Forever Settled
Part Two : The Issues We Face Regarding The New Testament Text

Compiled by Jack Moorman

Contents of Part Two


As with our survey of the Old Testament Versions and Manuscripts, we begin this section with a careful study by Edward F. Hills. Dr. Hills is a graduate of Yale University and Westminster Theological Seminary. He has also received the degree of Th.M from Columbia Seminary and the Th.D. degree from Harvard University. He is a Bible scholar of proven rank. In contrast with so many others, his is a "scholarship on fire". In the crucial area of the transmission of the New Testament text (i.e. how the New Testament came down to us), he begins on the basis that God has promised to preserve His Word. This is in sharp contrast to the naturalistic approach taken by so many other scholars (tragically also among fundamentalists) .

An example of this latter position may be seen on page 16 of "The Truth of the King James Version Controversy" by Dr. Stewart Custer. Dr. Custer is a professor in one of the very finest fundamental schools - Bob Jones University. He says on page 16, "The believer may safely leave such problems (i.e. the transmission of the text) to the discussion of theological and textual. experts. He should not try to become a botanist, but simply feed on the fruit of the Word. He can let the scholars chew over dry bones; he should fill his mind and conscience with the holy Word. Then he can say with the Psalmist, ‘How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth’." (Psalm 119:103).

Now this sounds very good, and I am certain that Dr. Custer does have the experience of feeding on the Word of God. But this is typical of what we are hearing today. Just what kind of a Bible are we to feed upon? Is it the kind that has over 5,300 changes in the underlying Greek text from that which was used by Christians for over eighteen hundred years? And just who are theological and textual experts that we may safety leave these problems with? Under points three and four of his "select Bibliography", Custer lists seven men - Bruce Metzger, A. T. Robertson, Kurt Aland, Eberhard Nestle, Alexander Souter, B. F. Westcott, F. J. A. Hort. With the exception of A. T. Robertson, each would be in the middle-of-the-road to liberal camp theologically. And each are firmly in the naturalistic camp textually. In the matter of textual research not one would start with the carefully stated truth in the Bible that God has promised to preserve His Word. This promise is not merely to "truth of the Word" but the words themselves.

Psalm 12:6,7 The words of the LORD are pure Words; as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Psalm 119:89 For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

John 10: 35 The scripture cannot be broken.

1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.

I Peter 1:25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.

Psalm 138:2 Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

Thus, though Stewart Custer might, under no circumstance will we leave our Bibles in the hands of those who would chop, change, add, delete according to "the accepted principles of textual criticism."

A far better principle is given in Romans 14:23 "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." If I cannot by faith take the Bible in my hand and say this is the preserved Word of God, then it is sin. If we do not approach the study of how we got our Bible from the standpoint of faith, then it is sin. If I cannot believe what God says about the preservation of His Word, then I cannot believe what He says about its inspiration either - all is sin.

Now in this survey, it is often necessary to get facts from the very textual experts (and many others) that Custer lists because Bible believers have primarily left this field of research to the liberal naturalistic critics who deny inspiration and preservation. But in doing so, I will be trusting the Lord to help us to distinguish fact from fiction, and to come to the proper and God honoring interpretation of this factual evidence.


I quote now from E. F. Hills


When we regard the New Testament manuscripts from the believing point of view, we see that they confirm the orthodox Christian faith. We perceive that the Traditional text found in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts is the true text which Christ has promised always to preserve in His Church. But there are many scholars today who claim to be orthodox Christians and yet insist that the New Testament text ought not to be studied from the believing point of view but from a neutral point of view. The New Testament text, they maintain, ought to be treated just as the texts of other ancient books are treated. And in this they are followers of Westcott and Hort (1881), who laid down their basic principle in the following words: "For ourselves 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.

Why should we Christians study the New Testament text from a neutral point of view rather than from a believing point of view? The answer usually given is that we should do this for the sake of unbelievers. We must start with the neutral point of view in order that later we may convert unbelievers to the orthodox believing point of view. Sir Frederic Kenyon (1903) expressed himself to this effect as follows: "It is important to recognize from the first that the problem is essentially the same, whether we are dealing with sacred or secular literature, although the difficulty of solving it, and likewise the issues depending on it are very different. It is important, if for no other reason,

because it is only in this way that we can meet the hostile critics of the New Testament with arguments, the force of which they admit. If we assume from the first the supernatural character of these books and maintain that this affects the manner in which their text has came down to us, we will never convince those who start with a denial of that supernatural character. We treat them at first like any other books, in order to show at last that they are above and beyond all other books."

Although Kenyon probably advised this oblique approach with the best of intentions, still the course which he advocated is very wrong. Orthodox Christians must not stoop to conquer. We must not first adopt a neutral position toward the Bible in order that later we may persuade unbelievers to receive the Bible as God's word. There are several reasons why we must not do this. In the first place, if we take this step, we are doing a sinful thing. We are not only allowing unbelievers to ignore the divine inspiration and the providential preservation of the Bible, but we are even doing this ourselves. In other words, we are seeking to convert unbelievers by the strange method of participating in their unbelief. In the second place, when we approach unbelievers from the neutral position, we are endorsing their false method of textual criticism, a method which does not apply to the real, divinely inspired, providentially preserved Bible but to a false Bible of their own imagination, that is to say, an uninspired Bible whose history is basically the same is that of any other book. And in the third place, when we take up this neutral position, we are not doing anything to convert unbelievers to the orthodox Christian faith. On the contrary, we are confirming them in there confidence in the essential rightness of their unbelieving presuppositions.

The neutral method of Bible study, therefore, is wrong in principle, and because it is wrong in principle it leads to disastrous results in practice. In the following paragraphs, we will endeavor to list those results in their logical order.


The neutral method of Bible study leads to skepticism concerning the New Testament text. This was true long before the days of Westcott and Hort. As early is 1771 Griesbach wrote, "The Now Testament abounds in more losses, additions, and interpolations, purposely introduced then any other book." And Griesbach’s outlook was shared by J. L. Hug, who in 1808 advanced the theory that in the second century the New Testament text had become deeply degenerate and corrupt and that all extant New Testament texts were but editorial revisions of this corrupted text. Lachmann also in 1831 continued in the same skeptical vein. He believed that from the extant manuscripts it was not possible to construct a text which would go any farther back than the fourth century. To bridge the gap between this reconstructed fourth century text and the original text Lachmann proposed to resort to conjectural emendation.

Westcott and Hort thought that by the judicious use of their neutral method they had laid to rest the doubts and uncertainties which had plagued their predecessors. They believed that they had reduced the margin of error in the New Testament text to very small dimensions. "The amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text." They were confident that in the manuscripts B and Aleph they had discovered a New Testament text that was almost entirely pure. Whatever may be the ambiguity of the whole evidence in particular passages, the general course of future criticism was shaped by the happy circumstance that the fourth century as bequeathed to us two Manuscripts of which even the less incorrupt must have been of exceptional purity among its own contemporaries, and which rise into greater preeminence of character the better the early history of the text becomes known. Such were the strong assertions which won Westcott and Hort an enthusiastic following among conservative Christian, who mistakenly thought that Westcott and Hort were conservative too because they said such things.

But such optimism has been unusual in the history of New Testament textual criticism. Few scholars have shared Westcott and Hort's unbounded confidence in the texts of B and Aleph. Among those that have followed Westcott and Hort pessimism has prevailed. As early as 1908 Rendel Harris declared that the New Testament text had not at all been settled but was "more than ever, and perhaps finally, unsettled." Two years later Conybeare gave it as his opinion that "the ultimate (New Testament) text, if there ever was one that deserves to be so called, is for ever irrecoverable." Later (1941) Kirsopp Lake, after a life time spent in the study of the New Testament text, delivered the following, judgment: "In spite of the claims of Westcott and Hort and of von Soden, we do not know the original form of the Gospels, and it is quite likely that we never shall."

