Gospel Guidebook: Getting and Keeping It Right  

Which Textus Receptus?

Scriptural Preservation

I believe that God has preserved the New Testament perfectly in the Textus Receptus tradition. Preservation of Scripture has been a long held belief of the church. The Westminster Confession says the following in Chapter 1, Item 8:

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them (I.8a). (Italics added)

Belief in the Bible is paramount, especially in our day and age. We need to believe every single word in the Bible, being confident that it is indeed the Word of God. E.W. Bullinger wrote the following in his book Prophetic Study: Its Importance and Interpretation:

Outside of this blessed Book we know absolutely nothing. The world is dark, and this Book is the only light in it. Speculation, Imagination, Reason and Philosophy, have neither part nor lot here; they have no value whatever in answering the question "What is Truth"... It is our duty to accept what the Scriptures reveal as the truth of God. We have no opinion whatever, no right of debate or appeal as to things revealed. The one and only question is, what do they say? No matter whether the student can understand them, explain them, or harmonize them with his own views or with the views of others.

I agree wholeheartedly with Bullinger. In order to put into practice what he suggests, we need to be able to trust our Bible with complete confidence. When it comes to the New Testament, we can trust that the Textus Receptus contains the very words of God with nothing changed, corrupted, added, or taken away.

What is the Textus Receptus tradition?

The Textus Receptus tradition consists of several editions of the Greek New Testament, including the Erasmus 1522, Stephanus 1550, Beza 1598, Elzevir 1624, Scrivener 1881, as well as corresponding revisions by their respective editors and printers. For example, Beza mostly relied on Stephanus' 1550 to create his initial text in 1565, but between 1565 and 1604, ended up editing it eight times. The King James Version of the English New Testament in 1611 mostly relied up Beza's 1598 edition. Scrivener was commissioned by the English Revised Version committee to recreate the text underlying the King James Version's New Testament. He was highly successful and published his first edition in 1881. When people talk about the Textus Receptus today, they are usually referring to Scrivener's version. However, the term Textus Receptus was actually coined by the Elzevir family printers (uncle and nephew) in the preface of their 1633 edition, an edition that mostly followed Stephanus' 1550 and Beza's 1598. It was this edition that enjoyed popularity as "the Textus Receptus" until the work of Scrivener.

Which Textus Receptus is the preserved Word of God?

I believe it is the Scrivener 1881, but at the same time, Stephanus' 1550 was very influential on the Elzevir editions, which ended up being the most widely available Textus Receptus in Europe until the 20th century. However, the translatable differences between these two Textus Receptus editions are minor and either of them could be used as the Word of God with confidence. For example, there are only about 200 translatable differences between the Scrivener 1881 and Stephanus 1550, and in my opinion, only about nine of them are significant, those being Mark 15:3, Luke 2:22, Luke 17:36, Romans 12:11, James 2:18, 2 Peter 1:1, 1 John 2:23, 1 John 3:16, and Revelation 11:2.

Let's take a look at these nine verses:

Mark 15:3 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing." If translated from Stephanus' 1550, it would read, "And the chief priests accused him of many things." The words "but he answered nothing" are significant because they are a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7. However, there are other verses that teach the same truth, such as Mark 14:60-61, Mark 15:5, and Matthew 27:12.

Luke 2:22 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "And when the days of her purification," whereas a translation of Stephanus' 1550 would read, "And when the days of their purification." This is significant because "their purification" could mean that Jesus himself underwent purification. In Leviticus 12, it is clear that it is only the woman who undergoes purification. However, Luke could have been speaking collectively when he said "their purification." Jesus was representing "fallen man," even undergoing circumcision, which was in itself a symbol of purity (Isaiah 52:1). Jesus was certainly sinless, but He underwent circumcision and water baptism to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).

Luke 17:36 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left." This verse is completely missing in the Stephanus 1550. If this verse is authentic, it certainly had significance for those who were subjected to this prophecy. However, we find similar truth in verses 34-35, so its significance is limited. Also, this verse was preserved in Matthew 24:40.

Romans 12:11 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "serving the Lord", whereas a translation of Stephanus' 1550 would read, "serving the season" or "applying yourselves to the time." The reason for this difference is probably because the Greek word for "Lord" (Gr. κυρίῳ) and "season/time" (Gr. καίρῳ) are similar in their contracted forms, being κω and κρω, respectively. Contractions were used as a common way of saving space in manuscripts. Before these contracted forms were standardized, it is possible that the form κρω could have been interpreted as nomina sacra (i.e., the sacred name) for Lord. "Serving the time" reminds me of Ephesians 5:16 where the Apostle Paul tells us to "redeem the time" or 2 Timothy 4:2 where he says to "be instant in season." Having said that, "serving the Lord" seems much more likely and is well attested by the extant Greek manuscripts. For anyone who may be interested, the textual critic James Snapp Jr. has an interesting article about this verse on his website.

