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Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745 – 1812), German biblical textual critic, was born at Butzbach, a small town in the state of Hesse-Darmstadt, where his father, Konrad Kaspar (1705–1777), was pastor. Griesbach’s fame rests upon his work in New Testament criticism, in which he inaugurated a new epoch. His solution to the synoptic problem bears his name, but the Griesbach hypothesis has been modernly referred to as the Two-Gospel hypothesis.
Education and Career
Griesbach was educated at Frankfurt, and at the universities of Tübingen, Leipzig, and Halle, where he became one of J. S. Semler’s most ardent disciples. It was Semler who induced him to turn his attention to the textual criticism of the New Testament. At the close of his undergraduate career, he undertook a literary tour through Germany, the Netherlands, France, and England. In England, he may have met Henry Owen whose seminal work Observations on the Four Gospels (1764) is listed among the books of Griesbach’s estate, although he does not seem to have acknowledged any indebtedness to Owen.
On his return to Halle, Griesbach acted for some time as Privatdozent, but in 1773 was appointed to a professorial chair; in 1775 he went to the University of Jena, where he spent the rest of his life (though he received calls to other universities).
New Testament Text Critic
Griesbach’s critical edition of the New Testament first appeared at Halle, in three volumes, in 1774-1775. The first volume contained the first three Gospels, synoptically arranged; the second, the Epistles and the book of Revelation. All the historical books were reprinted in one volume in 1777, the synoptical arrangement of the Gospels having been abandoned as inconvenient. Of the second edition, considerably enlarged and improved, the first volume appeared in 1796 and the second in 1806 (Halle and London). Of a third edition, edited by David Schulz, only the first volume, containing the four Gospels, appeared (1827).
For the construction of his critical text, Griesbach took as his basis the Elzevir edition. Where he differed from it he placed the Elzevir reading on the inner margin along with other readings he thought worthy of special consideration (these last, however, being printed in smaller type). To all the readings on this margin, he attached special marks indicating the precise degree of probability in his opinion attaching to each. In weighing these probabilities he proceeded upon a particular theory which in its leading features he had derived from J. A. Bengel and J. S. Semler, dividing all the manuscripts into three main groups – the Alexandrian, the Western and the Byzantine.
A reading supported by only one recension he considered as having only one witness in its favor; those readings which were supported by all the three recensions, or even by two of them, especially if these two were the Alexandrian and the Western, he unhesitatingly accepted as genuine. Only when each of the three recensions gives a different reading does he proceed to discuss the question on other grounds.
See his Symbolae criticae ad supplendas et corrigendas variarum N. T. lectionum collectiones (Halle, 1785, 1793), and his Commentarius criticus in textum Graecum N. T., which extends to the end of Mark and discusses the more important various readings with great care and thoroughness (Jena, 1794 if.).
Among the other works of Griesbach (which are comparatively unimportant) may be mentioned his university thesis De codicibus quatuor evangelislarum Origenianis (Halle, 1771) and a work upon systematic theology (Anleitung zur Kenntniss der populären Dogmatik, Jena, 1779). His Opuscula, consisting chiefly of university “Programs” and addresses, were edited by Gabler (2 vols, Jena, 1824).
In 1776 Griesbach published his Greek Gospel synopsis of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as a volume separate from his critical edition of the New Testament (cf. above), of which it had previously been a part, and thereby established the tool of a synopsis as an essential research aid in New Testament studies.
The Griesbach hypothesis is similar to the two-gospel hypothesis. However, unlike the two-gospel hypothesis, the Griesbach hypothesis is principally a literary hypothesis. What came to be labeled the Griesbach Hypothesis was already anticipated by the British scholar Henry Owen (1716–1795), in a piece he published in 1764, and by Friedrich Andreas Stroth (1750–1785) in an article he published anonymously in 1781. Johann Jakob Griesbach (January 4, 1745 – March 24, 1812), to whom this source hypothesis was first accredited, alluded to his conclusion that Matthew wrote the first of the canonical gospels and that Luke, not Mark, made first use of Matthew in composing the second of the canonical gospels in an address celebrating the Easter season at the University of Jena in 1783. Later, for similar Whitsun programs at Jena (1789–1790), Griesbach published a much more detailed “Demonstration that the Whole Gospel of Mark is Excerpted from the Narratives of Matthew & Luke.”
