- Superiority of the Traditional Text (Evidence I)
- Dean Burgon's Seven Tests of Truth
- Evidence for the Traditional Text (Evidence II)
- Westcott and Hort theory
- The Inferiority of the Westcott and Hort Text
Our churches rely on Bible versions based on the Traditional Text, which is the text written in the original languages of the Bible. The Traditional Text consists of the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Textus Receptus (also known as the Received Text) of the New Testament. The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Old Testament, while the Textus Receptus is the Greek Text of the New Testament.
We consider that the Masoretic Text represents the preserved word of God that was given to the ancient prophets of Israel. The Jewish scribes were very meticulous in copying the text of the Old Testament, chiefly among Masoretes (Traditionalists) to whom the Masoretic (Traditional) Old Testament text is due. "These Masoretes took extraordinary pains to transmit without error the Old Testament text which they had received from their predecessors. Many complicated safeguards against scribal slips were devised, such as counting the numbers of each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book."1 The main reason for accepting the Masoretic Text is that Jews were chosen by God as custodians of the Hebrew scriptures (cf. Rom 3:2; 9:4). Therefore, Jewish rabbis and scribes represent a source of reliable historical testimony of the formation of the text of the Old Testament.
Likewise, we consider that the Textus Receptus represents the preserved word of God given to the apostles and their companions. Unfortunately, many modern versions are not based on the Textus Receptus because of the popularity of alternative Greek texts of the New Testament. These alternative texts are chiefly witnessed by manuscripts of Alexandrian family such as Codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), while the Textus Receptus is chiefly witnessed by the vast majority of manuscripts of Byzantine family. About 95 percent of all Greek manuscripts support the readings of Textus Receptus, and since it is supported by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, it is also called the Majority Text. Why, then, are modern versions based on the few manuscripts of Alexandrian family and not on the majority witness of the Byzantine family? The main reason is that the United Bible Societies are much influenced by the scholars who favor modern theories of textual criticism. These modern theories are shaped and developed by the theories of Westcott and Hort. The main reason for the popularity of modern theories is that the manuscripts of Alexandrian family are older than the manuscripts of the Byzantine family. It is also argued that the Majority Text is a revised, and hence secondary, form of the Greek text.
In this article we will present main arguments for the superiority of the Textus Receptus. These arguments are quoted from selected sections of scholarly works of Dean John William Burgon and Dr. Edward F. Hills.
John William Burgon (1813-1888) was a scholar who most of his adult life at Oxford, as Fellow of Oriel College and then as vicar of St. Mary's (the University Church) and Gresham Professor of Divinity. During his last twelve years he was Dean of Chichester. In theology he was a high-church Anglican but opposed to the ritualism into which even in his day the high church movement had begun to decline. Throughout his career he was steadfast in his defense of the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God and strove with all his power to arrest the modernistic currents which during his lifetime had begun to flow within the Church of England. Because of his learned defense of the Traditional New Testament text he has been held up to ridicule in most of the handbooks on New Testament textual criticism; but his arguments have never been refuted.
Dr. Edward F. Hills (1912-1981) was a well trained classicist and an international recognized New Testament text critic. He was a distinguished Latin and Phi Beta Kappa graduate (A.B. major in classics, Summa cum laude) of Yale University. He also earned the Th.B. degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and the Th.M. degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. After doing doctoral work at the University of Chicago in New Testament text criticism, he completed his program at Harvard, earning the Th.D. in the field. We have included his work The King James Version Defended at our site. The book is not about the KJV, but rather about the defense of the text behind the KJV, namely the Textus Receptus.
Next sections are not our work, but excerpts from works of these scholars.
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What follows is various statements on the superiority of the Textus Receptus, taken from a brief summary of Burgon's work The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, summarized by Rev. D. A. Waite, Th.D., Ph.D., president of the Dean Burgon Society. Original source: Summary of The Traditional Text.
- The Traditional Text Was a 3 to 2 Favorite with Those Church Fathers Who Died Before 400 A.D.
- The Traditional Text Was in Existence and Predominant from the Earliest Years of the Churches
- Why The Traditional Text Does Not Now Have Many Older Manuscript
- Why The Traditional Text Later Manuscripts are Better than the Older Ones Like B and Aleph
- The Traditional Text Has an Unbroken Succession
- The Traditional Text Is Incomparably Superior to the Westcott and Hort Type of Text
- The New Testament Is Unique in Attempts at Doctrinal Depravations
- The New Testament Was Doctrinally Corrupted by Early Heretics
No one, I believe, has till now made a systematic examination of the quotations occurring in the writings of the Fathers who died before A.D. 400 and in public documents written prior to that date. ... The testimony therefore of the  Early Fathers is emphatically according to the issue of numbers in favour of the Traditional Text, being about 3:2. But it is also necessary to inform the readers of this treatise, that here quality confirms quantity. A list will now be given of thirty important passages in which evidence is borne on both sides, and it will be seen that 530 testimonies are given in favour of the Traditional readings as against 170 on the other side. In other words, the Traditional Text beats its opponent in a general proportion to 3 to 1.2
Some of the leading Westcott and Hort followers of today are very bold to say that the Traditional Text, or the Textus Receptus type of readings, did not exist prior to 400 A.D., and certainly not before the 6th Century A.D. Here you have statistical data on 76 Church Fathers who died prior to 400 A.D., showing, not only that the Textus Receptus readings did exist prior to 400 A.D., but that they were in the majority. This was not merely a simple majority of barely over 50%, but it was a majority of 60% to 40% over the Westcott and Hort false text. Dr. Jack Moormans recent and careful research on this same subject revealed an even greater percentage--70% to 30% in favor of the Textus Receptus as opposed to B and Aleph. This can be found in his excellent book, Early Church Fathers Witness to the Antiquity of the Traditional Text, pages 34-35.
