This page details what the Received Text is. If you want more information on the Received Text theological position, please see this article.
What is the Received Text?
The Received Text, or the Textus Receptus (TR), can be identified in several ways. Broadly speaking, it is the collection of printed editions produced during the 16th century which culminated in Theodore Beza’s edition and eventually in the Elzivir editions. According to Jan Krans,
Jan Krans. Beyond What is Written. 197.
“Beza acquired a very high status in Protestant and especially Calvinist circles during his lifetime and in the first generations after him. His Greek text was not contested but faithfully reprinted; through the Elzivir editions it was elevated to the status of ‘received text’, textus receptus.”
Though the various editions of the TR contained minor variations between each other, it was unmistakably the text of the Protestant Reformation. See Jan Krans again:
“Historically speaking, the Textus Receptus was the Greek New Testament of the Reformation.”Jan Krans. http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2020/10/why-textus-receptus-cannot-be-accepted.html. October 22, 2020.
One of the major challenges when trying to bridge the gap between a TR advocate and a proponent of the Modern Critical Text is that a final Received Text was never produced as an official Greek New Testament during the 16th century. It was only in the 17th century, when the Elzivirs produced their edition that we see a more definitive TR come to light and the edition that most people use today was not produced until the 19th century. The Elzivir text is primarily Beza’s 1565 edition with roughly 50 minor differences. Edward F. Hills identifies 9 places of major variation across all versions of the Received Text as listed by Scrivener (1884) and Hoskier (1890).
Since there wasn’t an official edition of the Received Text which was produced at the end of the 16th century, the essential question that people ask is, “Which TR is the right one? Which printed edition contains exactly word for word the readings of the Holy Scriptures as penned originally?” And so we have somewhat of a paradox, if we assume this paradigm which requires the text to be contained in one printed edition that was produced at the end of the 16th century: How could the church Receive one text if one text didn’t exist in a single printed edition?
The answer to this problem can be found by observing how the men of the Reformation interacted with textual variants and the assumptions they had while doing this work. In the first place, they assumed that within the context of their textual data, they had the original. They did not assume the paradigm of the people who ask, “Which TR?” We see this from many of the writings of the Reformed, clearly articulated by Francis Turretin.
“By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. I, 106.
The Reformed made the careful distinction between a “corruption” and a “variant reading.” They were perfectly happy dealing with the latter yet unwilling to accept the reality of the former.
“A corruption differs from a variant reading. We acknowledge that many variant readings occur both in the Old and New Testaments arising from a comparison of different manuscripts, but we deny corruption (at least corruption that is universal).”Ibid. 111.
So if we take the perspective of Turretin, who well represented the thought of the orthodox of the day, we conclude that they were perfectly fine without one printed edition of the TR. They acknowledged variation, and thus had methods of dealing with variation. The printed editions of the 16th century represented the apographs that Turretin talks about. So the question of, “Which TR?” doesn’t find its target if the modern TR advocate simply adopts the same framework as those who used it during the Reformation and Post-Reformation period (everybody). Edward F. Hills argues that this was by design. We can especially understand Hill’s conclusion if we consider the context in which the TR was born, that is Papal authority over the Vulgate. The fundamental problem with the “Which TR?” question is that it asks a question that is actually unanswerable. It assumes a paradigm that simply doesn’t exist. In other words, it begs a strawman of the TR position.
Specifically speaking, the TR as it is used today can be found in its most accessible form in the Scrivener edition. So when somebody asks, “Which TR?”, the question is practically answered by saying, “The Scrivener edition,” even if that answer does eventually require some nuance (as do most topics as complex as this). I argue that the “Which TR?” question intentionally misinterprets the conversation in order to gain argumentative advantage over somebody who uses the TR. Since the Received Text did not culminate in one definitive printed edition, it misunderstands the position altogether. It also assumes that in order for there to be a final text, that the text has to exist in a printed edition that was created in or around the 16th century. This is ironic, considering many in the Critical Text camp believe “The Bible” is the whole scope of the extant manuscript tradition. Since the Critical Text has a similar paradigm, the question itself points to an intentional obfuscation of the position in its premise. The TR position does not say that the original text exists in a 16th century printed edition, but rather the readings that were received by the people of God. This is the critical category nuance of the TR position that many are simply unwilling to accept, and therefore Modern Critical Text proponents intentionally force the TR position into categories and paradigms that it does not fit within.
What is Preservationist Textual Criticism?
