Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Pierpont: Dean Burgon and the Received Text


Pierpont sent the first page of this short essay to Maurice Robinson on June 8th, 1990. The first page appears to have been written originally on April 14th, 1990. Later, on July 13th, Pierpont sent Robinson the second page. He writes: "The part page goes with and follows what I sent previously on "Dean Burgon and the TR". It is part of a further section, but Wilbur [Pickering] rightly suggested it be added here." I have added in links to the transcription to make checking the quotes easier.


[By William G. Pierpont, 14 April–13 July 1990]

Dean Burgon has all too often been (deliberately?) misinterpreted by both friend and foe. This is still true today a century later. For example, "The Dean Burgon Society" consistently denies that Burgon would allow changes to the Textus Receptus until all MSS, Versions and Patristic evidence is in hand. Let us allow Burgon to speak for himself. (TT = "The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels", CC = "The Causes of Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels", RR = "The Revision Revised")

First of all we must observe that he carefully distinguished between the Traditional Text and the Textus Receptus. He defended the former, not the latter, although he said that they do not greatly differ.

"Once for all, we request it may be clearly understood that we do not, by any means, claim perfection for the Received Text. We entertain no extravagant notions on this subject. Again and again we shall have occasion to point out (e.g. at page 107) that the Textus Receptus needs correction." RR-21 note 2.

"Yielding to no one in my desire to see the Greek of the New Testament judi­ciously revised...” (whereupon he goes on to say that it would be far better to let the TR stand than to go to the kind of text advocated and published by Westcott and Hort in 1881 -- though without naming them). CC-10,11.

His co-worker and editor reaffirms this: (Edward Miller)
"First, be it understood, that we do not advocate perfection in the Textus Receptus. We allow that here and there it requires revision. In the Text left behind by Dean Burgon, about 150 corrections have been suggested by him in St. Matthew’s Gospel alone. What we maintain is the TRADITIONAL TEXT." "I have kept before me a copy of Dr. Scrivener’s Cambridge Greek Testament, A.D. 1887, in which the disputed passages are printed in black type, although the Text there presented is the Textus Receptus from which the Traditional Text as revised by Dean Burgon and hereafter to be published differs in many passages." TT-5 and TT-95. (Only Burgon’s notes for changes recommended for Mt. Chapters 1-14 were published: in "A Textual Commentary upon the Holy Gospels, Part I. St. Matthew; Division I: i.-xiv." Edward Miller. 1899.)

"The Traditional Text must be found, not in a mere transcript, but in a laborious revision of the Received Text... which has been generally received during the last two and a half centuries." CC-1

There are many places in these volumes of Burgon which spell out the needed changes in certain passages, as well as further remarks similar to the above.

What is the problem? -- It is the radically revised-- almost rewritten "new" text which "the revisers" have thrust upon the world of Christianity in 1881. So unacceptable is it in every respect that to show it up for what it is takes preference over the much lesser task of revising the commonly Received Text.

As for the Received Text by comparison, "We do but insist, (1) That it is an incomparably better text than that which either Lachmann, or Tischendorf, or Tregelles has produced; infinitely preferable to the 'New Greek Text' of the Revisionists. And (2) That to be improved, the Textus Receptus will have to be revised on entirely different 'principles' from those which are just now in fashion. Men must begin by unlearning the German prejudices of the last fifty years; and address themselves, instead, to the stern logic of facts." RR-21 note 2. "...for, in not a few particulars, the 'Textus Receptus' does call for Revision certainly..." RR-107.

Specifically Dean Burgon called for correction, a revision of the Received Text, and he himself had done so for the Gospels, though most of it has been lost. He does not want to be misunderstood by friend or opponent: the Received Text must be revised. That is precisely what the Majority Text attempts to do.

[p. 2]

The question some have asked is whether the materials at hand to Burgon were adequate to make this necessary revision of the Received Text. Burgon answers this in 1864: "...the accumulated evidence of the last two centuries has enabled us to correct it with confidence in hundreds of places..." and "it is not to be supposed, (I humbly think, ) that we shall ever know much more about the sacred text than we know at present. But it is unquestionably to be believed that as the years roll on, and calm, judicious, conscientious criticism, (represented by such men as Mr. Scrivener,) extends its investigati[on] over the mighty field which lies before it, we shall attain to a greater and ye[t] greater amount of certainty as to the true readings of Scripture; approach nearer and yet nearer to the inspired autographs of the Evangelists and Apostle[s] of CHRIST." ("A Treatise on the Pastoral Office" pp. 69, 72, italics his.)

From what Burgon has said and done it is clear that he intended that correction. should be made now (in his lifetime) to the Received Text, based upon the plen[ty] of solid evidence, and further, that as more and more evidence is gathered and studiously and honestly examined some further changes must be made. It is ob­vious that he envisioned what every true textual critic aims for: a current edi[tion] of the Traditional Textform which is as accurate as the evidence in hand permi[ts]. Burgon had himself provided that first stage of correction in the notes he had developed himself and firmly intended should be published at that time.

