Textus Receptus

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The last page of the 1516 edition of Textus Receptus by Erasmus. A Latin translation by Erasmus is on the right.
Textus Receptus, or "Received Text," was a Greek text of the New Testament created by Erasmus. The earliest edition was published in 1516 in Basel. It was used by translators of the Reformation era, including Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and the translators of the King James Version.

The first edition was put together hurriedly based on manuscripts available locally in Basel. Erasmus made numerous corrections for the second and third editions. These were the most influential editions, the ones used by Luther and Tyndale. For the fourth edition, changes were made after consulting the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. This text was published by Cardinal Ximenes in Spain in 1520. It is based on manuscripts kept at the Vatican Library in Rome. Erasmus published a fifth and final edition in 1536.

For his 1551 edition, French printer Stephanus used a text based on the later editions of Erasmus. He added verse numbering and extensive footnotes. In 1598, Theodore Beza reprinted the Stephanus edition with minor alterations. This is the edition used by translators of the King James Version.[1]

The name Textus Receptus is from a Latin phrase used in the preface of a 1624 edition by Bonaventure Elzevir: Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum. (So [the reader] has the text which all now receive.)[2]

Development of the text

TR follows a Byzantine text. Most modern scholars believe that the Alexandrian text is closer to the original. The Protestant acceptance of the Textus Receptus was primarily an acceptance of the authority of a Greek translation rather than the Latin Vulgate preferred by the Roman Catholic Church.

The oldest examples of Alexandrian text are Papyrus 46, or Chester Beatty II, and Papyrus 66, or Bodmer II. P46 contains the Pauline epistles while P66 contains the Gospel of John. Both manuscripts date from about AD 200.[3]

The Western text may have developed somewhat later. The earliest witnesses are quotes from the third century provided by church fathers, including Cyprian, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. The most representative example of Western text is Codex Bezae, which dates to about 400.

The Byzantine text is thought to be a recension of various Alexandrian and Western manuscripts, possibly done by Lucian of Antioch around 290. Wulfila's translation to Gothic, made around 350, may be based on a Greek manuscript of the Byzantine type. Another early translation that appears to be based on the Byzantine text is the Peshitta, which dates to the early fifth century. In the late fourth century, church father John Chrysostom quoted at length from the Byzantine text. The gospels in Codex Alexandrinus feature Byzantine text. This codex dates to about AD 400. The Byzantine text became standard by the eighth century and accounts for 95 percent of surviving New Testament manuscripts.[4]


Erasmus, a Dutch Catholic, published the first edition of TR in Basel in 1516. Erasmus had produced a fresh Latin translation of the New Testament. He added a Greek text to his book as an afterthought, a tool to support his Latin translation. It was put together hurriedly, and on the basis of manuscripts available locally in Basel. Yet this text struck a chord with a reading public hungry for access to the original. Erasmus used the following manuscripts to produce the first edition of TR:

  • Codex 1eap — This 12th century miniscule contains the entire New Testament except Revelation. It is the only TR manuscript not of the Byzantine type. Erasmus made little use of it as he believed it to be corrupt.
  • Codex 1r — A 12th century miniscule of Revelation.
  • Codex 2e — A 12th century miniscule of the Gospels.
  • Codex 2ap — A 12th century miniscule of Acts and the epistles.
  • Codex 4ap — A 15th century miniscule of Acts and the epistles.
  • Codex 7p — An 11th century miniscule of the epistles.
  • Codex 817 — A 15th century miniscule of the Gospels.[5]

The gospels were taken directly from Codex 2e, Acts and epistles from 2ap, and Revelation from 1r. Where these manuscripts had gaps, back-translations from the Vulgate were used. In fact, 2e and 2ap were sent directly to the printer for typesetting. Erasmus’ handwritten annotations can be seen between the lines, although the printer often ignored these. 1r could not be treated this way because it mixes text and annotation. Erasmus separated these by referring to the Vulgate. As a result of this haphazard process, there were numerous typographical errors in the first edition.

