The Majority Text

The Scholar's Secrets

The arena of the average Christian rarely borders the sphere of the scholar. Sales in the bible market are too often the result of a hasty sifting through the bible advertisements in magazines such as the Christian Herald, not a lengthy "laboring in prayer" and a serious study of journals such as the Harvard Theological Review. World-class scholars comment on the mist of misinformation which leaves the average Christian in the dark about the version dilemma. Wilbur Pickering, author of the Identity of the New Testament Text and recipient of a TH.M in Greek Exegesis from Dallas Theological Seminary and M.A. and Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Toronto says:

“The distressing realization is forced upon us that the 'progress' of the past hundred years has been precisely in— the wrong direction—our modem versions and critical texts are found to differ from the Original in some six thousand places, many of them being serious differences….[They] are several times farther removed from the originals than are the A.V. and TR [King James Version and its foundation, the Greek  Textus Receptus]. How could such a calamity have come upon us. Much of the work that has been done is flawed….”1

Dean John Burgon, the scholar who has collated the most early New Testament witnesses (87,000), says of the changes in one of the 'new' versions and Greek texts:

“Ordinary readers….will of course assume that the changes result from the revisor's skill in translating—advances which have been made in the study of Greek. It was found that they had erred through defective scholarship to an extent and with a frequency, which to me is simply inexplicable….Anything more unscientific….can scarcely be conceived, but it has prevailed for fifty years. We regret to discover that….their work is disfigured throughout by changes which convict a majority of their body alike of an imperfect acquaintance with the Greek language.”2

Edward F. Hills, author of The King James Version Defended and graduate of Yale University, Westminster Theological Seminary and recipient of the Ph.D. from Harvard and the TH.M from Columbia University says:

“Modem speech bibles are unscholarly.”3

The late E.W. Colwell, past president of the University of Chicago and the premier North American New Testament Greek scholar, authored scores of books, such as Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament. He confesses his 'change of heart' concerning the reliability of readings in the new versions:

“….[Sjcholars now believe that most errors were made deliberately….the variant readings in the New Testament were created for theological or dogmatic reasons. Most of the manuals now in print (including mine) will tell you that these variations were the fruit of careless treatment….The reverse is the case.”

Zane Hodges, professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary and co-editor of a Greek New Testament refers to new versions as:

“[M]onstrously unscientific, if not dangerously obscurantist. The average well-taught Bible-believing Christian has often heard the King James Version corrected on the basis of ‘better manuscripts’ or ‘older authorities’….Lacking any kind of technical training in this area, the average believer probably has accepted such explanations from individuals he regards as qualified to give them.”5

William Palmer, scholar and author of Narrative of Events on the Tracts, says:

“[Ordinary Christians have little idea [concerning the new Greek text]….it rests in many cases on quotations which are not genuine….on passages which when collated with the original, are proved to be wholly inefficacious as proofs.”6

The Original Greek

If you are convinced most Christians use a recently published version of the bible, such as the NIV, NASB, NKJB, Living Bible, etc.—what you really mean is—most that you have come in contact with, at your fellowship, in the nineteen nineties, in the U.S.A., use it. However throughout the 2000 year history of the New Testament, people using a text like those of the new versions, were in a mathematically infinitesimal minority. So, if you want to be lined up with most Christians 'when the saints go marching in', don't take a quick spin of the head (like the girl in The Exorcist) to see what's happening around you. Take a long look back through history and around the world. It is safer.

The survival of 'the' original Greek New Testament is a dream which dissolves with the discovery that no two manuscripts or critical editions are alike. Those applying this term to a Greek text on the bookstore shelf are unacquainted with the volatile state of the text.

pts of the Greek New Testament. Together they give a view of the text much like a shifting kaleidoscope. "They contain several hundred thousand variant readings….,” notes Pickering.7 In an attempt to marry these 'moody' manuscripts, the 'Wheel of Fortune' is whirled and readings are selected for inclusion in what scholars call a 'critical edition of the Greek Text*. There are more than two dozen of these texts, each a ‘prize’ stuffed with between 5000 and 8000 variations. As one scholar puts it,”….equally competent critics often arrive at contrary conclusions as to the same variation.'

