Friday, January 4, 2019

The Mumpsimus Mentality

           In the summer of 1516, Desiderius Erasmus, who had compiled the first published printed Greek New Testament earlier that year, wrote an interesting letter to his friend Henry Bullock.  In that letter, he described his frustration with some people who objected to his translational and text-critical work on the grounds that he was introducing changes to the Scriptures:
Erasmus of Rotterdam
           “Do they allow any changes in Holy Writ, or none at all?  If they allow any, why not examine in the first place whether it is right or no to make the change?  If they do not, what will they make of those passages in which the existence of a corruption is too obvious to be denied or overlooked?  Would they rather imitate on this point the mass-priest who refused to change the word mumpsimus which he had used for twenty years, when someone told him that sumpsimus was what he ought to say?  They burst out in horror crying, ‘O heavens, o earth!  This man is correcting the Gospels!’  But with how much more justice one would cry out upon the man who fills them with error, ‘Rank sacrilege!  This man corrupts the Gospels!”1
            Mumpsimus and sumpsimus?   What do these words mean?  Erasmus was referring to the traditional Latin prayer which is offered by Roman Catholic priests near the end of the Eucharist-service; the relevant line goes, “Quod ore sumpsimus Domine pura mente capiamus,” meaning, “May what we have received with our mouth, O Lord, be received with purity of mind.”  The scene pictured by Erasmus (popularized, with some embellishment, by Richard Pace shortly thereafter) is one in which a priest was in the habit of saying this part of the prayer with the term “mumpsimus,” which is not the correct Latin word (and which, if not for Erasmus inventing it, would not be a real word at all), and when a learned visitor priest told him (correctly) that he ought to say “sumpsimus” instead, replied that he would not abandon the traditional “mumpsimus” in favor of the new-fangled “sumpsimus.”
             The term “mumpsimus” quickly became a designation for incorrect things – whether incorrect forms of words, or incorrect interpretations, or incorrect textual decisions – that some people prefer merely because, as far as the people who prefer them are concerned, they have been favored by tradition.  The term “mumpsimus” is found in statements by William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII, and Hugh Latimer; Latimer, in a sermon in 1553 (two years before his martyrdom), memorably said, “Some be so obstinate in their old mumpsimus that they cannot abide the true doctrine of God.”
            One could say nowadays that there are some who are so sure about their old textual mumpsimus – poorly attested readings that are perpetuated in the Textus Receptus – that they cannot abide the original text.  In the case of readings for which there is barely a whiff of Greek manuscript-support, and even less Greek patristic support, what is the reason to prefer such poorly attested readings, except a preference for what is traditional over and above what is true?  
            It has been said by some defenders of the King James Version and its base-text that the Textus Receptus represents the “Antiochan line” of reliable manuscripts, as opposed to the Alexandrian line, which is represented by fewer (but older) manuscripts.  But the Textus Receptus contains some readings which most manuscripts do not support.  Consider the following ten readings from the Gospel of Matthew which are in both the Byzantine, or “Antiochan” Text (representing a large majority of manuscripts) and the Nestle-Aland compilation (representing mainly the Alexandrian text), contrasted with the KJV’s base-text: 
Matthew 4:18:  Περιπατων δε (And walking). 
              KJV/TR:  Περιπατων δε ο Ιησους (And Jesus, walking).   
Matthew 5:27:  ερρεθη (it was said). 
              KJV/TR:  ερρεθη τοις αρχαίος (it was said by them of old time).
Matthew 6:18:  αποδώσει σοι (shall reward thee).
              KJV/TR:  αποδώσει σοι εν τω φανερω (shall reward thee openly).
Matthew 7:2:  μετρηθήσεται υμιν (it shall be measured to you). 
KJV/TR:  αντιμετρηθήσεται υμιν (it shall be measured to you again).
Matthew 8:5 – Εισεθόντι δε  (And when he had entered). 
KJV/TR:  Εισεθόντι δε τω Ιηοου (And when Jesus was entered).
Matthew 8:15 – και διηκόνει αυτω (And she arose and ministered unto him.) 
KJV/TR:  και διηκόνει αυτοις (And she arose and ministered unto them.) 
Matthew 9:36 – εσκυλμένοι (harassed). 
KJV/TR:  εκλελυμένοι (fainted).
Matthew 12:35 – θησαυρου (treasure). 
KJV/TR:  θησαυρου της καρδίας (treasure of the heart).
Matthew 18:29 – και αποδώσω σοι (and I will pay thee).
KJV/TR:  και πάντα αποδώσω σοι (and I will pay thee all).
Matthew 25:44 – Τότε αποκριθήσονται και αυτοι (Then shall they also answer).
KJV/TR:  Τότε αποκριθήσονται αυτω και αυτοι (Then shall they also answer him).  

