"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 13, Number 4, April 2010
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
I will show partiality to no one. Nor will I flatter any man.”
“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”
Earl of Kent
Shakespeare’s King Lear
Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34
[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given upon request.]
Erasmus, His Greek Text and His Theology
by Doug Kutilek
Part I: Erasmus and His Greek Text
[Note: this study was one of my earliest published articles on the Bible translation controversy. It first appeared in The Biblical Evangelist, vol. 19, no. 19, October 1, 1985. It was subsequently reprinted in several periodicals and was published, along with its sister article “Erasmus and His Theology” (scheduled for inclusion in our next issue), as a 22-page booklet by Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute of Hatfield, Pennsylvania (1986). Among the results of its first publication was my being singled out by name for abuse on the front page of Peter S. Ruckman, Sr.’s Bible Believer’s Bulletin in November of 1985, which I have always considered a high honor and distinction. Though these articles have been posted at our website, www.kjvonly.org, it has not appeared in the pages of As I See It. Here we present it once again, with slight revisions--editor]
Desiderius Erasmus, (b. 1466?, d. July 12, 1536) was one of the most important men in Europe during one of the most important periods in all of European history, the time of the Protestant Reformation. Born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Erasmus grew up in a world dominated by Roman Catholicism. He himself took, under duress, monastic vows, and was a lifelong devoted son of the Roman Church. He was a friend and acquaintance of kings, emperors, and popes.
Erasmus had, even from childhood, a craving to read, study, learn, and know. He spent his life as a scholar and writer. He was a man of quick wit and a keen mind. In 1509 he turned his literary talents to the ridicule and denunciation of monastic vice, immorality, and wickedness in his book Encomium Moriae ("The Praise of Folly"). This provoked the ire of the priests and monks. He had struck a raw nerve. But it must be noted that while Erasmus found the wickedness of the priests repulsive, he did not disapprove of Roman Catholic doctrine. He wished only for a reformation of priestly morals and conduct, not of Roman theology, and he disapproved of the doctrinal revolution initiated by Luther. Though Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched, Erasmus disowned completely his offspring.
Other literary works proceeded from Erasmus' pen, among them critical editions and translations of classical authors and early church fathers. The latter included Jerome, Hilary, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, and Origen, who was Erasmus' favorite church father (Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom, p. 143), and of whom Erasmus once wrote, "I have also read a great part of Origen, who opens out new fountains of thought and furnishes a complete key to theology," (Froude, Life and Letters of Erasmus, p. 93). Erasmus wrote many other works, including Colloquiae Familiaria ("Ordinary Conversations"), which gives sketches of life from his own day, and Diatribe de Libero Arbitrio ("Discourse on the Freedom of the Will"), to which Luther responded with his classic The Bondage of the Will.
Erasmus almost single-handedly revived the study of Greek in the universities of Europe. He seems to have been practically self-taught, there being no one to turn to for help. He lectured for a time on Greek at Cambridge University. The statement sometimes met with that Tyndale went "to Cambridge to learn Greek under Erasmus, who was teaching there from 1510 to 1514" (so stated but not documented by Benjamin Wilkinson in Which Bible?, p. 145) is mere wishful thinking. F. F. Bruce (The English Bible, pp. 26-27) states, "It has sometimes been suggested that one of Erasmus' pupils at Cambridge was William Tyndale; unfortunately, the evidence is against this. Erasmus left Cambridge in 1514, and Tyndale probably did not arrive there before 1516 at the earliest."
Erasmus is generally acknowledged as the greatest classical scholar of his time, though he was better at Latin than Greek (Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament and Revised Version, p. 230). But of far greater importance than the revival of Greek studies was his editing and publishing of the Greek New Testament for the first time in 1516. The degraded condition of Greek studies in Europe just before the Reformation is evidenced by the fact that while the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible was printed about 1453 (the famous Gutenberg Bible), and was in fact the first book ever printed after the invention of movable type, and the complete Hebrew Old Testament had been printed as early as 1488, no one put the Greek New Testament in print until 1514. The churchmen and scholars had the authoritative Vulgate, so what need was there, they thought, to have the Greek?
