|SPEAK AS THE ORACLES RADIO Program #134
THE PRESERVATION OF
Remarks on Righteousness
Lessons & Quizzes
Fundamentals of Faith
Salvation in Christ
The church of Christ
|A study of the history of the text of the Bible is a study in the preservation of the Bible. The text, in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew,
Aramaic and Greek) is what was originally written by the holy men of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. Thus, when we study about the text
through the ages, we are studying how God in His providence has preserved His word.
The Promise of Preservation
For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89). Forever the word of the Lord shall endure.
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: the word of
the Lord endured for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you (1 Peter 1:24,25).
Jesus said, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).
The word of God, the Holy Bible, liveth and abideth for ever (1 Peter 1:23).
The preservation of God’s word is providential, not miraculous. By providential, it is meant God uses a natural process rather than a
supernatural process of preservation. Inspiration is a supernatural process; the process of scribal transcription is a natural process.
An example of providential preservation is seen in the book of Esther. Every event which takes place has the hand and guidance of God, yet
the name of God is not mentioned in the entire book. There is not a single supernatural event within the book. Through natural processes
God raises up Esther to be in a place to preserve the nation of Israel. The end result is almost miraculous, but it is not a miracle. It is this
same type of providential preservation which God has exercised on His word.
The Evidence of Preservation
God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He has promised to preserve His word, and history chronicles the wonderful story of the care God has exercised
in preserving and perpetuating His holy book, the Bible.
The evidence for the preservation of the Bible is the most impressive of all ancient documents. There can really be no doubt to the honest
inquirer of the validity and authenticity of the Biblical record, in either the Old or the New Testaments.
The Preservation of the Old Testament
Questions had been raised about the validity of the Old Testament by many in the 19th and 20th centuries, since the Hebrew manuscripts of
the Massoretes that we had dated from well into the Christian era, about 900 A.D. However, these questions were raised by liberal scholars
influenced by the Rationalistic (Classic Liberal, Modernistic) school of Germany who denied the inspiration of the scriptures. Those who
were counted believers never doubted the validity of the Old Testament text; they believed the promise of God.
There was reason to believe in God’s promise. Great care had been taken by the scribes in the transmission of the Hebrew text. Samuel
Davidson, in his book HEBREW TEXT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT (Samuel Bagster & Sons: London, 1859), relates the rules followed by the
Talmudists (100-500 A.D.):
A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by a Jew. These must be
fastened together with strings taken from clean animals. Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire
codex. The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines; and the breadeth must consist of thirty letters.
The whole copy must be first-lined; and if three words be written without a line, it is worthless. The ink should be black, neither red, green,
nor any other colour, and be prepared according to a definite recipe. An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber
ought not in the least deviate. No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex
before him … Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene; between every pararshah, or section, the breadth of
nine consonants; between every book, three lines. The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not to do so.
Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish dress, wash his whole body, not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink,
and should a king address him while writing that name he must take no notice of him.
This insured that copies were exact copies of the manuscript being copied.
It is even because of their extreme care that the manuscripts we have come from such a late date. Sir Frederic Kenyon, in his book OUR
BIBLE AND THE ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS, explains:
The same extreme care which was devoted to the transcription of manuscripts is also at the bottom of the disappearance of the earlier
copies. When a manuscript had been copied with the exactitude prescribed by the Talmud, and had been duly verified, it was accepted as
authentic and regarded as being of equal value with any other copy. If all were equally correct, age gave no advantage to a manuscript; on
the contrary, age was a positive disadvantage, since a manuscript was liable to become defaced or damaged in a lapse of time. A damaged
or imperfect copy was at once condemned as unfit for use.
Attched to each synagogue was a ‘Gheniza,’ or lumber cupboard, in which defective manuscripts were laid aside; and from these
receptacles some of the oldest manuscripts now extant have in modern times been recovered. Thus, far from regarding an older copy of the
Scripture as more valuable, the Jewish habit has been to prefer the newer, as being the most perfect and free from damage. The oldest
copies, once consigned to the ‘Gheniza,’ naturally perished, either from neglect or from being deliberately burned when the Gheniza’
The absence of very old copies of the Hebrew Bible need not, therefore, either surprise or disquiet us. If, to the causes already enumerated,
we add the repeated persecutions (involving much destruction of property) to which the Jews have been subject, the disappearance of the
ancient manuscripts is adequately accounted for, and those which remain may be accepted as preserving that which alone they profess to
preserve – namely the Massoretic text.
