Image Hosted by

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bible Translations: Textual Philosophy

(continued from here)

When we see that there are several translations that fall under the word-for-word translation philosophy, we would suspect that any differences between them would merely be the English of the time of translation or perhaps small changes in word order or interpretation of a few words. However, this is assuredly not the case!

The KJV and the English Bibles translated prior to it used a specific Greek text for their work, called the “Textus Receptus” or “Received Text” (TR). The TR was the first printed Greek New Testament issued, and it was compiled and published by Erasmus in 1516. Erasmus had less Greek manuscripts than we do today to use for his work, and actually had to supply part of the Revelation from the Latin Vulgate (the only translation allowed by the Catholic church at the time). The TR was the basis for Luther’s German New Testament, as well as Tyndale’s translation in 1525, the language of which is retained in the King James Version. The TR was the Greek basis for the KJV of 1611, and all English Bibles until 1881.

More Greek manuscripts were discovered between the 16th and 19th centuries which were not in agreement with the TR. As some of these manuscripts were of a different text type than those the TR was based upon. The TR relied upon what is termed the “Byzantine” text types. Other text types include the “Alexandrian” and “Western” text types. Manuscripts within a text type tend to agree with each other much more often than with manuscripts from the other text types.

In 1881, the Greek scholars Wescott and Hort developed and printed a new Greek New Testament, which rejected much of the Byzantine text types and relied heavily upon the Alexandrian text type. Since 1881, English New Testaments have been based upon a text that is much closer to the Wescott and Hort Greek New Testament than the TR. The exception is the New King James Version, which is a TR-based translation. There are many differences in the two textual bases, the most obvious of which include the pardoning of the adulteress by Jesus, the last twelve verses of Mark, the declaration of the Trinity in 1 John, the traditional ending to the Lord’s Prayer, and Phillip declaring to the Ethiopian that faith is required for baptism.

There are basically four textual philosophies that become apparent when examining English translations. They are (from "New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide" by David Alan Black):

Radical Eclecticism: This philosophy holds that any manuscript can be the correct reading, regardless of age, agreement with other manuscripts, or text type. Instead, each reading is considered on the basis of its internal evidence alone (prefer the shorter reading, prefer the more difficult reading, author style and vocabulary, context and author’s theology, prefer the reading with less harmony).

Reasoned Eclecticism: This philosophy holds that internal (as above) and external evidence (number of agreeing manuscripts, age of manuscripts, agreement among text types) should be used to determine the correct reading. Proponents of this philosophy tend to assume that the Byzantine text type is not valuable for evaluating manuscript evidence and actually represents a predilection for the Alexandrian text type.

Reasoned Conservatism: This philosophy holds that each text type is independent and go back to the second century. Like Reasoned Eclecticism, this philosophy uses internal and external evidence to evaluate the readings. Furthermore, they believe that the reading attested to by the majority of manuscripts is more likely the correct one, adding a historical and traditional element.

Radical Conservatism: This philosophy holds that the Byzantine text type most closely resembles the original manuscripts, and always prefer the reading of the majority of manuscripts – which would typically be Byzantine.

Because these different textual philosophies exist, there are significant differences in the translations, even word-for-word translations! Most translations fall under the Reasoned Eclecticism philosophy. The KJV is prior to the development of these philosophies, but the NKJV is a Radical Conservatism translation. The ESV appears to be a reasoned conservatism text (they don’t exactly print their textual philosophy on the cover of English translations!).

Textual philosophy is another reason that our versions differ, and one we should be aware of when choosing a Bible for our purpose.

Next: Textual Philosophy analysis.


  • Hi Hammer,

    Why is the age of the original manuscript not a consideration?

    By Blogger David M. Smith, at 5/31/2006 03:08:00 PM  

  • David,
    That is a consideration - it is part of the "external evidence". I'm sorry that I wasn't clear about that.

    Perhaps the only caveat would be that, due to the paucity of existing manuscripts from the first four centuries, it isn't really intellectually honest to assume that a reading that isn't found before the fifth century sprung up then. Indeed, the Byzantine text type was assumed to be a later text type by many, but recently early Egyptian papyri have been found which have the same readings.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 6/01/2006 08:42:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home