Franz Knittel (1721-1792): 18th C. Foundation for Textual Critical Work – Objections and Difficulties

Franz Anton Knittel (1721-1792), German Protestant theologian and paleographer[1] in his 263-page volume entitled, New Criticisms on the Celebrated Text, 1 John 5:7 begins his discussion aware of impending attacks upon his research. He begins with “a remark of great importance” and proceeds to make a distinction between Historical Critical difficulties and Historical Critical objections. Knittel writes,

It may readily be supposed, that scarcely any one of these Propositions has been unassailed. I shall therefore now adduce what has been urged against most of them in its fullest force; and, where illusions have been generated, endeavor to radiate upon them the pure light of Truth.

But I have one remark to make—a remark of great importance; which neither we, nor our antagonists, nor he that listens to us, can dispense with ; unless we all wish to mistake what is the truth. My remark is this : —

In Historical Criticism, we must never confound difficulties with objections: for they differ much, both in nature and in power. The former are concerned with relative, the latter with absolute, incomprehensibility: or, more plainly—He that raises an historical objection, alleges a fact which directly contravenes what we assert, or renders our assertion absolutely impossible. For example: Whoever impugns the proposition, “Moses wrote everything which is found in his Five Books,” by asserting, “No one can write after he is dead; therefore Moses never wrote what is found in Deut. xxxiv. 5, 6, 7: therefore the fact asserted, viz. that everything which we read in the books of Moses was written by his own hand, is impossible;”—whoever, I say, impugns the fore going proposition in this manner, raises an objection.

Objections, therefore, are what the calculators of probabilities call Argumenta necessario indicantia:[2] consequently, there are two kinds of objections. The first, when the existence of the fact on which the contradiction rests is indubitable, and absolutely certain. The example just alleged belongs to objections of this first kind. These therefore are incontrovertible; and completely demolish the positions against which they are levelled. The second sort of objections is, when the existence of the fact on which the contradiction rests, is not absolutely certain, but presumptive. For instance: If this proposition, “In the 2d century after the birth of Christ, the autographs of the Apostolic writings were no longer ex tant,” be impugned thus ; viz. “If some Christians in the time of Ignatius appealed to the Apostolic Originals, these originals must still have been extant in the 2d century;”— whoever, I say, impugns the proposition thus, raises an objection of the second class; for the testimony of Ignatius[3] to the existence of the fact on which the contradiction rests, (I mean, that “Christians appealed to the Apostolic Originals of the Apostles,”) is not absolutely certain, but only presumptive. Therefore, objections of the second class may be refuted; and we may maintain our assertion against them.

We now come to Difficulties.—He that creates difficulties, draws such inferences from a fact as tend not to make what we assert impossible, but its contrary, to a certain extent, more possible, that is, more presumptive.

[The following paragraph speaks to the unquantifiability of the transmission process being quantified by “any ancient Greek Manuscript” for two reasons: 1. MSS not yet discovered; and 2. The ancient MSS that have perished.[4] Knittel is arguing that the possibility of his conclusions makes the case against a reading presumptive. Knittel also seems to intimate that in 1785 some considered that all the extant MSS had been discovered, a lesson for the 2022 critic to consider.]

“For example: Supposing the testimony of the Ancient Fathers, that the clause 1 John V. 7. was formerly extant in the New Testament, be thus impeached: No such clause has hitherto been found in any ancient Greek Manuscript;—such an impeachment is no objection, but a mere difficulty. For, as it is possible that all the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament have not yet been discovered; as it is possible that the Manuscripts in which the Fathers read it have perished; so the observation just made does not render what the Fathers say impossible: though the contrary proposition, viz. “that hitherto the clause has not been found in any ancient Manuscript,” gains presumptively, to a certain extent; that is, in case our assertion, “that the Fathers actually found the clause in their New Testament,” cannot be perfectly ascertained.

Difficulties, therefore, are what the Ars Conjectandi (or Doctrine of Probabilities) designates Argumenta contingenter indicantia.[5] Consequently there are two kinds of difficulties. First, When the existence of the fact which elicits the difficulty is absolutely certain.[6] The example given, is of this kind.

The second kind of difficulties is, When the existence of the fact which elicits the difficulty is not absolutely certain, but merely presumptive. For instance: If the position, “Matthew wrote his Gospel in Greek,” be controverted thus: Eusebius writes, “It is reported that Pantaenus left the Gospel of St. Matthew, in the Hebrew language, with the Indians: “thence it is evident this Gospel was written by Matthew, not in Greek, but in Hebrew.” Now, this argument consists of a difficulty, and that of the second kind: for, in the first place, the very quality of the fact here laid as its basis is doubtful: consequently, the presumptiveness or calculative value of the analogical inference (the contingenter indicans) = 1/2: for the Gospel left by Pantaenus may have been that written by Matthew; but it may also have been a Translation, made from the Greek Gospel of this Apostle, by another hand. Secondly, Eusebius also does not state the existence of this fact as certain. His words are, “It is reported.”

Consequently, in difficulties of the second class, two calculations (viz. one which bears the analogical inference; another, on which the existence of the fact is based) must be multiplied into each other, if we would determine the total probability of the surmise to be engendered thereby.

And now a few remarks—which I feel to be important—on Historical and Critical Difficulties: I say, on Historical and Critical Difficulties, on which many a fashionable Critic of our day builds his entire triumph, when he impugns ancient truths which he dislikes, and tries to say something new, in order to be stared at ; — on Historical and Critical Difficulties, by which our lovers of innovation are so rapidly seduced from the straight path of Truth, into the romantic by-ways of Imagination.

[Knittel remarks that the critic “impugns ancient truths which he dislikes, and tries to say something new, in order to be stared at,” indicative of the lengths a man’s pride, superbia, will take him. Written in 1785, 100 years before Westcott and Hort’s 1881 New Testament, Knittel knew that the Received Text and specifically 1 John 5:7 was being attacked in earnest by critics and responded accordingly. Scripture is the self-authenticating, self-attesting and self-interpreting word of God. Knittel’s appeal to “the straight path of Truth” confirms the principium (John 1:1).]

Francis Antony Knittel, New Criticisms on the Celebrated Text, 1 John 5:7, translated by William Alleyn Evanson (London: C. and J. Rivington, St. Paul’s Church-yard, J Hatchard and Son, Piccadilly, 1829, 1785), 10-14.

            [1] Paleography: The study and scholarly interpretation of earlier, especially ancient, writing and forms of writing.

            [2] Jacobi Bernoulli, Artis Conjectandi, Pars IV. cap.III. Argumenta necessario indicantia – necessary proofs.

            [3] Michaelis’s Introduction to the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, Vol. I. § 37. pp. 243, ‘244.

            [4] For the absence of early witnesses see the Translators Preface, xxvii, “being either destroyed in the great conflagration of the Escurial 1671, or disposed of by some ignorant or dishonest Librarian, or concealed in the Library at Alcala, or possibly in the Vatican at Rome, under the apprehension of their proving unfavorable to the authority of the Vulgate.”

            [5] Bernoulli in loc. cit. Argumenta contingenter indicantia – contingent proofs.

            [6] The fact in the present case is this: “No very ancient Greek Manuscript, which we have yet discovered, reads John V. 7.” This fact is certain.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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