The Ecclesiastical Text

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

Matt 5:18

“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

Lk. 16:17

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.”

Ps. 12:6-7

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Order of Contents

Introduction
Where to Start?
Articles

Books
History of
The Majority Text in English
Differences Between the Majority & the KJV

Editions of the Greek Majority Text
Differences between the Greek Majority Texts
Websites for Further Resources
A Church Declaration
Quotes

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Introduction

Views

Regarding the preservation of the Greek New Testament, there are two main schools of thought: (1) the Critical Texts, and (2) the Ecclesiastical (or, Traditional, Byzantine, Majority, etc.) Texts.

(1) Three or so Critical Texts were discovered in the 1800′s in Egypt.  Most Bible versions are based off of them today.  They disagree with 8% of the text of scripture that had been preserved in the Ecclesiastical Texts that the Church had been using for 1800 years.  This significantly affects the Doctrine of Inspiration, as many verses you learned in Sunday School, according to the Critical Texts, are not the Word of God. 

(2) The Ecclesiastical (Majority, Byzantine, etc) Texts comprise about 5,000 manuscripts from across the world, and have been the traditional text that the Church has always used.  The King James Version (Textus Receptus) comes from this tradition.  The reformers and puritans were universally agreed in their affirmation of the Ecclesiastical Text, not for circumstantial reasons, but because of scriptural reasons.  Below are resources that defend the majority, Church history view. 

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Does this Issue Really Matter?  

While no primary doctrine of Christianity is lost in the Critical Texts, many secondary and tertiary doctrines are significantly altered.  See here for a list of 40 Doctrinally Significant Variants.¹  

¹ Mt 5:22,44; 6:1,13; 9:13; 17:21; 18:11; 19:17; 20:16; 20:22; 23:14; Mk 1:2; 6:11; 7:8; 9:29,44,46,49; 10:21,24; 16:9-20; Lk 2:40; 18:28; 22:43-44, 64; 23:34, 42, 45; Jn 1:18; 3:13; 5:4; Acts 2:30; 8:37; 10:30; 24:6-8; 28:29; Rom 8:1; 11:6; 1 Tim. 3:16; James 2:20; 1 Jn 4:3;    

Thus the doctrine of inspiration, of what is the inspired Word of God, is very much affected.  God places a curse upon those who either cut out or add to the Word of God (Rev. 22:18-19).

It should also be noted that the Ecclesiastical Text position is taught in Westminster Confession (1646) 1.8:

“The Old Testament in Hebrew… and the New Testament in Greek… being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical (Mt 5:18)…”

For one who is familiar with the field of textual criticism and wants to interact with the best positive and balanced case and defense for the Ecclesiastical Text position, see Dr. Maurice Robinson’s scholarly (but readable) essay: The Case for Byzantine Priority  Buy.

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“The words of men are perishable, being the words of perishable men; but… His words resemble Himself – they are imperishable, immortal.”

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

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Where to Start?  (in order of easy to more advanced)

Quote

Bernardinus De Moor  (1709-1780)

Didactico-Elenctic Theology, vol. 2

p. 168

“We concede some corruption of the founts [of the Scriptures as we have them], but of what sort?  α. accidental, β. of some exemplars, γ. of one point or letter or another, δ. [they which are] always correctable from parallels.

But we deny corruption, α. done deliberately by the Jews, β. universal, of all codices, γ. of the whole context, δ. frequent, and, ε. irreparable, through which, if by then it be nearly universal, the sense would thus be injured, inasmuch as the sense would no longer be able to be discovered in the context or by parallels.  We demonstrate this negative assertion:

α.  From the providence of God, which by a singular kindness has so watched over our codex that it might not at any time take in anything defective, according to Isa. 40:8, compared with 1 Pet. 1:25.  But, if the divine providence willed as much to preserve for the Church the canon perpetual, as to preserve for the canon its integrity, it follows that today’s canon of Scripture is uncorrupted: otherwise God would not have achieved His goal.

