The Received Text, or the “Textus Receptus”

By Luther W. Martin

The words used in the title of this article, were first used in reference to the popular Greek Text of the Bible, in Elzevir’s second edition, published in 1633. In the preface to that edition, the Latin words “Textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum ” were used, meaning “The text presently possessed (is) by all received. ” Thus it became known as the “Received Text,” or “The text received or accepted by all.”

The Greek Text of Stephanus, 1550, was essentially the same as the one published by Elzevir, in the century following. This basic text of the Bible was also the basis for the Latin Vulgate as translated by Jerome, just before 400 A.D. It continued to be the basis for the Vulgate down through the Douay-Rheims Translation of 1582 and 1609 A.D., although the Vulgate was woefully abused and mis-handled by ignorant churchmen during its many editions.

The first of the English versions of the New Testament was completed by John Wycliffe in the year 1380. It was translated from the Latin Vulgate, and contained a number of defects. Nevertheless, it was the beginning which provided the people of England with access to the Word of God in their own tongue.

The next English Translation was that of William Tyndale. Even though Tyndale knew that the Catholic Council of Constance had Wycliffe’s bones removed from his grave, burned them and scattered his ashes, seeking vengeance against Wycliffe for his having translated the Bible into English, this did not discourage Tyndale from resolving to work toward the same goal . . . that of making it possible for the English plough-boy to become more familiar with the Holy Scriptures than were those of the Roman priesthood.

Tyndale studied at Cambridge University, at the time that the noted Erasmus was Professor of Greek. In fact, it was while Tyndale was at Cambridge, that Erasmus published his Greek Testament in 1516. Some nine years later, Tyndale published his first English New Testament, with a second, slightly revised edition in 1534. Tyndale’s work was based upon the received text, of the Greek, including the Latin text of Erasmus and the German Translation by Martin Luther, that had just been published in 1522. It has been said that Tyndale’s choice of English words set the standard and pattern, that was not only followed by later translators, but that his work with the New Testament established expressions in the English Language, that became household expressions throughout England. It has been stated that 80 percent of the words of Tyndale were used in the 1881 English Revised Version.

Meanwhile, the Great Bible was published in 1539-40, based upon the commonly received text. So was the Geneva Bible of 1560-62. So was the Bishops’ Bible of 1568-1602. So was the King James Version of 1611.

Gradually A Few Scholars Question The Textus Receptus

Although the Greek Text of Stephanus (1550) was followed in England, and the text by Elzevir was followed on the European Continent, there were scholars who ultimately compared more and more Greek manuscripts of the New Testament as they were discovered.

Brian Walton, edited a Polyglott Bible, in Greek, Persian, Ethiopic, Latin and Syriac. The Greek text was that of Stephanus. This fivelanguage Bible was published in 1657.

A John Fell, who later became Bishop of Oxford, published a work in which he compared approximately 100 different manuscripts, in 1675.

Dr. John Mill published an edition of Stephanus’ Text in 1707, and added to it, the variations found in seventyeight different manuscripts.

An L. Kuster of Rotterdam modified Mill’s work, and added the comparison of some twelve more manuscripts. This was in 1710.

J.A. Bengel, the author of Bengel’s Gnomon, in 1734 published a New Testament at Tubingen, Germany, in which he collated a number of variations in readings in the New Testament.

Although there were others, the more impressive works were those of Griesbach (1805), Lachmann (1842-50), Tischendorf (1865-1872), Tregelles (1857-1872), Alford (1862-1871), and Wordsworth (1870).

Westcott and Hort

The two scholars who accomplished the most in erasing the influence of the Textus Receptus, were Brooke Foss Westcott, and Fenton John Anthony Hort. Hort spearheaded the effort by announcing in 1851 that he considered the Textus Receptus “vile” and “villainous,” yet admitted in the same writing that he had read “so little Greek Testament.” He also told a friend that he and Westcott would have a new Greek Testament issued in a little more than a year. That was in 1853 . . . but they did not publish their new text until some twenty-eight years had elapsed.

