The Western Non-Interpolations

Contents: Introduction * The Major Western Non-Interpolations * Other Possible Western Non-Interpolations * Outside the Gospels


The textual theory of Westcott and Hort recognized four text-types -- the Neutral, the Alexandrian (these two really being different phases of the same type, and now generally called "Alexandrian"), the Syrian (what we call the Byzantine), and the Western.

When they compares these types, they concluded that the Alexandrian is restrained, the "Western" is marked by extensive paraphrase and expansion, and the Byzantine is a smooth combination of the two.

It is a good rule of criticism that, when manuscripts go against their tendencies, the significance of this reading is increased. (Hence the canon of criticism "That reading is best which goes against the habitual practice of particular manuscripts.") So, for instance, when the "Western" text preserves a short reading, that reading is more likely to be original than when it preserves a longer reading. This is the basis on which Hort isolated the "Western Non-interpolations."

If Hort's theory is to be believed, the "Western Non-interpolations" are in fact places in which readings have been interpolated into the Neutral text (and usually the Byzantine text as well). Although Hort usually rejects "Western" readings, in this case he regards them as original, placing the common reading of the Neutral text in double brackets, [[ ]]. The non-interpolations are described in §240-242 of Hort's Introduction [and] Appendix.

The "Western Non-interpolations" actually fall into two classes. The first are the full-fledged non-interpolations, of which there are nine (all placed in double brackets by Hort). All of these are supported by Dea (Codex Bezae) and the Old Latins, and in all cases Hort regards the words as "superfluous, and in some cases intrinsically suspicious" (§240). The second class consists of readings which, due either to shifts in the manuscript evidence or to differences in the way he assesses them, Hort regards as doubtful enough to place in brackets but not to reject as clearly spurious.

The force of Hort's argument was so strong that for three-quarters of a century most editions and translations (including the Revised Standard Version and the New English Bible) omitted these nine passages. Then 𝔓75 was found (which included all the "non-interpolations" for which it was extant). Such was the respect for this manuscript that the passages began to re-assert their place in the editions -- notably in UBS/GNT and its follower the New Revised Standard Version. E. C. Colwell, however, in "Hort Redivivus: A Plea and a Program," offers this assessment of the case:

[Aland] reverses Westcott and Hort on the Western non-interpolations because 𝔓75 disagrees with them in agreeing with Codex Vaticanus. But there is nothing in that agreement that is novel to Hort's theory. Hort did not possess 𝔓75, but he imagined it. He insisted that there was a very early ancestor of his Neutral text, that the common ancestor of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus was a remote ancestor, not a close ancestor. 𝔓75 validates Hort's reconstruction of the history, but 𝔓75 does not add a new argument for or against that theory.

To put it another way, 𝔓75 -- despite its age -- is just another Alexandrian witness. Its existence does not alter the case that the "Western Non-interpolations" are just that. They are still present in the Alexandrian text and missing in the "Western." The student may well feel that they belong in the text, but the existence of 𝔓75 should not sway this decision.

A good case could be made that Hort's list is not really a unity -- some of the non-interpolations are so short that they could be accidental omissions, others seem as if they are more deliberate. So they perhaps deserve individual assessment,

The list below gives the nine full-fledged Non-interpolations; this is followed by a list of some of the more questionable interpolations. In each case the support for the shorter reading is listed. It is noteworthy that eight of the nine Non-interpolations are in Luke (and the remaining one is not a true example of the form). If the Non-interpolations are not accepted as original, their presence should offer strong evidence for the theory that D is an edited text -- at least in Luke.

The Major Western Non-Interpolations

Other Possible Non-Interpolations

The following readings are omitted in certain authorities (especially the Latins) which may be considered "Western," and are placed in single brackets by Westcott & Hort as possible "Western Non-interpolations." As above, the support for the shorter reading is listed, as are lacunae in certain of the major "Western" witnesses (D, the Old Syriac, a b e k and sometimes others of the Latins; recall that k contains Matthew and Mark only, so it is not mentioned for Luke or John).

Outside the Gospels

Westcott and Hort did not extend the concept of the "Non-interpolations" outside the Gospels. Such caution was probably justified in the case of Acts, where the text of Codex Bezae is extraordinarily wild (though it might have been worth looking at the Old Latins). But the "Western" text of Paul (as represented by D F G Old Latin with some support from 629 Vulgate) is much more restrained. The possibility of such "non-interpolations" must be conceded. A few candidates are listed below (this list is not comprehensive, and includes weak as well as strong candidates. Most of these deserve to be rejected, although at least two have very strong cases. The others I leave for the reader to judge). I have listed only readings which are at least two Greek words long and where the shorter reading does not have support from the major uncial witnesses 𝔓46 ℵ A B C or from the Byzantine text. If B is omitted from that list, we find a few other candidates, e.g. Rom. 5:2, Eph. 6:1).

In the Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse, there is the problem that there are no Greek witnesses to the "Western" type, so any "non-interpolations" must be sought among the Old Latins -- or even, for some books, among the Fathers. Are there any candidates?

In compiling this list, I have ignored patristic readings, since I don't trust omissions in that context. I have required a reading to be at least two words long and to significantly alter meaning (an exception: 1 John 5:17 is just one word long, but it definitely alters the meaning!). I generally haven't paid much attention to omission of conjunctions.

Note that many of these are omitted by the vulgate rather than a pure Old Latin, and many have support from witnesses other than the Latins; it's just that the longer reading is found in most of the Alexandrian witnesses. Few of them strike me as particularly convincing, and the handful that are most important are often the ones that are supported only by a few Vulgate witnesses or that are most likely to be scribal errors. The only one that really tempts me, at least, is 1 Peter 4:11, which is well-supported by non-Western witnesses.