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As far as the Fathers who died before 400 A.D. are concerned, the question may now be put and answered. Do they witness to the Traditional Text as existing from the first, or do they not? The results of the evidence, both as regards the quantity and the quality of the testimony, enable us to reply, not only that the Traditional Text was in existence, but that it was predominant, during the period under review. Let any one who disputes this conclusion make out for the Western Text, or the Alexandrian, or for the Text of B and Aleph, a case from the evidence of the Fathers which can equal or surpass that which has been now placed before the reader.3
Dr. Dan Wallace, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, disagrees with Dean Burgon and Edward Miller on this point. He has written to the effect that we may have Byzantine or Traditional Text "readings," but not a Byzantine or Traditional "text." As Dr. David Otis Fuller used to say, "He is playing antics with semantics!" How can you have readings if you don't have a text from which those readings were derived?
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How is it that we possess no MSS. of the New Testament of any considerable size older than those, [that is, B and Aleph] or at least no other such MSS. as old as they are? Besides the disastrous results of the persecution of Diocletian, there is much force in the reply of Dean Burgon, that being generally recognized as bad MSS. they were left standing on the shelf in their handsome covers, whilst others which were more correct were being thumbed to pieces in constant use.4
What is meant by "the disastrous results of the persecution of Diocletian"? This Roman Emperor burned both the Christians and their Bibles. What kind of Bible did these believers have in their hands when they were hunted down to be tortured and slain? They had Textus Receptus or Traditional Text kind of Bibles. These kinds of Greek manuscripts were the ones that were destroyed by the multiplied hundreds.
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Nay, it will be found, as I am bold enough to say, that in many instances a fourteenth-century copy of the Gospels may exhibit the truth of Scripture, while the fourth-century copy in all these instances proves to be the depository of a fabricated text.5
Why can we be bold to say this? Because a fourteenth-century copy of the Gospels can be a copy of earlier text that is again a copy of much earlier text than a fourth-century mss. The next point explains why this is a plausible assumption.
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The history of the Traditional Text, on the contrary, goes step by step in unbroken succession regularly back to the earliest times. ... Erasmus followed his few MSS. because he knew them to be good representatives of the mind of the Church which had been informed under the ceaseless and loving care of mediaeval transcribers: and the text of Erasmus printed at Basle agreed in but little variation with the text of the Complutensian editors published in Spain, for which Cardinal Ximenes procured MSS. at whatever cost he could. No one doubts the coincidence in all essential points of the printed text with the text of the Cursives.6
Unbroken succession is necessary. Can you really trust a text that arose in about 350 A.D. and was not copied and re-copied for the next 1500 years? Inasmuch as Westcott and Hort raised this discarded text from the dead, why should we believe it is the true and original text of the New Testament? It was, in fact, a text rejected by the churches as being corrupted? Erasmus had a text which had but "little variation" with the text of the Complutensian Polyglot of Cardinal Ximenes, yet one used manuscripts from Basle and the other used manuscripts from Spain. Why did they have so little "variation"? It was because the cursives from which they were taken were identical in "all essential points." You could pick any of those Traditional Text cursives and you would find that they agree with each other in "all essential points." This is why both Ximenes and Erasmus were right on target with their agreement between themselves because they were both based on the same stream of the Traditional Text. The vast numbers of New Testament Greek manuscripts are like a river. Anywhere you might collect samples of the water, they would test out the same. So with the Traditional Text manuscripts.
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Accordingly, the text of which we are now treating, which is that of the later Uncials and the Cursives combined, is incomparably superior under all the external Notes of Truth. It possesses in nearly all cases older attestation: there is no sort of question as to the greater number of witnesses that bear evidence to its claims: nor to their variety: and hardly ever to the explicit proof of their continuousness, which indeed is also generally--nay, universally--implied owing to the nature of the case: their weight is certified upon stronger grounds: and as a matter of fact, the context in nearly all instances testifies on their side. The course of doctrine pursued in the history of the Universal Church is immeasurably in their Favour.7
In fact, until those who make the words of the New Testament their study are convinced that they move in a region like no other, where unique phenomena await them at every step, and where seventeen hundred and fifty years ago depraving causes unknown in every other department of learning were actively at work, progress cannot really be made in the present discussion.8
Unlike secular documents, theological heretics purposely and maliciously perverted New Testament documents. B and Aleph, and the other so-called "Old Uncials" (Aleph, A, B, C, and D), are examples of such perversion. Since this is true, those early copies are not to be trusted. If the perversions took place within the first hundred years after the New Testament was composed, then those early copies, such as B and Aleph, were the ones on which the heretics operated. This is what Dr. Scrivener and Dean Burgon both believe.
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And the Written Word in like manner, in the earliest age of all, was shamefully handled by mankind. Not only was it confused through human infirmity and misapprehension, but it became also the object of restless malice and unsparing assaults. Marcion, Valentinus, Basilides, Heracleon, Menander, Asclepiades, Theodotus, Hermophilus, Apollonides, and other heretics adapted the Gospels to their own ideas.9
If these nine above-named heretics adapted the Gospels to their own ideas and they lived during the first few centuries of the church age, it is entirely possible that B and Aleph and their allies might have been samples of some of their depravations. B and Aleph both were from Egypt. According to Dr. Bruce Metzger, "every deviant Christian sect was represented in Egypt during the second century."10 He then listed no less than eleven such "deviant Christian sects." Egypt abounded with theological heresies. It is not unreasonable to assume that some of such heresies were transferred over to the New Testament texts which the heretics had in their possession.
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What follows is Dean Burgon's Seven Tests of Truth, taken from a brief summary of Burgon's work The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, summarized by Rev. D. A. Waite, Th.D., Ph.D., president of the Dean Burgon Society. Original source: Summary of The Traditional Text.
