Thursday, October 22, 2020

Why the Textus Receptus Cannot Be Accepted (Jan Krans)

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Here follows a guest post from a colleague and reader of the blog, Jan Krans of the Protestantse Theologische Universiteit (PThU) in Amsterdam, author of Beyond What is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament, NTTSD 35 (Brill, 2006).

Why the Textus Receptus cannot be accepted

In the discussion on the Textus Receptus two points of view exist that are diametrically opposed. I will first present the two views, and then demonstrate why only one of these can be sustained. 

In favour of the Textus Receptus

According to the first position the Textus Receptus has to be the one and only reliable text of the Greek New Testament. In other words it has to be the text that shows the correct reading at every single place of variation. Important historical-theological reasons are brought forward for this conclusion.

Historically speaking the Textus Receptus was the Greek New Testament text of the Reformation, during which the Bible itself took centre stage. Theologically speaking the Reformation was God-willed and God-given. Hence God himself used the Textus Receptus for his plans, condoned it, and even guided the minds and hands of its editors. In short the Textus Receptus has to be perfect.

There is even a biblical foundation for this view, for numerous Bible verses show that nothing of God’s word shall be lost: God assures that the Bible is transmitted in a pure and unaltered form. This form is the Textus Receptus.

With this position comes the conviction that the entire textual history since the establishment of the Textus Receptus has to be seen as degradation. Every textual change and every critical voice has to be suspect. For this corollary, again, historical-theological grounds can be given. The time since the Reformation, notably the Enlightenment, is marked by gradual alienation from God and detrimental human autonomy. Driven by the Enlightenment spirit, people began to undermine the Textus Receptus. Therefore all later texts and editions have to be rejected as thinly veiled attacks on God’s word.

It will be clear already at this stage that this first position can only be valid for those who share its most important presupposition, namely the special character of the Reformation, although this presupposition itself does not necessarily lead to the unconditional acceptance of the Textus Receptus.

In favour of textual criticism

The second position regards the establishment of the correct text of the Greek New Testament—the text closest to what the authors wrote and published—as a purely scholarly endeavour. Textual criticism of the New Testament does not fundamentally differ from that of any other text from Antiquity. The basic task is always clear-cut: charting the entire transmission—everything preserved as manuscripts and other sources—and finding out by means of the best text-critical method available what is oldest and most original. Needless to say the transmission of each text may have had special characteristics which scholars will have to take into account.

An immediate consequence of this position is that in principle the text-critical task is never finished. Methods can be refined and fresh manuscript finds can be made. Readers of the New Testament—just as for instance readers of Plato’s works—will have to live with a degree of uncertainty, even more so since there are cases that the available evidence does not allow for firm conclusions. Regrettably Bible translations and even source text editions more often than not hide even this relatively small degree of doubt from their readers.

This position inevitably leads to the conclusions that the Textus Receptus is outdated from a scholarly perspective. In the sixteenth century far fewer manuscripts were known, most of which contain the text in a later form, and text-critical methods were far less advanced.

Why the first position is wrong and the second is correct

The only correct position is the second one, for various reasons. Theologically speaking the first position suffers from a fatal a priori. It concludes from a historical phenomenon (the Reformation) to actions God must have taken. The second position is not hampered by such an a priori, since it is rooted in standard scholarly methods that are by definition neutral with regards to theological convictions. Therefore any mistrust against modern times and methods is refuted as well, since the research that has resulted in the modern critical text was not driven by lack of faith, but by a simple and straightforward question, namely: how can the New Testament texts as they left the hands of their authors be best reconstructed from all the available evidence? The editors of the Textus Receptus did not have the means to execute such a program, and also did not conceive of their task in the same way.

In practice New Testament textual critics today tend to be Christians themselves, but not always. It does not matter, for the quality of their work does not depend on their faith but on their adherence to academic standards.

Biblical texts on the reliability and preservation of God’s word have nothing to do with textual criticism, for the simple reason that the authors did not have copying processes in mind but only the value of the truths they conveyed. Besides, if the full weight of textual preservation were put upon those few verses, the result would amount to the surest proof that the Bible is not inerrant, since there exists not a single historical form of the text that has been available to everyone throughout history.

