Erasmus, courtesy Wikipedia
By Spencer D Gear
What moves a religious person to become a born again Christian? I was raised in the liberal Methodist church in Bundaberg, Qld., Australia and went to Sunday School and church religiously. But that religion didn’t change the parents and children in our sugar cane farming household.
The change came in 1959 when my parents attended a landline Billy Graham crusade rally at the Bundaberg Showgrounds. Billy was preaching in Brisbane and his voice was booming out of the loud speaker system at the showgrounds.
My religious parents were sitting in their old Ford Prefect utility in the arena of those showgrounds (called fair grounds in the USA). After Billy’s proclamation of the Gospel, he gave the invitation to repent and to receive Jesus Christ by faith. Both of my parents got out of the Ute and moved to the podium where trained people met them for counselling to receive Christ.
On that day in May 1959, a religious household became a Christian home where Christ dwelt. Of course, my parents had to grow in their faith and they shared Christ with the three children. I was the eldest of the children and received Christ as my Lord and Saviour in the early 1960s as a teenager.
As church goers, we had used only the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. All of my Bible reading and memorisation as a new Christian was from the KJV. I deeply appreciate the foundation to my faith that was bolstered by my reading and study of the KJV.
But this was not the language that an Aussie bloke spoke with thee, thy, thou lingo. It did not communicate with me and I felt hindered when I wanted to share my faith. It conveyed the idea that Christianity was assigned to a previous historical era (anachronistic) and out of touch with the ordinary folks.
When I went to Bible College in the early 1970s, a course in bibliology caused me to investigate Bible translations further. I am grateful for three resources that have helped me understand the Greek text behind the KJV New Testament and to assess it. The information below is gleaned from these resources:
D. A. Carson 1979. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.
Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix 1986. A General Introduction to the Bible (rev. & exp.). Chicago: Moody Press.
Bruce M. Metzger 1992. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press.
In recent decades there has been an emerging pro-KJV debate that has been promoted by organisations and people such as the Trinitarian Bible Society and Gail Riplinger. There is a recognised “King James Only” movement.
On a practical level, I experienced two recent examples of the promotion of the KJV over other translations. The first was in a local church where I preach by invitation from time to time. I preached at this church on 26 December 2010. When I sent the order of service to the elder who reads the Bible in the service, with a copy of the Old Testament and New Testament in the New International Version, I was told that only the KJV or the New King James Version was allowed for public reading in that church. However, I could use whatever translation I preferred in my preaching. I preached from the NIV. This church obviously has a policy that supports the priority of the KJV Only view.
A second example was in a response to some blogging that I did on Christian Forums. In the thread, “Do any of you believe tongues is necessary?“, one response by JEBrady was, “Jesus never said anything about speaking in tongues, to my knowledge. Most of what you can find on the subject in the NT will be in Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12-14. Recommended reading for you.”. My response was:
“For those Pentecostal/charismatic believers who accept that Mark 16:9-20 is in the Scriptures (these are generally KJV supporters), they could say that Jesus did speak about tongues in Mark 16:17: ‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues’ (NIV).
“I do not support Mark 16:9-20 as being in the oldest and best manuscripts of the NT”.
Then there was this reply by Alive_Again:
“That’s the problem with the Hort-Westcott translations. They’ve eliminated scripture. The Mark scriptures in question were quoted by early church fathers. Just because it was translated from an older copy doesn’t mean it was more accurate.
It’s not surprising that the 40 odd scriptures taken from the NIV and recent versions of the Word of God take out scriptures that demonstrate how to deal effectively with the devil and one of the most important demonstrations of the Holy Spirit – speaking with “new” tongues (new to you)”.
In light of the above details, I find it necessary to examine some background to the Byzantine text-type, the Textus Receptus behind the KJV, and the Greek text gathered by Erasmus. Is the KJV a superior Bible version and have the modern versions been corrupted by Westcott & Hort’s ideology of Alexandrian text-type in gathering NT manuscripts?
