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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Book Review: Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3rd Ed.) by Emanuel Tov

Book Details:
  • Author: Emanuel Tov
  • Category: Academic, Biblical Language
  • Publisher: Fortress Press (2012)
  • Format: hardcover
  • Page Count: 512
  • ISBN#: 9780800696641
  • List Price: $90.00
  • Rating: Recommended

Review:
Reading Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov was both a joy and a challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the world of the Hebrew Bible. Ancient manuscripts, Dead Sea Scroll finds, ancient versions, textual variants — all of these things stir the Bible-geek in me. At the same time, the state of current scholarship with regard to the Old Testament text can be a bit troubling to an evangelical Christian. While the New Testament stands affirmed by numerous manuscript discoveries to the extent that almost all textual critics can agree on the vast majority of the minute details of the text, the same cannot be said for the Hebrew Old Testament.

Emanuel Tov takes readers of all scholastic levels by the hand as he surveys the field of Old Testament textual criticism. This third edition of his classic textbook, explains things for the novice and scholar alike. Careful footnotes and innumerable bibliographic entries will impress the scholar, while charts, graphs and numerous glossaries keep the would-be scholar feeling like he is getting somewhere. I have no problem admitting that I am one of the would-be scholars, with barely a year of Hebrew under my belt. Yet I was able to work my way through this book, becoming sharper in my Hebrew and awakening to the many facets of the intriguing study of OT textual criticism.

Tov has departed from a more traditional stance in his earlier versions, opting instead to follow the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls and contemporary studies. He manages to keep away from a fatal skepticism, however, arguing that textual evaluation still has merit. The aim is still to recover the earliest possible text, but the recognition that there are often two or three competing literary editions of the text complicate the matter. An example would be the different editions of Jeremiah, with the Septuagint (LXX) Greek version differing drastically from the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). 1 Samuel provides another example with a Dead Sea Scroll offering perhaps a third different competing literary edition. Tov points out the two very different versions of the story of David and Goliath and Hannah’s prayer as he expounds on the problem.

Rather than trying to solve each exegetical or specific textual problem, Tov aims to illustrate the challenges facing the would-be textual critic. He surveys the textual data, and reconstructs the history of the text – giving more attention to the accidents of history, such as the destruction of the Jewish state in A.D. 70, as weighing into the nature of the textual evidence we have. Rather than the Masoretic Text gradually gaining dominance, it was the de facto winner of the “text wars”. The LXX-style Hebrew texts (which the Dead Sea Scrolls and other finds have confirmed existed), were ignored by the Jews as Christianity had owned the LXX as its own. The Samaritans had their version of the Pentateuch, and the existence of a variety of other text forms, such as those found at Qumran (the DSS) were forgotten with the cessation of a normal state of existence for Jewish people. The Masoretic text found itself with little real competition and over the years came to be further refined and stable. I should clarify here, that this is not to downplay the Masoretic text, as it manifestly preserves very ancient readings, and Tov repeatedly affirms the remarkable tenacity of the MT. Instead, Tov is saying that the majority position the MT holds among the textual evidence and in the minds of the Jewish communities in the last 1800 years should not prejudice the scholar to consistently prefer MT readings. Tov in fact claims that text types, such as are commonly discussed in NT textual criticism, are largely irrelevant in dealing with the OT text. Internal considerations are key in textual evaluation. I will let Tov explain further:

Therefore, it is the choice of the most contextually appropriate reading that is the main task of the textual critic…. This procedure is as subjective as can be. Common sense, rather than textual theories, is the main guide, although abstract rules are sometimes also helpful. (pg. 280)

Tov’s textbook goes into glorious detail concerning all the orthographic features that make up paleo-Hebraic script, and the square Hebrew script we are familiar with. His knowledge is encyclopedic, to say the least. The numerous images of manuscripts that are included in the back of the book are invaluable. His discussion on the orthographic details of the text should convince even the most diehard traditionalists, that the vowel points and many of the accents were later additions to the text, inserted by the Masoretes. Some still defend the inspiration of the vowel points, but Tov’s explanation of numerous textual variants that flow from both a lack of vowel points and from the originality of paleo-Hebraic script (and the long development of the language and gradual changes in the alphabet, and etc.) close the door against such stick-in-the-mud thinking.

