EVALUATING THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS
A Study by
GARY RAY BRANSCOME
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
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”.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.”
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