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Providential Preservation of the Textus Receptus

The mother and son Bible translator team of Verna and James Linzey discuss how God has preserved his Word through the centuries and how this relates to the many ancient documents upon which the canon is based and the collections of these large and small manuscripts such as the Textus Receptus.

It has been said by theologians and scholars that we have the Textus Receptus (TR) today due to God’s providential preservation of His Scriptures. The doctrine of providential preservation was articulated in 1646 after the English Parliament commissioned the Westminster Confession of Faith to be drawn up. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, paragraph VIII, states:

The Old Testament in Hebrew, which was the native language of the people of God of old, and the New Testament in Greek, which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations, being immediately inspired by God and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them.

Although Desiderius Erasmus printed the first Greek New Testament based on the Byzantine manuscripts available to him in 1516, and Robert Estienne provided a critical apparatus of the Greek variants with his printed edition of the Erasmus edition in 1550, it was the Elzevier edition in 1633 that popularized the Erasmus/Estienne edition as the Textus Receptus. The TR (nunc ab omnibus receptum “now received by all”) was based on the Byzantine manuscripts, and although not identical and differing in some 1,838 places,[1] the TR is based on the majority of Greek NT manuscripts from this Byzantine tradition. In 1646 the English Parliament knew only of the TR tradition over and against the Latin Vulgate. But can the question of the providential preservation of Scripture pertain only to the TR and not to all the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts and fragments?

We can thank God for fulfilling His inerrant, inspired, and infallible promises to preserve His Word throughout the ages.

As a matter of historical observation and faith, Christendom generally accepts the oldest and most reliable extant Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic fragments of the biblical canon. In 1646 when the Westminster of Faith was drawn up partly as a defense against using the Latin Vulgate, Parliament did not have historical access to the thousands of ancient language manuscripts that would later be discovered and excavated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Even the possibility that some New Testament passages were originally written in Aramaic was not in the purview of the writers of the confession. But either based on the Alexandrian text type from which scholars compiled critical editions of the NT, or the Byzantine text type from which other scholars compiled the TR, we have today a remarkable manuscript witness that evinces the accuracy and preservation, (and even scribal orthodox changes) to the biblical canon of Scripture. This is the macro picture for what the more than 5,800 NT Greek manuscripts and fragments afford us. By evaluating all the manuscripts, lectionaries, and sermons in the many languages of early Christians, we can actually reconstruct the earliest OT and NT Scriptures. It is certainly not a shameful embarrassment to have so many ancient biblical witnesses and languages; rather, it is an embarrassing treasure! And we can thank God for fulfilling His inerrant, inspired, and infallible promises to preserve His Word throughout the ages.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2019

About the Author: Verna M. Linzey (1919 –2016), MA (Southwestern Assemblies of God University), DMin (Fuller Theological Seminary), was the chief editor of the New Tyndale Version Bible and a translator for the Modern English Version Bible. She wrote The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, The Gifts of the Spirit, and Spirit Baptism. She also hosted the television programs “The Word with Verna Linzey” and “The Holy Spirit Today with Dr. Verna Linzey.”

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