Griesbach’s theory was, therefore, one of direct literary dependence between and among the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark, or what German scholars came to call a “utilization hypothesis.” According to Griesbach, the historical order of the gospels was, first, Matthew; second Luke, making use of Matthew and other non-Matthaean tradition; and third, Mark, making use of both Matthew and Luke. In proposing this hypothesis, Griesbach maintained Matthaean priority, as had Augustine before him, along with every other scholar in the church prior to the late eighteenth century. Griesbach’s main support for his thesis lies in passages where Matthew and Luke agree over and against Mark (e.g. Matthew 26:68; Luke 22:64; Mark 14:65), the so-called Minor Agreements.
Johann Jakob Griesbach Bicentenary Colloquium 1776-1976
To mark the bicentenary of the publication of Griesbach’s Gospel synopsis as a separate volume, a group of distinguished international biblical scholars met in July 1976 at Münster/Westphalia for The Johann Jakob Griesbach Bicentenary Colloquium 1776-1976.
A selection of the papers presented at the colloquium appraising Griesbach’s life, work and influence, aimed “to indicate why an understanding of this scholar’s contribution to New Testament criticism is important both for the history of New Testament scholarship and for contemporary research”, together with the text in Latin and in English translation of The Dissertation of J. J. Griesbach, Doctor of Theology and Principal Professor in the University of Jena, in which he demonstrates that the entire Gospel of Mark has been extracted from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, written in the name of the University of Jena (1789–1790), now revised and furnished with many additions, are to be found in Bernard Orchard and Thomas R. W. Longstaff (ed.), J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies 1776-1976, Volume 34 in the SNTS Monograph Series (Cambridge University Press, hardback 1978, paperback 2005 ISBN 0-521-02055-7).
Griesbach’s Fifteen Rules of Textual Criticism
In the Introduction to his second edition of the Greek New Testament (Halle, 1796) Griesbach set forth the following list of critical rules, by which the intrinsic probabilities may be weighed for various readings of the manuscripts. Rules for the prior evaluation of documentary evidence, such as the ones formulated by Bengel, are implicit in Griesbach’s theory of the manuscript tradition, and so they are not taken up here. What follows is a translation of Griesbach’s Latin as it was reprinted by Alford in the Introduction to his Greek Testament (London, 1849. Moody reprint, page 81).
1. The shorter reading, if not wholly lacking the support of old and weighty witnesses, is to be preferred over the more verbose. For scribes were much more prone to add than to omit. They hardly ever leave out anything on purpose, but they added much. It is true indeed that some things fell out by accident; but likewise, not a few things, allowed in by the scribes through errors of the eye, ear, memory, imagination, and judgment, have been added to the text. The shorter reading, even if by the support of the witnesses it may be second best, is especially preferable– (a) if at the same time it is harder, more obscure, ambiguous, involves an ellipsis, reflects Hebrew idiom, or is ungrammatical; (b) if the same thing is read expressed with different phrases in different manuscripts; (c) if the order of words is inconsistent and unstable; (d) at the beginning of a section; (e) if the fuller reading gives the impression of incorporating a definition or interpretation, or verbally conforms to parallel passages, or seems to have come in from lectionaries.
But on the contrary we should set the fuller reading before the shorter (unless the latter is seen in many notable witnesses) — (a) if a “similarity of ending” might have provided an opportunity for an omission; (b) if that which was omitted could to the scribe have seemed obscure, harsh, superfluous, unusual, paradoxical, offensive to pious ears, erroneous, or opposed to parallel passages; (c) if that which is absent could be absent without harm to the sense or structure of the words, as for example prepositions which may be called incidental, especially brief ones, and so forth, the lack of which would not easily be noticed by a scribe in reading again what he had written; (d) if the shorter reading is by nature less characteristic of the style or outlook of the author; (e) if it wholly lacks sense; (f) if it is probable that it has crept in from parallel passages or from the lectionaries.
2. The more difficult and more obscure reading is preferable to that in which everything is so plain and free of problems that every scribe is easily able to understand it. Because of their obscurity and difficulty chiefly unlearned scribes were vexed by those readings– (a) the sense of which cannot be easily perceived without a thorough acquaintance with Greek idiom, Hebraisms, history, archeology, and so forth; (b) in which the thought is obstructed by various kinds of difficulties entering in, e.g., by reason of the diction, or the connection of the dependent members of a discourse being loose, or the sinews of an argument, being far extended from the beginning to the conclusion of its thesis, seeming to be cut.
