The History of the Textus Receptus as described by various biblical scholars

representing many denominations and both conservative and liberal scholarship

Brown Raymond E. Brown, D.W. Johnson, Kevin G. O'Connell, and Raymond F. Collins (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary) [book review]

Bruce M. Metzger (The Text of the New Testament, Second Edition and Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition)

Bruce F.F. Bruce (History of the Bible in English, Third Edition)
K.W. Park (Peake's Commentary on the Bible)
Kraeling Emil G. Kraeling and C.S.C. Williams (Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, Second Edition)
John Reumann (The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible)
Kummel Werner Georg Kummel (Introduction to the New Testament)
James R. White (The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?)
KJV's dependence on TR
Edited by Robert Nguyen Cramer
KJV topical index
Questions & responses on TR
TR, Western Text, & women
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1. Raymond E. Brown, D.W. Johnson, Kevin G. O'Connell, and Raymond F. Collins (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, Englewood Cliff, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990, pp. 1104-1109; p. 1051) [book review]

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Textus Receptus. The key to the study of the Gk NT from the 16th to the 19th cent. is the Textus Receptus (TR), but to explain its origins we must survey the history of the NT after the writing of the Great Codices... There was a revolution in handwriting in the 9th cent. when scribes changed from uncials to minuscules. The practical impact is seen in the fact that, compared with some 260 distinct uncial mss. of the Gk NT which have survived, some 2,800 minuscule mss. are known. Thus the number of mss. from the 500 years between the change in writing and the invention of printing (in 1450) is more than 10 times larger than the surviving number of mss. from the 500 years before the change. When printing was invented, there were many mss. of the Gk NT available, but the majority of them represented a later and inferior textual tradition (as would become apparent to scholars centuries later).

In1514 Cardinal Ximenes was responsible for the first printing of the Gk NT as part of his Complutensian Polyglot Bible (Hebr - Aram - Gk - Lat in parallel cols.), but it was not published until 1522. The first published printed Gk NT was that of the Dutch Catholic Erasmus in 1516 -- an edition based on only six or seven mss. and filled with printing errors. Rather than attempting an independent Gk text, Erasmus was offering the reader of the Lat version the opportunity to find out whether it was supported by the Greek. For small parts of the NT where he had no Gk ms., Erasmus simply translated the Vg back into what he thought the Greek might have been! The Protestant printer-editor Robert Estienne, or Stephanus, issued editions of Erasmus from 1546 on, based on a later corrected form, but using more mss. and readings found in various mss. The 1557 ed. was the first to include an enumeration of verses within chaps. The Gk text of Erasmus and Stephanus became the TR on which all the Protestant vernacular transls. were based. Luther used the 2d Erasmian ed. of 1519. In England the Stephanus 3rd ed (1550) became very popular in scholarly circles.

It is unfortunate that the most influential textual tradition was not based on what today we would consider good mss. Popularized in the minuscule mss., it was a tradition that had become dominant at Constantinople from the 5th cent. on and was used throughout the Byzantine church (whence the name "Byzantine" given to the tradition). It represented a heavily revised NT text wherein scribes had sought to smooth out stylistic difficulties and to conflate variant readings. This means, in the words of the preface to the RSV, that the KJV NT was based upon a Greek text that was marred by mistakes, containing the accumulated errors of fourteen centuries of manuscript copying. Curiously, in many passages, particularly in the Gospels, Catholics were better supplied with correct readings than Protestants; for although the Catholic Reims NT was a "second-hand" transl. from the Latin, the Vg Gospels often reflected a better Gk text than that which lay behind the KJV.

Differentiation of Textual Traditions. The recognition of the limitations of the TR came slowly. When in the next (17th) cent. Codex A became available, it only strengthened the respect for the TR; for, as fate would have it, in the Gospels A was the oldest example of the same inadequate Byzantine text. True, Codex D had a different text, but D was so peculiar that it was looked upon as a freek produced by corruption. T. Beza, the owner of D, published nine ed. of the Gk NT between 1565 and 1604; and although he supplied more textual apparatus than Stephanus, he popularied the TR in the body of his text. It was through Beza's ed. of 1588-89 and 1598 that the TR influenced the KJV translators. The brothers Elzevir published a NT taken from Beza's ed., and in the preface to their 1633 ed. they spoke of the "textum ... nunc ab omnibus receptum," whence the name "Textus Receptus." ... [pp. 1104-1105]]

The Canon in the Reformation... Erasmus, whose Gk NT essentially served as the basis for Luther's translation into German, was censured by the Sorbonne for not refuting ancient doubts about the apostolic origin of Heb, Jas, 2 Pet, 2-3 John, and Rev. [p. 1051]


