Friday, December 29, 2017

WM 86: Review: Pickering's Greek NT and English Translation

Image: Wilbur N. Pickering

Today I recorded and posted WM 86: Review: Pickering's Greek NT and English Translation (listen here). This episode has a review of the following two works:

Wilbur N. Pickering, The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken: Objective Authority for Living: New Testament with Commentary (2013).

Image: The two works under review in WM 86

Image: Here are the three modern printed editions of the Majority (Byzantine) Text: Hodges-Farstad (1985); Robinson-Pierpont (2005); Pickering (2015)

Here are my notes from this episode:


This is a review of two recent publications from Majority Text advocate Wilbur Pickering.

The first is his edition of the Greek NT (The Greek New Testament According to Family 35) and the second is his translation of this text (The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken).

Note: Both these works and others by Pickering are available to order in hard copy on Amazon or can be accessed for free online at (look here).

Who is Wilbur Pickering?

The forward to Sovereign Creator offers a sketch of the author:

Wilbur N. Pickering is a Christian missionary living near Brasilia, Brazil. He has a ThM and a PhD in Linguistics. Of those actively involved in NT textual criticism, no one holds a more radical view in defense of the inerrancy and objective authority of the Sacred Text. This includes the position that the precise original wording has been preserved to our day and that we can know what it is.

Dr. Pickering joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1958. After three years of preparation for the field, he arrived in Brazil in 1961, where he and his wife began the translation work with the Apurinã people. In 1996 he resigned from Wycliffe to pursue other interests.

For some time Dr. Pickering has felt that among the many hundreds of Greek manuscripts known to exist today, surely God would have preserved the original wording. After years of searching and comparing Greek NT manuscripts, he has concluded that God used a certain transmission to preserve that wording. That line is by far the largest and most cohesive of all manuscript groups, or families. It is distinguished from all other groups by the high level of care with which is was copied (Dr. Pickering holds copies of perfect manuscripts for 22 of the 27 books). It is both ancient and independent, and is the only one with a demonstrable archetypal form in all 27 books. That archetypal form has been empirically, objectively identified by a wide comparison of family representatives, and it is indeed error free. As he expected that error-free text is not seriously different from some other “good” Greek texts. Nevertheless he has done an English translation based on it.

Pickering is perhaps best known for his work The Identity of the New Testament Text (first published by Thomas Nelson, 1977) [hereafter INTT]. The author’s blurb mentions that he had at the time a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and was a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Toronto. The forward is written by Zane C. Hodges. In this work Pickering offers a critique of Wescott and Hort and the modern eclectic text and advocates in favor of the Majority or Byzantine text.

Pickering has revised and added to this work over the years. I have a copy of The Identity of the New Testament Text II, Third Edition (Wipf and Stock, 2003). The most recent edition is The Identity of the New Testament Text IV and is available for free online (see here). He concludes in this edition that the text of the NT has never been lost but has been preserved in the Byzantine manuscripts known as family 35 which he claims to be able to trace to the third century (pp. 131-132).

The Greek New Testament According to Family 35, Second Edition (2015):

We can divide the work into three parts: (1) Introductory material; (2) The NT text and apparatus; (3) Appendices.

(1)  Introductory material:

The work includes this explanation on the title page:

The only significant line of transmission, both ancient and independent, that has demonstrable archetypal form in all 27 books; plus a totally new critical apparatus that gives a percentage of manuscript attestation to the variant readings, and that includes six competing published editions.

It notes that this is the second edition but does not give the date for the first edition.

Table of contents: It follows the traditional order but lists Hebrews with the Pauline Epistles, rather than the General Epistles.

Preface (pp. i-iii): Pickering begins by noting his doubts about the reliability of Hermann von Soden’s Greek NT (1911-1913), which underlies the Hodges-Farstad and Robinson-Pierpont editions of the Majority (Byzantine) Text. He notes that his edition relies on the “segment” known as Family 35 (f35), “because cursive 35 is the complete New Testament, faithful to the family archetype, with the smallest number” (i). Manuscript 18 would be the family name, but it “defects from the family in Revelation.” For his preference for Family 35, he refers readers to INTT IV, noting “I there argue that God has preserved the precise original wording of the NT, and that we can, and do, know what it is, based on an empirical procedure” (ii).

He provides an explanation of the apparatus, noting that each variant offers a percentage of ms. attestation in parentheses () for evidence taken from Text und Textwurt, edited by Kurt Aland and bracket [] for evidence taken from “a variety of sources” (ii).

He notes that he determined the reading in his text for each book from at least 20 f35 mss (and usually over 30-40). He notes that since these come from all over the Mediterranean world “the chances that they do not represent the main line of transmission are, quite frankly, nil. So here you have the archetypal Text of f35, beyond reasonable question” (ii).

