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The King-James-Version-Only advocates are John William Burgon (1813–1888), E. H. A. Scrivener (1813–1891), Edward Miller (1825–1901), and Edward F. Hills (1912–1981). The King James version Onlyist love to use these men’s tired arguments in their defense of the corrupt Textus Receptus and the King James Version. Hills’ work The King James Version Defended is used to have some kind of modern-day scholarly work to give credibility to their tired, old theories about Bible translations. Before we argue against these indefensible defenders, let’s set the stage a bit first.
Separated Into Families
We have textual traditions or families of texts which grew up in a certain region. For example, we have the Alexandrian text-type, which Westcott and Hort called the Neutral text that came from Egypt. Then, there is the Western text-type, which came from Italy and Gaul, North Africa, and elsewhere. There was also the Caesarean text-type, which came from Caesarea and is characterized by a mixture of Western and Alexandrian readings (B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 1994, Page xxi). The Byzantine text-type, also called Majority Text, came from Constantinople (i.e., Byzantium).
In short, early Christianity gave rise to what are known as “local texts.” Christian congregations in and near cities, such as Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Carthage, or Rome, were making copies of the Scriptures in a form that would become known as their text-type. In other words, manuscripts grew up in certain areas, just like a human family, becoming known as that text-type, having their own characteristics. In reality, it is not as simple as this because there are mixtures of text-types within each text-type. However, each text-type generally resembles itself more than the others. Remember that most of our extant manuscripts are identical in more than seventy-five percent of their texts. Thus, it is the twenty-five percent of variation that identifies a manuscript as a certain text-type, i.e., what one could call “agreement in error.”
Therefore, the process of classifying manuscripts for centuries was to label them a certain text-type, such as Alexandrian, Western, Caesarean, or Byzantine. However, this practice is fading because technology has allowed the textual scholar to carry out a more comprehensive comparison of all readings in all manuscripts, supposedly blurring the traditional classifications. The new method primarily responsible is the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM). In this method, an “initial text” is reconstructed that is considered “relatively close to the form of the text from which the textual tradition of a New Testament book has originated.” (Stephen C. Carlson)
God inspired the original New Testament authors, and the texts that they produced were error-free. The copyists were not inspired, and errors did show up in the texts as a result. These errors help us to place these texts into certain families. Very early in the transmission process, copies of the originals worked their way to these four major religious centers, and the copying traditions that distinguish these text-types began to take place. The Alexandrian text-type is the earliest and reflects the work of professional and semi-professional scribes who treated the copying process with respect. The text is simple, without added material, and lacking the grammatical, stylistic polish sometimes imposed by Byzantine scribes. The Western text-type is early second century. These manuscripts reflect the work of scribes that were given to paraphrasing. Scribes freely changed words, phrases, clauses, and whole sentences as they felt it necessary. At times, they were simply trying to harmonize the text, or even add apocryphal material to spice it up. The Caesarean text-type is a mixture of Western and Alexandrian readings. The Byzantine text-type shows the hand of scribes who, as noted, attempted to smooth out both grammar and style, often with a view to making the text easier to understand. These scribes also combined differing readings from other manuscripts that contained variants. The period of 50 to 350 C.E. certainly saw its share of errors (variants) entering into the text, but the era of corruption is the period when the Byzantine text would become the standard text.
The Corruption Period
To round out our understanding of this early history, we need at least a short overview of what happened after 350 C.E. In short, the rise of the Byzantine Empire gave rise to the Byzantine text. After Constantine legalized Christianity, giving it equal status with the pagan religions, it was much easier to have biblical manuscripts copied. In fact, Constantine ordered 50 copies of the whole of the Bible for the church in Constantinople. Over the next four centuries or so, the Byzantine Empire and the Greek-speaking church were the dominant factors in making the Byzantine text the standard. It was not a matter of its being the better, i.e., more accurate text. From the eighth century forward, the Byzantine text had displaced all others.
After the invention of the Guttenberg printing press in 1455, it would be this Byzantine text which would become the first printed edition by way of Desiderius Erasmus in 1516. Thanks to an advertisement by the publishers it was referred to as the Textus Receptus, or the “Received Text.” Over the next four centuries, many textual scholars attempted to make minor changes to this text based on the development of the science of textual criticism, but to no real effect on its status as the Greek text of the church. Worse still, it would be this inferior text what would lay at the foundation of all English translations until the Revised English Version of 1881 and the American Standard Version of 1901. It was not until 1881 that two Cambridge scholars, B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, replaced the Textus Receptus with their critical text. It is this critical edition of the Westcott and Hort text that is the foundation for most modern translations and all critical editions of the Greek New Testament, UBS5, and the NA28.
Desiderius Erasmus and the Greek Text
I WOULD have these words translated into all languages, so that not only Scots and Irish, but Turks and Saracens too might read them . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough, the weaver to hum them to the tune of his shuttle, the traveler to beguile with them the dullness of his journey. (Clayton 2006, 230)
Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus penned those words in the early part of the 16th century. Like his English counterpart, William Tyndale, it was his greatest desire that God’s Word be widely translated and that even the plowboy would have access to it.
Much time has passed since the Reformation, and 98 percent of the world we live in today has access to the Bible. There is little wonder that the Bible has become the bestseller of all time. It has influenced people from all walks of life to fight for freedom and truth. This was especially true during the Reformation of Europe throughout the 16th century. These leaders were of great faith, courage, and strength, such as Martin Luther, William Tyndale, while others, like Erasmus, were more subtle in the changes that they brought. Thus it has been said of the Reformation that Martin Luther only opened the door to it after Erasmus picked the lock.
There is not a single historian of the period who would deny that Erasmus was a great scholar. Remarking on his character, the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “He had an unequalled talent for form, great journalistic gifts, a surpassing power of expression; for strong and moving discourse, keen irony, and covert sarcasm, he was unsurpassed.” (Vol. 5, p. 514) Consequently, when Erasmus went to see Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, just before Erasmus revealed himself, More was so impressed with his exchange that he shortly said: “You are either Erasmus or the Devil.”
The wit of Erasmus was evidenced in a response that he gave to Frederick, elector of Saxony, who asked him what he thought about Martin Luther. Erasmus retorted, “Luther has committed two blunders; he has ventured to touch the crown of the pope and the bellies of the monks.” (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature: Vol. 3 – p, 279) However, we must ask what type of influence did the Bible have on Erasmus and, in turn, what did he do to affect its future? First, we will look at the early years of Erasmus’ life.