I proceed to offer for the reader's consideration seven Tests of Truth ... where these seven tests are found to conspire, we may confidently assume that the evidence is worthy of all acceptance, and is to be implicitly followed. A reading should be attested then by the seven following Notes Of Truth:11
- Antiquity, or Primitiveness
- Consent of Witnesses, or Number
- Variety of Evidence, or Catholicity
- Respectability of Witnesses, or Weight
- Continuity, or Unbroken Tradition
- Evidence of the Entire Passage, or Context
- Internal Considerations, or Reasonableness 12
The more ancient testimony is probably the better testimony. That it is not by any means always so is a familiar fact. To quote the known dictum of a competent judge [Dr. F. H. A. Scrivener]: 'It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed; that Irenaeus and the African Fathers and the whole Western, with a portion of the Syriac Church, used far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephen, thirteen centuries after, when moulding the Textus Receptus.' Therefore Antiquity alone affords no security that the manuscript in our hands is not infected with the corruption which sprang up largely in the first and second centuries.13
In other words, the African Fathers and Irenaeus used corrupt Greek texts. Even though they were early and therefore a part of "antiquity," they were corrupted through the actions of many heretics. Their writing material was old, but their words were filled with contemporaneous corruption. The manuscripts that Erasmus, or Stephens, or Stunica used, though they were younger, they were, nevertheless, founded upon the words of the original text which were the oldest possible. This was possible because they had accurate copies. Their writing material was younger, but their words were older and purer.
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'Number' is the most ordinary ingredient of weight, and indeed in matters of human testimony, is an element which even cannot be cast away. Ask one of Her Majesty's Judges if it be not so. Ten witnesses (suppose) are called in to give evidence: of whom one resolutely contradicts what is solemnly deposed to by the other nine. Which of the two parties do we suppose the Judge will be inclined to believe?14
Obviously, in the foregoing set of circumstances, "Her Majesty's Judges" would believe the nine witnesses. We have, in our day, over 99% of the evidence of our manuscripts favoring the type of text that underlies our King James Bible. Some 5,210 of the 5,255 of our manuscripts favor the Traditional Text that underlies our King James Bible. Less than 1% of the manuscripts side with the false texts of Westcott and Hort and their modern counterparts, the Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Societies. The Westcott and Hort people despise this test of truth because the number of manuscripts on their side is so small.
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Witnesses of different kinds; from different countries; speaking different tongues:--witnesses who can never have met and between whom it is incredible that there should exist collusion of any kind:--such witnesses deserve to be listened to most respectfully. Indeed, when witnesses of so varied a sort agree in large numbers, they must needs be accounted worthy of even implicit confidence.15
It is precisely this consideration which constrains us to pay supreme attention to the combined testimony of the Uncials and of the whole body of the Cursive Copies. They are (a) dotted over at least 1000 years: (b) they evidently belong to so many divers countries,--Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Palestine, Syria, Alexandria, and other parts of Africa, not to say Sicily, Southern Italy, Gaul, England, and Ireland: (c) they exhibit so many strange characteristics and peculiar sympathies: (d) they so clearly represent countless families of MSS., being in no single instance absolutely identical in their text, and certainly not being copies of any other Codex in existence,--that their unanimous decision I hold to be an absolutely irrefragable evidence of the Truth.16
This is a tremendous testimony in favor of the Traditional Text! Twelve or more countries, and parts of the world, witness to this same kind of text without collusion, cooperation, or complicity of any kind. This is true "variety."
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In the first place, the witnesses in favour of any given reading should be respectable. 'Respectability' is of course a relative term; but its use and applicability in this department of Science will be generally understood and admitted by scholars, although they may not be altogether agreed as to the classification of their authorities.17
Any witnesses, such as "B" (Vatican) and "Aleph" (Sinai), which disagree one with the other in over 3,000 substantial places in the Gospels alone would certainly not be respectable witnesses. Certainly such false witnesses cannot be "respectable" by objective standards.
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When therefore a reading is observed to leave traces of its existence and of its use all down the ages, it comes with an authority of a peculiarly commanding nature. And on the contrary, when a chasm of greater or less breadth of years yawns in the vast mass of evidence which is ready for employment, or when a tradition is found to have died out, upon such a fact alone suspicion or grave doubt, or rejection must inevitably ensue." "Still more, when upon the admission of the Advocates of the opinions which we are opposing the chasm is no longer restricted but engulfs not less than fifteen centuries in its hungry abyss, or else then the transmission ceased after four centuries, it is evident that according to an essential Note of Truth, those opinions cannot fail to be self-destroyed as well as to labour under condemnation during more than three quarters of the accomplished life of Christendom.18
The Textus Receptus has continuity right on down the line. There are at least thirty-seven tremendous historical links of continuity.19 The "transmission" of the B and Aleph type of texts "ceased after four centuries" and the worship of these false texts did not resume for another "fifteen centuries." It is evident that B and Aleph, and their allies, were not continuous and therefore are worthy of "condemnation."
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A word,--a phrase,--a clause,--or even a sentence or a paragraph,--must have some relation to the rest of the entire passage which precedes or comes after it. Therefore it will often be necessary, in order to reach all the evidence that bears upon a disputed question, to examine both the meaning and the language living on both sides of the point in dispute.20
This is an obvious and essential test of truth.
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Accordingly, the true reading of passages must be ascertained, with very slight exception indeed, from the preponderating weight of external evidence, just according to its antiquity, to number, variety, relative value, continuousness, and with the help of the context. Internal considerations, unless in exceptional cases they are found in strong opposition to evident error, have only a subsidiary force.21
What follows is selected sections from Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, dealing with the evidence for the Textus Receptus.