The same type of care was taken by the Messoretes (500-900 A.D.), who prepared the manuscripts from which our text is taken. Sir Frederic
Kenyon says of the Massoretes:
Besides recording varieties of reading, tradition, or conjecture, the Massoretes undertook a number of calculations which do not enter into
the ordinary sphere of textual criticism. They numbered the verses, words, and letters of every book. They calculated the middle word and
the middle letter of each. They enumerated verses, or a certain number of them; and so on. These had yet the effect of securing minute
attention to the precise transmission of the text; and they are but an excessive manifestation of a respect for the sacred Scriptures which in
itself deserves nothing but praise. The Massoretes were indeed anxious that not one jot nor tittle, not one smallest letter nor one tiny part of a
letter, of the Law should pass away or be lost.
The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls verify that the text of the Old Testament transcribed by the Massoretes from the Talmudists is the
same text found in manuscripts a thousand years before. The Dead Sea scrolls consist of approximately 40,000 fragments from which in
excess of 500 books have been reconstructed.
The scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy searching for a lost goat. He threw a stone in a cave, heard something
break, and discovered pottery jars filled with leather scrolls. They had been placed in this cave, west of the Dead Sea, about eight miles
south of Jerusalem, around 68 A.D. The sealed jars had wonderfully preserved the manuscripts.
An example of the great care taken in the preservation of the Old Testament is seen in the book of Isaiah. A complete scroll of Isaiah, dating
from 125 B.C. was found by the Dead Sea: 1,000 years older than any other manuscript of the book. Geisler and Nix note:
Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only seventeen letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not
affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The remaining three letters comprise the word ‘light,’
which is added in verse 11, and does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the LSS and IQ Is. Thus, in one
chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission – and this word does not
significantly change the meaning of the passage.” [A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE; Moody Press: Chicago; 1968].
Another partial manuscript of Isaiah, agrees even more closely with the Masoretic manuscripts. After 1,000 years more than ninety-five
percent of the text of Isaiah was exactly the same. Most of the variances were obvious slips of the pen.
God, in His wondrous mercy and grace, has preserved to us the words of Moses and the prophets.
The Preservation of the New Testament
The same individuals, who questioned the validity and authenticity of the Old Testament, have also doubted the New Testament; but, with
even less reason. Peter had specifically stated the gospel preached in the first century would live and abide for ever (1 Peter 1:23, 24).
The New Testament was accepted as the word of God from the time it was first written. The early church received it not as the word of men,
but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Paul commanded the church at Corinth: If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write
unto you are the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Peter referred to Paul’s writing as “scripture,” a term reserved only for those writings accepted as inspired of God (2 Peter 3:15,16).
Therefore, the same care exercised in copying and preserving the Old Testament was to be expected, especially by those converted from
Judaism, in the copying and preserving of the New Testament.
The evidence for the preservation of the New Testament is overwhelming. There are approximately 300 uncial manuscripts (that is,
manuscripts written in all capitals, or block letters) in the Greek, over 2,700 minuscule manuscripts (that is, manuscripts written in small
letters in a cursive, or running hand) in the Greek, over 2,100 lectionaries (that is, books containing special readings of scripture selected for
the churches on particular days) in Greek, and approaching 100 papyri in Greek, for a total of over 5,300 Greek manuscripts. In addition to
this, there are: over 10,000 Latin version manuscripts; over 2,000 Ethiopic version manuscripts; over 4,000 Slavonic manuscripts; over
seventy-five Arabic manuscripts, as well as manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Sogdian, Persian and Frankish. This means there are over
24,000 manuscripts of the New Testament bearing record to its validity and authenticity that date back to within possibly twenty-five years of
when the New Testament was written. Compare that to only 643 manuscripts of Homer’s ILLIAD separated from the time it was written by a
minimum of 500 years. Or, compare it with the ten copies of Caesar’s GAULIC WARS separated from his time by a minimum of 1,000 years.
Add to the manuscript evidence the fact that there exist over 86,000 quotations of the New Testament by early writers from which all but
eleven verses can be reproduced; and, from which all but eleven verses can be reproduced; and, there remains no doubt whatsoever of the
validity and integrity of the New Testament. In fact, to deny the validity and integrity of the New Testament, one would have to deny all that we
know of ancient history and the writings of Plato, Tacitus, Thucydides, Suetonius, Herodotus, Sophocles, Euripedes and Aristotle.
