The Revised Version:
The Debate Over the Text of Scripture
by Rev. Brian Felce
In 1881 there appeared a significant challenge to the Authorised Version as the most faithful translation of the Word of God in English. The millions who avidly read the Revised Version New Testament published were intrigued by contrasts between its turns of phrase and the familiar ones of its noble predecessor: but how many knew what had gone on "behind the scenes" – the radical changes to the underlying Greek text?
We are most grateful to Mr. Felce, retired minister of All Saints Church, Preston, and now associated with the Church of England (Continuing), for permission to reproduce this informative lecture first delivered at the Protestant Reformation Society Conference in 1993.
UNTIL 1880 the Authorised Version was used by almost everyone in the English-speaking churches. Since 1881 there has been doubt about 10% of the New Testament in over 5000 different places, and in effect there have been in existence two different New Testaments.
Which of the two different New Testaments is the Word of God? Upon which of the two different New Testaments are we to rest our souls for salvation from sin, for living our Christian lives and for eternity? The questions show that this is no mere academic study, but one of crucial importance to us all.
In 1870 the Upper House of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury of the Church of England appointed a Revision Committee of 54 members to revise the English Bible, the Authorised Version. One of the revisers was Dr. F.J.A. Hort, and the text adopted by the revisers for the New Testament was largely the Westcott and Hort text, The New Testament in the Original Greek.1 The Masoretic text was still the basis for the Revised Old Testament, as it was for the Authorised Version.
The English New Testament was published on May 17th, 1881, and within a few days 2 million copies were sold in London. The Old Testament was published in 1885, but the market for the whole Bible in the Revised Version was very much less.
The English style of the Revised Version has been described by F.C. Grant as "in many places unbelievably wooden, opaque, or harsh."2 For this reason, the Revised Version did not have the success that had been hoped for, and has never been widely used.
The Revised Version departs from the traditional Greek text of the New Testament and from the Authorised Version over 5000 times, that is in about three out of every ten verses. This means in effect that we are talking about a different Bible.
Since 1881 practically all3 new translations of the Bible have differed radically from the Authorised Version, following the text of the Revised Version more or less closely. The New King James Version might be thought to be an exception, because it uses the same Greek text as the Authorised Version, but doubt is cast on the true text by the use of footnotes to record most of the false readings.
The Early History of the Text of the New Testament
From the beginning the manuscripts containing the New Testament were given the same authority as the Old Testament. 1 Timothy 5:18 says: "The scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward." Here Luke 10:7 is put on the same level as Deuteronomy 25:4, the New Testament on the same level as the Old Testament. As W.N. Pickering says, "Luke was recognised and declared by apostolic authority to be scripture as soon as it came off the press, so to speak."4 Again, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, the apostle Peter says that the epistles of the apostle Paul are "scriptures."
The early Fathers continued to place the New Testament alongside the Old Testament as equally scripture. This is true of Clement, Bishop of Rome, as early as about 96 A.D. Irenaeus, who died in 202 A.D., writes at the end of one of his own books, On the Ogdoad: "I adjure you who shall copy out this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by His glorious advent when He comes to judge the living and the dead, that you compare what you transcribe, and correct it carefully against this manuscript from which you copy; and also that you transcribe this adjuration and insert it in the copy." If this is the attitude of Irenaeus about the accurate copying of one of his own writings, how much more concerned must he have been about the accurate copying of the Word of God? In fact, Irenaeus warns those who change a single letter of scripture that "there shall be no light punishment upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the scripture."5
By the year 200 A.D. there must have been hundreds of copies of the New Testament in weekly use in Christian meetings. There must also have been very many copies in the possession of those who could afford to buy them.
There would be accidental mistakes made by orthodox copyists of the New Testament. But the manuscripts of the books of the New Testament would be very nearly exact copies of what the Apostles themselves wrote. In fact, there would have been a majority text from the beginning, that is, reliable copies of the Autographa, as the original manuscripts are called.
However, heretical copyists would also make deliberate changes in their copies of the New Testament books. It is thought that most of these changes were already in existence by the year 200 A.D. But these changes were no more "than eddies along the edge of the 'majority' river,"6 because the Majority Text is found in 80% to 90% of the surviving manuscripts.
