THE RECEIVED TEXT VS. THE CRITICAL TEXT: WHICH ONE IS RIGHT?

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DOES A ‘RECEIVED TEXT’ IMPLY INERRANCY?

While champions of the superiority of the King James Bible argue that it is based on the “received text” and is categorically different from the “critical text,” this claim turns out to be ERRONEOUS. We only have to consider the history of how we got our Christian Bible to realize that the label “the received text” falsely assumes its composition was inspired and NOT the result of critical examination.  This position contends that God inspired the one, perfectly, while the other was the result of “man manipulating God’s word.”  This position believes today’s “critical text” is massively flawed because it employs the science of textual criticism.  However, the truth of the matter is far different than what the “received text” advocates assume.  The “received text” we have today is also a critical text.  If humanity’s critical analysis deprives us of the original wording and meaning of the text, then there are no Bibles free of humanity’s critical assessment. In this article we will unpack the error in this fundamentalist argument. By so doing, we will underscore why our New Testament today presents the original wording of the authors with a purity that exceeds “the received text.” The original composition was inspired infallibly by God. Getting back to the original supplies the inerrant text with an incredibly high confidence factor.

[This article is drawn from Chapter 2 of
A Biography of the Christian Bible.]

ERASMUS GREEK NEW TESTAMENT AND THE KING JAMES WERE BOTH CRITICAL TEXTS

The received text of the Old and New Testament used by the KJV scholars wasn’t a “non-critical” text – it also was a critical text. And once we understand this, the argument that the KJV was uniquely inspired as the only inerrant Word of God begins to unravel.  A received text shouldn’t mean it’s flawless although the connotation of the phrase, unfortunately, implies that it is. (The connotation is the culprit).

The history of the received text documents this implicitly. The received text was assembled over many years before it reached the King James “translators” (who really weren’t translators but insightful and intelligent amalgamators who knew Hebrew and Greek). David Trobisch documents the number of revisions that went into the TR before it was ever declared the received text of the New Testament. He relies upon the exhaustive work of King James’ advocate F.H.A. Scrivener whose “Paragraph Bible” became THE King James Version standard after its publishing in 1873.  Trobisch states concerning Scrivener:

F.H. A. Scrivener compared the KJV of 1611 with the printed editions of the Greek text of the New Testament available at the time. He consulted the editions of the Complutensian Polyglott (1520), Erasmus (1516, 1519, 1522, 1527, 1535), Aldus (1518), Colinaeus (1534), Stephanus (1546, 1549, 1550, 1551), and Beza (1560, 1565, 1582, 1589). Scrivener documented 252 variants from the printed text of Beza alone. Obviously, the translators of the KJV had created their own eclectic Greek text, a text that followed neither a specific manuscript nor a specific printed edition. [5]

Doing the count, we come up with 16 different “received texts” – or at least Greek texts that followed the so-called Byzantine lineage of NT manuscripts (dating no earlier than the eighth century). It wasn’t until the 1633 Elzevir version of this family of Greek New Testaments that the TR was finally called Textus Receptus. It was declared itself a “textum… ab omnibus receptum” (a text accepted by everybody), aka “the received text.” It was a consensus text. No treatise was done arguing it was uniquely inspired. Looking from that point backward, “critical analysis” had been done for over a century to improve upon earlier works, to make them better. (They hardly would have set out to make them worse!) If the 1611 King James version was inspired by God making it inerrant, consider that the resulting received text went through 16 updates, all correcting flaws. No doubt, a mountain of analysis and “critical thinking” went into each new effort.  Thus, the history of how the 1611 NT version was arrived at demonstrates that if inspiration occurred in the received text, its inspiration involved an enormous amount of human effort to get it settled.  So, when the KJV scholars sat down to create the 1611 KJV, did they have a Greek New Testament that was the sole source for their NT? Or was the received text that wasn’t “finalized” until 22 years later with Elzevir’s edition, the inspired version?

Keep in mind, please, what the current evangelical position on the Bible’s inerrancy is – only the original autographs of the authors (who all functioned as prophets or apostles) were inspired without error. Again, this author is not just speaking my mind – a lone voice in the wilderness.  Evangelical scholars assert this is the way we should understand the inerrancy of the Bible. The inerrancy is in the originals! And take note: All these Greek New Testaments mentioned here were available to and used by the King James scholars.

Additionally, KJV-advocate Scrivener notes there were hundreds of variants between these many different sources.  It is against this backdrop that Fundamentalists argue the compilation of the King James New Testament was inspired to perfection – such that it had no further improvements needed.  Never mind what history categorically tells us about the actual truth.

And it begs the questions: “Which source was the one the Holy Spirit inspired? Was the Holy Spirit making each revision better?  Or was the final “received text” so substantially altered that it was no longer inerrant?“ To answer those questions, we need to realize that even if one change was made it would prove the previous version wasn’t considered inerrant by its revisers, working one after another, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [6] Only one alteration, one tiny mistake, falsifies inerrancy. That is why it’s such a lame horse hitched to a dilapidated wagon.