Historically speaking the Textus Receptus is undoubtedly outdated, as said, resting as it does upon far fewer sources and a far less developed method than known today. Moreover its editors did use the manuscripts available to them in a very irregular way, and did not follow consistently any method they had, whereas the demands of present-day scholarship guarantee that all evidence is taken into account and that methods are made explicit and subjected to scrutiny.

Some more on the Textus Receptus

The term “Textus Receptus” means “commonly accepted text,” and this is indeed how the Elzeviers presented the text of their 1633 edition in its preface. These famous words however expressed marketing rather than scholarship. They meant business. Moreover the term itself began to be widely used only in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the poor scholarly basis of the Textus Receptus had already become abundantly clear. Neither was there a “commonly accepted text” before the nineteenth century, but only a “commonly used text.” Not everyone was convinced of its value. Its place is better described as the default one—at least within Protestantism—without a proper foundation.

There is actually not a single form of the Textus Receptus, since it exists in numerous editions that—just as manuscripts do—differ from each other. This fact is in itself not very important, for it does not touch upon the essential character of the Textus Receptus. However it does show that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editors on occasion did not hesitate to alter the text according to their own views. The absence of a single definitive form of the Textus Receptus also puts its adherents in the unenviable position that they either have to make a choice or admit to the kind of uncertainty they usually fear. Many end up with an artificial form of the Textus Receptus, namely the Greek text as reflected by the King James Version, a Greek text however that never existed before Scrivener tried to reconstruct it in the nineteenth century.

The Textus Receptus does not equal the so-called majority text, that is, the text reconstructed by taking at any place of variation the reading found in most manuscripts. In general it does agree with the latter more often than not, but it also differs at numerous places, due to the manuscripts used by Erasmus and to all the interventions made by him and later editors. We are indeed very well informed on the origin and development of the Textus Receptus. The manuscripts used by Erasmus for his 1516 edition can still be consulted and provide a clear view of the decisions taken in the establishment of the text, and of the mistakes that were made. It turns out that a great many readings are more or less accidental: they would not have been part of the Textus Receptus had Erasmus used other manuscripts. Many other readings originated as haphazard and erroneous editorial interventions. Most of the peculiarities of Erasmus’ text remained unchanged in the Textus Receptus, but their true nature only became known a few centuries later, still to be obfuscated or denied by those who, in very un-Erasmian spirit, prefer the mudded stream over the clear fountain.

Conclusion

Only modern textual criticism approaches the original text of the New Testament as closely as humanly possible. The task entails a small degree of unavoidable uncertainty, but it would be a serious error of judgment to reject it in favour of the certainty promoted but not delivered by Textus Receptus adherents. They should know better. According to any academic standard the Textus Receptus is hopelessly outdated. The real reasons it still finds some few defenders have nothing to do with scholarship, but come down to infelicitous and misguided nostalgia in the best case and to obvious pseudo-scholarship in the worst case. It arbitrarily privileges a specific period, excludes progress, and inevitably argues from results to evidence.

40 comments

  1. Thank you Tommy and Dr. Krans,


    Question: What about when the TR differs from the critical text and the TR is correct (or probably correct), what then? Should one not accept it, or are we to believe that this is an impossiblity?


    I agree with *much* of what is written, but to cast away the TR because a group of individuals are unreasonable and inconsistent in their defense of it seems harsh. This type of cookie cutter presentation of the situation is tending towards a false dichotomy and straw-man evaluation of the TR tradition (and it's defence) as a whole. We should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here...because, (in truth,) there are other options and much nuance that can be added to this discussion. I don't see it as the TR-vs-textual criticism--because the TR is a historic monument of textual criticism, regardless of what some may think.


    Dr. Krans writes:

    "It turns out that a great many readings are more or less accidental: they would not have been part of the Textus Receptus had Erasmus used other manuscripts. Many other readings originated as haphazard and erroneous editorial interventions. Most of the peculiarities of Erasmus’ text remained unchanged in the Textus Receptus, but their true nature only became known a few centuries later,..."