The Evidence of Codex W
In demonstrating the antiquity of the Traditional Text it is well to begin with the evidence of Codex W, the Freer Manuscript of the Gospels, named after C. L. Freer of Detroit, who purchased it in 1906 from an Arab dealer at Gizeh, near Cairo. It is now housed in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 1912 it was published under the editorship of H. C. Sanders.22 It contains the Four Gospels in the Western order, Matthew, John, Luke, Mark. In John and the first third of Luke the text is Alexandrian in character. In Mark the text is of the Western type in the first five chapters and of a mixed "Caesarean" type in the remaining chapters. The especial value of W, however, lies in Matthew and the last two thirds of Luke. Here the text is Traditional (Byzantine) of a remarkably pure type. According to Sanders, in Matthew the text of W is of the Kappa 1 type, which van Soden (1906) regarded as the oldest and best form of the Traditional (Byzantine) Text.23
The discovery of W tends to disprove the thesis of Westcott and Hort that the Traditional Text is a fabricated text which was put together in the 4th century by a group of scholars residing at Antioch. For Codex W is a very ancient manuscript. B. P. Grenfell regarded it as "probably fourth century."24 Other scholars have dated it in the 5th century. Hence W is one of the oldest complete manuscripts of the Gospels in existence, possibly of the same age as Aleph. Moreover, W seems to have been written in Egypt, since during the first centuries of its existence it seems to have been the property of the Monastery of the Vinedresser, which was located near the third pyramid.25 If the Traditional Text had been invented at Antioch in the 4th century, how would it have found its way into Egypt and thence into Codex W so soon thereafter? Why would the scribe of W, writing in the 4th or early 5th century, have adopted this newly fabricated text in Matthew and Luke in preference to other texts which (according to Hort's hypothesis) were older and more familiar to him? Thus the presence of the Traditional Text in W indicates that this text is a very ancient text and that it was known in Egypt before the 4th century.
The Evidence of Codex A
Another witness to the early existence of the Traditional Text is Codex A (Codex Alexandrinus). This venerable manuscript which dates from the 5th century, has played a very important role in the history of New Testament textual criticism. It was given to the King of England in 1627 by Cyril Lucar, patriarch of Constantinople, and for many years was regarded as the oldest extant New Testament manuscript. In Acts and the Epistles Codex A agrees most closely with the Alexandrian text of the B and Aleph type, but in the Gospels it agrees generally with the Traditional Text. Thus in the Gospels Codex A testifies to the antiquity of the Traditional Text. According to Gregory (1907) and Kenyon (1937), Codex A was probably written in Egypt. If this is so, then A is also another witness to the early presence of the Traditional Text upon the Egyptian scene.
The Evidence of the Papyri
When the Chester Beatty Papyri were published (1933-37), it was found that these early 3rd century fragments agree surprisingly often with the Traditional (Byzantine) Text against all other types of text. "A number of Byzantine readings," Zuntz (1953) observes, "most of them genuine, which previously were discarded as 'late', are anticipated by Pap. 46." And to this observation he adds the following significant note, "The same is true of the sister-manuscript Pap. 45; see, for example, Matt. 26:7 and Acts. 17:13."26 And the same is true also of the Bodmer Papyri (published 1956-62). Birdsall (1960) acknowledges that "the Bodmer Papyrus of John (Papyrus 66) has not a few such Byzantine readings."27 And Metzger (1962) lists 23 instances of the agreements of Papyri 45, 46, and 66 with the Traditional (Byzantine) Text against all other text-types.28 And at least a dozen more such agreements occur in Papyrus 75.
Traditional (Byzantine) Readings in Origen
One of the arguments advanced by Westcott and Hort and other naturalistic critics against the early existence and thus against the genuineness of the Traditional (Byzantine) Text is the alleged fact that "distinctively" Traditional readings are never found in the New Testament quotations of Origen and other 2nd and 3rd-century Church Fathers. In other words, it is alleged that these early Fathers never agree with the Traditional Text in places in which it stands alone in opposition to both the Western and Alexandrian texts. For example, in Matt. 27:34 the Traditional Text tells us that before the soldiers crucified Jesus they gave Him vinegar mingled with gall, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 69:21. Hort thought this to be a late reading suggested by the Psalm. The true reading, he contended, is that found in Aleph B D etc., wine mingled with gall. Burgon (1896), however, refuted Hort's argument by pointing out that the Traditional reading vinegar was known not only to Origen but also to the pagan philosopher Celsus (c. 180), who used the passage to ridicule Jesus.29 In his treatise Against Celsus Origen takes note of this blasphemy and reproves it, but he never suggests that Celsus has adopted a false reading. "Those that resist the word of truth," Origen declares, "do ever offer to Christ the Son of God the gall of their own wickedness, and the vinegar of their evil inclinations; but though He tastes of it, yet He will not drink it."30
Hence, contrary to the assertions of the naturalistic critics, the distinctive readings of the Traditional (Byzantine) Text were known to Origen, who sometimes adopted them, though perhaps not usually. Anyone can verify this by scanning the apparatus of Tischendorf. For instance, in the first 14 chapters of the Gospel of John (that is, in the area covered by Papyrus 66 and Papyrus 75) out of 62 instances in which the Traditional Text stands alone Origen agrees with the Traditional Text 20 times and disagrees with it 32 times. These results make the position of the critics that Origen knew nothing of the Traditional Text difficult indeed to maintain.
Naturalistic critics, it is true, have made a determined effort to explain away the "distinctively" Traditional readings which appear in the New Testament quotations of Origen (and other early Fathers). It is argued that these Traditional readings are not really Origen's but represent alterations made by scribes who copied Origen's works. These scribes, it is maintained, revised the original quotations of Origen and made them conform to the Traditional Text. The evidence of the Bodmer Papyri, however, indicates that this is not an adequate explanation of the facts. Certainly it seems a very unsatisfactory way to account for the phenomena which appear in the first 14 chapters of John. In these chapters 7 out of 20 "distinctively" Traditional readings which occur in Origen occur also in Papyrus 66 and/or in Papyrus 75. These 7 readings at least must have been Origen's own readings, not those of the scribes who copied Origen's works, and what is true of these 7 readings is probably true of the other 13, or at least of most of them. Thus it can hardly be denied that the Traditional Text was known to Origen and that it influenced the wording of his New Testament quotations.
