The following is a synopsis of the things I learned after reading The Origin of the Bible, edited by Phillip Comfort, with chapters contributed by scholars such as F. F. Bruce, Carl F. H. Henry, J. I. Packer and Leland Ryken among others. I highly recommend this book for those who would like to learn the facts regarding New Testament textual criticism. Having come out of an Independent Baptist, King-James Only perspective, this topic is dear to me, although I am not an expert. What follows is my synopsis only, with links to names or concepts that may warrant further study.
If you are knowledgable of the facts below, are not King-James Onlyist, and detect any inaccuracy, feel free to speak up and correct what I’ve written. Of course, if you are King James Onlyist, feel free to engage me in dialogue about it. Again, I’m no scholar, I just wanted to put this info down to help solidify in my mind that which I read in the book. But I posted it because I wanted it to benefit anyone it can. I admit the information listed below is kind of condensed, which may make it a little difficult to comprehend. Feel free to also ask me to clarify what I’ve written, if necessary.
- Early faithful copies
- “Western” or “Popular” Text copies (independent copies all seeking to “improve” the text by either harmonizing events or parallel passages, smoothing out awkward language, emphasizing doctrinal aspects)
- “Alexandrian” or “Polished” Text, begins taking shape through a long process of classifying manuscripts and applying textual critical methods to recover the original readings, developing a superior type of text, although some original readings are “polished” (and thus corrupted) and are instead preserved by the Western or Byzantine Texts.
- Concurrent with the ongoing efforts of Alexandrian scholarship, Lucian of Antioch, Syria, (head of the theological school in that city) edits a recension (revision) of the Western Text, conflating (combining) variant readings and smoothing out awkward language. Subsequently, Roman emperor Diocletian persecutes the Church and confiscates Bibles. After Constantine legislates tolerance for Christianity, copies of Lucian’s recension of the Western Text of the New Testament are distributed among the Eastern churches by bishops trained at Lucian’s theological school. This becomes the dominant type of text during the Byzantine era, and is classified as the Byzantine Text. This also becomes the text of Protestant Christianity after the fall of Byzantine civilization and the westward migration of eastern Greek manuscripts, including Byzantine New Testament manuscripts. Hence the formation of the Textus Receptus.
- Usage of the Greek language falls out of use in the Mediterranean region and so the demand for copies of the Alexandrian Text of the New Testament is diminished until the type of text is largely lost to Christendom, although traces of it are retained in the Latin Vulgate and other versions. About 1481 Codex Vaticanus is discovered and placed in the Vatican’s library, but it is not until the 19th century before the bulk of Alexandrian manuscripts is discovered and begins to influence the work of textual critics.
- The two strands meet when in 1881, the Authorized Version (based on the Textus Receptus) is revised utilizing Alexandrian scholarship to create the English Revised Version, which revolutionizes the work of English Bible translation, culminating in the Nestle/Aland/UBS critical editions of the Greek New Testament which brings the New Testament to as close proximity to the original wording of the New Testament as has yet been achieved.