2. F.F. Bruce (History of the Bible in English, Third Edition, NY: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp. 127-128, 138-142, 194-196)

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The principal defect of the A.V. [Authorized Version, i.e., KJV] is one for which the translators cannot be held responsibile. In the New Testament especially, the text which they used was an inferior one. The earliest printed editions of the Greek New Testament were based on later manuscripts -- manuscripts which exhibit what textual critics know as the "Byzantine" type of Greek text. This Byzantine text-type represents a revision of the New Testament text made in the fourth century A.D. and later; it is farther removed from the text of the first century than certain earlier text-types which have been distinguished in more recent times. But throughout centuries of copying and recopying even the Byzantine text-type was no longer represented in its purity by the later manuscripts which were so largely drawn upon by the editors of the earliest printed texts. Erasmus did, indeed, ask a friend in Rome to consult on one particular point [1] the greatest biblical treasure of the Vatican Library -- the Vatican codex of the fourth century A.D. -- although it was not until centuries later that the great value of this manuscript was appreciated.

[1] The particular point was the passage about the three heavenly witnesses (1 John 5:7, A.V.), which appears in no Greek manuscript apart from a few very lat ones, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries...

The edition of the Greek Testament which became standard in England was one issued in 1550 by the Paris printer Estienne (Stephanus). The printing house of Elzevir in Leyden took this edition as the basis for two editions which they issued in 1624 and 1633. Their 1633 edition is noteworthy because the Latin preface assures the reader that here he has "the text which is now received by all" without either alteration or corruption. It is from this piece of "publisher's blurb" that the designation "The Received Text" (Textus Receptus) has been applied more generally to the text of the earliest printed editions of the Greek Testament, and in particular to the Greek text underlying the A.V. in the New Testament. Sometimes ignorance of the original circumstances of the designation leads people to appeal to the words "The Received Text" as though the very word received carried a certain weight of authority with it. [pp. 127-128]

Scripture deserves to have intelligent readers, and intelligent readers will not have their faith shaken by being reminded that the men who copied the sacred text throughout the early Christian centuries could occassionally fail to copy exactly what lay before them in the master-copy. [p. 140]



3. Emil G. Kraeling and C.S.C. Williams (Dictionary of the Bible, Second Edition, edited by James Hastings, revised by Frederick C. Grant and H.H. Rowley, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963, pp. 979-980, 989-994)

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The text of the NT as read in ordinary copies of the Greek Testament, as as translated in the AV of 1611, is substantially identical with that printed by Stephanus (Robert Estienne) in 1550, and by the Elzevirs in their popular edition of 1624. To this text the Elzevirs in their next edition (1633) applied the phrase 'Textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum'; and by the name of Textus Receptus (TR) or Received Text, it has since been generally known. The edition of Stephanus was based upon the two earliest printed texts of the NT, that of Erasmus (published in 1516), and that of the Computensian Polyglot (printed in 1514, but not published until 1522); and he also made use of 15 MSS mostly at Paris. Two of these (Codd. D and L) were of early date, but not much use was made of them; the others were minuscules of relatively late date. The principal editor of the Computensian Polyglot, Lopez de Stunica, used MSS borrowed from the Vatican; they have not been identified, but appear to have been late, and ordinary in character. Erasmus, working to a publisher's order, with the object of anticipating the Complutensian, depended uncritically upon a single 12th cent. MS for the Gospels, upon one of the 13th or 14th for the Epistles, and upon one of the 12th for the Apocalypse, mutilated at the end. (Erasmus made good the lacuna by translating from the Latin Vulgate into Greek!) All of these were at Basle, and were merely those which chanced to be accessible.

The TR is consequently derived from (at most) some 20 to 25 MSS, dating from the last few centuries before the invention of printing, and not selected on any estimate of merit, but merely as being ready to the editor's hands. They may be taken as fairly representative of the great mass of Greek Testament MSS of the late Middle Ages, but not more. At present we have over 70 papyri, over 230 uncial MSS and nearly 2500 minuscules and about 1700 lectionaries. The oldest of these is a papyrus fragment of Jn 18, dated within the first half of the 2nd cent. The great Chester Beatty papyri of the Gospels and Acts and of Paul belong to the 3rd cent. The history of Textual Criticism during the past three centuries has been the history of the accumulation of all this material (and of further masses of evidence provided by ancient translations and patristic citations), and of its appliation to the discovery of the true text of the NT; and it is not surprising that such huge accessions of evidence, going back in age a thousand years or more behind the date of Erasmus' principal witnesses, should have necessitated a considerable number of alterations in the details of the TR.


