Novum Instrumentum omne

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Novum Instrumentum Omne, later called Novum Testamentum Omne, was a bilingual Latin-Greek New Testament with substantial scholarly annotations, and the first printed New Testament of the Greek to be published. It was prepared by Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) and printed by Johann Froben (1460–1527) of Basel.

Five editions were published, in 1516, 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1536. Though written for theologians not the masses,[1]: 607  an estimate of up to 300,000 copies of Erasmus' New Testament were printed in his lifetime.[2]

The first edition (1516), titled Novum Instrumentum Omne, provided Erasmus' revision of the Latin Vulgate as more classical Latin; this evolved in subsequent editions as an independent Latin rendition informed by the Greek. The Greek text is a Byzantine text-type.

The work was relaunched with a new title Novum Testamentum Omne in a second edition (1519),[3] which notably was used by Martin Luther for his translation of the New Testament into German (the so-called "September Testament"). The third edition (1522), was used by William Tyndale for the first English New Testament (1526).

The Erasmian editions, and the subsequent 16th century revisions thereof, fed into the Geneva Bible (1560), the King James Version (1611)[4] and Textus Receptus which was the basis for the majority of modern translations of the New Testament in the 16th–19th centuries.

Contemporary Efforts[edit]

Giannozzo Manetti translated the New Testament from the Greek, and the Psalms from the Hebrew, at the court of Pope Nicholas V, around 1455. The manuscripts still exist, but Manetti's version was not printed until 2014.[5] Greek fragments began to be printed as Greek fonts were cut: the Aldine Press published the first six chapters of John's Gospel in 1505.[6]: 59 

The early 1500s saw several authorized efforts to create and print scholarly polyglot and Greek editions of Bible texts.

  • In 1512, French priest Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples published his revised version of the Vulgate's epistles of St Paul, corrected against Greek texts, as well as a four-translation edition of the Psalms, sponsored by Cardinal Briçonnet.
Leaf of Complutensian Polyglot Bible showing the start of Exodus, recto page. Upper part: Greek LXX with Latin interlinear; Latin Vulgate; Hebrew; Hebrew roots in margin. Lower part: Aramaic; Latin translation of Aramaic; Aramaic roots in margin.
  • In 1502 in Spain, Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros put together a team of Spanish translators to create a compilation of the Bible in four languages: Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Translators from Greek were commissioned from Greece itself and worked closely with Latinists. Besides the compilation of the Bible, there was a new Latin text for the Vulgate. This text, much of which the Church Father Jerome had translated from Greek in the 4th century, was considered the only binding translation in the Catholic Church and used instead of a new translation.
Cardinal Cisneros's team completed and printed the full New Testament, including the Greek version, in 1514. To do so they developed specific types to print Greek. Cisneros informed Erasmus of the work going on in Spain and may have sent a printed version of the New Testament to him. However, the Spanish team wanted the entire Bible to be released as one single work and withdrew from publication. Although the first printed Greek New Testament was the Complutensian Polyglot (1514), Erasmus' was published first (1516).
Erasmus was invited by Cisneros to work on Complutensian Polyglot edition in 1517; also he offered him a bishop's office. But the Dutchman remained and never traveled to Spain.[7]
The Complutensian Polyglot edition was approved for publication by the Pope in 1520; however, it was not released until 1522 due to the team's insistence on reviewing and editing.
  • In 1516, Dominican monk and friend of Erasmus and More, Agostino Giustiniani released his polyglot psalter Psalterium Hebraeum, Graecum, Arabicum, et Chaldaicum, which included new Latin translations of the Septuagint and of the Aramaic. This was intended to be part of a larger polyglot bible, but did not find a market.[8]
  • In 1516 the Novum Instrumentum omne was dedicated to Pope Leo X. Erasmus requested a "Publication Privilege" (copyright) for the Novum Instrumentum omne (The Greek New Testament with his Latin translation) to attempt to ensure that his work (all publications) would not be copied by other printers. He obtained it from Emperor Maximilian I 1516.
The fear of the Complutensian being publishing first, though, affected Erasmus' work, rushing him to printing and causing him to forgo editing. [n 1] The result was a large number of translation mistakes, transcription errors, and typos, that required further editions to be printed (see "Second Edition"). Erasmus made use of the Complutensian Polyglot in subsequent editions.
Erasmus' philological efforts helped launch what has been described as a "golden century of Catholic biblical scholarship" in the hundred years following his death.[9]: 17 
  • In 1518, Erasmus' Italian publisher the Aldine Press published the first complete printed Greek bible, the Aldine Bible, pairing the Complutensian Septuagint Old Testament with Erasmus' initial New Testament.
  • In 1522, Andreas Osiander published his own corrected Vulgate, and in 1527 a Gospel harmony.
  • In 1527, Italian converso friar Santes Pagnino published new Latin translations of both the Old and New Testaments, from the Greek and Hebrew, also sponsored by Pope Leo X.


