The First Published Greek New Testament
The Reformation brought a new interest in the Greek text of the New Testament, and Johannes Froben, a Swiss printer, wanted to be first to publish a Greek New Testament.
Froben had, most likely, heard that a Greek New Testament had been printed in Spain in 1514, but that it could not be released to the public until the pope gave his blessing. So he got in touch with the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus.
Erasmus had been creating a revised edition of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. He had collected all the manuscripts he could find, corrected what he felt were errors, and polished the Latin. He compared the Latin with Greek manuscripts available to him at the Basel University, and used the Greek to improve the Vulgate. “My mind is so excited at the thought of emending Jerome’s text,” he said, “that I seem . . . inspired by some god.”
None of the Greek manuscripts Erasmus consulted was complete, and he tended to rely on the more recent ones rather than the older ones. And because he started the project with Latin, when the Greek manuscripts he consulted did not have a passage that was in the Vulgate, such as Acts 9:5-6 and Revelation 22:16-21, he translated the Latin text into Greek and added it to the Greek text.
Froben published the Greek and Latin versions together. The importance of this publication is usually seen as its being the first published Greek New Testament, but it is likely that Erasmus saw the primary importance as its being his revision of the Latin New Testament with the Greek added for comparison.
Erasmus admitted that the book was “rushed into print rather than edited.” Over the next twenty years Erasmus issued four
more editions, each correcting misprints and inserting improved readings into the Greek text.
Two other sixteenth-century publishers, Robert Stephanus and Theodore Beza, printed Greek texts similar to that of Erasmus’s fifth edition. These texts were based on the Byzantine family of manuscripts and became known as the “Received Text” (textus receptus), which was the Greek text that was used by the King James Version translators.