Lecture 20: The Greek Text of the KJV (Part 2) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 20: The Greek Text of the KJV (Part 2)

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: The Greek Text of the KJV (Part 2)


I. Methods of Doing NTTC

B. The Greek Text Behind the KJV: Part 2

We will continue to Textus Receptus rather than Erasmus’ work in the Textus Receptus. We want to talk about how it has been perceived in the 20th and 21st century. So we will talk about the Textus Receptus and the doctrine of preservation.

1. The Textus Receptus: It is essentially any Greek New Testament that has derived from Erasmus’ text. This is a broad definition of the term. This would include all five of Erasmus’ editions; the 3th edition is the one which he included the Trinitarian Formula; all four of Stephanus’ editions and all eleven of Bezae’s editions. All of these would be called Textus Receptus. Basically, it is any Greek New Testament that was published before 1831 is a way you could think about this. It would also include the editions of the Elzevir’s. So, in 1633 was the first time that any Greek New Testament was called the text ‘received by all’ which was the advertisement put out by Bonaventure and his nephew Abraham Elzevir in 1633. It wasn’t true but nevertheless that was what was stated. To be more specific and precise, the 1550 Stephanus text was the 3th edition and was virtually identical with the 1825 and 1873 Oxford Textus
Receptus. The way scholars have collated manuscripts to find out what they actually have to say was to collate them against the Textus Receptus. They started with the base text and demonstrated where this particular manuscript differed from the base text. Rather having to write out every single word and letter of the manuscript, they only wrote what was different from the base text. And they used the Textus Receptus as that base text. This is called a collation. Which Textus Receptus (TR) did they use? The 1825 and 1875 Oxford which is essentially the same as the 1550’s Stephanus text which again would be considered the standard collating base for the TR; and yet, among these Textus Receptus editions, we have more than thirty editions of the Textus Receptus, hundreds of differences among the TR’s. So when King James only and TR people say that only the Textus Receptus is the inspired Word of God, which Textus Receptus is the inspired Word of God? All of these editions were used by the Reformers and their various translations. The King James Bible is primarily based on the 1589 Bezae text.

2. The Doctrine of Preservation: This is the doctrine that says God has preserved Scripture down to the very words. There is a corollary of preservation for TR or MT for majority text advocates. Inspiration implied is preservation; preservation implies accessibility and accessibility implies majority. If God took the trouble to inspire the Word of God, he would not have inspired it unless he decided to preserve it. If he decided to preserve it, he preserved it so that it would be accessible for believers to use in any generation and in any place in the world where they are. In order to make it accessible, it has to be found in the majority of manuscripts; otherwise, it is not accessible. So that is how this corollary has been suggested. If the corollary is correct, then either the Textus Receptus, the TR or majority text would seem to be the only Greek New Testament that Christians should use. So, we will examine the doctrine of preservation and corollaries to see if that is correct.

I will present statements for the TR and MT advocates to show that I’m not making things up. J. J. Ray was an influential person in regards to a number of both TR and Majority Text advocates. He influenced David O. Fuller who was a TR advocate and Zain Hodges who was really the man who started the
majority text movement in the middle of the 20th century after Dean Bergan had already advocated something like that in the late 19th century. J. J. Ray wrote a book by the title, ‘God only Wrote One Bible.’ Some of his statements include, ‘the Textus Receptus is God’s sure foundation on which to rest our eternal Salvation.’ It is impossible to be saved without faith and perfect saving faith can only be produced by the one Bible God wrote and that we find only in translations which agree with the Greek Textus Receptus, which was refused by Westcott and Hort. The Bible God wrote has been providentially
preserved for us in the Greek Textus Receptus from which the King James Bible was translated in 1611.’ You notice that he is using the Textus Receptus apparently in more than one way, but it is all of these manuscripts that follow the Textus Receptus and yet there are many differences in them. He also said, ‘the writing of the Word of God by inspiration is no greater miracle than miracle of its preservation in the Textus Receptus. Some of these writers have gone so far to said that some of the readings that Erasmus has in the Textus Receptus was actually inspired by God; so therefore, God has inspired Erasmus to use the readings that he did, even from the Latin putting them in the Greek.

