Textus Receptus, or "Received Text," refers to the Greek text of the New Testament that was used by the translators of the King James Version in 1611, as well as by other Reformation-era translators. This includes William Tyndale and Martin Luther. The earliest edition was put together by Erasmus in 1516. The name comes from a Latin phrase in the preface of Bonaventure Elzevir's popular 1624 edition of the TR: Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum. (So [the reader] has the text which all now receive.) Until the 19th century, the TR was the only Greek New Testament text used by Protestant scholars. Dr. Kurt Aland, who worked on the Critical Text, wrote:
- Finally it is undisputed that from the 16th to the 18th century orthodoxy's doctrine of verbal inspiration assumed this Textus Receptus. It was the only Greek text they knew, and they regarded it as the 'original text.'
Erasmus, a Dutch Catholic, published the first edition of TR in Basel in 1516. Erasmus had produced a new Latin translation of the New Testament. He added a Greek text to his book as an afterthought, a tool to support his Latin translation. It was put together hurriedly, and on the basis of whatever manuscripts happened to be available locally in Basel. Yet this text struck a chord with a reading public hungry for access to the original. Erasmus used the following manuscripts to produce the first edition of TR:
- Codex 1eap — This 12th century miniscule contains the entire New Testament except Revelation. It is the only TR manuscript not of the Byzantine type. Erasmus made little use of it as he believed it to be corrupt.
- Codex 1r — A 12th century miniscule of Revelation.
- Codex 2e — A 12th century miniscule of the Gospels.
- Codex 2ap — A 12th century miniscule of Acts and the epistles.
- Codex 4ap — A 15th century miniscule of Acts and the epistles.
- Codex 7p — An 11th century miniscule of the epistles.
- Codex 817 — A 15th century miniscule of the Gospels.
The Gospels were taken directly from Codex 2e, Acts and epistles from 2ap, and Revelation from 1r. Where these manuscripts had gaps, back-translations from the Vulgate were used. In fact, 2e and 2ap were sent directly to the printer for typesetting. Erasmus’ handwritten annotations can be seen between the lines, although the printer often ignored these. 1r could not be treated this way because it mixes text and annotation. Erasmus separated these by referring to the Vulgate. As a result of this haphazard process, there were numerous typographical errors in the first edition.
Some 400 corrections were made for the second edition (1519). Erasmus obtained access to 3eap, a nearly complete New Testament text. But there is no indication that he made much use of it. Many readers criticized the first two editions of TR because they lacked the Johannine Comma found in Latin manuscripts that circulated at the time. This trinitarian passage is rarely seen in Greek manuscripts of any period. Erasmus added it to the third edition (1522), citing Codex 61. This was a recently produced manuscript, possibly produced in response to TR. Although Erasmus was skeptical of this manuscript, he thought it wiser to reverse himself. For the 1527 edition, Erasmus made extensive revisions based on the Complutensian Polyglot, a text edited by Jiménez de Cisneros and based on manuscripts kept at the Vatican library. A final edition was published in 1535.
In 1550 Robert Stephanus produced a beautifully printed edition that added footnotes containing text from the Bezae and Regius codices. This is considered the classic edition of TR and is referred to as Editio Regia (royal edition). In 1551, Stephanus added a verse numbering system that is still used in modern Bibles. As for the text itself, Stephanus did little to improve on what Erasmus published. The KJV translators consulted a 1598 reprint of Edito Regia by Theodore Beza as well as several other editions. The Scrivener New Testament (1894) reconstructs the underlying Greek text they used.
The text of the TR follows a Byzantine reading. While most modern scholars believe the Critical Text (which follows an Alexandrian reading) to be superior, some do not. Notable among the scholarly defenders of the TR were Edward Hills and Dean John Burgon. Defenders of the Byzantine Text, which is similar, include F.H.A. Scrivener and Wilbur Pickering.
According to supporters of the Critical Text, the TR is defective because it is based on late manuscripts. Manuscripts wore out over time and had to be copied by hand to preserve their text. Late manuscripts are likely to be the product of multiple copying cycles, each one with the potential to introduce errors. In 1720, Richard Bentley proposed that TR be replaced with a Greek text based on Codex Alexandrinus, a fifth century manuscript. In the early 19th century, Karl Lachmann developed a methodology of textual criticism which allows a critic to determine which manuscript variants are most likely to be from the original. He assigned manuscripts to various text types and in 1850 published a Greek New Testament based on manuscripts of the Alexandrian type. In 1881, Westcott and Hort published a critical text based on two fourth century manuscripts of the Alexandrian type, Codex Sinaiticus, then recently discovered, and Codex Vaticanus, a manuscript in the Vatican Library.
Supporters of the TR would reply that Codex's A, B, and Aleph likely survived so long because Christians knew them to be defective and therefore did not use them. Good manuscripts would be used and copied more and would therefore wear away more quickly. Furthermore, it is not true that the TR lacks ancient support. The Chester Beatty Papyri (P45, P46, & P66) date to the 2nd century or earlier, and contain Byzantine readings mixed with Alexandrian readings. The Magdalen Papyrus (P64) is considered by some to be the oldest known manuscript (from before AD 66), and variants within it support the Byzantine Text with no support for the Alexandrian Text. Early translations like the Peshitta (2nd century) and Gothic (approximately 350 AD) are Byzantine. Alexandrinus (Codex A), a 5th century manuscript which is one of the three main manuscripts used by the Critical Text, is Byzantine in the Gospels.
There are almost 6000 differences between the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text, while there are only 7959 verses in the New Testament.
Among modern translations, the New King James Version uses TR, while most modern versions like the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, New Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version use the Critical Text.
- Thomas Holland, Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2000), 253.
- Holland, Crowned With Glory, 12; citing Kurt Aland, "The Text of the Church," Trinity Journal, Fall (1987): 131.
- Combs, William W., "Erasmus and Textus Receptus", Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Spring 1996.
- "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one." (1 John 5:7–8).
- "It is found in only four Greek manuscripts, none earlier than the 14th century. 4 other Greek mss. offer it as a margin note. The remaining Greek mss., numbering in the hundreds, do not include it." ("The Comma of 1 John 5:7.")
- Bentley, Richard, Proposals for a New Edition of the Greek Testament, 1720.
- For more on reasons older manuscripts may not be more reliable, see Are older manuscripts more reliable? at Textus Receptus Bibles.
- Holland, Crowned With Glory, 12.
- Holland, Crowned With Glory, 13.
- Holland, Crowned With Glory, 13.