It is true that there are variations in the existing manuscripts of the New Testament. In fact, they number over 200,000. However, these
200,000 variants represent only 10,000 places since every time a variant occurs (let us says a word is misspelled 4,000 times) it is
considered a different variant (thus, 4,000 variants). It is also important to realize that most of these variations occur in less than 15% of the
manuscripts. Over 85% of the manuscripts are in virtual agreement with one another in all particulars. The variations themselves, for the
most part, are accidental in nature. They are due to: 1) a difference in Greek orthography (spelling); 2) different forms of words (not affecting
their meaning); 3) iinsertion or omission of words, 4) use of synonyms, and 5) transportation of words. Of these five, the insertion and
omission of words is the most notable in an English translation (although orthography, synonyms, and transposition of words can and do
affect an English translation).
The Old Testament Text
The text of the Old Testament in the days of the Talmudists (100-500 A.D.) and the Massoretes (600-900 A.D.) was the same as that which
was translated by the Septuagint in the third century B.C. The Samaritan text of the fifth century B.C., as well as the Targums (paraphrases of
the Old Testament from 500 A.D. on), the Mishnah (the collection of Jewish tradition and oral laws from around 200 A.D.), the Gemaras of
Babylon and Palestine (commentaries on the text from around 200 A.D. for the Palestine and 500 A.D. for the Babylonian – The Gemaras
plus the Mishnah comprise the Talmud), and other documents substantiate the position of the Hebrew text. Therefore all the translations to
the Reformation, and all the translations of and following the Reformation, have utilized the same basic Hebrew text – the Massoretic text.
The Messoretic text, however, since the turn of the century has not always been followed. The American Standard Version departed from it in
Deuteronomy 32:14; 1 Samuel 6:18; 2 Samuel 16:13; 2 Chronicles 3:1; 22:6; Job 37:9; Isaiah 30:32; 35:8; Ezekiel 46:9; Hosea 11:3; Amos 5:
21; Micah 3:5; and Haggai 1:5; according to Jack Lewis. The Revised Standard Version departed from the Massoretic text approximately
600 times, including conjectural emendations (guessing what was thought to be the text, not utilizing the reading in any text or version
available, or in other words, making of their own text) in such passages as Psalm 2:11 and Amos 6:12, as well as others. The New English
Bible introduced an even greater number of conjectural emendations (probable readings – though not in any manuscript or version),
generally feeling free to change the text at will: adding words, deleting words, substituting words, changing the order of words, substituting
words, changing the order of words, verses and entire passages. The New American Standard Bible departs from the Massoretic text more
often than did the American Standard Version, including conjectural emendations, such as 2 Samuel 19:18. Conjectural emendations are
frequent in Today’s English Version. The New International Version follows the Massoretic text more closely than the Revised Standard
Version, though departing from it numerous times. The New King James Version follows the same textual basis as the King James Version.
The Old Testament has been affected by the change in attitudes toward preservation of the word of God.
The New Testament Text
The history of the New Testament text may be divided into three sections: 1) The Manuscript Era; 2) The Printed Era; and 3) The Critical Era.
The Manuscript Era
The manuscript era stretches from the time of the composition of the autographs (or the manuscripts of the New Testament books signed
by the authors, the originals) to the invention of printing, especially movable type printing by Guttenburg and the printing of the first complete
Greek New Testament in 1514, although some manuscripts do date later than that time. A manuscript is a hand-written copy. Until the 16th
century that was the only way to reproduce books. It was slow; and it was expensive. A copy of the New Testament might cost up to four and
one-half times the yearly salary of a Roman soldier (in the reign of Caracella a legionary made 750 denarii and one century later a New
Testament would cost 30,000 denarii).
The New Testament was most likely originally written upon papyri – a paper-like product of dried stems of a broad-leaf reed cut, dried and
passed together to form a sheet. This was written on with a stylus (a sharp stick) or quill (a feather pen). It made for a very fragile material
which with handline would fall apart, and which was very susceptible to damage because of changes in the weather. The papyri many times
were pasted together to form a scroll, or they might be sown or glued at one edge to form a codex, or leaf-book, or a book as we know it, as
early as the late first century.
Parchment, or vellum, was used for many manuscripts of the New Testament. Parchment is leather. It comes from the skin of cattle, sheep,
goats or antelopes, especially of the young. The skins would be scraped, smoothed with pumice and written on, most often with black or
blue ink with decorations most often in red. Sometimes the parchments would be dyed purple and written on with gold and silver ink.
It was not until the Middle Ages that a fabric paper (paper made from cotton, hemp or flax, not wood pulp paper as generally use today) was
used for manuscripts.
The scribes who worked upon these manuscripts did not have the advantage of working at a desk in most cases. They sat either on the
floor with their legs crossed (in what we always called “Indian style”) or on backless benches holding the material to be copied and to copy
upon on their lap. This position was most uncomfortable. Colophons, or notes on the manuscripts, make mention of the discomfort of the
He who does not know how to write supposes it to be no labor; but though only three fingers write, the whole body labors.