A part of page 336 of Erasmus’s Greek Testament, the first “Textus Receptus.” Shown is a portion of John 18 (courtesy keypoint.com)
1. The first Greek text to be published was that by Dutch scholar, Desiderius Erasmus (ca. AD 1469-1536) of Rotterdam, Holland. This was published in March 1516 and there were hundreds of printing errors in it. He published it as a diglot – in two languages, Greek and his own rather sophisticated Latin.
2. To prepare his Greek text, Erasmus used several Greek MSS but there was not one of them that incorporated the entire NT.
3. None of his MSS was earlier than the tenth century.
4. Erasmus consulted only one MSS for the Book of Revelation and the last leaf was lacking, so the last six verses were omitted in that Greek MSS. So what did he do? He translated the Latin Vulgate into Greek and published that as the last 6 verses of the book of Revelation. Therefore, in the Greek of the last 6 verses of the Book of Revelation, it contains some words and phrases that have been found in no other Greek MSS.
5. In other parts of the Greek NT, Erasmus introduced words he had translated from the Vulgate. Just as one example, in Acts 9:6 are the words from the KJV, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” These words have been found in no other Greek MSS. It is possible that Erasmus assimilated something that paralleled Acts 22:10.
6. Erasmus’s Greek NT testament is behind the King James Version NT. Yet it is based on only half a dozen minuscule MSS and not one of them is earlier than the tenth century. Erasmus’s text was printed by a number of publishers, the most important being Robert Estienne whose surname has been Latinised as Stephanus. He issued 4 editions and the third edition of 1550 is the first critical edition of the Greek text. It was Stephanus who introduced verse numbering into the text. The second edition was the one that was used by Luther for his German Bible (Carson 1979:34).
8. The KJV translators relied on Beza’s editions of 1588-1589 and 1598. (The above information has been gleaned from Carson 1979:34-37). Carson explains:
“In 1624, thirteen years after the publication of the KJV, the Elzevir brothers, Bonaventure and Abraham, published a compact Greek New Testament, the text of which was largely that of Beza. In the second edition, published in 1633, there is an advertising blurb (Metzger’s term) that says, in Latin … (“The text that you have is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or perverted”). This is the origin of the term Textus Receptus (or TR, as it is often referred to): the Latin words “textum … receptum” have simply been put into the nominative. The TR is not the “received text” in the sense that it has been received from God as over against other Greek manuscripts. Rather, it is the “received text” in the sense that it was the standard one at the time of the Elzevirs. Nevertheless the textual basis of the TR is a small number of haphazardly collected and relatively late minuscule manuscripts. In about a dozen places its reading is attested by no known Greek manuscript witness” (1979:36).
9. Up until 1881, the TR, only with a few modifications, was the basis of all European translations. The most prominent MSS of the TR were from the Byzantine family and these were the dominant MSS for 2 centuries. It is true that Beza had access to codex Bezae, which is a Western text-type, but it had such significant differences when compared with the others, that it was not used with any significance by Beza.
10. The TR is not in total agreement with the Byzantine family of texts as the Byzantine text-type is found in several thousand witnesses, while the TR only refers to about one-hundredth of that evidence.
11. It is common for defenders of the TR and the KJV, to speak against the textual critical theories of B. F. Westcott & F. J. A. Hort. This has been happening for about a century. Westcott & Hort had available to them the newly discovered codex Sinaiticus and by 1889-1890, codex Vaticanus, along with other MSS. Westcott, Hort & Bengel presented a case for following text-types and they found that the Byzantine tradition did not go any further back than the fourth century and that it was “a conflation of earlier texts” (Carson 1979:40). Westcott & Hort considered that the Alexandrian tradition (e.g. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) was earlier than the Byzantine text-type, which only went back to about the middle of the fourth century.
(courtesy Bible Research)
12. On this basis, the earliest text-type is not that of the Byzantine TR behind the KJV, but the Alexandrian tradition which is generally accepted today as being closer to the original manuscripts. Hence the RV, ASV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NASB, ESV, NLT and other translations since 1881 (except the NKJV) are based on the Alexandrian text-type. Carson (1979:52) is convinced from the evidence that “the Alexandrian text-type has better credentials than any other text-type now available”. Part of his assessment is:
“Not only is the Alexandrian text-type found in some biblical quotations by ante-Nicene fathers, but the text-type is also attested by some of the early version witnesses. More convincing yet, Greek papyri from the second and third centuries have shown up, none of which reflects a Byzantine text and most of which have a mixed Alexandrian / Western text. The famous papyrus p75, which dates from about A.D. 200 and is perhaps earlier, is astonishingly close to Vaticanus. This find definitely proves the early date of the Vaticanus text-type (Carson 1979:53).
