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Aren't some Textus Receptus readings based on weak Greek manuscript evidence?


Although most Textus Receptus readings are supported by the majority of manuscripts, there are some readings that are supported by weak manuscript evidence today. We must remember, however, that the state of evidence today is not the same as it was when the Textus Receptus was being edited. The Textus Receptus was first edited in the early 16th century. Soon after that, the Counter-Reformation and the European Wars of Religion broke out, which resulted in the destruction of Protestant and Catholic properties, including Churches and libraries. It is obvious that countless manuscripts and books were destroyed during this turbulent era of history.

The Textus Receptus preceded the most turbulent era in religious history

A case in point is the effort to save Codex Bezae, a New Testament codex dating to the 5th century. Beza consulted this codex to edit his editions of the Textus Receptus. This codex managed to flee from the Wars of Religion on the continent of Europe. The Wikipedia article on Codex Bezae states:

"During the upheavals of the Wars of Religion in the 16th century, when textual analysis had a new urgency among the Reformation's Protestants, the manuscript was taken from Lyon in 1562 and delivered to the Protestant scholar Theodore Beza, the friend and successor of Calvin, who gave it to the University of Cambridge, in the comparative security of England, in 1581, which accounts for its double name." (Wikipedia: Codex Bezae)

Codex Bezae just so happened to survive to this day because somebody cared to remove it from the continent. But not all manuscripts managed to escape the path of destruction in Europe. Knowing that countless books and manuscripts were certainly destroyed during this turbulent period in history, it would be presumptuous for us in modern times to take the absence of evidence for any Textus Receptus reading and definitively declare it as evidence of absence. Europe has been ravaged many times since the 16th century. The manuscript evidence of modern textual critics are mere scraps and debris compared to what must have existed prior to the Counter-Reformation, religious wars, Napoleonic wars, two world wars, Islam and Communism in the east (where many of the Byzantine manuscripts were kept).
The idea that "evidence keeps increasing with time" is a liberal idea of linear progression that is not based on the evidence of history. There are indeed areas of evidence which has seen an increase, such as early papyri from Egypt. However, with the increase of early Egyptian evidence with the corresponding loss of potentially early European evidence (i.e. early Western and Byzantine manuscripts possessed by Protestants during the Wars of Religion) there is now a sharp inequity between Byzantine and Alexandrian witnesses.

Any critical evaluation of the Textus Receptus in modern times is anachronistic.
  The integrity of a work must be judged while the same resources used for the work are still in existence, not 300+ years after the creation of the work.  For example, the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7 in the Textus Receptus) in Greek is a late minority reading in modern times.  However, Stephanus appeared to have several manuscripts which contained the Johannine Comma. John Gill writes, "out of sixteen ancient copies of Robert Stephens, nine of them had it" (John Gill's Commentary, 1 John 5) [For further reading, go to Johannine Comma - 1 John 5:7 on this website].

The value of non-Greek witnesses

Critics find fault with the Textus Receptus for including readings that have support in the Latin translations but have weak support in the extant Greek manuscripts.  These passages include Acts 9:5-6, 1 John 5:7 and Revelation 22:19.  These critics are of the position that since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, the true readings are preserved only in Greek manuscripts.  However, most of these critics are hypocritical in the way they view the preservation of the Old Testament.  The translators of the NIV, ESV and NASB had the following to say about their view of how to reconstruct the original Old Testament text:

NIV:

“The translators also consulted the more important early versions – the Septuagint; Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion; the Vulgate; the Syriac Peshitta; the Targums; and for the Psalms the Juxta Hebraica of Jerome.  Readings from these versions were occasionally followed where the Masoretic Text seemed doubtful and where accepted principles of textual criticism showed that one or more of these textual witnesses appeared to provide the correct reading.”

ESV:

“In exceptional, difficult cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate, and other sources were consulted to shed possible light on the text, or if necessary, to support a divergence from the Masoretic text.”

NASB:

“In the present translation the latest edition of Rudolf Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica has been employed together with the most recent light from lexicography, cognate languages, and the Dead Sea Scrolls” (The NASB then lists these witnesses of cognate languages under its Abbreviations page: Aramaic, Septuagint, Latin, Syriac)

Here we see the hypocrisy of critics who have anything to do with these translations.  They believe that only Greek witnesses should be consulted for editing the New Testament originally written in Greek, but they freely consult the Greek, Syriac, and Latin for editing the Old Testament originally written in Hebrew.  In fact, these critics decry the Textus Receptus for relying on the Latin Vulgate, yet they rely on the same Latin Vulgate in reconstructing the Old Testament.  This is hypocrisy of the highest degree.  This double-standard is even more illogical when we consider that the preservation methods for the Old Testament were arguably more robust than the preservation methods for the New Testament.  Hence there is less likelihood for genuine readings to be lost from Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts than for genuine readings to be lost from Greek New Testament manuscripts.  Anybody who uses the NIV, ESV, NASB, or any other version that takes readings from non-Hebrew witnesses for the Old Testament does not have the right to fault the Textus Receptus for taking readings from the very same sources (Latin, Syriac).