Writing bows one’s back, thrusts the ribs into one’s stomach, and fosters a general debility of the body.
As travellers rejoice to see their home country, so also is the end of a book to those who toil.
The end of the book: thanks be to God!
The scribes, in addition to the discomfort of the task, were hindered by other difficulties. Some scribes did not read or understand the Greek
language; therefore, they copied the manuscript letter by letter and made a few mistakes along the way. Some scribes were very marginal in
their Greek, and copied word by word. Some relied too heavily upon their memories and attempted to write too long a passage without
checking the manuscript before them. Some scribes wrote in a scriptorium, a commercial book center with a hall where a number of
scribes would write what was read aloud to them, which caused variations because of the hearing or memory of the scribe or because of
the pronunciation of the reader. Unquestionably then, the narrow margin of disagreement in the majority of these manuscripts is evidence of
the hand of God in providential preservation of His word.
The discovery and study of the papyri fragments of the past century have shown, contrary to the opinion of many, that the prevailing text of the
majority of the manuscripts was also found in the manuscripts of the first and second centuries. For although the uncial (block letter)
manuscripts are older than the cursive manuscripts (running letter), the papyri fragments which are older than the uncials agree more often
with the cursives than with the uncials at the points where they differ. Uncial is the more formal literary style of writing, while cursive is the
common style of every day commerce. The New Testament is not written in a formal literary style, but in the common language of the
people. Therefore, there is reason to believe it would have originally been written in cursive, and that the cursive manuscripts represent the
autographs more perfectly than do the uncials.
The autographs no longer exist. There is every reason to believe, as has already been noted, that extreme care was taken, for the most part,
during the manuscript era to carefully transcribe the New Testament. There is reason to believe that the later manuscripts are as good, and
even better than the earlier existing manuscripts. The arguments in favor f the later cursive manuscripts because of the testimony of the
papyri and of the style of writing have already been noted. The fact that the majority of the manuscripts (that is, the greatest number of them
– approximately 86%+) agree in every reading gives a strong reason to accept that reading. After all, if nine out of ten witnesses say
something is at a particular place, is it unreasonable to assume that one witness is mistaken rather than the nine?
The manuscripts which were considered the most accurate would receive the most use. They, therefore, would wear out quicker than
manuscripts which were considered inaccurate. This would place a question upon the accuracy, not of the later, but of the earlier
manuscripts. For example, the Bibles I consider the most inaccurate in their translation remain upon my shelf in almost perfect condition,
while that Bible I consider the best becomes worn out with use to be discarded and destroyed when no longer useful. This is what
happened to Old Testament manuscripts during the first five centuries of this era, and there is reason to believe that the same would be true
of the New Testament manuscripts. The cost of manuscripts would also cause them to be used until they were worn out, and would quite
literally fall to pieces.
Also, only very unique conditions where the manuscript was not used and placed in a controlled environment would allow the manuscript to
be able to survive, especially those manuscripts composed of papyri.
Therefore, there is reason to believe the later and more numerous manuscripts are a better representation of what was originally given.
It is the readings found in the majority of the manuscripts which is universally acknowledged as the text of the New Testament, accepted as
a copy of the original by the overwhelming majority of people, and almost unanimously by those who rejected the concept of a universal
bishop and rejected the textual corruption of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, from the mid-fourth century till the time of the printed Greek text. It is
further admitted that these readings can be traced by quotations, papyri fragments and versions back to the second and first centuries.
Therefore, these readings, accepted universally for 1,100 years of the manuscript era, and proven to exist and be primary for all 1,500 years
of the manuscript era, are the text to be accepted by all as the actual representation of the inspired originals.
The Printed Era
The printed era of the Greek text began with the publication of Erasmus’ first edition in 1516 and ends, most properly, with the publication of
the Westcott/Hort critical text in 1881. This is the period, following the invention of printing, in which the text of the majority of the manuscripts
held the almost unquestioned position of being considered the most perfect representation of the originals.