But divine providence willed as much to preserve for the Church the canon perpetual; for to this end God granted to the Church θεόπνευστον (inspired Scripture), so that thence it might be certain of the will of the Divine Being and the way of pursuing salvation, and have an immovable foundation and norm for faith and worship: as to preserve for the canon its integrity; for God keeps the same will still today, even toward the Church, to be saved through the Word, and concerning the Scripture, as the means of salvation, which will He was fostering when He first delivered to the Church the same Scripture in writing.  Therefore, even today the canon of Scripture is uncorrupted.”

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Articles

Adeyemi, Seni – The Preservation of Scripture  2016  20 paragrpahs

Adeyemi gives an excellent introduction to the Scriptural issues at stake.  He includes numerous choice quotes from the reformers and puritans, and clearly distinguishes the change of viewpoint that came into reformed theology through B.B. Warfield’s deficient view of preservation (which has since become the norm). 

Kayser, Phillip – “Has God Indeed Said?”:  The Preservation of the Text of the New Testament,  PDF, 2004, 35 pages, with Wilbur Pickering.  Kayser wrote the first two sections, Pickering the third section

Kayser is especially helpful in listing out the Biblical verses and presuppositions that factor into, and should guide, the issues.  He and Pickering also overwhelmingly show the corruption of the critical texts and the superiority of the Majority Texts.

Wilson, Andrew – Prefer the Shorter Reading?  n.d.  8 paragraphs with two charts

One of the most foundational pillars of critical textual criticism since its rise in the late 1800’s has been to (almost always) prefer the shorter reading, which pillar is still widely popular today.  This unproven assumption is based upon the premise that scribes would most of the time have willingly expanded the text, which means that the shorter reading was original (contrary to them having any fear of God and contrary to the testimony of the early Church Fathers).

This pillar of modern textual criticism, unbeknownst to many, has been thoroughly disproved by half a dozen recent textual studies.  Consistent with common sense, scribes, insofar as they unintentionally made mistakes, most often simply left a letter or word out (bad eyesight).  Wilson provides a table.  Modern textual criticism, which underlies the basis of most modern Bible versions, has no clothes on; but rather has been cutting out the Word of God (Rev. 22:18-19).

Pickering, Wilbur – An Examination of the Alexandrian Texts,  PDF, 2004, 7 pages, beginning on p. 28.  This is section three of the larger work co-authored with Phillip Kayser,“Hath God Indeed Said?”: The Preservation of the Text of the New Testament

Pickering demonstrates that the critical Greek texts of the New Testament that many of current Bible translations are based on, are inferior to the traditional texts.

C.S.P.M.T. – Byzantine Greek New Testament: Introduction  2014  8 pages 

This gives a historical account of the preservation of the Majority Text.

Pickering, Wilbur – The Identity of the New Testament Text  Buy  1977, 2014  191 pages, Be sure to read the latest edition, currently number IV (as of 2015)

The classic defense of the Majority Text of Greek New Testament manuscripts

Robinson, Maurice – The Case for Byzantine Priority  Buy  2001, 113 paragraphs

The Majority text is also known as the Ecclesiastical, or Byzantine text, as the Christian scribes in Byzantium during the Early Church and Middle Ages transcribed the majority of New Testament texts in Greek that have been traditionally used by the historic Christian Church.

This scholarly, yet readable, essay is the best, most balanced and careful description and argument for the ‘Majority Text’.  Here are Dr. Robinson’s extensive credentials.  Here is the outline to his essay:

Introduction
A Problem with Modern Eclecticism
The Byzantine Priority Method
Principles towards Restoration of the Text
Principles of Internal Evidence
Principles of External Evidence
Objections Answered
Inaccuracies and Misleading Claims
Concluding Observations

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Articles

1600’s

Cartwright, Thomas – Syn Theōi en Christōi:  The Answer to the Preface of the Rhemish Testament  ToC  1602

Cartwright, Thomas & William Fulke – “Confutation of the Rhemists’ Preface” in Confutation of the Rhemist Testament 1st ed. 1618, rep. 1834

The Rhemist version of the New Testament in English was a Roman Catholic translation from the Latin of the Vulgate.  Naturally this begs the question of the Greek original and its preservation.  Hence Cartwright (1534-1603)) and Fulke (1538-1589) have many things to say in this confutation of that preface regarding God’s preservation of the original Greek up through the manuscripts which they had in that day.