The apparatus also includes comparison to six published editions:

RP: Robinson-Pierpont (2005)
HF: Hodges-Farstad
OC: text of the Orthodox Church
TR: Textus Receptus
CP: Complutension Polyglot
NU: Nestle-Aland 26/UBS 3

He notes that this new edition of the Majority/Byzantine text justifies its existence, since it holds over a thousand differences from either the HF or RP editions. He affirms his belief in inerrancy and states in a footnote: “I venture to affirm to the reader that all original wording of the NT is preserved in this edition, if not in the Text, at least in the apparatus” (ii, n. 4).

The punctuation is the same as English, except for the use of the raised dot in place of the semi-colon (so as not to be confused with the question mark).

As an “arbitrary decision” individually cited mss. come from the fifth century or earlier. The apparatus also does not include lectionary, patristic, or versional evidence (see iii, n. 3). Compare the THGNT.

(2)  The NT text and apparatus:

On formatting:

The Greek text has English paragraph headings. Major units (not always corresponding to chapter divisions) are in larger, plain font with smaller sub-units in smaller, italic font.

Many of these includes dates for events in the life of Jesus. Examples: It gives the birthdate for Jesus as 4 BC (Matt 2:1); Jesus’ ministry at Capernaum as 27 AD (Matt 4:12); Jesus’ ministry in Perea as 29/30 AD (Matt 19:1); the triumphal entry as Sunday 3/31/30 AD (Matt 21:1); etc. Though these dates are possible, they are speculative.

There are some unusual English translation spellings in these paragraph headings (like “Natsareth” for “Nazareth”; cf. Matt 2:19, and ff.).

Quotation marks are used for OT citations and for direct speech.

Some specific texts and notes:

Matthew 16:13b: It includes the doxology, noting it is in f35 and codex W and with a (97.6%) reading.

Notes on ending of Matthew (28:20):

Note 7, p. 87 observes that 50% of the colophons for the f35 mss. read “published eight years after the ascension of Christ.” Pickering suggests, “this probably means that the tradition is ancient.” He adds:

If this information is correct, then Matthew was “published” in 38/39 AD. The same sources have Mark published two years later (40/41) and Luke another five years later (45/46), while John was “published” thirty-two years after the ascension, or 61/62 AD. Not only were the authors eyewitnesses of the events, but many others were still alive when the Gospels appeared. They could attest to the veracity of the accounts, but could also be the source of textual variants, adding tidbits here and there, or ‘correcting’ something that they remembered differently.

Note 8, p. 87 notes that the text of Matthew is based on 31 representative mss. from f35. It lists ms. 2554 as a “perfect” representative of f35 in Matthew, adding that the “uniformity [of the mss.] is impressive.”

Mark 1:2: It reads “in the prophets” with f35, A, W, at (96.7%), rather than “in Isaiah the prophet” as in Alpeh, B, and NU at (1.3%).

Mark 16:9-20: As expected, it includes the traditional ending with a note that refers the reader to Appendix E in INTT IV.

Notes on the ending of Mark (16:20):

It cites the colophon note on the date as “published ten years after the ascension of Christ.”

The text of Mark is based on 46 mss. from f35 with no “perfect” representative, such being “unreasonable expectation” for “a book of this size, besides being a Gospel,” but ms. 586 is off the text by only one letter!

Luke 23:34: It includes the prayer of Jesus noting it is in f35, Aleph, (A), C, N, (Q), at (99.2%--with a variety of minor variations).

Notes on the ending of Luke (24:53):

It cites the colophon note on the date of Luke as “published fifteen years after the ascension of Christ.”

The text of Luke is based on 25 mss from f35, with none “perfect”, “But several come very close….”

John 1:18: It reads “the only begotten Son [ho monogenes huios]” as in f35, A, (W), at (99%).

John 5:4: The apparatus notes the “whole verse” is in f35, (A), (99.2%).

John 7:53—8:11: The PA is included. The note points out that the passage is “omitted in about 15% of the extant MSS, including all early uncials except Codex D….”

Notes on the ending of John (21:25):

It cites the colophons on the date of John as “published thirty-two years after the ascension of Christ.”

The text of John is based on 33 mss from f35, with no “perfect” representative “but several come very close,” with cursive 2382 having only variant.

Acts 8:37: The verse is omitted in f35 with (88%), though it is noted that the OC and TR include. This note is also added: “Since Phillip’s house in Caesarea seems to have been something of a way-station for traveling Christians, he probably repeated the story hundreds of times; the information given in v. 37 is likely historically correct, but the Holy Spirit didn’t have Luke include it in the inspired account.”

Acts 12:25: See discussion of Appendices.

Ephesians 1:1: It includes “in Ephesus,” as in f35, (A), and (99.2%).

