Antiquity, Preservation, and Purity of the Textus Receptus

Lucian’s Gift of the Genuine New Testament

The Protestant denominations are built upon that manuscript of the Greek New Testament sometimes called the Textus Receptus, or Received Text.  It is that Greek New Testament from which the writings of the apostles in Greek have been translated into English, German, Dutch, and other languages.  During the Dark Ages, the Received Text was practically unknown outside the Greek Church.  It was restored to Christendom by the labors of that great scholar, Erasmus.  It is altogether too little known that the real editor of the Received Text was Lucian.  None of Lucian’s enemies fails to credit him with this work.  Neither Lucian nor Erasmus, but rather the apostles, wrote the Greek New Testament. However, Lucian’s day was an age of apostasy when a flood of depravations was systematically attempting to devastate both the Bible manuscripts and Bible theology.  Origen, of the Alexandrian college, made his editions and commentaries of the Bible a secure retreat for all his errors, and deformed them with philosophical speculations introducing casuistry and lying. Lucian’s unrivalled success in verifying, safeguarding, and transmitting those divine writings left a heritage for which all generations should be thankful.

Mutilations of the Sacred Scriptures abounded. There were at least eighty heretical sects all striving for supremacy.Each took unwarranted license in removing or adding pages to Bible manuscripts.  

Consider how masterly must have been Lucian’s collection of the evidences which identified and protected the writing left to the church by the apostles.  From that day to this the Received Text and the New Testaments translated from it are far in the lead of any other Bible in use.

Rejection of Spurious Old Testament Books

Not only did Lucian certify the genuine New Testament, but he spent years of arduous labor upon the Old Testament.  As the Greek language was the prevalent tongue in which leading works were published throughout the civilized world, he translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.  He did this work so well that even Jerome, his bitter opponent, admitted that his Greek translation of the Old Testament held sway in the capital city of Constantinople and in most of the Near East.

Jerome also entered the same field and translated the Hebrew Bible, not only into Greek, but also into Latin.  When the two translations of the Hebrew Bible appeared, there was a marked difference between the edition of Lucian and that of Jerome.  To Jerome’s Latin edition were added the seven spurious books called the Apocrypha, which the Protestant world has continuously rejected.  The responsibility cannot all be laid on Jerome, for he did not believe in these seven spurious books.  Augustine, whose fame as a father of the papal church outshines Jerome’s, favored them.  Since, however, Jerome had been employed by the bishop of Rome to publish this translation and had received abundant money from his employer for its accomplishment, the pope took the liberty of adding the seven spurious books in question to the Latin edition of Jerome’s Old Testament.  Later the papacy pronounced it to be the authoritative Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

Thus, in many ways Lucian became a blessing to those churches which in later years designated the Church of Rome a “newcomer”, and felt themselves compelled to disagree with it, while they persevered in apostolic usages.

Exposure of the Allegorizing Theologians

Clement (c. AD 194) and Origen (c. AD 230) of the metaphysical school of Alexandria, in the days immediately preceding Lucian, welded into an alluring and baffling system the method of allegorizing the Bible.  They taught the supremacy of the bishop of Rome and declared that there was no salvation outside the church.  Clement played to the applause of the populace by advocating the affinity of Christianity with paganism and of sun worship with the Sun of Righteousness.  John Mosheim testifies to this as follows:

He (Clement), himself expressly tells us in his Stromata, that he would not hand down Christian truth pure and unmixed, but “associated with, or rather veiled by, and shrouded under the precepts of philosophy”….the philosophy of the Greeks.

While Clement, with Pantaeus, mixed Christianity with paganism at Alexandria, Lucian at Antioch founded a school of Syrian theology.  The profound difference between his teaching and that of the north African allegorizing theologians, Dr Williston Walker thus describes:

With Antioch of this period is to be associated the foundation of a school of theology by Lucian, of whom little is known of biographical detail, save that he was a presbyter, held aloof from the party in Antioch, which opposed and overcame Paul of Samosata, taught there from c. 275 to 303, and died a martyr’s death in 312…..Like Origen, he busied himself with textual and exegetical labors on the Scriptures, but had little liking for the allegorizing methods of the great Alexandrian.  A simpler, more grammatical and historical method of treatment both of text and doctrine characterised his teaching.

It was a critical hour in the history of the church in the days following the efforts of Clement, Origen, and Tertullian – the mystical teachers of north Africa – to substitute new foundations for Christianity.  In that time God raised up a tireless champion of truth, Lucian.  Speculation within the church was tearing to pieces the faith once delivered to the saints.  The very foundation of the gospel itself was at stake.  Because of the immense contributions made by Syrian Christianity in the following centuries, later generations are indebted to Lucian.  At this time the words of the Psalmist were appropriate: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”.  It was at this time, according to a historian acceptable to the Roman Church, who lived in the same century with Lucian, that the martyr drew up a confession of faith.