As the present century has worn on, this pessimism has continued, in spite of manuscript discoveries. "When we speak of the original text as the object of our search," asks K. W. Clark (1950) , "do we mean the actual autograph of the author or the editio princeps of such units as the Four-fold Gospel and the Pauline Corpus)? While the former is greatly to be desired, certainly the latter is at least a conceivable objective although even it is extremely elusive and obscure." H. Greeven (1960) also has acknowledged the uncertainty of the neutral method of New Testament textual criticism. "In general," he says, "the whole thing is limited to probability judgments; the original text of the New Testament, according to its; nature, must be and remains a hypothesis." And R. M. Grant (1963) adopts a still more despairing attitude. "The primary goal of New Testament textual study," he tells us, "remains the recovery of what the New Testament writers wrote. We have already suggested that to achieve this goal is well-nigh impossible."

Why is it that the neutral method of Bible study has always this tendency to breed skepticism concerning the text of the Bible? The reason is plain. The reason is that it is not really possible to be neutral about the Bible. If you try to be neutral, if you ignore the divine inspiration and the providential preservation of the Bible and treat it like an ordinary human book, then you are ignoring the very factors that make the Bible what it is. If you follow such a neutral method of Bible study, you are still playing about on the surface and have failed to come to grips with the very essence of the Bible. In your textual criticism you have not yet dealt with the real, divinely inspired and providentially preserved Bible but with a false, purely human Bible of your own imagination. And since you are dealing with a false, purely human Bible, doubts as to the purity of its text must necessarily arise in your mind, doubts which you can find no means of banishing.

But if by the grace of God you drop your neutral position and take your stand on the Bible as God's infallible Word, inspired by His Holy Spirit and preserved by His special providence, then it becomes evident to you that the true New Testament text has been preserved in the God-guided usage of the Church. Hence this true text is to be found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, in the Textus Receptus, and in the King James Version and the other classic Protestant translations.


The neutral method of Bible study leads not only to skepticism concerning the text of the extant Scriptures but also to modernism, that is, to naturalistic views concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures. In order to demonstrate historically that this is so let us consider the position taken by William Sunday, an outstanding English scholar of the generation immediately following that of Westcott and Hort.

Sunday was an ardent disciple of Westcott and Hort, and in his Bampton Lectures (1893) he took the further step of applying their neutral, naturalistic method not only to the text of the Bible but also to the question of its inspiration. "We must recognize," he began, "that a change has come over the current way of thinking on this subject of the authority of the Bible. The maxim that the Bible must be studied ‘like any other book' has been applied." But according, to Sunday, this change was all for the better. By studying the Bible like any other book it would be possible to come to an impartial decision as to whether the Bible actually was like any other book or whether its inspiration had made it unique. "It is bettor to let the Bible tell its own story, without forcing it either way. Let us by all means study it if we will like any other book, but do not lot us beg the question that it must be wholly like any other book, that there is nothing in it distinctive and unique. Let us give a fair and patient hearing to the facts as they come before us, whether they be old or whether they be new.''

No believing Bible student has, ever objected to Sunday's proposal to "let the Bible tell its own story." The only question is, how do you go about letting the Bible tell its own story? Do we let the Bible tell its own story when we study it like any other book? Not if the Bible is unique, not if the Bible is divinely and infallibly inspired. If the Bible is divinely and infallibly then the only way to let it tell its own story is to study it like a divinely and infallibly inspired Book. In other words, the essential nature of the Bible determines the method by which we ought to study it, and, conversely, the method by which we study the Bible determines the conclusions which we shall reach as to the essential nature of the Bible. If we study the Bible "like any other book," then we are logically bound to reach the conclusion that the Bible is essentially like other books, and that the inspiration of the biblical writers was not such as to make the Bible fundamentally different from other religious books.

This was the conclusion toward which Sunday tended as he applied to the study of the inspiration of the Bible the sale neutral, naturalistic methods which Westcott and Hort had applied to the study of the Bible text. "When" he observed, "we think of the immense part which myth, legend and vague approximations at truth have borne in the thought and literature’s of early peoples, and how very partial and imperfect history of all kinds has been, and in many departments still is, there can be nothing abnormal if similar elements enter to some extent into the Bible."


F. C. Burkitt (1906) was much more thorough-going than Sandy in his modernism. Like many modernists of his day, he thought that it was possible to investigate the earthly life of Christ by that same neutral, naturalistic method which Westcott and Hort and Sunday had used in their studies. This involved ignoring all the, divine factors in the life of Christ and concentrating on those features Burkitt deemed historical.

"I have purposely abstained in these Lectures," Burkitt explained to his audience, "from discussing most of those parts or features of the Gospel History which usually form the subject matter of modern controversies… The Birth of our Lord from a virgin and His Resurrection from the dead to name the most obvious Articles of the Creed - are not matters which historical criticism can establish... As I ventured to say in the Introductory Lecture, we do not get our leading ideas of religion or philosophy from historical criticism. But the Christian religion is not only a matter of imagination and philosophy. The Crucifixion under Pontius Pilate and the Death and Burial of our Lord are as much Articles of the Christian Creed as the resurrection itself. And in these Articles, Christianity enters the arena of ordinary history. The Interpretation of the life of Jesus Christ in Palestine is a matter of Faith; but the Tale itself, the course of events, belongs to History and is a matter for the scientific historian to determine."

As Orthodox Christians we ought to object to the false distinction which Burkitt set up in dealing with the life of Christ. His procedure, which ignore all the specifically divine features of Christ's Person and work and concentrated only on those features of our Lord's life that he thought could be explained in a purely naturalistic way, cannot be too strongly condemned. But have we earned the right to condemn Burkitt for following this method? Not if we ourselves follow Westcott and Hort's naturalistic method of New Testament textual criticism. For if we do, how can we condemn Burkitt for following in his study of the life of Christ the same method which we follow in our study of the New Testament text? If it is right for us to ignore the divine aspects of the New Testament text and treat it as we would the text of any other book, then why isn't it right for scholars such as Burkitt to ignore the divine aspects of the life of Christ and treat it as they would the life of any other great man? (We will hear more from Burkitt in this paper).

As R. H. Fuller (1962) and R. M. Grant (1963) point out, the efforts of Burkitt and the other modernistic scholars of his day to discover back of the Gospel narratives a purely human Jesus were unsuccessful. "In the first half of the twentieth century," Grant observes, "this kind of search practically came to a halt because of the rise of form criticism, with its emphasis on the role of oral tradition in the creation of the gospels, and the recognition that apocalyptic eschatology had been extremely important in the early Church and (probably) in the teaching of Jesus himself." But in 1963 this search for the "historical Jesus" was resumed in Germany and is being carried on today. How can we orthodox Christians oppose this new modernistic effort effectively? Only by purging our own biblical study of all naturalistic elements. For if we deal in a neutral, naturalistic way with the text of the Bible, the written Word, how can we condemn these new modernistic scholars for dealing in the same way with the life of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word?


It is very wrong, therefore, and dangerous to ignore the divine inspiration and special providential preservation of the Scriptures and to read and study them like ordinary, purely human books. If we study the Bible in this neutral, naturalistic way, we run the risk of setting off in our own minds a veritable chain-reaction of unbelief which will race forward with lightning speed from point to point until our Whole Christian faith is (or seems to be) destroyed.

In the first place, doubt and distrust will begin to possess our minds concerning the extent text of the Bible. For if we ignore the special providential preservation of the Bible, how can we be sure that the extant Bible text is a trustworthy reproduction of the divinely inspired original text? And in the second place, we will begin to wonder why we should not deal with the inspiration of the Bible in the same neutral, naturalistic way in which we have dealt with the Bible text. If it is right to discuss the text of the Bible without "introducing considerations which could not reasonably be applied to other ancient texts," why isn't it right to follow the same policy in our discussions of the authorship and inspiration of the Bible?

Before following Hills further, I would like to express my concern regarding this very malaise of neutrality that has entered the halls of power in fundamentalism. Many of the great schools, mission boards, churches, seem insistent that they will take a neutral position on the preservation of the text of Scripture. It is not that they are for Westcott and Hort or against the Received Text. It is just that they must be neutral. And despite the fact that (unlike the earlier part of this century) the world is awash with many different modern versions, there is a strange reluctance to be informed on this matter.


