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.

More Info on the Discovery of the 1st Century MSS Fragment of Mark

Recently, Dr. Dan Wallace made news about the discovery of what is possibly the earliest NT MSS fragment ever found. I gave details on the find here. [And we reported on that here at this blog, too.]

Well, Dr. Wallace was recently interviewed by Hugh Hewitt on his radio show about the discovery and gave additional details. We now know the MSS contains part of one papyrus leaf, written on both sides. From the sound of it, it is most of one leaf so several verses but not much more. It was also found in Egypt — all seven of these MSS finds were found there. Dr. Wallace will also be on of the authors of the book that will publish all seven papyri fragments in early 2013.

Wallace continues to consider this a truly monumental manuscript find, as the following snippet from the full interview makes clear:

HH: Wow. Now in terms of, for the lay audience, Professor Daniel Wallace, the significance of this work when it appears, how would you grade it, with an A being a Dead Sea Scroll sort of significance, and you know, flunking, it just doesn’t matter?

DW: I would grade it at least an A, maybe an A+.

HH: And will the rest of the scholarly world agree with you on that assessment, do you think?

DW: I think that when they understand the ramifications of the entire nature of this manuscript that I’m not at liberty to mention, yes. They’re going to understand. At least those that will accept that date. Since the manuscript doesn’t have a date stamp on it, it says it was done this year, there are always going to be dissenters. But to do the work of paleography takes thousands and thousands of hours of research to do one.

I’m not sure the discovery will prove to be the equal of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’m cautiously optimistic that it will prove to be very consequential.

I also got an update from Matthew Hamilton who I quoted in my earlier post on this. From his information and that of Wallace from this interview, the following looks to be the list of the 7 manuscripts. Many of these would be the earliest textual witness we have of that Biblical book, if the dates hold true.

  1. 2nd century homily (sermon) on Hebrews 11
  2. 2nd century frg. with I Corinthians 8-10
  3. 2nd century frg. with Matthew
  4. 2nd century frg. with Romans 9-10
  5. 2nd century frg. from Hebrews, one side contains 9:19-22
  6. 2nd century frg. with Luke
  7. 1st century frg. [part of one leaf] with Mark

For more details read the entire transcript of the Hewitt – Wallace interview, and keep an eye on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

~cross posted from my personal blog, FundamentallyReformed.com.

Coffee With Sam: What’s the Big Deal about the KJV?

A new website has launched called BigDealKJV.com, in which (according to the video creator) 8-10 video episodes will eventually be published. In this first episode, KJVO advocate Sam Gipp sits down over coffee with a student to explain to his confused mind why the KJV is the final authority.

In this well-produced short video, Gipp offers many of the same arguments and presuppositions posited by KJV advocates. While Gipp has said things that place him in the Ruckmanite category, he comes off here as a humble and wise professor seeking to take the complex issue of biblical transmission and make it fit into a simple construct with contemporary analogies. Here are some arguments given:

1. The Bible(s) we have today have to be exactly the same as that given by inspiration in order to be authoritative. 

Gipp makes this point in the very beginning when he declares the Bible to be the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, and then clarifies that he’s “not talking about an imaginary book” but “a book that I’m holding in my hand right now.”  He proceeds to point to the Bible in his hand as the final authority.

This idea has been propagated in numerous ways across the spectrum of King James Onlyism. What this concept does is it provides a basis to later declare all modern versions as less than authoritative because they do not all equally match each other. The KJVO advocate may deny it, but if he uses this argumentation, he really is looking for a photocopy of the originals, albeit in English.

2. There are only two Bibles, the Egyptian and the Antiochan.

Over coffee, Gipp tells his suspicious catechumen that despite the hundreds of Bible translations in the bookstores, all Bibles come from just one of two lines of manuscripts: those that come from Alexandria, Egypt, and those that come from Antioch in Syria. From this simplistic categorization of text types, Gipp then uses the guilt-by-association tactic to prove the superiority of the KJV because of its affiliation with Antiochian manuscripts.

Never mind that the Bible provides no precedent to use a distinction between Egypt and Antioch for a basis of judging translations, or that the Son of God was called out of Egypt, or that Athanasius, the champion of trinitarian orthodoxy, came from Alexandria. Because the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch and Egypt is generally spoken of negatively in the scriptures, the issue is presented very matter-of-fact by Gipp that the KJV descends from the Antiochian line, and is therefore superior.

3. The Textus Receptus is the Antiochian line of manuscripts

Gipp says the TR “is the Greek that comes out of Antioch.” So, the line of reasoning is as follows: Inspiration in Antioch > copies and publishing in Antioch > Textus Receptus > KJV.

Unfortunately for Gipp’s argumentation, the transmission of the text is not that simple.

