This probably isn’t relevant to the blog. I just needed to put it somewhere, since the internet doesn’t seem to have this information readily available.
If you ever wanted to know what the nerd side of Blair looks like, this is it. You thought I was a cool jock womanizer? No, I sit in a dark room with my spreadsheets and the cold comfort of grammar books instead of human warmth.
This post will be written in the reverse order of how writing normally works. I’m going to start with my conclusions. Then I will explain what I was trying to figure out. Finally I will explain the context behind it all.
Also, all of the below only refers to the New Testament. The Old Testament is a different beast.
Differences between the Textus Receptus and Patriarchal Text and the Clemtine Vulgate
I have taken the text of the 1550 Stephanus Textus Receptus (thanks Bible Gateway!) and compared it to the 1904 Patriarchal text and the 1598 Clementine Vulgate in 149 controversial places where the King James Version differs from modern translations (except the New King James Version). I took a list of 148 from a KJV-only website, which shockingly was missing Luke 2:14, one of the most famous. I have also expanded 1 John 5:7 to include verse 8. Some of the entries could be combined or divided, so we have approximately 150 differences between the KJV and modern translations, depending on how you count.
Defenders of the Byzantine text family say that all or most of these should be included in the Bible. Usually the disputed portion is an extra phrase or sentence, like saying “Jesus Christ” instead of just “Jesus”. Occasionally the Textus Receptus had a different reading, and once it was missing a portion in the Alexandrian text.
Maybe twenty or so disputed passages make a doctrinal or narrative difference, though sometimes that difference is critical. Colossians 2:18 is missing the word “not” in modern translations, which reverses the whole meaning. Modern translations usually have softer readings on cornerstone doctrinal passages about the the Trinity and Incarnation (1 Timothy 3:16, 1 John 5:7-8), and the underlying Alexandrian text is missing the ending of Mark.
I have put my work into a spreadsheet with the NKJV translation, the 1550 Stephanus Textus Receptus, the 1904 Patriarchal Text, and the 1598 Clementine Vulgate. The disputed portion is in bold. In most of these, you can just remove the bold text, and you will have the standard text based on the Alexandrian. My work assumes the reader knows Greek and Latin, but I’ve included sufficient notes so that the common unilingual person can still decipher the data.
I did not point out most of the differences that were not controversial in the article I used for my list, though I included some that I noticed anyway. My goal was to examine how the text differs in the controversial ways that people care about. I made minor edits to the punctuation and formatting of the NKJV, but I quoted each verse in full.
The Vulgate is occasionally numbered differently. I chose to ignore this, since it doesn’t reflect the actual passages I examined.
Results of the 1904 Patriarchal Text Analysis
Out of 149 passages, only 16 outright disagreed between the 1904 text and the 1550 text. 8 of these are in Revelation. 1 of the other passages, Luke 17:36, agrees with the KJV and NKJV, and so most likely the 1550 text disagrees with the Beza text used for the KJV.
10 times the 1904 text agrees with the 1550 text but is worded differently or has another phrase. The meaning agrees with the KJV against the modern translations. This is ultimately irrelevant, in my opinion.
123 times the 1904 text entirely agrees with the 1550 text, although one of the verses is in brackets. If you include Luke 17:36, this is an 83.2% rate of agreement between the Textus Receptus and the Patriarchal Text in regards to disputed passages in the KJV. If you add the 10 verses that mean the same but are different, the agreement rate is 89.9%.
Revelation broke the pattern of agreement. Out of 11 disputed verses, only 3 were in agreement. If you remove Revelation from the total tally, then the rate of agreement jumps to 87.6%. If you include the previous 10 same-but-different passages after subtracting Revelation, the agreement rate is 94.9%.
Therefore, the Textus Receptus is a reliable variant of the Byzantine text tradition. If you prefer the KJV and NKJV because of the underlying text but don’t believe that the Textus Receptus is necessarily perfect, then the Patriarchal Text and the translation based on it (the English Orthodox Bible) are valid. Likewise, if you are an Orthodox Christian, the only good translation out of the major modern translations is the NKJV, and the NASB, ESV, RSV, and, God forbid, the NIV, should be ignored.
