So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel;
therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
—Ezek. 33.7

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The Roman Catholic Opinion

About the Greek New Testament

Answered for the Reformed Churches.

By Robert Rollock (1555-1598.)

To which are added

Some Observations on Modern Bible Versions.

X Editor’s Introduction.

Besides the superiority of the Scriptures over the Church and its Councils, the Protestant churches of the Reformation era also contended for the recognition of the original Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament as the reliable authentic texts of Holy Scripture.  In opposition to this, the Church of Rome claimed that the Latin Vulgate was to be regarded as authentic instead, (though not original,) and of superior authority compared to the extant copies of the Hebrew and Greek originals.

To maintain this view, it was found useful to impeach the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts available at the time of the Reformation.  It was not needful to impeach the reliability or correctness of the original Greek manuscripts, or of others in any previous era, for their purpose.  Neither was it needful to regard the Greek text itself as being entirely corrupt.  But they contended that the Greek manuscripts current in the Church of the Reformation exhibited such defects in particular places, as left the whole Church obliged to depend on an authority or consensus superior to these.

This debate is not so hotly contested between Romanists and Protestants at this day; not only owing to an indifference on the part of many Romanists, who no longer feel threatened by claims made for the authority of Scripture, but also owing to various capitulations with the Roman Catholic church on the part of professing Protestants.  In view of the passages of Scripture cited by the Papists to impeach the reliability of the Greek New Testament, our purpose in presenting this excerpt from history is not to answer Romanist claims, but to commend to the reader a consideration of whether modern Bible translators and editors of critical Greek Testaments, have persisted in the Protestant witness of the Reformation, or instead represent a party more like the Roman Church in the judgment they hold about the Greek text of Scripture available at the time of the Reformation.


From Chapter 19 of Rollock’s Treatise on Effectual Calling:

THE New Testament, written in Greek by the Apostles and Evangelists, hath been so preserved by the admirable providence of God, even in the midst of persecutions and heresies, unto this age, and in all former ages so freed and kept by godly and orthodoxical writers from the corruptions of heretics; the Lord God, I say, hath so provided, that it is come into our hands most pure and perfect.  Thus, then, I reason.  That edition of the New Testament which was written in the best language, and first and originally written in it, to wit, the Greek, I say the same must be accepted as authentical of all men.  But such is the Greek edition of the New Testament: Ergo, [the Greek edition is to be accepted as authentic.]

The adversaries except only against the purity of this edition.  For albeit some of them, the latter, and the better learned, as Bellarmin, do not say that the Greek edition of the New Testament is altogether corrupt, as some of them have blasphemed; yet they say it is not so pure, that they can grant it to be authentical, because in some places it is corrupt.  Bellarmin brings forth seven places, whereby he endeavours to prove this assertion, that the Greek edition is corrupt, and, therefore, cannot be authentical.

The first place is 1 Cor. 15.47, The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.  “But in the vulgar Latin edition it is, the second is from heaven, heavenly; and this reading is approved: therefore the Greek edition is corrupt and not authentical.”  I answer, first, albeit we read as the Greek is, yet the sense is good and orthodoxal, and the same with that which is of the vulgar reading, differing in word only, and not in matter.  Secondly, the Arabic and Syriac translation so read the place.  Thirdly, the Fathers, Chrysostom [347-407] and Theophphylact [fl. 1077], so read.  Fourthly, Epiphanius, [d. 402], citing all the places which Marcion corrupted, yet remembers not this place.  “But,” saith he, “Tertullian saith that Marcion hath corrupted this place.”  I answer, that Tertullian, in that book and place, reads these words in the very same manner as we do, The Lord from heaven.

The second place is 1 Cor. 7.33, He that is married careth for the things of the world, how he may please his wife.  The wife and the virgin are distinctly set down, so reads the Greek.  “But the vulgar thus, He that is joined to a wife careth for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided; but the woman that is unmarried, and the virgin, bethinketh of the things which please the Lord, both in body and spirit.  Wherefore the Greek edition is here corrupted, and so cannot be authentical.”  I answer, first, that the sense which is by the Greek is not only sound, but also more fitting in this place than that which is by the vulgar translation.  Secondly, the Syriac translation so read these words.  Thirdly, Theophylact, the Greek Scholies, and Basil so read the words.  But he saith that Jerome avoucheth it, that this Greek reading is not apostolical.  I answer, the same Jerome, in another place, reads these words as we do.  Wherefore, seeing he changeth his mind, he is not fit to judge for this Scripture. [Lib. i. contra Jovinian.  Contra Helvidium et Eustochium.]

