As mentioned in the first article, the many English translations don’t all rely on the same underlying texts (i.e., the manuscripts from which they have been translated). There are two basic texts used by English translators:
1. The Critical, or Eclectic, Text
Based primarily on the work of two English scholars—Brooke Foss Westcott and John Anthony Hort—whose Greek New Testament, published in 1881, was based on the work of Count Constantine von Tischendorf, the German scholar who discovered an ancient Greek New Testament manuscript at the Monastery of St. Catherine, located at Mt. Sinai. The Hort-Westcott Greek New Testament was the basis for the Revised Version (England) and the American Standard Version (United States). The Hort-Westcott text and the Nestle-Aland Text which forms the basis for the majority of modern translations are essentially identical. Below is a sampling of modern versions that rely on the Critical Text:
- Revised Standard Version
- Revised English Bible
- New Revised Standard Version
- American Standard Version
- New English Bible
- New American Standard Version
- New International Version
- Jerusalem Bible
- New Jerusalem Bible
- Good News Bible
2. Textus Receptus
The Textus Receptus (Latin for Received Text) was originally the work of Desiderious Erasmus, a Roman Catholic priest and noted Renaissance scholar from the Netherlands, also a staunch opponent of Martin Luther. Erasmus collected or had access to a small number of complete Greek manuscripts. The final result wasn’t referred to as the Textus Receptus until 1633, when it showed up in a publisher’s blurb (the short description publishers use to give a quick synopsis of individual books). The Textus Receptus was the text used as the basis for the following Reformation-era translations, as well as a number of other translations:
- William Tyndale’s New Testament
- King James Bible
- Geneva Bible
- Miles Coverdale NT
- Martin Luther’s German Bible
3. TheTraditional Text (also known as the Majority or Ecclesiastical Text)
No English versions are based strictly on the Majority Text, although generally those based on the TR are grouped with the Majority Text (the two differ in over 1800 places—although it must be noted the differences are very minor). The translators of the King James Bible relied primarily on the Traditional Text, although they also utilized many direct quotes from William Tyndale's New Testament translation. The Majority Text is sometimes referred to as the ‘Democratic Text’, since it agrees with over 8000 New Testament manuscripts, the majority of which are complete, although some are partial or in some cases mere fragments.
The great majority of manuscripts date to the 12th through the 14th centuries A.D. Obviously they aren’t the originals. No one knows the location of the originals, and it is highly unlikely they even still exist. We have God’s promise, however, that He would preserve His Word. While there are differences in the manuscripts, they are relatively minor (variant spellings, omission of accent marks or punctuation, etc.). Even though they are copies of copies, it is amazing the degree of agreement found (over 95%). It is important to note that there are no major differences with regard to any biblical doctrine.
Nearly 6700 differences exist between the Majority Text and the Critical Text, which by anyone’s reckoning is a pretty hefty number. Some of the differences are rather significant in that entire verses or portions of verses have been eliminated in the Critical Text. Two of the oldest surviving manuscripts—Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus—are the manuscripts generally described as “the oldest and best manuscripts”, or similar phrasing, in many modern English translations. They are the oldest, both having been dated to the 4th century A.D., but that doesn’t necessarily make them the most reliable, so we have to be careful. Codex Sinaiticus shows multiple corrections written over the original text, and has been referred to as the most heavily corrected New Testament manuscript. (A photograph of one of the passages that was erased and rewritten appears in the next article.) That alone renders it highly suspect in a number of specific passages.
John Wycliffe's English Translation
John Wycliffe was a Catholic priest, philosopher, and professor at Oxford University, born around 1320. Through his own study of the Bible (which was only available to him as the Vulgate, a Latin translation used by the Church), he became concerned about the number of serious differences he found between scripture and the teachings of the Church. Although partial translations of the Bible into English had been available for centuries, Wycliffe was the first to translate both testaments from the Latin into what is known as Middle English, the common form of English spoken at the time. The Wycliffe English translation was published in 1382, 134 years before Erasmus compiled his Greek New Testament (1516).
That which follows is Ephesians 3:14-15 from the Wycliffe translation:
"For grace of this thing I bowe my knees to the fadir of oure lord ihesus crist, of whom eche fadirheed in heuenes and in erthe is named."
To be continued