|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 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.]
A great Sunday read. Thank you.
Let us not forget that the world first received the NIV in the form of the 1973 NT. I think the majority of the changes between it and the 1978 NT portion were in the footnotes rather than the text. This includes footnotes that translate readings relegated to the footnotes of the UBS GNT. An example is Romans 8:1, the footnote of which in 1973 read: Some later MSS add, "who do not live according to *their* sinful nature but according to the Spirit." "Their" was later replaced with "the," and the latest NIV dropped the alternate reading entirely.
"In that section [WCF 1:8] the Puritan divines affirm that the original language texts of the autographa of the Prophets and Apostles were providentially preserved in their textual purity and were now located in the extant manuscripts. They recognized that variants existed, but agreed these could be and largely had been accurately assessed and that the original text was settled. They assumed God had overseen the preservation of the text and it’s availability to His Church in all ages."
Garnet Milne, "Has the Bible been kept pure?" p. 300
A. J. MacDonald,
Let's say that the statement you present is accurate. In that case, a compilation that has been "largely" settled is not *completely* settled; otherwise the adjective "completely" would be used. In which case, the WCF's formulators affirmed that a text which was not 100% "settled" where its form was concerned was nevertheless "pure" where its character was concerned. It follows that the purity which they affirm regarding the text as they knew it pertained to the text's general character, and not to every little detail -- some of which, as I have shown, fluctuated from one compilation to another, and/or from one English translation to another.
"They [WCF's formulators] did not deny that some textual decisions had to be made from the variants evident in the New Testament copies or that there were numerical and other minor blemishes in the copies. But they were confident they could be resolved by internal considerations including consulting the Old Testament. They stressed that the original language texts which had been immediately inspired by God were extant, and that they were pure. They did not mean pure in sense or in doctrine only, but in words and sentences. Moreover, they appealed to proof texts such as Matt. 5:18 to confirm the Scripture’s testimony of their religious epistemology.”
Garnet Milne, “Has the Bible been kept pure?” (pp. 95-96)
When you say "and not to every little detail" you're rejecting the religious epistemology they held to, which was based upon Matthew 5:18:
"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."
This is the problem: you're not using Scripture to develop a theology of Scripture.
Hi James,I'm happy to see our interaction on CB facebook gruoup generate an article written by you. As I said before, it is important to say that the Classic Reformed view abou the TR is not that we have an only absolute edition. The Text of the New testament is preserved, but we consider all the editions of the TR as Representative. The few variantions that we deal are circunscript with the TR edtions. The Reformed view is not the same as the Fundamentalist view, that put the Scrivener's edition as the absolute edition of the TR. In my opinion, the best definitions about what I'm saying are these:
One correction, Scrivener did not "retro-translate" from the KJV to produce his edition of the text presumably underlying the KJV. Rather, the text of Scrivener's edition was established primarily from Beza 1598, with changes being made to that text only when some other pre-1611 printed edition had a reading closer to that of the KJV.
In addition, Scrivener supplied in an appendix a listing of places where no existing printed Greek NT happened to represent the KJV rendering. Had Scrivener actually "retro-translated," that appendix would not have been necessary.
JS: 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.
Scrivener did not "retro-translate" from the KJV to produce his edition of the text presumably underlying the KJV. Rather, the text of Scrivener's edition was established primarily from Beza 1598, with changes being made to that text only when some other pre-1611 printed edition had a reading closer to that of the KJV.
I disagree with MR's disagreement, based on my copy of Scrivener, in Greene's Interlinear with a Majority Text Readings Appendix. After identifying his Greek text as that of Scrivener, Greene writes:
"This Greek text differs slightly from other printed editions of the Received Text. It also departs in a few details from the Greek text used by translators of the KJV. In places it has a different reading from that found in the KJV (e.g. Beelzeboul for Beelzebub in Matt. 12:24; sin for sins in John 8:21; flock for fold in John 10:16). In other places it includes Greek words where the KJV translators had none, which they indicated with italics . . . . This text retains a few readings from the Latin Vulgate, two or three without Greek-manuscript authority (e.g. Acts 9:5-6) and one from the Complutensian Bible (1 John 5:7). Although we do not accept these as true Scripture, we have allowed them to remain; the appendix must serve as the needed corrective."