The Text of the Bible
The translator of the Bible must give supreme authority to manuscripts of the Bible written in the languages in which the Bible was originally written. For the Old Testament this is Hebrew and Aramaic, the Masoretic Text. For the New Testament this is Greek. An accurate translation will not depend too much on the Septuagint (Greek) in the Old Testament, and on the Vulgate (Latin) in the New Testament, because the Septuagint and the Vulgate are themselves ancient translations of the original languages of the Bible.
In the New Testament there is a greater problem. Since the publication of the Revised Version in 1881 the ancient text found in the majority of the Greek manuscripts has been abandoned. For example, this was the first time that doubts were expressed in a translation about the authenticity of half a chapter of the Bible, Mark 16:9-20.
Put simply, the question is, Had the church lost the true text of the New Testament by the third or fourth century A.D., or has it been preserved right through the centuries until today? Westcott and Hort answer the first question in the affirmative, and we answer the second question in the affirmative. The true text was not brought back in 1881, but has been in existence in the church all down the centuries.
Two Methods of New Testament Textual Criticism
Everything depends on the faith and attitude of the person who comes to read the Bible. If the Bible is merely a human book, the reader treats it like any other book. This is what has happened since 1881 with regard to the text of the Bible. The text has been altered to fit human theories of its origin.
But the Christian who believes in the doctrines of the divine inspiration of the Bible and of the providential preservation of the Bible has a different attitude to the text of the Bible.
The Natural Man's Approach to the Text of the Bible
From 1600 onwards some Bible scholars ceased making a distinction between the text of the Bible and the text of a purely human book. One of the most famous of these men was Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), a Dutch theologian. Grotius made a number of alterations in the text of the New Testament. These were his idea of what was in the original Greek manuscripts, but different from the text used in the churches. So we began to have two different Bibles, one favoured by the church and the main body of Christians, and one favoured by Grotius and his followers.
In 1658 Stephen Courcelles, a professor at the Arminian college in Amsterdam, published an edition of the New Testament with some of the textual conjectures or guesses of Grotius as well as some of his own textual conjectures, and also variant readings from New Testament manuscripts.
This process continued with further ideas on correcting the text of the New Testament from many others. For example, Joseph Semler (1725-1791), a professor in Germany, was the first to suggest that the manuscripts of the New Testament had been edited as well as copied by the ancient scribes. J.J. Griesbach (1745-1812), another professor in Germany, wrote in 1771 that "the New Testament abounds in more glosses, and additions, and interpolations purposely introduced than any other book."7 He also produced editions of the New Testament different from the orthodox New Testament, on the principle that whenever the New Testament manuscripts differed from one another, it was the orthodox words which were spurious.
The Oldest Complete (or nearly complete) Manuscripts of the New Testament
In the 1860's two new manuscripts of the Greek New Testament were made widely available to scholars. These were the famous B or Vatican manuscript and Aleph or Sinaiticus, which are the oldest complete (or nearly complete) manuscripts of the New Testament. They are written on vellum, that is, leather, in uncials, that is, capital letters.
B was written in the middle of the fourth century, and is now in the Vatican library in Rome, where it has been at least since 1475. Aleph was found in 1859 by the German scholar, Tischendorf, on Mount Sinai in a waste basket at the monastery of St. Catherine, and is now in the British Museum. Aleph was written in the second half of the fourth century.
Westcott and Hort
In 1881 B.F. Westcott (1825-1901) and F.J.A. Hort (1828-1892) published their New Testament in the Original Greek, in which they used the different readings of these two manuscripts, B and Aleph, to change the New Testament. Their theory is that the New Testament has survived almost perfectly in these two manuscripts, especially in B. This is their so-called Neutral text. Westcott and Hort wrote, "It is our belief, (1) that the readings of XB (Aleph and B) should be accepted as the true readings until strong internal evidence is found to the contrary, and (2) that no readings of XB (Aleph and B) can safely be rejected absolutely."8 They believed that Aleph and B were approximately the original text of the New Testament as written by the Apostles.