Scholar's  Sources

Evidence for the New Testament is composed of papyrus fragments and manuscripts, uncial and minuscule manuscripts (modified capitals and cursives) and lectionaries (books used in churches). Each of the 5366 manuscripts including 2209 lectionaries extant today are given a name, an abbreviation and/or a number.9

Papyri 1-88 (e.g., P66, P46, P75)

Uncials 01-0274 (e.g., Aleph, B, C, D)

Minuscule 1-2795 (e.g., 1-2795)

Lectionaries 1-2209 (eg., 11-2209)

hi addition to the above, numerous other language versions of the Greek text were made in the second century and those following. Those include the Old Latin, the Syriac, the Coptic, the Ethiopic, and scores of others. These provide witnesses to the correct readings of the New Testament. Finally, scores of second, third and forth century personalities, such as John Chrysostom, Irenaeus, Tertullain, and Justin Martyr, to name just a few, have left writings containing citations of Scripture verses, witnessing to the original readings of the New Testament. Dean John Burgon has extrapolated over 87,000 of these. Currently the manuscripts are being collated by the Institut fur neutestamentiche Tereforschung by Kurt Aland in Munster, Germany. Microfilms of many are housed in the archives of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, California. Should the reader wish to pursue their own investigation, a list of sources where copies of those manuscripts may be found is given in this footnote. 10

The Majority Text

The overwhelming majority of these manuscripts, lectionaries, and writers agree generally with each other as to the readings of the New Testament. Manuscripts from the second century (P66) down through the Middle Ages (A.D.1500) attest to the readings of this 'Majority Text', as Kurt Aland terms it. Dean Burgon, who found this 'Majority Text' in most of the early writers collated, calls it 'The Traditional Text'. It is also called the Syrian Text, the Byzantine Text and the K (Kappa) or Common Text.

This text type is available today in English in the Authorized Version, or as it is called in the United States, the King James Version. It's 809,000,000 copies since 1611, in 300 languages, demonstrates the continuum of this 'Majority Text'. (Unfortunately, as we shall see, the new versions are not based on this ‘Majority Text’, but on the dissenting handful of manuscripts which disagree with the Majority.)

How It All Began

The cities receiving the actual Autographs were in the region of Asia Minor (Syria), Greece and Rome.


John 1 & 2 Cor. Mark

Gal. Phil. Rom.

Eph. 1 & 2 Thess. Heb.

Col. Titus

l & 2 Tim.


I Pet.

1, 2, & 3 John


Luke (or Rome)

Acts (or Rome)

2 Pet.(or Rome)

Matt, (or Palestine)

James (or Palestine)


The Scriptures themselves attest to the proliferation and early creation of a ‘Majority’ text.

Acts 6:7

"And the word of God increased."

Acts 12:24

"But the word of God grew and


Acts 13:49

"[T]he word of the Lord was published

throughout all the region"

Acts 19:20

"So mightily grew the word of God and


Pickering explains the multiplication of the originals throughout history.

“[W]e may reasonably assume that in the earliest period of the transmission of the text, the most reliable copies of the Autographs would be circulating in the region that held the Autographs. With an ever-increasing demand and consequent proliferation of copies throughout the Graeco-Roman world and with the potential for verifying copies by having recourse to the centers still possessing the Autographs, the early textual situation was highly favorable to the wide dissemination of MSS in close agreement with the original text….It follows that within a relatively few years after the writing of the N.T. books, there came rapidly into existence a 'Majority text', whose form was essentially that of the Autographs….the science of statistical probability demonstrates that a text form in such circumstances could scarcely be dislodged from its dominant position….[I]n every age, from the apostolic to the nineteenth century, the text form in question….was the one that the church in general recognized, used, and transmitted. “11

From the academic arena, world-class scholars express their unanimous agreement on the overwhelming dominance of this type of New Testament text in the early church and throughout history.

Colwell calls it "[T]he uncontrolled popular edition of the second century." 12

Comfort says it, "became the most prevailing type of text throughout the Greek speaking world….it was nearly standardized. From then on, almost all MSS follow the Byzantine [Majority] text, including those MSS used by Erasmus in compiling the text that eventually would become the Textus Receptus." [The Greek Text type underlying the KJV.]13

Geerlings affirms regarding the Majority Text saying, "Its origins….go back to the autographs." 14


Hodges writes, "The Majority text, it must be remembered, is relatively uniform in its general character with comparatively low amounts of variation between its major representatives…. [T]he majority of MSS in the transmission of any book will, a priori preserve the best text. Thus the Majority Text, upon which the King James Version is based, has in reality the strongest claim possible to be regarded as an authentic representation of the original text….based on its dominances in the transmissional history of the New Testament text.”15

Harvard Theological Review cites Kirsopp Lake's exhaustive examination of MSS which revealed, "the uniformity of the text exhibited by the vast majority of the New Testament manuscripts."