The Evidence of the Peshitta Syriac Version
The Peshitta Syriac version, which is the historic Bible of the whole Syrian Church, agrees closely with the Traditional Text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. Until about one hundred years ago it was almost universally believed that the Peshitta originated in the 2nd century and hence was one of the oldest New Testament versions. Hence because of its agreement with the Traditional Text the Peshitta was regarded as one of the most important witnesses to the antiquity of the Traditional Text. In more recent times, however, naturalistic critics have tried to nullify this testimony of the Peshitta by denying that it is an ancient version. Burkitt (1904), for example, insisted that the Peshitta did not exist before the 5th century but "was prepared by Rabbula, bishop of Edessa (the capital city of Syria) from 411-435 A.D., and published by his authority."31
Burkitts's theory was once generally accepted, but now scholars are realizing that the Peshitta must have been in existence before Rabbula's episcopate, because it was the received text of both the two sects into which the Syrian Church became divided. Since this division took place in Rabbula's time and since Rabbula was the leader of one of these sects, it is impossible to suppose that the Peshitta was his handiwork, for if it had been produced under his auspices, his opponents would never have adopted it as their received New Testament text. Indeed A. Voobus, in a series of special studies (1947-54),32 has argued not only that Rabbula was not the author of the Peshitta but even that he did not use it, at least not in its present form. If this is true and if Burkitt's contention is also true, namely, that the Syrian ecclesiastical leaders who lived before Rabbula also did not use the Peshitta, then why was it that the Peshitta was received by all the mutually opposing groups in the Syrian Church as their common, authoritative Bible? It must have been that the Peshitta was a very ancient version and that because it was so old the common people within the Syrian Church continued to be loyal to it regardless of the factions into which they came to be divided and the preferences of their leaders. It made little difference to them whether these leaders quoted the Peshitta or not. They persevered in their usage of it, and because of their steadfast devotion this old translation retained its place as the received text of the Syriac-speaking churches.
Evidence of the Sinaitic Syriac Manuscript
The Sinaitic Syriac manuscript was discovered by two sisters, Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gibson, in the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, hence the name. It contains a type of text which is very old, although not so old as the text of the Peshitta. Critics assign an early 3rd-century date to the text of the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript. If they are correct in this, then this manuscript is remarkable for the unexpected support which it gives to the Traditional Text. For Burkitt (1904) found that "not infrequently" this manuscript agreed with the Traditional Text against the Western and Alexandrian texts.33 One of these Traditional readings thus supported by the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript is found in the angelic song of Luke 2:14. Here the Traditional Text and the Sinaitic Syriac read, good will among (toward) men, while the Western and Alexandrian texts read, among men of good will.
The Evidence of the Gothic Version
The Gothic version also indicates that the Traditional Text is not a late text. This New Testament translation was made from the Greek into Gothic shortly after 350 A.D. by Ulfilas, missionary bishop to the Goths. "The type of text represented in it," Kenyon (1912) tells us, "is for the most part that which is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts."34 The fact, therefore, that Ulfilas in A.D. 350 produced a Gothic version based on the Traditional Text proves that this text must have been in existence before that date. In other words, there must have been many manuscripts of the Traditional type on hand in the days of Ulfilas, manuscripts which since that time have perished.
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What follows is selected sections from Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, dealing with the Westcott and Hort hypothesis of conflation in the Traditional Text and the theory that the Traditional Text was an official text.
The "Conflate Readings"
Westcott and Hort found proof for their position that the Traditional Text was a "work of attempted criticism performed deliberately by editors and not merely by scribes" in eight passages in the Gospels in which the Western text contains one half of the reading found in the Traditional Text and the Alexandrian text the other half.35 These passages are Mark 6:33; 8:26; 9:38; 9:49; Luke 9:10; 11:54, 12:18, 24:53. Since Hort discusses the first of these passages at great length, it may serve very well as a sample specimen.
Mark 6:33 And the people saw them departing, and many knew Him, and ran together there on foot out of all the cities,
(Then follow three variant readings.)
(1) and came before them and came together to Him. Traditional Reading.
(2) and came together there. Western Reading.
(3) and came before them. Alexandrian Reading.
Hort argued that here the Traditional reading was deliberately created by editors who produced this effect by adding the other two readings together. Hort called the Traditional reading a "conflate reading," that is to say, a mixed reading which was formed by combining the Western reading with the Alexandrian reading. And Hort said the same thing in regard to his seven other specimen passages. In each case he maintained that the Traditional reading had been made by linking the Western reading with the Alexandrian. And this, he claimed, indicated that the Traditional Text was the deliberate creation of an editor or a group of editors.
Dean Burgon (1882) immediately registered one telling criticism of this hypothesis of conflation in the Traditional Text. Why, he asked, if conflation was one of the regular practices of the makers of the Traditional Text, could Westcott and Hort find only eight instances of this phenomenon? "Their theory," Burgon exclaimed, "has at last forced them to make an appeal to Scripture and to produce some actual specimens of their meaning. After ransacking the Gospels for 30 years, they have at last fastened upon eight."36
Westcott and Hort disdained to return any answer to Burgon's objection, but it remains a valid one. If the Traditional Text was created by 4th-century Antiochian editors, and if one of their habitual practices had been to conflate (combine) Western and Alexandrian readings, then surely more examples of such conflation ought to be discoverable in the Gospels than just Hort's eight. But only a few more have since been found to add to Hort's small deposit. Kenyon (1912) candidly admitted that he didn't think that there were very many more.37 And this is all the more remarkable because not only the Greek manuscripts but also the versions have been carefully canvassed by experts, such as Burkitt and Souter and Lake, for readings which would reveal conflation in the Traditional Text.