In the Gospels Christ has promised that the same divine providence which has preserved the Old Testament Scriptures will also preserve the New. In the concluding verses of the Gospel of Matthew we find His "Great Commission" not only to the twelve Apostles but also to His Church throughout all ages, Go ye therefore and teach all nations. Implied in this solemn charge is the promise that through the working of God's providence the Church will always be kept in possession of an infallible record of Christ's words and works. And, similarly, in His discourses on the last things He assures His disciples that His words not only still certainly be fulfilled but shall remain available for the comfort of His people during that troubled period which shall precede His second coming. In other words, He promises that they shall be preserved until that time. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:3; Luke 21:33). Likewise, the word of Christ is to be the foundation of Christian character down through the ages (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49) and the standard by which all men shall be judged at the last day (John 12:48).

How has our Saviour fulfilled His promise? Through the usage of His Church. The New Testament Scriptures have been preserved in the Now Testament way, not through a divinely appointed order of priests and scribes (as in the Old Testament dispensation) , but through the universal priesthood of believers (I Peter 2:9), through the leading of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individual Christians of every walk of life. A brief survey of the history of the New Testament and its text makes this evident.


The writing of the New Testament as well as the preservation of it was a fulfillment of the promises of Christ. Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John teaches us this very clearly. As the Saviour is about to return to His heavenly Father, He leaves with His Apostles this blessed assurance:

John 14:25-26 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Here Jesus answers beforehand a question which Bible scholars have been asking down through the ages. Why is it that the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, agree together so closely, and why is it that the, Gospel of John differs from these first three Gospels so widely? Both these agreements and these differences are due to the inspiration which the Apostles received from the Holy Spirit and the control which He exercised over their minds and memories.

In the Gospels, therefore, Jesus reveals Himself through the story of His earthly ministry. The rest of the New Testament books are His divine commentary on the meaning of that ministry, and in these books also Jesus reveals Himself. These remaining books were written in accordance with His promise to His Apostles:

John 16:12-13 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.

It was in fulfillment of this promise that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, filled their minds and hearts with the message of the risen, exalted Lord, and sent them out to preach this message, first to the Jews at Jerusalem and then to all the world. Then followed the conversion of the Apostle Paul and the Epistles which he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Then James, Peter, John, and Jude were inspired to write their Epistles, and Luke to tell the story of the Acts of the Apostles. Finally, the Revelation proceeded from the inspired pen of John on Patmos, announcing those things that were yet to come. Volumes, of course, could be filled with a discussion of these sacred developments, but here a bare statement of the essential facts must suffice.


After the New Testament books had been written, the next step in the divine program for the New Testament Scriptures was the gathering of these individual books into one New Testament canon in order that thus they might take their place beside the books of the Old Testament canon as the concluding portion of His holy Word. Let us now consider how this was accomplished under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The first New Testament books to be assembled together were the Epistles of Paul. The Apostle Peter, shortly before he died, referred to Paul’s Epistles as Scripture and in such a way as to indicate that at least the beginning of such a collection had already been made (II Peter 3:15-16). Even radical scholars, such as L. J. Goodspeed (1926), agree that a collection of Paul's Epistles was in circulation at the beginning of the second century and that Ignatius (117) referred to it. When the Four Gospels were collected together is unknown, but it is generally agreed that this must have taken place before 170 AD because at that time Tatian made his harmony of the Gospels (Diatessaron), which included all four of the canonical Gospels and only these four. Before 200 AD Paul, the Gospels, Acts, I Peter and I John were recognized as Scripture by Christians everywhere (as the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian prove) and accorded an authority equal to that of the Old Testament Scriptures. It was Tertullian, moreover, who first applied the name New Testament to this collection of apostolic writings.

The seven remaining books, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, were not yet unanimously accepted as Scripture. By the time the fourth century had arrived, however, few Christians seem to have questioned the right of these disputed books to a place in the New Testament canon. Eminent Church Fathers of that era, such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Jerome, include them in their lists of the New Testament books. Thus through the Holy Spirit's guidance of individual believers, silently and gradually - but nevertheless surely, the Church as a whole was led to a recognition of the fact that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and only these books, form the canon which God gave to be placed beside the Old Testament Scriptures as the authoritative and final revelation of His will.

This guidance of the Holy Spirit was negative as well as positive. It involved not only the selection of canonical New Testament books but also the rejection of all non-canonical books which were mistakenly regarded as canonical by some of the early Christians. Thus the Shepherd of Hermas was used as holy Scripture by Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, and the same status was wrongly given to the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles by Clement and Origen. Clement likewise commented on the Apocalypse of Peter and the Epistle of Barnabas, to which Origen also accorded the title "catholic." And in addition, there were many false Gospels in circulation, as well as numerous false Acts ascribed to various Apostles. But although some of those non-canonical writings gained temporary acceptance in certain quarters, this state of affairs lasted for but a short time. Soon all Christians everywhere were led by the Holy Spirit to repudiate these spurious works and to receive only the canonical books as their New Testament Scriptures.

Having said all this, it must also be acknowledged that there is a deep and sacred mystery in the formation of the Written Word on Earth just as there had been in the incarnation and development of the Living Word (My comment).


Thus the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to gather the individual New Testament books into one New Testament canon and to reject all non-canonical books. In the same manner also the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to preserve the New Testament text by receiving the true readings and rejecting the false. Certainly, it would be strange if it had been otherwise. It would have been passing strange if God had guided His people in regard to the New Testament canon but had withheld from them His divine assistance in the matter of the New Testament text. This would mean that Bible-believing Christians today could have no certainty concerning the New Testament text but would be obliged to rely on the hypotheses of modern, naturalistic critics.

But God in His mercy did not leave His people to grope after the true New Testament text. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit he guided them to preserve it during the manuscript period. God brought this to pass through the working of His preserving and governing providence. First, many trustworthy copies of the original New Testament manuscripts were produced by faithful scribes. Second, these trustworthy copies were read and recopied by true believers down through the centuries. Third, untrustworthy copies were not so generally read or so frequently recopied. Although they enjoyed some popularity for a time, yet in the long run they were laid aside and consigned to oblivion. Thus as a result of this special providential guidance the true text won out in the end, and today we may be sure that the text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts is a trustworthy reproduction of the divinely inspired original text. This is the text which was preserved by the God-guided usage of the Greek Church. Critics have called it the Byzantine text, thereby acknowledging that it was the text in use in the Greek Church during the greater part of the Byzantine period (452 - 1453). It is much better, however, to call this text the Traditional text. When we call the text found in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts the Traditional text, we signify that this is the text which has been handed down by the God-guided tradition of the Church from the time of the Apostles unto the present day.

A further step in the providential preservation of the New Testament was the printing of it in 1516 and the dissemination of it throughout the whole of Western Europe during the Protestant Reformation. In the first printing of the Greek New Testament we see God's preserving providence working hiddenly and, to the outward eye, accidentally. The editor, Erasmus, performed his task in great haste in order to meet the deadline set by the printer, Froben of Basle. Hence this first edition contained a number of errors of a minor sort, some of which persisted in later editions. But in all essentials the New Testament text first printed by Erasmus and later by Stephanus (1550) and Elzevir (1633) is in full agreement with the Traditional Text providentially preserved in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.

This printed text is commonly called the Textus Receptus (Received Text). It is the text which was used by the Protestant Reformers during the Reformation and by all Protestants everywhere for three hundred years thereafter. It was from this Textus Receptus that the King James Version and the other classic Protestant translations were made. In the Textus Receptus God provided a trustworthy printed New Testament text for the Protestant Reformers and for all believing Christians down to the present day. Thus the printing of it was, after all, no accident but the work of God's special providence.


