We previously discussed Plummer's misquotation (1889) of Godet (1860s) on the number of variants in the PA and the significance (none) of this 'false positive'.
Today, we want to look at his work in more detail, and in context.
How and why should Reverend Plummer have become an expert on the PA in the first place? Of course the answer is that he wasn't an expert on the PA.
Westcott and Hort, and their allies in the 1880s were desperately seeking to promote their new "Revised Version" of the English Bible, which was not a strict revision at all, but actually a substitution of a critically reconstructed NT text, based on the school of Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, & Hort.
It quickly became obvious that many seasoned scholars and experts would not be going along with the all the changes to the text. The only way to advance their cause was to raise a whole new generation of students, lacking the that background, and indoctrinate them in the Westcott/Hort viewpoint.
For this, the Cambridge group began a new series of Bible commentaries, specifically targeted for schools and colleges, i.e., the next generation of Bible students. The principles of the new commentary were transparent
"The General Editor [J.J.S. Perowne, Dean of Peterborough] thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the editors of specific books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed.
On the NT more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and will always differ.
His aim has been in all such cases to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided.
He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of notes, with pointing out omissions, with occasionally suggesting a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages.
Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary [on each book] should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the series."
- Deanery, Peterborough, 1880."
It is obvious that the Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools, (1889) like the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, by the same editors, was from the start to be a wild mix of every theory and notion circulating, intended to expose vulnerable young minds to the fads of recent scholarship.
Looking backward, most of the editors were hardly qualified for the task, and their mediocre works were soon forgotten. Only a few names are occasionally referenced today, such as A.B. Davidson, and H. C.G. Moule (who wrote Hebrew and Greek grammars respectively).
Plummer became known because he happened to land the job of commenting on John's Gospel and Epistles, always popular and important NT books. His work was recycled for the later ICC commentary.
Just as remarkable as the charter regarding the commentaries, was the method that was chosen to provide the Greek text to accompany them:
It follows that the opinion of two colluding critics, Tregelles and Tischendorf, will take precedence over the Traditional text and the vast majority of manuscripts, versions, and early Christian writers (ECW), in all cases, and where the two critics differ, a third critic Lachmann will be brought in to outvote the Traditional text in any case. Its a lose-lose situation with a crude, stacked voting system. The NT text will be decided by three favoured critics, of the Lachmann school, with all others, equally expert, such as Hug, Griesbach, Scholz, Scrivener, Burgon, Bloomfield, Wordsworth, Canon Cook, Whitney, Vincent, Godet, Baljon, even Alford, being carefully avoided. The vote is further prejudiced by altering Tregelles' more cautious choices to conform to Codex Aleph, the most abberant text of the Gospels known. the result again stacks the deck further toward the Aleph/B (Alexandrian) text-type."..the Syndics of the Cambridge U. Press have not thought it desirable to reprint the text in common use [Stephen's text (TR) as published by Scrivener].To have done so would have set aside all the materials that have since been accumulated towards the formation of a correct text, and to disregard the results of textual criticism...On the other hand the Syndics were unable to adopt one of the more recent critical texts [copyright?], and they were not disposed to make themselves responsible for the preparation of an entirely new and independent text [no one with the necessary skills on hand, or a budget]:At the same time it would have been obviously impossible to leave it to the judgement of each individual contributor to frame his own text, as this would have been fatal to anything like uniformity or consistency. [what a startling admission!]They believed however that a good text might be constructed by simply taking the consent of the two most recent critical editions, those of Tischendorf and Tregelles, as a basis. ...allowing a determining voice to Stephen's text where the two critical editions were at variance and it agreed with either, and to a third critical text, that of Lachmann, where the three disagreed. In this manner peculiar readings [lone decisions] would be passed over...while readings having double authority [two critics] would [possess] confidence. ...in all other cases, Scrivener's edition of Stephens has been followed. [So in Acts, Epistles, Rev.]In the Gospels, a single modification has been rendered necessary by the importance of the Sinai MS (א) [Aleph], discovered too late to be used by Tregelles, except for [John 21 & forward].Accordingly, if a reading in Tregelles' margin agrees with Aleph, it is given the same authority as his text [i.e., it is assumed that Tregelles would have switched!], and bracketed words omitted by Aleph are treated as rejected.The spelling and accents and Iota subscripts and composite forms of Tischendorf are adopted. The punctuation of Tischendorf's 8th edition is usually adopted, except as mentioned in the notes. Paragraphs correspond to the [Revised Version]. The commentator is free to express other preferences.It is hoped the text formed will fairly represent the results of modern criticism, and will at least be ...preferable to the Received Text, for use in schools."- J.J. Stewart Perowne, 1881.
The method certainly delivers a text substantially like Westcott/Hort (without the copyright problems) and is more or less true to its claim: "the text formed will fairly represent the results of [one school at least of] modern criticism".
But as a method it must be judged crude, unscientific, and heavily biased to favor the opinions and agenda of the Cambridge "Syndics", and not the needs of honest scholarship.
(to be continued)