Manuel II Paleologus, Renaissance Europe and the Textus Receptus

In 1399, the city of Constantinople was under siege. The Ottoman Turks under Bayezid I had conquered virtually all of the Byzantine territories outside of the city itself. The emperor, Manuel II, was convinced that the only way to break the siege was a personal appeal to the powers of western Europe. For the first time in history, a Byzantine emperor headed west on an imperial tour.

What significance does this have in the discussion of the King James Bible?

More than you might think.

Manuel’s tour lasted three years. He visited the courts of England, France, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany), Denmark and Aragon (Spain). He carried himself as exactly what he was – the ruler of a culture that had survived for nearly 2,000 years. Manuel was educated and refined. He was a master of language, literature, science and politics. Everywhere he went, there was a swelling rage for Greek things. Dozens of contemporary accounts exist, gushing over the way he dressed and the way he spoke. He was such an impressive person that no one even brought up the religious differences that had divided Constantinople from the rest of Europe for ever 1,000 years.

Greek was very in that season.

Shortly before Manuel’s tour, the University of Florence had invited a Greek by the name of Manuel Chyrsoloras to teach Greek thinking and language. Manuel’s tour made Chyrsoloras and his students celebrities as well. Chyrsoloras taught many of the early humanists such as Leonardo Bruni and Ambrogio Traversari. His small group of close followers eventually rose to high level positions throughout Europe. Bruni became secretary to pope Gregory XII while Traversari was an influential thinker who did a number of key translations of ancient philosophy. Others such as Guarino de Verona traveled back to the Greek capital, learned Greek there and then brought manuscripts to Europe.

It was the rage for Greek things that was fueled by Manuel’s visits which ultimately resulted in the compilation of a Greek text for western Europe. Men like Traversari and Guarino spread their knowledge of the language through their own students and admirers. When Desiderius Erasmus learned Greek, it was from Chyrsoloras’ grammar, Erotemata Civas Questiones, which was printed first in Italy in 1471 and then made available to greater Europe in 1483.

People often wonder why there was no “standardization” of the Greek New Testament in Europe prior to Erasmus’ editions (1516, 1519, 1522, 1527, 1535). It was simply because no one in western Europe had learned Greek for 700 years, and they had extremely limited access to Greek texts of the New Testament – access so limited as to be virtually non-existent.

Manuel’s tour, coupled with the work of Manuel Chyrsoloras and his pupils, changed the way Europe viewed Greek culture and language. Once European Christians could access the Greek text of the New Testament, they began to question the Latin text they had received.

Unfortunately, they had access to very few manuscripts of the Greek text. There were a few – Vaticanus was probably brought to Italy after Constantinople was taken over by the Normans in 1204 – but they were not available to most people outside of the Papal palaces. After Manuel’s tour, more were brought over, but there were never a LOT of Greek manuscripts. (It is highly likely that among Guarino’s texts, there was at least a portion of the New Testament.)

Manuel’s son Constantine XI was the last emperor in Constantinople. In 1453, the great city of Constantinople fell to Bayezid’s grandson, Mehmet II. The flow of manuscripts ended abruptly once the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople and rechristened it Istanbul. The Turks sacked and burned most of the churches in the city and a thousand years of archives and literary treasures went up in flames.

For the next three hundred years or so, western Europe had no access to Ottoman territories. Practically the only Greek manuscripts they knew were those which had come to Europe via the short period between 1399 and 1453.

Once Erasmus printed a Greek text of the New Testament and Chrysoloras’ grammar was made available, Greek learning grew substantially. It was, however, confined to the study of the classical texts and the few Greek manuscripts that had made it to Europe. It would not be until the 19th century that anyone could penetrate the Ottoman controlled Middle East and find other texts.

The King James Only advocates demand that we accept the Textus Receptus as the absolute text of the Greek New Testament because it underlies the King James Version. They often support their position using the years in which it was the standard Greek text. The reality is that the TR was the result of a short interlude that allowed a few precious manuscripts into Europe.

History can be a stubborn thing, which is why many ideologues choose not to read it.

More Info on the Discovery of the 1st Century MSS Fragment of Mark

Recently, Dr. Dan Wallace made news about the discovery of what is possibly the earliest NT MSS fragment ever found. I gave details on the find here. [And we reported on that here at this blog, too.]

Well, Dr. Wallace was recently interviewed by Hugh Hewitt on his radio show about the discovery and gave additional details. We now know the MSS contains part of one papyrus leaf, written on both sides. From the sound of it, it is most of one leaf so several verses but not much more. It was also found in Egypt — all seven of these MSS finds were found there. Dr. Wallace will also be on of the authors of the book that will publish all seven papyri fragments in early 2013.

Wallace continues to consider this a truly monumental manuscript find, as the following snippet from the full interview makes clear:

HH: Wow. Now in terms of, for the lay audience, Professor Daniel Wallace, the significance of this work when it appears, how would you grade it, with an A being a Dead Sea Scroll sort of significance, and you know, flunking, it just doesn’t matter?

DW: I would grade it at least an A, maybe an A+.

HH: And will the rest of the scholarly world agree with you on that assessment, do you think?

