As the reader now can see, the words from the preface of the RSV given on page 17 are highly misleading. The real potential which exists for improving upon the King James Version, and the Textus Receptus, has not been realized. The distressing realization is forced upon us that the "progress" of the past hundred years has been precisely in the wrong direction—our modern versions and critical texts are several times farther removed from the original than are the AV and TR! How could such a calamity have come upon us?!
Nor is that the full tale of our woe. Such has been the soporific effect of the W-H theory that the available evidence has not been evaluated, has not been assimilated. In Aland's words,
. . . the main problem of NT textual criticism lies in the fact that little more than their actual existence is known of most of the manuscripts so far identified, and that therefore we constantly have problems with many unknowns to solve. We proceed as if the few manuscripts, which have been fully, or almost fully, studied, contained all the problems in question. . . .
Further, much of the work that has been done is flawed. Thus, in his status report on The International Greek New Testament Project given to the Society of Biblical Literature on December 29,1967, Colwell stated:
The preparation of a comprehensive textual apparatus has required attention to previous editions of the Greek NT, viz., Tischendorf, Tregelles, von Soden, Legg. Careful study showed that the textual evidence in these editions cannot be used in the IGNT apparatus, since they fail to cite witnesses completely, consistently, and in some cases accurately.
This means that not only are we presently unable to specify the precise wording of the original text, but it will require considerable time and effort before we can be in a position to do so. And the longer it takes us to mobilize and coordinate our efforts the longer it will be.
The picture is not so dark as it might be, however. The Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, Germany has a collection of microfilms of some 5,000 of the extant Greek MSS (around 90 percent of them) and scholars connected with the Institut are collating selected ones. Scholars connected with The International Greek New Testament Project are also doing some collating.
But it is the availability of sophisticated computers and programs that seems to me to hold the key. It is now feasible to collate the MSS in Münster (or better yet, scan the MSS and let the computer do the collating, verified by the human eye) and set up a computer program such that we can find out anything we want to know about the inter-relationships of the MSS (on the basis of shared mosaics of readings). In this way it should be possible to identify and trace the pure stream of transmission of the text and to declare with confidence, based on objective criteria, the precise wording of the original text. It will take dedicated, competent people as well as money—plenty of both—but will it not be worth it? May God burden His servants!
In terms of closeness to the original, the King James Version and the Textus Receptus were the best available until 1979 and 1982. In 1979 Thomas Nelson Publishers brought out the New Testament of the NKJV, and in 1982 a critical edition of the Traditional Text (Majority, "Byzantine")—in it we have an excellent interim Greek Text to use until the full and final story can be told. Although we might wish to wait for the definitive text before proceeding to an authoritative revision of the AV and NKJV, a careful job based on the interim Text would be an improvement over both the AV and all the modern versions.
In conclusion, I would like to borrow the words found at the close of one of Burgon's works.
And so I venture to hold, now that the question has been raised, both the learned and the well-informed will come gradually to see, that no other course respecting the Words of the New Testament is so strongly justified by the evidence, none so sound and large-minded, none so reasonable in every way, none so consonant with intelligent faith, none so productive of guidance and comfort and hope, as to maintain against all the assaults of corruption
THE TRADITIONAL TEXT.
The NKJV is an improvement upon the AV, but mainly in terms of modernizing the language—it is based on precisely the same Greek text. The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text is definitely an improvement over the TR, in my view—I would say that it represents at least 99.8% of the original wording, while the TR represents about 98% (as compared with 92% for UBS4/N-A27)—however no translation of the Majority Text into English is yet available. One is being prepared and the Gospel of John is now in use (Living Water, the Gospel of John—Logos 21 Version; edited by Arthur L. Farstad and published by Absolutely Free Incorporated, Glide, OR).
When all the evidence is in I believe the Textus Receptus will be found to differ from the Original in something over 1,500 places, most of them being very minor differences, whereas the critical texts (UBS/N-A) will be found to differ from the Original in over 6,500 places, many of them being serious differences.
I have an answer, but it will have to appear under separate cover. To understand what has happened one must recognize the spiritual world—in my observation the great majority of N.T. scholars do not take account of that realm of reality.
Aland, "The Significance of the Papyri," pp. 330-31.
E.C. Colwell, et. al., "The International Greek New Testament Project: a Status Report," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXVII (1968), 192, note 13.
The present state of our knowledge (or ignorance) is such that we are left with some 400 places where we are not sure which of two competing readings should be followed. In most of them the difference in meaning is slight.
Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982. It was edited by Zane C. Hodges, Arthur L. Farstad and others. In 1991 the Original Word Publishers (Roswell, GA) published The New Testament in the Original Greek according to the Byzantine/Majority Textform, edited by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont. I would say that the actual text is probably closer to the original than the H-F Majority Text (99.9% compared to 99.8%), but it is not as "user friendly".
Burgon, The Causes of the Corruption, p. 286. Although I have used the expressions "Byzantine Text" and "Majority Text" throughout the book as an aid to understanding, I prefer "Traditional Text." (As used in this book the three expressions are synonymous.) The term "Byzantine" is not only pejorative, to many, it also fosters the notion that the Traditional Text was confined to that area, although I believe it did in fact originate there—I would say that the "Byzantine" text was in place in the Aegean area by A.D. 150 at least. The term "Majority" fosters the continuing misimpression that the defense of the Traditional Text is predicated solely on "number" and "counting." By "Traditional" I mean that in every age, from the apostolic to the nineteenth century, the text-form in question (the Greek text only) was the one that the Church in general recognized, used, and transmitted.