The idea of editing and printing the Greek New Testament perhaps occurred to Erasmus as early as 1506 (cf. Froude, pp. 100, 117-18), though a revision of the Vulgate translation occupied his attention to a greater degree. In 1514, a Greek New Testament was printed as part of the Complutensian Polyglot being produced in Spain (a delay of eight years intervened before the Complutensian New Testament was actually published). A printer named Froben in Basle, Switzerland, learned of the Spanish-produced Greek New Testament and wished to publish one himself and beat the other into the marketplace. So Froben negotiated with Erasmus, who finally agreed to take part in the enterprise. Erasmus traveled to Basle and used what few Greek manuscripts were there as the basis of his text. Printing began in September or October, 1515, and was completed in March, 1516. The book was dedicated to Pope Leo X, and was duly copyrighted (see a facsimile of its title page in Schaff, p. 532).
In constructing and editing the text, Erasmus had the feeblest of manuscript resources. He chiefly used one manuscript of the Gospels, dating from the twelfth century, and one manuscript of Acts and the Epistles, also from the twelfth century. These he edited and corrected, using one or two additional manuscripts of each section, along with his Latin Vulgate. For Revelation, Erasmus had but one Greek manuscript which, though of better than average quality (so says Hort), yet it lacked the last six verses of the book. To remedy this defect, Erasmus back-translated the last six verses of Revelation from Latin into Greek, with the result that the final verses of Revelation in his printed Greek text contain numerous Greek readings found in no Greek manuscript of any kind, and are therefore devoid of manuscript authority. (A list of these are given in Scrivener, Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, p. 296, n. 1, and Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 100, n. 1).
One of those readings produced by Erasmus that lacks any Greek manuscript support is the reference to the "book of life" in Rev. 22:19. All Greek manuscripts (except three, which were copied from printed editions, and are therefore of no independent authority) read "tree of life"; not a single one reads "book of life." The corruption of "tree" into "book" occurred in Latin when a careless or sleepy scribe miscopied the correct ligno (tree) as though it were the similar-appearing libro (book). When Erasmus back-translated from Latin, he introduced for the first time ever in Greek the reading "book of life" in Rev. 22:19, and by the slavish reprinting of Erasmus' text by later editors, the reading "book of life" found its way into various textus receptus editions and the King James Version, even though it is completely without support of any kind in any independent Greek manuscript.
But not only in Rev. 22:15-21 do readings without Greek manuscript support occur. One lengthy insertion made by Erasmus on the basis of the Latin Vulgate and not on the basis of Greek manuscripts is found in Acts 9:5-6. The words (as found in the King James Version), "it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said to him," are not found in any Greek manuscript of Acts. Where did they come from? Erasmus found the passage in the Vulgate as he knew it but not in the Greek; nevertheless, he inserted the words into his Greek text, borrowing those forming part of verse 5 from the parallel passage in Acts 26:14, and back-translating those forming part of verse 6 from Latin into Greek. (See Hills, The King James Version Defended, p. 201). The slavish reprinting of Erasmus' text by later editors resulted in all subsequent textus receptus editions and the King James Version reading in Acts 9:5-6 as no known Greek manuscript on earth reads. All told, in more than twenty places, Erasmus' Greek text is not supported by any known Greek manuscript (Schaff, p. 231).
Devoid of truth is the bold assertion made by Benjamin Wilkinson without supporting documentation, that "There were hundreds of manuscripts for Erasmus to examine, and he did (emphasis added); but he only used a few." Wilkinson gives the clear implication that "the few Erasmus used were typical, that is, after he had thoroughly balanced the evidence of many," he used "the few which displayed the balance," (Which Bible?, p. 143). Erasmus no doubt was familiar with other Greek New Testament manuscripts besides those used in constructing his text, but to assert that he made a thorough investigation of hundreds of manuscripts and chose those typical of his findings is to fabricate that which did not happen. That Erasmus did not carefully select manuscripts he had found to be typically Byzantine is obvious from the fact that among his very limited resources was manuscript 1, one of the most non-Byzantine of the minuscule manuscripts; add to this the fact that Erasmus' sole manuscript of Revelation lacked the last six verses altogether, and it becomes transparently obvious that Wilkinson has engaged here, as he very often does, in a flight of fancy and mere wishful thinking rather than serious historical research.