Though I still believe there is value to the eclectic text. I own an NA27 myself. It’s not evil or heretical. The critical apparatus is certainly valuable. I feel the same way about a Masoretic-based Old Testament.
Results of the Clementine Vulgate Analysis
A big thank you to the Clementine Vulgate Project and Bible Gateway for making the text available online.
Obviously a perfect comparison of the Vulgate to the Textus Recptus isn’t possible, because they are different languages, and so pronouns and prepositions will have slightly different nuances.
It’s often said that the Textus Receptus was heavily influenced from the Vulgate. While it does have some variant readings that are unique or present in the Vulgate, I found this claim to be inaccurate.
Out of 149 disputed passages, 73 agreed completely between the Vulgate and the 1550 Textus Receptus, which is 48.9%. Another 8 passages agreed in part but had extra or were missing phrases. If you add Luke 17:63, the additional 9 will brings the total to 55.0% agreement.
68 passages disagreed between the Vulgate and the 1550 Textus Receptus. Occasionally this difference was untranslatable. 61 times the Vulgate aligned with the Alexandrian, which is 40.9%. 2 times the Vulgate was missing even more than the Alexandrian was. 4 times the Vulgate had a reading found neither in the Byzantine text or the Alexandrian. (Luke 17:63 brings the total to 68.)
Revelation is where it is claimed that the Textus Receptus is most reliant upon the Vulgate. However, in the 1550 text, only 5 out of 11 passages agreed with the 1598 Vulgate.
Most notably, Timothy 3:16 had the neuter relative pronoun, whereas the Byzantine has “God” and the Alexandrian has the masculine relative pronoun (a difference of two letters in Greek).
Therefore, the Textus Receptus and the Vulgate only agree about half the time on imported disputed passages, and the two don’t really reflect each other.
One could make the argument that this means that Christianity did not faithfully preserve the Bible and that this proves that a belief in the superiority of the Byzantine text family is arbitrary. I personally wouldn’t make that argument, but it is valid.
Perhaps Jerome used a text more aligning with the Alexandrian (much how he used a proto-Masoretic about the Septuagint). This could have been partly why his translation is so controversial.
Of course, at the time of its publishing in 1598, Western Christendom had undergone some 500 years of scholastic thought that squeezed out every drop of the Holy Spirit. And this text was controversial in its own time. So there may be other mitigating factors.
Why This Was Analyzed
I’ve made a point to not include the modern eclectic text, because what I am interested in discerning is how much the Textus Receptus fits within continuous Christian tradition. Unlike the composite texts today, which are based on scholars’ best guesses, the Textus Receptus was drawn from a living tradition. There are plenty of analyses already on how the Textus Receptus differs from the Alexandrian text.
Conventionally the Textus Receptus has been labeled as the Majority or Byzantine text, but of course it’s just one interpretation of the Byzantine tradition of text preservation. And there’s no one single Textus Receptus, though it coalesced into the 1550 Stephanus edition as a standard.
Today’s Majority/Byzantine composite texts, while definitely valuable, are also drawn from scholars’ guesses who are removed from the tradition, even if those scholars are conservative American evangelical protestants. These mostly agree with the Textus Receptus but not entirely. Occasionally the Textus Receptus agrees with the Alexandrian text against the Byzantine text.
In 1904 the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church produced a composite text from medieval liturgical texts, with corrections in 1912. This is known as the “Patriarchal Text.” It is a product from the same Church tradition as the modern composite Majority texts and the Textus Receptus, except that the Patriarchal Text is drawn from the prayers of the Church which preserved it and was composited together from within that same Church (even if centuries later), which today uses those same prayers and teaches from the same theology treatises and Bible commentaries. Therefore the Patriarchal Text is, one could argue, the most representative of the Byzantine text preservation tradition.
Unless I am given a good reason otherwise, I personally will always side with the Patriarchal Text, because that is what the Orthodox Church produced, and I have more faith in the Church “against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail” than the best guesses of German scholars.