A brief history of this period is given in the “Preface” to the Trinitarian Bible Society’s THE NEW TESTAMENT: THE GREEK TEXT UNDERLYING
THE ENGLISH AUTHORIZED VERSION OF 1611:
The first edition of the Greek text to be published was that of Desiderius Erasmus printed in Basel in 1516, which was followed by his edition
of 1519, which was used by Martin Luther for his German translation. Erasmus, also published editions in 1522, 1527 and 1535, the last two
of which included some changes from the Complutensian Polyglot. The New Testament portion of this Polyglot Bible of Complutum, or
Alcala in Spain, was actually printed in 1514, but was not in circulation until 1522. The Complutensian Greek text was reprinted, with a few
changes, in Antwerp in 1571, 1572, 1573, 1574, 1583 and 1584 by Christopher Plantin, and also by various printers in Geneva from 1609
onwards, including editions dated 1609, 1610, 1612, 1619, 1620, 1622, 1627 and 1628.
Simon Colinaeus, a printer in Paris, published in 1534 an edition based upon those of Erasmus and the Complutensian Greek New
Testament. This work of Colinaeus was never reprinted, but was superseded by the more famous editions of his step-son Robert Stephens,
published in Paris in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551. The edition of 1550, known as the “royal edition” or edition regia, followed the text of the
1527 and 1535 editions of Erasmus, with marginal readings from the Complutensian Polyglot. The 1551 Geneva edition was a reprint of the
1550 text in which the present numbered verse divisions first appeared.
Theodore Beza published in Geneva four folio editions of the Stephens Greek text, with some changes and a Latin translation of his own, in
1565, 1582, 1588 and 1598. During this period Beza also published several octavio editions in 1565, 1567, 1580, 1590 and 1604. The
editions of Beza, particularly that of 1598, and the two last editions of Stephens, were the cheif sources used for the English Authorized
Version of 1611.
The Elzevir partners, Bonaventure and Abraham, published editions of the Greek text at Leyden in 1624, 1633 and 1641, following Beza’s
1565 edition, with a few changes from his later revisions. The Preface to the 1633 Elzevir edition gave a name to this form of the text, which
underlies the English Authorized Version, the Dutch Statenvertaling of 1637, and all of the Protestant versions of the period of the
Reformation – “Textum ergo habes, nun cab omnibus receptum …” The Elzevir text became known throughout Europe as the Textus
Receptus or Received Text, and in course of time these titles came to be associated in England with the Stephens text of 1550.
The editions of Stephens, Beza and the Elzevirs all present substantially the same text, and the variations are not of great significance and
rarely affect the sense …
Much has been made of Erasmus’ hurried preparation of his text, in order to present the first printed Greek text to the public and beat the
Complutensian Polyglot of the cardinal primate of Spain, Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros (a six volume set containing the Hebrew, Aramaic,
Greek and Latin texts prepared by several scholars). However, what is not noted is the lifetime of scholastic preparation Erasmus had made,
and his familiarity with the manuscripts and the variant readings of the manuscripts.
Edward Hills notes, in his book THE KING JAMES VERSION DEFENDED:
(d) The Greek Manuscripts Used by Erasmus
When Erasmus came to Basel in July, 1515, to begin his work, he found five Greek New Testament manuscripts ready for his use. These are
designated by the following numbers: 1 (an 11th century manuscript of the Gospels, Acts and Epistles), 2 (a 15th century manuscript of the
Gospels), 2ap (a 12th-14th century manuscript of Acts and the Epistles), 4ap (a 15th century manuscript of Acts and the Epistles), and 1r (1
12th century manuscript of Revelation). Of these manuscripts Erasmus used 1 and 4ap only occasionally. In the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles
his main reliance was on 2 and 2ap.
Did Erasmus use other manuscripts beside these five in preparing his Textus Receptus? The indications are that he did. According to W.
Schwarz (1955), Erasmus made his own Latin translation of the New Testament at Oxford during the years 1505-6. His friend, John Colet,
who had become Dean of St. Paul’s, lent him two Latin manuscripts for this undertaking, but nothing is known about the Greek manuscripts
which he used. He must have used some Greek manuscripts or other, however, and taken notes on them. Presumably therefore he brought
these notes with him to Basel along with his translation and his comments on the New Testament text. It is well known also that Erasmus
looked for manuscripts everywhere during his travels and that he borrowed them from everyone he could. Hence although the Textus
Receptus was based mainly on the manuscripts which Erasmus found at Basel, it also included readings taken from others to which he had
(e) Erasmus’ Notes – His Knowledge of Variant Readings and Critical Problems
Through his study of the writings of Jerome and other Church Fathers Erasmus became very well informed concerning the variant readings
of the New Testament text. Indeed almost all the important variant readings known to scholars today were already known to Erasmus more
than 460 years ago and discussed in the notes (previously prepared) which he placed after the text in his editions of the Greek New
Testament. Here, for example, Erasmus dealt with such problem passages as the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13), the interview
of the rich young man with Jesus (Matt. 19:17-22), the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), the angelic song (Luke 2:14), the angel, agony and
blood sweat omitted (Luke 22:43-44), the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), and the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). [The
Christian Research Press: Des Moines, Iowa; 1984].