Westcott and Hort treated the New Testament just like any other book, without taking into account its inspiration by God and God's providence in protecting His Word. They wrote, "We dare not introduce considerations which could not reasonably be applied to other ancient texts, supposing them to have documentary attestation of equal amount, variety and antiquity."9
Westcott and Hort believed that orthodox Christian copyists of the New Testament text had altered the manuscripts to agree with orthodox Christian doctrine. As a result of this theory the text found in the majority of the New Testament manuscripts was condemned, while that in B and Aleph was favoured.
It is necessary at this point to talk about technical terms. So far the text underlying the New Testament in the Authorised Version has been referred to as the Traditional Text or the Majority Text. Other names given to this text in different contexts include the Byzantine Text and the Syrian Text, a name used by Westcott and Hort. The Greek text of the New Testament produced at the time of the Reformation and underlying the Authorised Version is called the Textus Receptus or Received Text. All of these many technical terms are in practice roughly synonymous.
The Theory of Westcott and Hort
Westcott and Hort constructed a supposed family tree of the 5000 or so surviving Greek manuscripts, and distinguished four main types of manuscripts, which they called Neutral, Alexandrine, Western and Syrian. Thus there were in their view four main witnesses to the identity of the true text of the New Testament, and the 80%-90% majority of the manuscripts, which support the Traditional Text of the Authorised Version, is reduced to merely one witness, the Syrian text.
The next step was to try to show that the majority of the manuscripts is an inferior witness. The first attempted proof was conflation, or a special kind of mixture, in which readings from two different manuscripts were combined. Eight unconvincing examples were given of the Syrian text supposedly combining the readings of Neutral and Western manuscripts.
The second attempted proof was the supposed lack of Syrian readings before the time of Chrysostom, who died in 407 A.D. Chrysostom, they said, was the first Father to use the Syrian text.
The third attempted proof was based on internal evidence in the Greek manuscripts. They wrongly supposed that scribes would naturally add material to the text rather than omit material, and also that scribes would simplify the text when confronted with a difficulty. On this test the Syrian text appeared to them to be later than the other types.
There were still major questions to be tackled by Westcott and Hort. How did this Syrian majority text come into being? How did it come to supercede the other types of text from the fifth century A.D. onwards and until 1880? Their answer was that ecclesiastical authorities organised a revision of the text and then imposed it upon the churches, although there is no historical evidence whatsoever of such a revision.
Examples of Changes in the New Testament of Westcott and Hort
Only a selection of examples of changes appearing in the Revised Version can be detailed here.
• Matthew 6:13b is omitted: "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." (Also NIV).
• Matthew 18:11 is omitted: "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost." (Also NIV).
• Matthew 24:3: "What shall be the sign of Thy coming." In the footnote we find "presence" instead of "coming." But "presence" is not the same as "coming," which refers to the Second Coming of Christ in glory. In twenty other verses "presence" is suggested in the footnote, and doubt is cast on the doctrine of the Second Coming.
• Mark 16:9-20: twelve verses are seriously questioned. (Also NIV).
• Luke 2:14: "Peace, good will toward men" is changed into "peace among men in whom He is well pleased." Here only one letter of the Greek is in dispute. (Also NIV).
In Luke 22-24 in sixteen places about 200 words are omitted or doubted, including references to the atonement and the ascension. Two examples can be given here.
• Luke 22:43-44: "And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." These two verses are doubted in the footnotes. (Also NIV).
• Luke 23:34a is also doubted in a footnote: "Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Also NIV).
• Part of John 3:13 is doubted in a footnote: the words "which is in heaven" are doubted after "Son of man." (NIV omits).
• John 6:69: instead of "Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God" the RV has "Thou art the Holy One of God." (Also NIV).
• John 7:53-8:11: twelve verses are bracketed as probably spurious. (Also NIV).
• John 9:35 has "Son of man" in a footnote instead of "Son of God." (NIV has "Son of Man" in the text without a footnote).
• Acts 24:15: "of the dead" is omitted after "resurrection." And so it is easier to spiritualise away the resurrection. (Also NIV).
