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Scrivener's Abomination Part II

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

This post continues with an excerpt from an upcoming book. It will continue to look at the history of text of the King James Bible.

Up until 1873 both Cambridge and Oxford were printing identical texts. If there were differences, they existed only through typographical error, not by editorial design. Today there are differences between a Cambridge printed bible and an Oxford printed bible. Even Oxford and Cambridge don’t know that since they are under the illusion that the Cambridge Concord Edition meant they had printed an identical bible to Oxford’s. To better understand that statement it is necessary to know what the differences are. Fortunately, there is an available list of variations that exist in the predominant texts. The best resource I know of for listing the various errata or small differences that exist in various editions of the King James Bible is the list compiled by Matthew Verschuur[1] and is available on his website. By studying that list it is possible to see that a Cambridge Bible printed today has about 260 minor textual differences than an Oxford King James Bible printed today. They also differ significantly in that Cambridge prints the subscripts found at the end of the various Pauline Epistles and Oxford separates the Psalms into books. I asked David Norton, Cambridge printer’s handpicked historian and editor of the new Cambridge Paragraph Bible about the differences between the Oxford and Cambridge texts and he was basically unaware of them. Most aficionados of the King James Bible are keenly aware of the differences and it is a frequent subject for conversation and debate. In Email correspondence David Norton said this, “There is also a question as to just what you meant by the Cambridge text. I took their Concord edition as their standard, following their lead, and don’t recall finding much if any differences from the current Oxford text.”[2]

David Norton is a successful professor, historian and editor and any time he took to correspond with me needs to be viewed as gracious beyond just customary good manners. I quote his correspondence to illustrate how utterly out of touch the Cambridge printers are. Norton published a book chronicling his study of the various past versions of the King James Bible and his own editing work which is now the principal King James Bible published by Cambridge. That book, A Textual History of the King James Bible, Cambridge University Press, 2005, is a tantalizing look into the history of the actual text of the King James Bible and it gives some insight to the editing process over the years. The book quickly morphs into an infomercial for the New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. While reading the book I couldn’t help marveling over the history it contained and its utter ignorance of the current state of the King James Bible such as the fact that Cambridge’s text differed from Oxford’s. I am reminded of an historian who sketches an accurate and fascinating history of a city or town giving the residents a fuller picture of their town, but is wholly ignorant as to the present state of the town. He knows the town as history, probably has visited there, but obviously doesn’t dwell there. We will see how Cambridge’s ignorance of their text and their lack of understanding to the final editing work has harmed their product.

During WWI Cambridge University melted their plates for munitions. [3] Much of what had been the printing plates of the Blaney Bible and the Scrivener Paragraph Bible became bullets and shrapnel in German bodies. After the war, Cambridge retooled. It is during this time frame that A.W. Pollard became involved with the Cambridge printers. It is to Pollard that we must look for the second to last great editing work. I know of no written record to state that A.W. Pollard edited the post WWI Cambridge Bible, but it is to Pollard we must look to find how Scrivener’s over exuberance in editing the bible was corrected.

Pollard had already begun to make a name for himself through his editing of secular manuscripts. Pollard came to scholastic attention when in 1903 and 1904 the Modern Language Quarterly praised his work on Chaucer’s Prologue and Knight’s tale.[4] He also had extensive experience in editing Shakespeare’s portfolio.[5] Pollard belonged to an exceptionally skilled and persnickety class of editors who had already made waves by their precise and unfailing work and by their lack of fear in criticizing the work of those living men who went before them[6]. Pollard was considered the most respected figure in the bibliographical world at that time[7]. When Cambridge Printers decided to release their 1911 reprint of the 1611 Bible they turned to A.W. Pollard to write an introduction. Pollard found that there was no single source for reading all of the historical documents. He set his unfailing work ethic and his scholarship to compiling all of the original documentation into one book called, Records of the English Bible[8]. It is in this book that we find the nugget necessary to understand how the gap between Scrivener’s 1873 Paragraph Bible and the post WWI Cambridge Bible was bridged.

