Friday, September 20, 2019

Five Bad Reasons to Use the Textus Receptus

            The Nestle-Aland text of the Greek New Testament is over 95% Alexandrian at points where the Alexandrian and Byzantine manuscripts meaningfully disagree (i.e., where they disagree in both form and meaning, not in mere matters of spelling and transpositions).  This means, among other things, that this modern critical text almost always adopts readings found in a small minority of manuscripts – the “oldest and best manuscripts” that the ESV’s footnotes refer to – and almost always rejects the readings in the vast majority of manuscripts, including the manuscripts upon which the New Testament in the King James Version (and other Reformation-era versions such as Tyndale’s version and the Geneva Bible) was based.
            This poses a problem for some individuals in the Reformed tradition, which in several creeds (such as the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith) affirms that the original Hebrew and Greek text of the books of the Bible have been, by God’s singular care and providence, “kept pure in all ages.”  The New Testament text that the formulators of this doctrinal statement had in mind was not theoretical:  it was in their hands, in the forms of the Textus Receptus which had been published up to that time.  The editions of the Textus Receptus that had been made by Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza had some variations (at Romans 12:11 for example) – but not much. 
            It has been proposed that inasmuch as (a) the Greek text of the New Testament was kept pure in the age of the Reformation, as in all other ages, and (b) the Textus Receptus is pure, it follows that other forms of the text – especially in cases where the form of the text is so thoroughly changed as to mean something that the Textus Receptus does not mean – must be corrupt.  This logically leads to a rejection of the UBS/Nestle-Aland compilation.
            It also leads to a complete embrace of the Textus Receptus, minority-readings and all.  For those who believe that divine authority rests in the original text, and not in readings created by copyists, this is not a good idea.  Here are five reasons why a dogmatically-driven adherence to the Textus Receptus – Textus Receptus-Onlyism, one might say – should be avoided.

ONE:  God has promised to make every word and letter of the original text available to me. 

            There is no divine promise that God will make His exact written words perpetually available to His people on earth.  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” in Matthew 24:35.  Peter likewise affirmed the words of Isaiah:  “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  And in Psalm 12:6, following the statement that the words of the Lord are pure words, Psalm 12:7 says, “You shall keep them, O Lord, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.”  Specialists might argue that the text of Psalm 12:7 has been miscopied or mistranslated, and that the subject of Psalm 12:7 is not God’s words, but God’s people; this is why the NIV, CSB, et al translate the verse differently.  But even if were granted that God will preserve His words forever, why should anyone interpret this to mean anything except that God’s declarations, emanating from an unchanging and eternal God, do not change?
            Greater consideration should be given, when affirming that heaven and earth shall pass away, but the word of the Lord endures forever, that the material which constitutes copies of the New Testament (whether papyrus, or parchment, or paper) is part of the earth which shall pass away.  But more pertinent to the subject at hand is the point that saying “I will always keep My word and I will never forget what I have said” is not the same as saying, “I will make sure all Christians have every word I revealed to the authors of the New Testament in the exact form in which it was first written down.”  The approach of “Confessional Bibliology,” however, seems to equate the two.
            Historically, there is no evidence that the exact words of the Gospels were ever copied with 100% accuracy in a single manuscript.  If we look at the early versions – the Old Latin, and the earliest known form of the Sahidic version, for example – and reconstruct their base-texts, we can see that they were different.  And if we look at the early papyri, we can observe that that they, too, often differ from one another.  Of course, it can be claimed that the early Sahidic version is corrupt because it was based on Greek manuscripts that were corrupt; it was not (the theory runs) descended from the manuscripts of Christians, but from the manuscripts of second-century heretics in Egypt.  So little is known of the state of Christianity in Egypt in the 100s that it is difficult to prove or disprove such a theory.  But let anyone select whatsoever early version of the Gospels, from whatsoever locale, and see if it agrees with the Textus Receptus in all respects.  He will find that it certainly does not.
            Likewise, if we survey all surviving manuscripts of the Gospels, do we find any which contain the exact words found in the Textus Receptus, 100%, without any deviation?  If very late manuscripts which were based on printed copies of the Textus Receptus are set aside, the answer is No.  There is simply no reason to posit that God has ever promised to make every letter of the original text of the New Testament perpetually available to the church on earth; nor is there evidence that God has actually done so, for if we were to collect half a dozen Greek manuscripts of the Gospels, from whatsoever ages and locales, and compare their texts, we would find some differences.

