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The 16th century was the beginning of printed critical Greek New Testaments, because even the very first, that of Erasmus, was made by the careful collation of as many manuscripts as could be readily available, and both critical judgement and comparison with the standard Latin text was used. The first three editors/printers of the Greek NT laid the foundation for the Great Protestant translations which quickly followed.
Erasmus (1516-22): The first printed Greek NT, with a fresh translation into Latin from it in parallel columns. Although he only had a half-dozen MSS available later, he must have also accessed various MSS while in England preparing his new translation (1505-6). It is estimated that he consulted about a dozen MSS, mostly later Byzantine copies, as well as the Latin Vulgate. Even at this early time, Erasmus was aware of the issues surrounding the four most serious variants,
(1) Mark's Ending: Mk 16:9-20,In fact, Erasmus had left out the Johannine Comma in the first 2 printings. He also discussed variants like The Lord's Prayer (Matth 6:13), The Rich Young Man (Matt. 19:17-22), The Angelic Song (Lk 2:14), and The Bloody Sweat (Lk 22:43-44). It is said that copies of Revelation available to him at Basel lacked the final verses, and so he back-translated those from the Latin Vulgate, but Hoskier doubts this, and thinks he followed Codex 141.
(2) Pericope de Adultera: Jn 7:53-8:11,
(3) The Johannine Comma: 1st Jn 5:7, and
(4) The Great Mystery: 1st Tim 3:16.
Erasmus on several occasions preferred the Latin Vulgate reading, where the Byzantine texts seemed deficient, the most important being:
(1) Matt. 10:8 'raise the dead', as in א B C D 1, Latin Vulg.
(2) Matt 27:35 'that it might be fulfilled..' - MS 1, Caes. MSS, Syr-Hark., OL/Vulg. Euseb.
(3) John 3:25 '...the Jews about purification' - MS 1, P66, א , Caes. MSS, OL/Vulg.
(4) Acts 8:37, - MS F, Iren. Cypr. OL/Vulg.
(5) Acts 9:5,6 - MS E, 431, OL/Vulg.
(6) Acts 20:28 'Church of God' - Vulgate, א B etc.
(7) Rom 16:25 - placed at end of chapt 16 as in א B C D etc.
(8) Rev 22:19 - 'book' MS F, Vulgate, Boh. Ambrose, Prim. Haym.
Robert Stephanus, 'Estienne', (1550): The third and most important of R. Stephanus’ editions, known as the Editio Regia, substantially based on the final lifetime recension of Erasmus. A collation against the first edition of Stephanus, 1546, reveals that in 38 passages the editor here rejected the Complutensian reading in favor of that if Erasmus, whereas the converse occurs only twice. This edition is the important 1550 printing in Paris by Estienne (Robert Stephanus) of the Greek NT, based on the final lifetime edition of Erasmus of Rotterdam. This was this printing that Stephanus used to divide the text into numbered verses which he first put into print in the 1551 edition. These two Stephanus printings (1550, 1551) were utilized by the translators of the New Testament for the 1611 King James Bible and became cited as the fundament of the 1633 “Textus Receptus” Greek New Testament printed by the Elzeviers in Amsterdam (DM 4679) – “Est haec ipsa editio ex qua derivatur quem nostri textum receptum vulgo vocant, nomine rei minus bene aptato”.
Theodore Beza (1565, 1582): - was a French Protestant Christian theologian and scholar who played an important role in the early Reformation. A member of the monarchomaque movement who opposed absolute monarchy, he was a disciple of John Calvin and lived most of his life in Switzerland.
In 1565 he issued an edition of the Greek New Testament, accompanied in parallel columns by the text of the Vulgate and a translation of his own (already published as early as 1556). Annotations were added, also previously published, but now he greatly enriched and enlarged them.
In the preparation of this edition of the Greek text, but much more in the preparation of the second edition which he brought out in 1582, Beza may have availed himself of the help of two very valuable manuscripts. One is known as the Codex Bezae or Cantabrigensis, and was later presented by Beza to the University of Cambridge; the second is the Codex Claromontanus, which Beza had found in Clermont (now in the National Library at Paris).
It was not, however, to these sources that Beza was chiefly indebted, but rather to the previous edition of the eminent Robert Estienne (1550), itself based in great measure upon one of the later editions of Erasmus. Beza's labors in this direction were exceedingly helpful to those who came after.
"Beza’s name will ever be most honorably associated with biblical learning. Indeed, to many students his services in this department will constitute his only claim to notice. Every one who knows anything of the uncial manuscripts of the Greek New Testament has heard of the Codex Bezae, or of the history of the printed text of the New Testament has heard of Beza’s editions and of his Latin translation with notes. The Codex Bezae, known as D in the list of the uncials, also as Codex Cantabrigiensis, is a manuscript of the Gospels and Acts, originally also of the Catholic Epistles, dating from the sixth century.1310 Its transcriber would seem to have been a Gaul, ignorant of Greek. Beza procured it from the monastery of St. Irenaeus, at Lyons, when the city was sacked by Des Adrets, in 1562, but did not use it in his edition of the Greek Testament, because it departed so widely from the other manuscripts, which departures are often supported by the ancient Latin and Syriac versions. He presented it to the University of Cambridge in 1581, and it is now shown in the library among the great treasures.
Beza was also the possessor of an uncial manuscript of the Pauline Epistles, also dating from the sixth century. How he got hold of it is unknown. He merely says (Preface to his 3d ed. of the N. T., 1582) that it had been found at Clermont, near Beauvais, France. It may have been another fortune of war. After his death it was sold, and ultimately came into the Royal (now the National) Library in Paris, and there it is preserved.1311 Beza made some use of it. Both these manuscripts were accompanied by a Latin version of extreme antiquity.
Among the eminent editors of the Greek New Testament, Beza deserves prominent mention. He put forth four folio editions of Stephen’s Greek text; viz. 1565, 1582, 1589, with a Latin version, the Latin Vulgate, and Annotations. He issued also several octavo editions with his Latin version, and brief marginal notes (1565, 1567, 1580, 1590, 1604).1312What especially interests the English Bible student is the close connection he had with the Authorized Version. Not only were his editions in the hands of King James’ revisers, but his Latin version with its notes was constantly used by them. He had already influenced the authors of the Genevan version (1557 and 1560), as was of course inevitable, and this version influenced the Authorized. As Beza was undoubtedly the best Continental exegete of the closing part of the sixteenth century, this influence of his Latin version and notes was on the whole beneficial. But then it must be confessed that he was also responsible for many errors of reading and rendering in the Authorized Version." *
* Ezra Abbot, the biblical textual critic, at Dr. Schaff’s request, made a very careful collation of the different editions of Beza with the Authorized Version, and found that "the Authorized Version agrees with Beza’s text of 1589 against Stephen’s of 1550 in about 90 places; with Stephen’s against Beza in about 40; and in from thirty to forty places, in most of which the variations are of a trivial character, it differs from both." - Schaff: The Revision of the English Version of the New Testament, New York, 1873 (Introd. p. xxviii). Cf. Farrar, History of Interpretation, p. 342, note 3.