What we should know about the Critical Text
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What today's Christian needs to know about
The Greek New Testament
G. W. Anderson, Editorial Manager
In recent years there has been much confusion concerning modern
translations and editions of the Greek New Testament. Some people
make claims regarding the Greek New Testament without having
information and facts to support their claims. Many people claim
that their translations are accurate because those translations are
based upon the best available Greek texts. Some claim that their
translations are better than the Authorised Version because the
Authorised Version and its underlying Greek Textus Receptus add
variants and extra readings to the text. Others, however, claim that
the Greek text of the New Testament is not important because their
favourite translation is better that any Greek text. Still others
say that the Greek text is not important because most people cannot
read the Greek of the New Testament era. However, the Greek text
upon which a translation is based will have an impact upon both a
Christian's reading of Scripture devotionally and the proclaiming of
the Word of God in bearing witness to the saving grace of Jesus
Christ. It is necessary that today's Christian understands the
importance of the traditional Greek text in his Christian life.
The Traditional Text
First of all it is necessary to understand what is meant by the
term 'traditional text'. During the 1st century following the
resurrection of Christ, God moved men to pen His Word (2 Peter
1.21). The result was a group of letters and books, written in Koine
Greek (called the 'original autographs'). These letters and books
were copied and recopied throughout the centuries and distributed
throughout the world. These copies comprise the manuscripts of the
New Testament. Over 5,000 of these Greek manuscripts have survived
to this day. The great number of these Greek manuscripts supports
what is called the Byzantine textual tradition, Byzantine because it
came from all over the Greek-speaking world at that time. These
Byzantine manuscripts make up what is called the Traditional Text of
the New Testament. The best printed representation of this Byzantine
text-type is the Textus Receptus (or Received Text). In addition to
the manuscripts, we also have available many works in which numerous
Church Fathers quoted from the manuscripts. The work of John Burgon
has established that the basic text used by numerous Church Fathers
is the same as the text now known as the Byzantine Text.
The Textus Receptus was compiled from a number of Byzantine
manuscripts by numerous editors from the early 1500s. There were
editions from textual editors such as Erasmus, Stephens, Beza, the
Elzevirs, Mill and Scrivener. These editions differ slightly from
one another but still are regarded as the same basic text. Certain
editions were popular in different countries and provided the basis
for New Testament translations. The Textus Receptus (as it later
became known) was the text used by Tyndale and in turn by the
translators of the English Authorised (King James) Version of 1611
and other Reformation era translations.
The Critical Text
During the 19th and 20th centuries, however, another form of Greek
New Testament has come into the forefront and is used for most
modern New Testament translations. This Critical Text, as it is
called, differs widely from the Traditional Text in that it omits
many words, verses and passages which are found in the Received Text
and translations based upon it.
The modern versions are based mainly upon a Greek New Testament
which was derived from a small handful of Greek manuscripts from the
4th century onwards. Two of these manuscripts, which many modern
scholars claim to be superior to the Byzantine, are the Sinai
manuscript and the Vatican manuscript (c. 4th century). These are
derived from a text type known as the Alexandrian text (because of
its origin in Egypt); this text type was referred to by the textual
critics Westcott and Hort as the 'Neutral text'. These two
manuscripts form the basis of the Greek New Testament, referred to
as the Critical Text, which has been in widespread use since the
late 19th century. In recent years there has been an attempt to
improve this text by calling it an 'eclectic' text (meaning that
many other manuscripts were consulted in its editing and evolution),
but it is still a text which has as its central foundation these two
Problems in the Critical Text
There are many problems of omission which characterize this Greek
New Testament. Verses and passages which are found in the writings
of Church Fathers from around 200 to 300 A.D. are missing in the
Alexandrian Text manuscripts which date from around 300 to 400 A.D.
