Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), a Dutch humanist, scholar, and theologian, was born at Rotterdam, Holland. He was a leading voice in the theological debates of the early Reformation in northern Europe. He contended with the reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), emphasizing the importance of free will in human actions against Luther's belief in the absolute bondage of the will to sin. In addition, Erasmus sought middle ground in the conflict between Luther and Pope Adrian VI (1522-1523) and tried to reconcile the two.

Though eager for church reform, Erasmus remained all his life within the Roman Catholic Church. As a humanist he deplored the religious warfare of the time because of the rancorous, intolerant atmosphere and cultural decline that it induced.

Erasmus is generally acknowledged as the greatest classical scholar of his time, though he was better at Latin than Greek (Schaff, Companion, p. 230). But of far greater importance than the revival of Greek studies was his editing and publishing of the Greek New Testament.

Erasmus' Greek New Testament

At the encouragement of printer John Froben of Basle, Erasmus embarked on a project to produce and publish the first Greek New Testament in the West in over a 1000 years and the first to be marketed. It was printed in 1516 with two columns - a Greek text on the left and Erasmus' new Latin translation (made from the Greek) on the right.

A 2nd Edition of Erasmus Greek and Latin Text was published in 1519 correcting numerous typographical errors. Martin Luther used Erasmus's 2nd edition to translate a German New Testament in 1522.

A 3rd Edition Erasmus' Text was published in 1522. William Tyndale utilized Erasmus's 3rd edition in translating the first English New Testament from the original language.

"After Erasmus' text had seen several revisions, Robert Estienne, commonly referred to as Stephanus, published successive editions of a Greek text. His first two editions were compounds of Erasmus' text and the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (1520). However, the third edition (1550) was based primarily on the fourth and fifth editions of Erasmus' text. This 1550 edition gained wide acceptance in England, and for many is synonymous with the Received Text.

"However, it was not until 1624 that the phrase, Received Text, or in the Latin, Textus Receptus, was actually coined, and then it was from the preface to the third edition of a Greek text published by Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevir. The words were, as described by Bruce Metzger, part of 'a more or less casual phrase advertising the edition (what modern publishers might call a 'blurb').' The phrase boasted in Latin that the text presented was 'the text which is now received by all.' Thus came the phrase Textus Receptus, or Received Text." [1]

"Although much credit is due to Erasmus for having made a Greek text available at all, the text which he presented was not of good quality. The half dozen manuscripts used by Erasmus were all of late origin. Most, if not all, were from the fifteenth century, while two may have been made as early as the twelfth century. He had only one manuscript which contained the book of Revelation, and it was missing the final leaf, which had contained the last six verses of Revelation. For these verses, Erasmus turned to the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the scriptures. Erasmus translated the Latin back to Greek." [2]


  • Roland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.
  • Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.
  • Philip. A Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1883.

See also