The Text Of The Church? -- By: Kurt Aland

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 08:2 (Fall 1987)
Article: The Text Of The Church?
Author: Kurt Aland

The Text Of The Church?*

Kurt Aland

Institute For New Testament Textual Research
Münster, West Germany

It is undisputed that Luther used the Greek Textus Receptus for his translation of the German New Testament in 1522 and all its later editions (although the term itself was not yet in use at the time). Through the Hagenau reprint of 1521, Luther was dependent on the 1516 editio princeps by Erasmus, as were all the translators of the New Testament in the 16th century (e.g., the Zürich version). All the translations of the 17th century, including the King James version of 1611, the “Authorized Version,” were also based on this text. Thus the New Testament of the church in the period of the Reformation was based on the Textus Receptus.

It is equally undisputed that in the 16th or 17th century (and for that matter well into the 18th century) anyone with a Greek New Testament would have had a copy of the Textus Receptus (the term was coined by the Elsevier press in 1633: in the preface to their second edition in 1633 the catchy promotional phrase occurs: “Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum: in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus”). Naturally the texts of these editions were not identical. Erasmus himself made changes in the texts of his successive editions. Then there was the influence of the Complutensian Polyglot which affected later editors in so many different ways (although the Complutensian New Testament was printed in 1514 it did not see publication until after 1520). And yet, despite all their individual differences, these editions may all be regarded as a unity, whoever the editors responsible for them may have been. They were all based on the text of the late Byzantine manuscripts, the “Majority Text,” which is found in 80% of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and which is characterized by an overall unity despite the presence of numerous variations.

Finally it is undisputed that from the 16th to the 18th century orthodoxy’s doctrine of verbal inspiration assumed this Textus Receptus. It was the only Greek text they knew, and they regarded it as the “original text.”Close beside it there was Luther’s translation of the New Testament which in practice frequently enjoyed the same esteem, although there were differences between its various editions, just as there were for the Greek text. For the translation as Luther last edited it was altered in many ways over the years.1 No determined effort was made to return to

*This article has been translated from German by the United Bible Society.

the original editions of Luth...

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