In addition, these early readings are found in manuscripts in
existence from 500 A.D. onwards. An example of this is Mark 16.9-20:
this passage is found in the writings of Irenaeus and Hippolytus in
the 2nd century, and is in almost every manuscript of Mark's Gospel
from 500 A.D. onwards. It is missing in two Alexandrian manuscripts,
the Sinai and the Vatican.
This is but one of many examples of this problem. There are many
words, verses and passages which are omitted from the modern
versions but which are found in the Traditional or Byzantine Text of
the New Testament, and thus in the Textus Receptus. The Critical
Text differs from the Textus Receptus text 5,337 times, according to
one calculation. The Vatican manuscript omits 2,877 words in the
Gospels; the Sinai manuscript 3,455 words in the Gospels. These
problems between the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text are very
important to the correct translation and interpretation of the New
Testament. Contrary to the contention of supporters of the Critical
Text, these omissions do affect doctrine and faith in the Christian
Several examples of doctrinal problems caused by the omissions from
the Critical Text follow. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
The modern reconstructed Critical Text
omits reference to the Virgin Birth in Luke 2.33
omits reference to the deity of Christ in 1 Timothy 3.16
omits reference to the deity of Christ in Romans 14.10 and 12
omits reference to the blood of Christ in Colossians 1.14
In addition, an error is created in the Bible in Mark 1.2; in this
passage in the Critical Text Isaiah is made the author of the book
of Malachi. In numerous places in the New Testament the name of
Jesus is omitted from the Critical Text; seventy times 'Jesus' is
omitted and twenty-nine times 'Christ' is omitted.(1)
Another problem with the modern Critical Text is that the two main
manuscripts upon which this text is constructed, the Sinai and the
Vatican, disagree between themselves over 3,000 times in the Gospels
alone. Thus, the Alexandrian text presents itself as a text type
which is characterized in many places by readings which are not
common to the manuscripts of their own tradition. The Critical Text
is characterized by wording which in the original language is
difficult, abrupt or even impossible. It appears that no matter how
peculiar or aberrant the variant reading is, it must have been in
the original autographs because (as is sometimes claimed) a scribe
would never make a change which disagrees with other manuscripts; he
would, instead, make a change which would make a passage read more
Much is said about the Alexandrian manuscripts being very old. This
is true, but the emphasis in the study of textual criticism should
not be upon how old the manuscript is but upon how many copies
removed from the original it is. A manuscript which is dated as
having been copied during the 10th century could have been the fifth
in a line of copies originating with the original autograph, whilst
a manuscript dated as having been copied during the 3rd century
could have been the one hundredth in the line of copies. Since it is
difficult to tell the genealogy, the family of any given manuscript,
it is important to note that age is relative in the sense that you
could have a corrupt 3rd century manuscript or a faithful 10th
A good illustration would be to suppose that, in the year 3000, a
copy of the English Bible was found which dated from the 1970s.
Suppose this Bible happened to be the oldest existing Bible
available, and this Bible happened to differ in hundreds of places
from the Bible that was in use by Christians in the year 3000. One
could well imagine the scientific critics, with their methodology,
extolling the virtues of the ancient age of this Bible, the page
design showing quality, careful care in the layout and the paper of
this particular volume, the binding and so on. But their arguments
would tend to fall apart when, after beginning to translate Bibles
into modern languages on the basis of this ancient book, Christians
discovered that this version of the Scriptures was the New World
Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Traditional Text of the New Testament is understood by
conservative Bible-believing Christians to have been providentially
preserved by God. God has promised in His Word that He would not
only preserve His Word for generations to come, but that His Word
was permanent and would be kept free from corruption.
Matthew 5.18 states "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".
Isaiah 59.21 says "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith
the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put
in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the
mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith
the LORD, from henceforth and for ever".
John 10.35 says "and the scripture cannot be broken".
These verses demonstrate that God has not left His church for
centuries without an authoritative copy of the Word of God, but that
God's people down through the ages have faithfully copied and
recopied copies of the original autographs. The church all over the
world has used the Traditional Text in all of its various forms, and
God has seen fit to multiply multitudes of copies and has brought
salvation to many generations through this preservation process.