Erasmus’ Early Life
He was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1466. He was not a happy boy, living in a home as the illegitimate son of a Dutch priest. He was faced with the double tragedy of his mother’s death at seventeen, and his father shortly thereafter. His guardians ignored his desire to enter the university; instead, they sent him to the Augustinian monastery of Steyn. Erasmus gained a vast knowledge of the Latin language, the classics, and the Church Fathers. In time, this life was so detestable to him that he jumped at the opportunity to become secretary to the bishop of Cambrai, Henry of Bergen, in France at the age of twenty-six. This afforded him his chance to enter university studies in Paris. However, he was a sickly man, suffering from poor health throughout his entire life.
It was in 1499 that Erasmus was invited to visit England. There, he met Thomas More, John Colet, and other theologians in London, which fortified his resolution to apply himself to Biblical studies. In order to understand the Bible’s message better, he applied himself more fully in his study of Greek, soon being able to teach it to others. It was around this time that Erasmus penned a treatise entitled Handbook of the Christian Soldier, in which he advised the young Christian to study the Bible, saying: “There is nothing that you can believe with greater certitude than what you read in these writings.” (Erasmus and Dolan 1983, 37)
While trying to escape the plague and make a living in an economy that had bottomed worse than our 20th-century Great Depression, Erasmus found himself at Louvain, Belgium, in 1504. It was there that he fell in love with the study of textual criticism while visiting the Praemonstratensian Abbey of Parc near Louvain. Within the library, Erasmus discovered a manuscript of Italian scholar Lorenzo Valla: Annotations on the New Testament. Thereupon Erasmus commissioned to himself the task of restoring the original text of the Greek New Testament.
Erasmus moved on to Italy and subsequently pushed on to England once again. It is this trip that brought to mind his original meeting with Thomas More, meditating on the origin of More’s name (moros, Greek for “a fool”); he penned a satire which he called “Praise of Folly.” In this work, Erasmus treats the abstract quality “folly” as a person, and pictures it as encroaching in all aspects of life, but nowhere is folly more obvious than amid the theologians and clergy. This is his subtle way of exposing the abuses of the clergy. It is these abuses that had brought on the Reformation, which was now festering. “As to the popes,” he wrote, “if they claim to be the successors of the Apostles, they should consider that the same things are required of them as were practiced by their predecessors.” Instead of doing this, he perceived, they believe that “to teach the people is too laborious; to interpret the scripture is to invade the prerogative of the schoolmen; to pray is too idle.” There is little wonder that it was said of Erasmus that he had “a surpassing power of expression”! (Nichols 2006, Vol. 2, 6)
The First Greek Text
While teaching Greek at Cambridge University in England, Erasmus continued with his work of revising the text of the Greek New Testament. One of his friends, Martin Dorpius, attempted to persuade him that the Latin did not need to be corrected from the Greek. Dorpius made the same error in reasoning that the “King James Only” people make, arguing: “For is it likely that the whole Catholic Church would have erred for so many centuries, seeing that she has always used and sanctioned this translation? Is it probable that so many holy fathers, so many consummate scholars would have longed to convey a warning to a friend?” (Campbell 1949, 71) Thomas More joined Erasmus in replying to these arguments, making the point that what matters is having an accurate text in the original language.
In Basel, Switzerland, Erasmus was about to be harassed by the printer Johannes Froben. Froben was alerted that Cardinal Ximenes of Toledo, Spain, had been putting together a Greek and Latin Testament in 1514. However, he was delaying publication until he had the whole Bible completed. The first printed Greek critical text would have set the standard, with any other being all but ignored. Erasmus published his first edition in 1516, while the Complutensian Polyglot (Greek for “many languages”) was not issued until 1522.
The fact that Erasmus was terribly rushed resulted in a Greek text that contained hundreds of typographical errors alone. Textual scholar Scrivener once stated: ‘[It] is in that respect the most faulty book I know’ (Scrivener 1894, 185). This comment did not even take into consideration the blatant interpolations into the text that were not part of the original. Erasmus was not oblivious to the typographical errors, which were corrected in a good many later editions. This did not include the textual errors. It was his second edition of 1519 that Martin Luther used in his German translation and William Tyndale’s English translation. This is exactly what Erasmus wanted, writing the following in that edition’s preface: “I would have these words translated into all languages. . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough.”
Unfortunately, the continuous reproduction of this debased Greek New Testament gave rise to it becoming the standard, called the Textus Receptus (“Received Text”), reigning 400 years before the critical text of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in 1881 dethroned it. Regardless of its imperfections, the Erasmus critical edition began the all-important work of textual criticism, which has only brought about a better critical text and more accurate Bible translations.
Erasmus was not only concerned with ascertaining the original words but also with achieving an accurate understanding of those words. In 1519, he penned Principles of True Theology (shortened to The Ratio). Herein he introduces his principles for Bible study, his interpretation rules. Among them is the thought of never taking a quotation out of its context nor out of the line of thought of its author. Erasmus saw the Bible as a whole work by one ultimate author, and as such, it should interpret itself.
Erasmus Contrasted With Luther
Erasmus penned a treatise called Familiar Colloquies in 1518, in which again he was exposing corruption in the Church and the monasteries. Just one year earlier, in 1517, Martin Luther had nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, denouncing the indulgences, the scandal that had rocked numerous countries. Many people likely thought that these two could bring about change and reform. This was not going to be a team effort, though, as the two were at opposite ends of the spectrum on how to bring reform about. Luther would come to condemn Erasmus because he was viewed as being too moderate, seeking to make change peacefully within the Church.
The seemingly small bond they may have shared (by way of their writings against the Church establishment) was torn apart in 1524 when Erasmus wrote his essay On the Freedom of the Will. Luther believed that salvation results from “justification by faith alone” (Latin, sola fide) and not from priestly absolution or works of penance. In fact, Luther was so adamant in his belief of “justification by faith alone” that in his Bible translation, he added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. What Luther failed to understand was that Paul was writing about the works of the Mosaic Law. (Romans 3:19, 20, 28) Thus, Luther denied the principle that man possesses a free will. However, Erasmus would not accept such faulty reasoning, in that it would make God unjust because this would suggest that man would be unable to act in such a way as to affect his salvation.
As the Reformation was spreading throughout Europe, Erasmus saw complaints from both sides. Many of the religious leaders who supported the reform movement chose to leave the Catholic Church. While they could not predict the result of their decision, they moved forward, many meeting their deaths. This would not be true of Erasmus, though, for he withdrew from the debate, yet he did refuse to be made cardinal. His approach was to try to appease both sides. Thus, Rome saw his writings as being that of a heretic, prohibiting them, while the reformers denounced him as refusing to risk his life for the cause. Here was a man emotionally broken over criticism, but in fear of burning bridges with Rome, so he cautiously sat on the sideline.