Other minority-readings are scattered through the rest of the New Testament in the Textus Receptus,2 and are reflected in the KJV; here are some samples:

Ephesians 3:9 – οικονομία (dispensation, or, administration).
KJV/TR:  κοινωνια (fellowship).
Philippians 4:3 – Ναι ερωτω και σε (Yes, I entreat thee also).
KJV/TR:  Και ερωτω και σε (And I entreat thee also). 
Colossians 1:6 – και εστιν καρποφορούμενον και αυξανόμενον (and is bringing forth fruit, and is growing).
KJV/TR:  και εστιν καρποφορούμενον (and is bringing forth fruit).
First Timothy 5:4 – τουτο γάρ εστιν απόδεκτον ενώπιον του Θεου (For that is acceptable before God).
KJV/TR:  τουτο γάρ εστιν καλον και απόδεκτον ενώπιον του Θεου (For that is good and acceptable before God).
Second Timothy 2:19 – το ονομα Κυρίου (the name of the Lord).
KJV/TR:  το ονομα Χριστου (the name of Christ).
Hebrews 12:20 – λιθοβοληθήσεται (it shall be stoned)
              KJV/TR:  λιθοβοληθήσεται η βολιδι κατατοξευθήσεται (it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart)
● First John 5:7-8 – Οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες, το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν (For there are three that bear record, the spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree in one.)
KJV/TR:  Οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τω ουρανω, ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος, και το αγιον πνευμα· και ουτοι οι τρεις εν εισιν.  Και τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες εν τω γη, το πνευμα και το υδωρ και το αιμα και οι τρεις εις το εν εισιν.  (For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one,  And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one).
● Revelation 22:19 – του ξύλου της ζωης (the tree of life).
KJV/TR:  του βίβλου της ζωης (the book of life).

In these 18 minority-readings, the causes of corruption in the Textus Receptus are usually not difficult to perceive: 