4. Werner Georg Kummel (Introduction to the New Testament, by translated by Howard Clark Kee, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975, pp 540-554)

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The Basel printer Froben wanted to anticipate the work of [Cardinal] Ximenes [who had commissioned the Complutensian Polyglot, which included the first printed Greek New Testament], which he knew about, and in 1515 asked Erasmus to assume responsibility for an edition. Erasmus agreed, and in March of 1515 asked Erasmus to assume responsibility for an edition. Erasmus agreed, and in March of 1516 published the first NT in the Greek language with his own Latin translation. This hasty edition, of which Erasmus himself said in a letter in 1516, praecipitatum verius quam editum ("more precipitated than edited"), reproduces in the main, with slight corrections, the text of two Basel miniscule manuscripts, and four other minuscules were used only occasionally. Erasmus had only a single manuscript for Rev, which broke off at 22:16; the missing verses he translated -- with many mistakes -- from the Vulgate back into Greek. In four subsequent editions Erasmus made improvements, but the basis of his text remained the same throught. It was on reprint of the second edition (1519) that Luther based his translation of the NT.

The later printings of the NT from the sixteenth century conformed to the Erasmus text, into which were introduced a number of correctinos according to the Complutensis or manuscripts which were compared...

In the printings of the seventeenth century the text which had been worked up in the sixteenth century was finally fixed. This text represents a form of the Koine text of late antiquity which had developed over hundreds of years and thus become corrupt. The service perfomed by the famous editions from the printing house of the Elzevier family in Leiden, and later in Amsterdam (seven editions from 1624 to 1678), lay essentially in the masterly printing and the beautiful editions. the text, however, was hardly distinguishable from the Beza text of 1565. In the preface to the second edition (1633) stands the sentence, textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum, in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus ("thus you now have the universally received text in which we present nothing that has been changed or is corrupted"); [2] for this reason the text from Stephanus to Elzevier, which prevailed for nearly four centuries was valued by old Prestant orthodoxy as inspired, was called the textus receptus.

[2] H.J. de Jonge, Daniel Heinsius and the Textus Receptus of the NT, 1971, has shown that the foreword as well as the text of the Elzevier edition of 1633 are to be credited to the Leiden philologian Daniel Heinsius.


5. Bruce M. Metzger (The Text of the New Testament, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 95-118, 124-139; and Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996, pp. 1127-1129)

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With the invention of printing, a new era dawned in the history of the transmission of the biblical text. The practice of copying MSS was discontinued and paper replaced parchment as writing and printing material. With Renaissance and the Reformation, interest in the biblical languages was revived and this led to the printing of the Greek NT.

Cardinal Ximenes was the first to put the Greek NT into print in the Computensian Polyglot Bible. This massive five-volume work began to come off the press in Spain in 1514, but eccelsiastical authorities delayed its publication. So it happened that Erasmus of Rotterdam was the first to publish, at Basel, a printed Greek NT in 1516. His first edition was a diglot, with the Greek column alongside his own translation of the Greek into Latin. Erasmus' Greek NT had a poor MS base, for he had only a few MSS at his disposal and most of them were of a late date. He published five editions of the Greek NT. With minor changes, this text was published again and again during the next three hundred years. It came to be known as the Textus Receptus because of the claim made in the preface of the Greek NT published by the Elzevir printers of Leiden in 1633 that this was the text received by all. It was essentially the text that had become a kind of standard in Antioch of Syria in the fourth century. For that reason, is it also known as the Anthiochian or Syrian text. And since this text became common in the Eastern church with its seat at Byzantium, it is also called the Byzantine text. It is the text that underlies the King James Version (KJV). [The Text of the New Testament, pp. 1127-1128]


6. K.W. Park (Peake's Commentary on the Bible, edited by Matthew Black and H.H. Rowley, New York: Nelson, 1962, pp. 665-670)

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The Graeco-Latin editions of Erasmus printed by Froben (1516-35) were also traditional and of no critical merit, but became the cornerstone of the NT text for three hundred years, both in the Gr. and mordern-speech versions. This text was published with only slight revision and in increasing numbers by Stephanus in Paris (1546-1644), by Beza in Geneva (1565-1611), by the Elzevirs in Leiden (1624-78), and by many another. Yet none of these editions of the 'Received Text' was prepared with serious textual criticism. [p. 666]]

A 'history of the text' was being evolved even while the latest and poorest textual form (the 'Textus Receptus') continued to be published and used. [p. 668]


7. John Reumann (The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, edited by Charles M. Laymon (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971, pp. 1232-1236)

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A significant step came with the production of a 6-vol. Bible, the Computensian Polyglot, in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin at Alcala, Latin "Complutum," in Spain. Cardinal Jimenez, often latinized as "Ximenes," and 8 associates worked on it for over 15 years. The NT part was printed by 1514, the entire Bible by 1517; but a papal permit came only in 1520, and circulation began only in 1522. Meanwhile Erasmus had scooped the world by getting a Greek NT on the market in 1516. But the Polyglot served dramatically to direct attention away from the Latin column to the Hebrew or Greek it printed alongside.