As we have seen, the study of the Old Testament indicates that the Old Testament Scriptures were preserved through the divinely appointed Old Testament priesthood. The Holy Spirit guided the priests to gather the separate parts of the Old Testament into one Old Testament canon and to maintain the purity of the Old Testament text. Have the New Testament Scriptures been preserved in this official Manner? In the New Testament Church has there ever been a special, divinely appointed Organization of priests with authority to make decisions concerning the New Testament text or the books that should belong to the New Testament canon? No! Not at all! When Christ died upon the cross, the veil of the Temple was rent in sunder, and the Old Testament priesthood was done away forever. There has never been a special order of priests in the New Testament Church. Every believer is a priest under Christ, the great High Priest (Revelation 1:5-6). Within the New Testament Church there has never been any body of men to whom God has given any special authority to make decisions concerning the New Testament canon or the New Testament text.

Just as the divine glories of the Now Testament are brighter far than the glories of the Old Testament, so the manner in which God has preserved the New Testament text is far more wonderful than the manner in which He preserved the Old Testament text. God preserved the Old Testament text by means of something, physical and external, namely, the Aaronic priesthood. God has preserved the New Testament text by means of something inward and spiritual, namely, the universal priesthood of believers.

Hence the preservation of the New Testament text is not due to the decisions of any ecclesiastical Organization or council or committee. All such attempts to deal with the New Testament text are bound to fail. God has preserved the New Testament text in the New Testament way which is free from any traces of Old Testament bondage, namely, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit operating in the hearts of individual believers and gradually leading them, by common consent, to reject false readings and to preserve the true. By this God-guided usage of believers the true New Testament text has been preserved and is now found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. This is the text which is found in the King James Version and the other classic Protestant translations.


It is evident that the New Testament text was preserved publicly rather than privately and in many manuscripts rather than in just a few. The promises of Christ ensure that this is so. For if the New Testament text had been deposited in a box for hundreds of years, or sealed in a pot, or secluded in a cave, or hidden in some forgotten recess of an ancient library, Christ would not have fulfilled His pledged word always to preserve in His Church the true New Testament text. It must be, therefore, that Christ has preserved this true text in the usage of His Church and in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, which are the products of the Church's usage. Such are the convictions with which the believing Bible student approaches the study of the New Testament documents. And through such study his convictions are confirmed, for he soon finds that these convictions agree with the observed facts. As a first step, then, toward such confirmation, let us proceed to an enumeration of the New Testament documents.

How many New Testament manuscripts are there? For information on this point let us turn to the statistics as they are presented by Kurt Aland. Let us begin with the Greek New Testament manuscripts. According to Aland, there are approximately 5255 known manuscripts which contain all or part of the Greek New Testament.

The earliest of these Greek New Testament manuscripts are the papyri. They are given this name because they are written on papyrus, an ancient type of material made from the fibrous pith of the papyrus plant, which in times grew plentifully along, the river Nile. Eighty-eight of these papyri have now been discovered, many of them mere fragments. The most important of these papyrus manuscripts are the Chester Beatty Papyri and the Bodmer Papyri. The Chester Beatty Papyri were published in 1933-37. They include Papyrus 45 (Gospels and Acts, c. 225 AD), Papyrus 46 (Pauline Epistles, c. 225 AD), and Papyrus 47 (Revelation, c. 275 AD). The Bodmer Papyri were published in 1956-62. The most important of these are Papyrus 66 (John, c. 200 AD), and Papyrus 75 (Luke and John 1-15, c. 200 AD).

All the rest of the Greek New Testament manuscripts are of Velum (leather), except for a few late ones in which paper was used. The oldest of the velum manuscripts are written in uncial (capital) letters. These uncial manuscripts now number 267. The three oldest complete (or nearly complete) uncial manuscripts are B (Codex Vaticanus), Aleph (Codex Sinaiticus) , and A (Codex Alexandrinus). Codex B was written about the middle of the fourth century. It is the property of the Vatican Library at Rome. When it arrived there is not known, but it must have been before 1475, since it is mentioned in a catalogue of the library made in that year. Codex Aleph was discovered by Tischendorf in 1859 at the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. Tischendorf persuaded the monks to give it as a present (requited with money and favors) to the Czar of Russia. In 1933 it was purchased from the Russian government by the Trustees of the British Museum. It is generally considered by scholars to have been written in the second half of the fourth century. Codex A was for many years regarded is the oldest extent New Testament manuscript. It was given to the King of England in 1627 by Cyril Lucar, patriarch of Constantinople, and is now kept in the British Museum. Scholars date it from the first half of the fifth century. Other important uncial manuscripts are W(Gospels, 4th or 5th century), D (Gospels and Acts, 5th or 6th century), and D2, (Pauline Epistles, 6th century).

About the beginning of the ninth century minuscule (small letter) handwriting began to be used for the production of books. Thus all the later New Testament manuscripts are minuscules. According to Metzger, 2764 minuscule manuscripts have been catalogued. These date from the ninth to the sixteenth century. In 1751 Wettstein introduced the practice of designating the uncial manuscripts by the capital letters and the minuscule manuscripts by Arabic numerals. The following are some of the minuscule manuscripts which critics have regarded as the most important: 1, 13, 28, 33, 69 and 700.

Another important class of Greek Now Testament manuscripts are the lectionaries. These are service books which contain in proper sequence the text of the passages of Scripture appointed to be read at the worship services of the Church. Those lectionaries are of two kinds, the synaxaria, which begin the year at Easter, and the menologia, which begin the year at September 1. Aland sets the number of the lectionaries manuscripts at 2143.

The translation of the New Testament Greek scriptures into the various languages of that day is another major class of manuscript evidence.

When and where the New Testament was first translated into Latin has been the subject of much dispute, but, according to Metzger, most scholars now agree that the first Latin translation of the Gospels was made in North Africa during the last quarter of the second century. Only about 50 manuscripts of this Old Latin version survive. These manuscripts are divided into the African Latin group and the European Latin group according to the type of text which they contain. In 382 AD Pope Damasus requested Jerome to undertake a revision of the Old Latin version. Jerome complied with this request and thus produced the Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. There arc more thin 8,000 extant manuscripts of the Vulgate.

Of the Syriac versions the most important is the Peshitta, the historic Bible of the whole Syrian Church, of which 350 manuscripts are now extant. The Peshitta was long regarded as one of the most ancient New Testament versions, being accorded a second century date. In more recent times, however, Burkitt (1904) and other naturalistic critics have assigned a fifth-century date to the Peshitta. But Burkitt's hypothesis is contrary to the evidence, and today it is being abandoned even by naturalistic scholars. All the sects into which the Syrian Church is divided are loyal to the Peshitta. In order to account for this it is necessary to believe that the Peshitta was in existence long before the fifth century, for it was in the fifth century that these divisions occurred.

The Philoxenian Syriac version was produced in 508 AD for Philoxenus, bishop of Mabbug, by his assistant Polycarp. In 616 this version was reissued, or perhaps revised, by Thomas of Harkel, who likewise was bishop of Mabbug. The Philoxenian Harclean version includes the five books which the Peshitta omits, namely, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation.

The so-called "Old Syriac" version is represented by only two manuscripts, the Curetonian Syriac manuscript, named after W. Cureton who published it in 1858, and the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, which was discovered by Mrs. Lewis in 1892, at the same monastery on Mount Sinai in which Tischendorf had discovered Codex Aleph almost fifty years before. These manuscripts are called "Old Syriac" because they are thought by critics to represent a Syriac text which is older than the Peshitta. This theory, however, rests on Burkitt's untenable hypothesis that the Peshitta was produced in the fifth century by Rabbula, bishop of Edessa.

The Egyptian New Testament versions are called the Coptic versions because they are written in Coptic, the latest form of the ancient Egyptian language. The Coptic New Testament is extant in two dialects, the Sahidic version of Southern Egypt and the Bohairic version of Northern Egypt. According to Metzger, the Sahidic version dates from the beginning of the third century. The oldest Sahidic manuscript has been variously dated from the mid-fourth to the sixth century. The Bohairic version is regarded as somewhat later than the Sahidic. It is extant in many manuscripts most of which are late. Recently, however, M. Bodmer his acquired a papyrus Bohairic manuscript containing most of the Gospel of John which is thought by its editor, R. Kasser, to date from the mid-fourth century.