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1900’s

Clark, Gordon – Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism  Buy  1990  50 pp.

This short and easy to read booklet is both informative and humorous.  Clark shines the spotlight on the subjective and unfounded method that liberal textual critics commonly use (specifically, Bruce Metzgers Textual Commentary) and sprinkles the whole with arguments for the Majority Text.  

Crampton, W. Gary 

Blackballing Jesus  1995  4 pp.

In 1985 a group of 35 liberal scholars held the Jesus seminar in search for the ‘historical Jesus’.  Their method was that of textual criticism, to vote how likely each verse of the gospels was, by casting colored beads reflective of their vote.  Black meant that the saying at hand was definitely not Jesus’.  Crampton exposes this nonsense masquerading under the name of scholarship.

Original Manuscripts, the Majority Text, and Translations  2004  8 pp.

Pickering, Wilbur

Articles on the Objective Authority of the Biblical Text

Answers to Published Critics

Dr. Pickering answers Aland, Fee & Wallace.

Articles on New Testament Textual Criticism and Family 35

Robinson, Maurice 

105 Verses in the Critical Greek Text of the New
Testament Without Any Manuscript Support  2015  37 pages

What happens when textual critics cut and manipulate the Greek New Testament according to their every whim?  105 of the verses in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (which most Bible versions are based off of) are shown not to exist in any actual manuscript of the Greek N.T. that we have.   

Crossing Boundaries in New Testament Textual Criticism:
Historical Revisionism and the Case of Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener  2002  54 paragraphs

F.H.A. Scrivener was a leading textual critic and defender of the traditionally received text during the late-1800’s.   Daniel Wallace called the claiming of Scrivener for the Majority text position by M.T. advocates to be historical revisionism.  While Scrivener had his own unique textual theories, Robinson documents that Scrivener agreed by and large with Majority Text presuppositions and that Wallace’s portrait of him is historical revisionism.  

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Books

1500’s

Fulke, William – A Defence of the Sincere and True Translations of the Holy Scriptures into the English Tongue, Against the Cavils of Gregory Martin  1583

Fulke (1538–1589) was an English Puritan divine.  Fulke makes some of the first references to the ‘common received text’ in English (pp. 86, 533-4).

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1900’s

Letis, Theodore 

The Ecclesiastical Text: Text Criticism, Biblical Authority & the Popular Mind  Buy  1997  232 pp.

From a customer review: ‘This book puts [James] White and [Daniel] Wallace [contemporary evangelical critical text scholars that have critiqued the Majority Text position] in the corner in a fetal position.’

The Majority Text: Essays and Reviews in the Continuing Debate  1987 edited by Letis, 210 pp.

Edward Freer Hill’s Contribution to the Revival of the Ecclesiastical Text  1987  177 pp.

Sturz, Harry – The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism  Buy   1984  305 pp.

While Sturz is not a Byzantine text advocate, he argues that the Byzantine texts are far more reliable than what the critical text advocates have often given them credit for.  He takes a middle position.

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2000’s

Various – Digging for the Truth – Collected Essays regarding the Byzantine Text of the Greek New Testament; A Festschrift in Honor of Maurice A. Robinson  Buy  2014  207 pp.

Guarino, Giuseppe –  The Majority Text of the Greek New Testament: An Apology of the text of the New Testament Found in the Vast Majority of Surviving Greek Manuscripts  Buy  2015  132 pp.