The work on the Greek text was hastily and carelessly done. Erasmus' biographer Froude characterized Erasmus: "Haste made him careless; and this fault always clung to him" (p. 8). Erasmus himself admitted that the work on his first edition "was done too hastily," (Froude, p. 189). He declared that the work was more precipitated than edited. Though Erasmus had spent fifteen years editing the works of Jerome and ten years in preparing a new Latin translation of the New Testament, he spent less than ten months, or rather part of ten months, in editing the Greek New Testament. The printer's work showed the haste of the production; the book abounded in printer's errors, of which Scrivener said, "Erasmus' first edition is in that respect the most faulty book I know," (p. 296). Erasmus hated the tedium of proofreading and correcting his own books (Froude, p. 8).
One passage not included by Erasmus caused a great storm of controversy. That passage was the so-called Trinitarian passage, which in the King James Version reads, "in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth" (found in 1 John 5:7- 8). The exclusion of these words from Erasmus' text was not from carelessness or haste, but was based on solid evidence: these words were not in the Greek manuscripts that Erasmus had used for his text; indeed, they were not found in any Greek text Erasmus had ever seen. When asked why he had deleted this proof text for the trinity, he replied that he didn't find it at all in the Greek manuscripts. The combination of accusations of Arianism, with Erasmus' thin-skinned sensitivity to criticism, caused him to reportedly rashly vow (though this is now disputed) that if any Greek manuscript could be found to include the words in question, he would add them to his text. A manuscript was duly manufactured in Britain to suit the conditions of Erasmus' vow, so in his third edition (1522), Erasmus added the words to his text, but also added a marginal note declaring his belief that the manuscript had been deliberately doctored. (The Greek manuscript evidence and the evidence from early translations and church fathers overwhelmingly declare that the Trinitarian text is not an original or genuine part of 1 John, and has no legitimate place in the text of the New Testament, as anyone can see for himself by examining the evidence in, e.g., the commentaries of Adam Clarke [Vol. VI, pp. 927-933]; Henry Alford [Vol. IV, pp. 503-505]; and B. F. Westcott [pp. 202-209]; as well as Scrivener's Introduction [pp. 8, 149-150, 457-463]; and Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [pp. 716- 718]). [See “I John 5:7,” AISI 13:1 for an extended treatment of this passage and controversy]. Luther never included the passage in any German translation produced in his lifetime [See “Ruckman on Luther and I John 5:7,” AISI 4:8]. Both Tyndale and Coverdale indicated that they thought the suspect words were spurious.
Erasmus' Greek New Testament sold quickly, as Froben had anticipated. A second edition was soon called for. The opportunity was taken to correct mistakes and revise the text somewhat, on the basis of an additional manuscript. The second edition was published in 1519; this edition served as the basis for Luther's German NT translation. A total of 3,300 copies of the first two editions were sold (Scrivener, p. 297). A third edition (for the first time including 1 John 5:7) came out in 1522. Tyndale based his epoch-making English translation on this edition. A fourth edition, revised on the basis of the Complutensian Greek text (90 changes were made in Revelation alone) came out in 1527, and a fifth in 1535. These editions were, of course, not exactly alike. Mill estimated (greatly underestimated, according to Scrivener) the variations to number: between the first and second editions, 400; between second and third, 118; third and fourth, 113; fourth and fifth, 5 (Scrivener, p. 298).