In addition to the Latin, Syriac, and Coptic versions, there are a number of other versions which are important for textual criticism. The Gothic version was translated from the Greek in the middle of the fourth century by Ulfilas, the renowned missionary to the Goths. Of this version six manuscripts are still extant. Of the Armenian version 1244 manuscripts survive. This version seems to have been made in the fifth century, but by whom is uncertain. Whether it was made from the Greek or from a Syriac version is also a matter of debate among scholars. The Christians of Georgia, a mountainous district between the Black and Caspian seas, also had a New Testament in their own language, several copies of which are still extant.

The New Testament quotations found in the writings of the Church Fathers constitute yet another source of information concerning the history of the New Testament text. Some of the most important Fathers, for the purposes of' textual criticism, are the following: the three Western Fathers, Irenaeus (c. 180), Tertullian (150 - 220), Cyprian (200 - 258); the Alexandrian Fathers, Clement (c. 200), Origen (182 - 251); the Fathers who lived in Antioch and in Asia Minor, especially Chrysostom (345 - 407). Another very important early Christian Writer was Tatian, who about 170 AD composed a harmony of the Four Gospels called the Diatessaron. This had wide circulation in Syria and has boon preserved in two Arabic manuscripts and various other sources.


Since the 18th century the New Testament documents have been divided into families according to the type of text which they contain. There are three of these families, namely, the Traditional (Byzantine) family, the Western family, and the Alexandrian family.

The Traditional (Byzantine) family includes all those New Testament documents which contain the Traditional (Byzantine) text. The vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts belong to this family, including A (in the Gospels) and W (in Matthew and the last two thirds of Luke). The Peshitta Syriac version and the Gothic version also belong to the Traditional family of New Testament documents. And the New Testament quotations of Chrysostom and the other Fathers of Antioch and Asia Minor seem generally to agree with the Traditional text.

The Western family consists of those New Testament documents which contain that form of text found in the writings of the Western Church Fathers, especially Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian. A number of Greek manuscripts contain this text, of which the most important are D and D2. Two other important witnesses to the Western text are the Old Latin version, the Diatessaron of Tatian, and the Curetonian and Sinaitic Syriac manuscripts.

The Alexandrian family consists of those New Testament documents which contain that form of text which was used by Origen in many of his writings and also by other Fathers who, like Origen, lived at Alexandria. This family includes Papyri 46, 47, 66, 75, B, Aleph and about 25 other Greek New Testament manuscripts. The Coptic versions also belong to the Alexandrian family of New Testament documents. Westcott and Hort (1881), two noted English critics of the previous century, distinguished between the text of B and the text of the other Alexandrian documents. They called this B text Neutral, thus indicating their belief that it was a remarkably pure text which had not been contaminated by the errors of either the Western or Alexandrian text. Many subsequent, scholars, however, have denied the validity of this distinction.

The foregoing survey of the New Testament documents throws light on the early history of the New Testament text and on the manner in which this text has been preserved by the special providence of God. In order to see how this is so, let us consider briefly the characteristic history of each of the major families into which the New Testament text has been divided.


In considering the early history of the Traditional text we must note that, contrary to the opinion of many modern critics, it was probably among the poorer and less educated members of the early Christian Church that the true New Testament text was preserved. Such persons could read and write, to be sure, but were not skillful in the use of the pen. For them writing was a core to be avoided as far as possible. Conscious of their inability to write neatly, they would hesitate to mar their precious copies of the New Testament books by writing notes in the margins. Thus they would tend to keep their copies clean and free, that is, from additions in the form of marginal notes and from subtractions in the form of deletion marks. And the copes made from those clean copies would in their turn be clean, for there would be no marginal notes which the scribe could copy into the text of the new manuscript which he was producing. Also, among the poorer, less educated Christians there would be far less opportunity to compare different types of texts together and note the variant readings. There would even be a positive reluctance to make such a comparison, because the natural tendency of these humbler believers would be to adhere closely to the text to which they were accustomed and ignore texts that varied from it.

For all these reasons, therefore, the New Testament text which circulated among the humbler, less educated Christians was probably free from intentional alterations. The errors would be chiefly incidental ones due to careless copying, and these could be detected and remedied. Thus it was among the poorer, lowlier Christian brethren, we may well believe, that the Traditional (true) New Testament text was preserved during the early Christian centuries., the text which is now found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.


In the better educated Christian circles the case would be entirely different. In these higher social brackets there were undoubtedly many who were proficient in the art of writing and who were easily able to note down neatly in the margins of their New Testament manuscripts their own comments and any additional material which seemed to them interesting and important. Then when these annotated manuscripts were copied and new manuscripts made from them, many of these marginal notes were incorporated into the texts of the new manuscripts. It was probably in this manner that the Western text was developed. According to most scholars, this text is characterized by additions and verbal variations, and both these features were probably due either to the incorporation of marginal notes into the texts or to the effect of these notes on the minds of the scribes is they were doing their copying.


Among the Christian scribes of Alexandria developments took another turn. According to Streeter (1924), these learned Christians followed the tradition of Alexandrian classical scholarship, which was always to prefer the shortest reading in places in which the manuscripts differed. The Alexandrians were always ready to suspect and reject New Testament readings which seemed to them to present difficulties. John Burgon (1896), one of England's greatest believing Bible scholars, proved this long ago by pointing out a relevant passage in Origen's Commentary on Matthew.

In this Commentary Origen, the leading Christian critic of antiquity, gives us an insight into the arbitrary and highly subjective manner in which New Testament textual criticism was carried on at Alexandria about 230 AD. In his comment on Matthew 19:17-21 (Jesus' reply to the rich young man) Origen reasons that Jesus could not have concluded his list of God's commandments with the comprehensive requirement, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. For the reply of the young man was, All these things have I kept from my youth up, and Jesus evidently accepted this statement as true. But if the young man had loved his neighbor as himself, he would have been perfect, for Paul says that the whole law is summed up in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But Jesus answered If thou wilt be perfect etc., implying, that the young man was not yet perfect. Therefore, Origen argued, the commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, could not have been spoken by Jesus on this occasion and was not part of the original text of Matthew. The clause had been added, Origen concluded, by some tasteless scribe.


Though there is truth in the above commonly presented position and we have quoted Dr. Hills at length, yet the basic idea of textual types or families has its source in the naturalistic viewpoint and we do not believe that it represents the facts concerning the distribution of MSS in the early centuries.

With some 85% or more of the 5000 extant MSS falling into the category of the Received Text, there is in fact only one textual family the Received. All that remains is so contradictory, so confused, so mixed, that not by the furthest stretch of imagination can they be considered several families of MSS.

Rather than face squarely this preponderance of support for the TR, naturalistic scholars with their ingrained bias against that text have found it convenient to talk of three or four families, as if all were basically equals. This was one of the main pillars in the Westcott and Hort theory which enabled them to Construct a new Greek Testament on the fewest possible MSS.

Yet as the following quotations from "The Identity of the New Testament Text" by Wilbur Pickering show, most present day textual scholars (mainly naturalistic) are prepared to abandon the entire idea.

"We have reconstructed text types and families and subfamilies and in so doing have created things that never before existed on earth or in heaven." (Parvis).

"The major mistake is made in thinking of the old text-types as frozen blocks." (Colwell).

"It is still customary to divide MSS into four well-known families ...this classical division can no longer be maintained." (Klijn).

"Was there a fundamental flaw in the previous investigation which tolerated so erroneous a grouping ... Those few men who have done extensive collating of MSS, or paid attention to those done by others, as a rule have not accepted such erroneous groupings." (Metzger).

"I defy anyone, after having carefully perused the foregoing lists ... to go back to the teaching of Dr. Hort (regarding text-types) with any degree of confidence." (Hoskier) .


