Thursday, September 01, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (cont)

Dr. Beeke’s second reason is given in the first paragraph of his essay as follows: “Based on the Textus Receptus (the Greek NT), and the Masoretic Text (Hebrew OT), the KJV gives the most authentic and fullest available text of the Scriptures, with none of the many omissions and textual rewrites of the modern translations such as the Revised Standard Versions (RSV) and the NIV.”

This reason alone is going to take more than one post to deal with. First, for those who don’t know what is meant by Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text, a brief definition of each. Textus Receptus is usually used to refer to the Greek text underlying the New Testament of the KJV. Before the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, books were copied by hand. This made books rare and expensive. It also had the tendency to produce errors in the copies made. [Just as an exercise, you might try copying out an entire book of the Bible by hand. Hint: try a short book first. You will notice that you have to pay very careful attention to avoid mistakes in copying. It gives you some appreciation for the labors of the copyists who preserved ancient texts for us down through the centuries.]

Most scholars working with the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible had access to only a very small number of manuscripts. The only exceptions would have been scholars who had access to major libraries, such as the Vatican library or libraries at the largest and most prestigious European universities. With the printing press, it was possible to make a large number of identical copies of the same text. Thus, as scholars began to prepare biblical texts for printing, they would gather a number of handwritten manuscripts together so that they could figure out what the correct readings were throughout the text. This is known as collation. Wherever there were variants among the texts, the scholar doing the work would have to decide which reading was to be preferred. This is, in brief, the art and science of textual criticism.

With regard to the Greek text of the New Testament, the first printed text was part of a major production by Catholic scholars under the aegis of Cardinal Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros of Spain. It included the Old Testament in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek and the New Testament in Greek and Latin. Such a “parallel Bible” in different languages is known as a polyglot. It was printed in the town of Alcala, Spain; the New Testament volume having been printed in 1514. [Which, and how many, Greek manuscripts lay behind this work no one knows.] The name of the town in Latin is Complutum, so the work became known as the Complutensian Polyglot. However, for whatever reason, though the work had been printed, it was not put on the market.

The first published Greek text (that is, both printed and put on the market) was edited by Erasmus, based on a fairly limited number of Greek manuscripts, none of which contained the entire New Testament. The work was published in 1516. Thus it had been printed after the Complutensian Polyglot, but hit the market about six years before it.

This is not the full story of the Textus Receptus, but I also have to say something about the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic (sometimes spelled Massoretic) Text is the Hebrew text of the Old Testament as it had been copied and handed down through the centuries. Up until about AD 500, Hebrew texts had included only consonants (not as bad a thing as it might sound; more explanation later). Over the next few centuries a system of indicating the vowels was developed and became a part of the text. These “voweled” texts became know as the Masoretic Text (MT), and it was those texts that became the basis for printed copies of the Hebrew Old Testament.

Next post, more on the Textus Receptus, and a little more on the MT.

1 comment:

K. Hugh Acton said...

I don't mean to sound snarky, but you really haven't given any reflection yet. You're just giving factual background. I'd like to read your reflections and interact with those.