Superiority of the Byzantine Text-type

Dr. [James] Price is suggesting here that the Received Text depends ‘on a handful of late Greek manuscripts’.  This is misleading, to say the very least.  Frederick Nolan, in his Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate or Received Text, comments as follows: ‘With respect to Manuscripts, it is indisputable that he [Erasmus] was acquainted with every variety which is known to us; having distributed them into two principal classes, one which corresponds with the Complutensian edition, the other with the Vatican manuscript [see Erasmus’ Preface to the New Testament, 1546].  And he has specified the positive grounds on which he received the one and rejected the other’.  It is known that Erasmus collated and studied many manuscripts, observing thousands of variant readings including such as were found in Vaticanus (Codex B); and a friend called Bombasius, we are told, researched that for him.  Certainly in his various editions of the Greek New Testament, his notes reveal that he was familiar with practically all the important variant readings known to modern scholars including Mark 16:9-20, Luke 22: 43-44 and John 7:53-8:11.

Some Textual Critics, after B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, refer to ‘families’ of New Testament manuscripts.  This again is misleading, as it is impossible to ascertain with any certainty the ancestors of manuscripts or to prove the exact relationship which one manuscript has to another.  But the particular device of referring to ‘families’ enabled Westcott and Hort to dismiss the Traditional or Received Text, supported by 90% of the Greek manuscripts, as a mere descendant of an exceedingly corrupt ancestor!  It is therefore much better to refer to ‘text-types’.  The major text-types are: the Traditional (Byzantine) text-type emanating from the Asia Minor/Greece area where Paul founded a number of churches (and called Byzantine because it was the recognised Greek text throughout the Byzantine period, AD 312-1453), and the Alexandrian text-type, associated with Alexandria and proceeding from Egypt. The Byzantine text-type has the overwhelming support of the Greek manuscripts (over 95% of the more than five thousand Greek manuscripts in existence); and naturally these have most impressive agreement among themselves.  It is in this text-type that the Traditional Text has survived, which was published in the 16th and 17th centuries by Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza and the Elzevirs (Bonaventure and Abraham).  In the ‘Preface’ to the Elzevirs’ second edition (1633) reference is made to the ‘text…now received by all’ textum…nunc ab omnibus receptum), from whence arose the designation ‘Textus Receptus’ or ‘Received Text’.  It is a text of this type which underlies the Authorised Version. 

All of the existing New Testament Greek manuscripts are copies (apographs).  None of the original writings of the Apostles (autographs) have survived.  The Byzantine group of manuscripts are mostly, but by no means entirely, later copies.  But some 4th-century manuscripts of the Alexandrian group have come to public notice since the publication of the Received Text in the 16th and 17th centuries.  These are Codex Vaticanus (from the Vatican library) and Codex Sinaiticus (discovered in St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in 1859).  These manuscripts differ radically from the Traditional or Received Text.  It is estimated that there are about six-thousand differences.  These include numerous omissions, sometimes of entire verses (e.g. Matthew 12:47, 18:11; Luke 17:36; Acts 28:29; Romans 15:24), and often even more than this (e.g. Matthew 16:2-3; Mark 9:44, 46; John 5:3-4; Acts 24:6-8).  Notorious among these, of course, are the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark and John 8:1-11.  Even between themselves, these Alexandrian manuscripts show no agreement or consistency.  H. C. Hoskier, after meticulous research, noted that in the four Gospels alone there were no less than three thousand differences between Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus.

But since 1881 when, under the baleful influence of Westcott and Hort, the Revised Version of the Bible was published, the Alexandrian have been preferred to the Byzantine manuscripts chiefly because of their date, the view being that the oldest manuscripts are likely to be the most accurate.  But this is a complete misconception, since accurate and approved copies would have been much in use and therefore would soon have become worn out – a damp climate not helping to preserve them as the arid climate of Egypt did with respect to the Alexandrian manuscripts.  The good copies needed themselves to be copied and the evidence is that a great many copies were made in later centuries, a large number of which still exist today.  It follows that, contrary to the footnotes in most modern versions, the ‘oldest’ are not likely to the ‘best’ but could well be the ‘worst’.  Why?  Because, recognised as defective, they were rejected and therefore little used.

Versions of the Bible since 1881 have been mainly based on these few early manuscripts.

This excerpt is taken from a booklet entitled “The New King James Version: A Critique” by Malcolm H. Watts, copyright 2008, Trinitarian Bible Society, London, England.