Queen Elizabeth I – Frontice Piece for The Bishops Bible

We mentioned the following point in the previous chapter. We reiterate it here adding another expert opinion: When we turn to sources used by these seventeenth-century scholars who were charged with revising the Bishops Bible (which was the King’s initial directive), we learn that the team consulted many other translations to determine the best wording. According to Trobisch, The Bishops Bible was only one source among many. They relied on the Geneva Bible, which was a faithful translation directly from the Hebrew, and others such as William Tyndale’s 1526 Bible, Miles Coverdale’s version (1535), John Roger’s Matthew’s Bible (1537), and the Bible used prior to the Bishop’s Bible, aka The Great Bible (1539). And the source Bible itself, as directed by King James, The Bishops Bible used exclusively by the Church of England (having been published in 1568 and substantially revised in 1572) was also readily available for examination and followed in some cases. [7]

Thus, the resulting Bible produced under the auspices of King James was a “critical text” very much in its own right.  Its New Testament wasn’t just utilizing only Erasmus’ half-dozen manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, but all the other Greek New Testaments descending from Erasmus’ first effort, which added many more sources to the “received text” not counting the different Bibles that also used those additional manuscripts.  The result was an “eclectic effort” compiled from many sources, chosen by the compilers and translators based upon their perceived authenticity. Those that assembled and revised the received text did not think that the prior version was perfect; otherwise, they wouldn’t have been making changes throughout the following 120 years before Elzevir declared in 1633 that “the text everyone now has,” i.e., is the received text. Obviously, he meant something different than “the only inspired, inerrant text.”  Perhaps he intended to say, “We now have the text that everyone can agree on – that is what the original text composed by the Apostles.” It’s critical nature was what caused him to proclaim it the Textum Receptus.

While that might have been true at that time, the improvement process didn’t stop there – not even close to ceasing. It carried on.

Now for the Competition

The received text’s competing version is known as the Nestle-Aland Bible and the United Bible Society’s text. This competitor is popularly called “a critical text” rather than a “received text.” This wording infers that one was critical, and the other wasn’t. That is utterly illogical and ignorant of the mountain of historical facts I’ve offered that show how the KJV was put together. It was the result of critical processes as well.

On the other hand, the “text-critical” version of the Greek New Testament considers the oldest manuscripts as more likely superior since they are judged as older and closer in time to the original composition than the manuscripts that Erasmus and the many other “received texts” were relying upon. You see, all along, more and more manuscripts were being found, some that agreed with Elzevir’s received text, and some that didn’t.  Telling them apart turns out not to be that hard. Therefore, we should mention the clues and plant them firmly in our Bible-knowledge bank.

Here’s how we can delineate between a New Testament that flows from the legacy of the received text versus those comprising the “critical text.” The received text’s original sources (which is the majority of found manuscripts – because they are closer to us in time and less subject to destruction and decay) are known as the Byzantine text family (or sometimes Antiochian). Its primary alternative is known as the Alexandrian text family. [8] Whereas the Byzantine text family consists of manuscripts almost exclusively discovered dating to the ninth century, the other text family – the Alexandrian text-type – consists of sources that date back to the third and possibly even the second century.  This text type excludes several famous passages found in the Textus Receptus.

The story of the woman taken in adultery – missing in the critical text

There are four primary issues according to Trobisch that clearly identify a text belonging to the TR family:

  1. Matthew 6:13’s ending to the Lord’s prayer; the familiar, “For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
  2. Mark 16:9-20’s extended ending. The oldest codices – Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (virtually complete Greek Bible’s) dating from the third and fourth centuries – exclude the extended conclusion. Sinaiticus is the oldest entire New Testament. And it doesn’t have Mark’s ending.
  3. John 7:53-8:11. The story of the adulterous woman placed at the feet of Jesus where Jesus stoops and writes on the ground and pronounces her “not condemned.” Some manuscripts mention this in other places such as in John 7:36 or in Luke 21:38 or 24:53. But John’s account is unique to him.
  4. The organization of the Greek Next Testament. As Trobisch states, “A manuscript of the Byzantine tradition is most obviously recognized by writings sequence. The Letters of Paul are inserted between Acts and the General letters, and the Letter to the Hebrews is placed after Philemon. The Textus Receptus follows this order. All extant manuscripts older than the eighth century, however, have – with only a few exceptions – Hebrews between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy, and Acts preceding the General letters.” The sequence of the books is the telltale sign.

Moving on, Trobisch points out that there were many “critical” New Testaments in the eighteenth century. These included John Mill’s Greek New Testament in 1707, Richard Bentley’s proposed changes in 1720, and three editions published by Edward Wells and Daniel Mace in 1709, 1719, and 1729 respectively. We also had Johann Albrecht Bengel’s Greek NT in 1734. His version pointed out selected “readings” (the various ways a passage is presented), which he believed were better than what was available in the TR. Thus, one critic castigated him, sarcastically asserting that if every bookmaker went down this path, we would have a “Greek text totally different from the received one… (his) audacity is unprecedented.” Ah, the ad hominem argument was employed 300 years ago too. Bengel was “audacious” (impudent or overconfident) to use his critical faculty in assessing what was more likely the original author’s wording or meaning.