    Then why not just note these and correct them? This, again, doesn't seem like a sufficient reason to totally disregard the TR tradition. In fact, many of the quirks and oddities present within the TR tradition are not wholesale. Meaning, there is often an edition (or more) which contains the correct reading (e.g. I Jo.5:7). Which leads me to believe that the TR should be properly edited within itself (i.e., exclusively from readings found in the TR corpus) before any final conclusions and judgements can safely be made concerning the viability of it's text and continued use. So although I agree that the TR is not to be accepted as *perfect*, it should be acknowledged and given a proper respect. (Perhaps I missed a qualification or something that would alleviate my concerns?)

    Respectfully.

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    1. I prefer a simple thought experiment: take away all editions that have ever been produced, and work exclusively with the manuscripts and other evidence. In other words (Wettstein’s words): there is no authority in printed editions (or in their readings). Or, in yet other words: why “edit” the Textus Receptus? Its good readings are not good because they are found therein, and its bad readings are so numerous that one better starts all over.

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    2. Matthew M. Rose10/24/2020 12:03 am

      That's definitely an interesting thought, and I would like to see a critical edition produced in such a way. But let's be honest, if it was an academic project Codex B (03) would be given precedence and therefore act as a (sort of) base text to some degree anyhow. Yet on the other hand, one could just as easily prefer the method of Bengel, and only print within the Text that which was included in a previous edition. And I would plead that an edition has as much authority as the manuscripts (and evidence) it's based upon, and the readings it contains.

      But, on a case by case basis I believe you are correct (on the micro level). Although, I think it would be dangerous to give just anyone the 'keys to the city' of the Greek NT and allow them free reign over adjudicating between the manuscript tradition and it's plethora of variants on a macro level. (Besides, it would be an absolutely Herculean task without some sort of standard to guide the way.)

      But again, you're correct to state that the TR's: "good readings are not good because they are found therein"--but I personally would consider your following comment to apply more properly to the more modern critical text corpus, namely, "and its bad readings are so numerous that one better starts all over."

      Unfortunately, there's no way to prove if either of our opinions is correct on this point. Either way, I would contend that the flagship edition of the TR (Stephanus 1550) is just as close (if not more trustworthy) to the original autographs than any standard modern critical text. The problem is, one of us is wrong: And the question presents itself, how can this issue be settled?

      Hence, I would advocate for a critical revision of the TR based on strict principles and an enclosed method. Then we would at least have something to test more efficiently and effectively. As far as the TR goes anyway...



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    3. MMR,
      So your basic argument is that the manuscripts that the TR was based on are more accurate than any other group of manuscripts? Yet, you seem to have a peculiar disdain for B/03. Is this based on an actual study of B or just that it was not consulted in the production of the TR and is ‘valued’ by WH and many later textual critics?
      Doesn’t the fact that there are multiple TR’s just establish that the TR is a critical text itself? Just one based on the limited manuscripts available at the time?
      Certainly, you don’t hold to the TR for theological reasons rather text-critical ones, do you?
      Tim

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    4. Tim,

      You ask: "So your basic argument is that the manuscripts that the TR was based on are more accurate than any other group of manuscripts?"


      I wouldn't put it that way. If you want to qualify this a little more I'd be happy to respond futher. The TR would not be my personal choice of base text for revision if that's what you're getting at? Although I think the TR should be properly revised,--not to call it perfect--or even best, but to improve it throughout for the better. Hope that helps?


      Tim writes: "Yet, you seem to have a peculiar disdain for B/03."


      I wouldn't say that either. The mention of Vaticanus being utilized as a default base text was a 'matter of fact' type of observation, and in some ways a presumption in response to the method and praxis promoted by Dr. Krans, namely: "take away all editions that have ever been produced, and work exclusively with the manuscripts and other evidence. "

      To which, I'm assuming, that B(03) will ultimately take precedence. And I think that this assumption would (and does) ring true in general amongst most critical text adherents. (Codex B taking precedence, and therefore being utilized as a sort of plumb bob or base text that is.)


