FACTS ABOUT THE SO-CALLED TEXTUS RECEPTUS
by Dr. Allan A. McRae
Dr. Robert C. Newman
How did the term "textus receptus" originate?
It originated through a highly exaggerated statement - actually a
publisher's blurb - in the preface to the second edition of the Greek
New Testament that was published in Holland in 1633 by the Elzevir brothers.
In this Latin preface they called the book "the text which is now received
by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted." This is how this
Latin term textus receptus (text received) came to be applied to a particular
text of the Greek New Testament.
On the European continent, aside from Great Britain, the first Elzervir
edition (pub. 1624) was for a long time the standard edition of the Greek New
Did the King James translators use this "textus receptus" as the basis for
No. Even the first Elzevir edition was not published until 13 years after
the date of the KJV.
What was the Greek text on which the KJV was based?
It was based on the third edition of the Greek New Testament, issued by the
Parisian publisher Stephanus (Latinized form of Estienne) in 1550.
Was the text of Stephanus on which the King James Version was based identical
with the later "textus receptus"?
No. The two differed in 287 places.
How many Greek manuscripts agree exactly with the edition published by
Stephanus, and how many agree exactly with the edition published by Elzevir?
There is no Greek manuscript that agrees exactly with either of these.
Both of them are conflate texts.
Were the Scholars who prepared the King James Version convinced that their
text was absolutely correct?
No. They recognized the possibility of copyists' errors, and showed this by
making marginal notes to variant readings at 13 places. For instance, in Luke
17:36 their marginal note reads: "This 36th verse is wanting in most of the
Greek copies." In Acts 25:6, where their text reads: "When he had tarried
among them more than ten days," they inserted the following marginal note:
"Or, as some copies read, no more than eight or ten days."
What was the source of most of the readings found both in the edition of
Stephanus and in that of Elzevir?
Most of the readings in both of these follow the edition of the Greek New
Testament prepared by Erasmus, the great enemy of Luther, and published in
1516, the year before the Reformation began.
How many manuscripts agree exactly with Erasmus' edition of the Greek New
There is no Greek manuscript that agrees exactly with it. Erasmus made it by
combining the readings of several manuscripts, none of them earlier than the
tenth century A.D., and most of them still later. In some parts of the New
Testament he had no manuscript at all, but simply retranslated from the Latin
To whom was the Greek New Testament prepared by Erasmus dedicated?
It was dedicated to Pope Leo X, the pope who later condemned Luther and the
Reformation. It is believed that this pope gave Erasmus' publisher the
exclusive right to publish the Greek New Testament for a period of time.
Have better manuscripts been discovered than those on which the textus receptus
During the three and one-half centuries since the King James Version was made
dozens of manuscripts have been found that were copied many centuries earlier
than any manuscript used by Erasmus. The manuscripts he used were copies of
copies of copies of copies of copies. When material is copied a number of
times by hand, extra words and phrases generally find their way into the text
in the course of copying and occasionally the eye of a copyist may jump from
one word of a phrase to a similar one, and thus omit something or perhaps copy
Does this mean that the textus receptus is a harmful text?
The additions in the textus receptus do not contain any idea that is not
taught elsewhere in the New Testament in parts that agree with the earlier
manuscripts. The differences consist mainly of repetition of ideas already
contained elsewhere in the Scripture.
Then why bother to hunt for early manuscripts? Why not simply follow the
God inspired the manuscripts that came from the hands of the original writers.
It is impossible to copy a book of any length without making some mistakes. In
the case of the New Testament we have more evidence for determining the text
of the original writers than for any other book from ancient times. While there
is rarely anything harmful in the later manuscripts, it is desirable, if we
truly wish to know God's Word, to base our text, as far as possible, on early
What is meant by the Byzantine Text?
Shortly before A.D. 400 the Roman empire was divided into two parts, the
western Roman empire and the eastern or Byzantine empire. Within a century
after this division the western empire came to an end, and western Europe sank
into a state of near barbarism. The Byzantine empire continued, though often
in a greatly weakened state, until A.D. 1453.
For about a thousand years, the Greek language was completely unknown in
western Europe. but remained the official language of the Byzantine empire.
During this time both portions of the former Roman empire contained many
monasteries in which the monks were required to do a certain amount of work
each day. One way to fulfill this work requirement was to copy manuscripts.
