EVALUATING THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS

A Study by
GARY RAY BRANSCOME



    Although all of our great Reformation Bibles were translated from the Greek text that is known today as the “Textus Receptus,” in recent years that text has fallen out of favor with many in the field of textual research. The purpose of this essay is to examine some of the assumptions that led to that change.

TEXT TYPES


    On reason for the change has to do with the classification of New Testament manuscripts into “text types”. In this case the problem is not with the classification itself, but with the fact that the “text types” are treated as equal, when the evidence does not warrant such treatment. For example, if all manuscripts were evaluated independently, we would find that, even though there are a few oddball manuscripts, the great majority of all manuscripts are in agreement. However, by classifying the few oddball manuscripts as one “text type,” while classifying the great majority of all manuscripts as another text type, the oddball manuscripts wind up being treated as if their testimony carried just as much weight as all of the rest of the manuscripts.  

    Because of this classification, New Testament manuscripts are now grouped into three primary types Byzantine, Alexandrian, and Western.
The Byzantine text is the text that was in continual use by the Greek Orthodox Church, from the fourth century (or earlier) to the end of the nineteenth century. Most of the manuscripts are Byzantine, and there is very little variation between them. Although the Textus Receptus contains a few peculiar readings that can be traced to the Latin, it is essentially a Byzantine text.
    In contrast, the Alexandrian text consists of a few manuscripts that omit a number of words and phrases found in the Byzantine text. However, because the two primary representatives of the Alexandrian text (Aleph and “B”) differ from each other in more than three thousand places, we are justified in asking if the Alexandrian text actually constitutes a valid “text type”.
    Finally, the Western text consists of a few manuscripts that include words and phrases not found in Byzantine or Alexandrian texts. While it is generally agreed, that the words and phrases peculiar to the Western text are not representative of the original, some of the least esteemed “Western” manuscripts omit words and phrases that are also omitted by Alexandrian manuscripts.

    To put it briefly, far from representing distinct categories, these “text types” consist of the Byzantine text and a grouping of other texts on the basis of how they differ from it. However, there are also a number of manuscripts (some very old) that do not consistently follow the readings of any one “text type”.
 

A CRITICAL EXAMINATION


    Through the influence of Count Tischendorf, B.F. Westcott, F.J.A. Hort, and others the Alexandrian text now enjoys wide acceptance. However, that acceptance rests on a number of highly questionable assumptions.

    For example: In the absence of early Byzantine manuscripts, it was simply assumed that the longer Byzantine readings were inserted into the text at a later date. Nevertheless, that assumption flies in the face of the evidence, for less than ten percent of those “longer Byzantine readings” can actually be characterized as late. However, whenever one of the early Christian writers quotes a Byzantine reading, advocates of the Alexandrian text simply assume (without evidence) that the writer added words to the text, and that some scribe later added those words to the Bible. Nevertheless, since there is not one concrete example of that ever happening, that assumption is mythology, not science.

    Another myth consists of the claim that once those “longer readings” had been added to various Bible manuscripts, those manuscripts were gathered together and edited to produce the Byzantine text. Not only is there not one scrap of evidence that such editing ever took place, but difficulties in travel and communication would have made such a project impossible to carry out without being noticed by history. Not only did the members of one eastern congregation nearly riot when a reader replaced the word “gourd” (in the story of Jonah) with “fig tree,” but we have a record of that controversy, and any attempt to edit the Bible would have generated far more controversy.

    A third assumption claims that addition to the text was more likely to take place than omission. However, that claim assumes that copyists had no qualms about adding to the text, and that is simply not true. The same scribes that were trained to avoid omission were also trained to avoid addition. Furthermore, it is anti-intellectual to assert that the longer readings were added to the Byzantine text, when that is simply assumed to be true without any concrete evidence.

A LOOK AT THE RECEPTUS


    Although the name “Textus Receptus” was not coined until the middle of the seventeenth century, that name came to represent the Greek text used by Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and other Reformation-era translators. That text is essentially a Byzantine text, even though there are a few places where it differs from other Byzantine manuscripts.

    One widely publicized difference stems from the fact that when Erasmus published his first edition of the Greek New Testament (1516), he wound up translating the last six verses of Revelation into Greek, because none of his Greek manuscripts contained those verses. Nevertheless, because subsequent editions of the Receptus corrected that mistake, those who talk about it as if it were a distinctive characteristic of the Textus Receptus are not being honest.

    Another reading peculiar to Receptus consists of the words, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”(Acts 9:6). Although those words do not appear in most Greek texts, because Paul’s question is repeated in Acts 22:10, we know that Paul actually asked it, and that God wanted it in the Bible. Furthermore, the fact that the phrase in question was included in the Latin Bible implies that that some Greek manuscript contained it. Therefore, without knowing the facts it would be wrong for us to simply assume that those words were not in the original, or remove them from the Bible.

    A third reading peculiar to the Receptus consists of the words, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth” (1John 5:7-8). While that statement, (known as the “Comma Johanneum”) is found in only four Byzantine manuscripts, it is included in Old Latin Bible manuscripts dating back to the fifth century, and in Vulgate manuscripts dating back to the eighth century. It was also quoted by Cyprian in the third century (200-258AD), for he said, “The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are one,’ and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘and these three are one’” (The Treatises of Cyprian 1:1:6). Furthermore, without those words the gender endings of the Greek words in the surrounding verses do not match. Therefore, even though the manuscript support for this reading is weak, the evidence against it is far from conclusive.

    Those who assume that science can answer every question about manuscripts need to wake up to the fact that God’s ways are not man’s ways, and that God often does things in a way that seems strange to our finite way of thinking (Romans 11:33). For example: To us, it might seem foolish think that any words spoken by unbelieving Caiaphas were prophesy. Yet the Bible tells us that Caiaphas “prophesied,” even though he had murder in his heart, simply because what He said about Jesus, “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” happened to express a truth of God's Word (John 11:49-51, Revelation 19:10).

    During the 1970s Professor Blume of Northwestern Lutheran Seminary was asked to speak at a Pastor’s conference held at Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church in Cincinnati. A tape recording was made of that talk, and the following quotation was taken from that recording. 

“This matter of feeling that the great letter uncils… that these are the oldest and best, this is a fiction, they aren’t, they aren’t the oldest. Today we can go at least two hundred behind the oldest of them. We’ve found other manuscripts, in the main they agree, but these others aren’t the oldest. And especially in the so-called missionary translations, the old Latin (now this is the Latin before Jerome and his Vulgate), and the old Syriac (the Syriac before the year four-hundred), and the Coptic (the Egyptian language of about that same time) which goes back to much earlier texts. Here we have readings that time and again are different from the great letter Uncils, but agree with what the Textus Receptus has. You see what I am saying.

 So now its been the habit to say when the Textus Receptus reads the same as these older texts do… When the great letter Uncils go one way, but the Textus Receptus and maybe one of the old versions or some of the Papri stand opposed to them, then we can say in this case though it is not like the big letter Uncils the Byzantine text has most probably preserved the original apostolic work. So I in my teaching and in my writing make strong allowances for that. I will very often disagree with the way Nestle or the United Bible Society text prints and reads the rext. And I will say that there is apparently no reason why we should depart from the old received text. That’s saying something entirely different from saying the old Received Text is the Divinely inspired on. It is the historicly correct one. That’s what I say.”

CONCLUSION

     Because the Textus Receptus is the text that God chose to use when He restored the gospel to His church at the time of the Reformation, I see the current attempt to discredit it as part of much larger attack on the credibility of the Bible. What I have said should give you some idea as to why I still have a high regard for the Textus Receptus, and why I see no reason to replace it.