Matthew 4:18:  Jesus’ name was added at the beginning of a lection.      
Matthew 5:27:  Conformation to 5:21.
Matthew 6:18:  Conformation to 6:4 and 6:6 (as read in the Byzantine Text).
Matthew 7:2:  Harmonization to Luke 6:38.
Matthew 8:5 – Jesus’ name was added at the beginning of a lection.
Matthew 8:15 – Scribes were probably confused by an abbreviated word. 
Matthew 9:36 – A quirk-reading, perhaps the result of Erasmus’ awareness of the reading in Codex Regius (L).
Matthew 12:35 – Harmonization to Luke 6:45.  
Matthew 18:29 – Conformation to 18:26.
Matthew 25:44 – Conformation to 25:37.     
Ephesians 3:9 – An exemplar was misread (or miswritten).
Philippians 4:3 – An exemplar was misread (or miswritten).
Colossians 1:6 – A parableptic error (-μενον, -μενον).
First Timothy 5:4 – Harmonization to 2:3. 
Second Timothy 2:19 – An interchange of sacred-name contractions; the more specific name was written to replace the less specific name.
● Hebrews 12:20 – An expansion to conform more precisely to a Septuagint-reading. 
● First John 5:7-8 – An expansion added (initially in an Old Latin transmission-line) as an allegorical interpretation of the three transposed witnesses “the water, the blood, and the spirit.”
● Revelation 22:19 – A result of Erasmus’ retro-translation of the last six verses of Revelation from a form of the Latin Vulgate.
              The sense of all 18 of these readings has been perpetuated in English (and other languages) for hundreds of years, but that does not make them the original text that God inspired.  At every one of these 18 points, the Textus Receptus departs from the Byzantine Text, and simultaneously disagrees with the Alexandrian Text as well.  What may appear to be the “traditional” reading, from the perspective of an individual who knows the Scriptures primarily via the KJV, has the support (in these 18 places) of neither the most numerous manuscripts, nor the oldest manuscripts, nor the most widespread manuscripts, and internal considerations point toward an origin for each one that is elsewhere than in the autographs. 
              Since the Textus Receptus’ readings at these points are not original, they should not be considered authoritative.  There is no good reason to make the original text give up its seat to the creations of scribes.
              Nevertheless there are some individuals who insist that each and every word of the Textus Receptus must be original.  This is mainly because they have misinterpreted passages about the eternality and immutability of God’s Word as if those passages mean that every letter, and every part of a letter – every jot and tittle – must be available to the people of God, at all times.  After all – as Bart Ehrman and John MacArthur have said – why inspire the words without preserving them? 
              This approach has gained some momentum in parts of Reformed Protestantism.  Some individuals who subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith have pointed to its affirmations as if they express such a view – particularly the affirmation that the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek “being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them.”  Working from the premise that “kept pure” must mean “preserved exactly,” these individuals proceed to deduce that inasmuch as the formulators of the Westminster Confession of Faith used the Textus Receptus, the Textus Receptus should be regarded 100% as the original text. 
              Such an approach requires some rather acrobatic reasoning.  The formulators and past defenders of the Westminster Confession of Faith do not seem to have harbored objections against the practice of textual criticism; they seem to have acquiesced to the textual research undertaken by James Ussher, Francis Turretin, Gerardus Vossius, Brian Walton, John Lightfoot, Edward Pococke, Patrick Young, et al in the 1600s.  Certainly their predecessors in the 1500s did not object to the textual research that resulted in the different compilations that they used; even the Elzevirs in the 1620s and 1630s were still tweaking their Greek compilations (for example, in Mark 4:18 and Second Timothy 1:12).  And Benjamin Blayney was neither executed nor excommunicated when he undertook a mild revision of the KJV in 1769, in which dozens of textual changes were introduced.3
              Those who exaggerate and inflate the Westminster Confession’s statement that God has kept the text of Scripture “pure in all ages,” so as to insist that the Textus Receptus is indistinguishable from the original text in every detail, contort their creed and the Scriptures themselves, and ignore historical facts.  For where and when did a Greek manuscript contain a text identical to the Textus Receptus in all respects, with αὐτῶν in Luke 2:22, and with και ὁ ἐσόομενος in Revelation 16:5, and with the 18 minority-readings already listed?  If it were true that the Textus Receptus has been kept pure in all ages, completely unchanged, then the answer would be, “All the time in all places,” but our manuscripts say, “Nowhere and never.”  
              So-called Confessional Bibliology assumes that if a variant circulated in print in the 1500s and early 1600s, it must be authentic, and on that premise, many variants which are found in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts are rejected by adherents of this approach, and are allowed to be usurped by scribal corruptions.
              Such an approach is fundamentally unsound.
              Consider geocentrism.  Some individuals not only believe that the sun revolves around the earth, but that the sun must revolve around the earth or else the Bible is not true.  Empirical evidence is superfluous to these individuals; Scripture, they say, decides the question.  But they are not truly being led by Scripture; they are misled by their flawed interpretations of Scripture.
              Confessional Bibliology is the textual equivalent of geocentrism.  Positing the idea of “verbal plenary preservation” by asserting that various passages in the Bible require one to believe that the Greek text of the New Testament has been preserved completely intact in its pristine form, they proceed to claim that the text has providentially been made available to the church in every age, and from there, they proceed to claim that the Textus Receptus must be the original text, dismissing observable evidence that forcefully shows that the Textus Receptus contains some scribal corruptions.    Regardless of how these individuals insist that they are defending God’s integrity, I have no doubt that if Erasmus could see them, he would undoubtedly declare that they are overly attached to their mumpsimus.   


1 – See Letter #456 on page 46 of The Correspondence of Erasmus, Letters 446 to 593, 1516 to 1517 (Volume 4), translated by R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson, and annotated by James K. McConica.  © University of Toronto Press, 1977. 

