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Combs on the History of the Textus Receptus

[NOTE: As most of you know, I’m working on a project tracing the history of the KJV-only debate. While researching, I came across an excellent article written by Dr. William Combs, academic dean and professor of theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Inaugurating the seminary’s journal, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Dr. Combs began with an article, Erasmus and the Textus Receptus.

This first issue of the Journal is dedicated to Dr. William R. Rice,
the founder of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Like most fundamentalists in this century, Dr. Rice has always used the KJV in his public ministry. He often consulted other versions and commonly suggested alternative or improved translations from the pulpit. He never made an issue of Greek texts and English translations. Yet today there is a growing debate in fundamentalism regarding English translations of the Scripture and the texts behind them, especially the NT Greek text. One area of dispute involves the Greek Textus Receptus. For those who may be new to this controversy, Textus Receptus is a Latin term which means “Received Text.” The name itself comes from an edition of the Greek NT produced by Bonaventura and Abraham Elzevir (or Elzevier). The Elzevirs printed seven editions of the Greek NT between 1624 and 1678.1 Their second edition (1633) has this sentence in the preface: “Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum, in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus” (Therefore you [dear reader] have the text now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted). From this statement (Textum…receptum) comes the term Textus Receptus or TR, which today is commonly applied to all editions of the Greek NT before the Elzevir’s, beginning with Erasmus’ in 1516.

Numerous individuals who identify themselves with fundamentalism are now arguing that the TR is to be equated with the text of the original manuscripts of the NT. For example, D. A. Waite says: It is my own personal conviction and belief, after studying this subject since 1971, that the words of the Received Greek and Masoretic Hebrew texts that underlie the King James Bible are the very words which God has preserved down through the centuries, being the exact words of the originals themselves. As such, I believe they are inspired words.

That the TR, which underlies the KJV, could be thought to be “the exact words of the originals themselves” would seem to be far-fetched, to say the least, to anyone familiar with the history of the TR. But possibly, that is part of the problem; some who hold the TR position may not be adequately informed about the position they champion. This article will seek to shed some light on this subject by bringing forth the well-established facts about the history of the TR.

Dr. Combs concludes,

Upon receiving a copy of Erasmus’ Latin Greek NT, John Colet responded: “The name of Erasmus shall never perish.”89 His “prophecy” has proved to be true for nearly 500 years. His “Textus Receptus” was the standard form of the Greek Text until challenged in the nineteenth century, but, as has been noted, still has many defenders in fundamental circles. Greenlee has wisely observed: “The TR is not a ‘bad’ or misleading text, either theologically or practically.”90 No one will be led into theological error from using the TR, either directly or in a translation based on it (e.g., KJV and NKJV). But is it, as Waite believes, “the exact words of the originals themselves”? Hardly! It is based on a few very late manuscripts, and in some cases has no Greek manuscript support whatever. Without question it is possible to produce a text which is closer to the autographs by comparing the more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts available today. Fundamentalists should reject the attempts by some in our movement to make the TR the only acceptable form of Greek text.

I highly recommended reading this article in its entirety. DBSJ has graciously provided it free of charge here: http://www.dbts.edu/journals/1996_1/ERASMUS.PDF