22. The first Printed Greek New Testament.

The Printed Greek Text.

After the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg (1398 – 1468)

Gutenberg Press. Image from Wikipedia

around 1439, one of his first projects was the printing of a magnificent edition of the Latin Vulgate during 1450 to 1456. At least 100 prints of these editions were undertaken by different printing houses during the following 50 years. Bibles were also printed in most of the local languages ofWestern Europelike Bohemian (Czech), French, German and Italian. Most of these translations were made from the Latin Vulgate since it was the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1488 a complete Hebrew Old Testament was printed by Soncino Printers inLombardy.

Luther Bible. Image from Wikipedia

A Greek New Testament was only printed in 1514, mainly due to two reasons:

1) The prestige and prime position held by the Latin Vulgate of Jerome. Any printed Greek test posted the danger that anyone with knowledge of both Latin and Greek could criticize the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

2) The Minuscule Greek handwriting had more than 200 different letters or combinations of letters in use. To reproduce so many letters would by time consuming and extremely expensive. As time went by, the Greek alphabet was reduced to the present 24 characters keeping only one alternative letter viz. the “s”.  As first letter of a word, or in the middle, it is rendered “σ” while at the end, “ς”.

In 1514 a Spanish cardinal, Ximines printed a polyglot Bible consisting of the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin texts. It was based on excellent source texts. This edition in six volumes contained the first printed Greek New Testament. Unfortunately Ximines waited for the sanction of Pope Leo X before he could publish (distribute) it. This sanction was only given in 1520. The Polyglot was made available only in 1522.

Desiderius Erasmus. Wikipedia.

Desiderius Erasmus, (1469 – 1536) a Dutch authority on Latin wanted to publish a Greek New Testament and discussed the project with Johann Froben, a publisher inBasleduring a visit in August 1514. When Froben heard of Ximines’ Polyglot, he decided to beat him in being the first to publish the Greek. There would be great prestige involved, and the economical   Desiderius Erasmus considerations were self explanatory. When Erasmus arrived inBasle, to his concern he could only find inferior manuscripts of the twelfth century requiring a certain amount of correcting before it could be used as a printer’s copy. The work was started, and he compared the manuscripts with his copy of the Vulgate. Later he acquired a few more manuscripts.

I quote from the Wikipedia, with addition of the century in brackets:

“Erasmus used manuscripts No.1: Gospels (XII), No.1: Revelation (XII), No.2: Gospels, Acts, and Epistles of Paul (XII), No.4: Acts and Epistles of Paul (XV), No.7: Epistles of Paul (XI) and No.817: Gospels (XV). The second edition … eventually became a major source for Luther’s German translation. In the second edition (1519) Erasmus used also Minuscule No.3: Gospels, Acts and Epistles of Paul (XII). Typographical errors (attributed to the rush to complete the work) abounded in the published text. Erasmus also lacked a complete copy of the book of Revelation and was forced to translate the last six verses back into Greek from the Latin Vulgate in order to finish his edition. Erasmus adjusted the text in many places to correspond with readings found in the Vulgate, or as quoted in the Church Fathers; consequently, although the Textus Receptus is classified by scholars as a late Byzantine text, it differs in nearly two thousand readings from the standard form of that text-type…

Unfortunately, his manuscript on Revelation was not complete, it lacked the final leaf, which contained the last six verses of the book. Instead of delaying the publication, on account of the search for another manuscript, he decided to translate the missing verses from the Latin Vulgate into Greek. He used a corrupted manuscript of Vulgate with textual variant libro vitae (book of life) instead ligno vitae (tree of life) in Rev 22:14. Even in other parts of the Book of Revelation and other books of the New Testament Erasmus occasionally introduced self-created Greek text material taken from the Vulgate. F. H. A. Scrivener remarked, that in Rev 17:4 he created a new Greek word: ακαθαρτητος (instead τα ακαθαρτα). There is no such word in the Greek language as ακαθαρτητος. In Rev 17:8 he used καιπερ εστιν (and yet is) instead of και παρεσται (and shall come).”

In his dedication to Pope Leo X, Erasmus says: “I perceived that that teaching which is our salvation was to be had in a much purer and more lively form if sought at the fountain-head and drown from the actual sources than from pools and runnels. And so I have revised the whole New Testament (as they call it) against the standard of the Greek original…I have added annotations of my own, in order in the first place to show the reader what changes I have made, and why; second, to disentangle and explain anything that may be complicated, ambiguous, or obscure.(My accentuation.)

In only five months Erasmus prepared the text, the movable case letters were fabricated and the whole New Testament printed. On March the first 1516 it was finished. With his second edition in 1519, Erasmus made some 400 alterations. In his third edition (1522) 1John 5:7-8 was elaborated to the words found in the King James Version. Erasmus could find no Greek manuscript with those words and promised to add the words even if only one Greek manuscript could be found with those words. Codex Montfortianus, a manuscript being written during that time, is the only Greek manuscript with those words part of the text. (In a few manuscripts these words were later added as “corrections”). In a footnote, Erasmus himself expressed his suspicion that this codex had intently been prepared for that purpose. Again Erasmus made a further 117 alterations on the previous text. With his fourth edition (1527) in Revelation alone, 90 alterations were made. His last edition (1535) was published a year before his death.

Several printing houses published Erasmus’ text.

Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevir boasted as follows in the preface of their second edition of Erasmus’ text in 1633: “[the reader has] the text which is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted”. (Metzger p106) From this advertisement the name Textus Receptus (TR) is derived. For most of the older translations like the King James Version and the Dutch State Translation, the TR had been used as source text.

How do we evaluate the Textus Receptus? Consider the following:

Erasmus had only late manuscripts of the eleventh to sixteenth centuries to his avail, all being of the inferior Byzantine text type.

Erasmus wrote to Pope Leo X that he himself “improved” the Greek text.

For the last six verses of Revelation he had no Greek manuscript and therefore translated from the Latin into Greek, even creating his own new word!

He made many alterations in following editions of his own text.

Other printing houses also made several alterations in their versions of his text.

Because of the availability of the printed edition, and it being more easily read than a hand written manuscript, most of the older translations were made using the TR without questioning or verifying or comparing it with older manuscripts.

One could honestly ask whether it is sufficient to completely rely on such a text.

Even so, not one truth concerning faith, or the Trinity, or the deity of Jesus Christ, or the commission and work of the Holy Spirit, or any other aspect of importance in the Christian Faith is affected by the differences between the Textus Receptus and the compiled Greek text of the present Bible Societies.

The question for me is whether I should trust the text of a man quickly printing a text to be the first to have the best slice of the financial cake, or should I trust a Bible Society providing all the evidence and taking all manuscripts into account before they compile a text?

God Bless!



About bibledifferencesfacts

I am a retired preacher of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. Since my studies at the University of Pretoria I had a keen interest in the reasons for the differences between the translations of the Bible, especially the New Testament. Since 1973 I am married to my dear wife and greatest friend, Leah Page. We are blessed with two daughters and two sons, two grand sons and one grand daughter. God is alive and omnipotent! Glory to His Name! Herman
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