“The Byzantine Textform is not the Textus Receptus”

Regarding the textual criticism of the New Testament, I hold to the Byzantine Priority position, which has been most ably articulated by Maurice Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Someday I’ll write about how I arrived at this position.

The Byzantine Priority position is often associated with the “Majority Text,” the “Traditional Text,” and sometimes the Textus Receptus, or even the King James Version. In the opening paragraphs of his “The Case for Byzantine Priority,” Robinson sketches out the landscape including a footnote in which he clearly disassociates himself and the BP position from the TR and its proponents:

“From the beginning of the modern critical era in the nineteenth century the Byzantine Textform has had a questionable reputation. Associated as it was with the faulty Textus Receptus editions which stemmed from Erasmus’ or Ximenes’ uncritical selection of a small number of late manuscripts (hereafter MSS), scholars in general have tended to label the Byzantine form of text “late and secondary,” due both to the relative age of the extant witnesses which provide the majority of its known support and to the internal quality of its readings as subjectively perceived. Yet even though the numerical base of the Byzantine Textform rests primarily among the late minuscules and uncials of the ninth century and later, the antiquity of that text reaches at least as far back as its predecessor exemplars of the late fourth and early fifth century, as reflected in MSS A/02 and W/032.

Certainly the Textus Receptus had its problems, not the least of which was its failure to reflect the Byzantine Textform in an accurate manner. But the Byzantine Textform is not the TR, nor need it be associated with the TR or those defending such in any manner. [footnote: This includes all the various factions which hope to find authority and certainty in a single “providentially preserved” Greek text or English translation (usually the KJV). It need hardly be mentioned that such an approach has nothing to do with actual text-critical theory or praxis.]

Rather, the Byzantine Textform is the form of text which is known to have predominated in the Greek-speaking world from at least the fourth century until the invention of printing in the sixteenth century. The issue which needs to be explained by any theory of NT textual criticism is the origin, rise and virtual dominance of the Byzantine Textform within the history of transmission. Various attempts have been made in this direction, postulating either the “AD 350 Byzantine recension” hypothesis of Westcott and Hort, or the current “process” view promulgated by modern schools of eclectic methodology. Yet neither of these explanations sufficiently accounts for the phenomenon, as even some of their own prophets have declared.

The alternative hypothesis has been too readily rejected out of hand, perhaps because, as Lake declared, it is by far the “least interesting” in terms of theory and too simple in praxis application: the concept that the Byzantine Textform as found amid the vast majority of MSS may in fact more closely reflect the original form of the NT text than any single MS, small group of MSS, or texttype; further, that such a theory can more easily explain the rise and dominance of the Byzantine Textform with far fewer problems than are found in the alternative solutions proposed by modern eclectic scholarship.”

Here’s a pdf of the entire article: Robinson, _Byzantine Priority_

Here’s the TC: A Journal of Textual Criticism posting

(Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash)

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6 thoughts on ““The Byzantine Textform is not the Textus Receptus””

  1. Nice work. I haven’t read Robinson’s appendix in over a year now. In your own words, explain the current eclectic “process” view of the Byzantine Textform’s rise.

    One more question: other than the small word orderings, various spellings, parsings (all of which _often_ bring some kind of clarity [esp. grammatical] to the Greek text that the standard critical edition obscures [e.g., εαν to αν or vise-versa]), and larger texts such as the ending of the Lord’s Prayer, the Pericope Adulterae, and the ending of Mark, what’s the major payoff of reading the Byzantine Platform (Robinson’s GNT) and performing scholarly from it?

  2. 1. Thanks Colton. The “process” view is covered on pp. 578–80 of the appendix: “The Byzantine Textform is the result of a process which over the centuries steadily moved away from the original form of the text in the interest of smoothness, harmonization, grammatical and other ‘improvements.’ … Also, ‘the story of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament is the story of progression from a relatively uncontrolled tradition to a rigorously controlled tradition.'” (578).

    Robinson answers by quoting “a classic statement” from Zane Hodges: “No one has yet explained how a long, slow process spread out over many centuries as well as over a wide geographical area, and involving a multitude of copyists, who often knew nothing of the state of the text outside of their own monasteries or scriptoria, could achieve this widespread uniformity out of the diversity presented by the earlier [Western and Alexandrian] forms of text… An unguided process achieving relative stability and uniformity in the diversified textual, historical, and cultural circumstances in which the New Testament was copied, imposes impossible strains on our imagination” (579–80).

    2. The major payoff, if BP is correct, is that you’re reading and studying “the strongest representative of the canonical autographs of the Greek New Testament Text.” If you believe every word matters (to say nothing of sentences, or entire paragraphs) you’d want to read and study the most accurate edition we have. It affects discourse analysis (as demonstrated repeatedly in our Mark class — the difference between an aorist and an imperfect, the presence or absence of a conjunction, etc.) While it’s certainly true that “no major doctrine is affected by your choice of text” it seems to me that the cumulative effect of thousands of little differences is significant.

  3. Robinson should publish an English translation of his (and the late Pierpont’s) GNT. Then publish a Greek-English Diglot for pastors also to preach from. That’d be pretty sweet.

    1. One-man translations without significant ecclesial or scholarly backing will not have much traction outside of niche groups. Preaching from such a translation would make your church seem sectarian. What we would really need is for a bunch of churchmen and scholars to become convinced of the Majority Text viewpoint, and then future revisions of translations and/or future translations could follow it for the NT. In the meantime, the NKJV works very well, since the Textus Receptus follows the Majority Text much better than the eclectic translations underlying ESV, NIV, NASB, and it notes the Majority (and NA/UBS) readings in the margins.

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