Manuel II Paleologus, Renaissance Europe and the Textus Receptus

In 1399, the city of Constantinople was under siege. The Ottoman Turks under Bayezid I had conquered virtually all of the Byzantine territories outside of the city itself. The emperor, Manuel II, was convinced that the only way to break the siege was a personal appeal to the powers of western Europe. For the first time in history, a Byzantine emperor headed west on an imperial tour.

What significance does this have in the discussion of the King James Bible?

More than you might think.

Manuel’s tour lasted three years. He visited the courts of England, France, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany), Denmark and Aragon (Spain). He carried himself as exactly what he was – the ruler of a culture that had survived for nearly 2,000 years. Manuel was educated and refined. He was a master of language, literature, science and politics. Everywhere he went, there was a swelling rage for Greek things. Dozens of contemporary accounts exist, gushing over the way he dressed and the way he spoke. He was such an impressive person that no one even brought up the religious differences that had divided Constantinople from the rest of Europe for ever 1,000 years.

Greek was very in that season.

Shortly before Manuel’s tour, the University of Florence had invited a Greek by the name of Manuel Chyrsoloras to teach Greek thinking and language. Manuel’s tour made Chyrsoloras and his students celebrities as well. Chyrsoloras taught many of the early humanists such as Leonardo Bruni and Ambrogio Traversari. His small group of close followers eventually rose to high level positions throughout Europe. Bruni became secretary to pope Gregory XII while Traversari was an influential thinker who did a number of key translations of ancient philosophy. Others such as Guarino de Verona traveled back to the Greek capital, learned Greek there and then brought manuscripts to Europe.

It was the rage for Greek things that was fueled by Manuel’s visits which ultimately resulted in the compilation of a Greek text for western Europe. Men like Traversari and Guarino spread their knowledge of the language through their own students and admirers. When Desiderius Erasmus learned Greek, it was from Chyrsoloras’ grammar, Erotemata Civas Questiones, which was printed first in Italy in 1471 and then made available to greater Europe in 1483.

People often wonder why there was no “standardization” of the Greek New Testament in Europe prior to Erasmus’ editions (1516, 1519, 1522, 1527, 1535). It was simply because no one in western Europe had learned Greek for 700 years, and they had extremely limited access to Greek texts of the New Testament – access so limited as to be virtually non-existent.

Manuel’s tour, coupled with the work of Manuel Chyrsoloras and his pupils, changed the way Europe viewed Greek culture and language. Once European Christians could access the Greek text of the New Testament, they began to question the Latin text they had received.

Unfortunately, they had access to very few manuscripts of the Greek text. There were a few – Vaticanus was probably brought to Italy after Constantinople was taken over by the Normans in 1204 – but they were not available to most people outside of the Papal palaces. After Manuel’s tour, more were brought over, but there were never a LOT of Greek manuscripts. (It is highly likely that among Guarino’s texts, there was at least a portion of the New Testament.)

Manuel’s son Constantine XI was the last emperor in Constantinople. In 1453, the great city of Constantinople fell to Bayezid’s grandson, Mehmet II. The flow of manuscripts ended abruptly once the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople and rechristened it Istanbul. The Turks sacked and burned most of the churches in the city and a thousand years of archives and literary treasures went up in flames.

For the next three hundred years or so, western Europe had no access to Ottoman territories. Practically the only Greek manuscripts they knew were those which had come to Europe via the short period between 1399 and 1453.

Once Erasmus printed a Greek text of the New Testament and Chrysoloras’ grammar was made available, Greek learning grew substantially. It was, however, confined to the study of the classical texts and the few Greek manuscripts that had made it to Europe. It would not be until the 19th century that anyone could penetrate the Ottoman controlled Middle East and find other texts.

The King James Only advocates demand that we accept the Textus Receptus as the absolute text of the Greek New Testament because it underlies the King James Version. They often support their position using the years in which it was the standard Greek text. The reality is that the TR was the result of a short interlude that allowed a few precious manuscripts into Europe.

History can be a stubborn thing, which is why many ideologues choose not to read it.

