Friday, December 15, 2006

More on Heide's 5th edition

Here is a summary of Martin Heide's book:

Recently, Martin Heide's book Der einzig wahre Bibeltext? Erasmus von Rotterdam und die Frage nach dem Urtext (The Only True Bible? Erasmus of Rotterdam and the Question for the Original Text) reached its fifth edition. It seems that ever since The Da Vinci Code appeared books dealing with the textual criticism of the New Testament are in popular demand. In contrast to popular claims that the text of the New Testament has been changed during its transmission to us, Heide's detailed investigation of the history of study of the New Testament text points to the overall reliability of the text.

In the first chapter "Erasmus und die Reformation" ("Erasmus and the Reformation"), Heide points to the position Erasmus held at the beginning of the German Reformation. Although Erasmus’ Greek text was used in Luther’s German translation, and some of Erasmus’ writings such as his Handbook for the Christian Soldier were essential for the German Reformation to gain ground, it is clear from his doctrinal convictions and from his relationships to the scientific and religious world, that he cannot be regarded and did not regard himself as a supporter of the Reformation cause. Rather, he remained on the Catholic side until his death in 1536.

The second chapter "Erasmus und die Heilige Schrift" ("Erasmus and Holy Scripture") deals with Erasmus’ view of the inspiration and authority of scripture. Erasmus had a high view of the Holy Scriptures, but allowed nevertheless some space for their authors’ shortcomings (which he illustrated by Old Testament quotations in the New Testament). He hesitated viewing all scripture alike as authoritative. As Luther, he disliked the Apocalypse and suspected that the epistle of James had not been written by James the apostle. Erasmus emphasized that a good deal of the Old Testament is not really helpful and recommended to read the historical books of Livy in place of such unedifying stories as David’s commission of adultery and murder.

The third chapter "Der erste gedruckte Text des griechischen NT" ("The first printed text of the Greek New Testament") takes the reader into the year 1515/16, when Erasmus prepared to print a revised Latin Bible, and finally decided to print the Greek text in addition to the Latin. This chapter, richly adorned by footnotes, gives much useful information on the highlights and flaws of Erasmus' endeavour and on the manuscripts Erasmus had available for printing. The reader is led through time until 1707, when John Mill’s Greek New Testament appeared and the first attempts were made to collate as many manuscripts for the New Testament as possible.
The fourth chapter "Der kritische Text" ("The critical text") presents a bird’s eye view on the history of New Testament textual criticism, from Bengel to Westcott and Hort and Nestle-Aland. The claim of Westcott and Hort to have the "Original Greek" was weakened by the discovery of the early Papyri: they pointed to the fact that some of the Byzantine readings thought by Westcott and Hort to be later inventions were already known before the fourth century. Heide gives some examples of these "living fossils". Finally he summarizes the presuppositions and methods used in New Testament textual criticism today, from "Thoroughgoing Eclecticism" to the "Received Text"-only-movement (the latter is in fact not a method, but an attempt to preserve an old edition of the Greek New Testament which was common in the 16th-19th centuries). Heide favours the method of "Reasoned Eclecticism" held by most textual critics today.

Chapter 5 "Vom textus receptus und vom Mehrheitstext" ("The Received Text and the Majority Text") gives, as an introduction, in 5.I some insights into the text-critical methods of Erasmus. Though Erasmus was bound to a certain measure by his and the Catholic church’s high regard for the Latin Vulgate, he nevertheless knew and promoted principles of textual criticism known still today, such as the preference for the lectio difficilior.

Chapter 5.II (Gospels to the Epistle of John) and 5.III (Apocalypse) present the most important singular readings of the Received Text. Chapter 5.II gives also a very detailed analysis of the so-called Comma Johanneum, and chapter 5.III deals with the large number of flaws found in Erasmus’ text of the Apocalypse. In chapter 5.III Heide demonstrates in detail that the claims made by some (such as Hoskier), that Erasmus had another manuscript of the Apocalypse besides his mutilated Codex Reuchlini in Basel available, are baseless.

In chapter 6 "Vom Mehrheitstext und vom kritischen Text" ("The Majority Text and the Critical Text") Heide tries to present the history of the New Testament text. Chapter 6.I starts by clarifying some common expressions ("Urtext, Kritischer Text, …"). The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are in focus in chapter 6.II, their special character, their scribes, their transmissional errors, their textual affinity to later manuscripts, etc. Chapter 6.III is about the Codex Vaticanus and dwells especially on the newly-found "Umlauts". Chapter 6.IV discusses the "Lucianic recension", dismisses it and opts for a gradually "improved" text of the New Testament (6.V), which grew in phases of different size (the largest step should be expected during the Constantine era) from the early papyri to the later Byzantine text. Heide argues especially from the so-called mixed textforms of the 5th and 6th centuries which are found in the texts of the manuscripts, of the early translations and of the church fathers.

Chapter 6.VI draws additional parallels between the papyri and later Byzantine manuscripts, arguing especially from the Septuagint. 6.VII deals with the question of wilful alterations of the New Testament text. Chapter 6.VIII gives insights into the habits of New Testament scribes, focussing on the nomina sacra. Chapter 6.IX goes into the question of "orthodox corruptions" and discusses some well-known orthodox corruptions (Mt 27:34; Lk 2:27-48; 23:45) and a lesser known one (John 1:42). Chapter 6.X discusses more readings, always majoring on the differences between the early or Alexandrinian text and the Byzantine text. Especially helpful are detailed discussions of well-known readings such as Mt 1:7, 10; Mk 1:2; Joh 1:18; and 1 Tim 3:16. At various points, Heide draws parallels between the methods and insights of Erasmus and those of the later critics.

In chapter 7, Heide discusses the various methods of translations employed today and favours a translation which is "as literal as possible and as free as necessary".

The book is rounded up by several excursuses, especially on Erasmus’ text of the Apocalypse, an extensive bibliography and an index to scriptural quotations.


  1. Gibt es eine englische Übersetzung?

  2. Warum suchen Sie eine englische Uebersetzung, wenn Sie auf Deutsch lesen koennen?

    Zum fuenften neubearbeiteten verbesserten Ausgeaben Dr. Martin Heide gratuliere ich.


  3. There's no English translation yet. However, if anyone qualified wants to volunteer to translate that would be great.

    Martin's book, if I remember rightly, began partly as a response to a movement in Germany that was promoting the TR. Given that there is more promotion of the TR in an English-speaking context, a book that has managed 5 editions in German ought surely to be translated.

    Of course evangelical textual critics must be careful not to engage in bashing of TR advocates, since it is not usually edifying. Sometimes the theological instincts of TR advocates are right, even though their analysis of history and of the textual material is generally wrong.

    Martin's book, however, ranges much more widely than this issue, as is clear from the summary.

  4. Everyone:

    Very interesting site, thank you for it. I'm interested in how the Bible was translated and to acquire knowledge of how the various Manuscripts were translated, which of these Manuscripts have been found by Bible scholars to be most reliable, and anything else I may learn as a result of visiting various sites here on the web, so I'll be very quiet, respectful, while observing, learning, and taking notes from the sidelines.

    Blessed day to all.


  5. Hi,

    Is there any direct discussion of the Received Text proponents within the German Bible community ?

    Is there specific literature or authors to which Heide was responding ?

    Referenced either in his book, or simply by those who are knowledgeable of the German Bible discussion situation.


    Steven Avery
    Queens, NY