The contrast between the Received Text and the Critical Text is overwhelming, yet the Critical Text has held an honored position in the scholarly world in recent years. The preface to the Revised Standard Version will tell you that since "we now possess many more ancient manuscripts" (i.e., primarily Vaticanus and Sinaiticus), we "are far better equipped to seek to recover the original wording of the Greek text." It will also tell you that the Greek text of the King fames Version "was marred by mistakes." You may wonder how scholars came to such conclusions about the highly respected authorized version. To understand, we must go back in history about 100 years.
The last half of the 19th century brought many changes to the world. While great truths such as the Sabbath and the three angels' messages were being proclaimed, grievous errors such as spiritualism, evolution, and Marxism were on the rise, fust as these false movements sought to dethrone God as the creator of the universe, critical scholars were trying to discredit the Bible as the inspired
Word of God. Disregarding the providential care of the biblical text, men began to analyze it as they would any ancient piece of literature. Foremost among such men were Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort.
Westcott and Hort were both Cambridge professors well known in the field of textual criticism. These men shared several points of interest, including a fascination with the theory of evolution. But the one conviction that most closely united the two men was a prejudiced animosity for the Received Text. Dr. Hort was only twenty-three years old and had not yet even studied textual criticism when he described the Received Text as "villainous" and "vile." 48 In spite of the unorthodoxy of these men, their scholarship has exerted a molding influence upon the distinctive readings of the modern versions.
In 1890 a major revision of the KJV was being considered. By this time, spelling and grammar had changed and many of the Old English words used in the KJV were considered obscure in meaning. Some critics believed that increased scholarship and the recent availability of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus necessitated a revision. Although there was much fear and distrust of revision in the public mind, it was sanctioned under the condition that no changes be made in the KJV except as were absolutely necessary. 49 Fifty-four men, including Westcott and Hort, were asked to be on the Revision Committee, and they began what should have been a short work.
A grueling ten years later, the committee introduced to an astonished public what amounted to a totally new translation based upon a Greek text different than the Received Text. The Revised Version of 1881 made 36,000 changes in the English of the KJV, and nearly 6,000 in the Greek text.50 Shortly before the Bible was released to the public, Westcott and Hort published their own critical text of the New Testament. This Greek New Testament was drawn from Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and in essence was the Greek text that had been used by the Revision Committee for translating the Greek into English. 51 It then became evident that Westcott and Hort had exercised disproportionate influence over the Revision Committee.
Most people were unaware that Westcott and Hort had, under pledge of secrecy, circulated among the Revision Committee copies of their own edition of the Greek New Testament. 52 Eloquently expounding upon the methods they had used to compile their text, they overwhelmed the other members of the committee. Their methods gave preferential status to Vaticanus and Sinaiticus,53 and have since shaped the thinking of all who approach textual criticism. 54
One of the most misleading of their rules declares that the oldest manuscripts contain the preferred reading. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are about 100 years older than any of the existing Greek manuscripts supporting the Received Text. However, age does not guarantee purity. In fact, some of the earliest manuscripts were very corrupt. History records that during the century following the completion of the New Testament, manuscripts suffered the greatest abuse.55 It was during this time that a number of heretics are known to have made corrupted copies of the Scriptures. Even while Paul was alive, someone was passing around false manuscripts (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2). The age of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus is no criterion for considering their readings to be pure. In fact, it can be the basis of questioning their reliability. These manuscripts could have only survived because they were little used. The dry climate of Egypt and the sturdiness of vellum are not sufficient to explain their survival. Reliable manuscripts of the Scriptures ultimately disintegrated from continual use while these manuscripts were preserved by disuse. One must question why they were not used when copies of the Scriptures were so precious and few.56
Like the theory of evolution, Westcott and Hort's theory contained a missing link. They had to explain why the majority of manuscripts support the Byzantine readings of the Received Text and not the Alexandrian readings of the Critical Text. Realizing that it was absurd to insist that a variety of scribes, separated by time and space and working independently, would all "alter" their manuscripts so as to produce the uniform readings of the Byzantine text-type, Westcott and Hort devised a theory They theorized that in the fourth century an official ecclesiastical command had been given to adopt a standardized form of the Greek text. They reasoned that the Greek text, thus propagated, contained many errors. This theory became known as the Syrian Recension.
Although scholars accepted the theory for a short time, its error was soon exposed and refuted. There is absolutely no historical evidence of such an official revision of the Greek text. Even if such a theory were true, it assumed that men who were only 200 years from the originals were so ignorant they couldn't recognize the correct manuscripts to use as authority. Strangely enough, today, nearly 1,900 years from the originals, scholars feel better able to judge than they could. Sir Frederick Kenyon, a pioneer in the field of papyrology and for many years director of the British Museum, summed it up when he wrote, "Is not the whole theory artificial and illusory, the vain imagining of an ingenious mind, like so many of the products of modern criticism, which spins endless webs out of its own interior, to be swept away tomorrow by the ruthless broom of common sense?" 57
When the theory of the Syrian Recension crumbled, Westcott and Hort's scholarly treatise was left without a foundation. Yet scholars still refused to recognize the providential hand of God in the spreading of the Received Text. With no suitable explanation of why the Byzantine text-type is found abundantly in Greek manuscripts from all over the world, 58 most scholars still cling to the framework of textual criticism set up by Westcott and Hort. Thus, the most popular editions of the Greek text today— Nestle-Aland and UBS—vary little from the Westcott-Hort text.
However, uncertainty prevails as more and more scholars recognize the weaknesses of the
Alexandrian Text and of Westcott and Hort's scholarship59 that has so molded the science of textual criticism. In Westcott and Hort's day, it was believed that the original text of the New Testament had been virtually reconstructed. But today many scholars have come to consider this a well nigh impossible task. 60
While others despair, we can have assurance that the same text the church used through the ages still most accurately reflects the original writings of the New Testament. And that text is today known as the Received Text.
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