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The Textual Position of

Dean John William Burgon

Dr. Thomas Cassidy

Presented at the Dean Burgon Society Annual Meeting
Grayling, Michigan, July 1998

Calvary Baptist Church
Dr. Robert Barnett, Pastor

© Copyright 1998 by Thomas Cassidy, all rights assigned to the Dean Burgon Society.

The statement has often been made by critics of those who believe the texts which underlie the King James Bible are preserved and authoritative, that Dean Burgon believed the Textus Receptus was in need of revision, and if he were alive today he would not be a defender of the Textus Receptus.

Even defenders of the King James Version, and of the Textus Receptus, seem to share such opinions. David Cloud, of Way of Life Literature, states in an article he wrote for O'Timothy Magazine:

"While we don't believe the Received Text needs any correction whatsoever, and in that we would take exception to Burgon's position, we do commend his faith in the preservation of God's Word, which is in stark contrast with the skepticism of the hour. (David Cloud, “The English of the King James Bible”, O Timothy, Volume 11, Issue 6, 1994)

Don't misunderstand me, David Cloud is a good man, and a strong defender of the King James Bible and the Traditional Texts which underlie it, however, I am of the opinion he may, like many others, have failed to fully understand Burgon's position on the Textus Receptus.

I would like to address the issue of Dean Burgon's stand on the Greek New Testament, and compare that stand to the official stand of the Dean Burgon Society of today.

There is no doubt that Dean Burgon made statements concerning the Textus Receptus, and its need for editing and revision. Edward Miller, writing in the Introduction (Page 5) of Dean Burgon's posthumously published "The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels" (Published by the Dean Burgon Society, 900 Park Avenue, Collingswood, New Jersey 08108) states "First, be it understood, that we do not advocate perfection in the Textus Receptus. We allow that here and there it requires revision."

This statement, reiterated elsewhere in Dean Burgon's writings, begs the question, "Did Dean John William Burgon advocate revising the Textus Receptus, and if so, on what basis?" And, "What Greek Text would Dean Burgon advocate today as the preserved Greek text?"

In order to properly answer these questions we need to look at some historical facts concerning the Greek text issue.

1. The Textus Receptus. Just what is it and where did it come from?

The term "Textus Receptus" was first used in the cover leaf of the 1633 edition of the Greek New Testament published by the Elzevir's to identity their New Testament as that which was "universally received" by the world of Christendom. However, the term "Textus Receptus" has come to mean any of the New Testament Texts compiled from the Byzantine Manuscripts from the time of Erasmus (who published 5 editions from 1516 through 1535), including the works of Stephanus (who published 4 editions from 1545 through 1551), and the works of Beza (who published 9 editions from 1565 through 1604) and the works of the Elzevirs, who published 7 editions from 1624 through 1678).

The problem we encounter using the term "Textus Receptus" to refer to all of the above editions of the printed Greek New Testament is that they differ among themselves, some slightly, some to a much greater extent. It has often been said that the King James Bible is based on the 1550 edition of Stephanus, but, many of the King James readings come from the work of Tyndale (1526) which was based on the 1522 edition of Erasmus's Greek text. It was this 1522 edition which Stephanus used in 1546 as the basis for his works, including the 1550. It would seem that the Translation Committees also relied heavily on the 1598 edition of Beza.

So, it can be easily demonstrated that the King James Bible does not slavishly follow any of the printed Greek texts collectively known as the "Textus Receptus" which were in usage in the early days of the 17th century. Our King James Bible departs from every edition of the "Textus Receptus" to one extent or another.

So we must ask ourselves, "Is the King James Bible based on the Textus Receptus, and if so, which edition?

The answer is, no. The King James Bible is not based on any single edition of the Textus Receptus, but is based on the Traditional Texts as they have been Providentially preserved down through the ages of church and ecclesiastical history.

It has often been charged by the proponents of the Critical Text position that Erasmus did not have access to the vast number of manuscripts available today, and thus confined his researches to a mere four or five Greek minuscules.

This position, is, of course, contravened by historical fact. Erasmus was a man engaged continually in dissertation with other scholars and a man of wide-ranging personal correspondence, who traveled, visiting libraries and centers of learning and did all that was necessary to discover everything possible about the Bible which he loved.

"He [Erasmus] was ever at work, visiting libraries, searching in every nook and corner for the profitable. He was ever collecting, comparing, writing and publishing. ... He classified the Greek manuscripts and read the Fathers." (David Otis Fuller, Is the KJV Nearest to the Original Autographs?)

