Erasmus and the Textus Receptus

A recent answer to those attacking Erasmus and the TR.

Erasmus was not a humanist as it is defined today. He was a Christian humanist, “a biblical humanist” (Erasmus, Huizinga, p. 110).

The Old English dictionary says under "Humanist" - 'a classical scholar; esp. Latinist, a professor or teacher of Latin.'

James Boice, who was once head of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, writes about how those who prefer the Textus Receptus and the King James Version are out of touch:

"However, in doing that [defending the Textus Receptus], they overlook the fact that Erasmus, who produced the Greek text on which the King James Bible is based, was actually a humanist" (Letter to Tom Hale, September 13, 1985).

Stewart Custer, in his book The Truth About the King James Version Controversy, made the same accusations towards Erasmus:

"The Textus Receptus began with an edition of the Greek New Testament put together by a Roman Catholic humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, in A.D. 1516" (p. 10).

A Humanist by today’s definition is one who is an atheistic evolutionist, something Erasmus would be totally opposed to. These people need to be clearer when speaking about historical figures as most hearers will assume that Erasmus was a secular humanist.

In 1536, when he died in Basel in the midst of his Protestant friends, without relations of any sort, so far as known, with the Roman Catholic Church.

In Spain, anti-Catholic Reformers were called “Erasmistas.”

Luther also kept many Roman Catholic ideas - but I think it is easy in retrospect to look at a culture deeply rooted in these mindsets and make quick judgements.

You must understand that Erasmus died in 1536. Luther was only officially excommunicated in 1521. Fifteen years is not a huge amount of time. Although I am not saying Erasmus was perfect in theology, he did sympathize with Luther's cause, describing him as "a mighty trumpet of gospel truth" and admitting that, "It is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls are urgently needed.” Before their theological disagreements Luther praised him.

Luther and Erasmus disagreed on free will and they became divided on this issue. BOTH kept certain Roman Catholic practices we consider erroneous today. It was not like Erasmus could just walk down the road and join a local church (for example the Church of England had only formulated about the time of his death) and with people like Tyndale in exile, Erasmus chose to reform from within, something Luther originally wanted to do also but couldn't. Also with the German Peasants' War, the Anabaptist disturbances in Germany and in the Low Countries, iconoclasm and the radicalization of peasants across Europe we enough to deter anyone from joining a "Lutheran" movement at the time. Such association would have restricted his freedom to move across Europe and spread his concepts. My point is, it is not as simple as many make it out to be.

Erasmus wrote The Praise of Folly (1509) a very anti Catholic work. In it Erasmus criticizes the institutions, customs, men and beliefs of his time including the corruption of the Church, national pride, the competition for material goods, the wordiness of the lawyers, the speculations of the scientists, the logic-chopping and hairsplitting of the theologians, the ignorance and diversity of the religious orders, the pride of kings and the servility of courtiers, the neglect of spiritual duties and responsibilities to their flocks of bishops, cardinals and popes. All are held up to ridicule; the true duties and interests of all are shown. Erasmus died amongst protestants and became increasingly hated by the Catholic church.

Erasmus courageously opposed the unlawful practices of the Roman church. He rebuked and admonished the pope, the priesthood, and sinful practices of the monks. He constantly attacked sexual sins within the clergy. He demonstrated exceptional courage speaking out with boldness against the cruelty with which the Roman Catholic Church dealt with so called "heretics." His tract "Against the Barbarians" was directed against the open wickedness of the Roman Catholic Church.

He was a constant critic of Pope Julius and the corrupt papal rule and government. He often compared the crusade leading Pope Julius to Julius Caesar, with sayings such as "How truly is Julius playing the part of Julius." A couple more famous quotes are "This monarchy of the Roman pontiff is the pest of Christendom," and the church should "get rid of the Roman See." It was fairly common knowledge that Erasmus anonymously wrote the harshly critical satire, in which Pope Julius was portrayed as going to Hell. He was offered a bishopric in hopes that it would silence his criticism, and he flatly rejected the bribe.

All of his works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books by Paul IV, and some of his works continued to be banned or viewed with caution in the later Index of Pius IV. Catholics have claimed that “Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched”.

The Textus Receptus of 1598 used by the translators was the work of Theodore Beza who was Calvin’s successor in Geneva. Calvin and Beza had looked into the Greek for many years and translated several versions. Stephanus had done large revisions of which most of Europe had made investigation, so to claim that the Textus Receptus is merely that of Erasmus is a fable. The fact that Erasmus wanted his Latin translation to surpass Jerome’s Vulgate shows what he thought of the text.

Kenneth W. Clark, the scholar who has examined more Greek manuscripts than most, admits, “WE SHOULD NOT attribute to Erasmus the creation of a ‘received text,’ but only the transmission from a manuscript text, already commonly received, to a printed form, in which this text would continue to prevail for three centuries” (The Gentile Bias and Other Essays, The Erasmian Notes on Codex 2, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980, p. 168.)

Erasmus did not invent the TR, but merely printed a small collection of what was already the vast majority of New Testament Manuscripts. His text became the root of the Zurich (Swiss) Version (1529), LeFevre's (French) Bible (1534), the Olivetan (French) Bible (1535), Laurentius (Swedish) Bible (1541), the Christian (Danish) Bible (1550), Biestken's (Dutch) Bible (1558), de Reyna's (Spanish) Bible (1569), the Czech Version (1602) and Diodati's (Italian) Bible (1607). To name a few...This man has had more influence on the protestant reformation than ANYONE.

A far more accurate accusation should be to made towards modern Greek text supporters who despise Erasmus and his “Catholic” beliefs, as to why they support a Greek text who's committee was comprised of Kurt Aland and Matthew Black, who were unbelievers, Roman Catholic Cardinal Carlo M. Martini and two apostates, Bruce Metzger and Alan Wikgren. Something White, Wallace and others shrug off. They disassociated themselves with Erasmus, but support these heretics - a massive double standard.

Basically, if Luther died in 1520, anti TR people would call him a faithful Catholic priest according to their standards.