1 Timothy 3:16: It reads “God manifest in the flesh” with (98.5%). The note adds:

The variant chosen by the NU is a grammatical impossibility (no antecedent for the pronoun), besides being a stupidity. What is a ‘mystery’ about any human male being manifested in the flesh? All human beings have bodies. In the absence of concrete evidence, the claim that this quote is lifted from a known hymn or poem becomes no more than a desperate attempt to ‘save’ a choice that besides being stupid is also perverse (because of the theological consequences).

2 Peter 3:10: It reads “shall be burned up [katakesetai]” with f35, A, and (90.2%). As for the NU28 reading ouch eurethesetai it reads [0%], adding, “ECM (ECM follows essentially the Sahidic version.) (The reading of NU is inferior to the point of being almost nonsensical.)”!

1 John 5:7: It omits the CJ and lists as a (1%) reading, though noting inclusion in the OC and TR, listing five mss (61, 629, 918, 2318, and 2473, noting “all differ from each other; the two that agree verbatim with TR were probably copied from it.” It adds that the OC puts “in very small print.”

Jude 5: It reads “Lord” f35 (79.4%). After noting variants, it adds: “The Alexandrians really had fun with this one.”

Note on ending of Jude (v. 25):

The text of Jude is based on 46 mss from f35. It adds that “Tommy Wasserman’s complete collation of over 500 MSS” in The Epistle of Jude (2006) was also consulted.
Revelation 22:18: There is an interesting note here after the heading “A serious warning”:

I find it to be curious that in spite of the serious warning contained in verses 18 and 19, a warning issued by the glorified Christ Himself, the Apocalypse suffered more textual alteration than any other New Testament book. I suppose that the answer one gives will depend on his presuppositions.

Notes on the ending of Revelation (22:21):

It notes: “The statement of evidence are based almost entirely on Herman Hoskier’s monumental work” Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse (1929).

(3)  Appendices:

There are two appendices:

Appendix I lists Hoskier’s groupings of mss of Revelation (pp. 787-789).

Appendix II is titled “Where to Place a ‘Comma’—Acts 12:25” (pp. 791-794).

Of Acts, Pickering says: “When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70, it disappeared from the Christian map for centuries—the center of gravity of the Church was now Asia Minor.” In Asia Minor Greek was less well known, so Pickering suggests this “gave rise to the peculiar set of variants we encounter in Acts 12:25” (791).

This is, Pickering says, “the only place (yes, only) in the whole NT where the family [f35] splinters—there are no fewer than seven variants, five of them being of some consequence” (791).

He concludes that the original is Barnabas and Saul “returned to Antioch, having fulfilled their mission,” though it is supported by only (27.8%) of f35 mss and only 5.1% of mss overall.

The TR reads, “from [ex] Jerusalem” with only (1.3%) of f35, and with Aleph, A, and (3.6%) overall.

Meanwhile, the NU, as well as RP and HF, read “in Jerusalem” with (36.7%) of f35, B, and (60%) overall.

The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken: Objective Authority for Living: New Testament Translation with Commentary (2013):

This is Pickering’s English translation and commentary on his Majority Greek text of the NT. It has over 4,000 notes.

It has the same paragraph headings and divisions as the Greek text.

It capitalizes the divine pronouns, as in the NKJV.

Here is a sample of some of the renderings of well known verses in this translation:

Luke 2:9 When wow, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

John 3:16 Because God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes into Him should not be wasted, but should have eternal life.

Romans 6:1 So what shall we say? Shall we continue in the sin so that the grace may abound? 2 Of course not! How can we who died to sin keep on living in it?

1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy; love does not brag, is not proud, 5 is not indecent, is not self-seeking, is not ‘short-fused,’ is not malicious;

Ephesians 2:10 You see, we are his ‘poem,’ created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance in order that we should walk in them.

Philippians 4:13 I can handle anything through Christ who strengthens me.

The translation style allows for dynamic equivalence. The prose is awkward, sometimes overly colloquial, and stiff.

The notes make reference to textual matters consistent with Pickering’s method. Examples:

At Matthew 6:13 it notes, “About 1% of the Greek manuscripts, of objectively inferior quality, omit the last clause (as in the NIV, [NASB], LB, TEV, etc.).”

At Mark 16:20: “For well over a hundred years, there has been an ongoing campaign to discredit the last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20). I wonder where people get the motivation to expend so much time and energy on such an enterprise.”

At John 7:53: “Some 15% of Greek manuscripts omit 7:53—8:11, including most of the early ones, but that means that 85% contain it, including the Latin tradition that dates from the second century. Assuming (for the sake of argument) that the passage is spurious, how could it ever have intruded here, and to such affect that it is attested by some 85% of the MSS?” He also cited Augustine’s explanation for the passage’s omission due to moral objections.