Since there was no definitive edition of the TR produced in the 16th century, there is one final sprint’s worth of distance that must be covered to fully answer the question, “What is the exact Received Text?” In the first place, the assumption is that a text has been preserved and it is available and discernable. This is the same assumption of the Reformed and those that came after, except for the “enemies of the faith” who made the same arguments as those in the Modern Critical Text crowd today. Garnet Howard Milne documents these arguments well in his book, “Has the Bible Been Kept Pure?” The efforts of the first printed editions culminated not in a final printed edition, but rather in translations. In English of course we get the KJV, in Dutch the Statenvertaling, and so on. Since it is the case that at the end of this effort the church produced translations instead of official Greek texts, Hills argues that the KJV’s underlying text base is it’s own TR, which is represented in the Scrivener edition produced in the 19th century. This does not mean that the original Bible was preserved in the King James English or the Dutch of the Statenvertaling. Again, it is important to note that the Scrivener TR is not accurate by virtue of the KJV translators or by anything Scrivener did, but rather by virtue of the readings actually being correct. The assumption that TR advocates believe the Ruckman-Gipp paradigm is an incredibly dishonest tactic.
As a result of there not being one definitive printed Greek text, some argue that additional text criticism must be done. This is where there are two major discernable groups that can be identified within the Received Text group.
- The KJV as the Received Text: The translational decisions made from the Received Text are the definitive readings which represent the original and from which all future translations should be made from
- The Corpus Received Text View: All editions made from Erasmus’ first edition to Beza’s last edition are the Received Text
The KJV as a Received Text
This group is often incorrectly labeled by men such as Mark Ward and James White as no different than Ruckmanite King James Onlyists. This is an unfortunate carelessness for detail and accuracy in representing the position. Unlike the Ruckmanite position, this group does not believe the readings of the KJV are the original by virtue of the King James Translators. Rather, the King James Translators selected the correct readings from the Received Text corpus. Many in this position will take great care to demonstrate that each unique King James reading can be supported where it deviates from other editions of the TR or the Majority Text using faith based methodologies similar to the 16th century theologians and scholars. This is clearly different than Ruckman-esque views in that there is no doctrine of re-inspiration or miraculous happenings with the KJV translation committees.
The Corpus Received Text View
This group believes that the general text of all of the Received Text editions contain God’s Word, but there is one last leg of work to be done. This has often been critiqued by Textual Scholars and apologists as being no different than Modern Textual Criticism and only different in the scope of variants to be considered. This is again an unfortunate misunderstanding, as the concept of corruption does not exist in this view, unlike Modern Textual Criticism. The distinction between corruption and variation is a decisive difference between this view and Modern Textual Criticism. The most common reason for holding to this view over the King James as a TR is that it leaves room for the possibility that readings in the Scrivener TR could be incorrect and allows for a minimal level of criticism to be done on the text.
It still takes the Received Text corpus as a base variant pool that limits which variants should even be considered when doing this final leg of textual criticism. Oftentimes this group doesn’t actually disagree with any reading in the Scrivener TR, but is open to the possibility that there could be undiscovered issues. In some cases, people in this group actually do take issues with one or more readings, such as 1 John 5:7. This is typically due to a person adopting some of the paradigms of the Modern Critical Text and applying them to the TR position. Typically those that reject 1 John 5:7 find a better home in the Majority Text position, since the text of the TR and the Majority Text share around 95% agreement and mostly disagree in places where the TR takes minority readings. This is likely why Critical Text advocates often miscategorize the Majority Text position as “KJV Onlyism” or “TR Onlyism.” This is done in both the KJV Only Controversy by James White and How to Understand and Apply the New Testament by Andrew Naselli.
Understanding the Differences in TR Positions
What unifies all TR advocates is the belief that there is a final text that can be discerned today and the text that is to be discerned is the Received Text. Many TR advocates believe that this is already done and there is no work that remains. The KJV translators chose the correct readings from the Received Text. Others believe there is a potential that a small number of variants could be incorrect in the decisions of the translation teams of the 17th century. In both cases, there is a strong belief that the original text can be found in the Received Text editions that represent the manuscripts handed down from the Apostolic church. As Hills argues, we can have the maximal certainty possible by a human in the Received Text.
One important point I want to highlight is one that Modern Critical Text advocates repeatedly get wrong: There isn’t total uniformity within the Received Text camp, and the Received Text position is distinct from Ruckmanite King James Onlyism. There is a limited amount of diversity in the ways that TR advocates argue for the TR and an even smaller amount of diversity in what the TR is, and nobody in this camp argues that the TR is the Word of God by Virtue of the English KJV. In the same way that a modern Bible is translated from Hebrew and Greek, so is the KJV. Those translated words represent readings from a printed edition. Those printed editions represent readings from manuscripts.
Practically speaking, most TR advocates, whether they believe the first or second view, read the KJV or NKJV. The debate over translation is a separate category, though many TR advocates argue that the KJV is the best translation of the Received Text. The view I advocate on this blog is that the King James Translators chose the correct readings from the Received Text editions and they translated those words better than any other team to date.
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