3. The harsher reading is preferable to that which instead flows pleasantly and smoothly in style. A harsher reading is one that involves an ellipsis, reflects Hebrew idiom, is ungrammatical, repugnant to customary Greek usage, or offensive to the ears.
4. The more unusual reading is preferable to that which constitutes nothing unusual. Therefore, rare words, or those at least in meaning, rare usages, phrases, and verbal constructions less in use than the trite ones, should be preferred over the more common. Surely the scribes seized eagerly on the more customary instead of the more exquisite, and for the latter they were accustomed to substitute definitions and explanations (especially if such were already provided in the margin or in parallel passages).
5. Expressions less emphatic, unless the context and goal of the author demand emphasis, approach closer to the genuine text than discrepant readings in which there is, or appears to be, a greater vigor. For polished scribes, like commentators, love and seek out emphases.
6. The reading that, in comparison with others, produces a sense fitted to the support of piety (especially monastic) is suspect.
7. Preferable to others is the reading for which the meaning is apparently quite false, but which in fact, after a thorough examination, is discovered to be true.
8. Among many readings in one place, that reading is rightly considered suspect that manifestly gives the dogmas of the orthodox better than the others. When even today many unreasonable books, I would not say all, are scratched out by monks and other men devoted to the Catholic party, it is not credible that any convenient readings of the manuscripts from which everyone copied would be neglected which seemed either to confirm splendidly some Catholic dogma or forcefully to destroy a heresy. For we know that nearly all readings, even those manifestly false, were defended on the condition that they were agreeable to the orthodox, and then from the beginning of the third century these were tenaciously protected and diligently propagated, while other readings in the same place, which gave no protection to ecclesiastical dogmas, were rashly attributed to treacherous heretics.
9. With scribes there may be a tendency to repeat words and sentences in different places having identical terminations, either repeating what they had lately written or anticipating what was soon to be written, the eyes running ahead of the pen. Readings arising from such easily explained tricks of symmetry are of no value.
10. Others to be led into error by similar enticements are those scribes who, before they begin to write a sentence had already read the whole, or who while writing look with a flitting eye into the original set before them, and often wrongly take a syllable or word from the preceding or following writing, thus producing new readings. If it happens that two neighboring words begin with the same syllable or letter, an occurrence by no means rare, then it may be that the first is simply ommitted or the second is accidentally passed over, of which the former is especially likely. One can scarcely avoid mental errors such as these, any little book of few words to be copied giving trouble unless one applies the whole mind to the business, but few scribes seem to have done it. Readings therefore which have flowed from this source of errors, even though ancient and so afterward spread among very many manuscripts, are rightly rejected, especially if manuscripts otherwise related are found to be pure of these contagious blemishes.
11. Among many in the same place, that reading is preferable which falls midway between the others, that is, the one which in a manner of speaking holds together the threads so that, if this one is admitted as the primitive one, it easily appears on what account, or rather, by what descent of errors, all the other readings have sprung forth from it.
12. Readings may be rejected which appear to incorporate a definition or an interpretation, alterations of which kind the discriminating critical sense will detect with no trouble
13. Readings brought into the text from commentaries of the Fathers or ancient marginal annotations are to be rejected, when the great majority of critics explain them thus. (“He proceeds at some length to caution against the promiscuous assumption of such corruptions in the earlier codices and versions from such sources.” – Alford)
14. We reject readings appearing first in lectionaries, which were added most often to the beginning of the portions to be read in the church service, or sometimes at the end or even in the middle for the sake of contextual clarity, and which were to be added in a public reading of the series, [the portions of which were] so divided or transposed that, separated from that which precedes or follows, there seemed hardly enough for them to be rightly understood. (“Similar cautions are here added against assuming this too promiscuously.” – Alford)
15. Readings brought into the Greek manuscripts from the Latin versions are condemned. (“Cautions are here also inserted against the practice of the earlier critics, who if they found in the graeco-latin MSS. or even in those of high antiquity and value, a solitary reading agreeing with the Latin, hastily condemned that codex as latinizing.” – Alford)—Wikipedia
Johann Jakob Wettstein [1693-1754 A.D.]: Was a Swiss Theologian, Best Known as a New Testament Textual Scholar