• Romans 14:10: instead of "judgment seat of Christ" the RV has "judgement-seat of God." Here a proof of the deity of Christ is lost, because the next verse, Romans 14:11, is quoted from Isaiah 45:23. If the correct text is "Christ," then Christ is God to whom "every knee shall bow." (Also NIV).
• 1 Corinthians 5:7: instead of "sacrificed for us" the RV has "sacrificed." (Also NIV).
• 1 Corinthians 11:24: "is for you" is put instead of "is broken for you," which is in a footnote. (NIV has no footnote).
• 1 Timothy 3:16: instead of "God was manifest in the flesh" the RV has "He who was manifested in the flesh." The deity of Christ is lost from this passage. (Also NIV, which has the word "God" in a footnote). It is interesting to give the manuscript evidence for this passage, which is typical in such cases. 300 manuscripts have "God," 5 have "who," and 3 have something else. So we have to decide between 97% and 2%, "God" or "who." It is very hard to accept that "who" is the original word in the text.
• 2 Timothy 3:16: instead of "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable" the RV has "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable." A footnote has "Every scripture is inspired of God, and profitable." The Revised Version here follows the Douay Version of the Roman Catholics. It implies that parts of the Scriptures may not have been inspired. We cannot judge what is, and what is not inspired. Therefore tradition has to give us the answer.
In fact, many of the new readings of the Revised Version and other versions since 1881 are the same as those in Roman Catholic Bibles. In Reformation and early post-Reformation times these readings were opposed by Protestants as corruptions of God's pure Word.
It is to be noted that almost all these examples are to be found in the New International Version either in the text or in the footnotes, thus casting doubt on the true text of the Word of God in a very large number of places. In some examples the NIV is even worse than the RV.
B.B. Warfield and the Text of the New Testament
B.B. Warfield (1851-1921) was a great defender of orthodoxy, but he must be severely criticised for his treatment of the text of the New Testament. He agreed with Westcott and Hort in ignoring the providence of God in preserving the text of the Bible. He was able to say that the same methods were to be used with regard to the text of the New Testament as are used with regard to the text of a morning newspaper. He wrote a book with the title, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, in which he followed exactly the theory of Westcott and Hort concerning the identity of the text of the New Testament.
Many Evangelicals have trusted Warfield and his views on the text of the New Testament to their loss and to the great detriment of the true text of the Bible.
Dean Burgon and the Traditional Text
This famous scholar, Dean J.W. Burgon (1813-1888), spent most of his adult life at Oxford, but was Dean of Chichester during his last twelve years. Although he was a high church Anglican, he was opposed to ritualism and steadfast in defence of an infallible Bible and the Traditional Text of the New Testament. Although he has been ridiculed, his arguments have never been refuted.
Burgon wrote a number of books. The Revision Revised was published in 1883.10 Burgon argues forcefully for the Traditional Text. The text suffered from three sources in the first century after the writing of the New Testament. There were heretics who attacked the truth, orthodox defenders, and above all correctors of the text of the New Testament. But copies of the New Testament were multiplied in every part of the Mediterranean world for church use, and this proved a safeguard against the worst forms of corruption. God in His providence has preserved the true text of the New Testament working through true believers.
Burgon's View of Westcott and Hort's Text
It will be good to give Dean Burgon's own words in full, so that the flavour of his writings and his certainty on this subject of the text of the New Testament can be properly appreciated.
Westcott and Hort, Burgon says, "had succeeded in producing a Text vastly more remote from the inspired autographs of the Evangelists and Apostles of our Lord, than any which has appeared since the invention of printing."11
Westcott and Hort base their text on B and Aleph, so that nine tenths of the most striking changes they make in their New Testament may be attributed to the witness of these two manuscripts. Burgon says that:
"The impurity of the Texts exhibited by Codices B and X (Aleph) is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. These are two of the least trustworthy documents in existence. So far from allowing Dr. Hort's position that - 'A text formed' by 'taking Codex B as the sole authority,' 'would be incomparably nearer the Truth than a Text similarly taken from any other Greek or other single document' (p.251), - we venture to assert that it would be, on the contrary, by far the foulest Text that had ever seen the light."12
"We assert that, so manifest are the disfigurements jointly and exclusively exhibited by codices B and X (Aleph) that instead of accepting these codices as two 'independent' Witnesses to the inspired Original, we are constrained to regard them as little more than a single reproduction of one and the same scandalously corrupt and (comparatively) late Copy. By consequence, we consider their joint and exclusive attestation of any particular reading, 'an unique criterion' of its worthlessness; a sufficient reason – not for adopting, but – for unceremoniously rejecting it."13
Burgon has no trust in the accuracy of the oldest manuscripts. He says:
"We venture to assure him (the reader), without a particle of hesitation, that XBD (Aleph B D) are three of the most scandalously corrupt copies extant: – exhibit the most shamefully mutilated texts which are anywhere to be met with: – have become, by whatever process (for their history is wholly unknown), the depositories of the largest amount of fabricated readings, ancient blunders, and intentional perversions of Truth, – which are discoverable in any known copies of the Word of God."14
Are the Oldest, Earliest Manuscripts the Best?