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Where Do We Stand?

Last week’s post generated plenty of conversation. I hope to highlight one of the points brought to light in a future post; namely, I will post on Tischendorf’s discovery of Sinaiticus and how the story is portrayed in the KJVO debate on all sides.

What got me thinking, though, is more along the lines of our personal backgrounds. I realize some of our regular guests have shared their own story, but I’m not sure that I even know where everyone stands on the issue. I see we have folks who regularly comment in support of the TR or MT but are not necessarily KJVO. We have others who are very critical of the CT but again, not KJVO. Then we have some who are indeed KJVO. I am also very interested in your theological leanings, as we’ve had people here who are not Christian at all. It helps to know who we’re talking to.

I’m wondering if those of you who regularly comment here (or who have in the past) would mind providing a little theological background and insight into your current thoughts on the Bible version issue. My fellow contributors are welcome to chime in as always. Even though we’ve given short bios on the authors page, and even though we all come from the IFB KJVO position, we have not all given our full position on this topic and I’m sure we even differ among ourselves.

To keep the commentary to the point, would you please follow these guidelines and answer these questions:

Guidelines: Please keep it brief yet specific. Please refrain from replying to a comment unless it addresses a specific point made (perhaps for an elaboration or clarification rather than an argument).

Questions:

1. What kind of church do you attend, if any?
2. What is your role in ministry, if any?
3. Has your position on the Bible version issue changed? If so, how?
4. How would you describe your current perspective on the TR, MT, and CT?
5. How important is this issue to you and how significant is it to your theology as a whole? (for example, do you practice separation if someone does not agree, etc)
6. What English Bibles do you recommend and use?
7. What resources have helped you, and which would you urge people to stay away from?
8. Finally, to keep things friendly, share with us what your favorite food is.

The above do not necessarily all have to be answered, or answered in order, but if you could frame your comments around these topics that would help us keep things clear and concise.

50 Copies for the Whole Empire

I have thought it expedient to instruct your Prudence to order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practiced in their art. (Constantine the Great, writing to Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini IV.36)

The above lines are order for the first Authorized Version of the Scriptures. Constantine realized that because Christianity had always been a lower class, urban movement, there were not a lot of copies of the Scriptures around.

We need to know a few things about Constantine. He was born in what is today the Balkans, but he traveled extensively as a young man in the court of Diocletian. Diocletian made his father, Constantius Chlorus Augustus of the West in 293 CE, and Constantine accompanied him to Britain. When Constantius died in 306 CE, his troops acclaimed Constantine as Augustus. Diocletian had abdicated in 305, and Constantine shortly marched on Italy. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312 CE), Constantine claimed divine protection in defeating Maxentius. This is the famous ‘conversion’ moment. The following year (313 CE), Constantine made a peace with the only remaining Augustus, Licinius, and as part of the peace declared the end of Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians.

This persecution had been unevenly executed. Most of the western Christians had escaped unharmed, but there was a significant effort to wipe out eastern Christians – mostly in Greece and Asia Minor. During this persecution, churches were to be destroyed and Scriptures burned.

It was the nineteenth year of Diocletian’s reign [AD 303] and the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, and the festival of the Savior’s Passion was approaching, when an imperial decree was published everywhere, ordering the churches to be razed to the ground and the Scriptures destroyed by fire, and giving notice that those in places of honor would lose their places, and domestic staff, if they continued to profess Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty. Such was the first edict against us. Soon afterward other decrees arrived in rapid succession, ordering that the presidents of the churches in every place should all be first committed to prison and then coerced by every possible means into offering sacrifice. (Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius, VIII.2)

Just how well this was applied on the local level is a matter of some confusion. Eusebius reports that Diocletian rescinded the ban when he was sick, provided that the Christians agreed to pray for him. In reality, it was Diocletian’s co-emperor Galerius who was adamantly anti-Christian. Diocletian certainly was not pro-Christian, but he seems to have been content with threats while Galerius acted on the,.

Constantine brought all of this to an end. Within a few years of his ascension Christianity went from being persecuted to being actively encouraged.