The collecting of the variant readings in the margin in comparison with the Greek text generally received, began primarily with the work of
Brian Walton (1600-61). This volume, as well as the Greek testaments with critical apparatus (that is, notation of variant readings) issued by
John Fell in 1675, John Mill (1645-1707) Edward Wells between 1709 and 1719, Johann A. Bengel in 1734 and Jakob Wettstein in 1751-2,
used as the text the generally received text, even though they may have in their notes and margins expressed disagreement with the
readings they left in the text. During this time, Daniel Mace in 1729 and William Bowyer Jr. in 1763 and Edward Harwood in 1776 published
Greek testaments which varied from the received text, but they were rejected by basically everyone. No attempt at introducing a different text
was met with approval.
The Critical Era
The first of note to propose a critical text (that is, a text which incorporated variant readings) was Richard Bentley (1662-1742). He proposed
to restore the Greek New Testament of the fourth century. Note, it was not perceived to go back to the original text, that was considered
impossible; but, it was to restore the text of the fourth century. This though process has predominated in the Critical Era of Greek testaments.
Although the works of Richard Bentley and Daniel Mace were co-existent with his work, the Critical Era of the Greek testament found its
beginning and impetus in the theories of Johann Salomo Semler (1725-91), the father of German Rationalism. Rationalism is the theory
that everything that happened and happens, either in the Bible or today, has a rational and natural explanation so that there is no
supernatural explanation for anything. Thus, it rejects inspiration and all miraculous events of both the Old and New Testaments, saying that
the Bible came about by the will of man and is full of fables (fictional stories) and was compiled in a piecemeal, evolutionary manner. This
Rationalism applied to the text, said that the Received Text was the result of three different editorial revisions, or recensions, and a
combining of these recensions. This theory, based upon an evolutionary establishment of the text by alledged recensions (that is,
recensions with no historical record of existence) is the basis of what has been termed a critical text, and what Bruce Metzger has termed
“scientific textual criticism.”
Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812), a student of Semler, established canons, or rules, for textual criticism which influenced and guided
many who would follow. All of these are based upon a rejection of the inspiration and the providential preservation of the New Testament.
Griesbach’s work achieved a greater acceptance than Mace’s, Bowyer’s, or Harwood’s when he published his first edition in 1775-7.
However, the acceptance of his modified text was limited.
Karl Lachmann broke entirely from the Textus Receptus when he published a text based upon the theories of Semler and Griesbach in
1831. But, Bruce Metzger’s remarks, in his book THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT [Oxford University Press: New York; 1968], again tell
the tale of the “critical text”:
In editing the New Testament, Lachmann’s aim was not to reproduce the original text, which he believed to be an impossible task, but to
present on purely documentary evidence, apart from any previously printed editions, the text current in Eastern Christendom at the end of the
fourth century (about A.D. 380). [pp. 124-5]
Lobegott Friedrach Constantin von Tishendorf (1815-74) is best known for his discovery of the Sinaiticus manuscript (noted as Aleph). He
prepared eight editions of the Greek New Testament and twenty-two volumes of texts of Biblical manuscripts. His eighth edition is
especially noted for its critical apparatus; and, differs from his seventh edition in 3,572 places, chiefly because of undue weight given to the
Sinaiticus manuscript. Still, however, the majority of people accepted the Received Text as representing the original.
In England, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles prepared an edition of the Greek New Testament issued in six volumes between 1857-1872. He
also published a volume on textual criticism in 1854. Tregelles, in preparing his Greek text, completely ignores the testimony of any but the
earliest manuscripts; thus ignoring up to 90% of the manuscripts. Still, the traditional text was accepted by the majority.
It is with the publication of the two volume work of Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort in 1881, that the Textus Receptus is
displaced in the hearts of the majority. The first volume was THE NEW TESTAMENT IN THE ORIGINAL GREEK, and the second volume was
an INTRODUCTION AND APPENDIX. Based upon “the internal evidence of readings,” the work utilized “Intrinsic Probability” (what they
thought the author was more probable to say) and “Transcriptional Probability” (what they thought the scribe was more probable to do) to
make 5,788 changes in the text which make approximately 2,288 differences in an English translation. Based upon the Rationalism of
Semler, they utilize and modify the concepts of Griesbach with the methods of Lachmann, Tischendorf and Tregelles.