David Fuller actually calls modern translations bastard Bibles; so inflammatory language isn’t foreign to some of these people. Most of them are TR people, not necessarily majority text people. They are usually several steps moved from the vitriolic language. So some claim that born again Christians in the 20th century are facing the most malicious and vicious attack against God’s Holy Word ever since the Garden of Eden. This attack began in its modern form with the publication of the Revised Version of the Scriptures in 1881 in England. That is the same year that Westcott and Hort published their Greek New
Testament. In the 5th edition, Fuller says naturalistic New Testament critics (those who don’t believe in the supernatural) seem to be the last to have reached the end of the trail. Westcott and Hort’s broad highway which appeared to lead so quickly and smoothly to the original New Testament text has dwindled down to a narrow footpath and terminated finally in a thicket of trees. For those who have followed it, there is only one thing to do; go back and begin the journey all over again from the consistently Christian starting point, namely the divine inspiration and providential preservation of Scripture; in other words, the Textus Receptus.

Wilbur Pickering is one of those who got his Master’s degree from Dallas Seminary. He was one of Zain Hodges students, like me. He wrote a book called the Identity of the New Testament Text. In one place he says Olaf and B have lied, but later the editors due to harsh reviews changed this. Basically in the
Gospels, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus were all from B which disagrees with one another 3,000 times in the Gospels. And so the way Pickering views this was that at least one of these scribes of these manuscripts has lied 3,000 times. This type of inflammatory language is not only inappropriate but not accurate. When you are mostly dealing with spelling variations for example; so would we call that lies or would we call that simply different editions that they are copying from. He is making it sound that all of the textual variants are extremely important; this is the way Bart Ehrman has made it sound, when the reality is very different. He also says that all the ancient manuscripts on which modern critical texts are based are all convicted liars.

The Doctrine of Divine Preservation of the New Testament text depends upon the interpretation of the evidence which recognizes that traditional text to be the continuation of the autographer. He is essentially saying you can’t hold to the doctrine of preservation unless you hold to the majority text theory. The majority text theory and the doctrine of preservation go together. He is the former president of the majority text society and his book has been standard work on the defense of the majority. Although there are some today, especially Marcie Roberson who is not involved in this kind of language and they don’t agree with it. So inspiration implies preservation which implies accessibility which implies majority and this corollary or conversely only if it is in the majority of manuscripts or printed New Testaments, depending on whether you are a majority text person to TR person. If it is accessible, it is because it has been preserved for all to read and if it has been preserved for all to read, then it is inspired.

3. Critique: In looking at the critique of this, let’s consider a question that is begging approach. Secondly, there are faulty assumptions that are involved and thirdly, we have a non-biblical doctrinal basis in this doctrine of preservation.

So what is it that you count and when do you count and where do you count? Do you count Greek manuscripts or Latin or Syriac or Coptic or all of them? Those who hold to the majority text view count just the Greek manuscripts. They hold to what the majority of what the Greek manuscripts have to say but certainly not what the majority of what the Latin manuscripts have to say. And yet there are almost twice as many Latin manuscripts than there are Greek. And these are not Byzantine. Why don’t they count the Latin manuscripts? In part, they say that counting the Latin manuscripts don’t agree with their theory, but it is also because that the Latin manuscript goes back to a common source of the Vulgate for the most part. If the Greek manuscripts are of the Byzantine text types and according to the majority text have a common source; does that mean they are not to be counted as more than one witness also. I would think that would be the case. But they so no, it doesn’t go back that way. Every one of these individually Byzantine manuscripts goes all the way back to the original. How that could happen, I don’t know, but that is part of what is often argued.