The
following are examples of popular translations siding with the Latin Vulgate instead of the Hebrew Masoretic Text.  These readings in the Latin Vulgate and the corresponding translations have no support in the Hebrew.

    Genesis 4:8 (NIV)

  • Latin Vulgate: “Let us go out to the field”
  • Hebrew Masoretic Text: [not included]

    Numbers 26:40 (NIV, ESV, NASB)

  • Latin Vulgate: “of Ard”
  • Hebrew Masoretic Text: [not included]

    1 Samuel 14:41 (NIV 2011, ESV)

  • Latin Vulgate: "And Saul said to the Lord: O Lord God of Israel, give a sign, by which we may know, what the meaning is, that thou answerest not thy servant to day: If this iniquity be in me, or in my son Jonathan, give a proof: or if this iniquity be in thy people, give holiness. And Jonathan and Saul were taken, and the people escaped."
  • Hebrew Masoretic Text: "Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped."

    1 Chronicles 4:13 (NIV, ESV, NASB)

  • Latin Vulgate: “and Meonothai”
  • Hebrew Masoretic Text: [not included]

    1 Chronicles 9:41 (NIV, ESV, NASB)

  • Latin Vulgate: “and Ahaz”
  • Hebrew Masoretic Text: [not included]

    2 Chronicles 15:8 (NIV, ESV, NASB)

  • Latin Vulgate: “Azariah the son of”
  • Hebrew Masoretic Text: [not included]

In the following passages, the indicated translations depart from all Hebrew manuscripts to side with the Septuagint/LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament).  The texts followed by the translators are noted in the footnotes of the verses:

  • Genesis 47:21 (NIV, ESV)
  • Genesis 49:10 (NIV, ESV)
  • Exodus 14:25 (NASB, ESV)
  • Deuteronomy 11:14-15 (NASB 1995, ESV)
  • Deuteronomy 30:16 (ESV)
  • Deuteronomy 32:43 "...his people's land" (ESV)
  • Judges 14:15 (NASB, NIV, ESV)
  • Judges 16:13-14 (NASB, NIV, ESV)
  • 1 Samuel 1:24 (NASB, NIV, ESV)
  • 1 Samuel 2:33 (ESV)
  • 1 Samuel 9:25 (ESV)
  • 1 Samuel 9:26 (ESV)
  • 1 Samuel 10:1 (ESV)
  • 1 Samuel 13:15 (ESV)
  • 2 Samuel 7:16 (NASB, NIV, ESV)
  • 2 Samuel 15:7 (NIV, ESV)
  • 2 Samuel 15:8 (NIV)
  • 2 Samuel 24:13 (NIV, ESV)

To the Textus Receptus' further credit, in most cases where the Textus Receptus sides with the Latin there are also Greek witnesses albeit in a minority situation.  If the translators of the NIV, ESV and NASB were free to suppose that original readings could have dropped from the original language of the Old Testament (Hebrew) and preserved in translations (Latin, Greek, Syriac, Aramaic), then the Textus Receptus editors were free to suppose that original readings could have dropped from the original language of the New Testament (Greek) and preserved in translations (Latin, Syriac, Gothic).  One's view of preservation must be consistent.  Did God cause his words to be preserved to this day only in the original languages - Hebrew and Greek?  Or did God use translations to preserve his words?  The position of the translators of modern versions is inconsistent because they apply different views for the Old Testament and the New Testament.

There
is nothing inherent in a Greek scribe that makes him a reliable copyist of true readings.  Knowing Greek does not make anybody more faithful to God's word or better at using his eyes.  A faithful and careful Latin, Syriac, or Gothic scribe could do a better job of preserving true readings than could a faithless and careless Greek scribe.  The Church, to which God entrusted his words, does not only consist of individuals who can read and write Greek.  Although Greek scribes have the advantage of being able to identify grammatical and syntactical aberrations in Greek, most divergent readings concern variants that make sense grammatically and syntactically.  Thus where there is no problem with grammar or syntax, it is absolutely illogical to give more weight to readings in Greek manuscripts just by the virtue of them being Greek manuscripts.

Read more articles from: The King James Version is Demonstrably Inerrant
Also read: Book of Revelation in the Textus Receptus
For more information on the Textus Receptus, please visit: http://textus-receptus.com