|Erasmus of Rotterdam,|
a compiler of the
Greek New Testament
The Latin term “Textus Receptus” (“the text that is received”) is often used to refer to the Greek base-text of the King James Version – the English version which, despite the best efforts of the marketers of modern versions, remains by far the most-read English version of the Bible. The Textus Receptus was published by the Elzevirs in 1624 and in 1633; it was in the preface to the 1633 edition that the term Textus Receptus was introduced. Much later, in the late 1800s, F. H. A. Scrivener attempted to meticulously retro-translate the KJV’s New Testament’s English text into readings (and, very rarely, conjectures) known to be in circulation at the time of, and available to, the KJV’s translators.
The term “Textus Receptus” is also used to refer in a general sense to the printed Greek New Testaments which were compiled and published in the 1500’s by the scholars Desiderius Erasmus, Robert Estienne (better-known as Stephanus, who standardized the verse-numbers), and Theodore Beza.
For general purposes, there’s nothing wrong with calling all those printed compilations by the same name, since their basic contents are so similar. The modern critical text is likewise often referred to simply as “the critical text,” even though there are differences among the various editions. (Likewise, the edition of the New International Version as it is published today still retains the name of the 1984 edition, even though there are many differences between them.)
It may be helpful, however, to raise the magnification-level, so to speak, with which the compilations of the 1500s and early 1600s are viewed. This may reduce the chance that people will get the impression – all too easily obtained from some oversimplifications of the history of the text – that the exact same compilation made by Erasmus that left Froben’s printing-shop in 1516 was the sole Greek resource consulted by the King James Version’s translators in 1604-1611.
So, here is a list of some differences between the KJV’s base-text and the some of the base-texts of earlier English translations in the 1500’s, drawn from the four Gospels:
2:11 – KJV: “saw” (ειδον), not “found” (ευρον)
10:10 – KJV: “staves” (ραβδους) not “staff” (ραβδον)
21:7 – KJV says “they set him” (επεκάθισαν) instead of “he sat” (επεκάθισεν)
23:13-14 – KJV reverses the order of these verses.
5:38 – KJV includes “and” (και) before “them that wept” (κλαίοντας)
9:40 – KJV says “us” and “our” (ημων) instead of “you” and “your” (υμων)
12:20 – KJV includes “Now” (ουν) in the opening sentence.
15:3 – KJV includes “But he answered nothing.” (αυτος δε ουδε απεκρίνατο)
1:35 – KJV includes “of thee” (εκ σου). This difference is still echoed in the NKJV, which does not include the phrase.
2:22 – KJV says “her” (αυτης) instead of “their” (αυτων).
6:37 – KJV does not include “and” (και) at the beginning of the verse.
7:45 – KJV says “I came in” (εισηλθον) instead of “she came in” (εισηλθεν)
10:22 – KJV does not include Και στραφεις προς τους μαθητας ειπεν (“And turning to the disciples he said”)
17:36 – KJV includes this verse.
20:31 – KJV includes “also” (και)
8:6 – KJV has “as though he heard them not” (μη προσποιούμενος) at the end of the verse. (This phrase was not italicized in the 1611 KJV; Scrivener suggested that the italization occurred in the 1769 update of the KJV.)
8:42 – KJV does not include “therefore” (ουν).
18:24 – KJV has “Now” (ουν).
An especially notable difference between the KJV’s Greek base-text and some of the compilations of the 1500’s occurs in the final phrase of Romans 12:11. Nowadays, it is taken for granted that the original text read “serving the Lord” (τω Κυριω δουλεύοντες), but in several editions of the Greek text prepared in the 1500’s, the phrase reads “serving the time” (τω καιρω δουλεύοντες). (Both readings are ancient, having been both mentioned by patristic authors such as Jerome (in Epistle 27, written in 384.)
This sample-list should be a sufficient demonstration to those who subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith that its declaration to the effect that the Greek text of their day was “pure” did not mean that the authors of that creed regarded every text-critical detail to be settled, as if one could answer all text-critical issues merely by pointing to a particular compilation. In general terms the KJV’s New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus but regarding some details there is not one definitive Textus Receptus, unless one uses the term to refer to compilations (the Elzevir’s compilation of 1633 being the most famous) designed to reconstruct the base-text of the King James Version.
If these differences between the King James Version and some of the Greek compilations of the 1500’s are kept in mind, this will hopefully reduce the spread of oversimplifications of the history of the text. For it is sometimes said by the KJV’s promoters that its text agrees with the majority of manuscripts, which is generally true, but not in every case. Likewise it is sometimes said by the KJV’s detractors that its text is based on merely a handful of manuscripts used by Erasmus, which unfairly minimizes not only Erasmus’ extensive research undertaken before he sat down in Basel to prepare his first edition of the Greek New Testament, but also overlooks the 88 years of additional textual analysis and refinement that commenced between 1516 and 1604, some of which involved ancient manuscripts (Codex Bezae and Codex Claromontanus) and extensive quotations by early patristic sources.
[Readers are invited to explore the embedded links to find additional resources.]