I am of course still open to the possibility that the Patriarchal Text has errors that we can’t possibly know or even that we could know, but all things being equal and with no other evidence presented, I will always give it the tie.
I haven’t looked at the underlying texts myself, so I don’t know actually. But the text has been confirmed by all five (or six?) Greek Orthodox autocephalous Churches, and as far as I know there’s no controversy over it in the Orthodox Church as a whole. How many ardent defenders of the NA27 have examined all the manuscripts involved? Or even one manuscript involved? With almost no exception, you choose a Greek Bible composite text on faith in some humans whose name you don’t know and whose work you haven’t seen. (More on that below.)
And of course the Clementine Vulgate was published by the Roman Catholic Church in 1598, so it is representative of the Western preservation of the New Testament, though in a different language.
Therefore my goal in this analysis is to see how much the 1550 Textus Receptus aligns with the living tradition(s) of scripture preservation by Christians leading into and at the time of the Protestant Reformation.
A Brief Overview of Textual Criticism
I’ve been reading a lot lately about Biblical criticism. Basically there are two major manuscript families. Most manuscripts are from the late middle ages. This is known as the Majority or Byzantine text. Of course there are disagreements between them, but they follow a pattern, because they were made from the same source texts in the Byzantine Empire. The Church Fathers of the Greek East generally quote from this text family, often predating our existing manuscripts. If the Holy Spirit guided the preservation of Scripture throughout history, clearly it was done within this manuscript tradition.
The Greek texts of the Protestant Reformation were drawn from this tradition. Erasmus produced his first edition in 1516, one year before Reformation. This edition was hastily put together, and he later edited it, culminating in a more representative 1522 edition.
Scholars in the Protestant Reformation built upon his work, using some manuscripts we probably don’t have today. The 1550 edition of Robert Stephanus built upon the 1522 Erasmian text to form the main Greek text of the Reformation from which most of the classic protestant translations were derived. Theodore Beza later made minor edits to Stephanus’s work. A printer later marketed it with words that were adapted to form the phrase “Textus Receptus,” meaning “the received text.”
Until the late 1800s, this was the foundational text of (protestant) Christianity. It was always assumed that this was representative of the Byzantine text family. In the last few decades, composite forms of the Byzantine text family have been produced. The Textus Receptus mostly agrees with them, but there are some differences, particularly in the Johannine Comma. It’s important to remember that these newer texts are just an interpretation of the Byzantine text, regardless of whether or not they are more correct.
There were other, earlier manuscripts in Egypt, which form the Alexandrian text family. These have readings which are often shorter and less clear. Although some early Egyptian Church Fathers seem to have used it (though Athansius references the Johannine Comma), this tradition did not continue through Church history, probably because of Muslim oppression. There are far fewer Alexandrian manuscripts than Byzantine manuscripts, which enjoyed the patronage of a Christian empire. And of course like any text family, Alexandrian manuscripts don’t entirely agree with each other.
There are other text families that aren’t important for this summary.
In 1881, British scholars Westcott and Hort produced their composite of the Greek New Testament based on the Alexandrian text. This became the foundation for almost all modern translations. In the proliferation of 20th century translations, Christians threw out the continuous living tradition coalesced in the Textus Receptus for the best guess of scholars.
And what is the origin of these manuscripts? We know the Byzantine text was preserved by the Greek Orthodox Church, but who copied the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts? Were they edited for a doctrinal bias? The early Church had a lot of problems with gnostics and other heretics using the Bible to defend their beliefs. Were some of the Alexandrian manuscripts preserved by gnostics and Arians?
Liberal German scholars in the 1800s and 1900s who did not even believe in the inspiration of the text began favoring the Alexandrian text over the Byzantine text. Their arguments are that a shorter, less clear reading is more likely the original, which is totally arbitrary, because it could just mean that a scribe left out a few words.
The German scholars Nestle and Aland produced their famous text, which has now gone through 27 revisions. This is identical with the text of the United Bible Society, which allows unitarians on their board. And what do you know, the NA/UBS text softens trinitarian readings like 1 Timothy 3:16 and 1 John 5:7-8. What are the chances?