Moreover, even the eight alleged examples of conflation which Westcott and Hort did bring forward are not at all convincing. At least they did not approve themselves as such in the eyes of Bousset (1894). This radical German scholar united with the conservatives in rejecting the conclusions of these two critics. In only one of their eight instances did he agree with them. In four of the other instances he regarded the Traditional reading as the original reading, and in the three others he regarded the decision as doubtful. "Westcott and Hort's chief proof," he observed, "has almost been turned into its opposite."38
In these eight passages, therefore, it is just as easy to believe that the Traditional reading is the original and that the other texts have omitted parts of it as to suppose that the Traditional reading represents a later combination of the other two readings.
Why is it that the Traditional (Byzantine) Text is found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts rather than some other text, the Western text, for example, or the Alexandrian? What was there about the Traditional (Byzantine) Text which enabled it to conquer all its rivals and become the text generally accepted by the Greek Church?
The classic answer to this question was given by Westcott and Hort in their celebrated Introduction (1881). They believed that from the very beginning the Traditional (Byzantine) Text was an official text with official backing and that this was the reason why it overcame all rival texts and ultimately reigned supreme in the usage of the Greek Church. They regarded the Traditional Text as the product of a thorough-going revision of the New Testament text which took place at Antioch in two stages between 250 A.D. and 350 A.D. They believed that this text was the deliberate creation of certain scholarly Christians at Antioch and that the presbyter Lucian (d. 312) was probably the original leader in this work. According to Westcott and Hort, these Antiochian scholars produced the Traditional Text by mixing together the Western, Alexandrian, and Neutral (B-Aleph) texts.
Thus Westcott and Hort bore down heavily on the idea that the Traditional (Byzantine) Text was an official text. It was through ecclesiastical authority, they believed, that this text was created, and it was through ecclesiastical authority that this text was imposed upon the Church, so that it became the text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts. This emphasis on ecclesiastical authority, however, has been abandoned by most present-day scholars. As Kenyon (1912) observed long ago, there is no historical evidence that the Traditional Text was created by a council or conference of ancient scholars. History is silent concerning any such gathering. "We know," he remarks, "the names of several revisers of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, and it would be strange if historians and Church writers had all omitted to record or mention such an event as the deliberate revision of the New Testament in its original Greek."39
What follows is various statements on the Inferiority of the Westcott and Hort Text, taken from a brief summary of Burgon's work The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, summarized by Rev. D. A. Waite, Th.D., Ph.D., president of the Dean Burgon Society. Original source: Summary of The Traditional Text.
The Westcott and Hort Text Was Based Only on the "Crime" of Partial and Unrepresentative Evidence
To cast away at least nineteen-twentieths of the evidence on points and to draw conclusions from the petty remainder, seems to us to be necessarily not less even than a crime and a sin, and only by reason of the sacrilegious destructiveness exercised thereby upon Holy Writ, but also because such a method is inconsistent with conscientious exhaustiveness and logical method.40
Westcott and Hort used only partial evidence and a very unrepresentative sample agreeing with less than 1% of the manuscript history. Ximenes and Erasmus, on the other hand, though also using partial evidence, had a representative sample agreeing with over 99% of the manuscript history.
Professor Hort Tampered with the Facts of History in order to Sustain the Westcott and Hort (B and Aleph) Text
Again, in order to prop up his contention, Dr. Hort is obliged to conjure up the shadows of two or three phantom revisions, of which no recorded evidence exists. We must never forget that subjective theory or individual speculation are valueless, when they do not agree with facts, except as failures leading to some better system. But Dr. Hort, as soon as he found that he could not maintain his ground with history as it was, instead of taking back his theory and altering it to square with facts, tampered with historical facts in order to make them agree with his theory.41
This is an inexcusable tampering with truth and historical facts. It is an example of what they call "historical revisionism." It was to be deprecated as much then as it should be today! [see also section The Traditional Text Not An Official Text]
The Westcott and Hort Text Is in Error Because it Favored the Error-ridden Old Uncials
Now I submit that it is a sufficient condemnation of Codexes B/Aleph/C/D as a supreme court of judicature (1) That as a rule they are observed to be discordant in their judgements: (2) That when they thus differ among themselves it is generally demonstrable by an appeal to antiquity that the two principal judges B and Aleph have delivered a mistaken judgement: (3) That when these two differ one from the other, the supreme judge B is often in the wrong: and lastly (4) That it constantly happens that all four agree, and yet all four are in error.42
No progress is possible in the department of Textual Criticism until the superstition--for we are persuaded that it is nothing less--which at present prevails concerning certain of the old uncials (as they are called) has been abandoned.43
Unfortunately, our modern self-styled "textual critics" failed to heed this word of warning. Instead, they continue the "superstition."
The Westcott and Hort Text Used Ingenious Speculation Instead of Facts
We oppose facts to their speculation. They exalt B and Aleph and D because in their own opinion those copies are the best. They weave ingenious webs, and invent subtle theories, because their paradox of a few against the many requires ingenuity and subtlety for its support. ... In contrast with this sojourn in cloudland, we are essentially of the earth though not earthy. We are nothing, if we are not grounded in facts: our appeal is to facts, our test lies in facts, so far as we can we build testimonies upon testimonies and pile facts on facts.44
You have to be ingenious to convince people that 1% of the evidence is true and 99% of the evidence is false. Hort was a master at this. So is Satan! Dean Burgon did not deal in "cloudland," nor does his defense of the Traditional Text. Because of Westcott and Horts "paradox" referred to by Dean Burgon, they have based their position purely on subtle theories and rank speculation.