DW: I think that when they understand the ramifications of the entire nature of this manuscript that I’m not at liberty to mention, yes. They’re going to understand. At least those that will accept that date. Since the manuscript doesn’t have a date stamp on it, it says it was done this year, there are always going to be dissenters. But to do the work of paleography takes thousands and thousands of hours of research to do one.

I’m not sure the discovery will prove to be the equal of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’m cautiously optimistic that it will prove to be very consequential.

I also got an update from Matthew Hamilton who I quoted in my earlier post on this. From his information and that of Wallace from this interview, the following looks to be the list of the 7 manuscripts. Many of these would be the earliest textual witness we have of that Biblical book, if the dates hold true.

  1. 2nd century homily (sermon) on Hebrews 11
  2. 2nd century frg. with I Corinthians 8-10
  3. 2nd century frg. with Matthew
  4. 2nd century frg. with Romans 9-10
  5. 2nd century frg. from Hebrews, one side contains 9:19-22
  6. 2nd century frg. with Luke
  7. 1st century frg. [part of one leaf] with Mark

For more details read the entire transcript of the Hewitt – Wallace interview, and keep an eye on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

~cross posted from my personal blog, FundamentallyReformed.com.

Coffee With Sam: What’s the Big Deal about the KJV?

A new website has launched called BigDealKJV.com, in which (according to the video creator) 8-10 video episodes will eventually be published. In this first episode, KJVO advocate Sam Gipp sits down over coffee with a student to explain to his confused mind why the KJV is the final authority.

In this well-produced short video, Gipp offers many of the same arguments and presuppositions posited by KJV advocates. While Gipp has said things that place him in the Ruckmanite category, he comes off here as a humble and wise professor seeking to take the complex issue of biblical transmission and make it fit into a simple construct with contemporary analogies. Here are some arguments given:

1. The Bible(s) we have today have to be exactly the same as that given by inspiration in order to be authoritative. 

Gipp makes this point in the very beginning when he declares the Bible to be the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, and then clarifies that he’s “not talking about an imaginary book” but “a book that I’m holding in my hand right now.”  He proceeds to point to the Bible in his hand as the final authority.

This idea has been propagated in numerous ways across the spectrum of King James Onlyism. What this concept does is it provides a basis to later declare all modern versions as less than authoritative because they do not all equally match each other. The KJVO advocate may deny it, but if he uses this argumentation, he really is looking for a photocopy of the originals, albeit in English.

2. There are only two Bibles, the Egyptian and the Antiochan.

Over coffee, Gipp tells his suspicious catechumen that despite the hundreds of Bible translations in the bookstores, all Bibles come from just one of two lines of manuscripts: those that come from Alexandria, Egypt, and those that come from Antioch in Syria. From this simplistic categorization of text types, Gipp then uses the guilt-by-association tactic to prove the superiority of the KJV because of its affiliation with Antiochian manuscripts.

Never mind that the Bible provides no precedent to use a distinction between Egypt and Antioch for a basis of judging translations, or that the Son of God was called out of Egypt, or that Athanasius, the champion of trinitarian orthodoxy, came from Alexandria. Because the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch and Egypt is generally spoken of negatively in the scriptures, the issue is presented very matter-of-fact by Gipp that the KJV descends from the Antiochian line, and is therefore superior.

3. The Textus Receptus is the Antiochian line of manuscripts

Gipp says the TR “is the Greek that comes out of Antioch.” So, the line of reasoning is as follows: Inspiration in Antioch > copies and publishing in Antioch > Textus Receptus > KJV.

Unfortunately for Gipp’s argumentation, the transmission of the text is not that simple.

4. The Critical Text is bad because it’s called the Critical Text

I chuckled at the statement, “Just the fact that it’s ‘critical’ should tell you there’s a problem.” All the while he’s promoting the TR, which is a Greek text. A text, by its very nature, is critical. Variant readings from manuscripts have to be compared in order to produce a finished product. In this way, Erasmus’ TR editions are critical, although worked from far fewer manuscripts and with less of a science of textual criticism.

5. Modern translations cannot help a Christian grow in the same way the KJV can.

Thankfully, Gipp admits that people can come to the knowledge of the gospel and be saved through reading versions other than the KJV. However, only the KJV is incorruptible, and corrupt modern versions are not appropriate for the Christian’s growth. No evidence is given here, but at this point, the episode is coming to a close, so I suspect we’ll get more details in the future.

Possible Discovery of a 1st Century Fragment of Mark

On February 1st, Dan Wallace debated Bart Ehrman, for the third time, on the reliability of the New Testament text. In this third debate held on Ehrman’s own UNC Chapel Hill, Wallace mentioned the possible discovery of a 1st century fragment of the gospel according to Mark. Subsequent rumors have revealed that this is a fragment, dated by a neutral party, older than P52. Wallace has made some comments at various blogs to assure us that he was neither the discoverer not the examiner of said document, but was merely reporting news. A book is expected to be published next year that will detail more information.

Some bypassing comments on the Internet suggested that, if validated, this discovery can be a mighty blow to the arguments of Ehrman as well as the arguments of King James Onlyism. While I think such an old fragment will carry much significance, I think both sides will be able to continue to their respective positions regardless.

