Testing the Textus Receptus: Introduction

A few months back, James White debated Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical textual scholar turned agnostic on the reliability of the New Testament. I am not necessarily a White fan, and I am not going to speculate as to who really won the debate. What interests me has to do with White’s fielding some criticism from proponents of the Textus Receptus at his blog. (The Textus Receptus (Received Text), is the Greek basis for the King James Version.)

White raised four questions regarding what actually constitutes the Textus Receptus (TR). I think those questions are spot on, and I’d like to hone in on the last one, for a few posts. As an aside, I should mention I had someone provide some KJV Only answers to White’s questions over at my King James Only Debate Research Center‘s forums. (Feel free to go over there and interact if you’d like.)

Here are White’s questions:

1) When did “the church” “received” this text?
2) What council engaged in a study of the respective texts and determined that this is the “one” text that most closely represents the original?
3) Which text IS the “TR”? Can you identify a single text as THE TR? If not, why not?
4) Please explain why I should use the TR’s readings of Luke 2:22, Revelation 16:5, and the final six verses of Revelation.

What White is doing here is testing the premise of Textus Receptus Onlyism. How is it that the Textus Receptus was received by the Church? What does that reception entail? Which text was received? How can we know which readings are correct based on this textual position?

He and others (like myself) are not splitting straws when they bring up difficult passages and possible errors in the Textus Receptus. We are testing the claims of TR Onlyism. If the Textus Receptus is truly the only Scripturally warranted text, then questions like these should not be stumpers. In fact, there should be a systematic approach to textual questions which is controlled, consistent, and guided by Scripture or in some way authoritative. Should we really expect the TR to be inerrant? If so, how do we deal with these kinds of questions.

For those who haven’t heard the term Textus Receptus Only, I should give a brief sketch of what that position entails. I used to claim the title as my own, so I am not going to try to misrepresent that view. This view holds that the Textus Receptus (TR) is the best Greek text today. It is not corrupted and full of errors as are the most commonly used text (Nestl- Aland 27 / UBS 4th edition) and even the new Majority text (ca. 1980). These other texts are critical texts, but the TR was handed down from the Reformation era. It was not pieced together by textual critics but by men who cherished Scripture. They simply collated the existing manuscripts they were aware of, and rejected incorrect readings and provided us a printed text.

After several years of editing, correcting printer’s errors, and the like, the text became stabilized with the printing of the King James Version. The text of the King James Version can be considered as a variety of the Textus Receptus, because the translators did not follow one specific text. Sometimes they sided with Stephanus’ 1550 edition, other times with Beza’s 1598. The text behind the King James translator’s choices was eventually compiled by Frederick Scrivener in the late 1800s and is available today from the Trinitarian Bible Society.

This view distances itself from a KJV Only view which claims the English corrects the Greek, or that there was some kind of second inspiration for the KJV, where its every translation choice was inerrant. The TR Only view holds that the inspired Word of God was preserved perfectly in the Textus Receptus (for the New Testament, Hebrew Masoretic Text for the Old). You will notice however, that almost every proponent of this view will claim that the Trinitarian Bible Society edition of the TR is actually inerrant (or some other edition is), and that there are no textual errors (or even serious translational mistakes) in the King James Version.

In at least 3 future posts (1 for each of the passages White mentions), I will put this position to test. In the future I may explore other problem areas for the Textus Receptus. I should make clear that I understand there are problems with my text of choice (the NA 27) too. But I am not claiming inerrancy for my text. I believe that essentially I have the Word of God in my English Standard Version, and that although in some few places there is some uncertainty as to which reading is the correct one, this does not shake my faith. That uncertainty does not mean the Bible was not verbally inspired, and it does not mean I cannot be reasonably certain as to which reading is correct, nor does it bring any major Bible doctrine into question. It does mean I’m being honest with the evidence, and should cause me to wrestle with the text in prayer as I seek to understand its meaning for my life.

Originally posted at Fundamentally Reformed.

