Previously this year we have commented on the fact that 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the printing of Desiderius Erasmus’ (1466-1536) Greek New Testament, a significant event that was used by God to bring about and spread the great Reformation of the 16th century.
Issue #615 of the Quarterly Record published by the Trinitarian Bible Society contains a noteworthy article on Erasmus and his Greek NT by C.P. Hallihan. You may find the full version on their website at the link provided (pdf, which you may download).
Since this article was part of my Sunday reading yesterday, I post a segment of it here for your benefit.
The task in hand was to print Erasmus’s new version of the Latin Vulgate New Testament, supported in a parallel column by his newly compiled text of the Greek New Testament. The primary aim for Erasmus, remember, was to refurbish and reclaim the Latin text using the Greek as a plumb line to vindicate his Latin differences. His admirable labours in Greek manuscript gathering, comparing,
collating and editing into a continuous text never weaned him from his Latin text. Yes, the clear spring of literal meaning was to hand, to correct a long decayed text, but
Erasmus failed to see the real significance. His mother tongue was Dutch, yet he never
considered that need.
…at last I heard speak of Jesus, even then when the New Testament was first set forth by Erasmus; which when I understood to be eloquently done by him, being allured rather by the Latin than by the word of God (for at that time I knew not what it meant), I bought it… I chanced upon this sentence of St Paul (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul!) in 1 Tim. 1, ‘it is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief and principal’.
Valla never came to that; I could wish to be more assured that Erasmus did. We rejoice that Tyndale did not settle to correct Wycliffe, but gave us his direct, engaging and still delightful rendering from Greek into English.
All the complaints that can be levelled against Erasmus’s 1516 New Testament have been made and made again from that day to this: too few manuscripts, over hasty
and careless print run, inadequate control of the printing process and proofing,
commercial pressure, and so on. They are all valid, owned and admitted to by Erasmus
himself from the beginning, and thus reedited and corrected through four further
editions. What else could such a ground breaker be? The complaining was just mud
thrown in the hope of avoiding the facts. After at least a thousand years, a new, truly living, version of the Word of God was available and accessible.
I could spend quite pleasing hours examining and explaining these complaints, bewailing the death of Aldus Manutius, the Venetian master of Greek printing of great beauty in 1515, so that Froben had the job instead, and the near comic confusion of texts and revisions at the printers in Basle where Erasmus was now stranded11 with a very limited manuscript collection. But these are all just excuses for dodging the consequences of the appearance of this Greek New Testament.