"By 1495 he [Erasmus] was studying in Paris. In 1499 he went to England where he made the helpful friendship of John Cabot, later dean of St. Paul's, who quickened his interest in biblical studies. He then went back to France and the Netherlands. In 1505 he again visited England and then passed three years in Italy. In 1509 he returned to England for the third time and taught at Cambridge University until 1514.

In 1515 he went to Basel, where he published his New Testament in 1516, then back to the Netherlands for a sojourn at the University of Louvain. Then he returned to Basel in 1521 and remained there until 1529, in which year he removed to the imperial town of Freiburg-im-Breisgau. Finally, in 1535, he again returned to Basel and died there the following year in the midst of his Protestant friends, without relations of any sort, so far as known, with the Roman Catholic Church.

"One might think that all this moving around would have interfered with Erasmus' activity as a scholar and writer, but quite the reverse is true. By his travels he was brought into contact with all the intellectual currents of his time and stimulated to almost superhuman efforts. He became the most famous scholar and author of his day and one of the most prolific writers of all time, his collected works filling ten large volumes in the Leclerc edition of 1705. As an editor also his productivity was tremendous.

Ten columns of the catalog of the library in the British Museum are taken up with the bare enumeration of the works translated, edited, or annotated by Erasmus, and their subsequent reprints." (Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, pp. 195-197, referring to T.A. Dorey, Erasmus, London: Kegan Paul, 1970; Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom; W. Schwarz, Principles and Problems of Translation, Cambridge: University Press, 1955, pp. 92-166; Preserved Smith, Erasmus, New York: Harper, 1923).

According to Dr. Edward F. Hills, the evidence points to the fact that Erasmus used other manuscripts beside five:

"When Erasmus came to Basel in July 1515, to begin his work, he found five Greek New Testament manuscripts ready for his use. ... Did Erasmus use other manuscripts beside these five in preparing his Textus Receptus? The indications are that he did. According to W. Schwarz (1955), Erasmus made his own Latin translation of the New Testament at Oxford during the years 1505-6. His friend John Colet who had become Dean of St. Paul's, lent him two Latin manuscripts for this undertaking, but nothing is known about the Greek manuscripts which he used.

He must have used some Greek manuscripts or other, however, and taken notes on them. Presumably therefore he brought these notes with him to Basel along with his translation and his comments on the New Testament text. It is well known also that Erasmus looked for manuscripts everywhere during his travels and that he borrowed them from everyone he could.

Hence although the Textus Receptus was based mainly on the manuscripts which Erasmus found at Basel, it also included readings taken from others to which he had access. It agreed with the common faith because it was founded on manuscripts which in the providence of God were readily available." (Hills, p. 198.)

"Nothing was more important at the dawn of the Reformation than the publication of the Testament of Jesus Christ in the original language. Never had Erasmus worked so carefully. 'If I told what sweat it cost me, no one would believe me.' He had collated many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and was surrounded by all the commentaries and translations, by the writings of Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyril, Jerome, and Augustine. ... He had investigated the texts according to the principles of sacred criticism. When a knowledge of Hebrew was necessary, he had consulted Capito, and more particularly Cecolampadius. Nothing without Theseus, said he of the latter, making use of a Greek proverb." (J.H. Merle D'Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, New York: Hurst & Company, 1835, Vol. 5, p. 157.)

So, it would seem that Erasmus, contrary to the position held by the proponents of the Critical Text, was a well traveled man, who had seen, studied, and ultimately rejected the very manuscripts which the Critical Text proponents consider "the best." He did so on the basis of the first hand, eye witness evidence of one who actually saw and read the manuscripts in questions, and recognized their inferiority.

2. Is the Textus Receptus identical to the Traditional Text?

Here is where the problem arises. No single edition of the Textus Receptus, available at the time of the translating of the King James Bible (1604-1611) is identical to the Traditional Text. Furthermore, no single edition of the Textus Receptus available to Dean Burgon was identical to the Traditional Text which underlies the King James Bible. And this is what produced the problem which Dean Burgon attempted to address. He believed, and rightly so, that no then-existing edition of the Textus Receptus conformed completely with the Traditional Text as embodied in the Byzantine Manuscript tradition. Thus, every Textus Receptus that the good Dean had available for his use was, in his opinion, in need of revision.