Milne, Garnet – Has the Bible been kept pure?  The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Providential Preservation of Scripture  Buy  2017  322 pp.

“This work of historical theology looks at the religious epistemology of the Westminster divines and especially what they meant in their Section 1:8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith when they stated that the Scriptures had been kept pure in all ages by God’s providence.  I discuss whether they meant to teach that only the doctrine or the doctrine in its autographic text of Scripture had been preserved entire.  The Westminster divines held that both the sense or doctrine and the pure text of the original revelation in the original languages had been kept pure through all ages.” – Milne

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The History of Textual Criticism

Article

Vogan, Matthew – ‘Thomas Cartwright and the Bible’ 2019  13 paragraphs

Vogan quotes Cartwright as to his theory of translation and of textual preservation.  See Cartwright, Syn Theōi en Christōi the Answere to the preface of the Rhemish Testament  ToC (1602), which was later republished as A Confutation of the Rhemists translation, glosses and annotations on the New Testament  Ref (1618).  See also edition by William Fulke (1538-1589), Confutation of the Rhemish Testament.

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Book

Krans, Jan – Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament  Buy (Brill, 2006)  384 pp.

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The Majority Text in English

The textual base for the King James Version (the Textus Receptus, or ‘Received Text’) was largely put together from a dozen or so Greek manuscripts by Erasmus.  While the KJV is a very good translation (one of the best), we have a lot more Greek manuscripts available today (5,000+).  

Unfortunately there has not yet been a major, large scale translation of the Majority Text into English (publishing houses are not renowned for their scrupulous faithfulness to every jot and tittle of God’s Word).  The only translations that have been done have been by single individuals.  Dr. Maurice Robinson (according to his bibliography) is also working on an English translation.   

Pickering, Wilbur – The New Testament with Commentary: The Sovereign Creator has Spoken: Objective Authority for Living  Buy  2013

The textual base for this translation is what Dr. Pickering considered to be the most faithful group of texts from within the Majority Texts (see below under Greek Editions of the Majority Text).  The English translation philosophy, unfortunately, is not ideal though.  Bible translations by single individuals (as opposed to groups of scholars with regulated processes of review) are notorious for uneven quality, idiosyncratic readings, etc.  

The commentary to the text by way of footnotes is mostly practical and instructive for the beginner or intermediate student of God’s Word (and is not related to textual criticism).

Esposito, Paul – The English Majority Text Version (EMTV)  Buy  2013  

What specific version of the Majority Text this translation is based off of is not clear, nor is his translation philosophy anywhere described.

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Differences Between the Majority Text and the King James Version

In English

Marlowe, Michael – The Majority Text Compared to the Received Text  

This page is a collection of all the translatable differences (in English) between the King James Version and the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text.  Marlowe is a reformed Christian and the webmaster of Bible-Researcher.com.

Pierpont, William – Some Improvements to the King James Version from the Majority Greek Manuscripts  1991

‘This is a pamphlet… giving in English about 800 readings of the Pierpont & Robinson text where it differs from the Greek text presumed to underlie the King James version.’ – Bible-Researcher.com

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In Greek

Könni, Jussi – Collation of Robinson & Pierpont vs. Scrivener

This document compares in Greek the differences between the Robinson-Pierpont Majority Text and the Textus Receptus edition (1881) of F.H.A. Scrivener, which underlies the King James Version.  

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Editions of the Greek Majority Texts 

Robinson, Maurice – The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005  Buy  2005  587 pages  

This is the best Greek Majority Text available today.  There is an excellent scholarly appendix in the book on “The Case for Byzantine Priority.”  This high quality and very well done book is selling at cost for $12, which is dramatically less than the Critical Text editions which often go for more than $100. 

Pickering, W. – The Byzantine Greek New Testament  HTML  Buy   The online version is the same as the print version though they have different titles.  The online version has no textual apparatus; the printed book does.