The third place is Rom. 12.11, Serving the time.  “But the old Latin is, serving the Lord: Ergo.”  I answer, first, albeit ye read so the place, yet the sense is good and sound.  Secondly, the reading varies in many Greek copies, as witnesseth Origin’s interpreter [Rufinus, fl. 390.], who reads the word Κυριω, and he noteth it, that in many books he found χαιρω, the time.  The same saith Ambrose, [bp. 374-397,] who reads χαιρω, serving the time; “yet,” saith he, “in some books we find Κυριω, the Lord.”  Thirdly, the Syriac, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Basil, read Κυριω, the Lord; which reading we best like.  For which cause our Beza translates the word, Domino, the Lord.

The fourth place is John 8, where, in the beginning of that chapter, many of the Greek copies want the story of the adulterous woman, which the common translation in Latin hath, and the Church approves it as canonical.  I answer, first, that our Greek books, which we have and hold for authentical, have this history also, and our Church receives it.  Secondly, yet we deny not that this hath been gainsaid by some, and the Syriac translation hath it not.  [Though not found in the uncials counted as oldest, it is contained in codex D as well as other uncials, and many other manuscripts.]

The fifth place is Mark 16, where in many Greek copies that whole chapter is wanting, [rather, only the last 12 verses,] which notwithstanding the Latin edition retaineth: Ergo ——.  I answer, first, that all our Greek books which we account authentical have also this chapter, and our churches receive the same as canonical.  Secondly, Jerome somewhere [Opp. vol. 3. p. 96] moves some doubt touching it, but to no purpose.

The sixth place is 1 John 5, where the seventh verse, which contains a worthy testimony of the Trinity, in many Greek copies is missing, but in the vulgar it is retained: Ergo ——.  I answer, first, our Greek books, which we hold for authentical, have this verse, and our Church receives it.  Secondly, we deny not but some have gainsaid it.  [While others have defended it to the present day.]

The seventh place is Matthew 6.13, For thine is the kingdom, power, and glory, Amen.  “But this place is not in the vulgar translation: Ergo ——.  L[aurentius] Valla answereth, this place is not added to the Greek, but detracted from the Latin; and I pray you, what heretical or unsound matter hath this place?

Thus we see then the adversaries cannot prove by these places that the Greek edition of the New Testament is corrupted, and so not authentical.  Wherefore it resteth that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament is only authentical.

[Rollock's Select Works, pp. 122-127.]

Do these Observations Have a Use for 21st Century Protestants?

Christian doctrine, and Protestant doctrine specifically, are directly affected by the debates about these claims made against our Bibles.  Though not directly through the labors of Bellarmine, many of these arguments about manuscript variations have borne their influence on modern Bible translations used by Protestants.  We can consider another example in response to Bellarmine, taken from the Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists by William Whitaker.  Question II in that work is specifically “Of the Authentic Edition of the Scriptures” and provides a thorough refutation of the claims made to assert the superiority of the Latin Vulgate over the Greek Text.  One passage of Scripture considered is Romans 11.6, where the second half of the verse is omitted in the Vulgate:

[Another] place is Romans 11.6; where these words are omitted, “But if it be of works, then is it not of grace: otherwise work is no more work.”  Bellarmine confesses that this sentence is in the Greek, but says that it is recognised by none of the commentators upon this place except Theophylact.  Which assertion is wholly untrue; since Œcumenius exhibits and explains this same sentence, as also Theodoret and Chrysostom: which latter he nevertheless affirms, naming him expressly, not to have made any mention of this sentence.  Bellarmine did not examine Chrysostom in this place, but gave too much credit to Erasmus, who [incorrectly] denies that it is to be found in Chrysostom.  For Chrysostom reads it thus: ει δε εξ εργων ουκ ετι εστι χαρις· επει το εργον ουκ ετι εστι εργον.    But, what if the clause were not to be found in the commentaries of these writers?  Must we, therefore, deem it spurious?  By no means.  For the Greek copies, and very numerous MSS. of the greatest fidelity, and the most ancient Syrian translator, will suffice to prove that this sentence came from the apostle’s pen; whose evidence is still more confirmed by the very antithesis of the context and the sequence of the reasoning.  For, as the apostle says, “If it be of grace, then it is not of works; for then grace would not be grace;” so to balance the antithesis he must say, “If it be of works, it is not of grace; for then work would not be work.” [Ed. 1849/2000, p 196-197.]

Now, it is true, without this passage, we may still find the Protestant doctrine of Justification by Grace in our Bible.  But as true as that is, it is not true that the changes in modern Bibles “affect no doctrine,” as is commonly asserted.  They affect very important doctrines, some of which are evident from the first list of passages above.

How do Modern Bible Versions Compare?

Given all these examples, we cannot help observing that the modern principles of textual critics and most Bible translators exhibit a strong agreement with the claims of the Roman Church.  While they choose to use the Greek text for their translation efforts, yet their opinion about its reliability and preservation by the Lord’s providence is not very different.