In the western monasteries Latin manuscripts, including the Latin Bible, were
copied and recopied by the monks. In the Byzantine monasteries Greek manuscripts
were copied, including copies of the Greek Bible. Some of these scribes were
greatly interested in what they were copying, but to others the copying was
merely an assigned task. In the course of copying, little mistakes invariably
come in, so that no two manuscripts of the Latin Bible or of the Greek Bible
are exactly the same. During this period, as visitors passed from one
Byzantine monastery to another, and manuscripts were interchanged from time to
time, the tendency naturally developed to bring the manuscripts into harmony
with one another. Where early manuscripts differed slightly there was a
tendency to combine the readings. Thus there developed a text which is found,
with many variations, in the manuscripts copied in the Byzantine empire in the
later middle ages.
Sometimes a whole verse is said to be missing from the best manuscripts.
Would not such an omission be obvious because of the verse number being
Our system of numbering verses is not found in Greek manuscripts. The first
publication in which the New Testament was divided into numbered verses was the
4th edition by Stephanus, which he published in Geneva in 1551, after fleeing
Some say that the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark were not part of the
original. What do you think of this?
There is a strong possibility that the end of the Gospel of Mark was lost from
certain important manuscripts at a very early time. Some early manuscripts stop
abruptly at the end of V. 8 of the last chapter. Yet there was doubtless an
ending, for it is extremely unlikely that the Gospel of Mark stopped with the
words "and they were afraid." It may have been the short ending that is found
in some ancient manuscripts, or it may have been the longer ending that occurs
in the later manuscripts. Practically everything in this longer ending is also
clearly stated in the Gospel of Luke. The question whether it was also stated
at the end of the original Gospel of Mark is interesting, but not of any great
importance for Christian life or thought. There is only one statement of
importance in Mark that is not in Luke: "They shall take up serpents, and if
they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them." Whether this was part of
the original Gospel of Mark or not, it is certainly true that God can protect
His people in this way whenever He chooses to do so, as is shown by the
experience of Paul described in Acts 28:3-6.
Do early manuscripts omit the word "Christ" at many places where it is included
in the textus receptus and thereby show themselves to be unchristian?
The Gospels always speak of our Lord as Jesus. The book of Acts uses the word
"Jesus" alone 35 times, "Jesus Christ', 10 times, and "the Lord Jesus Christ"
6 times in the KJV. It would be quite erroneous to conclude from this that the
author of Acts does not like the word "Christ." Different writers show dif-
ferent preferences in this regard. As scribes copied manuscripts in century
after century it was easy for a scribe unintentionally to write a longer form
even where a shorter one occurred, so the word Christ occurs more frequently
in later manuscripts than in earlier ones. Yet even in the latest manuscripts
we find that Jesus is often called by shorter terms. The use of longer phrases
in referring to the Lord does not necessarily show greater piety or greater
loyalty to Christ.
It is sometimes said that since God gave an inerrant Bible in the original we
can be sure that He would cause that it be preserved without error. What do you
think of this statement?
This is the sort of argument that rests on human ideas and not on God's
revelation. One might as well say that if God gave His Son to die for the sins
of all who will believe on His Name we can then be sure that every person who
has lived since that time would be fully informed about Him. We know that this
is not true. Millions of people have died without ever hearing about Christ.
There are people in this country who have attended church faithfully all their
lives, that have only heard the social Gospel and have never been told how they
could be saved through Christ. We know that whatever God does is best, but we
do not have the wisdom to say that He must have done things in a certain way.
God has caused that the books of the Bible should be marvelously preserved. We
can get extremely near to the precise text as it came from the hands of the
authors, but there are many minor points on which we cannot be sure. None of
these points affect any important fact of Christian doctrine or life.
God could have caused His Word to have been written on tables of stone and
preserved in a room kept at exactly the same temperature, protected from any
change, like the authoritative standards kept by the U.S. government. He did
not choose to do so. This is a simple fact. No two manuscripts of the New
Testament exactly agree. No manuscript agrees exactly with the textus receptus.
There is more material available to see how the Bible has been translated and
to try to get near to the exact words of the original authors than of any other
book from ancient times. We can be very sure that we are very near to the
original text. We cannot say that we have it exactly. Maybe some of us would
have done it differently, but this is the way God did it.
What about such statements as: "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one
tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled," (Matt. 5:18)
and "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35)?
Jesus did not say that not a jot or tittle would pass from the law till every
tiniest part had been copied perfectly. What He said was that no tiny part of
the meaning of the Word of God as given to the original writers would fail to
be fulfilled in exactly the way that God intended. Man cannot break what God
has ordained. These verses refer to fulfillment, not to precise copying.
What is your opinion of the New American Standard Bible?