Tov’s book details the pros and cons of different Hebrew texts, as well as discussing electronic resources and new developments in the study of textual criticism. His work is immensely valuable to anyone interested in learning about textual criticism, and of course is required for any textual scholars seeking to do work in this field.

Tov doesn’t add a theology to his textual manual, however. And this is what is needed to navigate OT textual criticism. After having read Tov, I’m interested in seeing some of the better evangelical treatments of the textual problems of the Hebrew Bible. I believe we have nothing to fear in facing textual problems head on. Seeing different literary editions of the text can fill out our understanding of the underlying theology of the Bible as we have it. Some of the work of John H. Sailhamer illustrates this judicious use of contemporary scholarship concerning the literary strata of the text.

Tov’s book is not law, and he sufficiently qualifies his judgments. He stresses that textual criticism, especially for the Old Testament, is inherently subjective. It is an art. And those who don’t recognize that, are especially prone to error in this field. This book equips the student to exercise this art in the best possible way. Tov walks the reader through evaluating competing textual variants, and his study will furnish the careful reader with all the tools to develop their own approach to the text. Tov’s findings won’t erode the foundations of orthodox theology. I contend that they will strengthen it. As with NT textual criticism, paying attention to the textual details has unlooked-for and happy consequences. It strengthens exegesis, and allows for a greater insight into the meaning of the text. And it can build one’s faith.

Bible-geeks, aspiring scholars, teachers and students alike will benefit from this book. Understanding the current state of OT textual criticism puts many of the NT textual debates into perspective. Christians don’t know their Old Testaments well enough, and studying the text to this level is rare indeed. I encourage you to consider adding this book to your shelf, and making it a priority to think through the challenges surrounding the text of the Hebrew Bible.

Author Info:
Emanuel Tov is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Editor-in-Chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project. Among his many publications is The Greek and Hebrew Bible-Collected Essays on the Septuagint (1999).

Where to Buy:
  • CBD
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • direct from Fortress Press.

Disclaimer:
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Fortress Press. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

Originally Posted at:
This article was originally posted at my personal blog, Fundamentally Reformed.

A Critique of Thomas Holland’s View of the Last Six Verses in Revelation

I recently noticed that the Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism chose to address the writings of an influential King James Only proponent: Thomas Holland. Holland represents the best kind of King James Onlyism, from what I have heard of him. He is honest and deals with the evidence at hand – or at least tries to. At the end of the day, he sticks with his guiding principles and faith in the perfect preservation of all of God’s words, no matter what the evidence. But his writing style is more helpful than many of the KJV proponents I have read.

The journal article focuses on Holland’s explanation of the last six verses of Revelation and his valiant attempt to explain away the consensus that Erasmus translated these verses from the Latin into Greek (for his N.T. edition), since he had no Greek manuscripts that covered that portion of Revelation.

Jan Krans, whose written a book on how Erasmus and Beza handled their translation work, takes Holland to task for what amounts, ultimately, to poor scholarship. Here is the abstract for his paper:

With Thomas Holland’s lengthy discussion of a reading in Rev 22:19 as an example, this article shows how Holland’s way of doing New Testament textual criticism falls short on all academic standards. With respect to the main issue, Erasmus’ retranslation of the final verses of Revelation, Holland fails to properly find, address and evaluate both primary and secondary sources.

I was impressed by how carefully and fairly Krans treated Holland, even as he systematically dismantles his every argument. At the end of the day it is quite apparent that Erasmus did translate from the Latin into Greek resulting in several unique Greek readings in these few short verses.

Equally apprent is the fact that Holland engages in special pleading and circular reasoning in trying to explain away the obvious. He casts doubt upon this historical reality (and definite problem for the TR – since most of the errors remain in all copies of it) in any way he can. He throws suspicion on whether Erasmus really said he translated it from the Latin, then he says the translation job was really good, then he says actually Hoskier thinks that another manuscript was used by Erasmus. In each case, Holland is misreading his sources and misses the mark of the truth.