Thus, Westcott and Hort dismissed the overwhelming majority of manuscripts basing much of their text upon the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus
manscripts. In fact, they state:
It is our belief (1) that the readings of [Aleph, or the Sinaiticus] B [the Vaticanus] should be accepted as the true readings until strong internal
evidence is found to the contrary, and (2) that no readings of [Aleph] B can safely be rejected absolutely, though it is sometimes right to
place them only on an alternative footing, especially where they receive no support from Versions or Fathers.
Internal evidence is subjective, or a matter of opinion.
Those who followed in the 19th and 20th centuries in publishing Greek texts, for the most part, have basically followed the lead of Westcott
and Hort, merely modifying their theories and text. Bernard Weiss in 1894-1900 and 1902-5, Hermann Freiher van Soden in 1902-10 and
1913, and Eberhard Nestle in 1898 all based their work on Westcott and Hort. Alexander Souter in 1910 published the text behind the
English Revised Version of 1881 which is based on Westcott and Hort’s text.
The editions of Nestle’s text since the third edition in 1901 have basically been the text agreed on by comparing the works of Tischendorf,
Westcott/Hort, and Weiss, accepting the reading agreed on by two out of the three.
The three editions of the United Bible Societies text are based on the theories of the Westcott/Hort tradition.
One text published in 1982, prepared by Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, has returned to the generally received text, THE GREEK
NEW TESTAMENT ACCORDING TO THE MAJORITY TEXT. It marks a return to the text unanimously acknowledged to be accepted by the
majority from the fourth to the 19th century.
The Problem of the Text
The fact that there exist differing Greek texts of the New Testament that differ in excess of 5,000 places creates a problem. A chart following
this lesson shows how this affects forty-eight verses that are omitted, or at least gravely doubted, in various Greek texts and English
John William Burgon, in THE TRADITIONAL TEXT OF THE HOLY GOSPELS VINDICATED AND ESTABLISHED, stated the difference in
approach to the Greek text, between the Majority adherents and the Westcott/Hort theorists:
Does the truth of the Text of Scripture dwell with the vast multitude of copies, uncial and cursive, concerning which nothing is more
remarkable than the marvelous agreement which subsists between them? Or is it rather to be supposed that the truth abides exclusively
with a very little handful of manuscripts, which at once differ from the great bulk of witnesses, and – strange to say – also among themselves?
The advocates of the Traditional Text urge that the Consent without concert of so many hundreds of copies, executed by different persons, at
diverse times, in widely sundered regions of the Church, is a presumptive proof of their trustworthiness, which nothing can invalidate but
some sort of demonstration that they are untrustworthy guides after all.
The advocates of the old uncials – for it is the text exhibited by one or more of five Uncial Codexes known as A [the Alexandrinus] B [the
Vaticanus] [Aleph – the Sinaiticus] C [the Ephraemi Rescriptus] D [the Bezae or Cantabrigiensis] which is set up with so much confidence –
are observed to claim that the truth must needs reside exclusively with the objects of their choice. They seem to base their claim on
“antiquity,” but the real confidence of many of them lies evidently in a claim of subtle divination, which enables them to recognize a true
reading or the true text when they see it. Strange, that it does not seem to have struck such critics that they assume the very thing which has
to be proved.
The difference in approach to the text of the New Testament is seen in the approach taken by the two schools of thought. For illustrative
purposes, we shall contrast the approaches taken by J. Harold Greenlee in his INTRODUCTION TO TEXTUAL CRITICISM [William B.
Eerdmans Pub. Co.: Grand Rapids, MI; 1964] and by J.W. Burgon in THE TRADITIONAL TEXT OF THE HOLY GOSPELS VINDICATED AND
ESTABLISHED. They are paralleled here to make it easier to compare.
J. Harold Greenlee J. W. Burgon
… there may be some advantage in considering internal evidence first, since it is more subjective, so that one’s
thinking will not from the first be unduly influenced by evidence of the mss. There can be no Science of
Textual Criticism, I repeat – and therefore no security for the Inspired Word – so long as the subjective judgment,
which may easily degenerate into individual caprice, is allowed ever to determine which readings shall be
rejected, which retained.
Procedure for Deciding Internal Evidence
(i) The shorter reading is often preferable… 1. Antiquity, or Primitiveness;
(ii) The harder reading is often preferable… 2. Consent of Witnesses, or Number;
(iii) The reading from which the other readings in a variant could most easily have been derived is
preferable… 3. Varity of Witnesses, or Catholicity;
(iv) The reading which is characteristic of the author is generally preferable… 4. Respectibility of
Witnesses, or Weight;
Procedure for Deciding External Evidence 5. Continuity, or Unbroken Tradition;
(i) Divide the manuscripts into text-types. 6. Evidence of the Entire Passage, or Context;
(ii) “The characteristics of the individual witnesses to a text-type must likewise be considered.” 7.
