WASN’T ERASMUS A ROMAN CATHOLIC HUMANIST?
“The Textus Receptus began with an edition of the Greek New Testament put together by a Roman Catholic humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, in A.D. 1516” (Stewart Custer, The Truth about the King James Version Controversy, p. 10).
. We agree with the following assessment of Erasmus: “But Erasmus is a complex and many-faceted individual. His true face is difficult to delineate. And there is also the tendency to picture him in one’s own mold or to interpret him in the light of one’s own convictions and preconceptions. A study of the studies about him and of the various judgments that have been passed reveals this quite clearly” (John Olin, Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Erasmus, p. 37).
2. Erasmus was not a humanist as it is defined today. He was a Christian humanist, “a biblical humanist” (Erasmus, Huizinga, p. 110).
In a letter dated Jan. 7, 1985, Andrew Brown, Editorial Secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society, replied as follows to this issue: “The use of the word ‘humanist’ in the Renaissance and Reformation period does not in any way share the atheistic connotations which that word now has in popular usage. A ‘humanist’ in that period was simply someone who was interested in classical literature, culture and education, as a means of attaining a higher standard of civilised life. Stephanus, Calvin and Beza were all humanists in this sense…” (Letter to David Cloud from Andrew Brown, Jan. 7, 1985). On a visit with two friends to the Erasmus Museum near Brussels in 2003, we asked the deputy curator whether Erasmus was a humanist and she confirmed Andrew Brown’s statement. She told us that he was not a humanist after the modern definition but after the Reformation definition, meaning that he was a lover of learning and personal liberty and that he refused to depend strictly upon the “church’s” authority but wanted to go back to original sources such as the Greek for the New Testament.
Erasmus warned about various dangers that he perceived in the humanist movement of his day and toward the end of his life was increasingly distancing himself from it. “Nothing is more characteristic of the independence which Erasmus reserved for himself regarding all movements of his time than the fact that he also joined issue in the camp of the humanists. ... In spite of the great expectations he cherished of classical studies for pure Christianity, he saw one danger: ‘that under the cloak of reviving ancient literature paganism tries to rear its head, as there are those among Christians who acknowledge Christ only in name but inwardly breathe heathenism’. This he writes in 1517 to Capito. In Italy scholars devote themselves too exclusively and in too pagan guise to bonae literae. ... The core of the Ciceronianus [meaning ‘On the Best Diction’ and published in 1528] is where Erasmus points out the danger to Christian faith of a too zealous classicism. ... We here see the aged Erasmus on the path of reaction, which might eventually have led him far from humanism. In his combat with humanistic purism he foreshadows a Christian puritanism” (Erasmus, Huizinga, pp. 170-173).
3. Though we do not claim that Erasmus was a staunch, Bible-believing Christian, the whole story should be told.
a. Erasmus was much more doctrinally sound than the typical Catholic of his day.
Erasmus’ Enchiridion militis Christiani (Christian Soldier’s Manual) was translated into English by William Tyndale. It was written as a spiritual challenge to an actual soldier then living. “The general rules of the Christian conduct of life are followed by a number of remedies for particular sins and faults” (Erasmus, Johan Huizinga, p. 51).
Following is a quote from Erasmus’ “Treatise on the Preparation for Death”: “We are assured of victory over death, victory over the flesh, victory over the world and Satan. Christ promises us remission of sins, fruits in this life a hundredfold, and thereafter life eternal. And for what reason? For the sake of our merit? No indeed, but through the grace of faith which is in Christ Jesus. We are the more secure because he is first our doctor. He first overcame the lapse of Adam, nailed our sins to the cross, sealed our redemption with his blood ... He added the seal of the Spirit lest we should waver in our confidence ... What could we little worms do of ourselves? Christ is our justification. Christ is our victory. Christ is our hope and security. … I believe there are many not absolved by the priest, not having taken the Eucharist, not having been anointed, not having received Christian burial who rest in peace, while many who have had all the rites of the Church and have been buried next to the altar have gone to hell.”
Hugh Pope, a Romanist, said Erasmus expressed doubts on “about almost every article of Catholic teaching” (see Michael Maynard, A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7-8, p. 329). Pope listed six dogmas in particular that Erasmus questioned, including the mass, confession, the primacy of the Pope, and priestly celibacy.
Jan Schlecta of the Bohemian Brethren corresponded with Erasmus about their views and listed five non-Catholic doctrines that the Brethren believed. Erasmus had no objection to any of them (P.S. Allen, The Age of Erasmus, “The Bohemian Brethren”; cited from Michael Maynard, A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7-8, p. 328).
