Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 8, 1962
NUMBER 27, PAGE 3,11b

The Integrity Of The New Testment Text

James E. Cooper

By "integrity" we mean that the text of the New Testament has been transmitted down to us without material change. The Bible text that we now possess is the result of intense study by hundreds of scholars over the years. Their work is called Textual Criticism, or Biblical Criticism, and involves the effort to restore, as far as humanly possible, the original text of the New Testament.

The original autographs (written by the original authors) were written by hand in the Greek language. Writing materials in common use at the time were parchment, Vellum, papyrus, ostraca, and wax tablets. We don't have the autographs, but copies of copies of copies, etc. Before the invention of the printing press (1438) all copies had been laboriously made by hand. Consequently, errors of the transcribers had crept into the MSS (manuscripts), in spite of elaborate precautions. With printing, involving careful proof-reading, typographical errors have been eliminated, and now Textual Critics are busy eliminating the errors that had crept in before printing was invented. When all such errors have been eliminated, the science of Textual Criticism will have completed the task as far as the Bible is concerned.

Although it is impossible to get an accurate count of the Greek MSS, as new discoveries continue to come, over 4,000 are known. Some are mere fragments, while others are more complete. Many more have perished through the years as the materials on which they were written decomposed, or were worn out by the loving hands of many readers.

Variant readings in the known Greek MSS number approximately 200,000. This may seem frightening at first, but with further examination our alarm vanishes, for seven-eighths of the Greek text is admittedly above reproach. The remaining one-eighth is the subject of Textual Criticism. Eliminating variations in spelling, only one-sixtieth of the whole is affected, the majority of which are matters of grammar. Subsequent variants form about one-thousandth of the whole and of this portion, no doctrine rests solely upon a disputed text.

Scholars engaged in this study have had the benefit of the Greek MSS, many ancient Versions (or translations), quotations from ancient authors (Christians who quoted from the Scriptures in their writings), and internal evidence.

Portions of the Bible were translated into English as early as the 8th century. The first complete Bible in English was translated from the Latin Vulgate and published by John Wycliffe in 1384.

William Tyndale is called the "father of the later authorized versions of the Bible" for his Testament was the first printed English version published, about 1525. Some say that ninety per cent of Tyndale's work is reproduced in the King James Version.

The King James Version is a translation of the Textus Receptus, or "received text," the first of which was the work of Erasmus appearing in 1516. Stephanus published his Greek text in 1550, using the work of Erasmus and 15 other MSS. His 1551 edition was the first to give our verse distinctions. Theodore Beza, Elzevir, and others contributed to the study of the Greek text which was finally used by the 47 Greek scholars employed by King James of England and who produced the King James Version in 1611.

Further work in Textual Criticism continued with the discovery of other ancient MSS. Three of our most valuable MSS came to light after the King James Version was made. They are (1) the Vatican MS, (2) the Alexandrian MS, and (3) the Sinaitic MS. Codex Ephraemi was already in Paris. Other MSS continue to be found from time to time, as illustrated by the recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Each new discovery gives the Textual Critics more information with which to work and renders more effective the efforts to restore the autographic purity of the originals.

Griesbach published his Greek New Testament in 1796-1806 and it has been called "the beginning of a really critical text, based on fixed rules." The New Testaments in Greek available today are various editions of a critical text. The word "critical" implies an effort to see a thing clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly. The text thus produced is intended to be exact. Wescott and Hort published a critical text in 1881 and it is still used by scholars all over the world. Nestle published that which is now considered the best modern critical text in 1901. Further revisions continue as progress in the work is made.

The American Standard Version is based upon a critical text, and is the result of the effort of 54 scholars. They had the benefit of discoveries unknown in 1611, as well as the fruits of previous labors in Textual Criticism. Then, too, the English language had changed between 1611 and 1901, and the Revised Version resulted in a more accurate and literal translation from the original Greek to the English. One of the members of the Standard Bible Committee for making the New Revised Standard Version (1952) complimented the King James and American Standard Versions by saying, "Each has its use, the first as a great literary and religious classic and the second as a meticulously literal word-for-word translation" (Herbert Gordon May, Our English Bible in the Making, page 110). We cannot say as much for the Revised Standard Version, which seems to be colored by the Modernism of its revisers, but which could still be profitably read and compared with other versions. The American Standard Version, therefore, is recognized as the most literal word-for-word translation you can obtain. It is very valuable in trying to understand what the original authors said.

Understanding this, our confidence in the integrity of the New Testament as we have it is strengthened. In His providence, God has seen that the Greek MSS were preserved. Dedicated language experts have produced translations exceptionally well done. When you believe and obey what you find in your New Testament, you can be assured that you are doing what the Lord requires of you.

--Clarkson, Kentucky