Codex "D" Bezae is claimed to be the primary representative of this textual family, but - "What we have called the D-text type, indeed, is not so much a text as a congeries of various readings, not descending from any one archetype ... No one MS can be taken as even approximately representing the D-text." (Kenyon) .

Colwell observes that the Nestle text (25th edition) denies the existence of the Western text as an identifiable group, saying it is "a denial with which I agree." Speaking of von Soden's classification of the Western text, Metzger says, "so diverse are the textual phenomena that von Soden was compelled to posit seventeen subgroups." And Klijn, speaking of a pure or original western text affirms that "such a text did not exist."


Codex "B" Vaticanus and Codex "Aleph" Sinaiticus are the two famous representatives of the Alexandrian "family" of manuscripts. But the evidence shows that those family members don’t get along very well.

Colwell offers the result of an interesting experiment.

After a careful study of all alleged B text-type witnesses in the first chapter of Mark, six Greek MSS emerged as primary witnesses - Aleph, B, L, 33, 892 and 2427. Therefore the weaker B type MSS C, Sangallenses, 157, 517, 579, 1241 and 1342 were set aside. Then on the basis of the six primary witnesses (Note how few, why not more?), an average or mean text was reconstructed including all the readings supported by the majority of the primary witnesses. Even on this restricted basis the amount of variation was dismaying. In this first chapter of Mark, each of the six witnesses differed from the average B text as follows:

L 19 times, Aleph 26 times, 2427 32 times, 33 33 times, B 39 times, 892 41 times. These results show convincingly that any attempt to reconstruct the text on the basis of B-type MSS is doomed to failure. The text ... is an artificial entity that never existed.

Hoskier, after filling 450 pages with a detailed and careful discussion of the errors in Codex B and another 400 on the idiosyncrasies of Codex Aleph, affirms that in the Gospels along these two MSS differ well over 3,000 times, which number does not include minor errors such as spelling, nor variants between certain synonyms which might be due to "provincial exchange."

In Hills' chart showing the family tree of manuscripts, Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 75 are listed with the other Alexandrian MSS.

Quoting again from "The Identity of the New Testament Text"

Both P66 and P75 have been generally affirmed to belong to the "Alexandrian text-type." Klijn offers the results of a comparison of Aleph, B, P45, 1166 and P75 in the passages where they are all extant (John 10:7-25, 10:32 - 11:10, 11:19 - 33 and 11:43-56). He considered only those places where Aleph and B disagree and where at least one of the papyri joins either Aleph or B. He found eight such places plus 43 where all three of the papyri line up with Aleph or B. He stated the result for the 43 places as follows (to which I have added figures for the Textus Receptus, BIBS 1946):

P45 agrees with Aleph 19 times, with B 24 times, with TR 32 times.

P66 agrees with Aleph 14 times, with B 29 times, with TR 33 times.

P75 agrees with Aleph 9 times, with B 33 times, with TR 29 times.

P45, 66, 75 agree with Aleph 4 times, with B 18 times, with TR 20 times.

P45, 66 agree with Aleph 7 times, with B 3 times, with TR 8 times.

P45, 75 agree with Aleph I time, with B 2 times, with TR 2 times.

P66, 75 agree with Aleph 0 times, with 11 8 times, with TR 5 times.

As for the eight other places,

P45 agrees with Aleph 2 times, with B 1 time, with TR I time.

P66 agrees with Aleph 2 times, with B 3 times, with TR 5 times.

P75 agrees with Aleph 2 times, with B 3 times, with TR 4 times.

60 (Each of the three papyri his other readings as well.)

Is the summary assignment of P66 and P75 to the "Alexandrian text-type" altogether reasonable?

If the above confuses you a little, you may be excused. But it demonstrates the knot that naturalistic critics have tied themselves into when refusing to face the fact of the Received Text. Several other examples of the futility of trying to group MSS into families (particularly the Alexandrian) are given on pages 48 - 58 of "The Identity of the New Testament Text" (Hereafter abbreviated "INTT").


If the 15% minority of extant MSS is hopeless confusion what about the 85% majority? What about the text referred to as Majority, Traditional, Byzantine, Syrian, Antiochan or Received?

In sharp contrast to the above two textual "families", the MSS which fall under the category of "Received", though differing in minor details, show a very definite unity. They are family members that get along quite well.

The textual critics have attempted to offset this fact through two arguments (1) genealogy and close copying (2) conflation and standardization.


The textual critic has sought to show that the large number of TR MSS are merely copies one of the other. This brings us to another basic "pillar" in the Westcott and Hort theory known as "Genealogy".

Colwell says of Hort's use of this method:

As the justification of their rejection of the majority, Westcott and Hort found the possibilities of genealogical method invaluable. Suppose that there are only ten copies of a document and that nine are all copies from one: then the majority can be safely rejected. Or suppose that the nine are copied from a lost manuscript and this lost manuscript and the other one were both copied from the original then the vote of the majority would not outweigh that of the minority. These are the arguments with which W. and H. opened their discussion of genealogical method ... They show clearly that a minority of manuscripts is not necessarily to be preferred correct. It is this prior possibility which Westcott and Hort used to demolish the argument based on the numerical superiority of the adherents of the Textus Receptus.

It is clear that the notion of genealogy is crucial to Hort's theory and purpose. He felt that the genealogical method enabled him to reduce the mass of manuscript testimony to four voice - "Neutral", "Alexandrian", "Western", and "Syrian". (INTT)

Textual research, however, has shown that the great mass of TR MSS are not merely copies one of another, but most are independent offspring of different lines of transmission which go deeply into the past. As INTT shows further

The research of Kirsapp Lake into this matter was a collation of Mark, chapter eleven, in all the MSS of Mt. Sinai, Patmos, and the Patriarchal Library and collection of St. Saba at Jerusalem.

This collation covers three of the great ancient collections of MSS; and these are not modern conglomerations, brought together from all directions. Many of the MSS, now at Sinai, Patios, and Jerusalem must be copies written in the scriptoria of these monasteries. We expected to find that a collation covering all the MSS in each library would show many cases of direct copying. But there are practically no such cases ... Moreover, the amount of direct genealogy which has been detected in extant codices is almost negligible. Nor are many known MSS sister codices. The Ferrar group and family 1 are the only reported cases of the repeated copying of a single archetype, and even for the Ferrar group there were probably two archetypes rather than one...

There are cognate groups - families of distant cousins - but the manuscripts which we have are almost all orphan children without brothers or sisters.

Taking this fact into consideration along with the negative result of our collation of MSS at Sinai, Patmos, and Jerusalem, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the scribes usually destroyed exemplars when they had copied the sacred books.

J. W. Burgon, because he had himself collated numerous minuscule MSS, had remarked the same thing years before Lake.

Now those many MSS were executed demonstrably at different times in different countries. They bear signs in their many hundreds of representing the entire area of the Church, except where versions were used instead of copies in the original Greek ... And yet, of multitudes of them that survive, hardly any have been copied from any of the rest. On the contrary, they are discovered to differ among themselves in countless unimportant particulars; and every here and there single copies exhibit idiosyncrasies which are altogether startling and extraordinary. There has therefore demonstrably been no collusion - no assimilation to an arbitrary standard - no wholesale fraud. It is certain that every one of them represents a MS, or a pedigree of MSS, older thin itself; and it is but fair to suppose that it exercises such representation with tolerable accuracy. (INTT) Let the reader ponder this fact that most of the thousands of MSS in the Received Text grouping represent long lines of independent transmission rather than tightly knitted genealogy or copying among contemporaries.


"The Syrian text," Hort said, "must in fact be the result of a 'recension' in the proper sense of the word, a work of attempted criticism, performed deliberately by editors and not merely by scribes.''

An authoritative Revision at Antioch ... was itself subjected to a second authoritative Revision carrying out more completely the purposes of the first. At what date between AD 250 and 350 the first process took place, it is impossible to say with confidence. The final process was apparently completed by AD 350 or thereabouts.