Like it or not, Erasmus translated from Latin into Greek. The only Greek copies which support his mistranslations were copied after the presence of his Greek NT, and were influenced by it. This fact is admitted by Hoskier and is the consensus of careful scholars. Anyone who claims the Textus Receptus is perfect, has to grapple with this fact. I would argue that we can’t just believe what we want to believe and turn a blind eye to history and textual evidence. We have to face them head on. Reading thisarticle will help in that process. And I’d recommend William Combs’ articles on this matter as well.

Here’s some more info on Krans:

Jan Krans, Ph.D. (2004) in Theology, is Lecturer of New Testament at VU University, Amsterdam. He is currently working on a comprehensive overview and evaluation of important conjectures on the Greek New Testament. He is the author of Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament (Brill, 2006) and also contributes to the the Amsterdam NT Weblog. His book is available online through archive.org.

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.

The Origin of the Title “The Authorized Version” for the KJV

I have long thought that the proper term for the King James Version is “the Authorized Version.” At times, I’ve wondered if that title isn’t more of a British title, since most Americans prefer “King James Version” or simply the “King James Bible.” But I recently read a historical essay by David Bebbington, professor of History at the University of Stirling, Scotland, in which he points out the fact that the King James Version was not always known as “The Authorized Version.” Bebbington’s essay, “The King James Bible in Britain from the Late Eighteenth Century,” appears in a collection of important historical essays published by Baylor University Press (2011) under the title, The King James Bible and the World It Made (edited by David Lyle Jeffrey).

Bebbington argues convincingly that the King James Bible did not enjoy universal acclaim in the eighteenth century until the very end of that period. In a post at my personal blog, I excerpted Bebbington’s conclusion, which argues that “the enthusiasm for the translation of 1611 rose and fell with the growth and decay of Romantic sensibility.” In the excerpt provided below, I would like to quote his description of how the title “the Authorized Version” came to be used for the King James Bible.

A fourth explanation of the rising tide of admiration for the translation of 1611 was its redefinition as “the Authorized Version.” The title emerged for the first time in a debate provoked by the creation of the [British and Foreign] Bible Society. Whereas the society’s evangelical supporters considered the new agency a bulwark of the existing social order, the High Church party thought it a sinister development. It threatened the work of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the established Anglican organization for circulating the Scriptures. Furthermore, the timing was unfortunate. During 1804, the year of the society’s foundation, Napoleon’s forces were poised to invade the country, and in the heightened alarm, the equal presence of Dissenters alongside Churchmen on the society’s committee seemed poentially subversive. Had not Dissenters once killed an English king, Charles I? Thomas Sikes, the High Church vicar of Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, warned that, when the production of the sacred text was being entrusted to “sectaries,” nobody could be confident that they would not tamper with the translations. In order to calm such fears, John Owen, one of the society’s secretaries, replied that the organization was limited to producing versions “printed by authority.” When an opponent pointed out that this restriction had not been stated formally, the society hastened in May 1805 to revise its constitution so as to read, “The only copies in the languages of the United Kingdom to be circulated by the Society, shall be the authorised version, without note or comment.” Thus the phrase “the authorized version” was launched on the world as an apologetic device for the Bible Society. By 1819 the phrase had been heard so often that it crept for the first time into the Times newspaper, though still with a lowercase “a,” showing that it was not yet a title. The steady growth of the usage is documented in the number of times in each subsequent decade the phrase occurred in the Times: 1820s, 7; 1830s, 41; 1840s, 61; 1850s, 91. By the last of these decades, the expression was starting to be capitalized, demonstrating that it had emerged as a title. Thereafter “the Authorized Version” became the standard term for the 1611 Bible in Britain, where the phrase “King James Bible” was hardly ever used. The new title surrounded this particular text, as it was originally intended to do, with an aura of unique legitimacy. It helped forward the process by which the version became embedded more deeply in the national culture. (pg. 53-54)

You can pick up a copy of this book at any of the following online retailers: CBD, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Baylor University Press.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Baylor University Press for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.