13. There have been various KJV editions. The 1631 edition omitted the word “not” from the seventh of the Ten Commandments and so obtained the reputation of being called “Wicked Bible”. There was a 1717 edition printed at Oxford that has the reputation of being called the “Vinegar Bible” because the chapter heading of Luke 20 read “vinegar” instead of “vineyard” (Geisler & Nix 1986:567-568).
The 1769 revision of the KJV, which we use today, differs from the 1611 edition in about 75,000 details (Goodspeed in Geisler & Nix 1986:568). Many of these are minor changes of spelling. See: ‘Changes in the King James Version‘ from 1611 to 1769. A copy of the 1611 edition of the KJV is currently available for sale as The Bible: Authorized King James Version with Apocrypha (Oxford World’s Classics).
Concerning what Erasmus did in omitting the Trinitarian statement of 1 John 5:7-8, Bruce Metzger explains:
Erasmus replied that he [Erasmus] had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, though he had in the meanwhile examined several others besides those on which he relied when first preparing his text. In an unguarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found–or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscripts had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscripts had been prepared expressly in order to confute him (Metzger 1992:101).
Thus, there are many good reasons for regarding the Textus Receptus behind the NT of the King James Version as not being superior to that used by the modern Greek critical text.
Jemand wrote a helpful summary in this area:
Websites that militantly defend the absurd notion that the King James Version of the Bible, and it alone, is “the preserved word of God” willfully and deliberately misrepresent the truth to make it appear that all other versions of the Bible are counterfeits of the real thing. The New Testament portion of the New King James Version (NKJV) is translated from the same Greek text that the New Testament portion of the King James Version is translated from. Here is a brief summary of the origin of that Greek text (I wrote this summary myself for use in another thread):
The first printed Greek New Testament was printed in 1514 as part of the Complutensian Polyglot which was not yet ready for publication. In 1515, publisher Johann Froben entered into a business agreement with the Dutch scholar and humanist Desiderius Erasmus in which Erasmus was to prepare for publication a Greek New Testament, the first to ever be published. Froben wanted his Greek New Testament to be on the market before the Complutensian Polyglot, so Erasmus had to very hastily put his text together. Very much to his dismay, he was not able to find a Greek manuscript that contained the entire Greek New Testament; therefore he used several manuscripts, but mostly two 12th century manuscripts from a monastic library at Basle—one of which contained the four gospels and the other the Book of Acts and the epistles. This resulted in a manuscript for publication that contained corrections between the lines and in the margins. The published work, not surprisingly, included hundreds of typographical errors, causing F. H. A. Scrivener to comment that it was, “in that respect the most faulty book I know.”
Yet other difficulties plagued Erasmus in the preparation of his Greek text of the New Testament. He had only one Greek manuscript that contained the Book of Revelation. This manuscript that Erasmus had borrowed from his friend Reuchlin was incomplete—it lacked the final leaf that had contained the last six verses—and it had other defects. It included a commentary on Revelation and in places Erasmus was not able to distinguish between the text and the commentary. Therefore, in those places where the text was either missing or in doubt, he used the Latin Vulgate and translated it into Greek to complete his Greek Text. The result was that his Greek text of Revelation includes readings that are not found in any Greek manuscript and even a word that does not exist in the Greek language, but which because of superstition are still included in the so-called Textus Receptus, proving that for some people superstition trumps manuscript evidence. And translations from the Latin Vulgate are not limited to the Book of Revelation, but are found in other parts of his Greek text of the New Testament. This is the reason why, for example, the text of Acts 9:6 in the King James Version is very different from the text in other translation that do not rely upon the mistakes of Erasmus, including all of them that are translated from the Majority Text or the Byzantine Text type.