This doctrine of providential preservation is succinctly stated in
the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, paragraph VIII:
The Old Testament in Hebrew, which was the native language of the
people of God of old, and the New Testament in Greek, which at the
time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations,
being immediately inspired by God and by His singular care and
providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as,
in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal
This precious doctrine of the providential preservation of the
Scriptures has been all but forgotten by modern textual scholars.
Many of them treat the Word of God as just another book that can be
submitted to the whims and changing norms of modern scientific
methods. Many of the destructive forms of higher criticism of the
19th century have come from a lack of belief that the Bible is a
supernatural book. The Bible has the marks of inspiration which
clearly can be seen by believing eyes, but which can be trampled
under the feet of men rushing headlong toward destruction. But, in
spite of this, God has raised up His people who love and cherish His
Word and recognize the marks of inspiration that the early believers
recognized, and that these copies which have been handed down
through the ages represent well what God has intended to be used.
This does not mean that any particular printed edition of the Greek
New Testament today is perfect, but what it does mean is that the
New Testament that we have today is essentially the same as that
passed down through the ages through various groups of believers who
have loved and kept His Word.
The strength of this preservation in the Old Testament comes in the
quality of scribe that copied the Old Testament Hebrew. In the New
Testament this is seen in the abundance of manuscripts which we
possess today. This has been God's method for keeping His Word pure.
This preservation provides that no one local text, such as the one
from Alexandria, Egypt, would become the dominant text. It took
liberalism and unbelief to challenge this preservation process. It
has never been proven that these few Alexandrian manuscripts ever
existed outside of Alexandria, Egypt. Many of God's people around
the world reject the Critical Text in all of its forms. The
practical application of providential preservation is that the
believer today must choose between a modern reconstructed text based
essentially upon two manuscripts from the 4th century, which omits
the deity of Christ in many places and is estimated by some to leave
out approximately 200 verses (the equivalent of 1 and 2 Peter), or
that he must choose as a text one which God has used through the
centuries. Do we use the text which God has blessed, and which best
honours and glorifies the Lord Jesus, or do we not?
The printed editions of the Greek New Testament which were published
during the 1500s and 1600s were produced by men who understood what
the glory of God meant and the importance of having accurate copies
of the Bible. From the work known as the Complutensian Polyglot to
the various editions of Erasmus, to the four editions of Robert
Stephens (the best known of which is the 1550 text and which is the
basis for what is called the Berry Interlinear or the Englishman's
Greek New Testament), to the work of the great critic Theodore Beza
in his five editions, to the editions of the Elzevirs in 1624 and
1633, and ultimately to the work of F. H. A. Scrivener in the 1870s
and '80s, we have scholarship in textual criticism and the most
faithful and careful attitude toward the manuscripts that one can
imagine. The Traditional Text of the New Testament was the text of
the Reformation period, so that whether it was the work of Erasmus
or of Stephens, Luther's own translation or that of the heirs of the
Reformation such as the Westminster Divines and the translators of
the Authorised Version in English, this text has been widely used
and tremendously blessed by God.
The Responsibility of Believers Today
The textual critic J. Harold Greenlee has said, "New Testament
textual criticism is, therefore, the basic Biblical study, a
prerequisite to all other Biblical and theological work".(2) This is
not an overstatement of the importance of this issue. As believers
we have the responsibility in our day and age of proclaiming the
Gospel, the pure Gospel, the undiluted Gospel. We also have the
right and privilege of being the next in the line of protecting
God's Word and proclaiming it. Each individual Christian will make a
decision on this matter, of which text is correct. Unmistakably,
this decision will be made, consciously or unconsciously, by every
single believer. This decision is made when the believer decides
which edition of the Bible he will use to read and study; and if he
chooses a translation based upon corrupted manuscripts which reflect
views which omit the deity of Christ, His blood atonement, His
virgin birth, then the decision has been made to extend this error
to the next generation. If, however, today's Christian chooses a
translation of the Word of God which is translated from the
Traditional Text of the New Testament, the decision has been made to
continue to see God working through His providence in providing His
Word in its complete form, for not only this generation but for
those to come.