Erasmus advocated believer’s baptism by immersion. In his paraphrase on Matthew 28, Erasmus wrote: “After you have taught them these things, and they believe what you have taught them, have repented their previous lives, and are ready to embrace the doctrine of the gospel, then immerse them in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, so that by this holy sign they may believe that they have been delivered freely through the benefit of my death from the filthiness of all their sins and now belong to the number of God’s children” (Abraham Friesen, Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission, pp. 50, 51). Friesen observes that “in virtually every passage in the Acts of the Apostles that deals with baptism, Erasmus proceeded to set the sermon or event into the context of the Great Commission” (p. 51). In his annotations on Mark 16:15-16, Erasmus said, “The apostles are commanded that they teach first and baptize later. The Jew was brought to a knowledge [of God] through ceremonies; the Christian is taught first” (Friesen, p. 54). This is a clear statement in support of scriptural baptism as opposed to infant baptism.
In the introductory notes to the third edition of his Greek New Testament, Erasmus advocated re-baptism for those who were already sprinkled as infants (Friesen, pp. 34, 35). “It is little wonder, therefore, that when the doctors of the Sorbonne took a look at Erasmus’s proposal in 1526, they censured it and wrote that to ‘rebaptize’ children would be to open ‘the door to the destruction of the Christian religion’” (Friesen, p. 35).
b. Erasmus wrote boldly against many of Rome’s errors. Consider some excerpts from his writings and remember that these were extremely bold words in those days, words that the Roman Catholic Church looked upon as heretical and worthy of death, words that very few were willing to put into print even if they believed them.
Matthew 23:27 (on whited sepulchres) -- ‘What would Jerome say could he see the Virgin’s milk exhibited for money ... the miraculous oil; the portions of the true cross, enough if they were collected to freight a large ship? Here we have the hood of St. Francis, there Our Lady’s petticoat, or St. Anne’s comb, or St. Thomas of Canterbury’s shoes ... and all through the avarice of priests and the hypocrisy of monks playing on the credulity of the people. Even bishops play their parts in these fantastic shows, and approve and dwell on them in their rescripts.’
Matthew 24:23 (on Lo, here is Christ or there) -- ‘I saw with my own eyes Pope Julius II, at Bologna, and afterwards at Rome, marching at the head of a triumphal procession as if he were Pompey or Cesar. St. Peter subdued the world with faith, not with arms or soldiers or military engines.’
1 Timothy 3:2 (on the husband of one wife) -- ‘Other qualifications are laid down by St. Paul as required for a bishop’s office, a long list of them. But not one at present is held essential, except this one of abstinence from marriage. Homicide, parricide, incest, piracy, sodomy, sacrilege, these can be got over, but marriage is fatal. There are priests now in vast numbers, enormous herds of them, seculars and regulars, and it is notorious that very few of them are chaste. The great proportion fall into lust and incest, and open profligacy. It would surely be better if those who cannot contain should be allowed lawful wives of their own, and so escape this foul and miserable pollution.’
In about 1518 Erasmus published (anonymously) Julius Exclusus (Julius Excluded), a bold reproof against papal glory and wars. It depicted the late Pope Julius II as a worldly Julius Caesar appearing “in all of his glory before the gate of the Heavenly Paradise to plead his cause and find himself excluded” (Huizinga, p. 84). In 1506 Erasmus had witnessed the triumphal entry of Pope Julius into Florence at the head of the army that had conquered Bologna.
c. Erasmus understood the necessity of uprooting the papacy, even though he did not have the courage to attempt it himself nor to openly join hands with those, like Luther, who were trying to do it. In 1518 he wrote the following remarks in his letters: “I see that the monarchy of the Pope at Rome, as it is now, is a pestilence to Christendom, but I do not know if it is expedient to touch that sore openly.” “We shall never triumph over feigned Christians unless we first abolish the tyranny of the Roman see, and of its satellites, the Dominicans, the Franciscans and the Carmelites. But no one could attempt that without a serious tumult” (Huizinga, pp. 141, 144).
d. Though Erasmus was not a separating reformer after the fashion of a Luther or a Zwingli or a Tyndale, he desired the Scriptures to be placed in the hands of every man. This sentiment alone set him apart dramatically from that which prevailed among Catholic authorities of that day, and it was a sentiment that was severely condemned by Catholic authorities. From the days of Pope Innocent III in the early 13th century, the Roman Catholic Church had forbidden the Bible to be translated into the common tongues and had put men to death for translating and reading the Bible.
Erasmus first expressed his desire for every Christian to understand the Scripture in his Enchiridion militis Christiani of 1501. “... within this scope Erasmus finds an opportunity, for the first time, to develop his theological programme. This programme calls upon us to return to Scripture. It should be the endeavour of every Christian to understand Scripture in its purity and original meaning” (Erasmus, Huizinga, p. 51).