The affairs of Erasmus in relation to the Reformation can be summarized as follows: “He was a reformer until the Reformation became a fearful reality; a jester at the bulwarks of the papacy until they began to give way; a propagator of the Scriptures until men betook themselves to the study and the application of them; depreciating the mere outward forms of religion until they had come to be estimated at their real value; in short, a learned, ingenious, benevolent, amiable, timid, irresolute man, who, bearing the responsibility, resigned to others the glory of rescuing the human mind from the bondage of a thousand years. The distance between his career and that of Luther was therefore continually enlarging, until they at length moved in opposite directions, and met each other with mutual animosity.”— (McClintock and Strong 1894, 278).
The greatest gain from the Reformation is that the common person can now hold God’s Word in his hand. In fact, the English-language person has over 100 different translations from which to choose. From these 16th-century life and death struggles, in which Erasmus shared, there has materialized dependable and accurate Bible translations. Consequently, the “plowboy” of 98 percent of the world can pick up his Bible, or at least part of it.
The Textus Receptus
The Dark Ages (5th to 15th centuries C.E.), was a time when the Church had the Bible locked up in the Latin language, and scholarship and learning were nearly nonexistent. However, with the birth of the Morning Star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe (1328-1384), and the invention of the printing press in 1455, the restraints were loosened, and there was a rebirth of interest in the Greek language. Moreover, with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 C. E., many Greek scholars and their manuscripts were scattered abroad, resulting in a revival of Greek in the Western citadels of learning.
About fifty years later, or at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo, Spain, a man of rare capability and honor, invited foremost scholars of his land to his university at Alcala to produce a multiple-language Bible—not for the common people, but for the educated. The outcome would be the Polyglot, named Complutensian, corresponding to the Latin of Alcala. This would be a Bible of six large volumes, beautifully bound, containing the Old Testament in four languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin) and the New Testament in two (Greek and Latin). For the Greek New Testament, these scholars had only a few manuscripts available to them, and those of late origin. One may wonder why this was the case when they were supposed to have access to the Vatican library. This Bible was completed in 1514, providing the first printed Greek New Testament, but it did not receive approval from the pope to be published until 1520 and was not released to the public until 1522.
Froben, a printer in Basel, Switzerland, became aware of the completion of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible and of its pending consent by the pope to be published. Immediately, he saw a prospect of making profits. He at once sent word to Erasmus, who was the foremost European scholar of the day and whose works he had published in Latin, pleading with him to hurry through a Greek New Testament text. In an attempt to bring the first published Greek text to completion, Erasmus was only able to locate, in July of 1515, a few late cursive manuscripts for collating and preparing his text. It would go to press in October 1515 and would be completed by March 1516. In fact, Erasmus was so hurried that he rushed the manuscript containing the Gospels to the printer without first editing it, making such changes as he felt were necessary on the proof sheets. Because of this terrible rush job, the work contained hundreds of typographical errors, as we noted earlier. Erasmus himself admitted this in his preface, remarking that it was “rushed through rather than edited.” Bruce Metzger referred to the Erasmian text as a “debased form of the Greek Testament.” (B. M. Metzger 1964, 1968, 1992, 103)
As one would expect, Erasmus was moved to produce an improved text in four succeeding editions of 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1535. We are informed that Erasmus’ editions of the Greek text ultimately proved an excellent achievement, even a literary sensation. They were inexpensive, and the first two editions totaled 3,300 copies, compared to 600 copies of the large and expensive six-volume Polyglot Bible. In the preface to his first edition, Erasmus stated, “I vehemently dissent from those who would not have private persons read the Holy Scriptures, nor have them translated into the vulgar tongues.” (Baer 2007, 268)
Except for everyday practical consideration, the editions of Erasmus had little to vouch for them, for he had access only to five (some say eight) Greek manuscripts of relatively late origin, and none of these contained the entire Greek New Testament. Rather, these comprised one or more sections into which the Greek texts were normally divided: (1) the Gospels; (2) Acts and the general epistles (James through Jude); (3) the letters of Paul; and (4) Revelation. In fact, of the some 5,750 Greek New Testament manuscripts that we now have, only about fifty are complete.
Consequently, Erasmus had but one copy of Revelation (twelfth-century). Since it was incomplete, he merely retranslated the missing last six verses of the book from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek. He even frequently brought his Greek text in line with the Latin Vulgate; this is why some twenty readings in his Greek text are not found in any other Greek manuscript.
Martin Luther would use Erasmus’ 1519 edition for his German translation, and William Tyndale would use the 1522 edition for his English translation. Erasmus’ editions were also the foundation for later Greek editions of the New Testament by others. Among them were the four published by Robert Estienne (Stephanus, 1503-59). The third of these, published by Stephanus in 1550, became the Textus Receptus or Received Text of Britain and the basis for the King James Version. This took place through Theodore de Beza (1519-1605), whose work was based on the corrupted third and fourth editions of the Erasmian text. Beza would produce nine editions of the Greek text, four being independent (1565, 1589, 1588-9, 1598), and the other five smaller reprints. It would be two of Beza’s editions, that of 1589 and 1598, which would become the English Received Text.
Beza’s Greek edition of the New Testament did not even differ as much as might be expected from those of Erasmus. Why do I say, as might be expected? Beza was a friend of the Protestant reformer, John Calvin, succeeding him at Geneva, and was also a well-known classical and biblical scholar. In addition, Beza possessed two important Greek manuscripts of the fourth and fifth century, the D and Dp (also known as D2), the former of which contains most of the Gospels and Acts as well as a fragment of 3 John, and the latter containing the Pauline epistles. The Dutch Elzevir editions followed next, which were virtually identical to those of the Erasmian-influenced Beza text. It was in the second of seven of these, published in 1633, that there appeared the statement in the preface (in Latin): “You therefore now have the text accepted by everybody, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted.” On the continent, this edition became the Textus Receptus or the Received Text. It seems that this success was in no small way due to the beauty and useful size of the Elzevir editions.
Setting Straight the Indefensible
Defenders of the Textus Receptus
While Karl Lachmann was the one to overthrow the Textus Receptus, it would be B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in 1881 who would put the nails in the coffin of the Textus Receptus. The 1881 British Revised Version (RV), also known as the English Revised Version (ERV) of the King James Version, and the 1881 New Testament Greek text of Westcott and Hort did not sit well with the King-James-Version-Only advocate John William Burgon (1813–1888), E. H. A. Scrivener (1813–1891), and Edward Miller (1825–1901), the latter authoring A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1886). We do not have the space nor the time to offer a full-scale argument against the King James Version Only and the Textus Receptus Only groups. However, we will address what amounts to their main arguments. This should help the reader to see how desperate and weak their arguments are.
