Lecture 24: History of NT Textual Criticism Since the TR | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 24: History of NT Textual Criticism Since the TR

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: History of NT Textual Criticism Since the TR


I. Methods of Doing NTTC

A. History of New Testament Criticism

1. Erasmus’ Greek New Testament

In this lecture, we are going to look at the history of New Testament Criticism ever sense the Textus Receptus. That includes a number of scholars and additions of the Greek New Testament. However, we will on look at some of these. There have been scores of people who have devoted their lives to the study of the original text of the New Testament in the last three hundred years. Even going back five hundred years, we see this. When you think about the Textus Receptus; we think about what is called today the Textus Receptus and that goes back to Erasmus’ first published text of the New Testament on March 1st, 1516, twenty months almost to the day after that, the Reformation came about on Oct 31st, 1517. Luther said that he could not have done the reformation without a Greek New Testament in his hand. Erasmus published five additions with the first being considered one of the most poorly edited book of all time. He said that he actually threw it together rather than editing it. He had seven manuscripts which he used, late manuscripts, all from the 10th and 11th century or much later and actually marked them up. He did this because he wanted to use it as his copy text. The problem was that these were priceless documents and he marked all over them. At that time, they were not considered priceless documents. There were no printed Greek New Testaments so this was the copy that he had. He got these manuscripts while he was in Basel and they probably came from Constantinople because of its fall in 1453 when monks fled into Western Europe and brought their Greek manuscripts with them.

2. The Trinitarian Formula 

His second edition of 1519 still didn’t have the Trinitarian formula in 1st John 5:7 where it says, there are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Spirit of these three are one. He couldn’t find it in any Greek New Testament manuscripts. Of course, he didn’t really try that hard for his first edition. He only used seven manuscripts where most of them didn’t overlap very much. By the time he got to his third edition, he had investigated a little more than before his first edition. He wrote to a friend at the Vatican and said that he had heard about a manuscript called Codex Vaticanus. Does this codex have the Trinitarian formula in 1st John 5:7? He didn’t know how important Codex Vaticanus was and as it turned out it has become the most important manuscript of the New Testament for us today. He friend look and told him that it wasn’t there and so Erasmus was satisfied with that. But in 1520 some scribe named Roy who worked in Oxford University puts together a Greek New Testament that was based on the Vulgate at least for this verse where he added the Trinitarian formula and it appeared on Erasmus’ doorstep. He put it into his third publication under protest and in his annotations to that third edition of 1522, he protested that and said that he didn’t think that it was authentic. So those were Erasmus’ first three editions and he did two more to clear things up. His fourth edition was considered the definitive version that removed most of the editorial mistakes. Erasmus’ text is called the first published Greek New Testament. It is not the first printed Greek New Testament. That honor goes to the Complutensian Polyglot and this was done in Spain by some Spanish priests and monks. Erasmus had heard about this work being done, so he was in a hurry to beat them in publishing his Bible. This Complutensian Polyglot is more than the New Testament, it is the whole Bible. Polyglot means that it has multiple languages. So, they dealt not with just Greek and Latin but others. It got printed in 1514 and had the Trinitarian formula in 1st John 5:7 because they had based that on the Latin Vulgate of which contained the Trinitarian formula. This was a later manuscript that had the formula in it. But they were waiting to get approval from the Catholic Church which took eight years. They had made eight hundred copies which sat in a warehouse. This was actually a much better work than Erasmus’ New Testament. So, because of this, Erasmus’ text was the one that was used for the next three hundred years as the standard Greek New Testament rather than the Complutensian Polyglot, a much better version.

3. Robert Stephanus

Stephanus comes along, a printer who became a Protestant in his later years ended up spending his time in Geneva producing four editions of the Greek New Testament. They were primarily editions of Erasmus’ text, but he did integrate some of what was in the Complutensian Polyglot; yet, we are still talking about Erasmus’ text. Any text that is based primarily on one of Erasmus’ editions is called the Textus Receptus. So the Complutensian Polyglot is the only one in this list that would not be called that. It didn’t have the impact that Erasmus’ Greek New Testament had because it sat for eight years in a warehouse. So Stephanus started printing these texts and his third edition of 1550 was a beautiful edition; this turned out to be his definitive text and when people talk about the Textus Receptus, this is the one they are referring to. This was reproduced by Oxford in 1825 which was then reproduced by Scribner in 1873. So, when we talk about the republication of the Textus Receptus, it is Stephanus’ third edition that we are talking about and this third edition was the first edition to list textual variants. He listed fifteen manuscripts and he gave them all Greek letters that was listed in the margins. In 1551, while he was traveling from Paris to Lyon, he decided to make a more pocket edition; a smaller form that would be easily affordable by the masses. So he writes in the verses numbers in each place; this edition was a triglot with the Vulgate, Erasmus’ Latin text. In all of Erasmus’ editions, he had entered his own Latin text saying that his Latin translation was based on the Greek. So, Stephanus had Gerome’s Latin text, Erasmus’ Latin text, and Erasmus’ Greek text. In his fourth edition, he entered verse numbers whereas the chapter numbers had already been done by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 13th century. So Stephanus entered verses numbers into this edition. This was the first time verse numbers had ever been put into a New Testament. The manuscript that was used for that fourth edition still exists. It is in a museum in Lost Angeles. The manuscript has never been photographed; I have been trying to get permission for years to photograph it. It is a historically important manuscript.