2 – Dr. Daniel Wallace has reported that he counted 1,838 differences between the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text and the 1825 edition of the Textus Receptus.  A substantial number of these differences, however, consist of readings that are only discernible in printed editions of the text, and which would not be perceptible in manuscripts written in scriptio continua, and with contracted sacred names.  An even greater number of the differences counted by Wallace are incapable of having an impact on translation. 

3 – It should also be observed that many Reformed ministries, such as Ligonier Ministries and some members of The Gospel Coalition, presently promote the Westminster Confession of Faith and yet routinely use English versions with New Testament base-texts that reject hundreds of readings found in the Textus Receptus.  


Unknown said...

Excellent post. I hope to see a counter argument from the Textus Receptus advocates at some point. Edward F. Hills' book is far from persuasive. In opposition to Burgon's position, that the preferable text is the Traditional Text found in the majority of manuscripts, Hills wrote, "If we believe in the providential preservation of the New Testament text, then we must defend the Textus Receptus as well as the Traditional Text found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts. For the Textus Receptus is the only form in which this Traditional Text has circulated in print. To decline to defend the Textus Receptus is to give the impression that God's providential preservation of the New Testament text ceased with the invention of printing. It is to suppose that God, having preserved a pure New Testament text all during the manuscript period, unaccountably left this pure text hiding in the manuscripts and allowed an inferior text to issue from the printing press and circulate among His people for more than 450 years." I wonder how one defends both the Textus Receptus and the Traditional Text where they differ, and how one argues that the Textus Receptus was providentially preserved from the autographs when it was crafted in the sixteenth century.

James L said...

Great work James. I read your articles all the time, but do not comment often enough. I truly appreciate the balanced and honest perspective you bring.

I strongly agree with your point regarding the battle between TR and MT. While I certainly disagree with some of the variants contained only in the Alexandrians texts that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bath water. Same goes for the TR.

John MacAurthur was wrong to ask his question rhetoricaly for it is the Spirit which continues to preserve and inspire as well as instruct. I feel many who subscribe so dogmatically to the TR, or any other translation, have lost something special when it comes to the mission of God’s Spirit being sent to us in the first place.

It’s not just about knowing and obeying, but about believing and loving AKA relationship. No textual criticism will ever replace the need to have God’s Spirit alive within us.

Thank you again for all your fine work. Godspeed

Daniel Buck said...

I checked a handful of these against the f35 compilation at, and in every case f35, "the source text for the TR," has the majority reading.
It should be pointed out that the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible suffers from the same shortcoming, being based on a single archetype of first-century text with all its scribal idiosyncrasies (duly defended and spiritualized down through the centuries by the faith community that perpetuated them), and transcribed into print from a single codex which contributed an error or two of its own.
Defenders of the Textus Receptus at least have the advantage of having, since the end of the nineteenth century, a Greek text that is a precise back-translation of the KJV NT. Those who want to defend the entire KJV from a confessional standpoint still lack any such text for the Old Testament.

Maurice A. Robinson said...

Hills: "we must defend the Textus Receptus as well as the Traditional Text found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts. For the Textus Receptus is the only form in which this Traditional Text has circulated in print."

Given that better and more accurate forms of the Traditional Text now circulate in print (whether the editions of H-F, R-P, or Pickering), such a statement theoretically should mean that, were Hills alive today, he should move away from the TR position originally held toward acceptance of the more authentical Byzantine editions -- but would he really have done so? Hardly so, it would seem (as I heard directly from Ted Letis many years ago). So instead, he would prefer to place his garments on two beasts of burden (TR and Byz), and attempt to ride both simultaneously.

Daniel Buck said...

Someone called me on "the source text for the TR" being f35, and it doesn't appear that anyone is making that claim. What subfamily is the most like the TR? I know that parts of the gospels have some Cesarean readings, I think from GA-2. And of course some come from the Vulgate via the Complutensian. But is the an identifiable family from which some of the liturgical flourishes we've read about here originated?

Daniel Buck said...

To answer my own question, here are some mss of Ephesians that contain the TR reading διανοίας in 1:18: 1678* 1939 1963 1996 1999 2008 2012 2576* ℓ2010.