Monday, June 15, 2009

Textus Receptus vs Alexandrian Codices

     A great deal has been written & said regarding the "King James Only" controversy.   There are those who claim newer translations make the Bible more understandable to the average reader.   However, often this claim is made under the naive assumption that the new translators just took the old English Bible & rewrote it with newer, more up to date words.   Nothing could be further from the truth.   There are more than 60,000 changes in modern renderings beyond the simple changes in vocabulary ("thee" to "you," etc.), many greatly impacting doctrine & historicity within the text actually leading to greater confusion especially for the novice reader.

     The committee of scholars that created the King James or Authorized Version of the Bible (KJV) were all committed to the proposition that the 66 books contained therein were the inspired, unerring Word of God.   While they knew they did not have any autographed originals (no one ever has had such a collection) they diligently scrutinized and compared over 5000 copies they did have of Hebrew, Latin and Greek documents dating from as early as the 5th Century AD to as late as the 12th.   While no translation is perfect, we can be assured that at least these priests and scholars were dedicated to conveying God's Word accurately into the English language with as little distortion or personal bias as possible over which collectively and individually prayer was constantly engaged.   Further, they were not influenced by commercial considerations (there were no royalties to be had as is the case with many modern translations) nor was sensationalism a factor.   In short, these words were considered "holy" (specially recognized as possessing sacred authority; consecrated, devoted to the service of God; having a spiritually pure quality) and they were treated as such.

     When the KJV translators set to their work, they gathered all the original Hebrew, Greek & Latin sources that they could draw upon, the previously mentioned collection of 5000 documents dating from the 5th century AD to the 12th.   Most of these texts were harmonious but some differed on personal pronouns, proper names, etc.   From these they attempted to write a reconciled version that was later to become known as the Textus Receptus or "Received Texts."

     Then, in the 1800's, two previously unknown or unrecognized texts of the New Testament appeared.   These were called Vaticanus & Sinaiticus since they were found in the Vatican Library & a monastery in the Sinai respectively.   These texts were dated to the late 3rd-early 4th century (i.e. before any official canonization) & were in excellent condition.   However, neither was in the original Greek language, but in a Coptic translation, an early Egyptian language.   Coptic placed the origin of these two texts in the region of Alexandria, Egypt.  Hence they became known collectively as the Alexandrian Codices.   Two British scholars of Greek named Westcott & Hort undertook the translation of these Coptic copies back into their original Greek language.   It was theorized that since these two texts were older than any of the 5000 that had been used by the 1611 King James committee, they might reveal a more authoritative text, being closer in time to the events described in the New Testament.

    Indeed, startling & shocking differences did seem to suddenly appear.   Gone was the resurrection story in the book of Mark (the last twelve verses of the KJV).   Gone was Acts 8:37 where the Ethiopian eunuch confesses Jesus as the Son of God along with many other passages.   Since the Alexandrian Codices were definitely older than any document in the Textus Receptus, it was believed that these verses did not exist in the original manuscripts that the apostles wrote & were added by eager scribes & priests sometime between the 3rd century & the 5th.   This was the prevailing theory up until the 1960's.   All the modern translations which were written during this time are based on the Westcott & Hort Greek text including the American Standard Version (ASV), the New International Version (NIV), the New World Translation (NWT) & even the New KJV (NKJV)1, because the codices were considered more accurate.   Even today, look for Acts 8:37 in most of these Bibles & you will see that it skips directly from 8:36 to 8:38 without the proclamation of the deity of Christ by the Ethiopian.

The Oxford Papyri-This fragment known as the Oxford Papyri or P-64, may be the oldest NT text ever found. For centuries scholars have believed that the NT Gospels were not written by the Apostles in the 1st c. but were passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation for 100 years to be finally penned by scribes some time in the 2nd c.AD. This papyrus text dated to cAD50, a mere 20 years after the crucifixion, seems to provide proof that at least the Gospel of Matthew was an eyewitness account, written by a disciple who lived during the days when Christ Himself was on earth. For more see:

     However, since Westcott & Hort's time, some 150 years of scholarship & textual discoveries have taken place.   Currently there now exist over 24,000 fragments & complete texts of the New Testament, many dating to even earlier than the Alexandrian Codices.  There is even a tiny fragment of the Gospel of Matthew dating to cAD 50 (see photo), a mere twenty or so years after the crucifixion of Christ.    From this assemblage of 24,000 documents, scholars have constructed what is now called The Majority Text, with each book, passage & quote rated with a percentage of how many of the 24,000 agree with each reading.   By & large, with 90%+ certainty, the Textus Receptus & therefore the KJV has been vindicated as the more authoritative text.   To date, the Vaticanis & the Sinaiticus are unique in their reading in toto.   In fact, it has been discovered that many, if not all of the passages altered or missing from these codices were in fact quoted by the early church fathers as far back as the late 1st century.   For instance, if one reads Irenaeus' Against Heresies 3.10.5-6, he states, "Furthermore, near the end of his Gospel, Mark says: 'thus, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.'" quoting Mark 16:19.   Irenaeus wrote this in AD180, some 200 years before the Alexandrian Codices, yet he quotes word for word all the verses from the missing part of Mark which were supposedly not to have been added until the 4th or 5th centuries.  How could this be?   Discounting the notion that Iranaeus was psychic, how could he quote a passage that supposedly did not yet exist?   Why was this clearly existing passage missing from the "more authoritative" Alexandrian texts?  Scholars, scratching their heads, still debate, but an explanation has come forward.

