Textus Obsoletus

elzevir-textus-receptusThe Textus Receptus is a printed Greek text. It’s a product of textual criticism, and (depending on which version you prefer) generally dates from the early 16th – mid 17th century. It is based on a very small number of late Greek manuscripts. It’s the printed Greek text which (in various forms) underlies William Tyndale’s translation, the KJV, NKJV and the newer MEV.

Because the Textus Receptus is based on such a small number of manuscripts, it has some unique readings that the other, more modern printed texts (which are based on many, many more manuscripts) don’t have. For example, I was translating 1 Peter 3:1-6 recently. I wondered why the Textus Receptus (F.H.A. Scrivener’s 1894 version, to be exact) had a subjunctive verb at a certain point, which no other printed text had. It was such an obscure reading that none of my standard textual critical resources even mentioned this variant. I looked at a more detailed database (CNTTS), and found this strange reading came from a single Greek manuscript from the 15th century. It hadn’t been found anywhere else. No. Where. Else.

Many people realize there are problems with the Textus Receptus. It’s like preferring an old tricycle when you have a Ferrari in the driveway. The tricycle works, no doubt about it. The Ferrari just works a lot better . . .

I’ll let a good book explain a bit more:

While the TR has been the dominant New Testament text for the past centuries, those who espouse this tradition today must squarely meet four challenges.

First, there has not been a plain consensus as to which TR text is best. For example, while England followed Stephanus’ 3rd edition (1550), and it eventually became the source for the Geneva Bible (1557), the European continent followed Elzever’s 2nd edition (1633) which more closely aligned with Stephanus’ 4th edition (1551). Therefore, however small the deviations, neither TR text is identical. Surely, both cannot be the pure representative of the autographa.

Second, when Theodore de Beza edited Stephanus’ fourth edition in two separate editions (1588/ 89 and 1598), he did so making some changes to each text. It is very difficult to see how one writer could dogmatically conclude, “This author believes that Beza’s 1598 Greek Edition of the New Testament is essentially equivalent to the very words of the NT autographa.” This is especially thorny when one considers that the 1611 KJV translators made extensive use of both the 1588/ 9 and 1598 editions of Beza.

Third, John Mills (1645-1707), a Greek scholar from Oxford, spent thirty years of his life studying thirty-two printed Greek New Testaments, nearly 100 manuscripts, and voluminous patristic citations of the New Testament. His work was published two weeks before his death at age sixty-two (June 23, 1707). Using Stephanus’ 3rd edition as his base he collected and calculated some 30,000 differences among the Greek texts and references. His work is a critical blow to the entire TR tradition which seeks to find a consensus in some single text that fully and accurately reflects the autographa. Mills’ research affirms that such a text did not exist in his day (almost 200 years after Erasmus’ first edition).

Finally, with such observable data, TR supporters like Hills relegate the “changes” and “emendations” to Erasmus’ 5th edition by Stephanus, Calvin, and Beza as either “humanistic tendency” or the overruling of the “common faith,” which ultimately protected the TR text from their variant readings. In their terminology, the TR has been supernaturally sheltered by God, and any textual changes (or protection from change) has been God-directed.

James B. Williams (ed.), God’s Word in Our Hands: The Bible Preserved for Us (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2003; Kindle ed.), KL 4553-4573.

There are good and godly folks who prefer the KJV (for example) because they prefer the Textus Receptus. Some of these people genuinely trust that printed Greek text. However, in other cases, this position is just a smokescreen for King James Only-ism.

A very helpful book to read which defends the Textus Receptus position and takes a hostile approach towards modern printed Greek texts (e.g. UBS-5, NA28, SBLGNT) is here. I don’t agree with much of the book, but it’s an excellent and passionate representation of the position.

12 thoughts on “Textus Obsoletus

  1. Owners of Ferraris of the past might quibble with your claim that the Ferrari works a lot better–they were notorious for needing major overhauls every few thousand miles because they used racing parts. Maybe F150 or Civic would be a lot better? :^)

    1. Maybe you’re right! That book I quoted from (God’s Word in Our Hands) is really a wonderful book. Very good, very fair, very thorough – and it’s written by fundamentalists! The four problems with the TR (which I quoted in the excerpt) is really the whole ballgame for me. It sums up the major problems with the position, I believe.

  2. Textus Reliablus.

    Keep the tried and true, while everyone else attempts to reinvent the wheel, I always say. John Burgon would agree.

    1. He might agree; he might not. He’s dead, so we can’t ask the guy. Regardless, Burgon’s opinion is irrelevant. Why do you view the TR as the “tried and true” printed Greek text? Why don’t you prefer the Latin Vulgate, which enjoyed textual primacy for much longer?

      1. Fair enough. Why should I care what Burgon would think? Who cares about Burgon? It’s always been strange to me to speculate about what a dead guy would have thought about particular advances in modern times that he had no idea about while he was alive.