The Westcott and Hort Text Dwindled Down in Numbers of Manuscripts by the End of the 4th Century
During the life of Eusebius, if not under his controlling care, the two oldest Uncial Manuscripts in existence as hitherto discovered, known as B and Aleph, or the Vatican and Sinaitic, were executed in handsome form and exquisite caligraphy. But shortly after, about the middle of the fourth century--as both schools of Textual Critics agree--a text differing from that of B and Aleph advanced in general acceptance; and, increasing till the eighth century in the predominance won by the end of the fourth, became so prevalent in Christendom, that the small number of MSS. agreeing with B and Aleph forms no sort of comparison with the many which vary from those two.45
By the fourth century, and certainly by the eighth century, those few manuscripts which agreed with B and Aleph were not in existence. What happened to them? On the other hand, the manuscripts which agreed with the Traditional Text and also agreed one with another, were in abundance. They were and are the true texts.
The Westcott and Hort Text Should not be Followed, but Rather We Should Follow the Main Body of New Testament MSS
Are we for the genuine text of the New Testament to go to the Vatican and the Sinaitic MSS. and the few others which mainly agree with them, or are we to follow the main body of New Testament MSS., which by the end of the century in which those two were produced entered into possession of the field of contention, and have continued in occupation of it ever since?46
This is a good question. We should follow the main body of New Testament manuscripts which form the Traditional Text. They won the battle with B and Aleph and their associate manuscripts. The churches recognized that the Traditional Text was the true text and copied and re-copied this text into hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts. To have approximately 5,210 Traditional Text kind of manuscripts in the Greek Language alone plus 8,000 in Latin, confirms that Christians believed these to be the true Bibles. Would you copy a Bible you thought to be false? I would not, and I dont believe the Christian copyists would have either.
The Westcott and Hort Text Rejected 995 copies out of Every 1,000 as Being Untrustworthy
I am utterly disinclined to believe--as grossly improbable does it seem--that at the end of 1800 years, 995 copies out of every thousand suppose, will prove untrustworthy; and that the one, two, three, four or five which remain, whose contents were till yesterday as good as unknown, will be found to have retained the secret of what the Holy Spirit originally inspired. I am utterly unable to believe, in short, that Gods promise has so entirely failed, that at the end of 1800 years much of the text of the Gospel had in point of fact to be picked up by a German critic out of a waste-paper basket in the convent of St. Catherine; and that the entire text had to be remodelled after the pattern set by a couple of copies which had remained in neglect during fifteen centuries, and had probably owed their survival to that neglect; whilst hundreds of others had been thumbed to pieces, and had bequeathed their witness to copies made from them.47
This German critic mentioned was Tischendorf. The text found in the waste-paper basket was manuscript Aleph (Sinai). Recently retired 89-year-old Pastor Carl Drexler, of Runnemede, New Jersey, used to refer to such higher critics as Tischendorf by a descriptive term. He called them "the higher liar, critics." This, in too many instances, is correct. The disuse of B, Aleph and a few others explains why they were preserved instead of being "thumbed to pieces."
The Westcott and Hort Text Is Based Upon a Very Little Handful of Manuscripts Rather than on the Vast Multitude of Copies
Does the truth of the Text of Scripture dwell with the vast multitude of copies, uncial and cursive, concerning which nothing is more remarkable than the marvellous agreement which subsists between them? Or is it rather to be supposed that the truth abides exclusively with a very little handful of manuscripts which at once differ from the great bulk of the witnesses, and--strange to say--also amongst themselves?
The advocates of the Traditional Text urge that the Consent without Concert of so many hundreds of copies, executed by different persons, at diverse times, in widely sundered regions of the Church, is a presumptive proof of their trustworthiness, which nothing can invalidate but [by] some sort of demonstration that they are untrustworthy guides after all.48
There is an amassing of a tremendous amount of evidence by Dean Burgon in his masterful defense of the Traditional Text and in his demolition of the B and Aleph and Westcott and Hort errors. He combines logic with facts.
B and Aleph Manuscripts Differs Within itself Internally
The consent without concert of (suppose) 990 out of 1000 copies,--of every date from the fifth to the fourteenth century, and belonging to every region of ancient Christendom,--is a colossal fact not to be set aside by any amount of ingenuity. A predilection for two fourth-century manuscripts closely resembling one another, yet standing apart in every page so seriously that it is easier to find two consecutive verses in which they differ than two consecutive verses in which they entirely agree:--such a preference, I say, apart from abundant or even definitely clear proof that it is well founded, is surely not entitled to be accepted as conclusive.49
990 out of 1000 copies from the 5th to the 14th centuries from every region of the world characterizes the Tradition Text. Why cling to the 4th Century B and Aleph which have internal differences on every page?
The Westcott and Hort Text Contains Fragments of Many Other Texts
Although for convenience we have hitherto spoken of Codexes B/Aleph/D/L as exhibiting a single text,--it is in reality not one text but fragments of many, which are to be met with in the little handful of authorities enumerated above. Their witness does not agree together. The Traditional Text, on the contrary, is unmistakably one.50
Again, Dean Burgon repeats his charges of major disagreement between the texts of B, Aleph, and their followers. This shows that they are "fragments of many" other manuscripts rather than being unified. Not so with the Traditional Text which is "unmistakably one."
The Westcott and Hort Text Constructed a Short Text from a Fuller One
There is no difficulty in producing a short text by omission of words, or clauses, or verses, from a fuller text: but the fuller text could not have been produced from the shorter by any development which would be possible under the facts of the case.51
The Westcott and Hort theory of taking their short text and making it into a longer Textus Receptus is illogical. How can you begin with a short text and then, all of a sudden, make a long text where each verse and word of that longer text agrees with hundreds of other manuscripts at the same book, chapter, and verse? For example, how could all twelve verses of Mark 16 be constructed in the same order and with the same words in hundreds of copies if the original of Marks Gospel did not contain them? On the other hand, it would be simple to take a full text, like the Textus Receptus or Traditional Text, and have B and Alephs scribes cut out the last twelve verses of Marks Gospel which, of course, they did.
