Sunday, January 06, 2019

WM 114: James White, the TR, and Revelation 16:5

I have uploaded WM 114: James White, the TR, and Revelation 16:5 (listen here).

My notes for this episode are below:

Preface: Several folk contacted me last Friday, pointed me in the direction of apologist James White’s recent lecture at Covenant Baptist Seminary on “Textual Criticism and the TR,” and suggested I offer a rejoinder.

Yes, there is plenty in JW’s presentation with which those who affirm the “confessional text” will be less than pleased.

On the other hand, the very fact that JW was trying to address this issue on some level (even if he does not really seem to understand or appreciate the confessional defense of the TR as the standard Greek text of the NT) shows that it is an emerging perspective that he and other Calvinistic evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text are having to face.

Though it is tempting to do a complete review of the session, I want to offer ten observations:

First: The title of JW’s lecture is misleading: “Textual Criticism and the TR.” This interesting topic title was never really addressed. JW might have taken the opportunity to describe the history of the printed TR beginning with Erasmus (1516), the various Protestant printed editions (and even differences among them), how the TR became the basis for the Protestant translations, how the TR was challenged and eventually toppled during the nineteenth century, and how there are those who still hold to the TR as the standard text.

Second: This lecture actually ended up being a review of a twitter exchange between JW and an unnamed person who happens to have a twitter handle that includes the words “text receptus.” For some reason, JW seems to take this unnamed person as representing the best of the pro-TR position. Better title: “JW reviews a twitter exchange he had with an unnamed person who attempted to defend the KJV rendering of Revelation 16:5, on the basis of some supporting textual and other evidence.”

A long-standing critique of JW’s tendency to confuse matters in this way was articulated by Theodore Letis in his review of the KJV Only Controversy, which appears as Appendix B in The Ecclesiastical Text, which begins with the caustic observation, “James White and Gail Riplinger are both cut from the same bolt of cloth….” This lecture shows that JW apparently has not yet profited from Letis’s critique.

Third: The lecture came to focus on a single controversial verse in the TR tradition: Revelation 16:5. No explanation or distinction was made between the TR, the modern text, and the Majority text (and all three have different readings here):

Modern (NA 28): dikaios ei, ho ōn kai ho hēn, ho hosios (“you are righteous, who is and who was, the Holy One”)

P47: dikaios ei, ho ōn kai ho hēn kai hosios (“you are righteous, who is and who was, and holy”)

Majority (Hodges/Farstad): dikaios ei, ho ōn kai ho hēn, hosios (“you are righteous, who is and who was, holy”)

TR (as in Scrivener and Beza, 1598): dikaios, Kurie, ei, ho ōn kai ho hēn kai ho esomenos (“righteous, Lord, are you, who is and who was and who will be”)

TR (as in Erasmus, 1516): dikaios Kurie ei ho ōn kai ho hēn kai ho hosios (“righteous, Lord, are you, who is and who was and who [is] holy”)

Fourth: JW repeated his disparagement of the TBS’ reprinting of the Scrivener Greek NT. He called it “a Greek text based on an English translation” (c. 3:15) and “the KJV NT in Greek” (c. 4:15). This is an outright misrepresentation of Scrivener’s work and might mislead a neophyte to think that Scrivener “backtranslated” the KJV into Greek!

In his preface to his original 1881 work (not the TBS reprint of it), Scrivener explains:

….Beza’s fifth and last text of 1598 was more likely than any other to be in the hands of King James’s revisers, and to be accepted by them as the best standard within their reach. It is moreover found on comparison to agree more closely with the Authorised Version than any other Greek text; and accordingly it has been adopted by the Cambridge Press as the primary authority….All variations from Beza’s text of 1598, in number about 190, are set down in an Appendix at the end of the volume, together with the authorities on which they respectively rest. (viii-ix).

Correction: In the podcast I gave the wrong date for this work (I said 1898, probably thinking of the 1598 Beza; verbal scribal error!). As best I can understand Scrivener published The New Testament in Greek According to the Text Followed in the Authorised Version Together with the Variations Adopted in the Revised Version in 1881 and it was reprinted numerous times (second printing in 1881, 1883, 1884, 1886, 1890, 1908, 1949). The preface cited above is from that edition. Another printing was apparently done of The New Testament in the Original Greek According to the Text followed in the Authorised Version, that is, without the notes on the variations adopted in the Revised Version, in 1894 and 1902 (see preface to the TBS Greek NT). As far as I can understand, the text of the TBS Greek NT is, however, the same as that in this 1881 work (again without notes on the Revised Version) and so the information in the preface applies. Namely, it follows the 1598 Beza, except for c. 190 variations.

I would hope that JW would be more careful and accurate when he discusses this edition of the TR.

Fifth: Revelation 16:5 is admittedly a difficult text for TR advocates, as are all points where the TR varies from the Majority/Byzantine text (as with others, like the CJ). It illustrates the need for a critical edition of the TR. Please note: To say that it is difficult, however, does not mean that it is incomprehensible or indefensible.