Bible scholar David Fuller brings us the first argument in his book, Which Bible, where he writes, “Burgon regarded the good state of preservation of B (Codex Vaticanus) and ALEPH (Codex Sinaiticus) in spite of their exceptional age as proof not of their goodness but of their badness. If they had been good manuscripts, they would have been read to pieces long ago. We suspect that these two manuscripts are indebted for their preservation, solely to their ascertained evil character …. Had B (Vaticanus) and ALEPH (Sinaiticus) been copies of average purity, they must long since have shared the inevitable fate of books which are freely used and highly prized; namely, they would have fallen into decadence and disappeared from sight. Thus, the fact that B and ALEPH are so old is a point against them, not something in their favour. It shows that the Church rejected them and did not read them. Otherwise, they would have worn out and disappeared through much reading.”
Thus, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, leading representatives of the Alexandrian family of manuscripts, are in such great condition because they are full of errors, alterations, additions, and deletions so they would have had little chance of wear and tear, never having been used by true believers. This argument is simply the weakest and most desperate that this author has ever heard. First, many of the papyrus Alexandrian manuscripts are in terrible shape, some being 200 years older than codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which would mean that they must have been read very often by true believers. Second, a number of old Byzantine and Western manuscripts are in good condition as well, which by this argument would indicate that they are also guilty of never having been read because they were full of errors, alterations, additions, and deletions so they would have had little chance of wear and tear. Third, the size of Sinaiticus with the Old Testament, the New Testament, and apocryphal books, among other books would have weighed about 50+ lbs. This book was not read in the same manner that Christians would read their Bibles today. The same would be true of Codex Vaticanus as well. Fourth, both were written on extremely expensive and durable calfskin. Fifth, the period of copying the Byzantine text-type was c. 330 – 1453 C.E. and it progressed into the most corrupt period for the Church (priests to the popes: stealing, sexual sins, torture, and murder); so much so, it ends with the Reformation. Thus, the idea of true believers wearing out manuscripts is ludicrous. Sixth, the Bible was locked up in Latin. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, produced in the 5th century to make the Bible accessible to all, became a means of keeping God’s Word hidden. Almost all Catholic priests were biblically illiterate, so one wonders who these so-called true believers were and how were they reading God’s Word to the point of wearing it out. For centuries, manuscripts were preserved, even when the Catholic priests could no longer understand them.
Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener in their second argument maintained that the Byzantine text was used by the church for far more centuries, which proved its integrity, as God would never allow the church to use a corrupt text. B. F. Westcott wrote, “A corrupted Bible is a sign of a corrupt church, a Bible mutilated or imperfect, a sign of a church not yet raised to complete perfection of the truth.” (The Bible in the Church, 1864, 1875) The reader can determine for himself or herself if it is mere coincidence that as the church grew corrupt, the most corrupt manuscript of all grew right along with it for a thousand years.
As was stated earlier, Lucian produced the Syrian text, renamed the Byzantine text. About 290 C.E., some of his associates made various subsequent alterations, which deliberately combined elements from earlier types of text, and this text was adopted about 380 C.E. At Constantinople, it became the predominant form of the New Testament throughout the Greek-speaking world. The text was also edited, with harmonized parallel accounts, grammar corrections, and abrupt transitions modified to produce a smooth text. This was not a faithfully accurate copy. As we had just learned earlier under the corruption period, after Constantine legalized Christianity, giving it equal status with the pagan religions, it was much easier for those possessing manuscripts to have them copied. In fact, Constantine had ordered 50 copies of the whole of the Bible for the church in Constantinople. Over the next four centuries or so, the Byzantine Empire and the Greek-speaking church were the dominant factors as to why this area saw their text becoming the standard. It had nothing to do with it being the better text, i.e., the text that more accurately reflected the original. From the eighth century forward, the corrupt Byzantine text was the standard text and had displaced all others; it makes up about 95 percent of all manuscripts that we have of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener in their third argument continued with the belief that it would be foolish to set aside thousands of manuscript witnesses (the Byzantine text-type) for a few supposedly early manuscript witnesses (the Alexandrian text-type). But in truth, the majority of anything does not automatically mean that it is the best or even correct. Today we can easily produce thousands of copies of a faulty manuscript with a machine, and every copy displays the same errors. If we were to hand-copy the same manuscript a thousand times, obvious errors probably would be corrected in many copies, but new errors would be introduced, many of them probably the result of a well-intended “correction.” A textual criticism principle that has been derived from this observation is that manuscripts should be weighed (i.e., for value), not counted.
In their fourth argument, Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener maintained that the Byzantine text-type was actually older and superior to the Alexandrian text-type. To refute this, we can go back to our patristic quotations, which reveal the Alexandrian text-type as earlier than the Byzantine text-type. Greenlee writes, “The fallacy in this argument was that the antiquity of a ‘Syrian’ (i.e., Byzantine) reading could be shown only when the Byzantine text was supported by one of the pre-Byzantine texts, which proved nothing in favor of the Byzantine, since WH maintained that Syrian readings were largely derived from the pre-Syrian texts. That the traditional text was intrinsically superior was more nearly a matter of subjective opinion; but extensive comparison of text-types has left most scholars convinced that the late text [Byzantine] is in general inferior, not superior.”
Metzger (whom I cite at length) writes,
The Alexandrian text, which Westcott and Hort called the Neutral text (a question-begging title), is usually considered to be the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original. Characteristics of the Alexandrian text are brevity and austerity. That is, it is generally shorter than the text of other forms, and it does not exhibit the degree of grammatical and stylistic polishing that is characteristic of the Byzantine type of text. Until recently the two chief witnesses to the Alexandrian text were codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Sinaiticus (א), parchment manuscripts dating from about the middle of the fourth century. With the acquisition, however, of the Bodmer Papyri, particularly P66 and P75, both copied about the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, evidence is now available that the Alexandrian type of text goes back to an archetype that must be dated early in the second century. The Sahidic and Bohairic versions frequently contain typically Alexandrian readings …. It was the corrupt Byzantine form of text that provided the basis for almost all translations of the New Testament into modern languages down to the nineteenth century. During the eighteenth century, scholars assembled a great amount of information from many Greek manuscripts, as well as from versional and patristic witnesses. But, except for three or four editors who timidly corrected some of the more blatant errors of the Textus Receptus, this debased form of the New Testament text was reprinted in edition after edition. It was only in the first part of the nineteenth century (1831) that a German classical scholar, Karl Lachmann, ventured to apply to the New Testament the criteria that he had used in editing texts of the classics. Subsequently, other critical editions appeared, including those prepared by Constantin von Tischendorf, whose eighth edition (1869–72) remains a monumental thesaurus of variant readings, and the influential edition prepared by two Cambridge scholars, B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort (1881). It is the latter edition that was taken as the basis for the present United Bible Societies’ edition. During the twentieth century, with the discovery of several New Testament manuscripts much older than any that had hitherto been available, it has become possible to produce editions of the New Testament that approximate ever more closely to what is regarded as the wording of the original documents.