You are both right. Scrivener in fact *attempted* to retro-translate the KJV into Greek readings known to be available to the KJV editors. That he couldn't find any printed Greek source for some readings (not even one that had earlier been retro-translated from Latin) meant that the retro-translation must needs be incomplete, which it is.
I might add that, at least in one case which I'm sure of (1 John 2:23b), the only reason they left disputed text in italics was because it was in italics in the Bishops Bible, and their royal mandate did not extend to making textual changes to the English Bible.
Sometimes it is much easier simply to cite the source, namely Scrivener's original "Preface" (which was not included in the Green or the TBS retypeset editions), pp. viii-ix:
"Wherever therefore the Authorised renderings agree with other Greek readings which might naturally be known through printed editions to the revisers of 1611 or their predecessors, Beza's reading has been displaced from the text in favour of the more truly representative reading....It was manifestly necessary to accept only Greek authority, though in some places the Authorised Varsion corresponds but loosely with any form of the Greek original, while it exactly follows the Latin Vulgate."
Bottom line: "retro-translation" was not involved.
A. J. MacDonald,
Just because some guy named Milne thinks the WCF's formulators meant that the TR and only the TR was authoritative, that doesn't make every reading in the TR original. Right? A text may become authoritative to whoever declares it authoritative, but declaring it authoritative does not make it original. And textual criticism is about reconstructing the original text.
AJMD: "When you say "and not to every little detail" you're rejecting the religious epistemology they held to."
I don't see that expressly stated in the WCF. Nor do I see where the WCF demands that Matthew 5:18, spoken by Jesus before any of the New Testament was written, should be applied to the New Testament text. I would also argue that your understanding of Mt. 5:18 is an oversimplification, as if it must mean that every letter as originally written must be preserved and be available to God's people, and all of them, for all time, everywhere. But that's another subject.
AJMD: "This is the problem: you're not using Scripture to develop a theology of Scripture."
I would say, rather, that part of the problem you perceive is founded on my non-acceptance of your assumptions about what the text means.
Precisely the process that Scrivener describes in your quotation is what I mean when I refer to "retro-translation" -- he started with the English and produced the corresponding Greek reading, selected from the printed Greek texts available (usually but not always Beza's youngest edition) to the KJV's translators.
JS: "he started with the English and produced the corresponding Greek reading, selected from the printed Greek texts available"
...Which is why is was not "retro-translated" but at best "retro-selected" from various pre-1611 printed editions. That is the point I am making, in the interest of precision.
This is a useful article, thank you for providing it.
JS: "So, here is a list of some differences between the KJV’s base-text and some of the base-texts of earlier English translations in the 1500’s,"
I agree with you that you are correct to suggest in your article that the list contained here includes "some" differences, as you describe. And, that "some" earlier base-texts vary to a limited degree from what we are looking at. However, in neither case can this be said to be "all."
This is because the KJV's base-text accurately reflects at least one TR edition predating it in each one of the places you mentioned, at least. I will show this below. And, not all of the items on your list comprise what would normally be considered differences. This is since, among all of the differences between the important Textus Receptus editions, most of them amount to no resultant change to any translation whatsoever. These would include equivalent spelling variations - and the like. Some of the items on your list are comparable to this. The vast majority of "differences" of this degree, while maybe interesting, will not change or affect as much as a single word in any (accurate) translation.
However, some of the items on your short list do comprise differences that would in fact arguably change the translation, even just if by a small detail. However, as I said just a moment ago, none of the decisions by the KJV translation committee in these places, that I can see, were made based on no TR edition at all, we should keep that in mind as we proceed to look at the examples.
Matthew 2:11 – KJV: “saw” (ειδον), not “found” (ευρον)
Elias Hutter's Nuremberg Polyglot (1599), and secondarily the Complutensian (1520), contain εἶδον which would be reflected in the 1611 KJV translation. (It can also be argued that "saw" in English would be able to accurately represent this word in the context of this sentence, and this is even if εὗρον were the only known reading.)
