Friday, April 28, 2023

Inheriting a Treasure: A Trustworthy Bible

  When I was young, we visited Volendam in the Netherlands. In the above picture, here I am with my family, my father from the Netherlands, my mother from Puerto Rico. I am the very little girl who looked so authentically Dutch that a tourist asked my mother whether she could borrow the Dutch girl for her pictures, to which my mother, outraged, replied, “That is my daughter!”

Volendam in the north of Netherlands was known for its traditional Dutch outfits. I had not realized until recently that Erasmus came from the Netherlands, as well. He came from Rotterdam, which lies south of Volendam, near a river that leads to the coast. Desiderius Erasmus, who published the first Greek New Testament in 1516, has an inspiring story.  He was trained by a lay religious movement, the Brethren of the Common Life, that emphasized the need to read Scripture in the native language of the people.[1] Erasmus was dedicated to publishing an accurate Bible as the base for these translations, because he believed: “If you dedicate yourself entirely to the study of the Scriptures, if you meditate day and night on the law of the Lord, you will have no fear, day or night, but you will be protected and trained against any attack of the enemy.”[2] He was asked by a famous book publisher, Johann Froben, to work on the New Testament with him so that Christians around the world would have the original words as written by the New Testament writers. But Froben pushed Erasmus to hurry so that they could beat the publication of the Spanish Complutensian Polyglot Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin) by Francisco Ximenes. Erasmus felt that his volume was “precipitated rather than edited” because of the rush.[3] Because of the hurry, Erasmus did not find as many early Greek manuscripts as he wished he could have. For the Book of Revelation, he found only one Greek manuscript dating from the twelfth century! To his chagrin, the last six verses of Revelation were missing. So Erasmus translated the Latin Vulgate into Greek, instead of delaying the publication. This inadequate reading is still perpetuated in printings of the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament, from which the King James Version was made in 1611 and Luther’s German translation. Erasmus’s New Testament edition rests upon six Greek manuscripts, the oldest from the tenth century. Both the current Greek New Testaments (the 28th and 5th editions) are based on more than 5735 (in 2003) manuscripts[4] and Revelation is based on 29 Greek manuscripts with 14 of them earlier than the tenth century (dating from the second [p88], third [p10, p115], fourth [p24, Codex Sinaiticus, 0169, 1217], fifth [codices A, C, 0163], sixth [p43], and eighth [0229] centuries. The important Codex Sinaiticus was in Mount Sinai during Erasmus’ time, but was not discovered by Europeans until 1844 by Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf.[5]   

Erasmus did not allow his Greek New Testament to include the Trinitarian statement in 1 John 5:7-8 concerning “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth.” These words may still be found in our King James Version. They are wonderful words. However, they were not written by the Apostle John. Erasmus is reported to have promised his contemporaries that he would include these verses if ever found in Greek. In response, the very first Greek version of these words appears to have been manufactured in 1520 by a Franciscan friar who translated these words from a late Latin Vulgate. Erasmus did add the verses to a later third edition, but he remained suspicious of their origin. Probably they entered a later Latin translation as a marginal commentary, since they had not appeared in the Latin Vulgate before AD 800, way after Jerome’s own Latin translation (c. 382).

While Erasmus’ Greek text came to be called “the text now received by all” in 1633 or the “Textus Receptus”[6] and while the Latin translation was a good text, God has enabled Christians to find even better Greek manuscripts through the years. The further away we are from the New Testament events, the more Greek manuscripts we are discovering!

What did I learn from my compatriot Erasmus’ own example? How devout and earnest he was to find and edit and publish the genuine New Testament, and to stand for what he thought was right, nevertheless, even he could be pushed too much, to accept what he knew was not right. God’s original revelation has no errors because God is true (John 3:33b) and God’s words are “trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:5; 22:6). We humans also need to stand for the truth as best we can and resist pressure that leads to untruth, while appreciating men and women like Erasmus who have fought to promote a reliable Bible for us to use, study, and apply to our lives.

I am so grateful to God for scholars like Erasmus, who himself learned Greek in order to bring together a Greek New Testament so people could read God’s word in the original language. And I am so blessed to have grown up with my Dutch Huguenot heritage. The Huguenots like Erasmus disseminated and studied the Bible. And, following in their heritage, I am delighted to invest my life in studying and teaching the word of God. I realize this is the great treasure I have inherited.


Erasmus drawn by Albert Dűrer in 1526. The letters read “a better portrait his writings show” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (

[1] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, vol. 2 (Peabody: Prince, 2004), 95.

[2] The Handbook of the Christian Soldier: Enchiridion militis christiani, trans. by Charles Fantazzi (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 33,, downloaded 17 April 2023.

[3] My appreciation for the account of Erasmus from Bruce Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 138-48.

[4] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 50.

[5] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 62-65, 172.

[6] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 152.

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