Erasmus developed this theme boldly in his Paraclesis (meaning “a summons or exhortation” and referring to his summons for Christians to study Holy Scripture) which was published as a preface to the first edition of his Greek and Latin New Testament of 1516. “Indeed, I disagree very much with those who are unwilling that Holy Scripture, translated into the vulgar tongue, be read by the uneducated as if Christ taught such intricate doctrines that they could scarcely be understood by very few theologians, or as if the strength of the Christian religion consisted in men’s ignorance of it. The mysteries of kings, perhaps, are better concealed, but Christ wishes His mysteries published as openly as possible. I would that even the lowliest women read the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles. And I would that they were translated into all languages so that they could be read and understood not only by Scots and Irish but also by Turks and Saracens. ... Would that, as a result, the farmer sing some portion of them at the plow, the weaver hum some parts of them to the movement of his shuttle, the traveler lighten the weariness of the journey with stories of this kind! Let all the conversations of every Christian be drawn from this source. ... I think, and rightly so, unless I am mistaken, that that pure and genuine philosophy of Christ is not to be drawn from any source more abundantly than from the evangelical books and from the Apostolic Letters. ... If we desire to learn, why is another author more pleasing than Christ Himself? ... And He, since He promised to be with us all days, even unto the consummation of the world, stands forth especially in this literature, in which He lives for us even at this time, breathes and speaks. I should say almost more effectively than when He dwelt among men. ... We preserve the letters written by a dear friend, we kiss them fondly, we carry them about, we read them again and again, yet there are many thousands of Christians who, although they are learned in other respects, never read, however, the evangelical and apostolic books in an entire lifetime. The Mohammedans hold fast to their doctrines, the Jews also today from the very cradle study the books of Moses. Why do not we in the same way distinguish ourselves in Christ? ... Let us all, therefore, with our whole heart covet this literature, let us embrace it, let us continually occupy ourselves with it, let us fondly kiss it, at length let us die in its embrace, let us be transformed in it ... We embellish a wooden or stone statue with gems and gold for the love of Christ. Why not, rather, mark with gold and gems and with ornaments of greater value than these, if such there be, these writings which bring Christ to us so much more effectively than any paltry image? The latter represents only the form of the body--if indeed it represents anything of Him--but these writings bring you the living image of His holy mind and the speaking, healing, dying, rising Christ Himself, and thus they render Him so fully present that you would see less if you gazed upon Him with your very eyes” (quoted from John Olin, Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Erasmus).
As we have noted, this sentiment was 180 degrees contrary to the position of the Catholic Church in that day. In 1428 Rome had dug up the bones of English Bible translator John Wycliffe and burned them to express its outrage with his work. The Council of Toulouse (1229) and the Council of Tarragona (1234) had forbid the laity to possess or read the vernacular translations of the Bible. The Council of Toulouse used these words: “We prohibit the permission of the books of the Old and New Testament to laymen, except perhaps they might desire to have the Psalter, or some Breviary for the divine service, or the Hours of the blessed Virgin Mary, for devotion; expressly forbidding their having the other parts of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue” (Allix, Ecclesiastical History, II, p. 213). The declarations of these Councils were still in force in Erasmus’ lifetime.
e. As early as 1506, Erasmus expressed a desire to be completely devoted to Christ. “I am deliberating again how best to devote the remainder of my life (how much that will be, I do not know) entirely to piety, to Christ. I see life, even when it is long, as evanescent and dwindling ... Therefore I have resolved, content with my mediocrity (especially now that I have learned as much Greek as suffices me), to apply myself to meditation about death and the training of my soul. I should have done so before and have husbanded the precious years when they were at their best” (Erasmus, Huizinga, p. 59).
f. Erasmus died in 1536 in Basel, Switzerland, among his Protestant friends (Edward Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 195). There is a famous painting of Erasmus sitting with these friends, the original of which is in the Erasmus Museum in Brussels. I saw it on a visit there in April 2003.
g. Erasmus’ work was rejected by the Catholic Church. His books were castigated and burned throughout Europe.
In England, Erasmus’ writings were publicly burned in May 1520.
In France, the Sorbonne burned French translations of Erasmus’ work that had been made by Louis de Berquin. On April 17, 1529, Berquin himself was burned at the stake.
In Spain, Reformers were called “Erasmistas.”
In 1535, Emperor Charles V made it a capital offense to use Erasmus’ Colloquies in the schools.
On July 1, 1523, the Belgium inquisitors burned two of Erasmus’ acquaintances in Brussels.
