Textual Criticism - Lesson 19

Erasmus and the Textus Receptus

The KJV has been rightfully called “the single greatest monument to the English language,” but this is more from a literary rather than a translation standpoint. This is because the Greek MSS behind the KJV text is far inferior to that of modern translations in terms of textual basis, late MSS dates, and a less than perfect process of creation.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 19
Watching Now
Erasmus and the Textus Receptus

Erasmus the the textua receptus


A. “The single greatest monument to the English language”

B. Why such accolades?

C. Two fundamental problems with the KJV

1. Translation is dated

2. Textual basis is inferior


A. Humanist, Catholic scholar, best Greek scholar

B. Historical background

1. Turks invaded Byzantium (1453)

2. Movable type (1454)

3. First printed NT (1516)

4. Complutensian Polyglot (1514, 1522)

C. Erasmus’s Greek New Testament

1. Five editions of the Greek NT

2. First edition: Novum Instrumentum, March 1, 1516

a) All were Greek-Latin diglots

b) Based on 7 mss, none earlier that 11th century

3. Revelation

a) Only had one Greek manuscript

b) Missing the last leaf (Revelation 22:16-21) and back-translated Latin into Greek

D. Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7b-8a)

1. Text

a) KJV. “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, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

b) Modern translations: “For there are three that testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement.”

2. History

a) First edition (1516): Trinitarian formula was not in the Erasmus’s text since he could find no Greek text with the formula

b) Second edition (1519) was the basis of Luther’s translation

c) Scribe working at Oxford seems to have “made to order” a complete NT manuscript including the Comma Johanneum

d) Third edition (1522): Erasmus included the Trinitarian formula under protest (corrected) because of ecclesiastical pressure and used by KJ translators

3. Trinitarian formula in other manuscripts

a) 9 late Greek manuscripts (4 in the text; 5 in the margins)

b) Oldest Greek ms with the Trinitarian formula is 10th century (in a later marginal note)

c) Oldest Greek ms with Trinitarian formula in the text is 14th century

4. Summary

a) Not found in any ancient versions except the Latin

b) Not mentioned in the early church councils that affirmed the Trinity

c) Early councils affirmed Trinity without 1 John 5:7

d) Earliest certain evidence: Late 4th century, in the writings of “Priscillian, the heretic”

e) Ehrman uses this passage to argue orthodox scribes changed the text and invented the Trinity

5. How did it get into the Latin Bible

a) Allegorical interpretation

b) Marginal reading in a Latin document, which ultimately made its way into Greek manuscripts


A. Editions

1. Erasmus (5 editions)

2. Stephanus (4 editions)

a) 1550 edition was the first to include textual variants

b) 1551 edition introduced verse references

3. Beza (11 editions); 1589 edition stood behind the KJV

B. Crtitique

1. Inferior textual basis

2. Essential doctrinal issues are not impacted

3. KJV added to the Word of God

Textus Receptus and the Doctrine of Preservation (Part 1)

Textus Receptus and the Doctrine of Preservation (Part 2)

Class Resources
  • Since the original autographs of the Bible no longer exist, the primary goal of Biblical Textual Criticism is to determine the exact wording of the original inspired text dispatched from the author with as much accuracy as possible. As a secondary goal, we desire to trace changes to the text and get a window into ancient Christianity.

  • Contrary to popular textual critics, the wrong way to record textual variants is to count each unique variant and multiply by the number of existing manuscripts, rendering millions of variants. On the contrary, the correct method is to count the same variant that occurs across all manuscripts as one variant, rendering not millions but hundreds of thousands of predominantly minor variants.

  • Compared to other ancient literature, the field of Biblical textual criticism possesses “an embarrassment of riches.” New Testament TC absolutely dwarfs the resources of other ancient literature, not only in number of manuscripts and the recent time in which they were produced, but also confirming quotations by extra-biblical writings.

  • The vast majority of NT Variants are minor, easily explained scribal errors that don’t affect the meaning of the text. Among 400,000 textual variants of the NT, over 99% make no difference to the meaning, and less than 1% are both meaningful and viable.

  • Recent attempts to change the goals of NTTC such that critics no longer seek to obtain the original autographs in favor of understanding a writer’s historical contexts undermine the original goal of NTTC. However, faithful textual critics must not subscribe to the notion of a “multivalence” of the original text, but instead pursue the primary goal: to get as close as possible to the original autographs.