Von Soden, who made the most extensive review of the text yet accomplished, calls it the Common (Kappa) text, showing that it was the Greek text type most commonly used throughout history.

Kurt Aland's collation of 1000 minuscules in 1000 different passages shows that 90% contain the 'Traditional Text'. Work done at The Institut fur neutestamentliche Textforschung in Munster, Germany confirms this same 90%. When they include papyrus and uncials together with cursives the number remains above 80%.16

Metzger agrees speaking of “….the great majority of the minuscule manuscripts on which the Textus Receptus rests."17

Hills says, "The vast majority of these extant Greek New Testament manuscripts agree together very closely, so closely indeed that they may fairly be said to contain the same New Testament. This Majority Text is usually called the Byzantine Text by modem textual critics. This is because all modem critics acknowledge that this was the Greek New Testament text in general use throughout the greater part of the Byzantine Period (A.D.312-1453). For many centuries, before the Protestant Reformation, this Byzantine text was the text of the entire Greek Church, and for more then three centuries after the Reformation, it was the text of the entire Protestant Church….[It is] found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts….[T]he Traditional Text….is the true text because it is that form of the Greek New Testament which is known to have been used in the Church of Christ in unbroken succession….Thus the evidence which has accumulated….is amply sufficient to justify the view….that therefore the Byzantine text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts is that true text.”18

1881:   The 1% Minority

[A] false balance is an abomination to the Lord.

Proverbs 11:1

The variations among the Majority Text are minor, like the varieties of doves. On the other hand, the remaining handful of manuscripts are as diverse as dogs and dragons. This handful, not only disagree with 'the Majority', as to what the New Testament says, but disagree among themselves. These include such manuscripts as Vaticanus (B), Sinaiticus (Aleph), Bezae (D), Papyrus 75 and a smattering of versions. Of the four uncials, Aleph, B, C, and D, Burgon writes:

All four are discovered on careful scrutiny to differ essentially, not only from the 99 out of 100 of the whole body of extant manuscripts, but even from one another.19

In 1881 this 1% minority text type supplanted the Majority Text with its almost two millennia standing. A 'New' Greek Text, using the Vatican manuscript (B), was introduced by Westcott and Hort and has been used as the Greek Text for all subsequent versions.

Frederic Kenyon, the late Director of the British Museum and author of the most widely used textbooks on textual criticism, says of the Majority Text:

“This is the text found in the great majority of manuscripts, entrenched in print by Erasmus and Stephanus and known as the Textus Receptus or Received Text….Until 1881….it held the field as the text in practically universal use and when its position was then decisively challenged, a stiff fight was made in its defence by advocates such as Burgon. [This ‘New’ Minority-type Greek text] used predominantly….Aleph and B type readings….[The changes] amount to an extensive modification of the text. [It] has been the dominating influence in all modem critical editions. It is clear that….deliberate alteration….has been at work on a large scale in one text or the other….The Textus Receptus being habitually the longer and fuller of the two.”20

Pickering reveals the continued use of this 1% text by the new version editors.

“[The new versions] ignore the over 5000 Greek MSS now extant….[T]he evidence cited does prove that aberrant forms of the N.T. text were produced. Naturally some of those text forms may have acquired a local and temporary currency. Recall that the possibility of checking with the Autographs must have served to inhibit the spread of such forms. We have the Majority Text (Aland) or the Traditional Text (Burgon), dominating the stream of transmission with a few individual witnesses going their idiosyncratic ways….One may reasonably speak of 90% of the extant MSS belonging to the Majority Text type….[T]he remaining 10-20% do not represent a single competing form. The minority MSS disagree as much (or more) among themselves as they do with the majority. We are not judging between two text forms, one representing 80% of the MSS and the other 20%. Rather we have to judge between 80-90% and a fraction of 1% (comparing the Majority text with P75 and B text form for example....MSS read 'who' [NIV, NASB, etc.] So we have to judge between 97% and 2%….