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12 thoughts on “Testing the Textus Receptus: Introduction

  1. fundyreformed August 6, 2009 / 9:12 am

    FYI: I’ll plan on posting the three posts over the next three weeks, hopefully. It looks like tomorrow’s post and mine for next week, will double up on Luke 2:22. Oh well, it’s an important passage to consider!

  2. JasonS August 6, 2009 / 10:15 am

    Bob,
    The other post on Lk 2:22 is scheduled for Sept 7. You’re ok on the timing. I’m spreading mine out a little more.

  3. CD-Host August 7, 2009 / 1:40 pm

    I have the Word of God in my English Standard Version,

    Bob, I’m floored. You run a blog on translation issues and advocate the ESV? You may be the only bible blogger who is in favor of what is a shockingly political translation. What’s the slogan for the ESV:
    the faithfulness to the Greek of the New World Translation with the literary quality of the New International Version.

    Let me recommend a good series:
    http://betterbibles.com/2008/11/27/esv-by-mark-strauss-links-to-each-part/

    I will stand with 100% on the ESV not representing the Word of God but rather representing the word of Wayne Grudem.

    Here is a post on just an example of where the mistranslation is advocating something the Westminster Creed specifically attacks:

    http://church-discipline.blogspot.com/2009/04/wayne-grudam-and-heresy.html

    • JasonS August 7, 2009 / 3:20 pm

      CD,
      Where did you get this?
      “the faithfulness to the Greek of the New World Translation with the literary quality of the New International Version.”
      Thanks

    • CD-Host August 7, 2009 / 4:13 pm

      Are you asking if they ever really said that? Well no, they themselves have the whole Lyland Ryken pack of lies essentially literal for example.

      “ESVonlyism” is one of mine.
      “Bible translation for the girls have cooties crowd”
      etc….

    • JasonS August 7, 2009 / 5:29 pm

      CD,
      It came across to me as a quote, and I was wondering…
      Will read up on that stuff.
      Honestly, I primarily use the KJV 🙂

  4. fundyreformed August 7, 2009 / 5:32 pm

    CD,

    From what I gather, Mark Strauss argues against the ESV because it sticks to its aim of being essentially literal. I’ve actually read a good critique of the ESV that says if fails at being essentially literal, being more close to the NIV on a sliding scale, than the NASB.

    Basically, the ESV tries to be woodenly literaly and slavish to the Greek to a certain extent, while also trying to be well written English. It can’t please everyone. It does have a Biblish quality to it, to use Strauss’ term, but as a revision of the RSV which revises the RV which revises the KJV, that is to be expected.

    As one who came from using a KJV, the ESV was a good replacement. The Biblishness about it was nice, but it has a lot of dynamic equivalency in it which helps convey the meaning well.

    As for gender neutral issues, yes Grudem is involved. The ESV actually gets credit by many for being more gender neutral than say the RSV or the KJV. However, it doesn’t go hog-wild like the TNIV.

    You can call us members of the “girls have cooties club” if you want. There are valid arguments for a complementarian position. By no means do I support a chauvanistic patriacrchalism, but I don’t think one can honestly interpret the Bible fairly and conclude that it wasn’t complementarian. The kind of exegetical leap frog required to turn the Bible into a evangelical feminist document, is the akin to that which turns the same Bible into a pro-homosexual handbook.

    I won’t apologize for respecting the ESV.

    Sorry,

    Bob

    • CD-Host August 7, 2009 / 9:31 pm

      From what I gather, Mark Strauss argues against the ESV because it sticks to its aim of being essentially literal. I’ve actually read a good critique of the ESV that says if fails at being essentially literal, being more close to the NIV on a sliding scale, than the NASB.

      If you go to the essentially literal article I have a 9 point scale. The ESV scores the same as the NRSV, or the KJV as a 4. I put the NIV as a 5. It isn’t “essentially literal” but it is formal. I have with the advertising in that it claims to be far more literal than it is, and I’m not a big fan of 4 in general (even for the NRSV I think it is a disadvantage) but I don’t hate the ESV for sticking with the family in terms of literalness.

