Novum Instrumentum omne

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Novum Instrumentum omne, is the first published New Testament in Greek on the 1st of March (1516), prepared by Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), and printed by Johann Froben (1460-1527) of Basel. Although many claim that Erasmus' Greek New Testament was the first printed Greek New Testament, this is false, and the first was the Complutensian Polyglot (1514), although it was published in (1522).

Five editions of Novum Instrumentum omne were published. Of these, editions four and five were not regarded as being so important by historians as the third edition (1522), which was used by Tyndale for the first English New Testament (1526) and later editions of Stephanus and Beza by translators of the Geneva Bible and the King James Version. With the third edition, the Comma Johanneum was included. The printed Erasmian edition of the Greek New Testament was a large part the basis for the majority of modern translations of New Testament in the 16-19th centuries.


First edition


As early as 1505, Erasmus wrote to a friend;

“I shall sit down to Holy Scripture with my whole heart, and devote the rest of my life to it...[A]ll these three years I have been working entirely at Greek, and have not been playing with it” (Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 87).

Erasmus began working directly on the text much before 1507. Froude wrote that years before the text appeared, it was being prepared.

“He had been at work over the Greek MSS. for many years. The work was approaching completion” (Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 93).

Frederick Nolan a Greek and Latin scholar of the 19th century and eminent historian who researched Egyptian chronology, spent twenty-eight years tracing the Received Text to its apostolic origin, after surveying Erasmus’ notes, Nolan recorded the following:

"With respect to manuscripts, it is indisputable that he was acquainted with every variety which is known to us."

Frederick Nolan, writing in 1815, states, In addition to the manuscripts which Erasmus owned or had seen himself, he gathered readings from the whole of Europe through his broad friendships. He noted;

“I have a room full of letters from men of learning...” “[W]e find by the dates of his letters that he was corresponding at length and elaborately with the learned men of his time on technical points of scholarship, Biblical criticism...” (Froude, The Life and Letters, pp. 377, 394).

In 1512 Erasmus had been in negotiation with Badius Ascensius of Paris to publish the Vulgate of Jerome and a new edition of Adagia. It did not happen, and Erasmus did not continue contacts with Badius.[]

Desire to correct the Latin

While many claim that Erasmus simply wanted to reinforce the Latin Vulgate, there are many readings in which he departed from it. Below are many voices for and against Erasmus concerning the Latin text.

In his defense of his revision of the Latin New Testament, Erasmus wrote:

"As I do not uproot the old version, but by publishing a revision of it make it easier for us not only to possess it in a purer form but to understand it better" (Worth, Bible Translations, p. 63).

Rice noted that Erasmus agreed with Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples and Paul of Middleburg that the Latin Bible in common use in their day had readings that Jerome said he had corrected (Saint Jerome, p. 178).

Richard Rolt pointed out that Erasmus wrote Pope Leo X that his design was not

"to contradict the vulgar Latin, but to correct the faults that had crept into it" (Lives, p. 39).

Boyle confirmed that Erasmus

"disclaims any intention to rival the publicly read version of the text" (Erasmus on Language, p. 12).

M. A. Screech observed that

"Erasmus' starting-point was the Vulgate, and his goal was a scholarly revision of it" (Reeve, Annotations, p. xii).

David Daniell noted:

"Erasmus's chief aim was to correct the Vulgate; to make a new Latin text from the Greek that would avoid, and correct, the Vulgate's many mistakes" (William Tyndale, p. 60).

KJV defender Edward F. Hills noted:

"Erasmus, influenced by the usage of the Latin-speaking Church in which he was reared, sometimes followed the Latin Vulgate rather than the Traditional Greek text" (The KJV Defended, p. 200).

Theodore Letis noted that Edward F. Hills in the first edition of his book The KJV Defended admitted:

"Some of the non-Byzantine readings which Erasmus introduced into his New Testament text are unquestionably erroneous" (Ecclesiastical Text, p. 183; first edition of Hills‘ KJV Defended, p. 122).

William Combs asserted:

"Erasmus occasionally introduced into the Greek text material taken from the Latin Vulgate where he thought his Greek manuscripts were defective" (Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Spring, 1996, p. 47).

In another book that defends the traditional text, Peter Johnston commented:

"It should be mentioned that the Textus Receptus deriving from Erasmus has a considerable number of readings similar, not to the Majority Text, but to the Egyptian text, most importantly in the Gospels" (Unholy Hands, Vol. II, p. 578).

Jay Green acknowledged:

"There are a few places where he [Erasmus] emended the text with poor evidence at hand" (Interlinear Greek-English N.T., p. xii).

Concerning the Greek text of Erasmus, Paul Wegner claimed:

"Approximately twelve passages contain readings not attested by any Greek manuscript" (Journey from Texts, p. 334).

KJV-only author Robert Sargent admitted that

"Erasmus inserted Vulgate readings into his Greek text" (English Bible, p. 156).

John Michaelis as translated by Herbert Marsh wrote: “Erasmus has sometimes made use of critical conjecture, to which he was accustomed, as corrector of the press, and has very frequently altered the Greek text from the Vulgate” (Introduction, II, p. 444).

Tregelles wrote:

'In proof that Erasmus at times used the Vulgate to amend his Greek MSS., where he thought them defective, we need only turn to his annotations for proof" (Account of Printed Text, p. 23).

Jan Krans noted:

“As is well known, some verses and words in the Greek part of Erasmus’ editions were not derived from Greek manuscripts, but were based on the Vulgate text” (Beyond What is Written, p. 53).

KJV-only advocate Bob Steward admitted:

"Inspired scripture does not include Erasmus," but he claimed: "Preserved Scripture involves Erasmus" (Biography of Erasmus, p. 5).


Afterwards, on a visit to Basel in August 1514 he contacted Johann Froben. Some scholars believe that Froben had heard about the forthcoming Spanish Polyglot Bible, and tried to overtake the project of Alcala (e.g. S. P. Tregelles).[] Some scholars doubt this motivation of Froben (e.g. Bruce Metzger), because there is no evidence to support it.[]

The next meeting took the place in April 1515 at the University of Cambridge. As a result, in July of 1515 Erasmus came to Basel and started his work. Johannes Oecolampadius served as his editorial assistant and Hebrew consultant.[] Erasmus was surrounded with Bible manuscripts from his childhood in the 1460s, until the publication of his Greek Text in 1516. He worked for a dozen years on the text itself. “The preparation had taken years” (Durant, p. 283). When he went to Basel to work on the printing of this Greek New Testament, he arrived; “weighed down with books...and copious notes on the New Testament” (Rummel, Erika, Erasmus s Annotations on the New Testament, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986, p. 23).

Erasmus’ own manuscript collection was so large and valuable, it was covetously seized by customs when he left England to go to the Continent to finalize the Greek New Testament in 1514. He protested saying that “they had stolen the labours of his life.” The manuscripts were returned in a few days (Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 169).

The Erasmian edition was the basis for the majority of Textus Receptus based modern translations of New Testament in the 16-19th centuries.


Despite the charge that Revelation 22:16-21 in the Textus Receptus is based on the Vulgate reading, the only translatable differences between the Textus Receptus and extant Greek manuscripts are 2 small words: γὰρ and καὶ.

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