Internal Considerations, or Reasonableness.
(iii) “Which reading has the best mss. Support by text-types and/or parts of text-types.”
(iv) Weigh the evidence against the internal evidence. The “Witnesses” referred to are the manuscripts,
lectionaries, versions and quotations from early writers.
The most notable point of difference between the two approaches is what is considered first, Greenlee advocates examing the internal
evidence; Burgon advocates examing the external evidence. The question is one of whether the primary consideration should be subjective
or objective: whether the theories of the critic, or the evidence of themanuscripts, should be most important.
This is the question which underlies the text of the New Testament in the English translations. This is the determining factor in deciding
whether the text underlying the King James Version is inadequate, or satisfactory. This is the pivotal point in the inclusion or omission of 48
verses in the New Testament, as well as portions of many others.
The Verses Omitted in the New Testament
A chart at the end of this lesson graphically represents the treatment of the 48 verses omitted by one or more of the Greek texts and/or major
translations of the New Testament into English.
It has been stated by those that appeared on THE SECOND ANNUAL PREACHERS AND CHURCH LEADERS FORM [Ray Hawk, Gordon Smith,
Charles “Chuck” Barrick and Bobby Duncan] that such ommissions have no bearing on the obedience to passages such as
DEUTERONOMY 4:1,2; GALATIANS 1:6-9; and REVELATION 22:18,19. However, if adding to and subtracting from does not apply to adding
conjectural emendations and subtracting entire verses, I am at a loss to see what it could or might apply to.
Others have stated that no real concern should be shown over the omission of these verses because what is taught in these verses which
are omitted is taught elsewhere in scripture. Yet as Edward Miller stated in THE TRADITIONAL TEXT OF THE HOLY GOSPELS VINDICATED
… (c) Holy Scripture is too unique and precious to admit of the study of the several words of it being interesting rather than important; (d)
many of the passages which Modern Criticism would erase or suspect – such as the last twelve verses of Mark, the first Word from the
Cross, and the thrilling description of the depth of the Agony, besides numerous others – are valuable in the extreme; and, (e) generally
speaking, it is impossible to pronounce, especially amidst the thought and life seething everywhere round us, what part of Holy Scripture is
not, or may not prove to be, of the highest importance as well as interest.
Besides, if one verse can be set aside today that teaches a particular point, what principle prohibits the removal of the other verses (either
collectively or one-by-one) at a future date? No man, nor group of men, has the right to remove one verse of scripture.
A chart at the end of this lesson chronicles the evidence found in the critical apparatus of the United Bible Societies’ text on the forty-eight
verses under consideration. This chart gives an inkling of the evidence which is rejected in rejecting these verses. That the evidence given
may not be totally accurate, especially in reference to the testimony of early writers, can be seen in J. W. Burgon’s monumental work, THE
LAST TWELVE VERSES OF ST. MARK. But, according to this evidence, the only verses in doubt are: ACTS 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; and 1 JOHN 5:7.
That is a reduction from forty-eight verses to four verses! Once the full principles of textual criticism are applied as they should be, that
number is further reduced. Thus, the claims that the King James Version is based upon an “inferior text” are greatly distorted. For the facts
indicate that the modern versions (excepting the KING JAMES II and the NEW KING JAMES VERSION) are based upon inferior texts.
This is a true story.
One time a preacher was making his point on Mark 16:16 – He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall
be damned. He forcefully cried out to the audience on hand, “If you don’t believe me, I’ll come and show it to you in your own Bible!”
“It’s not in my Bible!” cried a woman in the back.
Immediately the preacher strode to the back, took the Bible from the lady’s hand, turned to the sixteenth chapter of Mark, and , lo and behold,
the passage was not there! She had taken a pair of scissors and cut it out!
When I was a boy, I remember hearing this illustration used in a sermon to show the disrespect which some people had for the Bible, and
how they removed certain unwanted passages from the Scriptures in one way or another. What the women did in this story is
unconscionable. But, pray tell, what is the difference between a woman taking a pair of scissors and cutting passages she does not like out
of her personal Bible, and an editor taking an exacto knife and slicing the same verses out of a Bible he is preparing for publication? Is it not
of far greater import when the editor does it; because the Bible he so mutilates will not only be for his own private reading and study, but is
prepared to be used by thousands, or even millions?
Friends and brethren, how far have we already drifted?