and of course the Peshitta, with which to make comparisons.

 

So what did Burkitt discover?  Let him speak for himself: "On the 48 passages quoted and discussed in the preceding pages must rest the decision as to what text of the Gospel was used by S. Ephraim.  For my own part, I cannot think that the occasional coincidences of language with the Peshitta against the Sinai Palimpsest [S] and the Curetonian [C], amounting to eight in all, are of a character to suggest the use of the Syriac Vulgate [i.e., the Peshitta].  Most of them occur in passages which otherwise present notable coincidences with the Sinai Palimpsest or the Curetonian, or else differ widely from all known Syriac texts of the Gospel."

 

"Against these are to be set at least three times as many agreements of S. Ephraim with S or C against the Peshitta, some of them of most striking and unmistakable character."

 

"There are not wanting also marked differences between S. Ephraim and these MSS, and these differences suggest that it was not the Old Syriac version of the Four Gospels, the Evangelion de-Mepharreshe [the Syriac name for the Gospels NOT woven into a harmony] that S. Ephraim was using, but the Diatessaron.  Whatever the origin of the Syriac Diatessaron may have been, . . . it is certain that in S. Ephraim's day the wording of the text was largely the wording of the Evangelion de-Mepharreshe.  The agreements of S. Ephraim with S and C are all explicable on the supposition that he was using the Diatessaron, while in many of the differences the reading attested by S. Ephraim is known on other grounds to have been that of the Diatessaron."

 

"The quotations of S. Ephraim from the Gospel, therefore, afford no proof of the use of the Peshitta, the Syriac Vulgate.  As far as S. Ephraim is concerned, that familiar text, found with so little variation in so many ancient codices, may not have been in existence." (pp. 55, 56, 57).

 

What then about the real date and origin of the Peshitta?  "We are free to bring down the date of its appearance to a later period, to the 5th century.  It only remains to point out a passage in Syriac literature which now may be plausibly conjectured to tell the story of its first publication.  If I am right, the great event took place soon after 411 AD under the auspices of Rabbula, who had been in that year appointed bishop of Edessa."

 

"Rabbula's first care, after making some necessary regulations for the better ordering of Divine Service, was for a more accurate version of the New Testament.  'He translated,' says his biographer, 'by the wisdom of God that was in him the New Testament from the Greek into Syriac, because of the variations, exactly as it was.'. . . .It was only the belief, the erroneous belief, that the Peshitta N.T. was proved to be older than Rabbula through the attestation given to it by S. Ephraim, which has hitherto prevented scholars from recognizing in these words a description of the making and publication of the Syriac Vulgate." (p. 57).

 

If Burkitt's assertion is correct, that Ephraim neither knew nor used the Peshitta (and having examined the Syriac evidence he presented, I believe his case was made), but that that version had its origin after 411 A.D. and was the work of Rabbula, then the last strong leg of support for a 2nd-century date of the Byzantine text is kicked away, and the priority of the Alexandrian text-type over the Byzantine is established by evidence in hand.

 

[By the way, the Peshitta does not give uniform support to the Byzantine text-type, or to the textus receptus.  The Peshitta lacks John 7:53-8:11; Acts 8:37; 9:5b,6; I John 5:7; and numerous other verses or clauses, and often reads differently from the Byzantine text or the textus receptus, such as John 1:18 (reading "God" rather than "Son") and I Timothy 3:16 (reading "he who" rather than "God").]

                                                            ---Doug Kutilek

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