Passage Question T.R. Gen. KJV Vul. DRB NIV ESV NASB
1 Cor. 15.47 Does the version express “the Lord from heaven” as the authentic reading?
1 Cor. 7.33-34 Does the version assert there is a difference between a wife and a virgin, rather than asserting that the married man (or his interests) is divided?
Rom. 12.11 Does the version follow the majority Greek reading of serving the Lord?
John 8.1-11 Does the version include the account of the adulterous woman without casting doubt upon it?
Mark 16.9-20 Does the version represent the original Greek as including the full ending of Mark without casting doubt upon it?
1 John 5.7 Does the version represent John’s statement about the three heavenly witnesses as an authentic part of the original New Testament? Δ
Matthew 6.13 Does the version include the whole text represented by the thorough consensus of Greek manuscripts, without casting doubt upon the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer?
Romans 11.6 Does the version include both parts of the verse without surrendering the second part to Bellarmine as an inauthentic addition?

Previously, it was observed that “the modern principles of textual critics and most Bible translators exhibit a strong agreement with the claims of the Roman Church.”  Possibly the chart above does not seem to substantiate that statement.  In several cases the modern Bible versions correspond to the Latin Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims translations.  In other cases it is the old Reformation Bible versions that correspond to the Latin Vulgate.  But it should be remembered that the Latin Vulgate and the Roman Church are two different things.  The Latin Vulgate was a great blessing to Latin-speaking Christians when it was brought into the world through the Lord’s gracious providence, (about AD 405.)  The misguided uses and false claims about the Vulgate on the part of Rome are a very different matter.  When it is said that modern textual critics and translators exhibit a strong agreement with the claims of the Roman Church, what is affirmed is that they agree rather thoroughly with Bellarmine about the claims he was making against the Received Text of Holy Scripture in the Original Greek.  In some cases this means that they agree with him about the proper reading of a given passage of Scripture, (1 Cor. 15.47; 1 Cor. 7.33-34; Matth. 6.13; Rom. 11.6.)  In other cases they may disagree with him about the original reading, but in opposition to our Reformers, they still unite with Bellarmine about what readings can be convincingly attested from Greek manuscript evidence, (1 John 5.7; John 8; Mark 16.)  Concerning only one of the verses above do such critics and translators thoroughly disagree with Bellarmine; specifically, Romans 12.11, where he claims that the common Greek reading is serving the time.

How this observation relates to various modern translations is represented by the examples of the NIV, ESV, and NASB below, still considering the same passages produced from Bellarmine by Rollock and Whitaker:

The NIV: New International Version (1978, etc.)

As our first example, given the passages above, we can say this about the decisions of the translators of the NIV:

The ESV: English Standard Version (2001)

As a second example, given the passages above, we can say this about the decisions of the translators of the ESV:

The NASB: New American Standard Bible (1971)

As a third example, given the passages above, we can say this about the decisions of the translators of the NASB:


As is often done, the advocates of these modern Bible translations may express concern that the facts above are presented in such a way.  Well-meaning people often feel that the consequence of these observations must be harmful, giving occasion for people to doubt the reliability of every Bible.  But it is neither the nature nor purpose of these observations to cast doubt on the reliability of the Bible.  Instead, the fact which is brought to light by this effort is that many men have been laboring to cast doubt on the reliability of the Bible; and among them there were Jesuits like Robert Bellarmine, and also the textual critics of the 1800s.  And, in effect, the translators of several modern Bible versions join them.  Such critics and translators would deny this, but so would the Jesuit Bellarmine.

The Bible is the word of God.  It is reliable.  There is an authentic text of the Bible, which many translations were based on in the age of the Reformation when God was pleased to bring his word to light.  Manuscripts can be corrupted.  Printed editions can be corrupt.  But the Lord Jesus teaches us to have high standards and expectations for God’s providential preservation of the complete text of his word: the text abides; the text is not corrupted.

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matth. 5.18.)

The word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken. (John 10.35.)

Christians with the Bibles and doctrinal confessions of the Reformation learned to have a high view of the Lord’s preservation of his word.  When Bible publishers push Bibles that effectively require us to have a lower view of the reliability and preservation of the text of God’s word, there is only one response that Christians should give: push back.  Push back with mighty force.  There is something precious to defend; something the Lord has committed to you to keep and defend. (Rom. 3.2; Prov. 7.1.)  Notice the language of Rollock above: multiple times he used the expression, “our church receives” or “our churches receive”  Are you among this “our”?  Is your church one of these churches which are “our churches”?  Is it indeed a Protestant church, walking in the same light of God’s word that characterized the Reformation?  If these things are so, there is every reason that you and your church should be using a Protestant Bible.

As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever. (Isa. 59.21.)