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.

2 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.

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