Three Views on the Textus Receptus

E.F Hills, The King James Version Defended, chapter 8:

“from 1. Three Alternative Views Of The Textus Receptus (Received Text)

One of the leading principles of the Protestant Reformation was the sole and absolute authority of the holy Scriptures. The New Testament text in which early Protestants placed such implicit reliance was the Textus Receptus (Received Text), which was first printed in 1516 under the editorship of Erasmus. Was this confidence of these early Protestants misplaced? There are three answers to this question which may be briefly summarized as follows:

(a) The Naturalistic, Critical View of the Textus Receptus
Naturalistic textual critics, of course, for years have not hesitated to say that the Protestant Reformers were badly mistaken in their reliance upon the Textus Receptus. According to these scholars, the Textus Receptus is the worst New Testament text that ever existed and must be wholly discarded. One of the first to take this stand openly was Richard Bentley, the celebrated English philologian. In an apology written in 1713 he developed the party line which naturalistic critics have used ever since to sell their views to conservative Christians. (1) New Testament textual criticism, he asserted, has nothing to do with Christian doctrine since the substance of doctrine is the same even in the worst manuscripts. Then he added that the New Testament text has suffered less injury by the hand of time than the text of any profane author. And finally, he concluded by saying that we cannot begin the study of the New Testament text with any definite belief concerning the nature of God’s providential preservation of the Scriptures. Rather we must begin our study from a neutral standpoint and then allow the results of this neutral method to teach us what God’s providential preservation of the New Testament text actually has been. In other words, we begin with agnosticism and work ourselves into faith gradually. Some seminaries still teach this party line.

(b) The High Anglican View of the Textus Receptus
This was the view of Dean J. W. Burgon, Prebendary F. H. A. Scrivener, and Prebendary Edward Miller. These conservative New Testament textual critics were not Protestants but high Anglicans. Being high Anglicans, they recognized only three ecclesiastical bodies as true Christian churches, namely, the Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church, in which they themselves officiated. Only these three communions, they insisted, had the “apostolic succession.” Only these three, they maintained, were governed by bishops who had been consecrated by earlier bishops and so on back in an unbroken chain to the first bishops, who had been consecrated by the Apostles through the laying on of hands. All other denominations these high Anglicans dismissed as mere “sects.”

It was Burgon’s high Anglicanism which led him to place so much emphasis on the New Testament quotations of the Church Fathers, most of whom had been bishops. To him these quotations were vital because they proved that the Traditional New Testament Text found in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts had been authorized from the very beginning by the bishops of the early Church, or at least by the majority of these bishops. This high Anglican principle, however, failed Burgon when he came to deal with the printed Greek New Testament text. For from Reformation times down to his own day the printed Greek New Testament text which had been favored by the bishops of the Anglican Church was the Textus Receptus, and the Textus Receptus had not been prepared by bishops but by Erasmus, who was an independent scholar. Still worse, from Burgon’s standpoint, was the fact that the particular form of the Textus Receptus used in the Church of England was the third edition of Stephanus, who was a Calvinist. For these reasons, therefore, Burgon and Scrivener looked askance at the Textus Receptus and declined to defend it except in so far as it agreed with the Traditional Text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.

This position, however, is illogical. If we believe in the providential preservation of the New Testament text, then we must defend the Textus Receptus as well as the Traditional Text found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts. For the Textus Receptus is the only form in which this Traditional Text has circulated in print. To decline to defend the Textus Receptus is to give the impression that God’s providential preservation of the New Testament text ceased with the invention of printing. It is to suppose that God, having preserved a pure New Testament text all during the manuscript period, unaccountably left this pure text hiding in the manuscripts and allowed an inferior text to issue from the printing press and circulate among His people for more than 450 years. Much, then, as we admire Burgon for his general orthodoxy and for his is defense of the Traditional New Testament Text, we cannot follow him in his high Anglican emphasis or in his disregard for the Textus Receptus.

(c) The Orthodox Protestant View of the Textus Receptus
The defense of the Textus Receptus, therefore, is a necessary part of the defense of Protestantism. It is entailed by the logic of faith, the basic steps of which are as follows: First, the Old Testament text was preserved by the Old Testament priesthood and the scribes and scholars that grouped themselves around that priesthood (Deut. 31:24-26). Second, the New Testament text has been preserved by the universal priesthood of believers by faithful Christians in every walk of life (1 Peter 2:9). Third, the Traditional Text, found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, is the True Text because it represents the God-guided usage of this universal priesthood of believers. Fourth, The first printed text of the Greek New Testament was not a blunder or a set-back but a forward step in the providential preservation of the New Testament. Hence the few significant departures of that text from the Traditional Text are only God’s providential corrections of the Traditional Text in those few places in which such corrections were needed. Fifth, through the usage of Bible-believing Protestants God placed the stamp of His approval on this first printed text, and it became the Textus Receptus (Received Text).

Hence, as orthodox Protestant Christians, we believe that the formation of the Textus Receptus was guided by the special providence of God. There were three ways in which the editors of the Textus Receptus Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs, were providentially guided. In the first place, they were guided by the manuscripts which God in His providence had made available to them. In the second place, they were guided by the providential circumstances in which they found themselves. Then in the third place, and most of all, they were guided by the common faith. Long before the Protestant Reformation, the God-guided usage of the Church had produced throughout Western Christendom a common faith concerning the New Testament text, namely, a general belief that the currently received New Testament text, primarily the Greek text and secondarily the Latin text, was the True New Testament Text which had been preserved by God’s special providence. It was this common faith that guided Erasmus and the other early editors of the Textus Receptus.”

Source:, Comment #76


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.