Monday, September 05, 2011

Practical Reflections Regarding the KJV (Part 3)

Erasmus continued to work on his Greek New Testament (GNT) even after its publication, and subsequent editions were published, with the fourth and last appearing in 1527. In all, about half a dozen manuscripts formed the basis for Erasmus’s GNT. By the middle of the 16th century, a French printer by the name of Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus) had also become involved in the publication of the GNT. His last edition appeared in 1551. This text was not significantly different from that of Erasmus. Following Stephanus, Theodore Beza, the disciple of Calvin, also became involved in the editing and publishing of the GNT, publishing ten editions between 1565 and a posthumous edition in 1611. Six of those were simply reprints of four distinct editions. Beza’s work served to preserve the GNT text as it had been published by Erasmus and Stephanus. Thus by the end of the 16th century, the GNT as edited by Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza, had become the received text (the Textus Receptus) of the GNT. The last two distinct editions of Beza (1588 and 1598) were the texts that the KJV translators relied upon.

This text of the GNT became the standard text for the next three hundred years or so, until the discovery of many more manuscripts of the GNT in the 19th century. At that point it rightly held the title of Textus Receptus. However, since 1881, the Textus Receptus has effectively lost its position as the received text. The translators of the NKJV deliberately chose the TR as the basis of their New Testament. However, no other major English translation (or even minor English translations, to my knowledge) has used the TR as the basis for its New Testament. Instead, beginning with the English Revised Version (1881-1885), English versions have used the so-called “critical” or “eclectic” text as the basis of their translations. The list includes the ASV, RSV, the Modern Language Bible, Today’s English Version, the NASB (and its 1995 update), the NIV, the Contemporary English Version, the New Century Version, and the ESV, among others. Beeke is technically correct when he says that the TR has been used by the church historically. However, it is now the case that that history essentially stopped at the middle of the 19th century, and a new received text has replaced the TR.

This brings us to Beeke’s other two claims. First Beeke states:  “Oldest Does Not Mean Best – The Westcott and Hort arguments that ‘the oldest manuscripts are the most reliable’ and that ‘age carries more weight than volume’ are not necessarily true. It could well be that the two oldest, complete manuscripts were found to be in such unusually excellent condition because they were already recognized as faulty manuscripts in their time and therefore were placed aside and not recopied until worn out as were the reliable manuscripts. This is further supported by numerous existing differences between the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts.” I know that Beeke was trying for brevity here. Nonetheless, it is a misleading summary of the views of those who support an eclectic text. It may be that the two oldest and and best-preserved manuscripts are well-preserved because they were recognized as faulty and not handled’ much. It may also be that they were well-preserved because those who preserved them recognized their importance and value and protected them. The fact that there are many differences between them is also misleading. There are many differences among the manuscripts that lie behind the TR.

Beeke also says: “Volume – The King James Version is based upon the Traditional Text. The vast majority of the more than 5,000 known partial and complete Greek manuscripts follow this textual reading.” This is gross overstatement. There are many differences between the TR and what is today called the Majority Text.

Beeke would have been better off to have skipped this reason entirely. It is full of loaded language that, while perhaps rhetorically effective, is less than honest. So, for example, the statement “the most authentic and fullest available text” implies that others are not authentic, and that they deliberately omit things that should be there. That has to be proven, not merely asserted. I would have expected better from Dr. Beeke. 

1 comment:

K. Hugh Acton said...

I would say that the Received Text was the received text till at least the late 1940s. Neither the ASV nor the RV were popularly received outside academic contexts. Before the RSV even mainline churches used the KJV in worship material etc. (See the 1928 BoCP).
Of course, since then, the modern critical text has reigned supreme, but certain received passages still make themselves felt even if with brackets. I think it says something to Beeke's point. There is not a little "higher" criticism in "lower" criticism.