It really does seem that those scholars who reject the Majority text are faced with a serious problem….They are remnants reflecting ancient aberrant forms. It is a dependence on such aberrant forms that distinguishes contemporary critical editions of the New Testament….I submit that due process requires us to receive as original that form of the text which is supported by the majority of witnesses. To reject their testimony in favour of our own imagination as to what a reading ought to be is manifestly untenable.”21

Hodges describes the readings in the new versions:

“Modern criticism repeatedly and systematically rejects majority readings on a large scale….[This is] monstrously unscientific….[I]f modern criticism continues its trend toward more genuinely scientific procedures, this question will once again become a central consideration….[T]he Textus Receptus was too hastily abandoned….22

Alexandria's Allegories

These manuscripts comprise not only a minority of witnesses but represent only one geographical area—Alexandria, Egypt. The Majority text, on the other hand, comes from manuscripts from Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Syria, Alexandria, Africa, Gaul, South Italy, Sicily, England, and Ireland. The professionals’ platform notes the following:

Pickering states, "[A] reading found in only one limited area cannot be original….if a reading died out in the fourth century, we have the verdict of history against it."23

Hodge contends that because most of the early manuscript discoveries, all of the non-Byzantine text-type, have come from Egypt, therefore they probably represent a textual tradition, pertaining only to that geographical area.24

Zuntz notes that the agreement between our modern editions does not mean we have recovered the original text. It is due to the simple fact that their editors….follow one narrow section of the evidence, namely the non-Western Old Uncials.25

K.W. Clark adds, "All are found on the same Egyptian recension."26

‘Recension’ according to Webster, means "revision." The NASB Interlinear Greek-English New Testament refers to its 'Greek text' as a "recension. "27 Wouldn't you really rather have 'the original'?

The Alexandrian Apologists

Like ostriches, new version editors and those who unbraid the KJV have their heads buried in the Egyptian sand—seeing B and P75 to the exclusion of the thousands of other witnesses. When confronted with the shaky stance of this sword balancing on its tip, a variety of weak responses ensue. Some yield the problematic stance they have taken. Kenyon writes:

“There are those who are uneasy on account of the immense numerical preponderance of the witnesses of this [Majority text] class, which they think must outweigh the small body of dissident testimony.”28

Some admit the minority position they hold. 

Comfort admits:

“[S]cholars look to the….fewer MSS in their work to recover the original wording of the Greek Text….Generally speaking, a reading belonging to the Alexandrian text type is given considerable weight—more so than a reading found in the MSS belonging to the Western type (D) and definitely more so than a reading found in a Byzantine MSS [Majority type].”29

A few give contradictory statements in their own writing, giving the truth in some places and false impressions in others.

Carson pretends:

"The textual base of the T.R. [KJV Greek] is a small number of haphazardly collated and relatively late minuscule manuscripts."

[Chapters later he admits] "95% of the MSS belong to the Byzantine tradition….[That is] the textual tradition which in large measure stands behind the KJV….[T]here are far more manuscripts extant in this tradition than in the other three combined [Caesarian, Western, and Alexandrian]."

[Then he disregards reason and concludes,] "God, it is argued, has providentially preserved the Byzantine tradition—That is true….God preserved the Byzantine-text type for at least a millennium, during which time the others were unknown….True enough…. [Is] everything that takes place under divine providence morally good or necessarily true? To say this is not to ascribe evil to God. Divine sovereignty is so all embracing that it stands behind all things, including….Adolf Hitler."

Then he sheepishly adds:

"Of course one should be very careful and humble before dogmatically disagreeing with what the majority of believers have held to be true."30

We can safely conclude from scholars on both sides of the issue that the vast majority of manuscripts agrees with the readings in the “King James Version.” New versions, such as the NIV, NASB, NEB, TEV, Living Bible, New Century Version, CEV, RSV, NRSV, JB, NJB, NAB, et al. are based on readings from, as Pickering states, “….a fraction of 1%" of the extant manuscripts.” 

Not only does the KJV have a firmer foundation numerically, but also geographically. It comes from numerous localities, as opposed to the minority texts, which come only from Alexandria, Egypt. 

Finally, as we will see, the KJV readings represent the earliest known manuscripts (i.e., P66 A.D.175); the new versions are based on later alterations of the original, extant in the form of P75 (A.D.200)and Aleph and B (A.D.350).