  • The vast majority of all copies of the New Testament were probably recorded on scrolls, but copied in codex format. This may lend to the theory that Christians used cutting-edge, easier-to-use media technologies to further the word-based faith.

  • Various materials were used in creating NT manuscripts. Wallace discusses papyrus, parchments, and paper, each with advantages and disadvantages for transmitting the text faithfully.

  • There are three fundamental issues that significantly affect the transmission of the NT Text: early copies and causes of corruption, the role of canon in shaping the text, and the emergence of localized text forms.

  • Because of the radical nature of Christianity, it took some time for OT-based Jews to accept the NT as canonical. But over time, coinciding with the progressive development of a certain “canon-consciousness,” scribes were compelled to modify texts in various ways, not for malicious reasons, but in efforts to clarify, preserve, and revere the sacred scriptures.

  • Although questioned by some critics, most TCs acknowledge four major localized forms of the NT text: Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and (questionably) Caesarian. These “cross-pollinated” text families have arisen from diverse historical, cultural and socio-political factors, but all serve to strengthen, and not weaken the integrity of the NT text.

  • While it is undeniable that NT scribes made mistakes of various types in copying the inspired text, understanding the often simple reason for these mistakes renders much reward in understanding the sacred text. The fundamental principle of textual criticism is this: select the reading that best explains the rise of the other readings.

  • Contrary to popular belief, intentional scribal changes were not malicious in nature, but rather displayed pious intentions and a high view of scripture. Scribal corruptions for the most part, did not reflect a desire to obfuscate, but to clarify the scripture.

  • This lecture introduces papyri, critically important as the earliest witnesses of New Testament text. Papyri are some of the most important documents of NT MSS.

  • Since papyri are the earliest records of NT text (containing 50% of NT) they are critical in revealing the original text shape of the NT text. Even Codex Sinaticus and Vaticanus, the two most important NT MSS in the world, are confirmed by Papyri.

  • This lecture describes the most important new Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. These documents contain the full text of the NT written many times over, on parchment, written in all caps.

  • This lecture continues the discussion about the most important New Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. This lecture describes Codex Alexandrinus - A, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus - C, Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), and Codex Washingtonianus - W - 1906.

  • Since the field of TC is so small, obtaining resources are very expensive. However the internet is still a great place to conduct free TC research. In this lecture, major internet resources for studying NT manuscripts are compared and contrasted.

  • Founded 2002 by Daniel Wallace, the mission of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is to be a premiere resource in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament. This is facilitated through high-resolution digital photography of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.

  • The KJV has been rightfully called “the single greatest monument to the English language,” but this is more from a literary rather than a translation standpoint. This is because the Greek MSS behind the KJV text is far inferior to that of modern translations in terms of textual basis, late MSS dates, and a less than perfect process of creation.

  • The arguments used to position the Textus Receptus as the sole textual basis for the true word of God range from questionable to downright irrational. Proponents of this position rely on view of the so-called “doctrine of preservation,” which illegitimately uses certain Bible texts to argue its dubious claims.

  • This lecture describes the major problems of TR-only people, who subscribe to an unbiblical Doctrine of Preservation, which as defined, effectively emerges as a Marcionite view of the Bible. Wallace claims that while there is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation, God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient literature.

  • In this lecture, Daniel Wallace describes the discovery of Sinaiaticus, and its importance to the field of textual criticism. He recounts fascinating details about his visits to St. Catherine’s, the oldest Christian monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

  • This lecture summarizes the life of Constantine von Tischendorf [1815-1874], and his very important discovery of Codex Sinaiticus.

  • This lecture describes highlights of the history of NT TC since the TR. Describing the formation of the textus receptus, Wallace also characterizes major players in the process of arriving at the modern text.

  • This lecture describes Westcott and Hort, and how they dethroned the Textus Receptus by proving that the Textus Receptus was late, inferior, and secondary.

  • This lecture is 1 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism. Eclecticism is the process of compiling a text from multiple sources, while reasoned eclecticism consists of rectifying the differences and evaluating variants based on both their attestation and intrinsic merit.

  • This lecture is 2 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism.

  • This lecture illustrates the principles of reasoned eclecticism.