The Westcott and Hort Text Is Not the Oldest Witness to the New Testament, Because Much Older Evidence Exists
But though there are in our hands as yet no older manuscripts [than B or Aleph], yet we have in the first place various Versions, viz., the Peshitto of the second century, the group of Latin Versions which begin from about the same time, the Boharic and the Thebaic of the third century, not to speak of the Gothic which was about contemporary with your friends the Vatican and Sinaitic MSS. Next, there are the numerous Fathers who quoted passages in the earliest ages, and thus witnessed to the MSS. which they used. ... So that there is absolutely no reason to place these two MSS. upon a pedestal by themselves on the score of supreme antiquity. They are eclipsed in this respect by many other authorities older than they are.52
Anyone who says "the oldest is the best," will have to say the Traditional Text is the best because the witnesses to it are older than B or Aleph which have been "eclipsed" by it.
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In this article, we have selected sections of the scholarly works of of Dean John William Burgon and Dr. Edward F. Hills, showing that the Textus Receptus is indeed superior Greek text of the New Testament. As such, it is a summary of arguments. If you are more interested on the question of the superiority of the Textus Receptus, we would ask you to read dr. Edward F. Hills book The King James Version Defended, which is not just about King James Version, but rather about the Greek Text underlying KJV, namely the Textus Receptus. We would also recommend the site of The Dean Burgon Society, which is dedicated for the defense of the Textus Receptus.
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2 Dean Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, pp. 94, 101-102. [Back to the text]
3 Ibid., p. 116. [Back to the text]
4 Ibid., p. 154. [Back to the text]
5 Ibid., p. 8. [Back to the text]
6 Ibid., p. 236. [Back to the text]
7 Ibid., pp. 206-207. [Back to the text]
8 Ibid., pp. 9. [Back to the text]
9 Ibid., pp. 10. [Back to the text]
10 Bruce Metzger, Early Versions, p. 101, quoted in Dr. Jack Moorman, Early Manuscripts, p. 40 [Back to the text]
11 Burgon, op. cit., p. 28. [Back to the text]
12 Ibid., p. 29. [Back to the text]
13 Ibid., p. 40. [Back to the text]
14 Ibid., p. 43. [Back to the text]
15 Ibid., p. 50. [Back to the text]
16 Ibid., pp. 50-51. [Back to the text]
17 Ibid., p. 53. [Back to the text]
18 Ibid., p. 59. [Back to the text]
19 D. A. Waite, Defending the King James Bible, pp. 44-48. [Back to the text]
20 Burgon, op. cit., p. 61. [Back to the text]
21 Ibid., p. 67. [Back to the text]
22 H. C. Sanders, The Washington Manuscript Of The Four Gospels, New York: Macmillan, 1912 [Back to the text]
23 Ibid., p. 41 [Back to the text]
24 Ibid., p. 134 [Back to the text]
25 Ibid., pp. 3-4 [Back to the text]
26 G. Zuntz, The Text Of The Epistles, London: Oxford University Press, 1953, p. 55. [Back to the text]
27 The Journal of Theological Studies (Oxford University Press), n.s., vol. 11 ( 1960), p. 381. [Back to the text]
28 B. M. Metzger, "Lucian and the Lucianic Recension of the Greek Bible," New Testament Studies (Cambridge University Press), vol. 8, (1962), pp. 202-203. [Back to the text]
29 Burgon, op. cit., Appendix II, "Vinegar," pp. 254-255. [Back to the text]
30 Origenes Werke, Berlin, vol. 2, pp. 164-165. [Back to the text]
31 Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe, vol. 2, p. 5 [Back to the text]
32 Investigations into the Text of the New Testament used by Rabbula of Edessa, Pinneberg, 1947. Researches on the Circulation of the Peshitto in the Middle of the Fifth Century, Pinneberg, 1948. Neue Angeben Ueber, die Textgeschicht-Zustande in Edessa in den Jahren ca. 326-340, Stockholm, 1951. Early Versions of the New Testament, Stockholm, 1954. [Back to the text]
33 Evangelion Da-Mepharreshe, vol. 2, p. 225. Streeter, Four Gospels, p. 115. [Back to the text]
34 F. G. Kenyon, Handbook To The Textual Criticism Of The New Testament, London: Macmillan, 1912, p. 240. [Back to the text]
35 The New Testament in the Original Greek, vol 2, pp. 363-376. [Back to the text]
36 Burgon, The Revision Revised,p. 262, note. [Back to the text]
37 F. G. Kenyon, op. cit., p. 302. [Back to the text]
38 Texte and Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der alt christlichen Literatur, vol. 11 (1894), pp. 97-101. [Back to the text]
39 F. G. Kenyon, op. cit., p. 302. [Back to the text]
40 Burgon, The Traditional Text, p. xii. [Back to the text]
41 Ibid., p. 93. [Back to the text]
42 Ibid., pp. 36-37. [Back to the text]
43 Ibid., pp. 68. [Back to the text]
44 Ibid., pp. 238. [Back to the text]
45 Ibid., p. 2. [Back to the text]
46 Ibid., p. 3. [Back to the text]
47 Ibid., p. 12. [Back to the text]
48 Ibid., pp. 16-17. [Back to the text]
49 Ibid., pp. 33-34. [Back to the text]
50 Ibid., p. 34. [Back to the text]
51 Ibid., p. 34. [Back to the text]
52 Ibid., p. 74. [Back to the text]