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Greek Texts and The Revelation

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.


Last week, I started a study of Revelation using the NKJV and taking care to note the textual varieties between the Received Text, Majority Text, and the Minority Text. The translators of the NKJV indicate a significant number of textual variants. Most of these variants are relatively minor, but there are a number that are quite consequential in that they change the meaning of the text under study. One other thing that I noticed was that the Minority Text nearly agrees with the Majority text nearly 100% of the time in the book of Revelation. This is very confusing to me because the opposite is true when in the rest of the New Testament. I need you help. Do you have the answers to these questions:

1. Why does the Received Text deviate from the Majority Text in the book of Revelation but is in almost perfect agreement in the other books of the New Testament?<

The answer to this lies in the history of the Received Text (or "Textus Receptus" - TR). First, let me say there is some disagreement as to exactly what Greek text TR refers to. Basically, it is the text first developed by Erasmus, and later edit by Stephens and others [see Questions of Greek Texts for further details].

Whatever the case, the TR was developed from a small handful of manuscripts. And of these, most lacked the Revelation. In fact, Erasmus had only one manuscript with the Revelation, and it was missing the last few verses. So to complete his Greek NT he translated the passage from the Vulgate back into Greek.

Stephens and the others may have had one or two additional manuscripts with the Revelation; but that was probably about it. So with only a couple of manuscripts, the probability of the resultant text having errors was greatly increased.

By the time the "Minority Text" (as you term it; on my site I call it the "Critical Text" - CT) and the Majority Text (MT) were developed, many more and earlier manuscripts of the NT were discovered, including many more copies of the Revelation. And these additional manuscripts showed the couple of manuscripts the Revelation the TR was developed from had errors in them, whether one goes with the general principle of the earliest manuscripts being the most accurate (CT) or the majority of the manuscripts reflecting the most accurate text (MT).

So basically, when the MT and CT agree against the TR I would say you can be sure the TR is the one in error and the alternate reading should be accepted.

>2. Why would the Minority Text, who many say is corrupt, be much more in agreement with the Majority text in the book of Revelation then the Received Text?

Again, it simply is a case the TR being based on one or two manuscripts of the Revelation, and these being of very late origin. Meanwhile, for the rest of the NT, the TR was based of a greater number of manuscripts (about 20). This is nowhere near the now some 5,000 manuscripts available. But even with 20 manuscripts, the possibility of cross checking would help to eliminate obvious errors that was not possible in the Revelation.

>Thanks for the insight. You have been a tremendous help. I still need a little more assistance: Are you saying that the editors of the CT had access to many more manuscripts than the editors of the (TR) for the book of Revelation?<

Yes. And of especial importance for the CT scholars, these manuscripts are of much earlier date than the TR manuscripts.

>If that is the case, why did not the editors of the CT use these manuscripts to create their Greek text for the entire New Testament?

The CT scholars generally rely on a small handful of "Alexandrian" manuscripts rather than the Byzantine manuscripts which comprise the vast bulk of the manuscript traditions. Generally speaking, the manuscripts the TR was based on reflects the Byzantine manuscripts. Hence why it is generally closer to the MT than the CT.

However, in this case, the Byzantine and Alexandrian manuscripts agree more closely with each other than the couple of manuscripts of the Revelation that the TR was based on does with them. Why this is the case I am not sure.

>I counted 140 verses within the book of Revelation were the Received Text (RT) does not agree with the Majority Text (MT). Also, I noted 23 verses of the Critical Text (CT) that do not agree with the MT. Clearly the CT is much closer to the original than the RT in the book of Revelation. You replied, to a former letter from me, stating that you were not sure why the above is true. Could it be that:

1. That the CT is superior to the MT?<

The evidence you cite simply shows both the CT and the MT is superior to the TR in the Revelation. It really says nothing about the superiority of the CT vs. the MT. The 23 places where they disagree simply shows they disagree. Which has the better reading for these would have to be decided on a verse-by-verse basis.

> Some may say that since the CT is more accurate in Revelation it must be more accurate in the rest of the New Testament.<

That would be an illogical way of reasoning. The transmission of the Revelation has it's own quirks that are not the same as for other books. There are many more copies of the Gospels and epistles of Paul, for instance, than of the Revelation.

The reasons for this are two-fold. First, is the practical issue of a scribe, for whatever reason, not finishing when copying the NT. Obviously, with the Revelation being last in the canon, it would be the most likely not to be copied if the scribe didn't finish. In fact, one of the two earliest "complete" manuscripts, (i.e. "aleph" and "beta") lacks the Revelation (I forget which one).

Secondly, the Revelation was one of the "antilegomena" (Gr. for "spoken against"). It was one of the seven books of the NT that were in dispute in the early Church as to its authenticity. In other words, 20 of the 27 books were accepted throughout the Church without question as being written by an apostle or an apostolic delegate and as being inspired. These included the Gospels, Acts, 13 epistles of Paul (Hebrews not included), 1John, and 1Peter.

In fact, the four Gospels and the "Pauline corpus" were collected together and being copied as "sets" apparently by the end of the first century. So there are more and earlier copies of these 17 books than for the rest of the NT.

By about the fourth century the canon was finalized. But the Revelation was probably one of the last books to be accepted universally. So that would be another reason why it was not copied as much, especially in the earlier centuries.

> I have a copy of the NASB updated translation. The translators have soften their wording concerning deviations to the CT by stating, "This verse is not included in the early manuscripts" instead of "This verse is not included in the best manuscripts."<

It is good they re-worded the textual comments. Some of them were rather misleading.

> I have also marked in my NASB to indicate were there is a major disagreement to the MT where there are no translator notes. What I have created is an updated NASB that is a worthy comparison to the NKJV.<

I have always believed the NASB is a good version, as far as the translation itself goes. What I didn't like about it was three-fold: 1. The retention of archaic language (thee, thou, etc). 2. The misleading, textual footnotes. 3. The use of the CT rather than the TR, or better, the MT.

Someone previously fold me the updated version eliminated the archaic language and now you have told me it has also changed the misleading textual footnotes. So that's two our of three corrected. But I will still stick with the NKJV due to preferring the TR over the CT (except for in the Revelation; but the textual footnotes in the NKJV help to alleviate that problem).

>2. That we should use a CT translation for the book of Revelation (NASB) and a RT translation for the rest of the New Testament?

A possibility. But I would say a better option would be to use the MT for all of the NT. The Logos 21 Version will do so when it is out. So far, only the Gospel of John and Romans is ready.

> A new version based on the MT!! Last week I located a new version that is nearing completion on the Web. It is called the World English Bible and it is an update of the American Standard Version using the Majority Text. I have not seen it yet, but I thought you should be aware of it.

In Christ,

Thank you for pointing this out to me. Actually, I had seen the WEB before; but when I saw it was an updating of the ASV I just assumed it was using the CT. Thanks for letting me know it is actually using the MT. I looked it over and it looks good. A fairly literal translation. I will add a link to the site the next time I update my links pages [see Bibles Online].

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

Bible Versions Controversy: Greek Text Types
Bible Versions Controversy

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