He envisioned a progressively improved published text which conformed to the consensus of the multitude of MSS, and had provided the first step in that direction. But unfortunately it was never published in its entirity [sic], and the portion which was published (as noted above) seems almost unknown today.


  1. Alexander Thomson8/23/2022 3:20 pm


    Very many thanks for your words! It’s a disgrace that certain so-called “fundamentalist” groups and individuals continue to claim Burgon as a TR/KJV-Onlyist or similar. I have tried on numerous occasions to engage them on the point, but scarcely with success : perhaps your words mightbreavh and persuade them!

    Alas, however, they are not the only wrongdoers here, we have modern critics on their side : 1. the Alands in the 1987 2nd edition of their book at page 19 - “..the campions of the Textus Receptus (led primarily by Dean John Burgon)..”; 2. to Metzger in the 1992 3rd edition of his book at page 136 - “Consequently, it was inconceivable to Burgon that the Textus Receptus, which had been used by the Church for centuries, could be in need of the drastic revision which Westcott and Hort had administered to it; 3. Metzger and Ehrman in the 2005 4th edition of Metzger’s book at page 181 - “It was perhaps not surprising that Westcott and Hort’s total rejection of the claims of the Textus Receptus to be the original text of the New Testament should have been viewed with alarm by many in the church. During the closing decades of the nineteenth century, the traditional text found a doughty defender in the person of John W Burgon….. . ……………Consequently,
    [paragraph continues as per 2. above]”.

    1. Alexander Thomson8/23/2022 3:23 pm

      corrections! “might reach and persuade” “champions”

  2. Alexander Thomson8/23/2022 3:35 pm

    Even in popular and beginners’ primers, the error re Burgon persists. For example, take Greenlee’s “Introduction to the New Testament”, Revised Edition 1995, reprinted 2012, at pages 75/76 - “The work of WH brought about the dethronement of the TR and the establishment of the principle of a critical text. This period likewise saw a substantial scholarly defense of the Textus Receptus. This defense rested largely in the hands of F H A Scrivener and especially J W Burgon and Edward Miller. The latter two men exerted their joint influence in exceedingly strenuous opposition to WH. Well, I am glad to note that Greenlee thought that the three men put up “a substantial scholarly” defense!

    1. Alexander Thomson8/23/2022 3:46 pm

      In fact, it was Scrivener who delivered the most scholarly and damning judgment on the WH text : see my comments after Peter Gurry’s blog, October 24 2016, on “The Greek Text of the English Bible between 1611 and 1881”.

    2. Alexander Thomson8/23/2022 4:37 pm

      During the nineteenth century, it was accepted that both Greek and English texts had to be improved; but it was stressed, even/especially by those who advocated improvement, that nothing should be done precipitously to remove or lower confidence in (what they called) “our common version, ie the AV/KJV. They advocated slow and cautious improvement through an enlarged and/or second margin. Alas! in 1870 the southern Convocation of Canterbury - the northern Convocation of York strongly having nothing to do with the matter - decided to revise the AV/KJV; and so the National Church, the Church of England, began the process of the disintegration of “our common Bible”, and beginning also the wrangling about the Greek text.

  3. "...based upon the *plenty* of solid evidence..." (2nd to last paragraph.)

    1. A bit of dittography: "(1) That it is an (1) That it is an"

    2. Thanks! I just fixed both of these.

  4. In another version of this very same paper, W. G. Pierpont adds this concluding paragraph:

    "It is hard to understand how those who profess to follow in Burgon’s train can repeatedly and insistently misrepresent his position. We submit that The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text is precisely the sort of thing that Burgon had in mind (though he would probably differ on some of the editorial choices.) We have more MS evidence in hand today than did Burgon, and as more and more of the minuscules are collated, “we shall attain to a greater and yet greater amount of certainty as to the true readings of Scripture.”

    I thought that it may interest some.

    1. Alexander Thomson8/24/2022 12:26 pm

      Thank you for this excellent reminder!
      The whole of the paper is worth reading:-
      deanbibleministries.org/dbmfiles/notes/2012-Chafer-NTTextualCriticism-2-DeanBurgonAnd The ReceivedTest-Pierpont.pdf

    2. Alexander Thomson8/24/2022 12:31 pm


  5. Maurice A. Robinson8/24/2022 3:01 pm

    Interesting.... I was unaware of a later draft of that short paper, although not a great surprise, given his tendency to update and revise material.

  6. Charles Doyle8/25/2022 3:33 pm

    Thanks for posting this Dr. Hixson. I watched the Textual Confidence Collective series and have been reading and studying on Preservation and textual criticism for a good while now. So much to learn and absorb, but I want to find the answers that will bring me back to heartfelt "confidence" in God's Word.