Some of the translation and notes reflect a dispensational, or at-least pre-millennial, theology. Examples:

The heading at 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is “The Rapture” and the note begins, “This paragraph defines the Rapture…” but it does not define when this occurs.

2 Thessalonians 2:7b: “only He who now restrains will do so until He removes Himself.” Compare the NKJV. The note adds: “I would say that the Holy Spirit is the only one who satisfies this description.”

Notes on Revelation 20:6: “so that first resurrection must happen at the beginning of the thousand years, not the end.” This is the resurrection of the just while the resurrection to condemnation is “after the Millennium.”

Final Evaluation:

Here are some things to commend:

1.    Pickering takes a pious and believing approach to the task of text criticism. He believes in the “inerrancy” of Scripture.

2.    He rejects the modern critical “reconstructed” text and defends many traditional passages found in the Majority/Byzantine texts.

3.    He advocates for a particular view of the divine preservation of Scripture. This leads him to posit that that the text of the NT has not been lost but has been preserved in one particular family of mss. (f35).

4.    He has offered easy access to his labors in a free, digital format. He has not sought to “monetize” his work.

5.    He has completed the first English translation, of which I am aware, based on a Majority/Byzantine text. This demonstrates a consistency in method.

Here, however, are some challenges that might be raised:

1.    His affirmation of “inerrancy” demonstrates he is still working under the polemical assumptions of twentieth century evangelicalism. His approach is not guided by Reformed confessionalism and its emphases on the infallibility of Scripture, as preserved in the apographa.

2.    Though he defends many traditional texts affirmed by the Majority, he rejects others with valid claims to authenticity based on their antiquity, catholicity, and ubiquity. His method is hindered by the fact that he does not make use of lectionary, patristic, and versional evidence. It is interesting that he stresses his ability to trace f35 to the third century but does not argue that it goes back to the original authors.

3.   His view of preservation, though an improvement, is still based on a “reconstructionist” methodology, rather than a theological construal of divine providence.

4.  His work is freely offered, but I am not sure he proves why it is needed, given the existence of HF and RP.

5. This English translation will most likely have an extremely limited use. Majority/Byzantine advocates must explain why this textual tradition did not emerge as the “received text” of the Protestant Reformation era and why it has never been widely used as a translation in the life of ministry of any church since the age of the printing press. Even the Orthodox churches, the primary custodians of the Byzantine mss., have adopted a text in line with the TR. Rather than labor to reconstruct the Majority/Byzantine text, why not simply affirm the received text of the Reformers and those who came immediately after them?

Image: Five modern printed editions of the Greek NT (left to right): Robinson-Pierpont, Hodges-Farstad, Pickering, NA28, and TR (TBS)



Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

Very Nice post, Jeff! one of the best review that I have seen about Wilbur Pickering.

I really appreciate Pickering's work, but his dogmatism concerning the Family 35 is sometimes very strange,and his rejection of Acts 8.37 uses the same argument from those that reject the Pericope Adulterae.

There are some videos in Portuguese which He teaches about textual criticism that helped many people to give up the defense of the Critical text (

God Bless and Happy New Year, Jeff!

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

VLB, thanks for your comment. I did, in fact, think of you when I posted this, considering that you may have had contact with or been influenced by Dr. Pickering. I hope my admiration for his work comes through, despite some of the critiques. His INTT was influential in steering me away from the critical text. I did send Dr. Pickering an email with links to the review (blog post and podcast) and got a brief note of thanks back from him.

Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

Pickering release some years ago a new website, I don't know if you are aware:, there are some good articles in it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
Have you actually researched what this guy believes? He thinks a large proportion of the population are "humanoids" (human-demon hybrids) that have no soul and should be destroyed. Google 'wilbur pickering As were the days of Noah'.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Anon, interesting. Thanks for the info. I took a brief look at the article, with speculations on Genesis 6:2, etc. (which provide regular fodder for fringe speculations among some evangelicals, especially continuationists):

Whatever his speculations on these matters, however, I think his views on text can be independently considered, though this does demonstrates another area of weakness for a non-confessional approach.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,
Yes there are many who think Gen 6 refers to fallen angels cohabiting with women (e.g. John MacArthur), however I had never heard any one claiming that a significant proportion of the people currently around us are human-demon hybrids.
I just wanted raise it as a note of caution as these ideas flow through into the commentary you reviewed (i.e. see his notes on Luke 10:19; Acts 13:10; Jude 19 etc).
He has some even more bizarre ideas and these are also reflected in the commentary notes.

"I have already tried to bind Satan once for all to the end of the world, but it did not work. Why not? Well, I do not know, but I suppose it was God Himself who would not allow it, because if He did I would have frustrated His purpose for leaving Satan loose" - Wilbur Pickering Spiritual Warfare