TWO.  If the Textus Receptus was good enough for the formulators of the Westminster Confession of Faith, it’s good enough for me.

            The discussions of text-critical issues in the Reformation period is often belittled nowadays, as if people in the 1500s and early 1600s had little awareness of controversies involving, for instance, the ending of the Gospel of Mark, or the story of the adulteress in John 7:53-8:11, or the doxology of the Lord’s model prayer in Matthew 6:13.  However, if one were to consider just the comments of one obscure writer of the day – the Roman Catholic scholar Nicholas Zegers – one would see that these textual contests, and many others, were carefully studied. 
            Such research did not suddenly cease when the Westminster Confession of Faith – or any other creed – was formulated and approved by leaders in the Protestant churches.  The Reformers’ belief that the text in their hands was pure did not spur them to stop accumulating evidence (in the form of manuscripts, patristic writings, etc.) that would potentially confirm or challenge specific readings in that text.  James Ussher (1581-1656), an important Protestant scholar of the time, does not seem to have regarded the readings of the Textus Receptus as irrevocable in all respects; as Peter Gurry has observed, Ussher wrote that when it comes to most textual contests, it is clear what the original reading was, but in the cases where  a decision is very difficult, one may maintain indecision without drawing into question any point of doctrine.  Here we may see the application of a less exact, but more realistic, understanding of what was meant by “pure” in the Protestant creeds’ statement about the Greek text:  the point was not that every textual question was settled, or that the Textus Receptus could not possibly resemble the original text more than it already did, but that the still-unsettled points in the Greek text of the New Testament (in which, in some editions, many textual variants were noted) in their hands did not pose any doctrinal danger.
John Mill's 1723 Greek New Testament
- with variant readings.
            In addition, it should be kept in mind that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the main question about Biblical authority was the question of whether or not the Latin Vulgate should be considered authoritative.  The Council of Trent, in the mid-1500s, had advanced a position that the Vulgate was the “authentic” text, and that no one was to dare to reject it under any pretext whatsoever.  This was commonly understood by Roman Catholics to mean that if the time-honored Vulgate meant something different from the text found in Greek manuscripts, the proper conclusion is that the Greek text, not the Vulgate, should be considered defective.  The Protestant reaction against this decree involved the affirmation that the Roman Catholic magisterium does not have the authority to toss out original Greek readings in favor of non-original readings supported by the Latin text.  Roman Catholic scholars responded, in turn, that the Greek text cannot be trusted because – as the Preface to the 1582 Rheims New Testament asserted – the Protestants’ compilations of the Greek text contained poorly attested readings, occasion retro-translations based on versional evidence, and even the compilers’ conjectures, and were “infinitely corrupted.”     

            The Protestant adoption of the Textus Receptus was primarily an answer to the larger question – Vulgate versus Greek – rather than an answer to the various smaller questions concerning variants in the Greek manuscripts.  When Protestant scholars such as Brian Walton, John Fell, John Mill, and Johann Bengel subsequently investigated textual variants, their conclusions were either scientifically accepted, or they were scientifically challenged; no one responded by saying, “What are you doing, heretic; it has all been settled by the Westminster Confession of Faith.”  The Protestant approach to the text has always been based on evidence, not on the decrees of ecclesiastical assemblies.

THREE.  The Textus Receptus always has the evidence on its side.

          Some modern versions of the New Testament, based primarily on the Alexandrian Text, have drawn many readings into question even though the readings are affirmed in ancient patristic compositions and are supported by the overwhelming majority of manuscripts.  This is true of Mark 16:9-20, which is included in over 99.5% of the existing Greek manuscripts of Mark; only two Greek manuscripts end the text of Mark at 16:8 followed by the closing subscription to the book “The end of the Gospel according to Mark,” and in both of those manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) there are anomalies which strongly indicate that their copyists were aware of the absent verses.  Why are the headings in the ESV and CSB about the ending of Mark so vague and imprecise?  Because if they said, “Two manuscripts from the 300s end the text at 16:8; over 1,600 manuscripts support the inclusion of verses 9-20, including Codices A, D, and W, and Irenaeus, around the year 180, specifically quoted Mark 16:19,” the note would not have the effect upon readers that the translation’s note-writers wanted it to have – that is, it would not induce readers to reject verses 9-20.