Erasmus, must renowned Greek scholar of the day, had been persuaded by the Basel printer Froben, who held exclusive rights from the pope to publish the Greek NT for 4 years, to rush through the Greek NTof 1516. He consulted only 6 late minuscules, and at times sent one of these directly to the printer to be set in type. When he found Rev. 22:16-21 missing from all his exemplars he boldly translated from Latin back into Greek himself.

Opponents were outraged that the dominant Latin was now challenged by the Greek. Stunica, one of the Polyglot editors, attacked the omission of the vs. about the Trinity in 1 John 5:7 (KJV) -- missing even in the late Greek MSS consulted by Erasmus. Rashly Erasmus agreed to insert the vs. if a single Greek MS with it could be found. One turned up, apparently written for the purpose by a Franciscan at Oxford in 1520, and so Erasmus put the spurious vs. into his 3rd ed. of 1522, whence it entered subsequent Greek NT's and the KJV. It is a Latin gloss, found in no MS before the 12th cent.

Erasmus' text went through many reprintings, often blended with the Computensian NT. The 1550 ed. by Stephanus -- a learned printer who in 1551 first added numbered vs. divisions to the ch. divisions which Stephen Langton had introduced into the Vulg. in the 13th cent. -- became standard in Great Britain and provided the basic Greek text fr the NT of the KJV of 1611. The similar Elzevir edition of 1633 in Holland became standard on the Continent and came to be called the Textus Receptus (TR) from a blurb in the preface describing it as the "text received by everyone." The Greek NT was now being circulated widely in print, but in a form based only ca. 25 late MSS.


8. James R. White (The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995, pp. 1-286)

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Erasmus' interest in the texts of the Bible, seen in his publishing of Valla's work [on the Vulgate], prompted him to begin work on publishing the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament. Up to that time (around 1511) no one had printed the entiretly of the Greek New Testament. Everyone was still utilizing utilizing hand-copied manuscripts. Up to the summer of 1514 Erasmus worked in England on this project, and then moved back onto the Continent to Basel, Switzerland, where he hoped to find many excellent Greek manuscripts. He was disappointed when he found only five, but he set to work with these. He obtained the assistance of John Froben, a printer there at Basel. Basel encouraged Erasmus to hurry with his work, possibly because he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes had already printed his Computensian Polyglot, which included the Greek New Testament, and was merely waiting for approval to arrive from Rome before publishing his work. Time was running out to be the first to actually publish the Greek New Testament. As a result, the first edition of Erasmus' Novum Instrumentum (The New Instrument") was hardly a thing of beauty, and as soon as it was printed Erasmus had to get to work editing the second edition. It was so hastily printed that Erasmus himself said it was "precipitated rather than edited" and that it was "hurried out headlong." Since he was unwilling to wait for papal approval, he took a big gamble and dedicated his work to Pope Leo X, the same pope who excommunicated Martin Luther, hoping that the dedication would deflect any reprisals for his rushing his work to press. The gamble worked, and Erasmus had the first published Greek text on the market. [pp. 15-16]

One of the marvels of Erasmus' work is that he was able to produce such a fine text with so few resources. He drew from barely half a dozen Greek manuscripts in his initial work, not including those he would have examined in England. Over the years he took advantage of his travels to examine other texts, but even if one added them all together the final number would still be rather small. Despite the paucity of manuscripts available to him, Erasmus showed himself a true scholar, and his Annotations address many of the same textual variants that are discussed today by modern scholars...

Erasmus was aided by two scholars in his initial work, Nikolaus Gerber and Ionnes Oecolampadius, later an aid to Ulrich Swingli and a leader in the Reformation movement. [p. 54]

It is well known that Erasmus struggled with the text of Revelation. Not finding any manuscripts that contained the book, he borrowed one from his friend Reuchlin. Erasmus was quite please with the text, feeling that it was "of such great age that it might be thought to have been written in the time of the apolstles." He had an unknown copyist make a fresh copy and returned the original to Reuchlin. The copyist had difficulty with the text (the manuscript contained a commentary on the book of Revelation, and the actual text of Scripture was imbedded in the commentary), and as a result made some mistakes that found their way into the printed editions of Erasmus' Greek text, and finally into the text of the King James Version. [p. 55]


Edited by Robert Nguyen Cramer