The Restoration Period
From the days of Erasmus to Stephanus until 1881, the textual scholars were enslaved to the Erasmian-oriented Received Text. As these textual scholars became familiar with older and more accurate manuscripts and observed the flaws in the Received Text, instead of changing the text, they would publish their findings in introductions, margins, and footnotes of their editions. In 1734, J. A. Bengel of Tübingen, Germany, made an apology for again printing the Received Text, doing so only “because he could not publish a text of his own. Neither the publisher nor the public would have stood for it,” he complained. (Robertson 1925, 25)
The first one to break free from this enslavement to the Textus Receptus, in the text itself, was Bible scholar J. J. Griesbach (1745-1812). His principal edition comes to us in three volumes, the first in Halle in 1775-7, the second in Halle and London in 1796-1806, and the third at Leipzig in 1803-7. However, Griesbach did not fully break from the Textus Receptus. Nevertheless, Griesbach is the real starting point in the development of classifying the manuscripts into families, setting down principles and rules for establishing the original reading, and using symbols to indicate the degree of certainty as to its being the original reading. We will examine his contributions in more detail below.
Karl Lachmann (1793-1851) was the first scholar fully to get out from under the influence of the Textus Receptus. He was a professor of ancient classical languages at Berlin University. In 1831, he published his edition of the Greek New Testament without any regard to the Textus Receptus. As Samuel MacAuley Jackson expressed it: Lachmann “was the first to found a text wholly on ancient evidence; and his editions, to which his eminent reputation as a critic gave wide currency, especially in Germany, did much toward breaking down the superstitious reverence for the textus receptus.” Bruce Metzger had harsh words for the era of the Textus Receptus as well:
So superstitious has been the reverence accorded the Textus Receptus that in some cases attempts to criticize it or emend it have been regarded as akin to sacrilege. Yet its textual basis is essentially a handful of late and haphazardly collected minuscule manuscripts, and in a dozen passages its reading is supported by no known Greek witnesses. (B. M. Metzger 1964, 1968, 1992, 106)
Subsequent to Lachmann came Friedrich Constantine von Tischendorf (1815-74), best known for his discovery of the famed fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus manuscript, the only Greek uncial manuscript containing the complete Greek New Testament. Tischendorf went further than any other textual scholar to edit and made accessible the evidence contained in leading as well as less important uncial manuscripts. Throughout the time that Tischendorf was making his valuable contributions to the field of textual criticism in Germany, another great scholar, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-75) in England made other valued contributions. Among them, he was able to establish his concept of “Comparative Criticism.” That is, the age of a text, such as Vaticanus 1209, may not necessarily be that of its manuscript (i.e. the material upon which the text was written), which was copied in 350 C.E., since the text may be a faithful copy of an earlier text, like the second-century P75. Both Tischendorf and Tregelles were determined defenders of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, which likely had much to do with the productivity of their labors. If you take an opportunity to read about the lengths to which Tischendorf went in his discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, you will be moved by his steadfastness and love for God’s Word.
The Climax of the Restored Text
The critical text of Westcott and Hort of 1881 has been commended by leading textual scholars over the last one hundred and forty years, and still stands as the standard. Numerous additional critical editions of the Greek text came after Westcott and Hort: Richard F. Weymouth (1886), Bernhard Weiss (1894–1900); the British and Foreign Bible Society (1904, 1958), Alexander Souter (1910), Hermann von Soden (1911–1913); and Eberhard Nestle’s Greek text, Novum Testamentum Graece, published in 1898 by the Württemberg Bible Society, Stuttgart, Germany. The Nestle in twelve editions (1898–1923) to subsequently be taken over by his son, Erwin Nestle (13th–20th editions, 1927–1950), followed by Kurt Aland (21st–25th editions, 1952–1963), and lastly, it was coedited by Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland (26th–27th editions, 1979–1993).
Many of the above scholars gave their entire lives to God and the Greek text. Each of these could have an entire book devoted to them and their work alone. The amount of work they accomplished before the era of computers is nothing short of astonishing. Rightly, the preceding history should serve to strengthen our faith in the authenticity and general integrity of the Greek New Testament. Unlike Bart D. Ehrman, men like Sir Frederic Kenyon have been moved to say that the books of the Greek New Testament have “come down to us substantially as they were written.” And all this is especially true of the critical scholarship of the almost two hundred years since the days of Karl Lachmann, due to which all today can feel certain that what they hold in their hands is a mirror reflection of the Word of God that was penned in twenty-seven books, some two thousand years ago.
The Arrival of the Critical Text and the Last Nail in the Coffin of the Textus Receptus
From 1550, the New Testament Greek text was in bondage to the popularity of the Textus Receptus as though the latter were inspired itself, and no textual scholar would dare make changes regardless of the evidence found in older, more accurate manuscripts that later became known. The best textual scholars would offer was to publish these new findings in the introductions, margins, and footnotes of their editions. Bengel, as we noted above, apologized for repeating the printing of the Textus Receptus “because he could not publish a text of his own. Neither the publisher nor the public would have stood for it.” (Robertson 1925, 25)
Again, Karl Lachmann, Professor of Classical and German Philology at Berlin, was the first to make a clean break with the influential Textus Receptus. In 1831, he published at Berlin his edition of the Greek text overthrowing the Textus Receptus. Ezra Abbot says of Lachmann, “He was the first to found a text wholly on ancient evidence; and his editions, to which his eminent reputation as a critic gave wide currency, especially in Germany, did much toward breaking down the superstitious reverence for the textus receptus.” (Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament, 1883, 256-7) More on Lachmann in a moment, as the small turning point really began with Griesbach.
Griesbach obtained his master’s degree at the age of 23. He was educated at Frankfurt, and at the universities of Tubingen, Leipzig, and Halle. Griesbach became one of Johann Salomo Semler’s most dedicated and passionate students. It was Semler (1725 – 1791) who persuaded him to focus his attention on New Testament textual criticism. Even though it was Semler who introduced Griesbach to the theory of text-types, Griesbach is principally responsible for the text-types that we have today. Griesbach made the Alexandrian, Byzantine, and Western text-types appreciated by a wide range of textual scholars over two centuries.
After his master’s degree, Griesbach traveled throughout Europe examining Greek manuscripts: Germany, the Netherlands, France, and England. Griesbach would excel far beyond any textual scholar who had preceded him, publishing his Greek text first at Halle in 1775-77, followed by London in 1795-1806, and finally in Leipzig in 1803-07. It would be his later editions that would be used by a number of Bible translators, such as Archbishop Newcome, Abner Kneeland, Samuel Sharpe, Edgar Taylor, and Benjamin Wilson.