            Similarly, if the CSB’s footnote mentioned the age and quantity of manuscripts that support the inclusion of “and fasting” in Mark 9:29 – including Papyrus 45 from the 200s and over 99% of the Greek manuscripts – the CSB’s footnote would not have quite the same effect as its present footnote to Mark 9:29, which only mentions that “Other mss add and fasting.” 

            The frustration that some advocates of “Confessional Bibliology” feel, when they discover that the footnotes in the NIV, ESV, and CSB habitually spin the evidence so as to elicit a false impression which induces their readers to adopt an uninformed prejudice against readings in the Textus Receptus, is understandable. 

            However, while it is generally true that in Matthew-Jude, the reading that is found in the Textus Receptus has many more manuscripts in its favor than the alternate reading found in the Nestle-Aland compilation, this is not always the case.  To restate: although most of the time, an overwhelming quantity of manuscripts agrees with the reading in the Textus Receptus, there are some exceptions.  To re-restate:  the Textus Receptus contains some readings which are only supported by a small minority of Greek manuscripts, and some readings for which the Greek manuscript support is negligible, and even a small number of readings which have no Greek manuscript support.
            Consider, for example, the words, “‘It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.  And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me do?’  And the Lord said to him,” in Acts 9:5-6 in the KJV.  The late Bruce Metzger stated in his Textual Commentary on theGreek New Testament, “So far as is known, no Greek witness reads these words at this place; they have been taken from 26.14 and 22.10.”  Some claims that Metzger made have not aged well, but as far as I know, this one remains valid.  Erasmus added the passage known as Acts 9:5b-6a to correspond to the Vulgate, which supports their inclusion.  But if we answer the question, “Vulgate or Greek?” as the Reformers answered it, in favor of the text found in Greek manuscripts, then we should not claim that every part of Acts 9:5-6 as printed in the Textus Receptus is the original text of the passage.
            And consider the word κοινωνία (koinōnia) in Ephesians 3:9.  This word is in the Textus Receptus, and is rendered “fellowship” in the KJV.  But in the majority of Greek manuscripts, what we find is not the word κοινωνία.  The Byzantine Textform reads, instead, οἰκονομία (oikonomia), which means “dispensation” or “administration.”  Most manuscripts, whether Alexandrian or Byzantine, do not support κοινωνία; they support οἰκονομία.  Pickering’s reconstruction of family 35’s archetype has οἰκονομία in Ephesians 3:9.  Antoniades’ 1904 compilation of the ecclesiastical text has οἰκονομία in Ephesians 3:9.  It should not be difficult to see that the Textus Receptus contains a corruption at this point, and quoting the formulators of the Westminster Confession of Faith will not change that.
            More examples of minority-readings in the Textus Receptus could be considered; there are hundreds of them – in Matthew 7:2, Mark 4:18, Luke 7:31, etc., etc.  (A list of the many differences between the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine Textform is online.)  I do not mean to suggest that textual critics ought to adopt a policy of the-majority-of-manuscripts-is-always-right; nor am I proposing that there is no such thing as a minority reading for which a persuasive case for genuineness can be made.  What I am saying is that some ultra-minority-readings in the Textus Receptus demonstrate that it is capable of improvement as a representation of the original text.


FOUR.   Treating the Textus Receptus as if it is the original text resolves the question, “If God inspired the New Testament, why didn’t He preserve it?”.

