Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Textus Receptus: How Bad Is It?

          The flaws in the Textus Receptus - defined here as the base-text of the English King James Version - are well-know to those who have studied textual criticism.  Due to the limitations of Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza's manuscripts, the Textus Receptus fails to display the majority reading in over a thousand places in Matthew-Jude, and in Revelation 22, the Textus Receptus to this day has non-original readings which Erasmus retro-translated into Greek from Latin.  Although it is generally a sound representative of the Byzantine Text in Matthew-Jude, minority readings pop up in every Gospel, in Acts, and in the epistles - on rare occasions (such as in Acts 9:5-6) readings with no Greek support at all.

          But today is April 28, the day when Billy the Kid escaped custody - so instead of focusing on how bad the TR was, let's put the spotlight today on how GOOD the Textus Receptus is.  (Billy the Kid might not have been a great gunfighter, but he was a good jaibreaker!)  Equipped with a low number of manuscripts, mostly Byzantine, the scholars of the 1500s were able to filter out scribal mistakes and give Tyndale, Luther, and the translators of the KJV a Greek base-text which transmitted (for the most part - allowing for harmonizations, name-spelling, the occasional glitch-reading, etc,) the same message that the original text transmitted in the first century.

          Some may say, "In 2024, we don't need the Textus Receptus anymore."  I agree.  The Byzantine Textform is better.  The Solid Rock GNT is better.  Not only do we have many more Greek manuscripts available than the scholars of the 1500s had, but we also have much wider versional evidence, and much older evidence in both Greek and Latin and Syriac, et al. But is there any case in which the Textus Receptus and the oldest extant manuscript agree, saying the same thing, and the Byzantine Textform, the Majority Text, the SBLGNT, the Nestle-Aland NTG and the UBS GNT disagree?

          There is.  Turn to First Peter 5:8.  "Νήψατε, γρηγορήσατε· ὁ ἀντίδικος ὑμῶν διάβολος, ὡς λέων ὠρυόμενος, περιπατεῖ ζητῶν τίνα καταπίῃ" is the Byzantine form of this verse.  The Textus Receptus is different:  there is an οτί between γρηγορήσατε and ὁ ἀντίδικος which is in neither the Byzantine Text nor in the Nestle-Aland/UBS compilations.     In our earliest Greek witness to the text of this part of First Peter - Papyrus 72 - we also find this οτί!  Which just goes to show you that in the field of New Testament textual criticism, there is no such thing as an unimportant Greek manuscript.  Even the scribes who made the manuscripts upon which the Textus Receptus was based can possess the same scribal tendencies that the scribes of the earliest Greek manuscript had.


Demian said...

Thank you for this port, James. Another lesson that we can learn from your post is that the agreement between the majority text and the NA-text is not necessarily equivalent to the original text in all cases. There are cases where the TR may be preserving the original text over against those two compilations. “οτι” is also found in Wilbur Pickering family 35, which is a branch within the Byzantine family of manuscripts and both the vulgates of Stuttgart and the Clementine vulgate. Besides papyrus 72, this reading is also supported by a correction in codex Sinaiticus, codex L, minuscules 33 and 1739 and the Syriac and Coptic versions. So, here we have Alexandrian and Byzantine support, antiquity and widespread reading in favor of the TR and an omission easily accounted for as parableptic error (ο-ο).

Andrew said...

I have a couple thoughts on your first paragraph, if you would be so kind as to oblige my comment. The first thing I would like to say is that, while we may know the limitations of Erasmus, the same can't really be said for Robertus Stephanus, Henricus Stephanus, Beza, or even Simon de Colines; not to mention others. This is maybe the most important point I'd like to make, as far as I am aware we simply don't know what manuscripts they had, at least not the full extent of it. Stephanus in 1550 definitely referred to some manuscripts which are, as far as I know, still unidentified. And there is no reason to think there aren't even more. There is no reason to suppose their shared readings did not come from such Greek manuscripts.

This is pertinent to the discussion of Revelation 22:16-21, because Erasmus' version (as taken from any of his five printed editions) was corrected by later editors. Erasmus was missing a few words in verses 16, 18 and 19. These words were supplied by others with manuscripts that supported those words, and these were included by Stephanus and others. However the reading "book of life" in verse 19, and many other words in this passage (for example the received text conjugation of four verbs in verse 17) were well-supported by the manuscripts where these same corrections came from.

Similarly, Acts 9:5-6 has support today from minuscule 629, and consequently you are going to see people cite it in defense of that passage. This may very well be considered weak; and in my view, it wouldn't be enough manuscript support to include it. I don't think anyone did include it in their edition based on that manuscript being the sole evidence of Greek manuscripts they had. But it isn't necessarily all that they had.

You can look at other passages where there is even less manuscript support today, like the longer reading of Acts 10:6. Somehow, all of the printed editions included the longer Acts 10:6 reading, even the Antwerp Polyglot text (which had three unique editions in 1571, 1572 and 1584). The Antwerp Polyglot almost always follows the Complutensian text that omits the reading, marking a somewhat rare divergence. It seems to me like it would require extraordinary evidence to maintain that virtually everyone who was making new critical printed editions was conspiring for some ulterior motive to include Acts 9:5-6 and Acts 10:6 when they differed from Erasmus and others so often in various other passages.

The point is, we don't really know the limitations of Stephanus or Beza's manuscripts. Not to mention others around that time. Since the topic was brought up, I thought I would mention this.