  • Was Jesus "moved with compassion" or "indignant" when he saw that his disciples could not heal the man with leprosy?

  • Why was the man waiting for so many years at the pool of Bethesda? Was there really an angel stirring up the waters and healing the first one in?

  • Do these two passages call Jesus “God”? Thankfully, the Bible affirms the divinity of Christ many other ways and in many other passages than these two.

  • This lecture presents some very technical arguments for why Daniel Wallace believes that the phrase “ουδεουιός” (nor the Son) is not an authentic part of Matthew 24:36.

  • This lesson teaches you to appreciate the rigorous historical research required in biblical studies and the importance of respecting dual authorship. It sharpens your understanding of external and internal textual evidence and their implications for a passage's authenticity.
  • The text of Mark 16:9-20 is most likely not part of the original inspired text of scripture, and v 8 is Mark's intended ending.

  • This lecture evaluates popular translations of the Bible in terms of their textual basis. The bottom line is that while all translations are interpretations, The Spirit of God has ensured that the truth of the scriptures can be found in any one of them, and reading widely among different versions is good to promote understanding about different concerns of TC.

  • As time progresses in the field of Textual Criticism, we continue to get razor-thin closer to the original manuscripts. The good news is that with all the known variants, no essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any viable variant, so we can have great confidence in the text of our Bibles to provide us all we need for life and godliness.

Dr. Daniel Wallace is one of the world's leading textual critics. His ministry, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) is currently the most prolific organization for discovering, photographing, and cataloging ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. In this class, he discusses the issues of textual variants, how ancient manuscripts were made, the types of errors that we can see in the manuscripts, the issue of the Textus Receptus and its role in the King James translation of the Bible, the historic work of Westcott and Hort, and ends with discussions of the most famous textual problems.

Dr. Wallace gives a three hour summary of this class in our Academy program. The first of the lectures is here.

Please visit Dr. Wallace's ministry, Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and support them financially. 

Thank you to our friends at Credo House for sharing this class with us. You can purchase their workbook or the DVDs for the class from them.



I. Methods of Doing NTTC

A. The Greek Text Behind the KJV: Part 1

So, we are going to talk about the Greek text behind the King James Version of the Bible. We will be dealing especially with Erasmus and Textus Receptus.

King James Bible: It has been called the single greatest monument to the English language. The King James Bible has shaped the English language more than any other single source and all other sources put together including Shakespeare. One scholar claimed that the supremacy of the KJV is one of style
not of scholarship. The men who made it didn’t set out to manufacture a literary classic as classics are seldom made to order. Yet, they did produce one, perhaps the only classic ever created by a committee. There were forty-seven scholars who had a wonderful sense of English Cadence. For their day, they were good scholars, but the translation ended up to be better for its style than its accuracy. One such linguist said that the King James Bible and Shakespeare together are responsible for well over half our language clichés and stock phrases. H.L. Minkins who was no friend of Christianity declared that the KJV was unquestionably the most beautiful book in the world. I would recommend that every English speaking Christian own a King James Bible. It is not something that we can neglect but you need another translation; one that is more accurate. It has rhythm, balance, dignity, and force of style that is
unparalleled in any other translation. There have been some that have attempted to do this. The ESV, for example, was meant to have such elegance. Then there is the NIV which is very good in readability but not good in elegance and perhaps a little too conversational. All translations try to accomplish different goals, of course. The King James acquired style and cadence and memorability. Even today, John 3:16 for example, is recited the way it reads in the King James Bible. This is because the cadence is easy to remember. But, there are problems with the King James Bible. First of all, the translation is dated, being over four hundred years old and secondly, the textual basis is inferior. So, even though we are giving our due to the King James Bible, and indeed we want to give it high praise; it is not a perfect translation. The translators themselves said that no translation is perfect and there was an expectation of continued improvement over the translation.

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus: Behind the Kings James is a man called Erasmus of Rotterdam. Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. He loved getting into ancient languages and ancient documents. He was a classical
scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style. He wrote a book called, The Freedom of the Will where Martin Luther responded by writing the Bondage of the Will. In reading these books, you see how 16th Reformation scholars and Catholic scholars loved to argue with one another. Not only was it brutal but
also entertaining. Erasmus was also the best Greek scholar in Western Europe in the 16th century and yet he didn’t even learn Greek until he was thirty-one years of age.

