Was Erasmus in a hurry?

Who is this Erasmus that taught William Tyndale, influenced Martin Luther, and printed a Greek New Testament that was consulted by the KJV translators, and later was given the name Textus Receptus?

A proverb in Erasmus’ day claimed, 

“Whatever is ingenious, scholarly, and wisely written, is termed erasmic, that is, unerring and perfect.”

Erasmus has been said to be “the intellectual father of the Reformation.” From his Textus Receptus the fruit of the Reformation spread around the world, in the form of such Bibles as the German Luther, French Olivetan, Italian Diodati, Spanish Valera, and the English King James Bible.

Was it mere coincidence, that Erasmus’ first edition was printed the very year that Luther posted his 95 theses?

However, KJV critics love to claim that Erasmus was a “devoted Roman Catholic”, and that his Greek Text was “hastily” thrown together. Let’s explore these accusations.

Background of Erasmus

Born in 1466, Desiderius Erasmus spent his life surrounded by God’s words, before dying in 1536 at the age of 70, in a time when the average span of a man’s life was approximately 35-40 years.

Erasmus’ father was a priest who earned their living by copying manuscripts. For six years, Erasmus attended the Gerard Groote’s School of the Brethren of the Common Life, a group which made their living by the copying of manuscripts. However, both of his parents fell victim to the plague while Erasmus was still in his younger years. As a result, he and his brother were shipped off to a Roman Catholic monastery, having no say in the matter. Rather than fall in line by being a “good Roman Catholic”, Erasmus refused to keep vigils, never hesitated to eat meat on Fridays, and though ordained, chose never to function as a priest  He was a constant critic of the Pope and the papal monarchy. In his writings, he composed a tract, “Against the Barbarians” which was directed against the overt wickedness of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church criticized his works for his refusal to use Jerome’s Latin translation, a translation that he said was inaccurate. 

In his pursuit of pure manuscript lines, Erasmus detected that the Greek text had been corrupted as early as the fourth century. 

Lastly, in 1559, twenty-three years after his death, Pope Paul IV put Erasmus’ writings on the “Index” of books, forbidden to be read by Roman Catholics.

Was Erasmus in a hurry?

One of the common charges against the Textus Receptus underlying the King James Bible is that Erasmus threw it together “in great haste”. 

The reality is that Erasmus was surrounded by Bible manuscripts from his childhood in the 1460’s–and his Greek Text was published in 1516. This is over 40 years.

“The preparation had taken years” Durant p. 283

“Through all these struggling years he had been patiently labouring at his New Testament…” Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 119

In 1505, eleven years prior to completing his Greek Text, 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…All these three years I have been working entirely at Greek, and have not been playing with it”  Froude, The Life and Letters, p. 87

The following is from Erasmus’ dedication to his Greek New Testament,

“I perceive that teaching, which is our salvation, was to be had in a much purer and more lively form if sought at the fountainhead and drawn from the actual sources than from pools and runnels. And so I have revised the whole new Testament against the standard of the Greek originals…” —The Collected Works of Erasmus, 3:222-223, Epistle 384

Consider that Erasmus had access to the most manuscripts in his time of anyone. In his time, Rome had the greatest collection of Bible manuscripts the world over…Rome built majestic libraries to house them. After this was all completed, Erasmus came and spent years studying the manuscripts. It is said that he was “devouring the libraries.” “Comparing two codices…for the more correct reading of some intricate passage” was his passion. (Durant, p. 275, Mangan, pp. 275, 91)

Was it Divinly appointed that Erasmus should have “devoured the libraries”, considering  the French besiegement of Rome in 1527 when the libraries were demolished, and hundreds of manuscripts lost and destroyed?

Erasmus’ good friends Angelo Colocci and Jacopo Sadoleti both had priceless treasures of rare books and manuscripts and lost everything. But Erasmus had already studied, and notated and soaked them up.

“It may be easily guessed how large a part of the usefulness of my work would have been lacking if my learned friends had not supplied me with manuscripts.” Mangan, p. 241

Erasmus wrote that he spent all his time in great libraries, devouring all the books he could find, moving constantly, after he had exhausted them in each city. Erasmus wrote to a friend, very early in his career,

“I am comparing Greek MSS. I am determined to devote myself to undiscovered copies of the epistles, which I burn to handle.” Froude, The Life and Letters, p.63, note 2

 He wrote that he had acquired so many manuscripts that he needed two assistants to help carry them and plenty of time to “arrange them”. (Froude, The Life and Letters, pp. 55, 57-58, 54)

By the age of 40, Erasmus was the world’s leading authority on the Greek language and the Greek New Testament. He was hired to teach Greek at Cambridge University…after already declining invitations to many professorships in Europe. (Durant, p. 275)

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

Yet false claims abound by modern scholarship, that Erasmus only had a few Greek manuscripts at his disposal.

