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.

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.

“The Superiority of the Majority Text” by Brian Schwertley

Recently, a reader sent me a link to the following lecture by Presbyterian pastor Brain Schwertley. It was forwarded to me under the heading of “Challenging Sermon from a TR-only Perspective.” I appreciate that forward; it gives us something to talk about. In listening to the sermon, I found it to be wanting: he used typical arguments, he confused terminology, and he does not answer each objections as well as he says he does. On the positive note, I found it refreshing to hear a sermon from a TR supporter that is not full of conspiracy theories and ad-hominem attack. Granted, he isn’t thrilled with those who support modern versions, but his passion seems sincere. What do you think?

Link to Sermon

Where Do We Stand?

Last week’s post generated plenty of conversation. I hope to highlight one of the points brought to light in a future post; namely, I will post on Tischendorf’s discovery of Sinaiticus and how the story is portrayed in the KJVO debate on all sides.

What got me thinking, though, is more along the lines of our personal backgrounds. I realize some of our regular guests have shared their own story, but I’m not sure that I even know where everyone stands on the issue. I see we have folks who regularly comment in support of the TR or MT but are not necessarily KJVO. We have others who are very critical of the CT but again, not KJVO. Then we have some who are indeed KJVO. I am also very interested in your theological leanings, as we’ve had people here who are not Christian at all. It helps to know who we’re talking to.

I’m wondering if those of you who regularly comment here (or who have in the past) would mind providing a little theological background and insight into your current thoughts on the Bible version issue. My fellow contributors are welcome to chime in as always. Even though we’ve given short bios on the authors page, and even though we all come from the IFB KJVO position, we have not all given our full position on this topic and I’m sure we even differ among ourselves.

To keep the commentary to the point, would you please follow these guidelines and answer these questions:

Guidelines: Please keep it brief yet specific. Please refrain from replying to a comment unless it addresses a specific point made (perhaps for an elaboration or clarification rather than an argument).

Questions:

1. What kind of church do you attend, if any?
2. What is your role in ministry, if any?
3. Has your position on the Bible version issue changed? If so, how?
4. How would you describe your current perspective on the TR, MT, and CT?
5. How important is this issue to you and how significant is it to your theology as a whole? (for example, do you practice separation if someone does not agree, etc)
6. What English Bibles do you recommend and use?
7. What resources have helped you, and which would you urge people to stay away from?
8. Finally, to keep things friendly, share with us what your favorite food is.

The above do not necessarily all have to be answered, or answered in order, but if you could frame your comments around these topics that would help us keep things clear and concise.

Embracing the KJV Tradition and Modern Technology

I use the English Standard Version as my standard reading Bible. Our church, however, has the New International Version in the racks so when teaching, I usually use it. (I even have a red ‘preaching Bible’ that I seem to misplace more often than I’d like to admit.)

This might be surprising to some of the readers who know that I am not a big fan of the Greek Critical Texts. It is my firm belief that with modern technology available to us, there is no reason we cannot use a modern version and hold to a more traditional or majority view of the texts.

Here is how it works out in my life and ministry.

More often than not, I teach from whole books or large passages of the Scriptures. For example, we are currently in the middle of a five week study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). During tessarakoste (Lent for those of you in the western tradition), we will be journeying through the major books of the Exile (Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezra and Nehemiah). After Easter, we’re doing an expositional study of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

As I am teaching through a book, I am studying it. Really, I don’t spend much time on word studies because in real life, we don’t do word studies. We read to understand. If we don’t understand a word, we look it up and move on. Instead, I read the passage repeatedly. My office is full of whiteboards, and I will write out large passages in the original languages and read over them to familiarize myself with them.

This is where technology comes in. In my version of Logos Bible Software, I have a number of Greek texts. When I’m studying the New Testament, I use Scrivener’s 1881 text and I lock it to both Nestle-Aland 26 (I’m too cheap to upgrade so I have 27) and Stephanus’ 1550. I scroll through the texts, watching for variants and reading along in English – both the ESV and the KJV, as well as the NASB usually.

This allows me to see, at a glance, everything that is going on – all the competing ideas. Because I spent years reading the KJV, I can usually recognize a major variant in the English pretty quickly. If there’s a valid reason for the variant (because I don’t believe the TR is infallible), then I accept it and move on. If the variant is pointless or silly (like removing “broken for you” in 1 Corinthians 11:24), I just add it back in when I read.

When teaching, I will often point out that translation is an imperfect art. It is not uncommon for me to ask someone in the congregation to read a passage from the KJV, or read it myself (although I don’t preach with notes or a pulpit, and bringing another Bible up with me would look silly). At these times, I remind the congregation that translation is a community activity and we need to be connected with our heritage as well as with our contemporary culture.

I love the King James Version of the Bible, and I love it for a lot of reasons and I believe we can still learn a lot from it. It is, and should continue to be considered, the fount from which all English translations should flow. With modern technology at our fingertips, there is no reason why we can’t connect to that stream and use a version of the Bible people find readable.