3. Is the Traditional Text best represented today by any single "Textus Receptus?"

At the time of Dean Burgon's sudden death in 1888, no Textus Receptus was identical to the readings of the King James Bible, nor the Traditional or Byzantine Manuscript tradition. The Dean, in response to the need for an unassailable Greek Text in the Byzantine tradition, encouraged his colleague F. H. A. Scrivener, Prebendary of Exeter and Vicar of Hendon, to edit a Greek Text with textual apparatus which would show the textual basis for every word in the King James Bible New Testament. Mr. Scrivener began this work in 1881, largely spurred on by the publication of the Greek Text of the New Testament according to Westcott and Hort.

Scrivener's final edition appeared in 1894, and continues to be published by the Trinitarian Bible Society today as the "Textus Receptus." In this publication, Scrivener states that he has managed to trace the origin of almost every word of the King James New Testament where it departs from the Textus Receptus (about 190 instances of varying degree if we use Beza's 1598 edition as the base line). Of these 190 instances, Scrivener was able to trace, working from a copy of the Translation Committee's notes found in the private library of the Secretary to the Final Revision Committee, all but about a dozen variants.

The official minutes of those historic meetings were apparently destroyed in the London fire of 1629. However, in 1964 Professor Ward Allen found the papers of William Fulman, a 17th century collector, including a handwritten copy of John Bois's original notes in the Corpus Christi College Library at Oxford University, where they had lain since 1688. These notes have been published by Professor Allen under the title "Translating For King James," and are available from Vanderbilt University Press, 1969.

We must note that Burgon called for 150 changes in the Textus Receptus in the Gospel of Matthew alone, while Scrivener made only about 250 changes in the entire New Testament. Does this fact suggest that Burgon would not accept Scriveners text? Perhaps not. Burgon's suggestion of 150 changes in the Gospel of Matthew may have included changes in the chapter and verse structure which was added to the Greek New Testament by Stephens.

The anecdote has often been told that Stephens did much of his work while traveling on horse back, and the jolting may have caused more than one slip of the pen! This can be easily demonstrated by looking at Acts chapter 21 and 22. Chapter 21 does not complete the paragraph, or even the sentence! The chapter division comes right in the middle of the sentence which begins in 21:40 and ends in 22:1! Perhaps it was just such chapter and verse divisions which Burgon included in his 150 suggested changes.

We can now see that even though Dean Burgon did call for a revision of the Textus Receptus as it existed in his day, the present Greek Text published by the Trinitarian Bible Society under the name "Textus Receptus" reflects the revision of the older Greek Texts which went by the same name, and now much more closely follows the manuscript tradition of the Traditional Texts of the Byzantine Manuscript Evidence.

Today, the Dean Burgon Society believes the Textus Receptus, as published by the Trinitarian Bible Society, which is Scrivener's Greek Text of 1894, is the embodiment of the Providentially preserved word of God in Greek. As this Greek Text is the direct result of Dean Burgon's desire to see the Textus Receptus revised to more closely reflect the Traditional Text of the Byzantine Manuscripts, it is my assertion that the Dean, were he alive today, would agree with our position, and deem the Textus Receptus of today to be the authoritative Greek Text.

Which brings us to our concluding point. What about those readings in the King James Bible which depart not only from the majority of Textus Receptus readings, but also from all known Greek manuscript evidence? Where do those readings come from, and how can their authority be confirmed?

The title page to the original King James Version of 1611 contains the following statement: "The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Teftament, AND THE NEW: Newly Tranflated out of the Originall tongues & with the former Tranflations diligently compared and reuifed by his Maiesties speciall Comandment."

It has been supposed that the reference to the "former translations" meant only the English translations of Tyndale and others. However, I believe, judging from the notes left by the Translation Committees, that this reference also includes the Vernaculars in Latin, Syriac, and the older European language Bibles used by the Waldenses, Vaudois, and other historic New Testament churches.

It is this reliance on the oldest known vernaculars that has made the King James Bible so reliable, and able to meet every test of accuracy. The Old Latin and Old Peshitta were very early translations of the New Testament dating to as early as the mid-second century (about 150 A.D.).

It has been noted that readings occur in the King James Bible that are without Greek manuscript support, and I believe those readings can be traced to the earliest known vernaculars, the Old Latin and Old Syriac Peshitta.

Just because there is no Greek manuscript evidence available today does not mean such evidence never existed! The Old Latin and Old Syriac are strong indications that the readings in question are, in fact, authoritative, and being closest to the autographs, best reflect their readings.

These vernacular readings are supported by the evidence from the early church Patriarchs, as well as from the Lexionaries, or daily scripture lessons read in the churches.

It is unfortunate that the Critical Text proponents have failed to take this telling evidence into consideration, as it constitutes, in my opinion, the Best Evidence for the authority of these readings.

Think about it.