No translation is perfect. There are always places at which it is extremely
difficult to render a passage into a different language. The KJV was very
excellent for its day, but some of its renderings are questionable. The New
American Standard Bible was prepared by consecrated Christian scholars and
represents an attempt to give an accurate presentation in modern English of
the text found in the older manuscripts of the Bible, with occasional notes
pointing out differences in late manuscripts. Christians should be grateful
for the devoted effort that has gone into this excellent translation.
Should a denomination or association of churches oppose a version solely on
the ground that it is not based on the textus receptus?
The important thing about a version is its accuracy in translating the text
of the Bible. The KJV was greatly used of God for 300 years until much of its
language became quite archaic, as the English language changed.
It is foolish to ask young people to learn the language of 300 years ago in
order to read the Bible. Even mature Christians do not know what is meant by
such phrases as "we do you to wit" (2 Cor. 8:1), and "thou shalt destroy them
that speak leasing" (Ps. 5:6). God's people need an accurate translation in
the language of today. This is extremely vital . It is wrong to ask Christians
to oppose a translation because it tries to follow the ancient manuscripts
rather than a text based on Erasmus' edition. To do so is to make an idol of
the textus receptus, or of the King James Version. God does not want his
people to be idolaters!
(The preceding material compiled by Dr. Allan A. McRae)
I have heard that the King James Version and the textus receptus are based on
the majority of Greek NT manuscripts. Is this true?
Yes and no. As Dr. MacRae has pointed out, the King James Version does not
exactly follow the majority of Greek NT manuscripts. For instance, 1 John 5:7,
found in the KJV and TR, occurs in only four (out of nearly 5000) Greek manu-
scripts. The reading "book of life" in Rev. 22: 19 is found in no Greek
Even though no Greek manuscript is exactly like the Textus Receptus or Erasmus'
Greek NT, isn't it true that 95% of the known manuscripts of the Greek NT are
closer to these than to the Greek text behind most modern English translations?
Yes. But 95% of the known Greek NT manuscripts were copied after A.D. 700,
more than six centuries after the NT was written.
What is the situation among early NT manuscripts then?
Among manuscripts copied before A.D. 400 (three centuries after the NT was
completed) there are none of the Textus Receptus type (Byzantine family),
even though we have over seventy manuscripts from this period. From A.D. 400
to 700, Byzantine manuscripts are still in the minority.
Isn't it possible that the Textus Receptus is still the original text, but
that old manuscripts of it were destroyed as soon as they were copied?
Well, I suppose it is possible, but we have no statements from antiquity
that Christian copyists destroyed old manuscripts after they copied them.
The evidence we do have suggests that the Byzantine family is not the oldest
type of NT text.
What sort of evidence is there that the Byzantine family is not the oldest
We have three basic sources of information about the text of the NT:
(1) Greek NT manuscripts. (2) quotations of the NT by early Christian writers,
and (3) ancient translations of the NT into other languages. I have already
mentioned the Greek NT manuscript situation above.
What about quotations by early Christian writers?
Many Christians quote from the NT in the letters, sermons and commentaries
presented from the early centuries of our era. Although we see about 100
writers using the so-called Alexandrian, Western and Caesarean text families
in quotations from before A.D. 400, the first person known to have used the
Byzantine type of text is John Chrysostom, who died in A.D. 407.
What about early translations?
We have translations of the NT made into Latin, Syriac and Coptic (Egyptian)
by A.D. 300. None of these use a Byzantine sort of text but rather the
Alexandrian or Western text. The earliest Byzantine type translation is the
Syriac Peshitta. but there is no evidence for its existence before the 5th
But if the Byzantine family and the Textus Receptus are not the original text
of Scripture, doesn't this mean that the Church has been without the true text
for nearly 1400 years?
Again, yes and no. If you mean that there has been uncertainty on the exact
wording of Scripture, this has been so ever since the autographs were lost,
probably in the second century. This is why we speak of the inerrancy of
Scripture in the autographs. But even those who believe the Textus Receptus
is correct must choose among the many printed editions of the Greek NT or
among the thousands of late Greek manuscripts, so they cannot be sure of the
exact wording either. But if you mean uncertainty regarding doctrine, none of
the teachings of Scripture rest on only one passage (unless you are a snake-
handler!). In fact, none of the various families of text: Alexandrian,
Western, Caesarean or Byzantine, give us a Bible which teaches different
doctrines from the others.
(The preceding material compiled by Dr. Robert C. Newman)
Copyright 1994 by the Research & Education Foundation
Composition & Typesetting by Jim L. Toungate Jr.
Research & Education Foundation Publications
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