The Family 35 line of transmission that this text is based off of is considered by Dr. Pickering to be the most accurate and pure within the Majority Text.  He defends that thesis in a series of articles here.  However, there are pros and cons to this Greek edition:  

Pro:  The editions of Robinson-Pierpont and Hodges-Farstad are largely based on Hermann von Soden’s collation of the Byzantine Text (1911).  Pickering cites two significant pieces of evidence in his Introduction (to the print edition) that von Soden’s work ‘not infrequently’ is ‘seriously off the mark’.  Pickering’s edition stems from his work ‘reconsider[ing] the evidence for the whole New Testament…’ 

Con:  Pickering’s using of primarily one family of texts within the Majority Text seems a bit simplistic and unnecessarily discounts the usefulness of the other texts within the Majority Text tradition.  See Dr. Robinson’s essay for a more balanced approach.  

Greek Orthodox Church – Greek New Testament  Buy  1904

The Greek Orthodox Church was in large measure the Church that preserved the Majority Texts through history.  This 1904 edition is their standard edition.  Here is an introduction to the textual base of this edition.  Here is the preface (in English) to the print version.  Here is an English summary to the original preface of the 1904 version.

Hodges, Zane & Arthur Farstad  – The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, with Apparatus  Buy  1982, 1985

This edition, while helpful and valuable, has a simplistic method for determining the preferred reading: a statistical method of literally counting which reading by the external evidence is the majority (counting noses).  Unfortunately this has become a caricature of the Majority Text position.  For a solidly grounded textual philosophy, see Dr. Robinson’s essay.  Hodges and Farstad were professors at Dallas Theological Seminary.

von Soden, Hermann – Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments in ihrer ältesten erreichbaren Textgestalt hergestellt auf Grund ihrer Textgeschichte [The Writings of the New Testament restored to their earliest attainable Text-form on the Basis of their Textual History] vols. I (Prolegomena), 2 (Text with Appartus)  1913  

Von Soden’s German work was the first major modern study to collate the Majority Text manuscripts.  While the work is not faultless, Dr. M. Robinson evaluates it as ‘generally reliable’.  Most modern Majority Texts (above) are based to a significant extent on von Soden’s work. 

‘Von Soden’s text is based upon a theory of the manuscript tradition which divides witnesses into three basic groups: the Koine text (from Asia Minor), the Hesychian text (from Egypt), and the Jerusalem text. These three are reconstructed by von Soden and put on the same level as witnesses to the original text. Wherever two agree upon a reading he adopts that reading in his text. Consequently, von Soden’s text approaches much more closely to the Received Text than any other modern critical edition.’ – Bible-Researcher.com

More Manuscripts from the Majority Text Tradition and from families within the Majority Text

The first link gives 4 more Greek Orthodox texts and 11 texts from the Received Text tradition (which is a subset of the Majority Text tradition), from the Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text.  

The second link gives various other manuscripts from within smaller families within the Majority Text.

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Differences Between Majority Text Editions

Borland, Jonathan – Collation of the Text of Hodges and Farstad against the Text of Robinson and Pierpont

This is a collation of all the differences (in Greek) between the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text edition and the Robinson-Pierpont Majority Text edition.  There are 330 ‘major variants’ between them, which is almost nothing in the world of textual criticism: many books of the N.T. have either no, or less than three, variants.  Over half of the variants (185) are in the Book of Revelation, which is one of the textually thornier books.  

To get an idea of the overwhelming number of times the critical texts disagree with themselves, see Pickering’s article ‘An Examination of the Alexandrian Texts’ (above).

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Website for Further Resources

Center for Study and Preservation of the Majority Text

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A Church Declaration

‘Statement on Scripture’ by the Illinois Lutheran Conference  5-4-1983

‘We teach that the original manuscripts (autographa) alone are verbally inspired (2 Pet. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16) being preserved through copies to this day in their full integrity by the Holy Spirit who gave them (John 17:20, Matt 28:20, 24:35).  We teach that through the family of manuscripts called the Majority (‘M’) texts which form the basis of the K.J.V. of 1611 (Textus Receptus) as well as Luther’s German Translation, the Scriptures have been brought to us today in their full pristine (original) integrity in spite of the variant readings in the Majority manuscripts.’