Several of the textual critics mentioned above, before the time of Westcott and Hort, had imagined that “families” of manuscripts existed. One scholar started by listing only two or three families of manuscripts, that appeared to have some similarities of wording, where variations did occur. Another scholar would list four, five or six families of manuscripts. One writer would use a set of names for his different “families” as he assumed them to be. Another writer would use a different set of terms to describe his “families.” As a result, much confusion prevailed among the scholars who endeavored to determine just which manuscript(s) were the older, the purer, or the least adulterated.

Hort came on the scene, a young man of twenty-three years, when he made his brash statement in which he demonstrated his prejudice against the Textus Receptus. He was no doubt greatly influenced by Tischendorf’s discovery, of the Codex Sinaiticus in 1844. Also by this time, the Roman Catholic Church was allowing scholars to study the Codex Vaticanus, which had previously been denied to non-Catholic scholars.

It has been surmised that both of these manuscripts may have been among the fifty manuscripts that Emperor Constantine ordered to be made during his reign as Emperor of Rome. He ruled Rome when Christianity was decreed by him to be the official religion of the Roman Empire. He also became a convert to the Christian religion while Emperor of Rome. He was the official (political) who summoned together the bishops of the church, to form what was termed the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea. These two manuscripts show signs of having been “worked on” by the same copyist. So it is quite likely that they came from one single source . . . . while the Textus Receptus was the product of many harmonizing manuscripts. But Westcott and Hort concluded that the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were older and far superior in purity, nearer to the original New Testament writings . . . so they rejected the Textus Receptus, totally, and cast their lot with these two writings that they concluded to be the better.

But in order to reach this conclusion, Westcott and Hort had to make some bold assumptions, as to what had occurred in the early centuries, to justify their rejection of the many manuscripts that tended to agree and harmonize (Textus Receptus), and yet have enough logic on their side to persuade the scholars to accept the “two-manuscript theory.” This they managed to do, and for nearly a century, many students of the Greek New Testament have gone along with Westcott and Hort’s theories, with the subsequent turning away from the Textus Receptus. But during this one hundred years, numerous papyri have been found that have disproven the W-H theories. These papyri, in many instances have shown the Textus Receptus (commonly termed the Byzantine Text) to be the more harmonious with some manuscripts that are also older, and thus nearer in point of time, to the Apostolic Autographs of the New Testament.

Manuscript Comparison Chart

p 45 agrees with 19 times 24 times 32 times
p 66 agrees with 14 times 29 times 33 times
p 75 agrees with 9 times 33 times 29 times
p 45, 66, 75 agrees with 4 times 18 times 20 times
p 45, 66 agrees with 7 times 3 times 8 times

(The above chart data, taken from A Survey of the Researches into the Western Text of the Gospel & Acts; part two 1949-1969, by A.F.K. Klijn.)

Papyrus (p45) contains excerpts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts. It is presently in the Chester Beatty Museum, Dublin, Ireland.

Papyrus (p66) contains excerpts from the Gospel of John. It is presently located at Cologne/Geneve, in the Bibliotheque Bodmer.

Papyrus (p75) contains excerpts of Luke and John. It is presently located at Cologne/Geneve, in the Bibliotheque Bodmer.

Note, please, that these lately discovered manuscript fragments, agree more frequently with the Textus Receptus, than they do with Westcott and Hort’s favored Aleph and B. p45 is thought to date from the 3rd century. p66 is dated circa 200 A.D. And, p75 is dated from the beginning of the 3rd century.


K.W. Clark has written in Today’s Problems with the Critical Text of the New Testament.

The textual history history that the WestcottHort text represents is no longer tenable in the light of newer discoveries and fuller textual analysis.

Wilbur N. Pickering has written in The Identity of the New Testament Text (p. 91):

And that completes our review of the W-H critical theory. It is evidently erroneous at every point. Our conclusions concerning the theory of necessity apply also to any Greek text constructed on the basis of it, as well as to those versions based upon such texts (and to commentaries based upon them).

On page 92, Mr. Pickering also wrote, “The evidence before us indicates that Hort’s history never was tenable.”

There have been so many manuscripts, or portions thereof, come to light, since the days of Westcott and Hort, that the new evidence simply totally destroys the entire Westcott and Hort theory of textual criticism.

It is my hope that students of the Bible will resume their respect and appreciation for the Majority Text, the Textus Receptus.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 1, pp. 3, 22-23
January 3, 1985