The Council of Trent (1545-1564) branded Erasmus a heretic and prohibited his works. In 1559, Pope Paul IV placed Erasmus on the first class of forbidden authors, which was composed of authors whose works were completely condemned.
It was a Catholic apologist who made the famous statement, “Erasmus planted, Luther watered, but the devil gave the increase” (Smith, Erasmus, p. 399). Thus, the Roman Catholic Church did not recognize Erasmus as a friend but as an enemy.
David Daniell rightly observes: “From Desiderius Erasmus came a printed Greek New Testament which, swiftly translated into most European vernaculars, was a chief cause of the Continent-wide flood that should properly be called the Reformation” (The Bible in English, p. 113).
h. Much that can be said about Erasmus can also be said about John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. These are the fathers of the English Bible, but neither of them formally left the Catholic Church. Both were ordained Catholic priests to their death. Wycliffe continued to exercise the office of a priest in Lutterworth until his death in 1384. Before Tyndale was martyred in 1536 outside of the castle walls in Vilvoorde, Belgium, the authorities excommunicated him and disbarred him from the priesthood. Of course, both men had long rejected most of Rome’s dogmas, and the same is true of Erasmus.
i. It is also important to note that there is no comparison between the situation with Erasmus and what we find in the field of modern textual criticism and the modern Bible versions today. Erasmus edited the Greek New Testament on his own. He was not doing that work in any official capacity in the Catholic Church nor did he have Rome’s backing but rather was criticized for it and his work was condemned in the strongest terms. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church has accepted modern textual criticism and the modern Bible versions with open arms. In 1965, Pope Paul VI authorized the publication of a new Latin Vulgate, with the Latin text conformed to the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (Michael de Semlyen, All Roads Lead to Rome, p. 201). In 1987 a formal agreement was made between the Roman Catholic Church and the United Bible Societies that the critical Greek New Testament will be used for all future translations, both Catholic and Protestant (Guidelines for International Cooperation in Translating the Bible, Rome, 1987, p. 5). Most of the translations produced by the United Bible Societies are “interconfessional,” meaning they have Roman Catholic participation and backing.
4. While it is true that Erasmus was weak, he is the exception rather than the rule in the lineage of the Traditional Text. The modern version defenders who make an issue of Erasmus need to take a closer look at their own field. Modern textual criticism is founded upon the writings of hundreds of men more unsound in the faith than Erasmus. The influential names in the field of textual criticism include UNITARIANS such as Johann Wettstein, Edward Harwood, George Vance Smith, Ezra Abbot, Joseph Thayer, and Caspar Gregory; LIBERAL RATIONALISTS such as Johann Semler, Johann Griesbach, Bernhard Weiss, William Sanday, William Robertson Smith, Samuel Driver, Eberhard Nestle, James Rendel Harris, Hermann von Soden, Frederick Conybeare, Fredric Kenyon, Francis Burkitt, Henry Wheeler Robinson, Kirsopp Lake, Gerhard Kittel, Edgar Goodspeed, James Moffatt, Kenneth Clark, Ernest Colwell, Gunther Zuntz, J.B. Phillips, William Barclay, Theodore Skeat, George Kilpatrick, F.F. Bruce, George Ladd, J.K. Elliott, Eldon Epp, Brevard Childs, Bart Ehrman, C.H. Dodd, Barclay Newman, Arthur Voobus, Eugene Nida, Jan de Waard, Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, Matthew Black, Allen Wikgren, Bruce Metzger, and Johannes Karavidopoulos; and TRADITIONALIST ROMAN CATHOLICS such as Richard Simon, Alexander Geddes, Johann Hug, and Carlo Martini. For documentation of the theological position of these and many other men in the field of modern textual criticism see “The Modern Bible Version’s Hall of Shame,” available from Way of Life Literature.
5. It is also important to understand that Erasmus did not create a Greek text through principles of modern textual criticism; he merely passed on the commonly received text. “Hence in the editing of his Greek New Testament text especially Erasmus was guided by the common faith in the current text. And back of this common faith was the controlling providence of God. ... Although not himself outstanding as a man of faith, in his editorial labors on this text he was providentially influenced and guided by the faith of others” (Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, 4th edition, p. 199). Westcott & Hort themselves said that Erasmus merely published the text commonly held as Received “without selection or deliberate criticism”; and they said further that the choices of the 16th century editors were “arbitrary and uncritical” (Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek).
6. To raise the issue of Erasmus as a means of discounting the theological liberalism that is an intimate associate of modern textual criticism is to strain at gnats and swallow camels (Mat. 23:24). Those who do so strain at the gnat of Erasmus, who was admittedly weak in the faith but was also an exception in the field of the Received Text, and swallow the camel of the fact that theological modernism, skepticism, and unitarianism is THE RULE among the fathers of modern textual criticism.