The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. II, p. 498, says,

“It is an exaggeration to maintain, as some do, that Erasmus only used the Greek manuscripts that he had found in the library of the Basle Dominicans for his edition.”

“He himself protested against accusations of this sort, in his dedicatory letter to Leo X. And it seems undeniable that he used notes, at any rate, which he had made on the manuscripts that he had seen in England…”

If Erasmus were alive today, he would find that he had managed to match almost all of the over 5,200 Greek manuscripts and wisely ignore the other 44 corrupt ones. How’s that for statistically impossible? God’s hand was on Erasmus for the preservation of His holy words. The Cambridge History of the Bible affirms this, regarding the Greek NT of Erasmus:

“It corresponds to the manuscript tradition which in fact prevailed in the Greek Church; and not until the end of the nineteenth century were editions proposed that differed [Westcott and Hort] other than on points of detail” (vol. 2, p. 499)

Quotes by Erasmus for us to ponder…

“Heresy does not arise among the laity who have the scriptures in the vernacular, but among the doctors.” (Bainton, p. 203)

“The Spirit teaches, not Aristotle; grace, not reasoning; inspiration, not the syllogism.” (Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. III, p. 82)

“I advised divines to leave scholastic subtleties and study Scriptures…I wish there could be an end of scholastic subtleties, or, if not an end, that they could be thrust into a second place, and Christ be taught plainly and simply. The reading of the Bible…will have this effect. Doctrines are taught now which have no affinity with Christ and only darken our eyes” (Froude, The Life and Letters, pp. 356, 187)

“He upbraided the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the Doctors of the Law, while he sedulously protected the unlearned multitude. For what else does, ‘Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees’ mean but ‘Woe to you wise ones’? But he seems to have been wonderfully delighted with children, women and fishermen…” (Mangan, p. 310)

And lastly, I love this one: “Just bring the two little fishes.”

“Do not assume that you are a great doctor of whose wisdom the people should not be deprived. Just see what you have at home and bring that to the Lord. He will bless it and give it back to you to distribute. The people will then receive more benefit than if some superstitious Pharisee, some arrogant philosopher, some eloquent orator should come with a carefully prepared discourse…If some pompous doctor comes announcing that he has more to deliver than time will permit and mysteries to expound which will be over the heads of his audience, they will go away hungry. Just bring the two little fishes. Bring them to Jesus. Nothing which he has not touched will be of any avail.” (Bainton, p. 144)

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The above informantion is minor compared to how much more I could share here in defense of Erasmus’ great qualifications and vast resources enabling him to be used of God in his compilation of  the Greek New Testament, the Textus Receptus.  Isn’t  his-story amazing?

5 thoughts on “Was Erasmus in a hurry?”

  1. Moses grew up in Pharoah’s court with all the wisdom of the ancient world at his fingertips, but it was at God’s school in the desert that Moses was enabled to go back and lead God’s people out of Egypt and on to the promised land. Herein is a grand parallel: Erasmus grew up in Catholicism, with access to the manuscripts, but with God’s hand upon him guiding him to eventually refuse the teachings and trappings of Rome, confront its purveyors, and overthrow it’s advocates with the truth of God’s words. Erasmus’ story parallels Moses’ rejection of Pharoah and the rewards he might have had if he had stayed in Egypt.

    “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:24-27)

    These attacks on Erasmus are standard procedure lies told year after year to Bible college students and seminarians by those who would replace the authority of Scripture with the scholarship of men. These and many other falsehoods are repeated annually ad nauseum. Only those who “check” the facts will ever get the real story. But gullible folks simply swallow these fish stories – hook, line, and sinker, without doing their “due diligence.” Sad, but true.

  2. I love the parallel of Moses to Erasmus, both men playing such a pivotal role in God’s plan. “God’s school in the desert”–exactly! Both groomed from childhood to the future God had ordained.

    I would assume these attacks on Erasmus come because his detractors have not read widely on his life and writings…or perhaps they’ve read misrepresentations by certain biographers. The only other conclusion would be that they have a problem with the truth. Checking the facts is SO important. Ex. 20:16, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Erasmus, one of the greatest intellects of history, was a Bible-believing, born-again Christian who used the KJV text type. He had enemies then, he has enemies today. I think most people just don’t take the time to question and read for themselves.