4. The Critical Text is bad because it’s called the Critical Text

I chuckled at the statement, “Just the fact that it’s ‘critical’ should tell you there’s a problem.” All the while he’s promoting the TR, which is a Greek text. A text, by its very nature, is critical. Variant readings from manuscripts have to be compared in order to produce a finished product. In this way, Erasmus’ TR editions are critical, although worked from far fewer manuscripts and with less of a science of textual criticism.

5. Modern translations cannot help a Christian grow in the same way the KJV can.

Thankfully, Gipp admits that people can come to the knowledge of the gospel and be saved through reading versions other than the KJV. However, only the KJV is incorruptible, and corrupt modern versions are not appropriate for the Christian’s growth. No evidence is given here, but at this point, the episode is coming to a close, so I suspect we’ll get more details in the future.

Possible Discovery of a 1st Century Fragment of Mark

On February 1st, Dan Wallace debated Bart Ehrman, for the third time, on the reliability of the New Testament text. In this third debate held on Ehrman’s own UNC Chapel Hill, Wallace mentioned the possible discovery of a 1st century fragment of the gospel according to Mark. Subsequent rumors have revealed that this is a fragment, dated by a neutral party, older than P52. Wallace has made some comments at various blogs to assure us that he was neither the discoverer not the examiner of said document, but was merely reporting news. A book is expected to be published next year that will detail more information.

Some bypassing comments on the Internet suggested that, if validated, this discovery can be a mighty blow to the arguments of Ehrman as well as the arguments of King James Onlyism. While I think such an old fragment will carry much significance, I think both sides will be able to continue to their respective positions regardless.

Check out the website of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts for updates (as of this blog, no update has been given).

Also, check out Evangelical Textual Criticism periodically for possible updates.

St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness

John Chitty, known in the blogosphere as Captain Headknowledge, recently had the opportunity to attend a symposium on the St. Catherine’s monastery library and the significance of the Sinai manuscripts, held at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM).

Chitty has shared the text of Father Justin’s lecture: “St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness”. I encourage you to take a look as the lecture covers the well known and the not so well known about St. Catherine’s Monastery. I’m not sure I had heard that they made some new manuscript discoveries there as late as 1975.

Here is an excerpt from the lecture notes, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing:

The monastery has never been destroyed or abandoned in all its centuries of existence. The climate at Sinai is surprisingly dry and stable, the humidity averaging from twenty to thirty percent. All of this, and the diligent care of the monks, account for the preservation of many manuscripts. The Sinai library is today a remarkable treasure for the antiquity and the significance of its volumes.

The library contains 3304 manuscripts, written in eleven languages. These are predominantly Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic. The manuscripts range in content from copies of the Scriptures, services, and music manuscripts, to sermons, writings of the Fathers, lives of the Saints, and books of inherited spiritual wisdom. The library also includes medical treatises, historical chronicles, and texts in classical Greek, which is the pinnacle of the Greek language.

A few of the manuscripts are splendid works of art, with gilded letters and brilliant illuminations, created in Constantinople in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, when the City was at its height as the centre of culture and devotion. But no less significant are the humble manuscripts written at Sinai, often on reused parchment, bound between rough boards, the pages stained from long use, a witness to the deprivations and austerity of Sinai, to the generations of monks who have maintained the life of devotion and the cycle of daily services at this holy place.

But perhaps we would come to a greater appreciation of the Sinai library if I could describe four manuscripts in particular, all of which have been recently studied by scholars.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery is a treasury filled with things new and old. Scholars still have much to learn from its library, its numerous icons, vestments, ecclesiastical vessels, its architecture. In all of this, it is a veritable ark in the wilderness.

See also a few related posts from John Chitty on the Sinai manuscripts:

BibleWorks 9 and a Revolution in Textual Critical Studies

Check out these two videos to see what the new BibleWorks 9 software, available mid-July, can do when it comes to textual critical tools. I saw a demo of this feature back in April at The Gospel Coalition Conference, and was blown away by the potential of this tool for textual studies of all kinds. One can only hope that many more manuscripts will be added, and fresh Majority Text collations and other tools will be incorporated into the CNTTS apparatus which is made so accessible by means of BibleWorks 9. BibleWorks promises that as more manuscripts become available, those updates will be provided free of charge to BibleWorks 9 users.

Watch the videos, and check out BibleWorks 9!

Resource for Greek New Testament Audio

My recent post on listening to the New Testament in Greek via MP3 has sparked quite a bit of excellent discussion. I’d like to particularly thank Dr. Maurice Robinson for chiming in and sharing his perspective. His recording of the Byzantine Textform is available here and is, in my opinion, one of the better Erasmian pronunciations out there.

There have been a couple requests for more resources, and I was going to provide them but then my primary resource went offline. Thankfully, Louis Sorenson brought his back online, and I am glad to refer you to it:

Let’s Read Greek

There are a lot of great options available, but I will reproduce just the list of available online MP3 formats. You can head over to the Let’s Read Greek site to get the breakdown of which one represents what. Some of these require payment, but the majority are available for free download.

