The Signs of the Times, vol. 57

The Signs of the Times, Vol. 57


January 7, 1930

What is the “Textus Receptus”?


W. W. Prescott

Fourth in the series on the history of the Bible

[Signs of the Times, January 7, 1930, The Story of Our Bible, Part 4, p. 11]

Inasmuch as reference has been made to the textus receptus by the writers quoted in my last article, it may be advisable to introduce here such information as will throw light upon the origin of this term and its application in the story of the Bible. This can, I think, be done most satisfactorily by using the statements of those who have given careful study to the subject of original manuscripts. The reliability of the following quotation will be readily conceded by those who are acquainted with the scholarly attainments of the writer of the book from which it is taken: SITI January 7, 1930, page 11.1


“The Authorized Version, like the other Protestant versions, is made from the ‘received text,’ so called, which dates from the first printed edition of the Greek Testament by Erasmus (1516), especially his fourth edition (1527, which contains some emendations in the Apocalypse, derived from the Complutensian Polyglot), was several times reëdited, with a few improvements, by Stephens, of Paris, and then by Beza, of Geneva, and boldly proclaimed the ‘textus ab omnibus receptus’ [the text received by all] by the enterprising publishers, Elzevir, of Leyden (in their second edition, 1633), and which ruled, almost undisputed, as a part of Protestant orthodoxy (as the Latin Vulgate as a part of Roman orthodoxy), until, after Bentley and Bengel had shaken confidence in it, it was set aside by Lachmann (1831) and his followers, to make room for an older and better text since brought to light. The ‘received text’ was hastily derived, in the infant period of the printed Bible, from a few and faulty cursive MSS., when the best uncial MSS. and the oldest versions (except a corrupt text of the Vulgate) were not yet known, before the patristic quotations were examined, and before even the first principles of textual criticism were understood. Since that time an immense material for textual criticism has been gathered, compared, weighed, and sifted by the indefatigable labors of Mill, Bengel, Wetstein, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, and others. We have now as complete an apparatus as is necessary to settle the text in all its essential features, and there is no prospect that any new discoveries (even as important as that of the Codex Sinaiticus in 1859) will materially alter the result, unless some future Tischendorf should be so fortunate as to find the apostolic autographs; but this, in view of the perishable nature of papyrus, on which they were written, is next to impossible. Over 1,500 MSS. of the Greek Testament have been more or less compared, and from 100,000 to 120,000 various readings have been accumulated from all textual sources to the present day. Fortunately, these variations do not unsettle a single article of Christian faith and duty; they only establish the essential integrity of the apostolic text, and increase the facilities of determining, approximately, the original reading, without resorting (as is the case with classical authors) to precarious subjective conjectures. On the most important variations which affect the sense, and which alone deserve consideration in a popular version, the leading critics of the day are now quite or nearly agreed. From the uncial MSS. (especially the two oldest, the Sinaitic and the Vatican, or Aleph and B, both made accessible now to all by the quasi facsimile editions of Tischendorf and Vercellone), the earliest versions (especially the Itala, Vulgate, and Peshito [an early Syriac version], and the quotations of the Nicene and ante-Nicene fathers (Origen, Tertullian, Irenæus, etc.), we are now able to reconstruct, with a tolerable degree of certainty, the oldest attainable text, which is, upon the whole, much simpler and stronger than the post-Nicene and medieval textus receptus, and free from liturgical and other glosses.”—“The Revision of the English Version of the Holy Scriptures,” Philip Schaff, D. D., pp. xxiv-xxvi. SITI January 7, 1930, page 11.2


From another source I take the following quotation, which contains some further information concerning the textus receptus: SITI January 7, 1930, page 11.3

“In the fourth edition [of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament] (1527) the text was altered and improved in many places, particularly in Revelation, from the Complutensian Polyglot. That of the fifth (1535) and last (Erasmus died in 1536) hardly differs from the fourth. The next editions which call for notice are those of the great printer and scholar Robert Stephens (Estienne, Stephanus ...), three published at Paris (1546, 1549, and 1550; the first two, in small 12mo, are known as the O mirificam editions, from the opening words of the preface, which is the same in both; the last, a magnificent folio, is called the editio regia), and one at Geneva (16mo, 1551), in which the present division into verses was first introduced into the Greek text.... The edition of 1550, notwithstanding its various readings in the margin from fifteen manuscripts and the Complutensian Polyglot, is mainly founded on the fourth or fifth edition of Erasmus.... Stephen’s edition of 1551 is commonly spoken of in England as the textus receptus; but on the Continent the first Elzevir edition, printed at Leyden in 1624, has generally received that designation. The expression is borrowed from the preface to the second Elzevir edition (1633), in which occur the words, Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum [therefore you have the text now received by all]. The text of the seven Elzevir editions (1624, 1633, 1641, Leyden; 1656, 1662, 1670, 1678, Amsterdam), among which there are a few slight differences, is made up almost wholly from Beza’s smaller editions of 1565 and 1580; its editor is unknown. The textus receptus, slavishly followed, with slight diversities, in hundreds of editions, and substantially represented in all the principal modern Protestant translations prior to the nineteenth century, thus resolves itself essentially into that of the last edition of Erasmus, framed from a few modern and inferior manuscripts and the Complutensian Polyglot, in the infancy of Biblical criticism. In more than twenty places its reading is supported by the authority of no known Greek manuscript.”-“The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,” vol. 2, p. 107. SITI January 7, 1930, page 11.4


From the facts which I have now presented it appears that the expression “textus receptus” was derived from a printer’s advertisement, and not from the decision of any council or of any group of scholars. It is remarkable that a text based upon such late authority should have held sway as long as it did. The only explanation for this is found in the fact that there were so few scholars during that period who were prepared successfully to dispute the boastful announcement of an enterprising printer. SITI January 7, 1930, page 11.5

It is interesting and reassuring to note that every Bible scholar who deals with the various editions of the Scriptures, unhesitatingly maintains that no changes have been made in the various texts which materially affect any Christian doctrine. We may thus be confident that whether we use the Authorized Version, or the English Revised, or the American Revised, we need feel no fear that we shall be misled in our honest effort to find the way of life. He who is Himself the Way is plainly revealed to us in each one of these translations. SITI January 7, 1930, page 11.6