But there were many more discoveries of old manuscripts. Trobisch points out how Wettstein (1751-1752) doubled the number of Greek NT source manuscripts. And Griesbach summarized all this work, reflected in his 1775-1777 and later 1796-1806 editions of the Greek New Testament. Perhaps, he too was audacious to claim that Christendom could now determine its Bible from as early as the fourth century and therefore, best efforts should be made to do so.

Modern Attempts to “Get Back” to the Original Text

Then there was Constantin von Tischendorf, the Indiana Jones of old Bible “raiders,” who discovered two of the three ancient and essential Greek Codices (Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus) dating from the third and fourth centuries A.D. He published all the known Greek manuscripts in 1869-1872 (numbering 64 majuscules – all CAPS text types – and some minuscules – upper-and lower-case Greek manuscripts). After this Tishcendorf publication, there would be too many texts then coming to light to make publishing updated catalogs sensible. Cataloging the manuscripts had become a never-ending story.

Tischendorf’s catalog compares with today’s 321 majuscules, 2,907 minuscule manuscripts, and 2,450 lectionaries, totaling 5,805 source documents, which are now indexed electronically with digital facsimiles available. You can bet your bottom dollar this number won’t be the final tally. New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace (from Dallas Theological Seminary) operates an organization that continues to obtain and digitize all such manuscripts. He admits his team stays very busy. It will take years to finish the work – if it can ever be finished since newly discovered manuscripts are expected to continue.

But not long after Tischendorf’s publications, we see the process of textual criticism change. It moved away from a somewhat ad hoc analytic approach to one that laid down exact rules for how to determine the oldest and best source. This would produce the bogeymen of the KJV-Onlyism advocates, Brooke Foss Westcott (1828-1892) and John AnthonyHort (1825-1901).

The Critical Text – Nestle-Aland, United Bible Society, 28th Edition

The labor of Westcott and Hort focused on how to analyze the data, not just gather more data (as Trobisch succinctly points out). The Byzantine text-type would no longer dominate the publication of New Testament Bibles. By 1904, the publishing of the Greek Textus Receptus was discontinued. In 1898, Eberhard Nestle (not the chocolate manufacturer – but a teacher) published a New Testament featuring the comparison of the TR with Westcott and Hort’s critical text. When there was a disagreement, Nestle consulted other sources and presented the consensus opinion on what was most likely the authentic, original wording. His approach and publication grew into the “relied upon” Greek New Testament today, presenting what is believed to be the NT’s original wording – at least as it stood at the time of the second century. No other ancient document (such as Plato or Herodotus) can boast of source document support.  Mind you, this takes our NT as published today back to within a few decades of the final touches being put on what were likely the last New Testament books, those penned by the Apostle John.  And work to put an even “finer point” of the NT text goes on. There have been a total of 29 editions of the Nestle/Aland Greek New Testament, the most recent in March 2019. The reader should now see why this approach is our basis for defending the Bible in the twenty-first century.

END NOTES

(THE NUMBERING FOLLOWS THAT OF THE BOOK)

[3] The Biblia Hebraica was known as Mikraot Gedolot (aka Bombergiana), printed in 1524-5.

[4] The received text points out that most manuscript sources identified with the Byzantine text-type outnumber the lesser number of documents that are Alexandrian manuscript sources. However, the discovery of these texts came much later (in some cases found centuries afterward). They were not available when the KJV was first published. As indicated before, these sources are in the majority because they are more recent (newer) than the alternative sources (that are older). Less decay, destruction, and more copying accounts for this. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church has always held the Byzantine text-type as their base for their Greek New Testament (since as early as the eighth century). Hence the name Byzantine.

[5] Trobisch, David. “The KJV and Text Criticism,” from, The King James Version at 400. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, Number 26. (2013). 227-234.

[6] We should also take note the original KJV identified 8,422 variants in its margins, suggesting that the reader should evaluate other possible interpretations or meanings of the passage. The committee of 47 did not believe they should be dogmatic about what interpretation was correct. Note: This approach to Scripture respects individual autonomy and responsibility – a “fundamental” tenet of the Reformation in contrast with Catholicism, which places the Church in the position of sovereignty.

[7]  John Wycliffe’s Bible was the earliest English Bible – but it was translated from the Latin Vulgate (not the original Hebrew and Greek) over the period from 1382 to 1395.

[8] That it is called Alexandrian is for the KJV Only advocates a “dead giveaway” that it is heretical. After all, didn’t Philo and Origen come from Alexandria? And wasn’t Alexandria awash with pagan Platonism? While accurate, it must also be acknowledged that it was the home of Athanasius and Bishop Alexander, the top two defenders of the Trinity at Nicaea. Alexandria was the home of all the greatest scholars in the world for almost 800 years, whether they were pagan, Jewish, or Christian. Rome held military might, but Alexandria held the power of the human mind. This will be discussed in-depth in a later chapter.

[9] Its status is presented in Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblia_Hebraica_Quinta.