Denouncing Tradition Above the Bible

The apostle Paul had prophesied that after his departing men would arise from the ministry, speaking perverse things and entering like grievous wolves among the flock.  Paul said it would come; Lucian in his day could say truly that it had come.  Within a hundred years after the death of Paul there can be found in the writings of authors who now stand high in the Roman Catholic Church the exaltation of tradition to the level, if not above the level, of the Holy Scriptures. Tertullian (AD 150-235), a contemporary of Lucian, after explaining the oblations of the dead, the sign of the cross upon the forehead, and the dipping of candidates in the water three times for baptism, writes: If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none.  Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as the strengthener, and faith as their observer”……

……Lucian was obliged to take his stand against the tine of error that was rising in his day.  He was diametrically opposed to the school of theology at Alexandria, whose teaching exalted tradition……

…….Lucian prevailed over Origen, especially in the East.  “The Bible produced by the Syrian scribes presented the Syrian text of the school of Antioch, and this text became the form which displaced all others in the Eastern churches and, is indeed, the Textus Receptus (Received Text) from which our Authorised Version is translated”.

Before his death Lucian was acknowledged throughout all Christendom as orthodox from the standpoint of the Bible, and a fundamentalist…….

A brief summary of the theological conditions which prevailed in the days of Lucian, and a review of his work and influence, is now presented.

1. Theology

The school at Antioch, founded by Lucian, developed a system of theology, so real that though all the power of the papacy was thrown against it, it finally prevailed.

The papacy also developed a great system of theology which was challenged both by the Church in the Wilderness and by the Reformation.

2. Quality not Quantity

The Antioch system of theology which….was prominent; it extended from England to China and from Turkestan to Ethiopia.

Papal theology was also prominent.  It is not necessary to indicate the dominating course it has had throughout the earth. 

3. The Genuine Bible

Lucian and his school produced and edited a definite and complete Bible.  It was a collection of the books from Genesis to Revelation.  Well-known writers like Jerome, Erasmus, and Luther, and, in the nineteenth century, John William Burgon and Fenton John Anthony Hort, whether friends or opponents, agree that Lucian was the editor who passed on to the world the Received Text – the New Testament text which was adopted at the birth of all the great churches of the Reformation.  Not a single church born of the Reformation, such as Lutheran, Calvinistic, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, or Adventist, adopted any other Bible than that whose New Testament text came down from Lucian.

The papacy passed on to the world an indefinite and incomplete Bible.  While it recognised to a certain extent the books from Genesis to Revelation, it added to them seven other books not considered canonical by the authorities quoted above.  In the Latin Vulgate of the papacy it adopted a New Testament text with passages radically different from the same in the Received Text.  It also made the decrees of the councils and the bulls of the popes equal to the books of the Bible.  In other words, with the Roman Catholic Church, the Scriptures are still in the making.  The papacy exalts the church above the Bible.  Cardinal Gibbons says, “The Scriptures alone do not contain all the truths which a Christian is bound to believe”.

4. Manuscripts True and False

The text which Lucian gave to the world was to all intents and purposes pure and correct.  Even his opponents declare that there are no Greek New Testaments older than Lucian’s, and that with it agree the great mass of Greek manuscripts.

The Roman Catholic text of the regular books from Genesis to Revelation and the seven apocryphal books based upon the manuscripts of Origen – later edited by Jerome – abounded in errors.  Thousands of these errors have been noted and presented to the world by eminent Catholic and non-Catholic writers.  Catholics admit that Jerome was a polemic theologian and that he allowed his prejudices to warp his translation”…….

……Lucian died before Constantine had consummated the union of the church with the state.  Lucian’s teaching, however, lived on to plague imperial Christianity.  The heritage he left behind became embosomed in the Church in the Wilderness.  As late as the fifteenth century the Catholic clergy displayed a bitter hatred to Greek learning.  The knowledge of Greek, however, remained in the bosom of the Church in the Wilderness whether in Syria, northern Italy, among the Celts, or in Oriental lands.  And wherever the true faith was held, the New Testament, verified and transmitted by Lucian, was venerated and followed.

Conditions continued thus until the dawn of the Reformation under Luther.  The papacy waxed more powerful and more autocratic.  The churches remaining true to New Testament Christianity became more and more sure of their ground, following the leadership of Lucian.  Finally, when the Great Reformation began, almost the first thing they did was to reach out, seize, and place at the foundation of the Reformed Church the Greek New Testament of Lucian.  On the other hand, the first four decisions of the Council of Trent – the first Catholic world council after the powerful beginnings of the Reformation – condemned Lucian’s text and insisted on Jerome’s Vulgate.  It is true that the Reformation leaders did not part with all the teaching of the papacy subsequently deemed by Protestant bodies as unscriptural, namely: the union of church and state, ceremonialism, hierarchy, organisation, etc.  Protestantism should have gone forward in its reforms until it had returned to the purity of the Church in the Wilderness…..

……Lucian is one of those world characters who needs no sculptor to erect a monument to his fame.  The transmission of the Received Text with its unparalleled effects down through the centuries is monument enough.  Another monument is the influence of Lucian in the great Church of the East, as reproduced in its evangelical thought and life.  In its history will be seen the hand of God, building a sure foundation for the divine truths that shall live in the long wilderness period of the church.

Wilkinson, B. “Truth Triumphant: The Church in the Wilderness”, selections from pages 50-62, 1994, 2005, 2015, TEACH Services, Inc.