Erasmus' fourth and fifth editions were all but slavishly reprinted by Stephanus, Beza, the Elzevirs, and others, in their editions of the Greek New Testament in the century that followed. All these collectively are often referred to as the textus receptus, or received text. It must be observed that these reprints merely reproduced, without examination of evidence, the hastily-produced text of Erasmus. The result is that the text of Erasmus, hurriedly assembled out of the slimmest of manuscript resources, containing a number of readings without any Greek manuscript support, became for nearly 300 years the only form of the Greek New Testament available in print, and the basic text for the Protestant translations of the New Testament made in those centuries. The so-called received text cannot claim authority on the basis of extensive manuscript evidence employed in its construction, for only a mere handful of manuscripts out of the thousands that exist were used in its compilation. Nor can it claim authority on the basis of a careful and deliberate sifting of evidence, for it was rushed through the hands of Erasmus and into print in great haste. Nor can it claim authority as representing always the Byzantine or majority text type (which some, I think wrongly, believe is the most original form of the New Testament text), for it departs from the majority of NT Greek manuscripts in over 1,800 places (Pickering’s preliminary estimate of 1,000--see Identity of the New Testament Text, p. 232--proved to be a gross underestimate).
In short, there is no ground whatsoever for accepting the textus receptus as the ultimate in precisely representing the original text of the New Testament. Rather than being the most pristine and pure Greek New Testament, it was in fact the most rudimentary and rustic, at best only a provisional text that could be made to serve for the time being until greater care, more thorough labor, and more extensive evidence could be had so as to provide a text of greater accuracy. It is unfortunate that what was only a meager first attempt at publishing a New Testament Greek text became fossilized as though it were the ultimate in accuracy. It was not until the nineteenth century that the shackles of mere tradition were thrown off and a Greek text based on a careful and thorough examination of an extensive amount of manuscript evidence was made available. The Greek texts of Griesbach, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford, and Westcott and Hort were, individually and collectively, a great improvement over the text of Erasmus, because they more accurately presented the text of the New Testament in the form it came from the pens of the Apostles.
In spite of the limitations and defects of the textus receptus, there is consolation in the fact that there is hardly a hair's breadth in doctrinal difference between Erasmus' text and that of, say, Westcott and Hort. Both texts are orthodox in theology. Where they differ, it is usually a case of the textus receptus supplementing or filling out passages by borrowing words from a parallel Gospel account or a similar phrase in another Epistle; an addition based on liturgical usage; expanding a title of one of the three persons of the Trinity; revising an Old Testament quotation into conformity to the Septuagint translation; or smoothing out an apparent difficulty in the original text. A. T. Robertson wrote, "It should be stated at once that the Textus Receptus is not a bad text. It is not a heretical text. It is substantially correct." (Introduction to Textual Criticism, p. 21; cf. p. 196.) J. Harold Greenlee has summarized the situation very well:
The Textus Receptus is not a ‘bad' or misleading text, either theologically or practically. Technically, however, it is far from the original text. Yet three centuries were to pass before scholars had won the struggle to replace this hastily- assembled text by a text which gave evidence of being closer to the N. T. autographs.
Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, p. 72
God in His providence has seen fit that the text of the Greek New Testament has been kept doctrinally intact, so that there is no doctrinal issue garbled or marred by the manuscript and printed variations that exist. Richard Bentley, the greatest authority on the text of the New Testament in the eighteenth century, stated,
the real text of the sacred writings is competently exact, nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost, choose as awkwardly as you will, choose the worst by design, out of the whole lump of readings. . . But even put them into the hands of a knave or a fool, and yet with the most sinistrous and absurd choice, he shall not extinguish the light of any one chapter, nor so disguise Christianity, but that every feature of it will still be the same.
Quoted in Scrivener, Plain Introduction, p. 7
F. H. A. Scrivener wrote of,
the almost complete freedom of Holy Scripture from the bare suspicion of willful corruption; the absolute identity of the testimony of every known copy in respect to doctrine, and spirit, and the main drift of every argument, and every narrative through the entire volume of Inspiration. . . . Thus hath God's Providence kept from harm the treasure of His written word, so far as is needful for the quiet assurance of His church and people.