      As for gender neutral issues, yes Grudem is involved. The ESV actually gets credit by many for being more gender neutral than say the RSV or the KJV. However, it doesn’t go hog-wild like the TNIV.

      I agree people give it credit for that, and they are wrong. The ESV is less gender neutral than the KJV/RSV. The KJV/RSV just uses the masculine across the board for the neuter. The ESV doesn’t do that, it freely uses gender neutral constructions in places where obligations are placed on Christians or even promises and than uses masculine everywhere political power or authority is talked about. Deliberate translation for the purpose of disempowering women. And often frequently adds masculine even when they don’t exist in the Greek.

      To take an example 1 Tim. 5:8.

      εἰ δέ τις τῶν ἰδίων καὶ μάλιστα οἰκείων οὐ προνοεῖ, τὴν πίστιν ἤρνηται καὶ ἔστιν ἀπίστου χείρων.

      But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

      None of those masculine pronouns are in the Greek. The Greek is
      But if anyone does not provide for their relatives, and especially for members of the family they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever.

      but I don’t think one can honestly interpret the Bible fairly and conclude that it wasn’t complementarian.

      Look at the above. Was that honest interpretation or was this dishonest translation so as to hint that women shouldn’t be employed? The bible isn’t saying any of that, that is the ESV saying it.

      I have no problem representing the sexism in the bible in a translation providing the translation does not in anyway add to it. This “bible”, the ESV, adds to it. It is deliberately designed to subvert God’s word.
      How can you possible make a stand for accuracy using a translation which deliberately mistranslates to advance a political agenda, what is your principled basis for opposing what the Jehovah’s witnesses do then? That your political causes are good and their aren’t? You are familiar with the arguments how can you support what the ESV is doing?

      The NRSV is an excellent translation that is just as formal, and also comes from the RSV. If you don’t like gender neutral the RSV itself ain’t bad and both are equally formal. The ESV as far as I can tell was created solely for the purpose of introducing those sorts of mistranslations into the RSV.

      Tim Bayly has published on this (though he approves): http://www.baylyblog.com/2007/10/the-origin-of-t.html

  5. fundyreformed August 7, 2009 / 5:33 pm

    I’m also not ESV Only. I actually appreciate the essentially literal part of it, but I see the value of dynamic translations as well. I also think the ESV is more dynamic than it claims to be.

  6. fundyreformed August 7, 2009 / 10:27 pm

    CD,

    I’m not tracking with you here. The Greek is a bit difficult for me. If you want to indict the ESV, please also indict the following translations:

    NIV, AMP, NASB, NET, ISV, YLT, NKJV, HCSB, KJV

    It seems the general consensus had been to see this passage as referring to a masculine household leader. The gender neutral Bibles change that.

    I’d have to study it in more depth, but its clear this is not the shocking intentional deceit you want us to think it is. It is standing in the tradition of 500 years of English Bible translations.

  7. CD-Host August 8, 2009 / 12:13 am

    Bob —

    The purpose of this example was to give a place where the ESV is adding masculine to the Greek, I was picking a very clear cut example. You were arguing before that it was gender neutral translation that were translating improperly while this is a verse where the gender neutrals are translating properly, the Greek is gender neutral.

    You are absolutely right that lots of bibles translate the neuter as masculine, like the KJV. The ESV doesn’t in general do that, for example Rev 13:9. And in fact in 1John 3:24 they actually translate a “him” with the single them (something they have thrown a fit about when the TNIV does it). So that takes care of the NASB, YLT, NKJV, KJV, NIV, HCSB.

    I don’t know the ISV. And the AMP is all over the place on just about every translation issue. I’ll be happy to indict them for all around inconsistency. In other words the issue with the ESV is that it uses gender politically, the KJV does not. The KJV uses a uniform masculine policy and thus the KJV is vastly more gender accurate than the ESV. In other words anthropos for example is almost always translated as man (552 out of 559 times) which means you aren’t going to read things into the KJV uses the masculine. On the other hand the ESV will translate

    I’ll even give you a verse where the KJV is more gender accurate / gender neutral than the TNIV, Romans 5:19.

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