4. Theodore Beza

Beza, the great reformer did eleven editions. Metsker mentions ten of these editions, starting in 1565. I saw a former edition that was done in 1564, years ago at a man’s house; he owned the copy. He was a rare bookseller but that was one book that he didn’t want to sell. So Theodore Beza did eleven editions. The King James Bible was essential based on his 9th or 10th edition of 1589 and 1598 was what the King James Bible was really based on. Beza just took Stephanus’ text and Erasmus’ Latin and then added some more information and some readings from the Complutensian. Then you have the
Elsevier’s two editions. This was an uncle and his nephew who published their Greek text in 1624 and in 1633. Keep in mind that the Elsevier’s editions were done after the King James Bible was published in 1611. Beza’s edition was what was used for the King James. They had a little blurb in the preference in Latin saying that this was the edition that was received by all. Therefore, it got the name Textus Receptus. It was more an advertising blurb than the reality. There were dozens of others that were largely based on Erasmus’ text. When you think about the Textus Receptus, you really have to think about the text that is behind the King James Bible. But it isn’t just the text behind the King James Bible but virtually all Protestant’s translations until 1881. This is how influential it had been.

5. Walton, Mills and Variant Readings

Since the Textus Receptus, there started to be some collections of variant readings. Some of the key people associated with this were Brain Walton; a British scholar produced his London Polyglot which was a terrific multivolume set. It was the systematic collection of variant readings. Stephanus had a bit of a haphazard collection, but Brain did a systematic collection of them. Then John Mill came along and deserves a special place of honor in the history of textual studies because of his New Testament of 1707. This consisted of two volumes that took a lifetime to produce. He examined one hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, several versions and early Fathers and he produced an apparatus that listed 30,000 textual variants. Two weeks to the day, later, he died. He was 62 years old and an Oxford-trained brilliant scholar. Years ago, when I was at Cambridge University photographing manuscripts at various colleges, I was at one of these colleges; I believe that it was Clare College. On the shelf, they had these two volumes from John Mill’s 1707 text; and it is very hard to find such a set. Most people will get the revised edition of 1710 that was done by somebody else. I ask permission to photograph those and received it. So, we have digital images of Mill’s New Testament of 1707 at the CSNTM website. Mill’s volumes caused a great deal of alarm among Protestants. The reason it alarmed Protestants; they were thinking that they could finally get rid of the Vulgate and get back to the battle cry of the Reformation of getting back to the original Greek and Hebrew. They thought they had done that and Mill says, maybe not, there are thousands of places where we may have missed it. Consequently, there was a sense of not being sure they had done this or not.

A lot of Protestants were alarmed and wrote articles against Mill’s two volumes saying that it was the work of the devil. So, collecting variants and seeing what the text says was the work of the devil according to them. This, of course, was finding evidence. But the Catholics were happy about this because they said that Protestants have a Pope but he has footnotes, meaning the Bible. We have a Pope that speaks ex-cathedra or with the full authority of the office. This talks about the infallibility of the Pope. Then, Richard Bentley, six years after this, three hundred years ago now defended what Mill had done since Mill died right after he had published. Richard Bentley talked about having more manuscripts as we now can compare them with each other and see what most likely went back to the original. Of course, we are better off; we are in a much better situation than we have ever been in. Then the variant readings got to be examined in the annals of text criticism, a study, and analysis of the data by Johan A. Bangle. He was a very godly person, a very pious person who also ran an orphanage. Bangle as a student was disturbed by Mill’s texts and the variants that he had produced. So, he decided to examine all these textual variants and in the process, he was the first one to identify the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-types and families. He was the first one to articulate the Canon of the harder readings being preferred over the easier readings. He came up with a rating system as to whether the text was authentic and how certain he was, an Alfa, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon rating system. I’m going to show you later a rating system that we use today which goes back to Bangle. These days, we print what we think the original text is. So, we have an A, B, and C approach. He articulated the orthodoxy in the variants. The man was an absolutely meticulous through scholar. He went through every single variant in John Mill’s two volumes and that there wasn’t a single textual variant in this list that affects any cardinal doctrines whatsoever, not one. Since his time, that has been the mantra of evangelicals. Sometimes you will read from one or two people thinking that some variants do affect doctrine. The most comprehensive person who suggests that is Bart Ehrman. But remember Bart Ehrman is an agnostic. There were many who argued in a different direction, but Ehrman argues that the orthodox have corrupted the Scriptures. But even out of what Ehrman could discover, he has been unable to demonstrate that any cardinal doctrine has been affected also.