Griesbach was the first to include manuscript readings that were earlier than what Erasmus had used in his Greek text of 1516 C.E. The Society for New Testament Studies comments on the importance of his research: “Griesbach spent long hours in the attempt to find the best readings among the many variants in the New Testament. His work laid the foundations of modern textual criticism, and he is, in no small measure, responsible for the secure New Testament text which we enjoy today. Many of his methodological principles continue to be useful in the process of determining the best readings from among the many variants which remain.” (B. Orchard 1776-1976, 2005, xi)
The Fifteen Rules of Griesbach
In the Introduction to his Second edition of the Greek New Testament (Halle, 1796) Griesbach set forth the following list of critical rules for weighing the internal evidence for variant readings within the manuscripts.
- The shorter reading is to be preferred over the more verbose, if not wholly lacking the support of old and weighty witnesses,
for scribes were much more prone to add than to omit. They hardly ever leave out anything on purpose, but they added much. It is true indeed that some things fell out by accident; but likewise not a few things, allowed in by the scribes through errors of the eye, ear, memory, imagination, and judgment, have been added to the text.
The shorter reading is especially preferable (even if by the support of the witnesses it may be second best),
(a) if at the same time it is harder, more obscure, ambiguous, involves an ellipsis, reflects Hebrew idiom, or is ungrammatical;
(b) if the same thing is read expressed with different phrases in different manuscripts;
(c) if the order of words is inconsistent and unstable;
(d) at the beginning of a section;
(e) if the fuller reading gives the impression of incorporating a definition or interpretation, or verbally conforms to parallel passages or seems to have come in from lectionaries.
But on the contrary, we should set the fuller reading before the shorter (unless the latter is seen in many notable witnesses),
(a) if a “similarity of ending” might have provided an opportunity for an omission;
(b) if that which was omitted could to the scribe have seemed obscure, harsh, superfluous, unusual, paradoxical, offensive to pious ears, erroneous, or opposed to parallel passages;
(c) if that which is absent could be absent without harm to the sense or structure of the words, as for example prepositions which may be called incidental, especially brief ones, and so forth, the lack of which would not easily be noticed by a scribe in reading again what he had written;
(d) if the shorter reading is by nature less characteristic of the style or outlook of the author;
(e) if it wholly lacks sense;
(f) if it is probable that it has crept in from parallel passages or from the lectionaries.
On Griesbach’s principle of preferring the shorter reading, James Royse offers a word about appreciating the complexity and exceptions to the rule: “I would certainly accept Silva’s reminder that Griesbach’s formulation of the lectio brevior potior principle is far from a simple preference for the shorter reading, and that its correct application requires a sensitivity to the many exceptions and conditions that Griesbach notes.” (J. R. Royse 2007, 735) Kurt and Barbara Aland qualify the principle as well: “The venerable maxim lectio brevior lectio potior (“the shorter reading is the more probable reading”) is certainly right in many instances. But here again the principle cannot be applied mechanically. It is not valid for witnesses whose texts otherwise vary significantly from the characteristic patterns of the textual tradition, with frequent omissions or expansions reflecting editorial tendencies (e.g. D).” (Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament 1995, 281) Harold Greenlee offers a simple (or perhaps simplistic), balanced view of the principle:
(b) The shorter reading is generally preferable if an intentional change has been made. The reason is that scribes at times made intentional additions to clarify a passage, but rarely made an intentional omission. Of course, this principle applies only to a difference in the number of words in the reading, not to the difference between a longer and a shorter word.
(c) The longer reading is often preferable if an unintentional change has been made. The reason is that scribes were more likely to omit a word or a phrase accidentally than to add accidentally. (Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism 1995, 112)
Of Griesbach, Paul D. Wegner writes, “While Griesbach sometimes would rely too heavily on a mechanical adherence to his system of recensions, by and large he was a careful and cautious scholar. He was also the first German scholar to abandon the Textus Receptus in favor of what he believed to be, by means of his principles, superior readings.” (Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History Methods & Results 2006, 214)
His choosing the shorter reading of the Lord’s Prayer at Luke 11:3-4 evidences Griesbach’s ability as a textual scholar. He made this decision based on only a handful of minuscule and uncials, patristic, and versional evidence. A few short years later, the Vaticanus manuscript would confirm that Griesbach’s choice was correct. Today we have one of the oldest and most valued manuscripts, P75, and it has the shorter reading as well. Many scribes from the fourth century onward harmonized Luke’s form of the prayer with Matthew’s Gospel.
Luke 11:3-4 New American Standard Bible (NASB / NU)
3 ‘Give us each day our daily bread.
Luke 11:3-4 New King James Version (NKJV / TR)
3 Give us day by day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins,
After two and a half centuries, in 1831 a German classical philologist and critic, Karl Lachmann, had the courage to publish an edition of the New Testament text he prepared from his examination of the manuscripts and variants, determining on a case-by-case basis what he believed the original reading was, never beholding to the Textus Receptus. However, he did not include his textual rules and principles in his critical text. He simply stated that these principles could be found in a theological journal. “Karl Lachmann, a classical philologist, produced a fresh text (in 1831) that presented the Greek New Testament of the fourth century.”
The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible sums up Lachmann’s six textual criteria as follows:
- Nothing is better attested than that in which all authorities agree.
- The agreement has less weight if part of the authorities are silent or in any way defective.
- The evidence for a reading, when it is that of witnesses of different regions, is greater than that of witnesses of some particular place, differing either from negligence or from set purpose.
- The testimonies are to be regarded as doubtfully balanced when witnesses from widely separated regions stand opposed to others equally wide apart.
- Readings are uncertain which occur habitually in different forms in different regions.
- Readings are of weak authority which are not universally attested in the same region.
It was not Lachmann’s intention to restore the text of the New Testament back to the original, as he believed this to be impossible. Rather, his intention was to offer a text based solely on documentary evidence, setting aside any text that had been published prior to his, producing a text from the fourth century. Lachmann used no minuscule manuscripts, but instead, he based his text on the Alexandrian text-type, as well as the agreement of the Western authorities, namely, the Old Latin and Greek Western Uncials if the oldest Alexandrian authorities differed. He also used the testimonies of Irenaeus, Origen, Cyprian, Hilary, and Lucifer. As A. T. Robertson put it, Lachman wanted “to get away from the tyranny of the Textus Receptus.” Lachmann was correct in that he could not get back to the original, at least for the whole of the NT text, as he simply did not have the textual evidence that we have today, or even what Westcott and Hort had in 1881. Codex Sinaiticus had yet to be discovered, and Codex Vaticanus had yet to be photographed and edited. Moreover, he did not have the papyri that we have today.
