What About the “Textus Receptus”?

By Wayne Jackson

“Some are suggesting that all of the modern versions of the Bible are based upon an inferior Greek text, and that the King James Version is still the best in existence. Can you comment on this?”

Several years ago a movement developed in denominational circles that charged that virtually all Bible translations, this side of the King James Version, are based upon a “corrupt” text, hence, are not nearly as reliable as the King James Version. Some within the brotherhood of Christ have jumped on the King James-only bandwagon. Their position, however, is not based upon sound principles of textual criticism.

Noted scholar Philip Schaff observed that the King James Version was derived principally from early editions of the Greek text compiled by Erasmus (1469-1536), who never used more than eight manuscripts (late in date), with some enhancement from the Complutensiam Polyglot (a 16th century version containing the Old Testament in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek).

Further improvements were made during the following century, which ultimately resulted in the Textus Receptus (i.e., the “Received Text”). The Textus Receptus “ruled supreme” as the textual base for the Bible from the 16th century to the close of the 18th (Theological Propaeduetic, New York: Charles Scribner, 1916, pp. 166-67). Much has changed, however, in the past two centuries.

While the King James Version is a reliable translation, and certainly adequate for learning the truth of the Gospel and arriving in heaven, serious students know that numerous additional ancient resources have gone into constructing the more modern Greek texts.

  1. Thousands of manuscripts (substantial or in fragments), much older than those employed by the King James translators have been discovered and incorporated into modern texts.
  2. Ancient versions (early translations of the Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek texts), not used by the King James translators, have been referenced for the latest Greek texts.
  3. Thousands of comparative Patristic (early post-apostolic writers) quotations (containing virtually the whole of the New Testament record) have added tremendously to the knowledge of the restoration of a reliable text.
  4. Significant advances have been made in the study of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages during the past two hundred years.

It is a misguided endeavor, therefore, to contend that the King James Version is the only reliable translation available today, or even that it is the “best” one.

Are there problems with some of the more modern translations? Yes. There are difficulties and controversy associated with any version. But there are also problems with the King James Version, and some of them are serious. The honest student admits this.

For further reading on this issue, I recommend The King James Only Controversy by James R. White (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995). For a brief and less-technical discussion, see our book, “The Bible Translation Controversy”.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.