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Quotes

Bernardinus De Moor (1709-1780)

On the Imperishability of canonical books.  Didactico-Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 339-340

“ . . . although many things, written by θεοπνεύστοις (inspired men), but not θεοπνεύστως, by inspiration, may have perished; or even θεοπνεύστα, inspired writing, but not writings destined by God that they might be referred into the public canon and repository of the Church: no Canonical writings, pertaining according to the intention of God to the Canon and corpus of the Scripture of the Old or New Testament, and at length also brought and received into that same Canon, have perished.  This we prove:

α.  By the Immutability of the Counsel of God, with the End of the Scriptures brought to bear.  For what books God caused to be written, that they might be the perpetual canon of faith and manners for the universal Church, these He ought to preserve in good repair from dissolution. The rationale of the major [premise] is that the counsel of God would have otherwise been disappointed, and failed of its end: but this is absurd.  But concerning books of this sort, destined for the perpetual canon, we treat here in accordance with the stated hypothesis/supposition: concerning which things, Paul treats in Romans 15:4, [in Greek] “for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope”.  Of the writings of this sort, therefore, nothing should perish, unless that goal in the writing of the same at the same time perish: hence nothing is to be added to, and nothing is to be removed from, the Canon (Rev. 22:18,19).

β.  By the providence of God continually keeping watch for the salvation of the Church, which cannot be thought to be able to permit that the Church might suffer the loss or mutilation of so great a treasure as the canon of Scripture; and which is actually shown in all the times of the Old and New Testaments in the careful preservation of sacred Scripture, even in the greatest defections and vexations of the Church.

γ.  By repeated promises and declaration (Mt. 5:18; Isa. 40:8; 1 Peter 1:23, 25).  But, if God so carefully averts the mutilation and destruction of individual texts and their words, that not one little letter or the smallest point is able to perish; how much more would He prevent the destruction of entire books? especially since He wills to preserve His Word in the Church in written books.

δ.  The vigilance and care of the Church is added, both of the Christian Church, which vigilance shows itself in such a number of writings of the holy fathers, in which they commend the sacred Scriptures, and discuss and enumerate the books comprehended in the canon, and carefully inquire concerning any ἀντιλεγομένῳ (disputed books); and also especially of the Jewish Church, to which the custody of the canon of the Old Testament was committed, and in this matter is nowhere accused of negligence or treachery by the Lord or his apostles: on the contrary, its care in preserving the integrity of the canon in the latter times was almost excessive and superstitious, inasmuch as the Masoretes [medieval Jewish group] set about numbering, not only the sacred books, but the sections, verses, words, and even the very letters, so that in this manner they might post [in Hebrew] “a guard for the Law, lest in any manner it might be able to be altered,”…

Also read the concise arguments for the uninjured integrity of the canon by Petrus Dinant…  in which it is argued out of Mt. 5:18…  that the codex of the Old Testament was preserved safe and sound unto the time of Christ…  and that the unbelief of the Jews did no harm to it thereafter, he shows from their superstitious care for the uninjured integrity of the sacred codex, while he discourses concerning the means, by which, under the benign guidance of divine providence, the Christian Church in turn watched over the preservation of the canon of the New Testament.”

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“Oh, it is a pitiable thing for a poor silly puppy of a sciolist to stand up in the pulpit vexing the people by shaking their confidence in our good English translation [the K.J.V.]”

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

“…the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

1 Tim. 3:15

“…the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life…”

Rev. 22:18-19

Related Pages

Textual Criticism

Inspiration of the Bible

Inerrancy of the Bible

The Original Languages of the Bible

Bible

Bible Background

Hermeneutics