6. J.J. Greasebock, Carl Walkman and Tregelles

J.J. Greasebock comes next. He was not an orthodox; he was not a believer, instead he was largely a heretic. Greasebock wrote against Bangle, the evangelical in favor of the Textus Receptus. Bangel did care for the Textus Receptus; yet, Greasebock said that some of these principles were good, but I really think that the Textus Receptus is more authentic. So here, the scholars that have defended the Textus Receptus were always evangelical, that has not always been the case. Sometimes their biases get too strong, but in this instance Greasebock, his biases were too strong while Bangle was right on target. But we need to get past these issues and look at the evidence. And know that the Kings James only people often think that we have all blindly followed heretics, but the reality is that we have been very openly and engagingly followed the evidence of which the variants have shown us. So Greasebock came up with a Canon of a shorter reading. Bangle came up with a harder reading; Greasebock said that the shorter reading would be more authentic. He articulated fifteen canons of internal evidence which was really amazing and helpful. He was the first to really wrestle with the enter play of the internal and external evidence. In looking at the external evidence, these are simply material witnesses, namely manuscript versions and church fathers. You are dealing with a hermeneutical spiral when you compare the external evidence with the internal. He was the first to recognize three text types: the Alexandrian, Western and Byzantine. These days, people say that those text types just don’t exist; they were just made up.

The next person makes a landmark change in text-critical studies. He was the first to publish a Greek New Testament that is not based on the Textus Receptus at all. Carl Walkman printed the first Greek New Testament that broke completely off from the Textus Receptus. He was a classical scholar and an
absolute brilliant person. He didn’t use any minuscules to print. He only used majuscules, 1st-millennium manuscripts. You can think of minuscules as 2nd-millennium manuscripts. There is some overlap but this basically shows the differences between the two. In some places, his text was only based on one or two witnesses. He at least could say that this was what the text looked like in the 4th century. He was certainly right. Can we get further back than the 4th century? Tischendorf was motivated by the threat of F.C. Bower who was systematically destroying the New Testament throughout Europe. Tischendorf was committed to the evangelical faith; what he wanted to do was to find the earliest manuscripts to demonstrate that they went back to the original text. He discovered published numerous manuscripts. Even the Assumption of the Virgin where only Tischendorf has published on this. He comes up in the historical annuals in regards to his accomplishments. It is almost supernatural in his collation of manuscripts. He just didn’t make mistakes. The first thing he did was to transcribe Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus in Paris in 1841-43. This was a palimpsest, Codex C, a very important 5th-century manuscript, especially for the Book of Revelation. It was better at discovering and collating manuscripts than actually textual theory. His text was used by Westcott and Hort who developed their theory. He published eight editions of the Greek New Testament. The last one included the most complete apparatus up to that time which is still valuable even today. Tischendorf is regarded at the best New Testament critic of all time.

Then, there was Samuel P, Tregelles, who was the best Englishman ever at amassing data for critical text. He was an evangelical Plymouth Brethren and also post Tribulation; a premillennial. He learned Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin when he was employed at ironworks factory. It was amazing what
these scholars could do without television and the internet. He did a two-volume New Testament with an extensive apparatus as an act of worship to God. The very copy that F.F. Bruce owned is the one that CSNTM photographed some years ago. If not for Tischendorf, Tregelles would have held the place for the best New Testament critic of all time. Then you have Westcott and Hort who gave the clearest articulation of method to date. They over-threw the reign of the Textus Receptus and in 1881, they produced the New Testament in the original Greek. It came out on May 12th and a year later, their rational for doing what they did. Virtually, all Greek New Testaments today, take their starting point from Westcott and Hort. You have a lot of TR folks that want to critique Westcott and Hort, not realizing that the world hasn’t stood still for over a century. Westcott was orthodox but Hort wasn’t. He didn’t write as much and we are not exactly sure of all the things he believed.

7. 20th Century Scholars

C. R. Gregory is the person that gave us the Gregory Aland Numbering today. He was born in America and died in WWI, fighting on the side of the Germans. He enlisted at age 68 because he also considered himself a nationalist. He brought about was called Reason Collectivism, this involves the study of how these manuscripts were doing what they were doing. Ernest C. Caldwell was considered the best American in regards to methods writing article after article on how to do textual criticism. He ended up as president of the University of Chicago. Hort and Aland started the Institute for New Testament Textual Research. Bruce Metsker worked in Textual Criticism, Christology and Grammar. There are many others now involved in Textual Criticism who is all amazingly brilliant in their fields. Of these, there are six evangelicals, three moderates, one unknown and five liberals. When I say that there may be more evangelicals, I mean that this is not a field that is controlled by liberal scholars.

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