50 Copies for the Whole Empire

I have thought it expedient to instruct your Prudence to order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practiced in their art. (Constantine the Great, writing to Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini IV.36)

The above lines are order for the first Authorized Version of the Scriptures. Constantine realized that because Christianity had always been a lower class, urban movement, there were not a lot of copies of the Scriptures around.

We need to know a few things about Constantine. He was born in what is today the Balkans, but he traveled extensively as a young man in the court of Diocletian. Diocletian made his father, Constantius Chlorus Augustus of the West in 293 CE, and Constantine accompanied him to Britain. When Constantius died in 306 CE, his troops acclaimed Constantine as Augustus. Diocletian had abdicated in 305, and Constantine shortly marched on Italy. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312 CE), Constantine claimed divine protection in defeating Maxentius. This is the famous ‘conversion’ moment. The following year (313 CE), Constantine made a peace with the only remaining Augustus, Licinius, and as part of the peace declared the end of Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians.

This persecution had been unevenly executed. Most of the western Christians had escaped unharmed, but there was a significant effort to wipe out eastern Christians – mostly in Greece and Asia Minor. During this persecution, churches were to be destroyed and Scriptures burned.

It was the nineteenth year of Diocletian’s reign [AD 303] and the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, and the festival of the Savior’s Passion was approaching, when an imperial decree was published everywhere, ordering the churches to be razed to the ground and the Scriptures destroyed by fire, and giving notice that those in places of honor would lose their places, and domestic staff, if they continued to profess Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty. Such was the first edict against us. Soon afterward other decrees arrived in rapid succession, ordering that the presidents of the churches in every place should all be first committed to prison and then coerced by every possible means into offering sacrifice. (Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius, VIII.2)

Just how well this was applied on the local level is a matter of some confusion. Eusebius reports that Diocletian rescinded the ban when he was sick, provided that the Christians agreed to pray for him. In reality, it was Diocletian’s co-emperor Galerius who was adamantly anti-Christian. Diocletian certainly was not pro-Christian, but he seems to have been content with threats while Galerius acted on the,.

Constantine brought all of this to an end. Within a few years of his ascension Christianity went from being persecuted to being actively encouraged.

And this brings us to the quote that we began this article with. Constantine recognized that Christianity was growing fast, but there were not enough copies of the Scriptures to teach them from. When Christianity was a small, oral-primary movement, copies of the Scriptures could be rare because the teachers could rely on their memories to present the Gospel and Epistles. Now, Christianity was full of people who knew nothing of the Scriptures.

The remarkable thing was that Constantine called for only 50 copies! At the time, the population of the empire had to be around 10 million people. Even if he was only seeking copies for the Eastern portion of the empire (perhaps to help rebuild the church there), the East was easily the most populated part of the empire. Ephesus, Athens, Corinth, Jerusalem and Alexandria were all around 1 million people, and Constantine was building a New Rome that would soon be a metropolis itself.

This little bit of history tells us two important things:

  1. There were Scriptures before Constantine, but there were few of them. The oral-primary culture of urban, lower class Christians did not require many copies.
  2. Constantine’s order for manuscripts was for professional quality work.

At once, Eusebius defuses the primary argument for textual variants – that the manuscripts were being written hastily by amateurs. Since all of the manuscripts we have today are from the era of Constantine and forward, this argument really does not hold a lot of ground. He also explains why we don’t find manuscripts earlier than Constantine.

History itself bears out that we should not expect to find manuscripts earlier than the 4th century CE, and the early manuscripts we might find will be the work of an early imperial edict. That does not guarantee their accuracy (especially in cases where the text might conflict with Roman rule) but it does set some parameters for their existence.

Why the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text is a Good Thing!

A few months back, my father mentioned to me that he had been approached to join the board of The Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text. Just a couple weeks before, I had been actively advocating the abandonment of the current ‘Text Family’ arguments in favor of a holistic approach to the corpus of Greek texts available to us. When I head about the CSPMT, I was hopeful that the project would yield what I was advocating:

  1. The rejection of the 19th century textual family arguments.
  2. The compilation of all known manuscripts (not published texts)
  3. The collation of these manuscripts in a database that would allow parallel views of the originals and transcriptions
  4. The development of the necessary software to make this database available as an online resource

Understanding that such a project would be a truly massive one, I did not expect the CSPMT to undertake it but at the very least to lay a foundation for it. As the CSPMT has begun to take shape, I think that it will be the foundation that is necessary.

Does it bother anyone else that textual criticism is bogged down by arguments between the proponents of the texts used in the 17th century (the Textus Receptus) and those discovered in the 19th (the Critical Text). This is the 21st century. Why can’t we rebuild our understanding of the text from the ground up without relying on the biases of polymath priests (Erasmus), printers (the Elzevir brothers), theological liberals (Westcott and Hort), adventurers (Constantin von Tischendorf), and continental academics (take your pick).

Rather than having to fight with insufferably complex critical apparatuses in one of two or three printed texts, technology would allow us to access as much or as little of the original information as we need. With the proper scanning technology and a well-constructed database, searching and comparison would be no more complicated than using Bibleworks or Logos.

Is it a massive project? Yes. Will it slaughter an awful lot of sacred cows? Yes. Will academics like it? No. (because it will remove their monopoly on information.)

Just a thought.