Tregelles was an English Bible scholar, textual critic, and theologian. He was born to Quaker parents at Wodehouse Place, Falmouth on January 30, 1813. He was the son of Samuel Tregelles (1789–1828) and his wife Dorothy (1790–1873). His education began at Falmouth Grammar School. He lost his father at the young age of fifteen, compelling him to take a job at the Neath Abbey iron works. However, he had a gift and a love of language, which led him in his free time to the study of Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and Welsh. He began the study of the New Testament at the age of twenty-five, which would become his life’s work.
Tregelles discovered that the Textus Receptus was not based on any ancient witnesses, and he determined that he would publish the Greek text of the New Testament grounded in ancient manuscripts, as well as the citations of the early church fathers, exactly as Karl Lachmann was doing in Germany. In 1845, he spent five months in Rome, hoping to collate Codex Vaticanus in the Vatican Library. Philip W. Comfort writes, “Samuel Tregelles (self-taught in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek) devoted his entire life’s work to publishing one Greek text (which came out in six parts, from 1857 to 1872). As is stated in the introduction to this work, Tregelles’s goal was ‘to exhibit the text of the New Testament in the very words in which it has been transmitted on the evidence of ancient authority.’ During this same era, Tischendorf was devoting a lifetime of labor to discovering manuscripts and producing accurate editions of the Greek New Testament.”
Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf [1815-1874]
Tischendorf was a world-leading biblical scholar who rejected higher criticism, which led to his noteworthy success in defending the authenticity of the Bible text. He was born in Lengenfeld, Saxony, in northern Europe, the son of a physician, in the year 1815. Tischendorf was educated in Greek at the University of Leipzig. During his university studies, he was troubled by higher criticism of the Bible, as taught by famous German theologians, who sought to prove that the Greek New Testament was not authentic. Tischendorf became convinced, however, that thorough research of the early manuscripts would prove the trustworthiness of the Bible text.
We are indebted to Tischendorf for dedicating his life and abilities to searching through Europe’s finest libraries and the monasteries of the Middle East for ancient Bible manuscripts, and especially for rescuing the great Codex Sinaiticus from destruction. However, our highest thanks go to our heavenly Father, who has used hundreds of men since the days of Desiderius Erasmus, who published the first printed Greek New Testament in 1516, so that the Word of God has been accurately preserved for us today. We can be grateful for the women of the twentieth and now the twenty-first century who have given their lives to this great work as well, such as Barbara Aland.
In the second principal recension of Tischendorf (as enumerated in Reuss 1872), the Introduction sets forth the following canons of criticism with examples of their application (see Tregelles 1854, pp. 119-21):
Basic Rule: “The text is only to be sought from ancient evidence, and especially from Greek manuscripts, but without neglecting the testimonies of versions and fathers.”
- “A reading altogether peculiar to one or another ancient document is suspicious; as also is any, even if supported by a class of documents, which seems to evince that it has originated in the revision of a learned man.”
- “Readings, however well supported by evidence, are to be rejected, when it is manifest (or very probable) that they have proceeded from the errors of copyists.”
- “In parallel passages, whether of the New or Old Testament, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, which ancient copyists continually brought into increased accordance, those testimonies are preferable, in which precise accordance of such parallel passages is not found; unless, indeed, there are important reasons to the contrary.”
- “In discrepant readings, that should be preferred which may have given occasion to the rest, or which appears to comprise the elements of the others.”
- “Those readings must be maintained which accord with New Testament Greek, or with the particular style of each individual writer.”
Westcott’s and Hort’s 1881 Master Text
The climax of this restoration era goes to the immediate successors of these men, the two English Bible scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, upon whose text the United Bible Society is based, which is the foundation for all modern-day translations of the Bible. Westcott and Hort began their work in 1853 and finished it in 1881, working for twenty-eight years independently of each other, yet frequently comparing notes. As the Scottish biblical scholar Alexander Souter expressed it, they “gathered up in themselves all that was most valuable in the work of their predecessors. The maxims which they enunciated on questions of the text are of such importance.” (Souter 1913, 118) They took all imaginable factors into consideration in laboring to resolve the difficulties that conflicting texts presented, and when two readings had equal weight, they indicated that in their text. They emphasized, “Knowledge of documents should precede final judgment upon readings” and “all trustworthy restoration of corrupted texts is founded on the study of their history.” They followed Griesbach in dividing manuscripts into families, stressing the significance of manuscript genealogy. In addition, they gave due weight to internal evidence, “intrinsic probability” and “transcriptional probability,” that is, what the original author most likely wrote and wherein a copyist may most likely have made a mistake.
Westcott and Hort relied heavily on what they called the “neutral” family of texts, which involved the renowned fourth-century vellum Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts. They considered it quite decisive whenever these two manuscripts agreed, particularly when reinforced by other ancient uncial manuscripts. However, they were not thoughtlessly bound to the Vaticanus manuscript as some scholars have claimed, for by assessing all the elements they frequently concluded that certain minor interpolations had crept into the neutral text that was not found in the group more given to interpolations and paraphrasing, i.e. the Western manuscript family. E. J. Goodspeed has shown that Westcott and Hort departed from Vaticanus seven hundred times in the Gospels alone.
According to Bruce M. Metzger, “the general validity of their critical principles and procedures is widely acknowledged by scholars today.” In 1981 Metzger said,
The international committee that produced the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, not only adopted the Westcott and Hort edition as its basic text but followed their methodology in giving attention to both external and internal consideration.
Philip Comfort offered this opinion:
The text produced by Westcott and Hort is still to this day, even with so many more manuscript discoveries, a very close reproduction of the primitive text of the New Testament. Of course, I think they gave too much weight to Codex Vaticanus alone, and this needs to be tempered. This criticism aside, the Westcott and Hort text is extremely reliable. (…) In many instances where I would disagree with the wording in the Nestle / UBS text in favor of a particular variant reading, I would later check with the Westcott and Hort text and realize that they had often come to the same decision. (…) Of course, the manuscript discoveries of the past one hundred years have changed things, but it is remarkable how often they have affirmed the decisions of Westcott and Hort.
Critical Rules of Westcott & Hort
The following summary of principles is taken from the compilation in Epp and Fee, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (1993, pages 157-8). References in parentheses are to sections of Hort’s Introduction, from which the principles have been extracted.
- Older readings, manuscripts, or groups are to be preferred. (“The shorter the interval between the time of the autograph hand the end of the period of transmission in question, the stronger the presumption that earlier date implies greater purity of text.”) (2.59; cf. 2.5-6, 31)
- Readings are approved or rejected by reason of the quality, and not the number, of their supporting witnesses. (“No available presumptions whatever as to text can be obtained from number alone, that is, from number not as yet interpreted by descent.”) (2.44)
- A reading combining two simple, alternative readings is later than the two readings comprising the conflation, and manuscripts rarely or never supporting conflate reading are text antecedent to mixture and are of special value. (2.49-50).