Matthew 10:10 – KJV: “staves” (ραβδους) not “staff” (ραβδον)
The same two witnesses as above (Nuremberg/Complutensian) contain ῥάβδους.
Matthew 21:7 – KJV says “they set him” (επεκάθισαν) instead of “he sat” (επεκάθισεν)
The plural (επεκάθισαν) which indicates the disciples as the antecedent, is the reading in the Beza Textus Receptus, so it makes sense that the KJV translation would reflect that. Also, while the Stephanus 3rd edition of 1550 has the epsilon, the 4th edition of Stephanus, from 1551 agrees with the KJV as well with the -αν ending.
Matthew 23:13-14 – KJV reverses the order of these verses.
The Stephanus 4th edition again contains the normal order agreeing with the KJV. Which makes sense considering the verse order is based upon such. Furthermore, Elzevir TR editions, Erasmus' 3rd edition of 1522 and the Complutensian agree with this order.
Mark 5:38 – KJV includes “and” (και) before “them that wept” (κλαίοντας)
I am not sure which of these variants you think is not being accurately represented here by the KJV. That is, whether the "and" is explicit or whether implied. However the Erasmus TR does contain this word, however later versions omit.
Mark 9:40 – KJV says “us” and “our” (ημων) instead of “you” and “your” (υμων)
The Beza TR says ἡμῶν. An aside, translations before the aforementioned editions of the Greek New Testament seem to translate this verse the same way regardless - that is, even if it does say ὑμῶν - namely in the same way that the 1611 English KJV has this verse.
Mark 12:20 – KJV includes “Now” (ουν) in the opening sentence.
Beza editions of the TR include οὖν.
Mark 15:3 – KJV includes “But he answered nothing.” (αυτος δε ουδε απεκρίνατο)
The Beza 1604 edition includes. Hutter's Polyglot of 1599 also contains it. Both were released before 1611.
Luke 1:35 – KJV includes “of thee” (εκ σου).
Beza TR includes.
Luke 2:22 – KJV says “her” (αυτης) instead of “their” (αυτων).
Beza TR includes. Context suggests the translation is the same for both; The Geneva 1557 New Testament and 1560 Bible said the same as the KJV here, as did Matthew's 1537 Bible translation and the Bishop Bible.
Luke 6:37 – KJV does not include “and” (και) at the beginning of the verse.
Among the major editions of the Greek New Testament, they all include it. The English translations prior to 1611 all omit the word "and," due to the context of where this word και is placed. Even the Scrivener 1860 and 1887 editions apparently include this word in Greek, although the more well-known 1894 edition of that text excludes it.
Luke 7:45 – KJV says “I came in” (εισηλθον) instead of “she came in” (εισηλθεν)
Stephanus TR reads εἰσῆλθον
Luke 10:22 – KJV does not include Και στραφεις προς τους μαθητας ειπεν
Beza 1598 and Stephanus 1551 each agrees with the KJV in this verse by not including this.
Luke 17:36 – KJV includes this verse.
Both of the above witnesses include this verse, footnote in the KJV notwithstanding
Luke 20:31 – KJV includes “also” (και)
The και between the usual second and third instances of the word in Luke 20:31 only seems to appear in the Elzevir 1624 and 1633 editions and later. It seems not to be required for the word "also," in English, to be implied in this place. Also the italics apparatus, found to mark implied words in the KJV, are not perfect (comp. Luke 17:27 to 29) It is what it is.
John 8:6 – KJV has “as though he heard them not” (μη προσποιούμενος) at the end of the verse.
It's in Hutter's Nuremberg Polyglot (1599)
John 8:42 – KJV does not include “therefore” (ουν).
See previous answers for Luke 20:31, Luke 6:37, Luke 2:22, and Mark 9:40. Translation not affected by this variant. The Nuremberg Polyglot also has this reading again.
John 18:24 – KJV has “Now” (ουν).
Beza TR has this reading.
Thanks again for this article, I hope that this helps out somebody. Respectfully, Andrew Tollefson
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