      Tim writes: "Is this based on an actual study of B or just that it was not consulted in the production of the TR and is ‘valued’ by WH and many later textual critics?"

      Well, I never really expressed disdain, although admittedly, I'm not a fan of the codex being given so much weight. Erasmus did have access to a few hundred readings from B (365 if memory serves), but apparently was not swayed by it's influence. My opinion of B is strongly based upon my own personal evaluation of it's text and readings. I believe it to be an overly shortened text due to a mixture of haplography (primarily HT/HA omissions, common line skips, etc.), and some editing (i.e. cropping). With the uncial format being a chief contributer in my estimation.


      Tim asks: "Doesn’t the fact that there are multiple TR’s just establish that the TR is a critical text itself? Just one based on the limited manuscripts available at the time?"

      Yes.


      "Certainly, you don’t hold to the TR for theological reasons rather text-critical ones, do you?"

      I don't hold to the TR per se. I actually believe that there are a plethora of errors within the TR corpus collectively (many of which are of no consequence). It's just, I don't see the various critical texts as better. And either opinion cannot be absolutely proven empirically, therefore the common text of the people must needs be allowed a seat at the table (theoretically and in practice) in the text critical arena (in my view).

      We should not be looking to remove the old landmarks, on the contrary,--we should probably be looking to improve them!

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  2. I think we need to drop the arguments that no single manuscript or TR looked like the KJV. No other English translation accurately reflects the Critical Text as printed. Additionally, no manuscript reads like any published edition of the Critical Text (or Tyndale's Greek New Testament). If the argument works just as well against your position, it's not a good argument. I also think the premise of this argument is fallacious - either you have a theological position or you have a rational position.

    I still have yet to hear an answer to a common objection from the textual criticism camp either. I often hear the argument that the differences are insignificant or they don't change doctrine, they agree 95% or higher, etc. If that's the case, why is there so much bias against the TR?

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  3. Hi CC,

    You write: "I think we need to drop the arguments that no single manuscript or TR looked like the KJV. No other English translation accurately reflects the Critical Text as printed. Additionally, no manuscript reads like any published edition of the Critical Text (or Tyndale's Greek New Testament). If the argument works just as well against your position, it's not a good argument."


    But there's a problem here, because other positions are not dependent upon maintaining absolute certainty. So the line of argumentation stands; and it should check some misconceptions about preservation in it's historical context.


    CC

    "I still have yet to hear an answer to a common objection from the textual criticism camp either. I often hear the argument that the differences are insignificant or they don't change doctrine, they agree 95% or higher, etc. If that's the case, why is there so much bias against the TR?"


    That's a good question. Hort's dislike for the TR is notorious, and seemingly due to a dislike for staunch tradition and/or theological reasons (i.e. preference). I think much of the more negative tones towards the TR nowadays is a combination of Hort's residual effect and the constant reminder of being provoked (one way or another) by some of the more aggressive KJVO and TR-Only types. (If that makes any sense.)

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    1. I just stumbled across this and that other CC is not me. Not really sure why someone decided to use my handle, but I would mostly agree with what that person said.

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    2. The other CC10/27/2020 8:42 pm

      CC

      My apologies - I am not an avid reader of the blog. I simply used my initials.

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    3. The other CC10/27/2020 8:43 pm

      Regarding my first question - I believe both are eclectic texts, but produced using very different methodologies and theology. I would view the TR as a text family encompassing all of the various editions from Erasmus through the Elzevirs. It seems inconsistent for advocates of an eclectic text to use this argument against advocates of another eclectic text, especially when nobody in the CT camp expects their Bibles to read that way. It is my understanding that no translation blindly follows any CT edition - feel free to inform me if I am mistaken.

