In Testing the Textus Receptus posts, I test the claims of Textus Receptus (TR) Onlyism. This is a moderate form of King James Onlyism focusing on the Greek (& Hebrew) basis for the King James Version.
As I mentioned earlier, Luke 2:22 is one of three passages that James White (author of The King James Only Controversy) recently asked TR Only proponents to “explain why [someone] should use the TR’s [reading]”.
To help explain the context, let me quote Luke 2:22 and 23 here.
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, \”Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord\”) — Luke 2:22-23 (ESV)
Jesus is a baby, and Joseph and Mary in this passage are going to Jerusalem to perform all the sacrificial rituals the Law required. The textual variant here concerns “their”. The King James Version reads “her”.
The TR Only Claim
This textual difference is claimed as an error in the modern Critical Text. “Their purification” would either implicate Jesus as possibly requiring purification for sin, or it would disagree with the OT Law which required only a woman to go through ceremonial purification after a child birth, not the man (if Joseph is in view). Again, this reading, according to TR Onlyists, must be an error due to theological reasons. Since two possible options for interpreting the text are clearly errors, and since the KJV offers a different reading, the conclusion is reached that the modern text must have it wrong on this point.
This verse then becomes one of a number of texts claimed to be doctrinal errors in the modern critical text. If we accept the critical text, we are accepting this theological error. We should side, say they, with the Textus Receptus which has been given the approval of God’s people for hundreds of years. The churches received this text with the reading: “her purification”. Case dismissed.
But when we start to test this claim, and dig a little deeper into this textual decision, the picture gets blurry fast.
Testing that Claim: History of the TR
Which reading did the churches receive? Well, the Textus Receptus did not always contain this reading. Early Bible Versions before the KJV, such as William Tyndale’s New Testament (1525) and the Coverdale Bible (1535) read “their purification”. The churches accepted those Bibles, it would seem. Stephen’s (or Stephanus) 1550 text which was accepted in England as the preferred form of the Textus Receptus, also reads “their purification”. Beza’s text (the 1598 edition which was most preferred by the KJV) and the later Elzevir’s text of 1633 both have “her purification”.
So did the churches cry foul, and eventually influence the textual editors to change the reading to suit their tastes? Maybe. It’s also possible that Beza fixed what he thought was a defect in the text, to bring it more in line with the Latin Vulgate.
Before we move on, we should note that nothing in Scripture would make us think that only churches of one nationality and one language should make this grave a decision. When we look at other Reformation era Protestant Bibles, produced for other languages, we again find a split in opinion. The Italian Diodati (1603) supports the “their” reading, according to some textual critical notes I found online (at this site). Luther’s German Bible uses a pronoun that in German can be either “her” or “their” so it doesn’t help us. The Dutch Staten translation of 1637 uses “her”. The Portugues translation of 1681 (by Ferreira de Almeida) says just “days of purification”. We could go on in this search, but the prevailing theory would be all the Bibles produced by Christians before the 1800s should all read the same since they were received text Christians before the modern versions, right? It’d be interesting to see some more research done in this area, I am limited in what I can do here.
Testing that Claim: Manuscript Evidence
Looking more closely at the question, we come to manuscript evidence. Here we get an ever clearer picture of the situation. The Greek manuscripts overwhelmingly support “their”. There are a few manuscripts, such as an early Western manuscript (Codex D) along with a few other manuscripts which read “his”. But only 1 miniscule, a late text (number 076), contains “her”. Now, E.F. Hills, a TR Only advocate trained in text criticism, wrote that there may be a few other miniscules that have this reading. So the Greek evidence overwhelmingly supports the reading “their”. Keep in mind, this evidence comes from Ceasarean, Alexandrian and Byzantine type manuscripts. The Greek is clear, the reading is “their”.
With the Latin, the majority of the Vulgate readings have a pronoun which means either “his” or “her”. It is not a support for “their”, but not an unequivocal support of “her” either. Their are some Vulgate manuscripts that read “Mary”. We can add in here some of the Old Italian manuscripts as well, also having a neutral support for either “his or her”.
Next their are two possible supports from the Church Fathers for “her”. But these are dubious, and not clear.
Moving on to other languages we have no more support for “her” at all. We do have Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian and Armenian support for “their”.
If you want to test my account of the evidence, you can read the NET Bible footnote regarding this, here. See the explanation of the textual problem in this article at Bible.org. Or see the listing of key texts supporting the various options of the readings, here at zhubert.com, or from this excellent online Greek New Testament site. You can also see that “their” (Î±Ï…Ï„Ï‰Î½) is the 1550 Stephanus TR reading, and “her” (Î±Ï…Ï„Î·Ï‚) is the 1894 Scrivener TR reading, at Biblegateway.com.
Testing that Claim: Exegetical Discussion
We won’t go into great depth on this point, but we should provide some other options for interpreting the text that the TR Only position does not consider. The presence and use of “their” as a valid reading, was at one point part of the TR tradition. To assume that reading requires an interpretation that either Jesus needed purification for his sin, or that Luke did not understand the OT law well enough, is to impugn the TR tradition itself. Not to mention the multitude of Byzantine manuscripts that have “their” as well.
Being honest in our exegesis of the passage, we see Luke is emphasizing that everything was being done according to the Law as it should be. Perhaps there was some need for Joseph to be purified too, from his involvement with the birth, or other reasons. Also the word “purification” could be a broad term of that era, which could have generally applied to Joseph and Mary consecrating Jesus as their firstborn and paying his redemption price according to he Law. The main point of the passage remains clear and we do not have to assume this is a doctrinal error.
First off, we should be very wary of TR Only claims that this verse represents a doctrinal error, or evidence of textual corruption. Many Christians in the TR era preferred Stephanus’ text and used earlier ones, read Tyndale’s Bible, and were not thereby accepting a doctrinal error in this point. Furthermore virtually every Byzantine manuscript to which TR Only folk point for support for their precious TR, has it wrong (according to the TR Only position) at Luke 2:22 as well. Were the users of such texts intentionally corrupting the text at that point? Or complicit in doctrinal error? Did students of the word conclude from that passage that Jesus was a sinner or the Bible’s message in Luke was errant? No. Throwing this charge out on evangelicals today who choose to use a text that reads “their” instead of “her” at this place, is just as wrong.
Secondly, it should be apparent that their is no clear mechanism here for TR Onlyists to decide whether the reading should be “her” or “their”. The majority of Greek manuscripts support “their”. Stephanus’ text, which is one of the two most widely accepted TR editions of their day, had “their”. Elzevir’s following Beza’s, had “her”. Which is right? This also opens up the questions surrounding the Latin versus Greek debate. The Latin Vulgate is a mix of Western and Alexandrian readings mostly. Do we assume Beza leaned on the Vulgate to get this reading? Codex D, named after Beza (it is called Bezae), reads “his”. It is Western and the Vulgate is Western in the Gospels. So is the Vulgate thinking “her” or “his”? And if the Vulgate meant “her” by its use of the neutral pronoun, are we okay with a reading being preserved down through time in a Latin manuscript tradition, while many other readings are supported instead by the Greek tradition?
My conclusion is we cannot assume the TR has it right at this point. The vast majority of the evidence points to Beza’s being wrong in changing the TR to read “her” instead of “their”.