          The advocates of “Confessional Bibliology” are not the only people who have asked such a question.  Bart Ehrman similarly asks, in Misquoting Jesus, “If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of Scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture?”.  Instead of concluding, with the Confessional Bibliologists, that we must have all of the original text of the New Testament, and that the Textus Receptus is it, and instead of concluding, with Ehrman, that we don’t have all of the original text, and this somehow renders the extant text unreliable, I would start by asking another question in the “Why didn’t God do it like this” category:  why didn’t God ensure that everyone would interpret the New Testament the same way? 
            If we are to ask, “Why inspire the text without guaranteeing its preservation?”, why not also ask “Why preserve its form without preserving its meaning?”.  For it is indisputable that the meaning of a statement matters more than the form in which it is expressed.  So, if God inspired the New Testament text, why didn’t He guarantee that everyone’s interpretation of it would be identical?  If one is going to pose questions at the intersection of textual criticism and the motives of God, I think this is a much better question.  But people can easily see the answer:  it was not God’s will to compel all interpreters to form a specific interpretation.   Similarly, it was not God’s will to compel all copyists to write a specific text, exactly the same in all details.  God’s will for perfect performance in the task of copying and interpreting is no doubt real, but not at the expense of the autonomy of copyists and interpreters. 
            God values human liberty, to an extent.  And why would God deprive copyists of that liberty if He looked forward in history and foresaw that text-critical problems involving manuscripts used by the church would matter as little as they do?  Inasmuch as God always knows the future, why would He not entrust the ship consisting of His inspired words to a crew of fallible copyists, knowing that while the ship’s hull might many times be scratched, and that barnacles would become attached to it, the net effect of the journey upon the cargo would be benign?  This is not to say that there are not some manuscripts with wildly anomalous texts, such as Codex Bobbiensis and the Sinaitic Syriac, but these “stray cat” manuscripts have not had a consequential influence on the church’s text as a whole.

FIVE.  Using the Textus Receptus as my authoritative standard simplifies sermon preparation.

            No doubt, having an authoritative textual standard – any textual standard – simplifies sermon preparation.  The question is, how closely does that textual standard convey the meaning of the original text?  A preacher with confidence in the Textus Receptus may live in the same city as a preacher with confidence in the Sahidic version, and a preacher with confidence in the NIV may live nearby, next door to a preacher with confidence in the Peshitta.  Does their confidence resolve anything?  No; all that has happened is that we have gone from a situation in which manuscripts disagree to a situation in which preachers disagree.  The confidence of preachers does not make the textual questions go away.
            It is one thing to resort to accepting the text that one has received from one’s trusted elders when one is a novice.  It would be another thing to avoid learning about textual evidence and its implications for simplicity’s sake.  How will the textual contests ever be resolved, if every preacher is content to say, “I embrace the text that was handed down to me, and that is that”?   And which congregation is likely to be more confident that its preacher is sharing the Word of God:  the congregation of the preacher who engages the evidence, and develops the skill to make a scientific case for every textual variant that he endorses, or the congregation of the preacher who tells his flock that he is deliberately wearing blinders to avoid doing so?
            No doubt many occasions may come along when a busy preacher or isolated missionary is compelled by circumstances to utilize a New Testament passage without really taking the first proper step of all hermeneutics – confirming what the text is.  But this ought to be a last resort, not a goal. 


22 comments:

John Podgorney said...

All I can say is, "Well said, James." This has been on my mind for many years. Thanks for clarifying the situation.

A. J. MacDonald, Jr said...

I think we're dealing with an infallibility issue here. The Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries believed they needed an infallible Bible to take the place of the (supposedly) infallible Catholic church in order to justify their having broken away from the church. If the NT text didn't come down to them pure and intact--in every jot an title--then, they believed, the Bible could not be considered infallible. They acknowledged variants but they never could have agreed with modern critics that many long beloved verses and stories didn't actually belong in the text. Most of those long beloved verses and stories could also be found in the old Latin Vulgate NT. I mean, how many verses and stories can mistakenly make their way into an infallible text before it becomes fallible? One? Two? Twelve? In short, the CB or TR folks are simply trying to be consistent Protestants. They may seem old fashioned, or traditional, according to the majority of today's progressive Protestants, but I don't think we should fault them for that. They're trying to uphold the old ways and the old standard. And what's wrong with that?

Maurice A. Robinson said...

It seems that if one correctly insists on an ad fontes approach, the Greek sources involved should not be late printed compilation-patchworks reflecting source documents of variable quality, but a basic consensus text garnered from that which is strongly supported among the whole body of existing Greek manuscripts themselves.

On this principal I see Confessional Bibliology falling short.

Matthew M.Rose said...