        It’s like trying to argue that Alexander the Great wouldn’t have liked to have drones and close air support, because he once wrote something extolling the phalanx formation for infantry.

        Burgon is meaningless to the issue.

      2. There’s no need to be sorry. I genuinely want to know what Burgon has to do with a printed Greek text he knew nothing about and did not have access to. You may interpret my comment about Alexander in a negative way; when I suggested he would have eschewed drones and close air support because he once wrote in support of the phalanx tactic for infantry. However, I was drawing a deliberate parallel to highlight how irrelevant this is. I wouldn’t bother appealing to Alexander to justify refusing drones or close air support in a modern context. Why is Burgon relevant here, then?

        What about the points raised in the excerpt? Those are the issues, my friend.

      3. Tyler,

        I’ve looked at this issue from back to front over many years. After having read both sides, I still find the argument that the Greek Text underlying the AV is obsolete or needing to be updated, to be nothing more than a very large and frankly suspicious attempt on the part of modernists to keep trying, in effect, to determine what God actually said.

        I’m content knowing that the height of Reformation-era translations, as slightly difficult as it is to carry over into our much more generalized ( and honestly in my opinion, sloppy and more colloquial ) English language in America today ( or in England for that matter ), is as accurate as I’m likely to get. I’m also content knowing that the Greek Text underlying it is well over 90% accurate when compared to the Greek Text that Hodges and Farstad put together, which used 100 manuscripts.

        So, to put it mildly, I find no reason to doubt the veracity of something I believe God had a hand in doing during the Reformation. If you wish to use something that casts doubt on what we already have, that is your choice, and I wish you well. But unless and until a God-fearing group of men come along and actually collate and put together a comprehensive translation based on all of the over 5,000 extant manuscripts, uncials and papyrii, and also reference the many copies of 1st-4th Century translations to determine the truth or error of the various readings in certain passages. I’ll stick with old Textus Reliablus ( Receptus )…to me, it’s far more dependable than the ever-changing UBS/Nestle Aland, and far more reliable than the Critical Text, which used even less manuscripts.

        In these last days, I seriously doubt that a group of God-fearing men will come along, given that we are in the midst of the great Falling Away. I think that the Lord has already done His work, and we should trust it.

        Again, may God bless you sir.

      4. Fair enough. I have no wish to beat a dead horse, so I’ll leave you with a few comments. I find very few people who feel passionately about the TR can read Koine Greek and can see where the rubber meets the road. If you can, then lovely. If you cannot, then this issue will always be theoretical to you. I commend the TR book I linked to in this short article; I think you’ll appreciate it.

        On the matter of “God fearing men coming together,” it’s worth noting that no such group “came together” to endorse the TR. They simply used what they had, and there is a long history in the immediate post-Reformation period where people recognized the TR’s limitations. You can find the discussion about the evolution of the different printed texts in Metzger/Ehrman’s book, and in the other usual places. This is somewhat like arguing for a horse and buggy over against a motor vehicle, because all people from the Reformation until relatively modern times agreed it was the preferred mode of transportation. The incredulous answer to that would be something like, “Well . . . they didn’t prefer the buggy over the motor vehicle. It’s just what they had to work with!” I agree. The same principle applies here, I believe.

        You seem to conflate the UBS/NA texts with the “critical text.” These are actually synonyms.

        You still haven’t addressed the main arguments from my excerpt. Few TR advocates do. I certainly have no issue with somebody preferring the TR, as long as you’re aware of the issues with that printed text (a few of which are pointed out in the excerpt).

        One more point – you mention the AV. Is your fidelity to the AV as an English version, or to the TR? If it’s to the TR, do you like the NKJV or the MEV?

      5. Tyler,

        My fidelity is to the TR first with the AV a very close second…It does not include the NKJV due to what I believe are problematic readings when compared to the AV, but tentatively I would consider the MEV. I’ve read parts of the Great Bible, Geneva, Taverner’s, Bishop’s and pieces of Tyndale’s and Wycliffe’s New Testaments… While all seem to be solid works, they tend, at least to me, to appear to pale in comparison to the AV.

        I also prefer the Spanish Reina Valera 1602 and La Sainte Bible de Louis Segond 1910 in other languages for a hobby. Luther Bibel seems OK, but my German is very spotty and I know of a brother in Christ who speaks German and does not recommend it.

        Finally, based on my research, since the accuracy of the TR when compared to the MT is actually higher than the CT, then all translations currently based on the CT I personally reject on principle.

        I wish you well, sir, and may God bless you. I will refrain from replying to more of your blog, as it seems you and I are in a fair bit of disagreement on many matters, but I do sincerely wish that the Lord blesses you greatly in your Christian walk.

        Until our gathering in the clouds,

        Dave Gilbert.

      6. Feel free to continue to comment on anything you wish. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we can’t be friends! I think you’d appreciate the book I linked to which advocates a TR position on the basis of faith.

        Take care.

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