Plain Introduction, pp. 6-7
I do not wish to be too hard on Erasmus. After all, I recognize him as a pioneer who opened up a frontier for others to follow and laid a foundation on which others would build. Erasmus did not have the leisure (because of Froben's urging of haste) nor the resources, either in manuscripts or money, to produce as thoroughly and carefully and accurately done a Greek New Testament as he might have, had he had the things he lacked. But in a number of matters, his judgment on the original text of the New Testament closely follows that of recent editors of the New Testament. As we have seen, he rejected 1 John 5:7 as not being an original part of 1 John. In this, all Greek New Testament editions (other than mere reprints of Erasmus' text) agree, including The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text of Hodges and Farstad. Erasmus also surmised that the doxology to the Lord's Prayer in Matt. 6:13, "for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen," was a later liturgical addition to Matthew (it is absent from the Vulgate), and formed no original part of that Gospel (Bainton, p. 137). In this virtually all Greek New Testament editors agree. Further, Erasmus doubted that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 formed an original part of those Gospels (ibid., p. 136). On the basis of available evidence, most New Testament editors agree with the judgment of Erasmus (the evidence on these disputed passages can be readily found in Alford's commentary or Metzger's Textual Commentary). All in all, Erasmus believed "the only way to determine the true text is to examine the early codices," (Bainton, p. 135). It is not unreasonable, therefore, to suppose that, were Erasmus alive today, he would use a Greek text like that of Nestle or the United Bible Societies' text.
One more matter about the text Erasmus published: in each edition he included in a column parallel to the Greek text a revision of the Latin Vulgate translation made by Jerome around 400 A.D. It must be remembered that Jerome's Latin translation had become esteemed and venerated to the point that it was considered beyond improvement, beyond correction, beyond alteration of any kind. Some even claimed the Greek and Hebrew originals of the Bible should be corrected by the Latin! (See Gill, Body of Divinity, p. 13.) No other translation of the Bible had been so widely used by God, they would protest. Bainton gives a lively account of the furor that arose over the revision of the Vulgate. Dorp, a friend and colleague of Erasmus,
was shocked and outraged to hear that Erasmus proposed to publish the New Testament in Greek and accompanied by a new translation. To be sure Ambrose and Augustine had not depended upon Jerome's translation, but after he had castigated all of the errors his rendering had become standard as the basis for the decrees of councils. "What councils?" demanded Erasmus. "There were Greek councils which did not know Latin at all." "Don't listen to the Greeks," said Dorp. "They were heretics." "But," rejoined Erasmus, "Aristotle was even a pagan. Will you not read him? If you claim that the Vulgate is inspired equally with the original Greek and Hebrew and that to touch it is heresy and blasphemy what will you say about Bede, Rhabanus, Thomas Aquinas, and Nicolas of Lyra, not to mention others who undertook to make improvements? You must distinguish between Scripture, the translation of Scripture, and the transmission of both. What will you do with the errors of copyists?" Dorp was eventually persuaded and Erasmus was thereby confirmed in his judgment that courtesy rather than invective is the better way to win over an opponent. A sharper antagonist was Sutor, once of the Sorbonne, later a Carthusian who asserted that "if in one point the Vulgate were in error the entire authority of Holy Scripture would collapse, love and faith would be extinguished, heresies and schisms would abound, blasphemy would be committed against the Holy Spirit, the authority of theologians would be shaken, and indeed the Catholic Church would collapse from the foundations." Erasmus pointed out that prior to Jerome the early Church had not used the Vulgate and had not collapsed. To all who cried, "Jerome is good enough for me," he replied, "You cry out that it is a crime to correct the gospels. This is a speech worthier of a coachman than of a theologian. You think it is all very well if a clumsy scribe makes a mistake in transcription and then you deem it a crime to put it right. The only way to determine the true text is to examine the early codices."
Bainton, p. 135
D'Aubigne describes Erasmus' adversaries on this point:
The priests saw the danger, and . . . attacked the translation and the translator. ‘He has corrected the Vulgate,' they said, ‘and put himself in the place of Saint Jerome. He sets aside a work authorized by the consent of ages and inspired by the Holy Ghost. What audacity!'