James 2:18 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "shew me thy faith without thy works," whereas a translation of Stephanus' 1550 would read, "shew me thy faith by thy works". This verse is significant because it influences the interpretation of the words of James' interlocutor in verses 18-19. Personally, the reading in Stephanus' 1550 seems more likely to me because if Scrivener's 1881 contains the correct reading, it is quite difficult to understand what objection James' interlocutor was trying to convey. This verse has been traditionally difficult, and I may attempt to write an article on it later.

2 Peter 1:1 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "through the righteousness of our God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," whereas a translation of Stephanus' 1550 would read, "through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ." This verse is significant because the reading in Stephanus' 1550 provides a proof-text for the deity of Jesus Christ. Of course, there are other verses in the New Testament that teach the deity of Christ, such as 1 Timothy 3:16

1 John 2:23 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "Whosoever denieth the Son, neither hath he the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also." If translated from Stephanus' 1550, it would read, "Whosoever denieth the Son, neither hath he the Father." It is interesting that the KJV uses italics for the reading in question: "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also." This indicates that the KJV translators were undecided as to the authenticity of this reading, although Theodore Beza included this reading in his 1598 text. At any rate, the reading in question is certainly doctrinally significant. However, the same truth is basically taught in 1 John 4:15, so the authenticity of the verse is not critical.

1 John 3:16 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us". If translated from Stephanus' 1550, it would read, "Hereby perceive we the love, because he laid down his life for us". Although Benjamin Blayney's 1769 edition of the KJV includes the words "of God" in italics (thereby indicating doubt as to its authenticity), the original 1611 edition of the KJV did not include italics, so it is highly likely that the King James translators relied on Theodore Beza's 1598 TR, which included the words "of God" in the Greek text. It is also interesting to note that the Clementine Vulgate of 1590 also includes the words "of God" (see verse 3:15 in the Vulgate). This variant is significant because it teaches that God himself laid down his life for us. A similar truth can be found in Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 2 Corinthians 5:19.

Revelation 11:2 translated out of Scrivener's 1881 would read, "But the court which is without the temple leave out". If translated from Stephanus' 1550, it would read, "But the court which is within the temple leave out". Here we have a contradiction in that Scrivener's text reads "without" but Stephanus' reads "within." This contradiction may have happened because the Greek word translated "temple" literally means "sanctuary," but is often used interchangeably with the Greek word that literally means "temple." The "sanctuary" is the most holy place in the "temple." When verse 2 is read in context, Scrivener's reading makes sense if "temple" refers to "sanctuary." Stephanus' reading makes sense if "temple" refers to the "temple and all its buildings." Since the meaning of "temple" here is ambiguous, it is possible that a scribe corrected the text based on his interpretation. It seems to me that either reading could be right depending on how we interpret "temple."

How was the Textus Receptus "kept pure in all ages"?

"Kept pure in all ages" is an expression taken out of the Westminster Confession of Faith. As we just saw above, there are some variants among the different editions of the Textus Receptus. Some people object and say that because there are variants, it hasn't technically been "kept pure in all ages." However, I believe that such an objection is legalistic. The Jews often accused Jesus of breaking the sabbath, but He kept it perfectly in substance. The Jews judged by the letter and not by substance. In terms of "substance," all Textus Receptus editions from Stephanus' 1550 onward are mature, stable, and pure. The variants among the editions are, for the most part, very minor. As I showed above, there are really only a handful of variants even worth talking about, and none of them is overly significant. In terms of the "letter," the Word of God is currently being "kept pure" within the Textus Receptus tradition of Greek New Testament editions, especially Scrivener's 1881 and Stephanus' 1550. Those two editions can be compared if necessary.

Where was the Word of God before the Textus Receptus?

This is an important question. I believe that the Word of God was always preserved somewhere, although I cannot point to any particular ancient manuscript. We have an example in the Bible where the book of the law was lost for a season and then found again (2 Kings 22:8). In this instance, the Word of God was preserved, although it wasn't in the possession of the people for a season. I believe a similar thing occurred with the preservation of the New Testament. It always existed, but wasn't always available in its entirety for all people. However, there was always enough truth available to "make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). The Textus Receptus was produced at a very special time in history, coinciding with both the Reformation and the invention of the printing press. I believe it was produced under the special providence of God.

Are other editions of the Greek New Testament inferior to the Textus Receptus?

Yes, I believe other editions of the Greek New Testament are inferior to the Textus Receptus. However, they certainly contain enough truth for a person to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life (John 3:16).