Acts 9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (King James Version)
Acts 9:6 but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (Revised Version of 1881 and similarly in every standard translation since then)
The first edition of Erasmus’ Greek text of the New Testament was published in 1516 with a second edition in 1519. The reception was mixed—the 3,300 copies sold quickly but the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford (and some others) forbade their students from reading them. A very important and historical objection to these two editions of Erasmus’ Greek text of the New Testament came from one of the editors Ximenes’ Complutensian Polyglot, Stunica. This objection was that the Greek text for the last part of 1 John 5:7 and first part of 1 John 5:8 were missing. Erasmus replied that he had never seen a manuscript of the Greek New Testament that included those words but very foolishly and very much to his regret later made the promise that he would include them in the third edition of his Greek text of the New Testament if Stunica could provide him with even one Greek manuscript in which the words were found. To the dismay of Erasmus, Stunica, a man lacking the moral fiber of which Erasmus was made, provided Erasmus with such a manuscript—a manuscript that was apparently written in Oxford in 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy who translated the words from the Latin Vulgate and inserted them into his Greek manuscript. Erasmus kept his word and inserted the words into the third edition of his Greek text of the New Testament which was published in 1522, but included a lengthy footnote in which he wrote that he believed that the Greek manuscript supplied to him containing those words was probably written for that very purpose. That manuscript is now known as Codex Greg. 61 and the words are known as the Comma Johanneum. The King James translation of the New Testament translates those words as “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8. And there are three that bear witness on earth:” During the nearly four centuries since Codex Greg. 61 was written, the Comma Johanneum has been found in only three other Greek manuscripts:
Greg. 88, a 12th century manuscript in which the Comma is found in a marginal note that was written in the 17th century
Tisch. w 110, a 16th century manuscript that is a copy of the Greek text of the New Testament in the Complutensian Polyglot
Greg. 629, a 14th century (or possibly 16th century) manuscript
Erasmus had now seen the Greek text in the Complutensian Polyglot and generously used it to revise his own Greek text, making changes to 90 passages in the Book of Revelation alone in his fourth edition of 1527. In 1535, Erasmus published his fifth and final edition in which he made only minor revisions of his Greek text.
Robert Estienne (also known by his Latin name Stephanus) published four editions of the Greek New Testament in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551. The Greek text in his third edition was very similar to the Greek text in the fourth and fifth editions of Erasmus. In his fourth edition, he introduced the numbering of the verses in the New Testament, the numbering system still employed (for the most part) today. The third edition, or Jean Crispin’s (sometimes spelled Crespin) much smaller reprint of it, became the textual basis for the New Testament in the Geneva Bible translated by William Whittingham and other English Protestants, the first English version to include variant readings in the margins.
Théodore de Bèze (commonly spelled Beza) published nine editions of the Greek New Testament and a tenth was published posthumously in 1611. Four of the nine included variations in the Greek text, those of 1565, 1582, 1588-89, and 1598. The editions of 1588-89 and 1598 were used to a significant extent by the translators of the New Testament portion of the King James Version, but the primary text used by the translators of the King James Version was the 1550 edition by Stephanus. The translators of the New Testament portion of the New King James Version consistently translated from the Greek text underlying the New Testament portion of the King James Version (Jemand, Bible Forums, ‘Is the NKJV corrupted?’ #106, 20 March 2009)
I know that this kind of post will not go down well with Textus Receptus and KJV Only supporters, but these matters need to be clarified.
I recommend the article by Daniel Wallace, “Why I do not think the King James Bible is the best translation available today”.
One of the finest histories of the Christian church is that by Kenneth Scott Latourette 1975. A History of Christianity (vol. 1, rev. edn.). New York: Harper & Row Publishers. Latourette states of Erasmus:
“He was ordained to the [Roman Catholic] priesthood…. He wished to see the Church purged of superstition through the use of intelligence and a return to the ethical teachings of Christ. He desired no break with the existing Catholic Church. He initiated no innovation in doctrine or worship…. He got out an edition of the Greek Testament [Textus Receptus] with a fresh translation into Latin” (pp. 661-62).
