A More Sure Text

The Superiority of the Received Text

According to Peter’s statement of faith, given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to have something that is certain—“a more sure word of prophecy.”

Whereas Peter spoke of something more sure, today’s believer is constantly bombarded with a newer and better translation that does not generate more trust. Rather, it generates confusion, doubt, dissension, and unending debate.

The Conflict

As noted, while there may be hundreds of translations on the market, there are—for all practical purposes—only two texts.  One text is known as the Critical Text. There are several variations of it and similar texts, but they are substantially the same.

The second grouping of similar texts is known as the Received Text, the Preserved Text, the Textus Receptus, the TR, the Traditional Text, the Majority Text, the Byzantine Text, the Antiochian Text, or the Syrian Text. Again, each name carries a different connotation but all essentially refer to the same body of proven, God-preserved texts—we’ll revisit this in a later chapter.

The term Received Text or Preserved Text implies that this text was received from Christ (the Head) via the apostles by the local churches and preserved by God. The term Traditional Text implies that this text has been traditionally used by the churches from the time of Christ through this present time.

If we are to understand the Critical Text, we must take into consideration that it had its beginnings with two men (Westcott and Hort) who were at worst, unbelievers, and at best representative of the liberal side of Christendom. We will document this further in the next chapter.

While these men referred to 45 out of 5,255 manuscripts, their new Greek text was overwhelmingly based on two manuscripts—Aleph and B (B predominantly). These manuscripts disagree in 5,604 places. The Critical Text and the Received Text disagree about 7–10% of the time.[1]

Even though 95–99% of all manuscripts favored the Received Text, all of this evidence was to be overturned on the basis of a manuscript found and housed in the Vatican and a manuscript found in a Greek monastery at Mount Sinai.

The Received Text is based on 5,210 out of 5,255 manuscripts according to Dr. Waite (remember the Critical Text uses 45 manuscripts). Interestingly, even Westcott and Hort recognized the Received Text as being universally accepted and used by the churches from about 450–1850 AD.

The Character of the Critical Text

The credibility of a witness is determined by the character of that witness. If Westcott and Hort were to be on trial along with the manuscripts that support their Revised Greek Text, would their verdict be guilty for falsifying the Scriptures?

Dr. F.H.A. Scrivener, a man associated with Westcott and Hort’s Revision Committee, made the following observation about the manuscripts on which it heavily relied: “[The Codex Sinaiticus] is covered with such alterations, brought in by at least ten different revisers, some of them systematically spread over every page… [emphasis his].”[2]

Why was there a need for ten different people to continue correcting this manuscript? Because those who first handled it felt it was not a good manuscript! Why would scholars attach mountains of value to these manuscripts merely because they are presumed to be old?

Dabney, in his work on the Greek New Testament, observed this about the character of Westcott and Hort’s underlying manuscripts:

“The Vatican, the Alexandrian, and now the Sinai. It is expressly admitted that neither of these has an extant history. No documentary external evidence exists as to the names of the copyists who transcribed them, the date, or the place of their writing. Nobody knows whence the Vatican MS came to the Pope’s library, or how long it has been there…. Their early date is confessedly assigned by conjecture [in other words—‘we guessed!’]” [emphasis added].[3]

There is more evidence to the character of the Critical Text that must be noted. For example, Thomas Strouse observed that the Critical Text has a historical error in Matthew 1:7, 10. In the Received Text, two kings are in Christ’s lineage—namely, Asa and Amon. Metzger, in advocating for the Critical Text, believed that Matthew may have received his information from faulty genealogical records, thus the Critical Text substitutes the names Asaph and Amos into the lineage.

Second, there is a scientific error in Luke 23:45. The Critical Text uses a Greek word meaning “was eclipsed” whereas the Received Text uses a word meaning “was darkened.” It would have been a scientific impossibility for the sun to have been eclipsed during the season of Passover because the moon was full.

Third, there is a Christ-contradicting error found in John 7:8. In the Critical Text, Christ states that He will not go up to the Feast, and then He goes. These types of errors demonstrate the character of the Critical Text and the view of its editors regarding inerrancy of Scripture.[4]

The evidence concerning the character of the Critical Text and its underlying manuscripts raises several questions:

1. Why did the early church not embrace the readings of Alexandria, Egypt?

2. How could the church be wrong for fifteen centuries, only to have the correct text restored based upon a few manuscripts with a shady history?

3. Why would God’s inspired words contradict themselves and not be truthfully accurate?

The Character of the Received Text

We have looked at the character of the Critical Text. Now let us look at the character of the Received Text.

While the following information relates primarily to the Old Testament, it does illustrate how the Jews viewed the Holy Scriptures (which is especially applicable to the New Testament when considering the fact that the first-century church was made largely of Jews in the beginning). Here is the way the Jews were taught to handle the Word of God:

1. The parchment must be made from the skin of clean animals; it must be prepared by a Jew only; and the skins must be fastened together by strings taken from clean animals.

2. Each column must have no less than 48 nor more than 60 lines. The entire copy must be first lined.

3. The ink must be of no other color than black, and it must be prepared according to a special recipe.

4. No word nor letter could be written from memory; the scribe must have an authentic copy before him, and he must read and pronounce aloud each word before writing it.

5. He must reverently wipe his pen each time before writing the word for “God,” and he must wash his whole body before writing the name “Jehovah” lest the Holy Name be contaminated.

6. Strict rules were given concerning forms of the letters, spaces between letters, words, and sections, the use of the pen, the color of the parchment, etc.

7. The revision of a roll must be made within 30 days after the work was finished; otherwise it was worthless. One mistake on a sheet condemned the sheet; if three mistakes were found on any page, the entire manuscript was condemned.

8. Every word and every letter was counted, and if a letter was omitted, an extra letter inserted, or if one letter touched another, the manuscript was condemned and destroyed at once.[5]

Burgon, the defender of the Traditional Text par excellence stated, “Strange as it may appear, it is undeniably true, that the whole of the controversy may be reduced to the following narrow issue: Does the truth of the text of Scripture dwell with the vast multitude of copies, uncial and cursive, concerning which nothing is more remarkable than the marvelous agreement which subsists between them? Or is it rather to be supposed that the truth abides exclusively with a very little handful of manuscripts, which at once differ from the great bulk of the witnesses, and—strange to say—also amongst themselves?”[6]

Burgon also writes, “Call this Text Erasmian or Complutensian— the Text of Stephens, or of Beza or of the Elzivers—call it the ‘Received’ or the ‘Traditional Greek Text,’ or whatever other name you please—the fact remains, that a text has come down to us which is attested by a general consensus of ancient copies, ancient versions, and ancient fathers.[7]

This article is adapted from the book, A More Sure Word by Dr. R. B. Ouellette.


[1] D.A. Waite, Defending the King James Bible (New Jersey: TheBible for Today Press, 2004), p. 56 and 41 respectively.

[2] F.H.A. Scrivener, A Full Collation of the Codex Sinaiticus with the Received Text of the New Testament (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1864), p. xix.

[3] R.L. Dabney, The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek (Carlisle, PA, USA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), pp. 350–389.

[4] Thomas Strouse, The Lord God Hath Spoken, A Guide to Bibliology (Virginia Beach: Tabernacle Baptist Press, 1998), pp. 17–18.

[5] H.S. Miller, General Biblical Introduction (Houghton, NY: Word-Bearer Press, 1960), pp. 184–185.

[6] Dean Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, p. 16.

[7] Dean Burgon, The Revision Revised (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1883), p. 269.

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