And this brings us to the quote that we began this article with. Constantine recognized that Christianity was growing fast, but there were not enough copies of the Scriptures to teach them from. When Christianity was a small, oral-primary movement, copies of the Scriptures could be rare because the teachers could rely on their memories to present the Gospel and Epistles. Now, Christianity was full of people who knew nothing of the Scriptures.

The remarkable thing was that Constantine called for only 50 copies! At the time, the population of the empire had to be around 10 million people. Even if he was only seeking copies for the Eastern portion of the empire (perhaps to help rebuild the church there), the East was easily the most populated part of the empire. Ephesus, Athens, Corinth, Jerusalem and Alexandria were all around 1 million people, and Constantine was building a New Rome that would soon be a metropolis itself.

This little bit of history tells us two important things:

  1. There were Scriptures before Constantine, but there were few of them. The oral-primary culture of urban, lower class Christians did not require many copies.
  2. Constantine’s order for manuscripts was for professional quality work.

At once, Eusebius defuses the primary argument for textual variants – that the manuscripts were being written hastily by amateurs. Since all of the manuscripts we have today are from the era of Constantine and forward, this argument really does not hold a lot of ground. He also explains why we don’t find manuscripts earlier than Constantine.

History itself bears out that we should not expect to find manuscripts earlier than the 4th century CE, and the early manuscripts we might find will be the work of an early imperial edict. That does not guarantee their accuracy (especially in cases where the text might conflict with Roman rule) but it does set some parameters for their existence.

The Bible Version Issue and Separation

A quick detour into practical application

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve enjoyed the discussions we’ve had on the blog lately. Particularly since the posting of the Maurice Robinson interview, the discussion on this site has been lively, engaging, and informative. I’m impressed with how this blog has grown in a short amount of time, and happy to be a part of it.

As I read the recent posts and the ensuing comments, I’m reminded of a principle that took me away from King James Onlyism in the first place: the issue of Bible versions is complicated.  No, I’m not saying the issue is too complicated to study or comprehend, but it is more technical than a simple grasping at one particular version and calling it a day. As former KJV onlyists, we can testify that, for the most part, this doctrine is presented as too simple.  “If it’s good enough for Paul. . .”

Thankfully, we haven’t encountered too much oversimplification in recent days here.  What is obvious is that the task of understanding the history of textual transmission is quite large and quite deep. Some base their conclusions on the church. But what church? Others on the manuscripts. Which ones? How do we know we’re receiving the right information? Who should we trust? The debate is not over.  One of the characteristics of our blog that I love is that we’re not textual critics. We don’t work at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. We’re not from Bible.org or evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com.  While my fellow contributors are widely read and have sharp minds, we all come to the table as analyzers of the facts that have been given, not the producers of those facts. Our practical, lay-centered understanding of the issues offers a perspective one may not find on sites dedicated solely to scholarship.

So what does all this mean? On an applicatory level, the depth of the issue of Bible versions shows that it is unnecessary, and in my opinion, sinful, to separate ecclesiastically from brethren who hold a different view of the text. In fact, debates such as we have will probably be more helpful as Christians with differing views come together to discuss rather than throw stones.

When I forsook my KJV onlyism, it became my opinion that the modern, critical texts were the most consistent and reliable. I am very comfortable in saying that may change. It doesn’t bother me to admit that. I think the majority text perspective, unnecessarily hindered by its unfortunate association with the shrill of King James onlyism, has merits that ought to be more publicized. And I don’t believe that King James Onlyists themselves offer no food for thought; they certainly do. All of this is to say that the issue isn’t completely settled in my mind and perhaps never will be, yet I’m not bothered by it. I wish to study more and watch as more light is shed on the issue over time. I believe that an approach like this, void of dogmatic declarations, conspiracy theories, and assumptions of heresy is the best approach to take on this issue. Those who oversimplify the issue, take hold of the King James, and work backwards from that position aren’t being true to the technicalities of the debate. My plea is for a continuation of good, honest, Christian discussion.