WASN’T ERASMUS’ GREEK NEW TESTAMENT DONE HASTILY AND ONLY FOR MONEY?
“It is customary for naturalistic critics to make the most of human imperfections in the Textus Receptus and to sneer at it as a mean and almost sordid thing. These critics picture the Textus Receptus as merely a money-making venture on the part of Froben the publisher. Froben, they say, heard that the Spanish Cardinal Ximenes was about to publish a printed Greek New Testament text as part of his great Complutensian Polyglot Bible. In order to get something on the market first, it is said, Froben hired Erasmus as his editor and rushed a Greek New Testament through his press in less than a year’s time” (Edward Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 203).
1. To look at the history of the Bible only through skeptical eyes and to see only weak men, is to fail to see the God of history and preservation. “But those who concentrate in this way on the human factors involved in the production of the Textus Receptus are utterly unmindful of the providence of God. For in the very next year, in the plan of God, the Reformation was to break out in Wittenberg, and it was important that the Greek New Testament should be published first in one of the future strongholds of Protestantism by a book seller who was eager to place it in the hands of the people and not in Spain, the land of the Inquisition, by the Roman Catholic Church, which was intent on keeping the Bible from the people” (Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 203).
2. To what extent Erasmus’ motive in working for Froben was financial only the Lord knows, but it is obvious that his motive went beyond the financial. He had been working on the Greek New Testament for some time and had expressed his desire to see it in print and to see it translated into the common languages so that the people could have the Word of God. In the Latin preface to his New Testament, Erasmus said: “Christ wishes his mysteries to be published as widely as possible. I would wish all women to read the gospel and the epistles of St. Paul, and I wish that they were translated into all languages of all Christian people, that they might be read and known, not merely by the Scotch and the Irish, but even by the Turks and the Saracens. I wish that the husbandman might sing parts of them at his plow, that the weaver may warble them at his shuttle, that the traveller may with their narratives beguile the weariness of the way.”
3. The errors that were in the first edition of the Erasmus Greek New Testament were corrected in later editions and are therefore a non-issue today and should not enter the textual debate. “God works providentially through sinful and fallible human beings, and therefore His providential guidance has its human as well as its divine side. And these human elements were evident in the first edition (1516) of the Textus Receptus. For one thing, the work was performed so hastily that the text was disfigured with a great number of typographical errors. These misprints, however, were soon eliminated by Erasmus himself in his later editions and by other early editors and hence are not a factor which need to be taken into account in any estimate of the abiding value of the Textus Receptus” (Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 202).
DIDN’T ERASMUS USE A MERE HANDFUL OF MANUSCRIPTS?
This is the standard line that is given by textual critics and parroted by those who support textual criticism. Consider the following three examples. Kenyon was an influential textual critic, and Carson and Wallace are New Evangelicals who defend textual criticism.
Frederic Kenyon -- “Erasmus used only a handful of MSS...” (The Text of the Greek Bible, p. 155).
D.A. Carson -- “Although Erasmus published a fourth and fifth edition, we need say no more about them here. Erasmus’s Greek Testament stands in line behind the King James Version; yet IT RESTS UPON A HALF DOZEN MINUSCULE MANUSCRIPTS, none of which is earlier than the tenth century. ... the textual basis of the TR is a small number of haphazardly and relatively late minuscule manuscripts” (D.A. Carson, The King James Version Debate, 1979, pp. 35-36).
Daniel Wallace -- “[Erasmus] only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole New Testament any way” (Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible is the Best Translation Available Today).
1. Erasmus had knowledge of many manuscripts other than those he used for his first edition. Erasmus “began studying and collating NT MSS and observing thousands of variant readings in preparation for his own edition” (Eldon Jay Epp, “Decision Points in New Testament Textual Criticism,” Studies in The Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism, edited by Epp and Gordon Fee, p. 18; quoting Bentley 1983: 35, 138). “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” (Edward Hills, The King James Bible Defended, p. 198).