1 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV)
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.
In the other modern translations, “God” is replaced with “who”. This is otherwise one of the very few places, if not the only place, where Jesus the Son of God is explicitly equated with God.
The Trinitarian Bible Society writes concerning this passage in the NIV,
It should be noted, too, that it is not just the traditional majority that include ‘God’ in this verse. Several copies of the Alexandrian manuscripts, a majority of lectionaries (Scripture portions used for worship services in the early church) and such Church Fathers as Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Didymus, Theodoret, and Euthalius — some of whom predate the two major Alexandrian manuscripts — also include ‘God’. But on the basis of the United Bible Society’s omission, the NIV changes this passage from a creed to a statement of the obvious.
There’s a joke that the NIV stands for “nearly inspired version”, and anyone who is vaguely smart about Bible translations doesn’t use it. In Romans 2:13 and 3:20, they translated “make righteous” as “declared righteous”, which is just naked doctrinal bias.
You cannot assume that a text is better just because it is older. You cannot assume that a later text must have necessarily been revised. You cannot assume that the Holy Spirit was and is inactive in the preservation of His own message.
You cannot allow deists and unitarians to tell you what you are supposed to believe.
Granted, much of this history I learned from fundamentalist websites, which are often haphazardly written and do not cite their work. So it’s possible I’m misunderstanding something. I don’t want to quote the various editors of the modern eclectic texts, because I can’t source the quotes (although the tract from the Trinitarian Bible Society about Kurt Aland seems reliable).
But just consider this. Most Christians don’t think at all about where their Bible text comes from. They know that we have more manuscripts now than before and that some of these are older, so they assume that new composite texts are better. But do they look into the philosophy of the people who compile these?
I was vaguely aware of all this, but I didn’t care to research it until a friend explained it to me a few months ago. For a long time I was really cynical to the KJV, partly because of the disputed phrases. In recent years I’ve learned that some of those phrases (like the Johannine comma, which is also in the Russian Orthodox Slavonic text) are probably correct, and I knew that the Orthodox Church is picky about modern translations. But it wasn’t until the last couple weeks that I really began to look into the issue.
I realize this is the opposite of how it normally works, but the more I learned about textual criticism, the more I came to appreciate the KJV for its purity, which is deeply surprising.
The fundamentalists were right about the KJV, just like they were right about Harry Potter, even if they had the wrong reasons for both issues.
Another consideration. The Alexandrian text is favored partly because the readings are less doctrinal. Phrases are more vague or more confusing, and therefore it’s thought that a Byzantine scholar later corrected them. But how do we know that? It’s just a best guess. And do you want a Bible that’s chosen because it’s weak on doctrine?
It’s worth noting that the ending of Mark, though missing in the earliest manuscripts, was quoted by Iraeneus in the second century. So clearly the Byzantine text family has roots older than what has survived. The whole concept of text criticism is that texts go back further than the surviving manuscripts.
The Byzantine text family is the product of a living Christian tradition in which the Holy Spirit was active in sanctifying the men who preserved the text, and the text has explicit teachings about the Trinity and Incarnation. The Alexandrian text family is an arbitrary guess of scholars who don’t even believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, and the text is missing the part of Mark where Jesus rises from the dead. Which are you going to pick?
An exhaustive list of English translations based on some form of the Byzantine text:
- King James Version
- New King James Version
- World English Bible
- Eastern Orthodox Bible
That’s it, as far as I know. Everything else, every “super literal and with the most conscientious scholarship from the original languages” translation is based on the Alexandrian text, though the Byzantine ending of Mark where our Lord and Savior manifests in His victory over death is glued onto the end in brackets.
Another other consideration. I can put my trust in the Orthodox Church above nameless scholars. But Catholics can’t put their trust in the Catholic Church, at least in regards to the correct Bible text. In recent decades the Catholic Church has revised its Latin text and has closely aligned itself to the UBS, which means that Catholics are relying on scholars who do not believe that Jesus Christ is co-substantial with God the Father to give them the correct form of the Bible.