“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.”
“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”
“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.”
Order of Contents
Where to Start?
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
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.
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.
“The words of men are perishable, being the words of perishable men; but… His words resemble Himself – they are imperishable, immortal.”
John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan
Where to Start? (in order of easy to more advanced)
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.
The classic defense of the Majority Text of Greek New Testament manuscripts
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:
A Problem with Modern Eclecticism
The Byzantine Priority Method
Principles towards Restoration of the Text
Principles of Internal Evidence
Principles of External Evidence
Inaccuracies and Misleading Claims
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.
Dr. Pickering answers Aland, Fee & Wallace.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
What specific version of the Majority Text this translation is based off of is not clear, nor is his translation philosophy anywhere described.
Differences Between the Majority Text and the King James Version
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Differences Between Majority Text Editions
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).
Website for Further Resources
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.’
“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…”