Greek Scholar Bill Mounce: Textual Criticism 101

Greek scholar Bill Mounce, author of The Basics of Biblical Greek (Zondervan, second edition 2003), discussed John 5:4 on his blog today.  His discussion of that text included a basic explanation of what textual criticism is and why it is necessary.

Go over and check out his post, and let us know what you think.  I agree with his concluding assessment:

But God in his sovereign love made sure that the differences among the manuscripts would not hinder our faith.

  • About 5% of the Greek text is in question
  • No major doctrine is brought into question by 5%.

You can trust your Bible!

Read the whole post.  (HT: Jason Skipper)

Testing the Textus Receptus: Rev. 16:5

In Testing the Textus Receptus posts, I test the claims of Textus Receptus (TR) Onlyism. This is a moderate form of King James Onlyism focusing on the Greek (& Hebrew) basis for the King James Version.

As I mentioned earlier, Rev. 16:5 is one of three passages that James White (author of The King James Only Controversy) recently asked TR Only proponents to “explain why [someone] should use the TR’s [reading]“.

The TR Only Claim

For this verse, the TR Only claim is not unanimous.  There are a few brave TR only groups that side with other TR editions against the TR edition underlying the King James Version (e.g., The Received Bible Society).  Most however, defend the King James Version’s readings.  I guess this verse then shows that even for TR Only folks, the King James really is the standard.  Rarely will a TR onlyist admit a single error in the KJV.  They will more readily admit that we have no perfect edition of the TR than that there is an error in the KJV.

Okay, moving back to the point here. Let’s look at the verse itself and the reading which we are concerned about for this post.

KJV And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. (…? ?? ??? ? ?? ??? ? ???????? …)

NASB And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; (…? ?? ??? ? ?? ? ó???? …)

There’s a variant regarding “Lord” earlier in the verse, but the one we will focus on is “Holy One” versus “and shalt be”.  Beza’s 1598 edition of the TR supports the KJV here, but several other key printed TR Greek texts have “Holy One”.

Testing that Claim: History of the TR

The other major editions (Erasmus’, Stephanus’ and Elzevirs’) of the TR, besides Beza’s, do not contain the “and shalt be” reading.  Scrivener’s 1894 TR does have the reading, but like its Oxford 1825 ed. forebear, Scrivener’s text was created based off of the English readings of the KJV and any available printed Greek texts that the KJV 1611 translators would have had.  So really we’re down to Beza’s as the only TR text which includes this reading, with one exception.  The 1633 Elzevir’s text, which earned the title “textus receptus“, actually sided with Beza, but the 1624 edition of Elzevir’s text and the 1641 and all following editions of Elzevir’s text go back to Stephanus/Erasmus reading of ó????.  That reading is nearly equal to the reading of the Westcott-Hort, Nestle-Aland, and Robinson-Pierpont (majority) texts.  The TR reading keeps the “and (???)”, however.

With this particular reading, English churchgoers of the 1600s would have been shocked to find their Bibles altered with the new Authorized Version’s reading here.  The Wycliffe Tyndale, Coverdale, Great, Geneva, and Bishop’s Bibles all had “Holy One”.  The Puritan branch of the Geneva Bible Only group would have been a tad bit concerned over this passage I think.  Because this is so important to really grasp, I am going to include the text of all the above Bibles at this verse (from studylight.org):

Wycliffe (1395) [And the thridde aungel… seide,] Just art thou, Lord, that art, and that were hooli, that demest these thingis;

Tyndale (1526) And I herde an angell saye: lorde which arte and wast thou arte ryghteous and holy because thou hast geve soche iudgmentes

Coverdale (1535) And I herde an angel saye: LORDE which art and wast, thou art righteous and holy, because thou hast geue soche iudgmentes,

Geneva (1557) And I heard the Angel of the waters say, Lord, thou art iust, Which art, and Which wast: and Holy, because thou hast iudged these things.

Bishop’s (1568) And I hearde the angell of the waters say: Lorde, which art, and wast, thou art ryghteous & holy, because thou hast geuen such iudgementes:

Testing that Claim: Manuscript Evidence

Now why did Beza remove “Holy One”.  Certainly if there is strong manuscript evidence, we should gladly embrace the change to a 200+ year tradition of the English Bibles.  Yet at this point, we find not one Greek manuscript to support Beza’s reading.  “Well”, one might counter, “perhaps Beza had access to manuscripts that we don’t have today.”  That would be all fine and dandy, except Beza himself tells us why he inserted the reading.  Listen to Beza in his own words:

“And shall be”: The usual publication is “holy one,” which shows a division, contrary to the whole phrase which is foolish, distorting what is put forth in scripture. The Vulgate, however, whether it is articulately correct or not, is not proper in making the change to “holy,” since a section (of the text) has worn away the part after “and,” which would be absolutely necessary in connecting “righteous” and “holy one.” But with John there remains a completeness where the name of Jehovah (the Lord) is used, just as we have said before, 1:4; he always uses the three closely together, therefore it is certainly “and shall be,” for why would he pass over it in this place? And so without doubting the genuine writing in this ancient manuscript, I faithfully restored in the good book what was certainly there, “shall be.” So why not truthfully, with good reason, write “which is to come” as before in four other places, namely 1:4 and 8; likewise in 4:3 and 11:17, because the point is the just Christ shall come away from there and bring them into being: in this way he will in fact appear setting in judgment and exercising his just and eternal decrees.