  1. Marilyn Phemister* (Westcott-Hort) – free
  2. David Field (1904 BFBS -British Foreign Bible Society- edition) – free
  3. John Simon* (Westcott-Hort) – free
  4. Spiros Zodhiates* (Nestle/Aland 26) – $31.49
  5. Jonathan Pennington (UBS – United Bible Society – 4th Edition) – $19.99
  6. Randall Buth (Westcott-Hort) – $179.00
  7. Louis Tyler (Robinson-Pierpoint Majority Text*, Westcott-Hort*, Scrivener’s Textus Receptus) – not sure
  8. Maurice Robinson (Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform)- free
  9. Gleason Archer (UBS – United Bible Society – 4th Edition) – $29.99
  10. John Schwandt* (Nestle-Aland 27) – $44.95
  11. Pella Ikonomaki (on LibriVox (Stephanus; Patriarchal Edition of 1904) – free, but very partial
  12. Vasilios Vellas 1967 Vellas Edition (Modern Greek) – free
  13. Louis Sorenson (yours truly :>) Rahlfs;Westcott-Hort) in Living Koine – free
  14. Vasile Stancu (USB 3/4 or Nestle-Aland 26/27) – free but partial
  15. Norman ‘Romanós’ Gorny (USB 3/4 or Nestle-Aland 26/27) – free

My personal preference is for the pronunciation used by John Simon (#3), although I would prefer that he were reading something other than the W-H. If I had my choice, I would do Randall Buth’s immersive course.

There are probably some other resources out there, but Sorenson has done a great job of bringing together some of the best for us. Be sure to head over to letsreadgreek.com and browse around.

Greek New Testament MP3’s

I recently downloaded the entire Greek New Testament in MP3 format. While there are audio Greek New Testaments available, almost all of them use a theoretical Erasmian pronunciation scheme. The text sounds choppy and artificial.

If you are a student of New Testament Greek, you should be a student of modern Greek. For too long, people have treated Greek as a dead language when it never has been. It was spoken in Greece even during the Ottoman domination, and it has been revived over the past two centuries as a living language. We should see Greek as a living language and treat it with the respect it deserves.

You can download the entire New Testament at http://www.greeklatinaudio.com/.

(They did the readings using Westcott-Hort, which is a turn off to some folks I am sure, but the ability to hear the Greek New Testament read in a living language is worth it.)

The Etymology of “Belief”

In reading through a new book, The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family by Andrew Himes, grandson of John R. Rice, I came across a fascinating quote about the etymology of the English word “belief”. The quote comes from Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), pg. 86.

When the New Testament was translated from Greek into Latin by Saint Jerome (c. 342-420) pistis became fides (“loyalty”). Fides had no verbal form, so for pisteuo Jerome used the Latin verb credo, a word that derived from cor do, “I give my heart.” He did not think of using opinor (“I hold an opinion.”) When the Bible was translated into English, credo and pisteuo became “I believe” in the King James version (1611). But the word “belief” has since changed its meaning. In Middle English, bileven meant “to praise; to value; to hold dear.” It was related to the German belieben (“to love), liebe (“beloved”), and the Latin libido. So “belief” originally meant “loyalty to a person to whom one is bound in promise or duty.” …During the late seventeenth century, however, as our concept of knowledge became more theoretical, the word “belief” started to be used to describe an intellectual assent to a hypothetical–and often dubious–proposition. Scientists and philosophers were the first to use it in this sense, but in religious contexts the Latin credere and the English “belief” both retained their original connotations well into the 19th century.

This rings true to me. I looked to a quick online etymological tool, and found this entry for “belief” which seems to confirm this sense that the English word “belief” has shifted in meaning.

belief

late 12c., replaced O.E. geleafa “belief, faith,” from W.Gmc. *ga-laubon (cf. O.S. gilobo, M.Du. gelove, O.H.G. giloubo, Ger. glaube), from *galaub- “dear, esteemed.” The prefix was altered on analogy of the verb believe. The distinction of the final consonant from that of believe developed 15c. Belief used to mean “trust in God,” while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” (a sense preserved in keep one’s faith, in good (or bad) faith and in common usage of faithful, faithless, which contain no notion of divinity). But faith, as cognate of L. fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to “mental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine” (early 13c.).

This illustrates the difficulties of translation, and the reason why studying the original languages is so important. Any translation will of necessity be inferior to the original, and the receptor words will not always match up one-for-one with the original Greek or Hebrew. It also points out the problem of words changing meaning over time. In our scientific age, “belief” has many connotations that weren’t necessarily there when the King James Version was translated in 1611.

From a theological standpoint, I think the idea that belief is loyalty, covenant faithfulness stands up to Scriptural teaching. Being a believer is not merely assenting to a set of facts, it is committing to follow Christ your entire life long.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on all this. It is especially appropriate given Easter weekend here, that we think a little more closely about what it means to believe. So feel free to discuss the theological takeaway, or the translational takeaway from this.

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.