Byzantium: On May 29th 1453, the Tucks invaded Byzantium. They sieged the city for eleven months and finally they broke through the walls on Tuesday, May 29th . The largest church in the world was in Constantinople; it was called the Holy Wisdom and by Friday of that week, it was the largest mosque in
the world. More than a thousand years later, the infamous Suleiman said that we Muslims must build something that is bigger than this church. They then built the Blue Mosque just next to the church, but only a quarter the size. The Blue Mosque was a terrific architectural accomplishment. The Holy Wisdom
church has the largest dome in the world with hollow bricks in it so that it wouldn’t fall down. The scribes and monks that had been copying out ancient Greek texts fled into Western Europe with these manuscripts and because of that the Reformation was born and the Renaissance moved forward. The
next year, 1454, the movable type printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg. So two of the greatest events in western civilization history happened one year after another and this started with the Turkish invasion of Byzantium.

Erasmus’ Printed Greek Latin New Testament: Then on March 1st 1516 Erasmus’ New Testament was the first printed New Testament ever. There was another one printed before Erasmus’ New Testament in 1514 but it wasn’t published. It was printed by the Spanish in a monastery in Spain. They were waiting to get the churches’ approval for it to be published and they had to wait eight years before they got that permission. So there were eight hundred copies that were stored in a warehouse until that permission came. Erasmus knew about this and was rushing to get his Greek Latin New Testament finished. He took this through five additions. The first was known as the New Instrument, 1316. Every one of these editions was a Greek Latin Diglot. He never published the Greek New Testament without his Latin translation. He was essentially saying that his Latin translation was better than Gerome’s translation. Gerome did his Latin translation a thousand years earlier. His basis for putting this together was from seven Greek manuscripts, none of them earlier than the 11th century. This later became known as the Textus Receptus in 1633. Textus Receptus is Latin for the text that is received by all. This was actually an advertising blurb of a Greek New Testament based on Erasmus’ text by Bonaventure and his nephew Abraham Elzevir in 1633. This backward naming applied to Erasmus’ text. So today we have almost a thousand times more manuscripts than the seven he had used and some of these thousands reaches back more than a thousand years before the King James manuscripts. Erasmus confessed that his first edition was thrown together more than edited and it has been called the most poorly edited book ever published. Erasmus used whatever manuscripts he had available in Switzerland; all of which most likely came from Constantinople.

He marked two of the manuscripts up for the printer to print them. They weren’t viewed as priceless manuscripts back then. In fact, until fairly recently, scholars would typically mark up a manuscript when they examined them. When I examined the manuscript known as Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus;
Tischendorf is the person who had deciphered the text back in the 1840s and in the front of it, because it is a palimpsest where the leaves were out of order, he writes in a table of contents in ink on the manuscript. I have seen a number of manuscripts where notes were simply added on the manuscript
itself. Some of Erasmus’ text had peculiar readings because of using only those seven manuscripts. Sometimes, he had no Greek manuscripts to even translate from. One such incident was the last leaf of the Book of Revelation. Being in the race to get this first published text done, he had one manuscript for Revelation. It was a codex of course, and just as it is true for codices, the outside leaves are the most susceptible to damage and loss. So Erasmus gets to the very last six verses of Revelation and the leaf wasn’t there in the codex. What he does, he back translates from Latin into Greek and created seventeen textual variants that isn’t found in any other Greek New Testament manuscript. There have been manuscripts based on what Erasmus did. One such variant at the end says that God will take the name of the person out of the Book of Life that takes away from the prophecy of the book. This was Erasmus’ reading from one manuscript. It sounds as if you can lose your salvation from what it says. But what you actually have in this text that all other manuscripts have is actually the Tree of Life. God will take away from his part of the Tree of Life not the Book of Life. The Greek word for tree is sulu, but the word for book in Greek is biblos. But in the Latin, it is Liber for Book and the word for tree is Libno, very similar. So this is how the Book of Life got into Revelation 22:19 in the King James Bible.