This is clearly a guess by Beza.  He is looking  at some Vulgate copy which is worn in the text at hand, and so based on his understanding of John’s other uses of the phrase, he concludes “shall be” is the proper reading.  Now, after fixing the Vulgate reading, he then concludes he should fix the Greek reading to “which is to come”, to match the other four places in Revelation where “which are and which were” is found.

The problem is, of the more than 5700 Greek manuscripts we have, and of the more than 10,000 Latin manuscripts we have, we have not a single copy supporting this reading.  What’s more we have no other old language translations supporting it either.  The only possible evidence for it is detailed by Thomas Holland here (that link is broken, try this one or this one and scroll down).  It is a Latin commentary on Revelation compiled in 786 AD, but the commentary in question was from 380 AD.  The Latin phrase “qui fuisti et futures es” is used for this passage.  Beza, however, is ignorant of this support as he does not cite it as a reason for his changes to the text.

Before I go on to dealing with the evidence, let me offer a scan of Philip Comfort’s New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Tyndale House: 2008) at this point.  Continue reading

Testing the Textus Receptus: Luke 2:22

In Testing the Textus Receptus posts, I test the claims of Textus Receptus (TR) Onlyism. This is a moderate form of King James Onlyism focusing on the Greek (& Hebrew) basis for the King James Version.

As I mentioned earlier, Luke 2:22 is one of three passages that James White (author of The King James Only Controversy) recently asked TR Only proponents to “explain why [someone] should use the TR’s [reading]”.

To help explain the context, let me quote Luke 2:22 and 23 here.

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) — Luke 2:22-23 (ESV)

Jesus is a baby, and Joseph and Mary in this passage are going to Jerusalem to perform all the sacrificial rituals the Law required. The textual variant here concerns “their”. The King James Version reads “her”.

The TR Only Claim

This textual difference is claimed as an error in the modern Critical Text. “Their purification” would either implicate Jesus as possibly requiring purification for sin, or it would disagree with the OT Law which required only a woman to go through ceremonial purification after a child birth, not the man (if Joseph is in view). Again, this reading, according to TR Onlyists, must be an error due to theological reasons. Since two possible options for interpreting the text are clearly errors, and since the KJV offers a different reading, the conclusion is reached that the modern text must have it wrong on this point.

This verse then becomes one of a number of texts claimed to be doctrinal errors in the modern critical text. If we accept the critical text, we are accepting this theological error. We should side, say they, with the Textus Receptus which has been given the approval of God’s people for hundreds of years. The churches received this text with the reading: “her purification”. Case dismissed.

But when we start to test this claim, and dig a little deeper into this textual decision, the picture gets blurry fast.

Testing that Claim: History of the TR

Which reading did the churches receive? Well, the Textus Receptus did not always contain this reading. Early Bible Versions before the KJV, such as William Tyndale’s New Testament (1525) and the Coverdale Bible (1535) read “their purification”. The churches accepted those Bibles, it would seem. Stephen’s (or Stephanus) 1550 text which was accepted in England as the preferred form of the Textus Receptus, also reads “their purification”. Beza’s text (the 1598 edition which was most preferred by the KJV) and the later Elzevir’s text of 1633 both have “her purification”.

So did the churches cry foul, and eventually influence the textual editors to change the reading to suit their tastes? Maybe. It’s also possible that Beza fixed what he thought was a defect in the text, to bring it more in line with the Latin Vulgate.

Before we move on, we should note that nothing in Scripture would make us think that only churches of one nationality and one language should make this grave a decision. When we look at other Reformation era Protestant Bibles, produced for other languages, we again find a split in opinion. The Italian Diodati (1603) supports the “their” reading, according to some textual critical notes I found online (at this site). Luther’s German Bible uses a pronoun that in German can be either “her” or “their” so it doesn’t help us. The Dutch Staten translation of 1637 uses “her”. The Portuguese translation of 1681 (by Ferreira de Almeida) says just “days of purification”. We could go on in this search, but the prevailing theory would be all the Bibles produced by Christians before the 1800s should all read the same since they were received text Christians before the modern versions, right? It’d be interesting to see some more research done in this area, I am limited in what I can do here.

Testing that Claim: Manuscript Evidence

Looking more closely at the question, we come to manuscript evidence. Here we get an ever clearer picture of the situation. The Greek manuscripts overwhelmingly support “their”. Continue reading