      You're second point may be correct. My experience is that I never heard of the TR-only or TR-preferred positions until seeing how much the KJV was bashed by CT proponents. "Read any Bible, all the translations are good... just not the KJV - boo, hiss." For what it's worth, I don't hear the same people advocating against the Geneva, NKJV, or MEV (though the last one probably isn't even on their radar).

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  4. To be honest, the reason why this school of thought cannot accept the TR is because it cannot give up its conclusions with respect to the Ecclesiastical texts. The TR is a reconciliation of the Ecclesiastical texts, and even though basically all the CT premises have been falsified which attempted to demonstrate the inferiority of these the Ecclesiastical texts, this school of thought will not under any circumstances reconsider the status of these texts. This stance isn't scientific but postmodern.

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    1. The term ‘ecclesiastical text’ can mean everything and thus does not mean anything. The term ‘reconciliation’ probably means ‘mixture’, which does not mean much. In a way the Textus Receptus was indeed a mixed text, but the mixing was not guided by method or precise information. And simply stating that premises have been falsified does not make it so. Rejecting scholarship one does not like sounds actually rather postmodern.

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  6. Now that Dr. Krans has voiced such an extreme rejection of the Textus Receptus -- which is to say, in Matthew-Jude, the vast majority of disagreements between the TR and NA28, he rejects the majority reading -- are the ETC editors willing to consider sharing a similar essay of similar length that presents a different point of view?

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    1. I’m happy to give an alternate article a hearing, but don’t you have your own blog?

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    2. James, you misunderstand and/or misrepresent my position. The Textus Receptus cannot be accepted as 1. an edition 2. for today. It was more or less understandable that the sixteenth century would produce such a text (though all particulars could have been different), but the Textus Receptus as a whole should be considered a thing of a very interesting past. That conclusionsays nothing about individual readings, or even about the majority of readings in the Textus Receptus, but only that it is not a valid base for text-critical work today. And if one opts for a reading also found in the Textus Receptus, that is not because one “agrees” with the Textus Receptus, but because two separate and completely different processes happen to have the same result.

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    3. Jan Krans-Plaisier,
      In what way do you imagine I may have misrepresented your position? I merely observed that in the course of very thoroughly rejecting the Textus Receptus, you habitually reject the majority reading in Matthew-Jude. Is this inaccurate?

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    4. Peter,
      Yes; doesn't Dr. Krans-Plaisier also?
      http://vuntblog.blogspot.com/

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    5. Yes it is. I do not think majority counts (because it is just a side effect of transmission and manuscript survival), but that is not the problem of the Textus Receptus. It is the sheer lack of method, control, and transparency, and clear overdose of improvisation, coincidence, and just bad luck. And I guess you agree with that.

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    6. James, if you would like to submit something for consideration here, you know how to reach me.

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  7. To put matters another way, if I were stranded on a desert island with only a TR edition available, I could be quite content. The same if my isolation were accompanied by only the WH or similar critical text editions. This, even though I would favor a quite different alternative.

    Of course, if I had both a TR and a critical text edition on that island, I would also need a special coin to flip at points of difference.

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    1. Thanks for this. I agree. I just bought a Trinitarian Bible Society TR Greek New Testament so that I could read during my breaks while at work. I love the size and portability which is why I bought it. I have had great devotional reading in this edition. Just as much as I would with my NA28 or my THGNT. In the same way, I keep ny THGNT on my night stand because it is so pleasant to read (due to format and typesetting) and such a handy edition.

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    2. It seems that there are a couple of different things being conflated here: 1) Does the TR have any value to a Christian? 2) Should the TR be the unquestioned authority for the original text? 3) Does the TR have any value for textual criticism today?

      I think Jan's position is 1) Yes, 2) resounding No, and 3) No. I don't think anyone here would disagree on 1 and 2. 3 is more squishy, but even the Majority text arguments are based on the manuscript evidence and not the TR itself. While Jan isn't a Majority Text adherant, his arguments in this article doesn't foreclose on the Majority Text position.

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    3. Well put, Bob. That is indeed my position, and the relative proximity of Textus Receptus and Majority Text is neither an argument in favour of the former nor an argument against the latter.
      I might add a 4) Is it worthwhile to study historical editions such as (the various forms of) the Textus Receptus? My work shows, I hope, that here a resounding Yes is in order.