It was Pollard who caught Scrivener making too many edits. Pollard wrote; “A more serious error was committed by the distinguished scholar, Dr. F.H.A. Scrivener, who in 1884 in his book entitled The Authorised Edition of the English Bible (1611): its subsequent reprints and modern representatives (an enlargement of his Introduction to the Cambridge Paragraph Bible of 1873) argued strenuously, but in entire ignorance of the customs of the book trade in the seventeenth century.”[9] Scrivener was under the mistaken assumption that as Barker reprinted the 1611 bible in subsequent years that each subsequent reprint would be cleaner and more pure than the next.[10] Accordingly Scrivener replaced words in the Cambridge Bible with Barker’s and others’ errors in his mistaken assumption that the King James Bible got better with each printing. It did not, it got worse with each of Barker’s printings. As the type was torn down and reset for various folios and editions, the work generally got sloppier. It took conscious work by editors to restore the AV 1611 to its purity, not conscientious work by printers. Scrivener haply took each new edition as evidence of more pure texts. They were anything but that. It is Pollard who discovered and documented this error and it is to Pollard that we must look when we compare the post WWI Cambridge text with the 1873 Cambridge Paragraph Bible and wonder who restored so many readings, and who kept the other Scrivener edits. It is this work by Pollard that has slipped into historical oblivion.

There remains a one more colossal blunder by Scrivener that is much less easy to forgive and one which left the minute seed which eventually blossomed into Cambridge’s ultimate rejection of their own text. Scrivener had become enthralled with the revision work being done to the English Bible and he had bought into the concept that I John 5:7 was a spurious text. I John 5:7 appears in the pre Jerome Latin versions of the Bible. Tatian quoted it in the year 180 AD. The 2nd century Syrian texts and the 3rd century Coptic texts quote it. Yet as most students of manuscript evidence know, the 4th and 5th century Greek texts of Alexandria, Egypt in accordance with the Arian or Unitarian thinking of their time omit the verse. These manuscripts mesmerized Westcott and Hort and apparently snared Dr. Scrivener. In the 1873 Paragraph Bible he put I John 5:7 in italics. He knew that was not a restoration of the 1611 text but it suited his private fancies. In essence, it was invisible to him. He placed it in the text of his bible but with apparent revulsion. By placing it in italics he could signal his buddies on the RV committee that he was modern and enlightened. That led to another error. To understand that error it will be necessary for us to spend some time familiarizing ourselves with Jesus as the Son of God and how to know whether an “S” should be capitalized or left in the lower case.

The great theme of the fifth chapter of I John is contained in verse 5 when it says, Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? We are speaking here of the incarnation of God. Had Jesus Christ been born in Allegany County, New York where I presently dwell there would have immediately been a paternity test. Search as they might, the good people at social services would never have found the Father through a DNA search of any data base on earth. The mother’s DNA would have proved her to be from the line of David. So here would be a child who came not by water only, but by water and blood. He came not just as the pure water of the word as predicted, but he also came from the water sack in Mary’s womb and just like all births there was blood. I am a Christian. I believe that Mary was a virgin and that the only father that will ever be found for Jesus Christ is the Father in heaven. I believe this inwardly. My belief is miraculous. It is a belief wrought by the Spirit of God. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

When Peter was asked by Jesus Christ, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answered; Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, Matt 16:15, 16. Jesus didn’t tell him that he had made a good deduction or commend him on his reasoning skills. Instead he said; Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven, Vs.17. We will find from I John 5 that there is a threefold witness to Jesus being the Son of God and the first of them is an inward witness by the Spirit of God. This is he that came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth, vs. 6. The first great witness to Jesus being the Son of God is the Spirit of truth and that witness takes place inside of the true believer. It is not an outward witness visible to all men. It is a private internal witness that transforms anyone who has it.

This brings up the first rule of capitalization. When the word spirit is in reference to God’s Spirit doing a transforming work of grace on the inside of a believer it always capitalized. This will apply whether we are talking about the Spirit of Jesus Christ, Phil 1:19; the Spirit of your Father, Matt: 10:20; the Spirit of adoption, Rom 8:15; or the Spirit of grace, Heb. 10:29. The first great work of grace done in a believer’s heart is for the Spirit to bear personal witness in that believer’s heart that Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, the Spirit of I John 5:6 is a capitalized Spirit.


[2] Email Correspondence between Dr. David Norton and John Asquith 9/27/2008

[3] 300 Years, 15,16

[4] McKitterick, David A History of Cambridge University Press Volume Three New Worlds for Learning 1873-1972, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 2004 160.

[5] Ibid. 215

[6] Ibid. 160

[7]Ibid. 206

[8] This book published in 1911 has passed into the common domain and can be obtained easily through reprints.

[9] Pollard, 71

[10] Pollard, Alfred W. Records of the English Bible, 1911 pages 71-72

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