Bruce Metzger (1992:99-103) has summarised the situation:
Since Erasmus could not find a manuscript which contained the entire Greek Testament, he utilized several for various parts of the New Testament. For most of the text he relied on two rather inferior manuscripts from a monastic library at Basle, one of the Gospels … and one of the Acts and Epistles, both dating from about the twelfth century. Erasmus compared them with two or three others of the same books and entered occasional corrections for the printer in the margins or between the lines of the Greek script. For the Book of Revelation he had but one manuscript, dating from the twelfth century, which he had borrowed from his friend Reuchlin. Unfortunately, this manuscript lacked the final leaf, which had contained the last six verses of the book. For these verses, as well as a few other passages throughout the book where the Greek text of the Apocalypse and the adjoining Greek commentary with which the manuscript was supplied are so mixed up as to be almost indistinguishable, Erasmus depended upon the Latin Vulgate, translating this text into Greek. As would be expected from such a procedure, here and there in Erasmus’ self-made Greek text are readings which have never been found in any known Greek manuscript-but which are still perpetuated today in printings of the so-called Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament.
Even in other parts of the New Testament Erasmus occasionally introduced into his Greek text material taken from the Latin Vulgate. Thus in Acts ix. 6, the question which Paul asks at the time of his conversion on the Damascus road, ‘And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’, was frankly interpolated by Erasmus from the Latin Vulgate. This addition, which is found in no Greek manuscript at this passage (though it appears in the parallel account of Acts xxii. 10), became part of the Textus Receptus, from which the King James version was made in 1611.
The reception accorded Erasmus’ edition, the first published Greek New Testament, was mixed. On the one hand, it found many purchasers throughout Europe. Within three years a second edition was called for, and the total number of copies of the 1516 and 1519 editions amounted to 3,300. The second edition became the basis of Luther’s German translation….
Among the criticisms leveled at Erasmus one of the most serious appeared to be the charge of Stunica, one of the editors of Ximenes’ Complutensian Polyglot, that his text lacked part of the final chapter of I John, namely the Trinitarian statement concerning ‘the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth’ (I John v. 7-8, King James version). Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript containing these words, though he had in the meanwhile examined several others besides those on which he relied when first preparing his text. In a guarded moment Erasmus promised that he would insert Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found – or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to refute him.
Among the thousands of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament examined since the time of Erasmus, only three others are known to contain this spurious passage. They are Greg. 88, a twelfth-century manuscript which has the Comma written in the margin in a seventeenth-century hand; Tisch. w 110, which is, a sixteenth-century manuscript copy of the Complutensian Polyglot Greek text; and Greg. 629, dating from the fourteenth or, as Riggenbach has argued, from the latter half of the sixteenth century. The oldest known citation of the Comma is in a fourth-century Latin treatise entitled Liber apologeticus (ch. 4), attributed either to Priscillian or to his follower, Bishop Instantius of Spain. The Comma probably originated as a piece of allegorical exegesis of the three witnesses and may have been written as a marginal gloss in a Latin manuscript of I John, when it was taken into the text of the Old Latin Bible during the fifth century. The passage does not appear in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate before about A.D. 800….
Thus the text of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament rests upon a half-dozen miniscule [lower case script] manuscripts. The oldest and best of these manuscripts (codex I, a miniscule of the tenth century, which agrees often with the earlier uncial [upper case script] text) he used least, because he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text! Erasmus’ text is inferior in critical value to the Complutensian, yet because it was the first on the market and was available in a cheaper and more convenient form, it attained a far greater influence than its rival, which had been in preparation from 1502 to 1514….
Subsequent editors, though making a number of alterations in Erasmus’ text, essentially reproduced this debased form of the Greek Testament. Having secured an undeserved pre-eminence, what came to be called the Textus Receptus of the New Testament resisted for 400 years all scholarly efforts to displace it in favour of an earlier and more accurate text.
Carson, D A 1979. The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.
Metzger, B. M. 1992. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption,and Restoration (third ed). New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 By modern translations, I am referring to examples such as the New International Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, New Living Translation and the New Revised Standard Version. The New King James Version is not included because of its dependence on the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine text.
Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 March 2016.