Some four hundred corrections were made for the second edition (1519). Erasmus obtained access to 3eap, a nearly complete New Testament text. But there is no indication that he made much use of it. The second edition is the basis for Luther's German translation.

Many readers criticized the first two editions of TR because they lacked the Johannine Comma found in Latin manuscripts that circulated at the time.[6] Out of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, this trinitarian passage is found in only four, none of them earlier than the 14th century.[7]

Erasmus added the Johannine Comma to the third edition (1522), citing Codex 61. This was a recently produced manuscript, possibly produced in response to TR. Although Erasmus was skeptical of this manuscript, he thought it wiser to reverse himself. This edition is the basis of Tyndale's Geneva Bible, which influenced the KJV.[8]

For the 1527 edition, Erasmus made extensive revisions based on the Complutensian Polyglot, a text edited by Jiménez de Cisneros and based on manuscripts kept at the Vatican library. A final edition was published in 1535.

Later editions

In 1550, Stephanus produced a beautifully printed edition that added footnotes containing text from the Bezae and Regius codices. This edition was called Editio Regia. In 1551, Stephanus added a verse numbering system that is still used in modern Bibles. For the Greek text, Stephanus consulted the later editions of TR by Erasmus.

The KJV translators used a 1598 reprint of Edito Regia by Beza. The Scrivener New Testament (1894) reconstructs the underlying Greek text they used. This is the most commonly used version of TR in modern times. Scrivener found only 190 verses where KJV did not correspond to Beza text.[1]

In 1720, Richard Bentley proposed that TR be replaced with a Greek text based on Alexandrinus.[9] This manuscript had been given to King Charles I of England in 1621 by Patriarch Cyril Lucaris.

In the early 19th century, Karl Lachmann developed a methodology which allowed a critic to determine which manuscript variants are likely to be closer to the original. He assigned manuscripts to various text types. In 1850, Lachmann published a Greek New Testament based on Alexandrinius and other manuscripts. This was the first major challenge to the dominance of TR as a biblical text.

In 1881, B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort published a critical text based on Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, a manuscript in the Vatican Library, and Alexandrinus.

Among modern translations, the New King James Version uses TR, while the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, New Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version use the Critical Text.

For and against

TR was not challenged as the authentic Greek Text until the 19th century. According to supporters of the Critical Text, the TR is defective because it is based on later manuscripts. Manuscripts wore out over time and had to be copied by hand to preserve their text. Late manuscripts are likely to be the product of multiple copying cycles, each one with the potential to introduce errors.

Supporters of TR, notably the KJV Only movement, counter that these codices survived because Christians knew them to be defective and therefore did not use them. Good manuscripts would be used and copied more and would therefore wear out more quickly.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Greek Text Behind the King James (Authorised Version)"
  2. Thomas Holland, Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2000), 253.
  3. Metzger, Bruce, (1994) A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. "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." P75 has since been redated to a later period.
  4. Andrews, Edward D., "Lucian of Antioch (c. 240-312 C.E.): the Path to the Byzantine Text," Christian Publishing House.
  5. Combs, William W., "Erasmus and Textus Receptus", Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Spring 1996.
  6. "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one." (1 John 5:7–8).
  7. "It is found in only four Greek manuscripts, none earlier than the 14th century. 4 other Greek mss. offer it as a margin note. The remaining Greek mss., numbering in the hundreds, do not include it." ("The Comma of 1 John 5:7.")
  8. Moynahan, Brian, (2011) Book of Fire: William Tyndale, Thomas Moore, and the Bloody Birth of the English Bible, "Tyndale’s primary source was Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, already in its third edition by 1524."
  9. Bentley, Richard, Proposals for a New Edition of the Greek Testament, 1720.
  10. For more on reasons older manuscripts may not be more reliable. See "Are older manuscripts more reliable?" at Textus Receptus Bibles.

See also

External links