    I read James White’s King James Only Controversy, and was upset at how he portrayed Erasmus. Come to find out, the world’s leading Erasmusian scholar, Henk de Jonge, found Bruce Metzger, James White and others sorely wrong in their appraisal of Erasmus. He states, in his “Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum,” that White’s assertions are patently wrong (Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 56, 1980, pp.381-389)

    Even Bruce Metzger finally admitted it also, in the Appendix to his third edition of The Text of the New Testament, that White and Metzger’s own books are wrong about this (p. 291, n. 2)

    Just saying to others that might be reading this, even the so-called “experts” don’t always do their homework.

    God’s people are called to the high road, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of Truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15

  3. No time to research the rest of the post, but this part struck me as interesting:

    Erasmus has been said to be “the intellectual father of the Reformation.” From his Textus Receptus the fruit of the Reformation spread around the world, in the form of such Bibles as the German Luther, French Olivetan, Italian Diodati, Spanish Valera, and the English King James Bible.

    Was it mere coincidence, that Erasmus’ first edition was printed the very year that Luther posted his 95 theses?

    Can you clarify how the TR, which was printed the same year the 95 theses came out, influenced the 95 theses or made Erasmus the “intellectual father of the Reformation?” I’m unsure how Erasmus should get any credit for the reformation, since the Geneva Bible was the popular Bible of the time (especially among dissidents) and it was based on the Latin text more than the TR– which you state came out in the very same year the 95 theses came out.

    I also have a problem with the comparison of Moses and Erasmus. Perhaps I haven’t done enough research, and please forgive me if I have, I’m sure you’ll educate me :) , but I don’t remember God giving a specific call to Erasmus, and his life being specially preserved, and the whole relationship between Moses and God in His life.

    I think this does as much to inflate Erasmus as the detractors do to malign him.

  4. Sure, I can clarify. Erasmus’ first edition of his NT Greek, came out in 1516, within one year of the Reformation’s beginning. On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther launched the Reformation by pounding his 95 theses into the church door at Wittenberg. Luther’s German NT, published in Sept. 1522, was based on Erasmus’ second edition Greek NT published in 1519. Later in 1534, Luther completed the OT translation and published a “complete” German Bible.

    In studying the history prior to the Reformation, God’s working through true believers is beautifully obvious. I would submit that the foundation for the Reformation had been laid by many others such as John Wycliffe, for one, and the blood of countless martyrs for another. Erasmus’ passion was that the Scriptures not be only in the hands of a privileged few. I believe that Erasmus was titled the “intellectual father of the Reformation” simply because he was the world’s leading authority on Latin and Greek, and his so highly regarded Greek text led to the subsequent exploding of pure vernacular Bible translations in many languages, Luther’s German being one of them. These Bibles fueled the Reformation across a Continent of Bible-starved Christians who had been oppressed by “Rome” and forbidden access to scripture in their languages.

    (Regarding the Geneva Bible, it first appeared in 1560, 43 years into the Reformation, but the complete Geneva Bible wasn’t printed in England till 1576.)

    As far as how Erasmus’ story parallels Moses’…Erasmus was forced into the monastery when his parents died and eventually was offered a bishopric, the wealth and power of such in medieval England would be unimaginable today, but instead, Erasmus chose to become an Augustinian for the sole reason that they were known to have the finest of libraries in Europe by which he could feed his insatiable hunger for knowledge of the pure scriptures. He was an opponent of the “system” and spoke vehemently against the “Papacy” and the evils they were propogating on God’s people (burning Christians and their Bibles), and finally with his Greek NT, paved a way of escape from centuries of spiritual darkness by the Reformation that followed.

    As far as God’s preserving his life, it’s pretty amazing to me that Erasmus lived to the age of 70 in a time when many lived only half that long. Also amazing that the powers of Rome seemed to have their hands tied insofar as halting the progress of his Greek NT, and its publication, considering the lengths they went to in their Inquisitions of wiping God’s people and their copies of scripture off the planet.

    His story is amazing to me. Sadly, he is not represented correctly by critics of the TR. Thus, this post was designed to destroy the myths of both his character, and his exacting labor on what became the Greek Textus Receptus, an incredible achievement destined to pull humanity out of the dregs of the dark ages. And incidentally, provide us with the 400 year old English KJV!

  5. Brother: Excelent. Very useful to get smart and precise arguments.

    God bless you

    Bes regards:

    Luis Mendoza
    Caracas, Venezuela

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