Monday, January 27, 2014

How We Got the Bible: Restoring the New Testament Text

In chapter 10 of the book, Lightfoot discusses the restoration of the New Testament text. The chapter opens with the three authorities used to get us as close as possible to the original text. They are as follows:

1. Manuscripts. These are the primary source for restoring the New Testament text as they are of the original language (Greek). Some are weightier than others. The origin of the manuscripts can be determined as arising from Alexandria, Egypt (Alexandrian), Antioch of Syria (Syrian), or Western Europe (Western).

2. Versions. Early Christians translated the Word of God into many languages:  Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, Ethiopic, and Georgian. A type of Greek text had to be used to make each of these versions and determining  what type of text each version arose from aids in restoring the original text.

3. Early Christian writers. The “Church Fathers” wrote extensively on their faith and commonly quoted the Scriptures. The copies they had were obviously closer to the original text than the manuscripts we now have and are therefore a great aid in restoring the original text. Practically the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from the writings of early Christians.

Lightfoot then goes on to discuss the printing and publishing of the Greek New Testament as a way to demonstrate the development of the text using the three authorities mentioned above. The first printed and published Greek New Testament was the Erasmus text in 1516. While it was based on what Lightfoot describes as “a handful of late Greek manuscripts”, Erasmus began the valuing of Greek manuscripts over those in Latin.

After Erasmus came Robert Estienne, also known as Stephanus. From 1546 to 1551, he published several editions of the Greek text. His third edition came to be known as “the Royal Edition” and varied only slightly from the Erasmus text. The “Received Text” arose from this edition. His fourth edition instituted the verse arrangement we still use today.

During the years 1565 to 1604, Theodore Beza provided several editions that were essentially the text of Stephanus. This was the kind of text used to translate the King James Version. A text that was hardly different from Stephanus, which was hardly different from Erasmus, which was based on a few late Greek manuscripts. However, earlier manuscripts began to accumulate as well as versions and quotations from the early Christians.

It was the work of John Mill to collate this accumulating evidence which brought about his edition of the Greek New Testament in 1707. This edition was a reprint of the Stephanus text, however, it presented all of the evidence Mill had accumulated and collated. His work brought to light 30,000 textual variants and created controversy and a defense of the Received Text. Richard Bentley of Trinity College defended Mill’s work and pointed to the value of an increasing number of authorities to affirm the text not undermine it. It was Bentley’s approach which set the stage for a proper understanding of differences in the text.

Lightfoot ends the chapter in the year 1881. Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort published the two volume The New Testament in the Original Greek or the Westcott-Hort text. He writes:

It is scarcely possible to overstate the significance of this new text. Westcott and Hort gave nearly thirty years of exacting labor to this project. Their achievement was revolutionary not so much because of new ideas but rather because of the deliberate thoroughness of their work and the unquestioned principles which backed it up. No piece of evidence had been passed over unnoticed, no authority had been put aside until it was brought into proper perspective. Basically, the Westcott-Hort text represented a wholesale rejection of mass authorities and an acknowledged dependence on the Sinaitic and Vatican Manuscripts, particularly the Vatican. There have been, of course, other editions of the Greek text since Westcott-Hort; however, time has but confirmed their immense contribution to the status of our New Testament text.

The English Revised Version was also released in this year and Westcott and Hort were on the revision committee. The publishing of these two editions of the New Testament, as Lightfoot puts it, “dealt the final blow to the Received Text.” The Westcott-Hort text has had only slight modifications since and all new editions of the text and almost all new translations heavily depend on it.

 Stand firm in Christ,

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