Sixth: The difficulty is enhanced by the fact that Revelation 16:5 represents one of the few places where there is a significant variation in the printed TR editions of the Reformation era. The reading in Beza diverges other TR editions (e.g., Erasmus, Stephanus) and the reading in Beza is also followed in the KJV.

The KJV reading at Revelation 16:5 thus stands out in comparison to other Protestant versions:

Luther’s NT (1522; from Die Bibel nach der übersetzung Martin Luthers): “Gericht bist du, der du bist, und der du warst, du Heiliger”

Tyndale (from David Daniell’s modern spelling of 1534 ed.): “Lord, which art and wast, thou art righteous and holy”

Károlyi Gáspár Hungarian Bible (1590): “Igaz vagy Uram, a ki vagy és a ki valál, te Szint”

Geneva Bible (Tolle Lege reprint of the 1599 ed.): “Lord, thou art just, which art, and which wast: and Holy”

KJV (1611): “Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and which will be”

Edward F. Hills has a valuable discussion of Beza’s ten editions of the Greek NT in The King James Version Defended (pp. 206-208). He suggests that Beza’s humanism was restrained by “the common faith.” He notes two “conjectural emendations” from Beza that entered into the KJV at Romans 7:6 and Revelation 16:5.

Those who defend the TR as the foundational Greek NT text and respect the KJV as an English translation will necessarily have to examine these two texts, among others.

Seventh: Beza’s reading at Revelation 16:5 (and its usage in the KJV) requires thoughtful analysis.

Here is Eramus’s 1516 text of Revelation 16:5:

Here is Beza’s 1598 text of Revelation 16:5 with his commentary on the verse:

On what basis did Beza make the editorial decision to have the text read as it does? Was it a pure conjectural emendation or did he have some Greek or versional evidence? What does Beza mean when he writes, “Itaque ambigere non possum quin germana sit scriptura quam ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice restitui, nempe ‘ho esomenos.’”?

He calls attention to the parallels with Revelation 1:4, 8; 4:8; and 11:17 which speak of God as “the one who is, and was, and is to come.” If this verse was simply a harmonization to these others, however, why then does the final part not read ho erchomenos (“which is to come”), but ho esomenos (“which will be”)? Beza says the text is different because it speaks here of Christ (quoniam ibi de Christo).

We must also keep in mind that even if one adequately understood Beza’s decision here, this does not necessarily mean that we understand the decision of the KJV translators to follow Beza’s text here and not other TR readings or versions based upon them. What, for example, did it take for them to depart from Tyndale here? We simply have insufficient evidence to understand the editorial decisions made by Beza or the KJV translators at Revelation 16:5.

One thing is for certain, the Beza/KJV reading at Revelation 16:5 should not be discounted from the outset but given serious and reasonable consideration, while acknowledging that it has no extant Greek mss. support, making it one of the more difficult readings to defend, if one accepts it.

Eighth: JW at one point does at least acknowledge that the Greek text of Revelation is one of the most disputed in the NT, but this was not given enough emphasis. Most of the extant Greek mss. of Revelation are late and there are many disputed texts.

Here is some analysis from Tobias Niklas’s chapter, “The Early Text of Revelation” in Charles E. Hill & Michael J. Kruger, Eds., The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012): 225-238:

“…compared to other New Testament writings—we have only a very few extant traces of an ‘early text’ of the book of Revelation” (225).

“Among the more than 300 manuscripts that contain Revelation only four can with some probability be dated earlier than (or at least around) the year 300 CE. None of these (p18, p47, p98, p115) contains the whole text of Revelation: p18 and p98 have only a few words or sentences” (226).

“…it is only poorly represented in the uncial manuscripts.” He cites J. K. Elliott’s overview that only eleven uncials contain Revelation, adding, “five of them from the eighty century or later” (226).

“No portions of Revelation can be found in extant Greek lectionaries” (227).

His conclusion: “All of these circumstances have long made research into the textual history of the book of Revelation an extremely complex task” (227).

We should not, therefore, be at all surprised that there are many passages in Revelation that are difficult for modern text critics to reconstruct.

Ninth: This leads to a general critique of the “reconstructionist” approach. Since the extant Greek ms. evidence only provides limited evidence as to the earliest text of the NT in general can we ever hope to have a reliable reconstructed text?

I found this statement intriguing from Wasserman and Gurry in their discussion of the “limitations” of the new CGBM:

As Richard Evans reminds us, our historical knowledge is always contingent on “the extent to which it is possible to reconstruct the past from the remains left behind.” What is left behind are fragments, chance survivals from the past—we are trying to piece together the puzzle with only some of the pieces. In the case of textual criticism, this means that we have only a selection of the manuscripts that once existed, and sometimes incomplete manuscripts. Although New Testament textual critics are used to straining under the number of manuscripts that we possess, there must be an even greater number that are forever lost (Wasserman & Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism [SBL Press, 2017]: 112).

Tenth: Pointing to a single difficult verse in the TR where there is a question essentially of a couple of words by no means overthrows the confessional text position. There is no disagreement in the TR tradition on the ending of Mark, the PA, the CJ, etc. To embrace the modern critical text is to ensure constant epistemological uncertainty.