History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, p. 730
Sir Thomas More, an Englishman and close friend of Erasmus, came to the defense of both the printing of a Greek New Testament and the revision of the Latin translation of Jerome:
I am in danger, forsooth, because I consider Erasmus (as a good Greek scholar) to have given a better rendering of passages in the New Testament than I find in the received translation. Where is the danger? May I not find pleasure in a work which the learned and pious admire, and which the Pope himself has twice approved? Erasmus determined nothing. He gives the facts and leaves the reader to judge.
You complain of the study of Greek and Hebrew. You say it leads to the neglect of Latin. Was not the New Testament written in Greek? Did not the early Fathers write in Greek? Is truth only to be found in Gothic Latin? You will have no novelties; you say the "old is better;" of course it is; the wisdom of the Fathers is better than the babblings of you moderns. You pretend that the Gospels can be understood without Greek; that there is no need of a new translation; we have the Vulgate and others besides, you say, and a new version was superfluous. I beseech you, where are these others? I have never met a man who has seen any but the Vulgate. Produce them. And for the Vulgate itself, it is nonsense to talk of the many ages for which it has been approved by the Church. It was the best the Church could get. When once in use it could not easily be changed, but to use it is not to approve it as perfect.
Froude, ibid., pp. 151, 152-153
Froude himself describes the situation:
Pious, ignorant men had regarded the text of the Vulgate as sacred, and probably inspired. Read it intelligently they could not, but they had made the language into an idol, and they were filled with horrified amazement when they found in page after page that Erasmus had anticipated modern criticism, correcting the text, introducing various readings, and retranslating passages from the Greek into a new version. He had altered a word from the Lord's Prayer. Horror of horrors! He had changed the translation of the mystic Logos from Verbum into Sermo, to make people understand what Logos meant.
Ibid., p. 234
Substitute "English" for "Latin" and "King James Version" for "Vulgate" in the above quotes, and one needs very little imagination to see how precisely these remarks, first of Erasmus, then More, and finally of Froude, address the present English Bible translation controversy, and fully answer the antagonists in our day who object to any and every kind of revision, correction or improvement of the King James Version, even where the Greek text behind it is devoid of adequate manuscript support, where printer's errors still persist, where the English disagrees with the meaning of the original, or the English has become shrouded in obscurity through 400 years of change in the English language. The doctrine that the King James Version, or any other translation of the Bible, is sacrosanct and inviolable expressly denies the infallibility and authority of the Bible in the original languages. This is a fundamental doctrinal error and destroys the very foundations of the Christian faith.
Human nature (I might have said human perversity) has not changed in half a millennium. The doctrine of the medieval Catholic priests and monks that the translation of the New Testament they had always had and used was perfect in every jot and tittle has merely been adopted by some ill-informed Baptists (and others) today and transferred to the English translation they have always had and used. Ignorance loves darkness and objects to change of every kind, but the truth never fears the light. The sound reasoning and solid arguments that refuted such folly in the sixteenth century are still valid today.
Alford, Henry. The Greek Testament, 4 vols. Chicago: Moody Press, 1958.
Bainton, Roland H., Erasmus of Christendom. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.
Bruce, F. F., The English Bible. London: Lutterworth Press, 1961.
Clarke, Adam. Clarke's Commentary, 6 vols. Nashville: Abingdon press, n.d.
D'Aubigne, J. H. Merle. History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. London, 1846; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976.
Froude, James Anthony. Life and Letters of Erasmus. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1900.
Fuller, David Otis, ed. Which Bible? 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1971.
Gill, John. Body of Divinity. Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace, 1971.
Greenlee, J. Harold. Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964.
Gregory, Caspar Rene. Canon and Text of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1907.
Hills, Edward F. The King James Version Defended. 4th ed. Des Moines: The Christian Research Press, 1984.
Hodges, Zane C. and Arthur L. Farstad, eds. The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text. Revised ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.
________. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. London: United Bible Societies, 1971.
Pickering, Wilbur N., The Identity of the New Testament Text. Revised ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980.
Robertson, A. T., An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman, 1925.
Schaff, Philip, A Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1883.