2. Erasmus knew about the variant readings that are known to modern textual critics.
a. As Frederick Nolan observed: “With respect to Manuscripts, it is indisputable that he [Erasmus] was acquainted with every variety which is known to us; HAVING DISTRIBUTED THEM INTO TWO PRINCIPAL CLASSES, one of which corresponds with the Complutensian edition [the Received Text], and the other with the Vatican manuscript [corresponding to the modern critical text]. And he has specified the positive grounds on which he received the one and rejected the other. The former was in the possession of the Greek church, the latter in that of the Latin; judging from the internal evidence he had as good reason to conclude the Eastern church had not corrupted their received text as he had grounds to suspect the Rhodians from whom the Western church derived their manuscripts, had accommodated them to the Latin Vulgate. One short insinuation which he has thrown out, sufficiently proves that his objections to these manuscripts lay more deep; and they do immortal credit to his sagacity. In the age in which the Vulgate was formed, the church, he was aware, was infested with Origenists and Arians; an affinity between any manuscript and that version, consequently conveyed some suspicion that its text was corrupted" (Nolan, Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, or Received Text of the New Testament, London, 1815, pp. 413-15).
b. “For the first edition Erasmus had before him ten manuscripts, four of which he found in England, and five at Basle. ... The last codex was lent him by John Reuchlin ... (and) ‘appeared to Erasmus so old that it might have come from the apostolic age.’ He was aware of Vaticanus in the Vatican Library and had a friend by the name of Bombasius research that for him. He, however, rejected the characteristic variants of Vaticanus which distinguishes itself from the Received Text. (These variants are what would become the distinguishing characteristics of the critical text more than 350 years later.)” (Preserved Smith, Erasmus: A Study of His Life, Ideals, and Place in History, 1923). Erasmus was given 365 select readings from Vaticanus. “A correspondent of Erasmus in 1533 sent that scholar a number of selected readings from it [Codex B], as proof [or so says that correspondent] of its superiority to the Received Text” (Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 1895; S.P. Tregelles, On the Printed Text of the Greek Testament; cited from Hills).
c. Erasmus discussed these variants in his notes. “Indeed almost all the important variant readings known to scholars today were already known to Erasmus more than 460 years ago and discussed in the notes (previously prepared) which he placed after the text in his editions of the Greek New Testament. Here, for example, Erasmus dealt with such problem passages as the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13), the interview of the rich young man with Jesus (Matt. 19:17-22), the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20), the angelic song (Luke 2:14), the angel, agony, and bloody seat omitted (Luke 22:43-44), the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), and the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16) (Edward Hills, pp. 198-199).
3. Erasmus also had the textual evidence from the writings of ancient church leaders and from ancient Bible translations. “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 MSS. 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. ... When a knowledge of Hebrew was necessary, he had consulted Capito, and more particularly Ecolampadius. 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).
4. Erasmus knew that the manuscripts he selected reflected the reading of the common text, and he was guided by this “common faith.”
“Long before the Protestant Reformation, the God-guided usage of the Church had produced throughout Western Christendom a common faith concerning the New Testament text, namely, a general belief that the currently received New Testament text, primarily the Greek text and secondarily the Latin text, was the True New Testament Text which had been preserved by God’s special providence. It was this common faith that guided Erasmus and the other early editors of the Textus Receptus. ...
“In Erasmus’ day [the common] view occupied the middle ground between the humanistic view and the scholastic view. Those that held this view acknowledged that the Scriptures had been providentially preserved down through the ages. They did not, however, agree with the scholastic theologians in tying this providential preservation to the Latin Vulgate. On the contrary, along with Laurentius Vallas and other humanists, they asserted the superiority of the Greek New Testament text. This common view remained a faith rather than a well articulated theory. No one at that time drew the logical but unpalatable conclusion that the Greek Church rather than the Roman Church had been the providentially appointed guardian of the New Testament text. But this view, though vaguely apprehended, was widely held, so much so that it may justly be called the common view. Before the Council of Trent (1546) it was favored by some of the highest officials of the Roman Church, notably, it seems, by Leo X, who was pope from 1513-1521 and to whom Erasmus dedicated his New Testament. Erasmus’ close friends also, John Colet, for example, and Thomas More and Jacques Lefevre, all of whom like Erasmus sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within, likewise adhered to this common view. Even the scholastic theologian Martin Dorp was finally persuaded by Thomas More to adopt it. In the days of Erasmus, therefore, it was commonly believed by well informed Christians that the original New Testament text had been providentially preserved in the current New Testament text, primarily in the current Greek text and secondarily in the current Latin text. Erasmus was influenced by this common faith and probably shared it, and God used to providentially to guide Erasmus in his editorial labors on the Textus Receptus. ...
“But if Erasmus was cautious in his notes, much more was he so in his text, for this is what would strike the reader’s eye immediately. Hence in the editing of his Greek New Testament text especially Erasmus was guided by the common faith in the current text. And back of this common faith was the controlling providence of God. For this reason Erasmus’ humanistic tendencies do not appear in the Textus Receptus which he produced. Although not himself outstanding as a man of faith, in his editorial labors on this text he was providentially influenced and guided by the faith of others. In spite of his humanistic tendencies Erasmus was clearly used of God to place the Greek New Testament in print, just as Martin Luther was used of God to bring the Protestant Reformation in spite of the fact that, at least at first, he shared Erasmus’ doubts concerning Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation” (Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, 4th edition, pp. 193, 197, 199).