So when do you count? We have no Byzantine manuscripts before the 4th century, not one. We have no Byzantine church fathers before the 4th century. The earliest church father we have is Asterius the Heretic. He is the first one that we know of who actually used a Byzantine text as his primary text and he writes in the 2nd half of the 4th century. It was also not in the majority of manuscripts in the first eight centuries. The Alexandrian text from all the evidence that we have was in the majority. The earliest Byzantine manuscript that we have of Paul’s letters doesn’t come until the 9th century. So we waited eight hundred years before we got a manuscript that is Byzantine or that essentially agrees with the Textus Receptus, the text behind the King James. If that is what we got, then the argument goes back to the original text. They say that they don’t care what the evidence says. Martin Hengel, a German scholar who was an evangelical, one of the great German scholars in the 2nd half of the 20th century wrote in his book, Issues in Early Christology about two kinds of fundamentalists. There is the kind that holds to the conclusion they arrive at and then they adjust the evidence to make it fit the conclusions. There are those who are on the right side of the theological truth and those who are on the left side. You have fundamentalists who would agree with orthodoxy and there are fundamentalists, who would agree with liberalism, but they are both equally rigid and they start with their conclusions and go back and look at the evidence. We need to look at the evidence and allow it to lead us into different conclusions, wherever it goes.

4. Faulty Assumptions: And finally, where do you count? If you count Egypt in the first four centuries, the Byzantine text is not available there. It wasn’t accessible then to those Christians who are as important as anyone else. God wants to reserve the text for all Christians. So some of the issues are
faulty assumptions; first that preservation is a necessary corollary of inspiration. Here is the logic of this: all manuscripts have to say the same thing and therefore the text is preserved in all manuscripts. This is the logic of Islam; all the manuscripts of the Quran say the same thing. Or there has to be a group of manuscripts that at least agree with each other a hundred percent of the time for have this corollary of preservation to inspiration. Or there is at least one manuscript that is correct. God has preserved the text in at least one manuscript. Well, none of those things are true. All manuscripts have errors in them; there is no group of manuscripts that agree with each other a hundred percent of the time and certainly all manuscripts have many disagreements. In fact, our earliest two manuscripts that highly agree, there are between six and ten differences per chapter in them. So in this respect the Textus Receptus is actually a more logical position than the majority text is. They at least point to one printed text that is right. But which Textus Receptus is the right one. It wasn’t the first one which was the most poorly edited text of all time. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Textus Receptus; we have twenty editions of Textus Receptus through Bezae and thirty overall with about four hundred differences among them from one end to the other. But there is a problem with this TR view, saying that God has reserved the text, at least, in the TR. That is where you assume that Erasmus is just as inspired as the Apostles. He decided on the Greek readings for the last six verses of the manuscript, backward translating them from Latin. He wrote the inspired Greek words on the basis of his own translation skills. Those who hold to the TR are mostly Protestants, not Roman Catholics.

Secondly, in regards to these faulty assumptions; preservation must be through majority rule, a faulty assumption. This isn’t taught in the Bible; preservation isn’t by majority. 2nd Kings 22:8-13, there was apparently only one copy of the Law. God had preserved the Scripture in one copy at that point. And biblically, it is usually the remnant that is right or holy or true, against the majority. To argue that the majority must be right; I’m not sure on what basis we could say that. Historically, we could talk about the discovery of the Sinaiticus and so many other manuscripts. These monks at Saint Catherine were
supposedly ripping out leaves from Codex Sinaiticus and burning them where much of the Old Testament is now gone. The New Testament was rescued before it got burnt as well. If that is the case, these TR people and Majority Text people use by saying that this manuscript was destined for the flames and that this worthless manuscript has become the basis of modern translations. What if God simply rescued it from the flames? It is a different perspective. What about the one copy of the Law that was finally found? Couldn’t God have rescued that also? It all depends on your outlook on this if you believe God is sovereign over history. I am going to argue entirely differently; I don’t believe that manuscript was being burned. They were not cutting leaves out of it and they were putting them into the flames. Faulty assumptions give us all a twisted view on how to look at things.