Hort tentatively suggested Lucian (who died in 311) as perhaps the leader in this movement. (INTT).

The fact that the TR is a generally fuller and longer text than that found among the other "families", Hort postulated that it must have come about through the combining of the shorter readings in the other textual groups.

The passages Hort listed are Mark 6:33; 8:26; 9:38; 9:49; Luke 9:10; 11:54; 12:18; 24:53. Since Hort discusses the first of these passages at great length, it may serve very well as a sample specimen.

Mark 6:33 And the people saw them departing and many knew Him, and ran together there on foot out of all the cities,

(Then follow three variant readings)

(1) and came before them and came together to Him. Traditional Reading.

(2) and came together there. "Western" Reading.

(3) and came before them. "Alexandrian" Reading.

John Burgon (1882) immediately registered one telling criticism of this hypothesis of conflation in the Traditional text. "Why", he asked, "if conflation was one or the regular practices of the makers of the Traditional text, could Westcott and Hort find only eight instances of the phenomenon? After ransacking the Gospels for 30 years, they have at last fastened upon eight!"

Westcott and Hort disdained to return my answer to Burgon's objections but it remains a valid one. If the Traditional text was created by fourth century Antiochan editors, and if one of their habitual practices had been to conflate (combine) Western and Alexandrian readings, then surely more examples of such conflation ought to be discoverable in the Gospels than just Hort's eight. But only a few more have since been found to add to Hort's small deposit. Kenyon (1912) candidly admitted that he didn't think that there were very many more. And this is all the more remarkable because not only the Greek manuscripts but also the versions have been carefully canvassed by experts, such as Burkitt and Souter and Lake, for readings which would reveal conflation in the Traditional text.

Moreover, even the eight alleged examples of conflation which Westcott and Hort did bring forward are not at all convincing. At least they did not approve themselves as such in the eyes of Bousset (1894). This radical German scholar united with the conservatives in rejecting the conclusions of these two critics. In only one of their eight instances did he agree with them. In four of the other instances he regarded the Traditional reading as the original reading, and in the three others he regarded the decision as doubtful. "Westcott and Hort’s chief proof," he observed, "has almost been turned into its opposite."

In these eight passages, therefore, it is just as easy to believe that the Traditional reading is the original and that the other texts have emitted parts of it is to suppose that the Traditional reading represents a later combination of the other two readings. (Hills).

Kenyon does refer in passing to an Atlas of Textual Criticism by E. A. Hutton (London: Cambridge University Press, 1911) which he says contains added examples of conflation.

Upon inspection, the central feature of the 125-page work proves to be a purportedly complete list of triple variant readings in the New Testament where the "Alexandrian", "Western", and "Byzantine" texts are pitted against each other. Hutton address 821 instances. Out of all that, a few cases of possible "Syrian conflation", aside from Hort's eight, may be called - such as in Matthew 27:41, John 18:40, Acts 20:28 or Romans 6:12. Twenty years ago a Hortian might have insisted that John 10:31 also his a " Syrian conflation ", but now that P66 moves the "Syrian" reading back to 200 AD , a different interpretation is demanded. (Syrian is another name for the TR text).

Hutton's list may well be open to considerable question, but if we may take it at face value for the moment it appears that the ratio of "Alexandrian- Western- Byzantine triple variants to possible "Syrian conflations" is about 100:1. In other words, for every instance where the "Syrian" text is possibly built on the "Neutral" and "Western" texts there are a hundred where it is not.

That raises another problem. If the "Syrian" text is eclectic, where did it get the material that is its private property? As Burgon observed it the time, "It is impossible to 'conflate' in places where B, Aleph and their associates furnish no materials for the supposed conflation. Bricks cannot be made without clay. The materials actually existing are those of the Traditional Text itself." (INTT).

Coming now to the related argument of an official standardization of the text, Hills asks:

Why is it that the Traditional (Byzantine) text is found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts rather than some other text, the Western text, for example, or the Alexandrian? What was there about the Traditional (Byzantine) text which enables it to conquer all its rivals and become the text generally accepted by the Greek Church?

The classic answer to this question was given by Westcott and Hort in their celebrated Introduction (1881). They believed that from the very beginning the Traditional (Byzantine) text was an official text with official backing and that this was the reason why it overcame all rival texts and ultimately reigned supreme in the usage of the Greek Church. They regarded the Traditional text as the product of a thorough-going revision of the New Testament text which took place at Antioch in two stages between 250 and 350 AD. They believed that this text was the deliberate creation of certain scholarly Christians at Antioch and that the presbyter Lucian (d. 312) was probably the original leader in this work. According to Westcott and Hort, these Antiochan scholars produced the Traditional text by mixing together the Western, Alexandrian and Neutral (B-Aleph) texts.

What would be the motive which would prompt these supposed editors to create the Traditional New Testament text? According to Westcott and Hort, their motive was to eliminate hurtful competition between the Western, Alexandrian and Neutral (B-Aleph) texts by the creation of a compromise text made up of elements of all three of these rival texts. "The guiding motives of their (the editors') criticism are transparently displayed in its effects. It was probably initiated by the distracting and inconvenient currency of at least three conflicting texts in the same region. The alternate borrowing from all implies that no selection of one was made. Each text may perhaps have found a patron in some leading personage or see, and thus seemed to call for a conciliation of rival claims."

In other words, Westcott and Hort's theory was that the Traditional text was an official text created by a council or conference of bishops and leading churchmen meeting for the express purpose of constructing a New Testament text on which all could agree, and in their discussion of the history of the Traditional text they continue to emphasize its official character. This text, they alleged, was dominant at Antioch in the second half of the fourth century, "probably by authority.'' It was used by the three great Church Fathers of Antioch, namely, Diodorus (d. 394), Chrysostom (345-407), (this explains why Hort was so anxious to make Chrysostom the first Church Father to use the Received Text) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428). Soon this text was taken to Constantinople and became the dominant text of that great, imperial city, perhaps even the official text. Then, due to the prestige which it had obtained at Constantinople, it became the dominant text of the whole Greek- speaking Church. "Now Antioch," Westcott and Hort theorized, "is the true ecclesiastical parent of Constantinople; so that it is no wonder that the traditional Constantinople text, whether formally official or not, was the Antiochan text of the fourth century. It was equally natural that the text recognized at Constantinople should eventually become in practice the standard New Testament of the East."

Thus Westcott and Hort bore down heavily on the idea that the Traditional (Byzantine) text was an official text. It was through ecclesiastical authority, they believed, that this text was created, and it was through ecclesiastical authority that this text was imposed upon the Church, so that it became the text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. This emphasis on ecclesiastical authority, however, has been abandoned by most present-day scholars. As Kenyon (1912) observed long ago, there is no historical evidence that the Traditional text was created by a council or conference of ancient scholars. History is silent concerning any such gathering. "We know," he remarks, "the names of several revisers of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, and it would be strange if historians and Church writers had all emitted to record or mention such an event as the deliberate revision of the New Testament in its original Greek."

Recent studies in the Traditional (Byzantine) text indicate still more clearly that this was not an official text imposed upon the Church by ecclesiastical authority or by the influence of any outstanding leader. Westcott and Hort, for example, regarded Chrysostom as one of the first to use this text and promote its use in the Church. But studies by Geerlings and New (1931) and by Dicks (1948) appear to indicate that Chrysostom could hardly have performed this function, since he himself does not seem always to have used the Traditional text. Photius (815-897) also, patriarch of Constantinople, seems to have been no patron of the Traditional text, for, according to studies by Birdsall (1956- 58), he customarily used a mixed type of text called the "Caesarean" text.

Thus recent research has brought out more clearly the fact that the true New Testament text has never been an official text. It has never been dependent on the decisions of an official priesthood or convocation of scholars. All attempts to deal with the New Testament text in this way are bound to fail. It was rather through the testimony of the Holy Spirit operating in the hearts of individual Christians and gradually leading them, by common consent, to reject false readings and to preserve the true.