Burgon says that "the more ancient of two witnesses may reasonably be presumed to be the better informed witness."15 The earliest manuscripts all come from Egypt. But the quality of these manuscripts is very poor.
For example, P66 is the earliest extensive manuscript, written on papyrus. The copyist does not seem to have given his full attention to his task of copying. There are nearly 200 readings which make nonsense and 400 misspellings. There are roughly two mistakes per verse.
Our second example, P75, is nearly as old. It is not as bad as P66, but has 145 misspellings and 257 readings which are peculiar to itself, and 25% of these produce nonsense. Pickering suggests: "If you were asked to write the Gospel of John by hand, would you make over 400 mistakes? Try it and see!"16
B and Aleph disagree over 3000 times in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This means that one or the other must be wrong 3000 times. They have 3000 mistakes between them. B and Aleph disagree on average in nearly every verse of the four Gospels.
A very large number of the readings in B and Aleph, which differ from the majority of the manuscripts, Fathers and versions, result from the sheer carelessness of the copyists. So many errors made in copying were not corrected. Many of these errors were the omissions, which are so characteristic of the Revised Version and practically all modern versions since the Revised Version.
From this it follows that it is not the age of the manuscript which is crucial, but its quality as a correct copy of the text of the New Testament. In fact, a comparatively late manuscript may have been copied from a manuscript written before any surviving manuscript.
The evidence indicates that the oldest, earliest surviving manuscripts are the worst. The kind of text which is found in the earliest manuscripts was not generally copied because they were not held in high esteem. Perhaps the waste basket was the best place for them!
Why is the Traditional Text found in the Vast Majority of Manuscripts?
Westcott and Hort believed that the Traditional Text was an official text which had the backing of the church, and so the other texts fell into disuse. The Traditional Text, they said, was the result of a careful revision of the New Testament text between 250 and 350 A.D. at Antioch. They held that this text was taken to Constantinople and became the dominant text of the imperial city, so becoming the dominant text of the whole Greek-speaking church.
There is, however, no evidence that official editors created the Traditional Text. It would be strange if church history had no record of such a revision when it gives us the names of revisers of the Septuagint and the Vulgate. There is also no evidence that church authorities imposed this new text on the church. In fact, Chrysostom of Antioch (345-407) did not always use the Traditional Text, nor did the Lectionaries which contain the Scripture lessons used in church services.
Did Editors create the Traditional Text?
Westcott and Hort believed that in the fourth century editors selected readings from the different texts they found so as to form a new text, the Traditional Text.
But there are many lines of argument to demonstrate the antiquity of the Traditional Text. Firstly, W, the Freer manuscript of the Gospels, was published in 1912. Matthew's Gospel and the last two-thirds of Luke's Gospel are in the Traditional Text, although the rest of the four Gospels is an Alexandrine text or a Western text or a Caesarean text. W is a fourth or fifth century manuscript written in Egypt. If the Traditional Text had been invented in the fourth century at Antioch, as supposed, how could it have been included in part of W in Egypt so soon after?
Secondly, A (Alexandrinus) was written in the fifth century probably in Egypt. This manuscript contains the four Gospels mostly in the Traditional Text, and is another witness to the antiquity of the Traditional Text.