5. This entire issue is a smokescreen.
a. First, what could it possibly matter that Erasmus used only a few select manuscripts for his Greek New Testament, when the textual critics know full well that these manuscripts represented then and still represent today the vast majority of extant Greek manuscripts and lectionaries? Charles Ellicott, the chairman of the English Revised Version committee, admitted that Erasmus’ “few” manuscripts represent the “majority.” “The manuscripts which Erasmus used differ, for the most part, only in small and insignificant details from the bulk of the cursive manuscripts. The general character of their text is the same. By this observation the pedigree of the Received Text is carried up beyond the individual manuscripts used by Erasmus. ... That pedigree stretches back to a remote antiquity. The first ancestor of the Received Text was at least contemporary with the oldest of our extant manuscripts, if not older than any one of them” (Charles John Ellicott, The Revisers and the Greek Text of the New Testament, by Two Members of the New Testament Company, 1882, pp. 11, 12). Obviously, therefore, the exact number of manuscripts that Erasmus used has no relevance to the issue whatsoever. Yet we continually read the following type of statement from those who defend the modern versions: “This approach to the question, however, ignores the thousands of manuscripts that Erasmus did not consider. Some of those might actually contain the words originally penned by the apostles” (Robert Milliman, “Translation Theory and Twentieth-Century Versions,” One Bible Only? edited by Roy Beacham and Kevin Bauder, 2001, p. 135). How such a thing could be written with a straight face, I do not know. This type of thing is why we titled our first book on this subject in the 1980s “Myths about Modern Bible Versions.” By the way, Milliman’s statement is another blatant denial of preservation. If the words of God were not available to the Reformation editors and translators, that means they were hidden away from common use by the churches for at least 1,500 years. What type of “preservation” is that?
b. Second, if to base a Greek New Testament upon a few manuscripts is in actuality something that should not be done, why do the textual critics support the Critical Text when it is based largely on a mere handful of manuscripts? The United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, the latest edition of the Westcott-Hort Text, repeatedly questions and omits verses, portions of verses, and individual words with far less textual authority than the Trinitarian statement of 1 John 5:7. Most of the significant omissions are made on the authority of Aleph and B (sometimes both together and sometimes one standing alone), and a bare handful of similar manuscripts and versions. For example, the word “fasting” is removed from the Westcott-Hort Text, the Nestles’ Text, the UBS Text, and all of the modern versions on the authority of its omission in Aleph, B, two minuscules (0274, 2427), one Old Latin, and the Georgian version. The entire last 12 verses of the Gospel of Mark are omitted are seriously questioned on the authority of only three Greek manuscripts, Aleph, B, and the minuscule 304 (plus some witness by various versions that were influenced by the Alexandrian Text). Sometimes, in fact, the modern textual critics don’t have even this much “authority” for their changes. For example, the UBS Greek N.T. puts Matthew 21:44 in brackets on the “authority” of only one 3 Greek manuscripts, one uncial (the terribly unreliable D) and two minuscules.
6. Concerning the preservation of the Scriptures, our faith is not in man, but in God. Even if the Reformation editors had fewer resources than those of more recent times, we know that the God who controls the times and the seasons was in control of His Holy Word (Dan. 2:21). The infallible Scriptures were not hidden away in some monastic dungeon or a dusty corner of the Pope’s library at the headquarters of Apostasy. The infallible Scriptures were being published, read, and taught by God’s people.
“At Marquette Manor Baptist Church in Chicago (1984), Dr. [Stewart] Custer said that God preserved His Word ‘in the sands of Egypt.’ No! God did not preserve His Word in the sands of Egypt, or on a shelf in the Vatican library, or in a wastepaper bin in a Catholic monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. God did not preserve His Word in the ‘disusing’ but in the ‘using.’ He did not preserve the Word by it being stored away or buried, but rather through its use and transmission in the hands of humble believers. At latest count, there were 2,764 cursive manuscripts (MSS). Kenyon says, ‘... An overwhelming majority contain the common ecclesiastical [Received] text.’ ... Kenyon is prepared to list only 22 that give even partial support to the [modern critical] text. ... Are we to believe that in the language in which the New Testament was originally written (Greek), that only twenty-two examples of the true Word of God are to be found between the ninth and sixteenth centuries? How does this fulfill God’s promise to preserve His Word? ... We answer with a shout of triumph God has been faithful to His promise. Yet in our day, the world has become awash with translations based on MSS similar to the twenty-two rather than the [more than] two-and-a-half thousand” (Jack Moorman, Forever Settled, 1985, pp. 90-95).