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    4. I agree and was attempting to draw out this distinction with my statement above.

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  8. In addition to my UBS 5, NA 28, THGNT, Hodges’ MT, Robinson’ BT, l’ve just added Scriveners’s TR to my quiver of GNT. It’s an open universe

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    1. I use Scrivener’s edition often. It’s very handy.

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    2. Scrivener's editions of (a) the text followed in the AV; or (b) the text of Stephanus 1550? Of (b) I prefer the "Editio quarta ab E. Nestle correcta" of 1906.

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  9. Dr. Krans,

    "In practice New Testament textual critics today tend to be Christians themselves, but not always. It does not matter, for the quality of their work does not depend on their faith but on their adherence to academic standards."


    Are these opinions based upon any Biblical precedent or doctrine?

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    1. Not that I know. But the question itself feels a bit like consulting the Bible for the working of a computer. Perhaps something can be found, though, since people tend to be very creative when it comes to make the Bible confirm their ideas.

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    2. Obviously an excursion down the road of confirmation bias isn't going to help anyone. But using the Biblical text to gain insight regarding the who, what, when, where and why of the various aspects concerning the preservation, custodianship, editing, transmission, etc. of the very same Biblical text, doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

      This isn't the place for such discussions, so I'll let it be with one last question.

      Would you also say that, "it does not matter" if a Bible teacher/preacher is a Christian or not? And in such a case, would an, "adherence to academic standards" also act as a sort of "saving grace"?

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  10. I've long been fascinated by the kinds of small, ostensibly insignificant details that can actually have a much greater psychological effect - often subconsciously.

    One such effect is the ability of scholarly or esoteric terms to reify and elevate ideas or thoughts that are deservedly much more mundane.

    That's why lawyers, for example, always use sure Latin terms for everything. They wouldn't admit, for example, that they are simply conjecturing about the inner thoughts and intentions of a criminal suspect; rather, they'll talk about how they are "establishing mens rea" and suddenly their conjecturing will sound much more like actual concrete work!

    I wonder if something of the same effect doesn't come from the use of the term "textus receptus" ? Despite the fact that the term is almost always followed by an explanation of its meaning, it nevertheless really sounds like an important elevated thing. I mean, imagine, if you can, you're a novice who doesn't know Latin, entering into this discussion for the very first time. The first time you hear a reference to this mysterious thing called "the textus receptus" , doesn't it just sound like something exalted? Something that was handed down by God on a mountain somewhere? What kind of bias does a term like that give birth to?

    Maybe it might be better if we brought the textus receptus back down to earth. We could just call it "scrivener's text" . Not only would that be more historically accurate, it would make it clear to the TR crowd that the choice isn't between the work of God or the work of men, but rather between the older work of one man or the modern work of many men and women today.

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  11. Ryan,

    Interesting. Does the same analysis apply to titles like:

    "The New Testament in the Original Greek"

    Novum Testamentum Graece

    or Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia?

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    1. A prejudicial title can always help nurture bias, but I don't think a plain English phrase like "the new testament in the original Greek" has the same esoteric ring to it.

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  12. Ryan,

    "Maybe it might be better if we brought the textus receptus back down to earth. We could just call it "scrivener's text" . Not only would that be more historically accurate, it would make it clear to the TR crowd that the choice isn't between the work of God or the work of men, but rather between the older work of one man or the modern work of many men and women today."


    The TR is a corpus primarily consisting of the numerous editions of Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza and the Elzivers. Dr. Scrivener had nothing to do with the production of TR in it's historical context. I'm not sure how promoting an ahistorical narrative can help make anything, "clear to the TR crowd", or anyone else for that matter.


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    1. On the contrary - attributing it to scrivener would be a much more historically accurate narrative than saying it was "received by all."

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  13. Dr. Scrivener had nothing to do with the production of TR in it's historical context. Say it real slow a couple of times in a row and I think you'll get it.

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