Variants of Erasmus’ Translation: The worst reading of the King James Version is the Trinitarian Formula in 1st John 5:7-8. In the text it says, ‘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,
the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.’ But most modern translations have, ‘for there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood, and the three are in agreement.’You have basically the Spirit, the water and the blood in both the King James and modern translations. All evangelicals would like to have the King James Verse in their Bible but that doesn’t seem that was what was originally there. In the first edition of Erasmus’ text, this Trinitarian Formula wasn’t found; he didn’t have it in there. (Note: Even though the Trinitarian Formula isn’t in modern translations, the remaining text in verses 9 – 12 clearer emphasizes the trinity, however differently). But his 3rd version included the Trinitarian Formula in 1st John 5:7-8. So the history of the Bible in Germany has been decidedly different from the history of the Bible in England and America because of this one verse. This has been an inner English problem where King James only people argue that it is Scripture. They say that modern translations strip the Trinity out of the Bible. Well, that doesn’t’ make sense as we see in verses 9-12 in modern translations, the Trinity is clearly taught. In regards to Erasmus’ 1st edition, there was an outcry from the Catholic Ecclesiastical Community because it wasn’t in there. Erasmus said he didn’t see any Greek manuscripts that had it. He never made a promise that he would put it in if he found some that had it.

What happened after 1519 is very interesting. A scribe working at Oxford University seems to have had a made to order a complete New Testament manuscript which eventually made it way to Erasmus. It had this Trinitarian Formula in it and so Erasmus discovers this manuscript by a scribe named Roy and so in his 3rd edition of 1522, he adds this Trinitarian Formula to his latest edition, even though, under protest. That manuscript is known as Codex 61 and it is at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. The manuscript itself almost automatically opens up to 1st John 5:7 because it has been consulted so many times. But Erasmus still didn’t include the exact words of that manuscript because Roy didn’t know his Greek very well. There were mistakes made by the scribe and so Erasmus corrected those mistakes and wrote the Greek better. So this formula is only found in nine later Greek manuscripts, four in the text and five in the margins where it had been written in. So Erasmus’ 3rd edition was used by the King James translators. It went through five editions altogether. The oldest manuscript that has this reading is from the 10th century but the Trinitarian Formula itself is not found in the 10th century text, but in a much later marginal note. The oldest manuscript with it in the text is from the 14th century. I came across Codex 117 in Germany in the Bavarian State Library where 1st John 5 was written in the upper margin above the text, the Trinitarian Formula was actually written out with the verse number. That note was written after the year 1551. The reason why, it actually references a verse number, 1st John 5:7, but the manuscript, itself, didn’t have any chapter or verse numbering. The other side of this in regards to the church fathers at the Council of Nicaea and Constantinople and others, always affirmed the Trinity without having to look at a verse like this. This is why a person like Bart Ehrman is not genuine in his book misquoting Jesus when he talks about how the orthodox scribes have changed the text. This is one of his prime examples. What orthodox scribes are we talking about? What Bart Ehrman is really appealing to and expecting is that his audience doesn’t know their Bible. So they are shocked when they think that the Trinity is invented by orthodox scribes. This of course isn’t true but it seems that way when you read miss quoting Jesus.

So basically this was an allegorical interpretation, you have these three and they are the trinity and so it was a marginal reading added first in a Latin document and then into a Greek document. So the issue here is history; it is not heresy. The Trinity is clearly found in the New Testament regardless of whether this verse is authentic or not. To argue that the Trinity is being denied by not having this verse is just a silly notion; the Trinity is clearly taught in the New Testament. Saying anything like this is anti-intellectual and anti-historical.

Summary: Erasmus had five editions of his Greek Latin New Testament. His text then went through Stephanus who did four editions and then Stephanus’ 1550 edition was the first Greek New Testament to list textual variants. His fourth edition of 1551 was the first one to have verse numbers in it. Then
Theodore Beze had eleven editions; most people know about ten of those but I saw an eleventh one that was an unnumbered edition. And his 1589 edition was in a direct line of Erasmus and Stephanus. This text has an inferior textual basis. The Textus Receptus at the same only has about five thousand
differences from our standard critical text today. So it has a two percent growth over fourteen hundred years from what we would consider to be the original text. There are absolutely no doctrines that has been effected; none whatsoever. The same people who could sign doctrinal statements in the age of the King James Bible can do it today. No doctrine of any kind has ever been changed or affected. So, in spite of the poor textual basis, the King James Bible is unmatched in its literary quality and very valuable of that level.