I found it interesting that JW in this lecture disavowed all conjectural emendations, including the NA 28 text of 2 Peter 3:10, no doubt attempting to anticipate the charge of “inconsistency” in criticizing the Scrivener TR reading at Revelation 16:5 while winking at a conjectural emendation in the NA 28 at 2 Peter 3:10. JW is fond of asking TR advocates, Which TR is authoritative? We need to ask him, “Which modern critical text is authoritative?”

Let me close with a quote I recently ran across in Grantley McDonald’s Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2016), regarding the CJ, another of the most disputed texts in the TR tradition:

…it marked a fork in the road. One path was followed by those who insisted on providential preservation or Scripture. The other taken by those who believe that Scripture, whatever its source, is subject to the same process of transmission as any other text. (Suffice it to say that these two positions have rather different claims to verifiability.) (12).

Reformed evangelicals stand at a fork in the road. Do you take the path of providential preservation or modern critical reconstruction?



Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

This post is the best treatment that I have already read so far about Rev. 16.5. many good information, but I have some concerns about the defense made by others confessional brothers over this verse. Despite the straw man arguments from JW concerning the TR,in my opinion, the reading found in the KJV is a Conjectural emendation made by Beza, something that I strong disagree with him. The correct reading is found in other TR editions, like Erasmus' or Stephanus'. The translations of Tyndale, Geneva and the Spanish Reina-Valera also have the correct reading.

I think that If we defend Rev. 16.5 in the KJV undoubtedly as the true reading, we are risking to adopt a view that makes Beza's TR sacrosanct and puts the King James Version not only as the supreme Bible translation in English but of the whole world, which is not, in my opinion, a good way to defend the TR.

Blessings, Jeff!

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the encouragement. I'd like to see a good translation of Beza's notes here to determine for sure if it was a conjecture. I agree that it is always best if there is at least some Greek ms. evidence to support a reading. On the other hand, I can see allowance in some situations for this not to be the case. As I note, it would likely be very odd that both Beza and the KJV translators would depart from Erasmus, Tyndale, Stephanus, Geneva, etc. unless they had some good reason.... Was this, as Hills sees it, merely the "humanism" of Beza peeking through? Any decision to depart from the KJV at Rev. 16:5 would certainly distinguish the TR position from KJV-Onlyism (for everyone that is except, JW). Smiles. Study continues....


Bill Hardecker said...

1. Jerome's (ca. 347-420) early Latin translation has the "shall be" reading in it. FWIW.

2. Tyconius (an African Donatist witter, ca. 370-390) in his 380 A.D. commentary on Revelation indicate the "shall be" reading. His commentary was translated by Beatus of Liebana in 789 A.D.).

3. Brian Walton's 1654-1657 polyglot and Herman Hoskier indicate the early Ethiopic version mention the "shall be" or "will be" in the Latin.

Does the Latin come to rescue here in a way that it does for 1 John 5:7?

Textus Receptus said...

Hi Jeff.

Firstly, thanks for you sound logic on many issues concerning the text of the bible. I have listened to most of your audios concerning bibliology on Sermon Audio and am glad for your insights. I am putting links to your audios on my website here...

I was the "Textus Receptus" guy whom White is rebuking. I wrote an 80+ booklet for White in 2016 while I was living in Pakistan called Revelation 16:5 and the Triadic Declaration. It is available here. I actually mention you in the acknowledgements.

I am currently uploading 2 facebook live responses to youtube that you may also find interesting. I will link them to the external links section of my page here... Also, Beza's information is translated on my site and in my article, to save you reinventing that wheel.

I hope this info gives you some further insight into some of the issues White raised.

Nick Sayers.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the input. Yes, I am interested in thinking through the issues related to this verse and in the evidence surrounding it. I'll consider these things. There are also many questions about method when a preserved reading is not one easily reconstructed by modern means.

Still pondering, JTR

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your kind note and for the "revelation" of your identity. Good to know. I did not know of your booklet on Rev 16:5 till this week. I plan to read it as time allows, and I'd like perhaps to do a follow up WM with a review of your work.

I am sorry if my comments in the second observation of WM 114 were offensive to you. I did not mean to compare you to Gail Riplinger or to disparage your twitter exchange with JW. My point was more to criticize JW's method (i.e., in this case, rather than provide an academic presentation on the TR he reviewed his twitter exchange with you). I will try to make amends on this point when I read and offer a review of your article.

BTW, I know the article on "Beza and Rev 16:5" from was also much circulated over the past week. Do you know who the author of this is?

Thanks again for the contact and blessings, JTR

Textus Receptus said...

The author of the KJV Today site usually desires to remain anonymous, but I can pass onto him your email.

No offense taken. I do advocate for the TR and also for the accuracy of the KJV, which does get me pidgeon holed into some KJV camps, but having worked on a KJV update, the KJV 2016 Edition, it makes most KJV only's reject me...

My first video in response to White appears here...

Textus Receptus said...

And my second here...