- The reading is to be preferred that makes the best sense, that is, that best conforms to the grammar and is most congruous with the purport of the rest of the sentence and of the larger context. (2.20)
- The reading is to be preferred that best conforms to the usual style of the author and to that author’s material in other passages. (2.20)
- The reading is to be preferred that most fitly explains the existence of the others. (2.22-23)
- The reading is less likely to be original that combines the appearance of an improvement in the sense with the absence of its reality; the scribal alteration will have an apparent excellence, while the original will have the highest real excellence. (2.27, 29)
- The reading is less likely to be original that shows a disposition to smooth away difficulties (another way of stating that the harder reading is preferable). (2.28)
- Readings are to be preferred that are found in a manuscript that habitually contains superior readings as determined by intrinsic and transcriptional probability. Certainty is increased if such a better manuscript is found also to be an older manuscript (2.32-33) and if such a manuscript habitually contains reading that prove themselves antecedent to mixture and independent of external contamination by other, inferior texts (2.150-51). The same principles apply to groups of manuscripts (2.260-61).
History of the Nestle-Aland Edition
It seems best to allow the German Bible Society and the Institute for New Testament Textual Research to tell their own history:
In 1898, Eberhard Nestle published the first edition of his Novum Testamentum Graece. Based on a simple yet ingenious idea it disseminated the insights of the textual criticism of that time through a hand edition designed for university and school studies and for church purposes. Nestle took the three leading scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament at that time by Tischendorf, Westcott/Hort, and Weymouth as a basis. (After 1901 he replaced the latter with Bernhard Weiß’s 1894/1900 edition.) Where their textual decisions differed from each other Nestle chose for his own text the variant which was preferred by two of the editions included, while the variant of the third was put into the apparatus.
The text-critical apparatus remained rudimentary in all the editions published by Eberhard Nestle. It was Eberhard Nestle’s son Erwin who provided the 13th edition of 1927 with a consistent critical apparatus showing evidence from manuscripts, early translations, and patristic citations. However, these notes did not derive from the primary sources, but only from editions.
This changed in the nineteen-fifties when Kurt Aland started working for the edition by checking the apparatus entries against Greek manuscripts and editions of the Church Fathers. This phase came to a close in 1963 when the 25th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece appeared; later printings of this edition already carried the brand name “Nestle-Aland” on their covers.
The 26th edition, which appeared in 1979, featured a fundamentally new approach. Until then the guiding principle had been to adopt the text supported by a majority of the critical editions referred to. Now the text was established on the basis of source material that had been assembled and evaluated in the intervening period. It included early papyri and other manuscript discoveries so that the 26th edition represented the situation of textual criticism in the 20th century. Its text was identical with that of the 3rd edition of the UBS Greek New Testament (GNT) published in 1975, as a consequence of the parallel work done on both editions. Already in 1955, Kurt Aland was invited to participate in an editorial committee with Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, Alan Wikgren, and at first Arthur Vööbus, later Carlo Martini (and, from 1982, Barbara Aland and Johannes Karavidopoulos) to produce a reliable hand edition of the Greek New Testament.
The first edition of the GNT appeared in 1966. Its text was established along the lines of Westcott and Hort and differed considerably from Nestle’s 25th edition. This holds true for the second edition of the GNT as well. When the third edition was prepared, Kurt Aland could contribute the textual proposals coming from his preliminary work on the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland. Hence the process of establishing the text for both editions continued to converge so that eventually they could share an identical text. However, their external appearance and apparatus design remains different, because they serve different purposes. The GNT is primarily intended for translators, providing a reliable Greek initial text and a text-critical apparatus showing relevant variants. In the case of the passages selected for this purpose, the evidence is displayed as completely as possible. The Novum Testamentum Graece is produced primarily for research, academic education, and pastoral practice. It seeks to provide an apparatus that enables the reader to critically assess the reconstruction of the Greek initial text.
The text of the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland was adopted for the 27th edition also, while the apparatus underwent an extensive revision. The text remained the same, because the 27th edition was not “deemed an appropriate occasion for introducing textual changes”. Since then the situation has changed because the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) of the Catholic Letters is now available. Its text was established on the basis of all the relevant material from manuscripts and other sources. The ECM text was adopted for the present edition following approval by the editorial committee of the Nestle-Aland and the GNT.
This makes more certain for us the Apostle Peter’s words: “But the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:25) We can have the same confidence that the One who inspired the Holy Scriptures, giving us His inerrant Word, has also used his servants to preserve them, irrespective of the intentional and unintentional textual variants that entered the copies of the text, throughout the last two thousand years, and especially those many dozens of textual scholars that restored the text to its original form, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4) The beloved Bruce Manning Metzger was right; the text of the New Testament was transmitted; then, it entered a 1,400-year period of corruption, and has been enjoying a 500-year period of restoration.
See King James Version / Textus Receptus Blog Article for Other Nails
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 (Wilkins) The nuance between “receive” and “accept” is often overlooked in discussing the TR, and the Latin “receptus” could just as well mean “accepted” (i.e. “the text accepted by all”), which I suspect was the intent of the advertisement.
 In fact, his copy of Revelation being incomplete, Erasmus simply retranslated the missing verses from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek.
 A connected group of Christians promotes the King James Only movement. It is their position that the King James Version of the Bible is superior to all other English translations, and that all English translations based on the Westcott and Hort text of 1881 (foundation text of UBS5 and NA28) are corrupt due to the influence of the Alexandrian Greek manuscripts.
 (Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism 1995, 76-7)
 Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), xx, xxv.
 Brian Walton (1600-61), Dr. John Fell (1625-86), John Mill 1645-1707), Dr. Edward Wells (1667-1727, Richard Bentley (1662-1742), John Albert Bengel (1687-1752), Johann Jacob Wettstein (1693-1754), Johann Salomo Semler (1725-91), William Bowyer Jr. (1699-1777), Edward Harwood (1729-94), and Isaiah Thomas Jr. (1749-1831)
 (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 294)
 Biographies of Textual Critics – SkyPoint,
http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/Bios.html (accessed June 10, 2016).
 Because he was very poor, Tregelles had to ask sponsors to help him with the cost of publishing. The text came out in six volumes over a fifteen-year period—the last being completed just prior to his death. I consider myself fortunate to own a copy of Tregelles’s Greek New Testament with his signature.
 See Prolegomena to Tregelles’s Greek New Testament.
 (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 100)
 Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, (Nashville, 2005), p. 100.
 Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual .., https://www.logos.com/product/46572/studies-in-the-theory-and-method-of-new-test (accessed June 12, 2016).