Thirdly, there are Traditional Text readings in the Papyri (manuscripts written on papyrus) which date from the third century, long before the Traditional Text was said to have been invented.
There are other arguments which could be used from other manuscript evidence, especially from the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript (early third century) and the Gothic Version (middle of the fourth century).
Discoveries since the time of Westcott and Hort have made less credible their hypothesis that editors created the Traditional Text. Even today it would be a most difficult task to combine into one several different older texts.
Why do the Majority of the Manuscripts agree so closely together?
The vast majority of the surviving manuscripts support the Traditional Text. They agree together very closely, but not so closely as to suggest that this agreement was produced by the work of editors or the pronouncements of church leaders or by any mass production of manuscripts by scribes.
The majority of the manuscripts agree together so closely because they are good copies of copies of the original New Testament books. They are independent witnesses to the true text of the New Testament.
The Traditional Text and the Textus Receptus
There are a few significant places where the Textus Receptus or Received Text differs from the Traditional Text. Dean Burgon argued only for the Traditional Text. We argue for the Textus Receptus, because it is here especially that the providential preservation of the New Testament by God is seen. Those few places in the Traditional Text which are incorrect are corrected in the Textus Receptus.
God's Providence in Preserving the Bible
God has not only infallibly inspired the Bible, but He has also preserved the Bible by His providence down through the years. Psalm 119 says: "For ever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven (v.89). Concerning Thy testimonies, I have known of old that Thou hast founded them for ever (v.152). Thy Word is true from the beginning: and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth for ever" (v.160).
God did not preserve the Bible in caves or in holes in the ground or on forgotten library shelves, as the theory of Westcott and Hort suggests, but God preserved the Bible through its public use in the church. This providence did not cease with the invention of printing, and therefore the Textus Receptus is the correct New Testament, not Westcott and Hort's text.
Thus the Authorised Version, which is faithful to the Textus Receptus, is the correct Bible, and not the modern versions, beginning with the Revised Version, which reject the Textus Receptus.
The Doctrine of the Providential Preservation of the Bible
Down the centuries God has controlled through His providence the copying of the Bible. Therefore every generation of God's people has had trustworthy copies of the original text of the Bible. This doctrine must be true. God gave the Bible to the church by inspiration as the perfect and final revelation of His will. God would not be God if He allowed this revelation to be altered in a fundamental way. The Westcott and Hort text of the New Testament is a fundamental alteration of the Bible. It is a different Bible.
Therefore the text of the Bible found in the majority of the Biblical manuscripts is the true text of the Bible. The true text of the Bible must have been in use by the church down the ages and not only preserved in caves or in holes in the ground or on forgotten library shelves.
God's providential preservation of the Bible did not cease with the invention of printing, because His preservation has been active in every age of the church. Therefore the first printed texts of the Bible were published under the guidance of God's providential preservation.
And so we believe that the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the New Testament Textus Receptus are the true text of the Bible. The Authorised Version which translates these texts faithfully is the best translation of the Bible in English.
If we deny or ignore the doctrine of the providential preservation of the Bible, we cannot be sure of the text of the Bible: we cannot know which of the different available translations is the true text of the Bible.
The Old Testament text was preserved by the Old Testament priesthood together with the scribes who worked with the priests. After the Babylonian exile the scribes continued to study the Hebrew language and the Old Testament at Jerusalem. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Jewish rabbis organised schools for Hebrew studies in many cities in different countries. Thus the text of the Old Testament was providentially preserved as Jewish scribes faithfully copied the traditional Old Testament text until printing took over and the Reformation came. This is known as the Masoretic Text.
The New Testament text was preserved within the church over the centuries. The Reformers accepted this currently received New Testament text. As editor of the first printed Greek New Testament text, Erasmus was guided by the faith of the church, by true believers. Luther, Melancthon, Stephanus, Calvin, Beza and other scholars of the time of the Reformation were likewise guided by God's special providence as they worked on the text of the New Testament.
By the end of the sixteenth century the text of Erasmus and the Reformers was accepted everywhere by true believers as the true text of the New Testament.
