WHAT DID JOHN WILLIAM BURGON REALLY BELIEVE ABOUT
THE TEXTUS RECEPTUS AND THE KING JAMES VERSION?

By Doug Kutilek

[Reprinted from "As I See It," vol. 1, no. 6, June, 1998]

The "darling" of the KJV-only/TR-only advocates is 19th-century Anglican priest John William Burgon (1813-1888). Burgon was a vigorous opponent of the English Revised Version of the New Testament (1881) and ceaselessly vilified the Greek text of Westcott and Hort. In part because he believed in the virtual infallibility of the Church, he favored the so-called "traditional" Greek text of the New Testament. His books assaulting the revised Greek text and the revised English translation are frequently cited in the present controversy as certain proof that the textus receptus and the KJV are the pure Word of God. Burgon's every word is hung upon as though it were a veritable "Sic dicit Dominus" ("thus saith the Lord"). Or so it seems.

In truth, those who appeal to Burgon as the final word on points of controversy are guilty of selective reading of Burgon, and very convenient ignoring of remarks contrary to their point of view. This will be demonstrated by a series of quotations taken from Burgon's book THE REVISION REVISED (London: John Murray, 1883). I do not pretend that this is a COMPLETE presentation of Burgon's views, but I do insist that the perspective of Burgon as presented in these quotations is directly at odds with that of KJV-only advocates and would DISCREDIT Burgon in their eyes as a compromiser, liberal, apostate, or whatever other name they heap on those who disagree with them.

 Concerning his use of Lloyd's Greek Testament (1827), which was a reproduction of Mill's (1707), which in turn was a reproduction of Stephanus' Greek Testament of 1550, as a standard for collating variant readings in manuscripts, he wrote, ". . .by so doing I have not by any means assumed the textual purity of that common standard. In other words, I have not made it 'the final standard of appeal.' ALL Critics,--wherever found,--at all times, have collated with the commonly received Text: but only as the most convenient standard of comparison; not, surely, as the absolute standard of excellence." (pp. xviii-xix, preface). 

Again, on the same subject: "I employ that Text,--. . .--not as a criterion of excellence but as a standard of comparison (p. xxv, preface).

 On the revision of the Textus Receptus, he favorably said:

". . .[I]t might be found practicable to put forth by authority a carefully considered Revision of the commonly received Greek Text." (p. xxix, preface). It is common knowledge that Burgon proposed over 150 changes in the Textus Receptus in the Gospel of Matthew alone.

 Again, on the use of the commonly received text in collating manuscripts: "Let no one at all events obscure the one question at issue, by asking,--'Whether we consider the textus receptus infallible?' The merit or demerit of the Received Text has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the question. We care nothing about it. Any Text would equally suit our present purpose." (p. 17)

 Clearly disclaiming belief in an infallible Textus Receptus, he wrote: "Once for all, we request it may be clearly understood that we do not, by any means, claim perfection for the Received Text. We entertain no extravagant notions on this subject. Again and again we shall have occasion to point out (e.g. at page 107) that the textus receptus needs correction." (p. 21, footnote 2).

 On the need for the Textus Receptus to be corrected: ". . .[I]n not a few particulars, the 'Textus receptus' does call for Revision, certainly;" (p. 107).

 On the value of a revision of the King James Version: "--we hold that a revised edition of the Authorized Version of our English Bible, (if executed with consummate ability and learning,) would at any time be a work of inestimable value." (p. 114).

 On the fact that the Revised Version (1881) did clarify many obscurities in the KJV: "It is often urged on behalf of the Revisionists that over not a few dark places of S. Paul's Epistles their labours have thrown important light. Let it not be supposed that we deny this. Many a Scriptural difficulty vanished the instant a place is accurately translated: a far greater number, when the rendering is idiomatic. It would be strange indeed if, at the end of ten years, the combined labours of upwards of twenty Scholars, whose raison d'etre as Revisionists was to do this very thing, had not resulted in the removal of many an obscurity in the A.V. of Gospels and Epistles alike." (pp. 216-7). 

Regarding the need to revise the Textus Receptus: "That some corrections of the Text were necessary, we are well aware: and had those necessary changes been made, we should only have had words of commendation and thanks to offer." (p. 224, footnote 1).

 Did the Revision, with all its variations from the KJV and the textus receptus corrupt or distort Bible doctrine?: "Let it be also candidly admitted that, even where (in our judgment) the Revisionists have erred, they have never had the misfortune seriously to obscure a single feature of Divine Truth;" (p. 232).

And finally, and very importantly, did God ever promise to infallibly preserve the inspired text of the originals?: ". . . That by a perpetual miracle, Sacred Manuscripts would be protected all down the ages against depraving influences of whatever sort,--was not to have been expected; certainly, was never promised." (p. 335)

 Therefore, on the basis of his own remarks, we can only honestly conclude that Burgon did not accept the textus receptus as pristine, nor did he believe the KJV was always correct, and he rejected the notion that God promised to infallibly preserve the Scriptures from scribal corruption in the copying process.