A third faulty assumption is that public accessibility of a pure text is theologically necessary. If this includes the Textus Receptus, that wasn’t published until 1516. So before 1516, the first fifteen hundred years of church history, it was not publically accessible. So accessibility is not going to work with the
Textus Receptus view; there are thirty different editions of the TR. Which one is the pure text? The majority text was not published until 1982 and there are at least four different versions of it. Again, which one of them are the pure text and which one is publically accessible. In regards to public accessibility, we don’t have anything that was publically accessible until the printing press and that was only accessible to those who knew Greek. And the editions kept coming in 1516, 1519, 1522 and all of them they kept changing. It was 1550 for Stephanus and then you have these additional eleven editions. Consequently, we don’t have public accessibility of a pure text. For example, Luther’s Bible lacked the Trinitarian Formula. His Bible was based on the 2nd edition of the Textus Receptus. So, you could say that this pure text wasn’t available in German. So why should we choose the King James Bible over other translations? Some would say because God has blessed the English language and because God has blessed America and England. This is a bizarre view. In 1995, I was on the John Engelberg show and we did eight taping for the program all in one day. I flew into Chattanooga, Tennessee from Canada where we had four hours of taping for eight shows. It was a debate among eight people as to what the best New Testament was. Four of these people were King James only or Majority Text folks. There was this fellow named Sam Gift and I was so tired. Sam Gift was asked by Engelberg that if someone in Russia became a Christian and wanted to read the Holy Bible, would he have to learn English? Sam replied, yes, he would have to learn English to do that. This was totally irrational, why was I on this show, I thought. This is destructive of the Gospel. As far as the Majority Text, there is still no translation and so it is not accessible to the people. The Majority Text and the Textus Receptus are different from one another in almost two thousand places.

A fourth faulty assumption is that certainty is identical with truth. But when you speak about certainty, we still have to be relevant. Which Textus Receptus is one hundred percent pure? Which King James Bible is pure? Is it the first edition, the second edition, both of which got mixed up; 1611 and then a major edition in 1762 and another one done 1769. The one used today is the 1769 King James Bible. Between 1611 and 1769 over one hundred thousand changes were made to the King James translation. The vast majority of these was only minor changes, spelling differences just like the vast majority of textual problems today. But there were some that were a little more significant. So which King James is the right one? Most people who argue about this say that these are minor issues; but the differences between the King James and other manuscripts are major issues. They are wrong on both accounts. Many religious groups have absolute certainty about their convictions; does that make them right? JW’s are absolutely certain that Jesus isn’t God. Muslims are absolutely certain that the Quran is the only holy book. So absolute certainty does not equate to truth, and this view can only be claimed since the printing press. Once the printing press came into being; you could reproduce the same text over and over again. You couldn’t do it before that. What did the Greek manuscripts look like before the printing press? The Greek text behind most modern translations, actually vary less than the manuscripts of the majority texts. So the Greek manuscripts behind modern translations are much closer to each other, virtually identical for almost all modern translations. The NET Bible has more differences than most; we have about four hundred differences from the critical Greek text. So, what doctrines are at stake here? People have signed the same doctrinal statements since before 1611; since before 1516 as they do today, but there is the waffling on in regards to what is absolute again. They say that the edited versions of the King James are all basically the same and are all absolutely true which isn’t correct.

The final point that I want to make has to do with the pursuit of certainty is different from the pursuit of truth. We ought to be involved first and foremost in the pursuit of truth, not the pursuit of certainty. Those who pursuit certainty let the conclusions drive their methods and they are not open to the evidence. I think it is better to be uncertain but adopt the truth rather than be certain, but adopt an untruth. It makes us unfordable sometimes but I think that is the way we need to approach the Christian life. The incarnation gives us a methodical understanding of rigorous historical investigation that is needed to do that. This also has a non-biblical doctrinal basis which will be explored in another lecture.