     With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Library in the 1940's, it became clear that the early unorthodox sect known as the "Gnostics" did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ.   Nor did they really believe in His humanity either.  They believed He was a "guiding spirit" sent to earth by the "True God" (not the YHWH of the Old Testament, incidently, whom they considered to be a blind, insane angel who created the material world against Sophia's or "Wisdom" i.e. the True God's will).   Jesus' mission according to the Gnostics, was to impart special knowledge or "Gnosis" to spirits trapped in this material world seeking release.  Thus, Jesus never died on the cross, was never resurrected, was not God, nor was He human.   Mysteriously, but rather conveniently, all the altered or missing texts in the Alexandrian Codices always happen to involve one or a combination of these subjects.  Consider: where was the center of operations for this unorthodox sect?   Alexandria, Egypt.

     Now, the pieces fall into place. All these "missing" verses were in the original texts written by the apostles.   The older manuscripts & the many quotes from the 1st and 2nd century church fathers more than confirm that as fact.   However, since these verses did not agree with the theology being taught by the Gnostics, when they made their own Coptic copies of the Greek originals, they conveniently altered or deleted them to suit their own ideas of what God should say.   Westcott & Hort, along with many in Victorian Era England such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Darwin (a divinity school graduate) & HG Wells, were caught up in the occult, spiritism & secular humanist questioning of the validity of orthodox Christianity typical of the time.   These corrupted Coptic texts easily appealed to Westcott & Hort's own sensibilities (as testified to by their surviving correspondence with each other).   Nevertheless, they did indeed make an excellent Greek translation of what knowingly or unknowingly was a horrendous, blasphemous, heavily edited & thus corrupted Coptic translation of a Greek original.

     The King James Translation is not without its flaws & shortcomings, not the least of which is its translation of the language used of future technologies into what is now archaic 1611 terminology.   Ezekiel 39:3 is an excellant example of this.   The passage, especially when cross-referenced with Jeremiah 50:9, clearly indicates a technology similar to today's "smart" missles.   However, the KJV translators rendered a Hebrew word for "missle" as "arrow" since an arrow was pretty much the most advanced missle of the time.   Similarly, the Hebrew word for a "launcher" is rendered as "bow" since that was the launching device for an arrow.   The whole picture in Hebrew is of a projectile shot from a launching device.  The Hebrew is not as specific as "arrow" or "bow."   Thus, today, this text mightly justifiably be rendered as: "And I will smite thy launcher out of thy left hand, and will cause thine missles to fall out of thy right hand."   Importantly, however, these flaws &  shortcomings, having been studied for almost 400 years, are well known, documented & amazingly few & far between, numbering perhaps ten with only one potentially impacting doctrine.

     All in all, the work of the Authorized Version is considered to be the highest achievement in the English language &  has held its own for these 400 years.  Nowhere else will you find the majesty &  depth of language worthy of the Word of God.

for more on the corruption in the New KJV, see also



  1. Thanks so much for this. Great read, and I learned a lot. Will be a regular follower.

  2. I used to by KJV-only. Not anymore. My biggest problem with the KJV is that most modern-day English speakers simply cannot understand it. To me, saying everyone should read only the KJV is a way of making God's Word inaccessible to common people. It is like how the Roman Catholic Church read the Bible only in Latin and banned vernacular translations which common people could understand. If Jesus doesn't come back for another 500 years, are we still going to be reading the KJV in 2500 AD?? The KJV will be even more incomprehensible then than it is now.

  3. I have never been a "KJV-only" because I believe that many modern translations can bring clarity to the table. However, I will always reference back to the KJV. For this purpose, I rarely - if ever - use an NIV because of its textual inconsistencies (eg, Mark 16).
    I do consider the Alexandrian Codices to be corrupt.

  4. Modern translations are indeed corrupt and leading many astray.

  5. Philip,

    Do you realise that you are talking about illiteracy? The rates of literacy amongst Americans have been falling for decades. Perhaps a third of American adults are considered functionally illiterate. This does not mean they cannot read words. It means that they cannot extract the meaning from what they read.

    Let's identify the real problem. One appeal of the newer Bibles is because they are "dumbed down" using simpler and simpler language.

    The dark ages were dark because people were forbidden to read the Bible at all. Now people cannot understand it. See a similarity?