For more about Erasmus and the Received Text see the book “The Bible Version Question-Answer Database,” “Should 1 John 5:7 Be in the Bible Since It Has Little Support Among the Greek Manuscripts?” This book is available from Way of Life Literature.
WHY DID ERASMUS ADD THE JOHANNINE COMMA TO HIS 3RD EDITION GREEK NEW TESTAMENT?
There are two popular myths regarding Erasmus and 1 John 5:7 that are parroted by modernists, evangelicals, and even fundamentalists today who defend the modern versions against the KJV.
The first myth is that Erasmus promised to insert the verse if a Greek manuscript were produced. This is stated as follows by Bruce Metzger: “Erasmus promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. At length such a copy was found--or made to order” (Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 1st and 2nd editions).
The second myth is that Erasmus challenged Edward Lee to find a Greek manuscript that included 1 John 5:7. This originated with Erika Rummel in 1986 in her book Erasmus’ Annotations and was repeated by James White in 1995 (The Truth about the KJV-Only Controversy).
In A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7,8, Michael Maynard records that H.J. de Jonge, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Rijksuniversiteit (Leiden, Netherlands), has refuted both myths. de Jonge, a recognized specialist in Erasmian studies, refuted the myth of a promise in 1980, stating that Metzger’s view on Erasmus’ promise “has no foundation in Erasmus’ work. Consequently it is highly improbable that he included the difficult passage because he considered himself bound by any such promise.” He has also refuted the new myth of a challenge (which Rummel devised in reaction to the burial of the promise myth). In a letter of June 13, 1995, to Maynard, de Jonge wrote:
I have checked again Erasmus’ words quoted by Erika Rummel and her comments on them in her book Erasmus’ Annotations. This is what Erasmus writes [on] in his Liber tertius quo respondet ... Ed. Lei: Erasmus first records that Lee had reproached him with neglect of the MSS. of 1 John because Er. (according to Lee) had consulted only one MS. Erasmus replies that he had certainly not used only one ms., but many copies, first in England, then in Brabant, and finally at Basle. He cannot accept, therefore, Lee’s reproach of negligence and impiety.
‘Is it negligence and impiety, if I did not consult manuscripts which were simply not within my reach? I have at least assembled whatever I could assemble. Let Lee produce a Greek MS. which contains what my edition does not contain and let him show that that manuscript was within my reach. Only then can he reproach me with negligence in sacred matters.’
From this passage you can see that Erasmus does not challenge Lee to produce a manuscript etc. What Erasmus argues is that Lee may only reproach Erasmus with negligence of MSS if he demonstrates that Erasmus could have consulted any MS. in which the Comma Johanneum figured. Erasmus does not at all ask for a MS. containing the Comma Johanneum. He denies Lee the right to call him negligent and impious if the latter does not prove that Erasmus neglected a manuscript to which he had access.
In short, Rummel’s interpretation is simply wrong. The passage she quotes has nothing to do with a challenge. Also, she cuts the quotation short, so that the real sense of the passage becomes unrecognizable. She is absolutely not justified in speaking of a challenge in this case or in the case of any other passage on the subject (emphasis in original) (de Jonge, cited from Maynard, p. 383).
Jeffrey Khoo observes further: “Yale professor Roland Bainton, another Erasmian expert, agrees with de Jonge, furnishing proof from Erasmus’ own writing that Erasmus’ inclusion of 1 John 5:7f was not due to a so-called ‘promise’ but the fact that he believed ‘the verse was in the Vulgate and must therefore have been in the Greek text used by Jerome’” (Jeffrey Khoo, Kept Pure in All Ages, 2001, p. 88).
Edward F. Hills, who had a doctorate in textual criticism from Harvard, testifies: “...it was not trickery that was responsible for the inclusion of the Johannine Comma in the Textus Receptus, but the usage of the Latin speaking Church” (Hills, The King James Version Defended).
In the 3rd edition of The Text of the New Testament Bruce Metzger corrected his false assertion about Erasmus as follows: “What is said on p. 101 above about Erasmus’ promise to include the Comma Johanneum if one Greek manuscript were found that contained it, and his subsequent suspicion that MS 61 was written expressly to force him to do so, needs to be corrected in the light of the research of H. J. DeJonge, a specialist in Erasmian studies who finds no explicit evidence that supports this frequently made assertion” (Metzger, The Text of The New Testament, 3rd edition, p. 291, footnote 2). The problem is that this myth continues to be paraded as truth by modern version defenders.
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