See "The Great Omission", The Quarterly Record (London, England: The
Trinitarian Bible Society, no. 524, July-September 1993).
J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism
(Grand Rapids, MI, USA: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964),
A Bibliography In Support of The Traditional Text of the New
"The Ancient Manuscripts of the New Testament", Quarterly Record
London, England: The Trinitarian Bible Society, no. 510, January-
Anderson, G. W. and D. E. A Textual Key to the New Testament.
London, England: The Trinitarian Bible Society, 1992.
"The Authenticity of the Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel according
to Mark demonstrated by the evidence of the ancient manuscripts",
Article No. 16. London, England: The Trinitarian Bible Society, n.d.
"The Authorised Version: What today's Christian needs to know about
the AV", Article no. 75. London, England: The Trinitarian Bible
Burgon, John William. The Causes of Corruption of the Traditional
Text of the Holy Gospels. London: George Bell and Sons, 1896.
________. The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark.
Oxford: J. Parker and Co., 1871.
________. The Revision Revised. Fort Worth, TX, USA: A. G. Hobbs
________. The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels. London: George
Bell and Sons, 1896.
Clark, Gordon H. Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism. Jefferson,
MD. USA: The Trinity Foundation, 1986.
Dabney, Robert L. "The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New
Testament Greek", Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney, vol. 1.
Carlisle, PA, USA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967.
________. "The Revised Version of the New Testament", Discussions of
Robert Lewis Dabney, vol. 1. Carlisle, PA, USA: The Banner of Truth
"The English Bible: Its Origin, Preservation and Blessing", Article
no. 101. London, England: The Trinitarian Bible Society, n.d.
Fuller, David Otis. Counterfeit or Genuine. Grand Rapids, MI, USA:
Grand Rapids International Publications, 1978.
________. True or False. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Grand Rapids
International Publications, 1983.
________. Which Bible? Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Grand Rapids
International Publications, 1970.
"God was Manifest in the Flesh", Article No. 103. London, England:
The Trinitarian Bible Society, n.d.
Hills, Edward Freer. The King James Version Defended. DesMoines, IO,
USA: The Christian Research Press, 1984.
"The New International Version: What today's Christian needs to know
about the NIV", Article no. 74. London, England: The Trinitarian
Bible Society, n.d.
The New Testament, The Greek Text Underlying the English Authorised
Version of 1611 (Textus Receptus). London, England: The Trinitarian
Bible Society, n.d.
Pickering, Wilbur N. The Identity of the New Testament Text.
Nashville, TN, USA: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977.
Scrivener, F. H. A. The Authorised Edition of the English Bible
(1611): Its Subsequent Reprints and Modern Representatives.
Cambridge, England: The University Press, 1884.
________. A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament
for the Use of Biblical Students, third edition. Cambridge, England:
Deighton, Bell and Co., 1883.
Sturz, Harry A. The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual
Criticism. Nashville, TN, USA: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984.
van Bruggen, Jakob. The Ancient Text of the New Testament. Winnipeg,
Ont., Canada: Premier, 1976.
________. The Future of the Bible. Nashville, TN, USA: Thomas Nelson
"What is Wrong With the Modern Versions of the Holy Scriptures?"
Article No. 41. London, England: The Trinitarian Bible Society, n.d.
"Why 1 John 5 vs. 7-8 is in the Bible", Article No. 102. London,
England: The Trinitarian Bible Society, n.d.
Wisse, Frederik, The Profile Method for Classifying and Evaluating
Manuscript Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1982.
"The Word of God Among All Nations: An Introduction to the Society's
Principles". London, England: The Trinitarian Bible Society, n.d.