The Preservation of the New Testament Text
Faithful scribes made many copies of the original New Testament manuscripts. Then these copies were themselves copied by true believers down the centuries, but untrustworthy copies were not so often read or so often copied. Untrustworthy copies were popular in some parts of the church for a time, but in the end they fell into disuse.
As a result of this process of God's providential preservation the true text of the New Testament is found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. This is the text which the Greek church preserved through its God-guided usage. It has been called the Byzantine text and was in use in the Greek church during the larger part of the Byzantine period, 452-1453. But its best name is the Traditional Text.
In 1516 the New Testament in Greek was printed, and this edition spread throughout Western Europe during the Reformation. Further editions were done by Stephanus in 1550 and Elzevir in 1633. All of these editions were faithful to the Traditional Text, and are commonly called the Textus Receptus or Received Text. The Received Text was used by the Reformers and by all Protestants for the following three hundred years.
Through the influence of the Latin-speaking church the Received Text follows the Latin Vulgate, the Latin translation, in a few places, where the Latin Church rather than the Greek Church had preserved the true text.
The Received Text is the basis of the Authorised Version and of the classic Protestant translations in other languages.
To put it simply, I cannot believe that the Westcott and Hort text is the right Bible because I cannot believe that God would have hidden the right Bible from His people from about 500 A.D. until 1881. The Traditional Text has been in use in every century of the church's life and is the right Bible, the true Word of God.
The Authorised Version
What is to be our attitude to the Authorised Version? We accept the Authorised Version as the version given to us in the providence of God. It is not perfect, but it is trustworthy. No-one who relies on it will be led astray.
On the other hand, modern versions of the Bible are not trustworthy and they do lead Christians astray.
The publication of the Revised Version of the Bible in 1881/1885 was a further step during the nineteenth century in the decline from orthodoxy within the church in this country.
In brief, the Revised Version is a different Bible from the Authorised Version. Here we have not only a different translation. but much more serious a different text, especially in the New Testament. In over 5000 places in the New Testament the Revised Version disagrees with the correct text of the Authorised Version.
Progress in the last hundred years or so has in fact been progress backwards, especially as far as the text of the New Testament is concerned. Our modern translations beginning with the Revised Version are several times farther removed from the God-breathed original than are the Authorised Version and the Textus Receptus.
What then is the orthodox position on Bible versions? The orthodox position on Bible versions is to use the Authorised Version both in the pulpit and in the pew, and at home. To use any other version than the Authorised Version is to decline from orthodoxy and to endanger the soul.
The Lord Jesus Christ says: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). Our Saviour promised that His words will be preserved. His words have been preserved in the majority of the manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, in the Greek Textus Receptus or the Received Text, and in the Authorised Version.
"The Bible is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the Throne! Every Book of it – every Chapter of it, – every Verse of it, – every Word of it, – every Syllable of it, – every Letter of it, – is the direct utterance of the Most High! 'Well spake the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of' the many blessed men who wrote it – The Bible is none other than the Word of God; not some part of it, more, some part of it, less; but all alike, the utterance of Him Who sitteth upon the Throne; – ABSOLUTE – FAULTLESS – UNERRING – SUPREME!"
– Dean Burgon
(1). Macmillan, 1881.
(2). Grant, F.C., The New American Revision of the Bible. ZNW, Band 45, 1954, Heft 3-4, pp.219-220.
(3). Except Young's Literal Translation of the Bible by Robert Young. Young, 1898.
(4). Pickering, W.N., The Identity of the New Testament Text. Nelson, New York, 1977, p.94.
(6). Pickering, W.N., op. cit., p.109.
(7). Griesbach, J.J., Opuscula Academica. Jena, 1824, vol.1, p.37.
(8). Westcott, B.F. & Hort, F.J.A., The New Testament in the Original Greek. Macmillan, 1881, vol.2, p.225.
(9). Ibid., p.277.
(10). Burgon, J.W., The Revision Revised. Murray, 1883.
(11). Ibid., p.240.
(12). Ibid., pp.315-316.
(13). Ibid., p.317-318.
(14). Ibid., p.16.
(15). Burgon, J.W., The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels Vindicated and Established. Edited by E. Miller. Bell, 1896, p.40.
(16). Pickering, W.N., op. cit., pp.117-118.