Scrivener, Frederick Henry. A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament. Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Co., 1861.
Souter, Alexander, The Text and Canon of the New Testament. Revised by C. S. C. Williams. London: Gerald Duckworth, 1954.
Westcott, Brooke Foss, The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966.
________ and Fenton John Anthony Hort. The New Testament in the Original Greek. 2 vols. Cambridge: University Press, 1881.
A Religious Encyclopedia, vol. II. Philip Schaff, ed. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1891. "Erasmus, St.," by Rudolph Staehlin.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. James Orr, ed. Chicago: Howard-Severance, 1937. "Text and Manuscripts of the New Testament," by Charles Fremont Sitterly.
The “Down Grade” Controversy by Charles H. Spurgeon. Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 2009. 110 pp., paperback. $8.99
Two great and continuing “controversies” marked the public life and ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), noted Baptist pastor in London during the Victorian era. The first was in the 1860s, when in sermons preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and widely circulated in print form, he roundly condemned the error of baptismal regeneration. Opposition came especially from those in the Church of England, which historically had always practiced infant baptism, based on the superstitious and unbiblical belief that it savingly regenerated the unconscious infant.
The second great controversy began in 1887, and continued to the end of Spurgeon’s life. This was the famous “Down-grade” controversy. In this case, he did not personally initiate the controversy--one of his associates, Robert Schindler, did. The spark that ignited the matter was two articles that ran in Spurgeon’s monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel, in March and April, 1887. Those articles drew attention to the widespread and growing abandonment of the fundamental doctrines of the Biblical faith among Protestant denominations in England. When Spurgeon subsequently proposed that a bare-bones affirmation of beliefs in the inerrancy of Scripture and other fundamental doctrines be adopted by the Baptist Union to protect it from this advancing scourge (the Union previously had only required belief in immersion for baptism), widespread and vehement opposition arose against him, delegations of “Doctors of Divinity” were sent to straighten him out, and he was dismissed as one whose mind and judgment had been deranged by age and disease, or one who was trying to impose “Calvinism” on the Union (one might actually get this latter impression, based on Schindler’s two articles, but not from Spurgeon’s own subsequent writings on the subject). The truth was that Spurgeon had almost by accident stumbled upon a spiritual cancer eating quickly away at the vital organs of the historic Baptist--and conservative Protestant--faith. Spurgeon’s proposal was rejected overwhelmingly, he was ostracized and marginalized by most of his fellow Baptist pastors, and died in early 1892, his death hastened by the pressure of the controversy.
In the subsequent decades, wholesale apostasy of British Baptists from their historic Biblical faith became very widespread, though not quite universal. In short, the course of history vindicated completely Spurgeon’s call to alarm. In this compilation, The “Down Grade” Controversy, Bob Ross of Pilgrim Publications has brought together the original Schindler essays and all the subsequent writings of Spurgeon from The Sword and the Trowel relating to the controversy, as well as a chapter from Spurgeon’s autobiography compiled by his wife, and a pertinent sermon from Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, all reproduced in unedited facsimile.
In conjunction with these writings, the reader should also consult the account of the “Down-grade” in Lewis Drummond’s otherwise only so-so biography of Spurgeon, Spurgeon: the Prince of Preachers (Kregel, 1992), pp. 609-716. It is easily the fullest and best account of the controversy in the many Spurgeon biographies I have read (more than 15), a good many of which tend to dismiss the controversy as insignificant or an excusable “mistake” late in life. Drummond instead presents it as it truly was: a necessary and highly commendable dispute for principle’s and truth’s sake on Spurgeon’s part.
Every generation or two of Christians must face a wholesale assault on fundamental Bible doctrine from within the professing Christian camp (in addition to the continuing assault from outside). There is one brewing now in institutions once rock-solid in doctrine. This account merits careful reading about the apostasy of the 1880s and 1890s. I would compare it to Harold Lindsell’s two very important books, The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan, 1975) and The Bible in the Balance (1979) which dealt with the apostasy of a generation ago. The price of Biblical orthodoxy is eternal vigilance. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. This is an important book.