is the Textus Receptus?
Dr. Herbert Samworth
like most questions, has both a short and long answer. Let us begin
with the short answer: the Textus Receptus, or Received Text,
is a printed Greek New Testament that provided the textual base
for the vernacular translations of the Reformation period.
answer raises as many questions as it answers. To answer these questions
we must keep several things in mind. First, the name itself: textus
receptus is a Latin phrase that can be translated as the received
or agreed upon text. When speaking of the Textus Receptus, one must
remember that it is a printed text, not a hand-copied manuscript.
It was the Greek text available to translators during the time of
the Reformation. Finally, the Textus Receptus is what is called
a "text type." The text type of the Textus Receptus is
known as the Byzantine because it came from the geographical area
around Constantinople. A characteristic of this text type was the
inclusion of additional words in the text itself due to scribal
notes. If the above is not sufficient to cause confusion, there
is the additional fact that there were several editions of the Textus
this confusion, we must give a brief historical overview of its
printing and publication. In the late fifteenth century, the Greek
language, unknown for hundreds of years, was recovered in the West
or the geographical area of the Latin Church. The Bible of the Western
Church at that time was the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome in
the latter part of the fourth century.
rediscovery of Greek, the Vulgate translation was subjected to a
critical examination in comparison with the Greek original. Scholars
discovered numerous mistranslations or outright errors in the Vulgate.
This provided an impetus to print the New Testament in its original
language. However, the major stumbling block to this printing endeavor
was the lack of a type font for the Greek letters. The creation
of this font was accomplished by the second decade of the sixteenth
printings of the Greek New Testament were undertaken in the second
decade of the sixteenth century. The first took place in Spain under
the leadership of Cardinal Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros. The New
Testament was completed by 1514 but permission to publish or sell
the book was withheld by Pope Leo X. In the meantime, a partnership
between Johannes Froben, a Swiss printer from Basle, and Erasmus,
the great Humanist, was forged to produce a Greek New Testament
before the New Testament of Jimenez could be published.
at breakneck speed, Erasmus gathered together what Greek manuscripts
he could locate in Basle. He was able to collect five, the majority
of which were dated in the twelfth century. Erasmus worked with
such haste that he did not even transcribe the manuscripts; he merely
made notes on the manuscripts themselves and sent them to the printers.
The entire New Testament was printed in less than six months and
published in 1516. Erasmus himself had to admit that the work was
"precipitously edited." Another person has called it the
most faulty book ever published due to the proofing errors.
its errors, the book became a best seller and the first printing
was soon exhausted. In the second edition, which was published in
1519, Erasmus attempted to correct many of the printing errors but,
unfortunately, there were nearly as many as the first edition.
In the meantime,
the editors of the Greek New Testament printed in Spain were upset
that they could not sell their book. They examined the Erasmanian
edition carefully and noted the absence of 1 John 1:7, a verse upholding
the doctrine of the Trinity, although it was included in the Latin
Vulgate. This was a serious charge and Erasmus rashly promised that
he would include it in the next edition of his New Testament if
manuscript evidence were provided. A manuscript with the verse was
located and Erasmus printed it in his third edition that was published
published two other editions, in 1527 and 1535. Stung by criticism
that his work contained numerous textual errors, he incorporated
readings from the Greek New Testament published in Spain in later
editions of his work.
Greek text became the standard in the field and other editors and
printers continued the work after his death in 1536. Ten years later,
the French printer, Robert Estienne or Stephanus, appeared on the
scene. He printed the basic text of Erasmus in 1546, 1549, and a
beautiful edition in 1550. Stephanus'third edition, known as the
Editio Regia is considered to be the most beautiful Greek
book ever printed due to the elegance of the Greek font.
the Greek New Testament including Theodore Beza, the friend of John
Calvin. In 1624 Abraham and Bonaventure Elzevir of Leiden published
an edition of the Greek New Testament. In 1633 they published a
second edition. In the publisher's preface, in Latin, we find the
following words: Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum
that can be translated as: the (reader) now has the text that is
received by all. From this publisher's blurb has come the words
"Received Text." However, the Elzevir provided no definitive
proof the text of their edition had been received by everyone.
Receptus became the dominant Greek text of the New Testament for
the following two hundred and fifty years. It was not until the
publication of the Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament in 1881
that the Textus Receptus lost its position.
We do not
have space to trace the entire history of the Textus Receptus. It
received criticism from the time of its first printing. With the
discovery of older manuscripts, considered superior to the manuscripts
of the Textus Receptus, the Textus Receptus no longer holds the
first place in the estimation of most Greek scholars. Regardless
of the position one holds regarding its relative value, the following
points are worthy of consideration.
differences between the two text traditions do not affect a major
doctrine of the New Testament. One of the characteristics of the
Textus Receptus is that it tended to add words that many people
considered to be notes or glosses made by scribes. Over a period
of time, these glosses became part of the text. Later editions of
the Greek New Testament, including the Westcott and Hort Greek New
Testament, have shown that many of these were not part of the original
with these new aids, a thorough investigation of the New Testament
was stimulated. From this searching of the Scriptures came the rediscovery
of the teaching of salvation by grace
is reason to be grateful for those who had the foresight to print
the text of the New Testament in its original language. With a printed
Greek New Testament, it was possible to translate accurately the
Scriptures into vernacular languages. The knowledge of the Word
of God contributed immeasurably to the Reformation of the Sixteenth
Luther to be the Father of the Reformation and there is good reason
to hold this view. Few people know that Luther had a profound knowledge
of the Scriptures in the original languages. He studied the Scriptures
and it was in them that he rediscovered the doctrine of justification
Luther was not content to keep that knowledge to himself. At great
risk, he translated the Scriptures into the German language so his
fellow countrymen could read the Word of God themselves. Perhaps
the greatest impact that Luther made was through the translation
of the Bible into German.
We could say
the same for William Tyndale. He gave the English-speaking people
their first printed New Testament. Others followed in his steps to
provide the entire Bible in English after Tyndale's martyrdom in 1536.
and Tyndale translated the Scriptures into their vernacular languages
using the same basic Greek text. Luther translated from the second
edition of the Erasmus New Testament and Tyndale utilized the third
James Bible is considered by many to be the crown of English Bibles.
Even at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Greek text
used in preparing the King James Bible was the Textus Receptus.
We should be grateful to God for providing a competent Greek text
from which these heroes of the faith could translate the Word of