Check out the website of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts for updates (as of this blog, no update has been given).

Also, check out Evangelical Textual Criticism periodically for possible updates.

St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness

John Chitty, known in the blogosphere as Captain Headknowledge, recently had the opportunity to attend a symposium on the St. Catherine’s monastery library and the significance of the Sinai manuscripts, held at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM).

Chitty has shared the text of Father Justin’s lecture: “St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness”. I encourage you to take a look as the lecture covers the well known and the not so well known about St. Catherine’s Monastery. I’m not sure I had heard that they made some new manuscript discoveries there as late as 1975.

Here is an excerpt from the lecture notes, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing:

The monastery has never been destroyed or abandoned in all its centuries of existence. The climate at Sinai is surprisingly dry and stable, the humidity averaging from twenty to thirty percent. All of this, and the diligent care of the monks, account for the preservation of many manuscripts. The Sinai library is today a remarkable treasure for the antiquity and the significance of its volumes.

The library contains 3304 manuscripts, written in eleven languages. These are predominantly Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic. The manuscripts range in content from copies of the Scriptures, services, and music manuscripts, to sermons, writings of the Fathers, lives of the Saints, and books of inherited spiritual wisdom. The library also includes medical treatises, historical chronicles, and texts in classical Greek, which is the pinnacle of the Greek language.

A few of the manuscripts are splendid works of art, with gilded letters and brilliant illuminations, created in Constantinople in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, when the City was at its height as the centre of culture and devotion. But no less significant are the humble manuscripts written at Sinai, often on reused parchment, bound between rough boards, the pages stained from long use, a witness to the deprivations and austerity of Sinai, to the generations of monks who have maintained the life of devotion and the cycle of daily services at this holy place.

But perhaps we would come to a greater appreciation of the Sinai library if I could describe four manuscripts in particular, all of which have been recently studied by scholars.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery is a treasury filled with things new and old. Scholars still have much to learn from its library, its numerous icons, vestments, ecclesiastical vessels, its architecture. In all of this, it is a veritable ark in the wilderness.

See also a few related posts from John Chitty on the Sinai manuscripts:

BibleWorks 9 and a Revolution in Textual Critical Studies

Check out these two videos to see what the new BibleWorks 9 software, available mid-July, can do when it comes to textual critical tools. I saw a demo of this feature back in April at The Gospel Coalition Conference, and was blown away by the potential of this tool for textual studies of all kinds. One can only hope that many more manuscripts will be added, and fresh Majority Text collations and other tools will be incorporated into the CNTTS apparatus which is made so accessible by means of BibleWorks 9. BibleWorks promises that as more manuscripts become available, those updates will be provided free of charge to BibleWorks 9 users.

Watch the videos, and check out BibleWorks 9!

Resource for Greek New Testament Audio

My recent post on listening to the New Testament in Greek via MP3 has sparked quite a bit of excellent discussion. I’d like to particularly thank Dr. Maurice Robinson for chiming in and sharing his perspective. His recording of the Byzantine Textform is available here and is, in my opinion, one of the better Erasmian pronunciations out there.

There have been a couple requests for more resources, and I was going to provide them but then my primary resource went offline. Thankfully, Louis Sorenson brought his back online, and I am glad to refer you to it:

Let’s Read Greek

There are a lot of great options available, but I will reproduce just the list of available online MP3 formats. You can head over to the Let’s Read Greek site to get the breakdown of which one represents what. Some of these require payment, but the majority are available for free download.

  1. Marilyn Phemister* (Westcott-Hort) – free
  2. David Field (1904 BFBS -British Foreign Bible Society- edition) – free
  3. John Simon* (Westcott-Hort) – free
  4. Spiros Zodhiates* (Nestle/Aland 26) – $31.49
  5. Jonathan Pennington (UBS – United Bible Society – 4th Edition) – $19.99
  6. Randall Buth (Westcott-Hort) – $179.00
  7. Louis Tyler (Robinson-Pierpoint Majority Text*, Westcott-Hort*, Scrivener’s Textus Receptus) – not sure
  8. Maurice Robinson (Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform)- free
  9. Gleason Archer (UBS – United Bible Society – 4th Edition) – $29.99
  10. John Schwandt* (Nestle-Aland 27) – $44.95
  11. Pella Ikonomaki (on LibriVox (Stephanus; Patriarchal Edition of 1904) – free, but very partial
  12. Vasilios Vellas 1967 Vellas Edition (Modern Greek) – free
  13. Louis Sorenson (yours truly :>) Rahlfs;Westcott-Hort) in Living Koine – free
  14. Vasile Stancu (USB 3/4 or Nestle-Aland 26/27) – free but partial
  15. Norman ‘Romanós’ Gorny (USB 3/4 or Nestle-Aland 26/27) – free

My personal preference is for the pronunciation used by John Simon (#3), although I would prefer that he were reading something other than the W-H. If I had my choice, I would do Randall Buth’s immersive course.

There are probably some other resources out there, but Sorenson has done a great job of bringing together some of the best for us. Be sure to head over to letsreadgreek.com and browse around.