Current controversy aside, I think this is (if nothing else) a step in the right direction. The Church is better off with the TR in hand than with the Critical Text. With that said, I believe there is a time to study and a time to speak, a time to formulate principles and methodology and a time to present them. In short, this small "movement" has evolved and will probably continue to do so. Especially as it's proponents continue to study the NT Text and become more familiar with the many important variations within it.

My prayer is that it turns into a hopeful bridge, which could both give access to the more extreme KJVO advocates to journey into a more feasible position and also lead many within the camp into more valid and defensible views. Namely, point them to a Burgon, a Robinson, a Scrivener, a Letis or a Snapp etc.(respectfully). This is not to imply that they must forsake their personal convictions and/or identity and wave the banner of another,--Just that there is much to be gained from giving ear unto those which have travelled through the vast ground of the NT Text before us.

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...

But is there really no other exemplar that reads κοινωνία in Eph 3:9, what about the Old Latin, European vs African versions? Maybe they preserved the correct word. Similarly, the Vulgate may have preserved the correct reading in Acts 9:5-6. I tend to think God increased His preservation of the Text during the dawning era of printed Bibles, with Erasmus including some readings from the West.

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...

Hear Hear!

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...

But only half the Church used Greek through all the centuries...I think it would be wise to incorporate certain readings the other half of the Church used in the West. Such I think was Erasmus' goal, and I believe this was providentially guided as it was now the moment where millions of Bibles were about to be printed, so all the more reason to get both East and West texts in one. Also the Greeks were late to accepting Revelation, so I think it's quite plausible that God preserved this book better in the West as a reward for their faith. But the main idea is to have a New Testament representative of both halves of Christendom. This in my opinion is the true essence of the Ecclesiastical Text stance, and why it is more complete. I say this being a huge supporter of your work, good sir.

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...

Right, this is good reasoning. And Catholics have a different authority which is probably why they don't get into defending the Bible as passionately as Protestants, the more logical of whom like you said are merely being consistent in their efforts to make their authority stable, not unlike Catholics defending papal infallibility.

Maurice A. Robinson said...

Seriously then, if so, ad fontes as originally understood is literally emptied of all meaning.

James Snapp Jr said...

Knight at the end of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusades,
Comments tend to live longer healthier lives here if they are not anonymous.

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...

James, wouldn't you agree that what I say is far more important than who I am? Do you agree with what I've shared so far?

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...

But ad fontes at root means to the sources, which I believe may have been better preserved in the West. It is not a language purity thing. After all, this would help keep the East from becoming prideful, since they must rely on the other half of Christendom.

Maurice A. Robinson said...

The Reformation-Era writers did not suggest that the original text would "have been better preserved in the West," but instead insisted on the superiority of the Greek over the Latin, as anyone should be aware. Claims to the contrary are merely an invention of the modern movements promoting some form of the TR and nothing more.

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...

I agree the Greek is superior to the Latin, but it's not perfect. Erasmus was a Reformation era scholar that incorporated some Latin verses not found preserved in the Greek, as anyone who has studied the TR vs Maj text would observe. The Great Bible 1539 also did this. The Reformers (Catholic and Protestant) did not simply follow the Greek Byzantine or otherwise, this is simply incorrect. Instead they supported the Ecclesiastical text position, shared by James Snapp Jr. and myself.

Maurice A. Robinson said...

News to me if Mr Snapp holds to an Ecclesiastical Text position.

jryan said...

What translation should a normal Christian read then, and please don't say you should read them all that goes without saying.

Thanks
Joe Ryan

James Snapp Jr said...

Maurice,
I do not hold an "Ecclesiastical Text" position.


Maurice A. Robinson said...

I certainly know that, but apparently the unnamed Knight doesn't get it.

The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MJH said...

I’m confused by the title of the article and some of the contents. I’m assuming you are against KJV-onlyism and the critical text (nestle-Aland), but in favor of the TR in a general sense. Right ?

James Snapp Jr said...

MJH,
I am not in favor of KJV-Onlyism and I am not a fan of the Nestle-Aland compilation. I favor an eclectic approach that treats most of the Byzantine Text as an ancient local text; I call this approach Equitable Eclecticism. See for details
http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/EclecticOne.htm

James Snapp Jr.