From what we have seen above, the history of the New Testament Text is not to be seen as three or four textual families, or several streams of transmission, but rather as one great stream with numbers of small eddies along the edges. These eddies are more pronounced at the beginning of the stream.

It may be safely said that the greatest spiritual battle that was ever fought on this planet was fought between the powers of Darkness and Light during the first two centuries after our Lord ascended back to Heaven. With the LIVING WORD returned to glory, Satan turned all of his fury upon the WRITTEN WORD.

This is the key to understanding the history of the New Testament Text. Any theory of transmission which does take this into account is totally adrift.

As the evolutionist seeks to explain the geological phenomena of this planet without any cataclysmic intervention (i.e. the Flood), so Hort said "there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes." But, it is the constant declaration of the early Church Fathers to the contrary.

Most tampering of the text took place before 200 AD and most was done in the Western areas furthest from the location of the original autographs.

Colwell says, "The overwhelming majority of variant readings were created before the year 200." Scrivener says, "The worst corruptions to which the NT his ever been subjected originated within a hundred years after it was composed." Kilpatrick states, "The creation of new variants ceased by 200 AD because it became impossible to sell them." (INTT)

Between 18 and 24 of the 27 New Testament books were written originally to cities in Asia Minor and Greece. None were written to Alexandria. But it was precisely in these Western and Alexandrian areas that corrupted pretenders to the true text became prominent.

John Burgon said, "Vanquished by THE WORD INCARNATE, Satan next directed his subtle malice against THE WORD WRITTEN. Hence, the extraordinary fate which befell certain early transcripts of Scripture. First, heretical assailants; then, Orthodox defenders; lastly and above all, self-constituted critics - each had a hand in the corrupting influences which were actively at work throughout the first hundred years after the death of the Apostle John. Profane literature has never known anything approaching to it - can show nothing at all like it.

Satan's arts were defeated indeed through the multiplication in every quarter of unadulterated specimens of the inspired text. This provided a sufficient safeguard against the grosser forms of corruption. Did not the Holy Spirit, the Divine Author of Holy Writ pledge Himself to guide his children into all truth? The Church has been perpetually purging herself of those shamefully depraved copies which once everywhere abounded. Never, however, up to the present hour, has there been any complete eradication of all traces of the attempted mischief. These are found to have lingered on anciently in many quarters. The wounds were healed, but the scars remained - nay, the scars are discernible still.

What, in the meantime, is to be thought of those blind guides, those deluded ones, who would now persuade us to go back to those same codices, of which the Church hath already purged herself." (The above has been condensed).

Coming back to the early centuries, Hill says:

The true text continued to circulate among the more lowly and humble classes of Christian folk virtually undisturbed by the influence of other texts. Moreover, because it was difficult for these less prosperous Christians to obtain new manuscripts, they put the ones they had to maximum use. Thus all these early manuscripts of the true text were eventually worn out. The papyri which do survive seem for the most part to be prestige-texts which were preserved in the libraries of ancient schools. According to Aland (1963), both the Chester Beatty and the Bodmer Papyri may have been kept at such an institution. But the papyri with the true text were read to pieces by the believing Bible students of antiquity. In the providence of God they were used by the Church. They survived long enough, however, to preserve the true (Traditional) New Testament text during this early period of obscurity and to bring it out into the period of triumph which followed.

The victorious march of the New Testament text toward triumph was realized in the 4th century. The great 4th century conflict with the Arian heresy brought orthodox Christians to a theological maturity which enabled them, under the leading, of the Holy Spirit, to perceive the superior doctrinal soundness and richness of the true text. In ever increasing numbers Christians in the higher social brackets abandoned the corrupt prestige-texts which they had been using and turned to the well-worn manuscripts of their poorer brethren, manuscripts which, though meaner in appearance, were found in reality to be far more precious, since they contained the true New Testament text. No doubt they paid handsome sums to have copies made of these ancient books, and this was done so often that these venerable documents were worn out through much handling by the scribes. But before these old manuscripts finally perished, they left behind them a host of fresh copies made from them and bearing witness to the true text. Thus it was that the true (Traditional) text became the standard text now found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.

During the march of the Traditional (Byzantine) text toward supremacy many manuscripts of the Traditional type must have perished. The investigations of Lake (1928) and his associates indicate that this was so. "Why", he asked, "are there only a few fragments (even in the two oldest of the monastic collections, Sinai and St. Saba) which come from a date earlier than the 10th century". There must have been in existence many thousands of manuscripts of the gospels in the great days of Byzantine prosperity, between the 4th and the 10th centuries.

As a result of these investigations, Lake found it "hard to resist the conclusion that the scribes usually destroyed their exemplars when they copied the sacred books." If Lake’s hypothesis is correct, then the manuscripts most likely to be destroyed would be those containing the Traditional text. For these were the ones which were copied most during the period between the 4th and the 10th centuries, as is proved by the fact that the vast majority of the later Greek New Testament manuscripts are of the Traditional type.

By the same token, the survival of old uncial manuscripts of the Alexandrian and Western type, such as B. Aleph and D, was due to the fact that they were rejected by the Church and not read or copied but allowed to rest relatively undisturbed on the library shelves of ancient monasteries. Burgon (1883) pointed this out long ago, and it is most significant that his observation was confirmed more than forty years later by the researches of Lake.

When we say that the Holy Spirit guided the Church to preserve the true New Testament text, we are not speaking of the Church as an Organization but of the Church as an organism. We do not mean that in the latter part of the 4th century the Holy Spirit guided the bishops to the true text and that then the bishops issued decrees for the guidance of the common people. Investigations indicate that the Holy Spirit's guidance worked in precisely the opposite direction. The trend toward the true (Traditional) text began with the common people, the rank and file, and then rapidly built up to such strength that the bishops and other official leaders were carried along with it. Chrysostom, for example, does not seem to have initiated this trend, for, as stated above, studies by Geerlings and New and by Dicks indicate that Chrysostom did not always use the Traditional text.

There is evidence that the triumphal march of the Traditional (Byzantine) text met with resistance in certain quarters. There were some scribes and scholars who were reluctant to renounce entirely their faulty Western, Alexandrian and Caesarean texts. And so they compromised by following sometimes their false texts and sometimes the true (Traditional) text. Thus arose those classes of mixed manuscripts described by von Soden and other scholars. This would ex-plain also the non-Traditional readings which Colwell and his associates have found in certain portions of the lectionary manuscripts. And if Birdsall is right in his contention that Photius (815-897), patriarch of Constantinople, customarily used the Caesarean text, this too must be regarded as a belated effort on the part of this learned churchman to keep up the struggle against the Traditional text. But his endeavor was in vain. Even before his time the God-guided preference of the common people for the true (Traditional) New Testament text had prevailed, causing it to be adopted generally throughout the Greek-speaking Church. (Hill).

We conclude this section with several penetrating statements by Zane Hodges:

"Herein lies the greatest weakness of contemporary textual criticism. Denying to the TR any claim to represent the actual form of the original text, it is nevertheless unable to explain its rise, its comparative uniformity, and its dominance in any satisfactory manner."

He states further, "All minority text forms are, on this view, merely divergent offshoots of the broad stream of transmission whose source is the autographs themselves."

He says again, "Under normal circumstances, the older a text is than its rivals, the greater are its chances to survive in a plurality or a majority of the texts extant at any subsequent period. But the oldest text of all is the autograph. Thus it ought to be taken for granted that, barring some radical dislocation in the history of transmission, a majority of texts will be far more likely to represent correctly the character of the original than a small minority of texts. This is especially true when the ratio is an overwhelming 8:1. Under any reasonably normal transmission conditions, it would be quite impossible for a later text-form (which critics declare the TR to be) to secure so one-sided a preponderance!! (quoted in INTT and "Which Bible."

And finally, "The existence in early times of this text (the Alexandrian) outside of Egypt is unproved...on the other hand, witnesses to the Majority Text came from all over the ancient world." (The Greek N.T. According to the Majority Text).

continue with Part Three: The Witness of Early Church Fathers to the Received Text