Historian Erika Rummel identifies four tasks for the publication:

  • "clarification of the New Testament's teachings on the basis of the Greek text;
  • improvement of the Latin translation from a stylistic point of view;
  • elimination of grammatical peculiarities and solecisms from the Latin New Testament; and
  • the effort to provide the most accurate possible edition of the Greek New Testament."[10]

However, Erasmus did not believe that a single translation could ever be a definitive rendition of a different language. Having multiple translations of the Latin plus the Greek, and especially his Annotations, allowed fuller coverage of the verses' meaning:

"In a translation, you can only express one meaning, but with the help of annotations it is possible to suggest various shades of meaning, leaving the reader free to choose. In my commentary I thus present what in my opinion lies closest to the original text, to the apostolic intention."

— Erasmus, Letter to Étienne Gaigny, May 1533

Because of this, Erasmus claimed his translation was not intended to supplant the Vulgate for public use,[11]: 560, 561  though both the Vulgate and the Greek needed to be purged of copyist errors. Indeed, demonstrating a nascent intuition of different text traditions, one of the aims was to allow comparison of the Latin quotes of the Western Church Fathers and the Greek quotes of the Eastern Church Fathers. However Erasmus even noted that sometimes even the original Greek itself may not fully convey the original meaning:

"And if there should be sermons of Christ in the Hebrew or Syrian-that is to say in the same languages as those in which he first spoke them -who would not cherish above all things the opportunity to philosophize in those languages and to master not only the eloquence and that which is specific to their vocabulary, but also to coax out their unique and sublime truth?"

— Erasmus, Preface, Novum Instumentum omne (1516)

According to historian Lucy Wooding, "Three points stand out: Erasmus did not expect to find a single definitive text;[n 2] he was happy (like St Augustine) to see several possible interpretations of any given biblical verse;[n 3] and he expected ultimately to rely on Church tradition."[13]

The Greek and Latin New Testament with annotations was the scholarly part of his wider biblical program that included his Paraphrases (from his conviction that the humble and faithful unlearned could be true "theologians") and Patristic editions (from his conviction that even an optimal translation should not be read divorced from the understanding of the immediately succeeding generations of Christian teachers.) Some historians claim for Erasmus' Philosophia christi, the popular Paraphrases were actually more important than the Novum Testamentum omne,[1] in which his Annotations were perhaps more important to him than his Latin and Greek rescensions.

Erasmus himself later summarized his approach as philological, forensic and pre-theological, and that the formal aim was not to produce a definitive Greek rescension or Latin translation (included Patristic quotations as evidence about the traditions to be dealt with); notably he did not warrant that his Greek manuscripts were necessarily more correct in every passage than the Latin sources:

"Accordingly, I do not publish this edition as if I intended it to be completely free of errors. For I translated whatever I found most frequently and most uniformly in the Greek, pointing out where our (Vulgate) version agrees or disagrees with it and indicating what seems to me to be the most correct.
I know that sacred matters are to be treated with religious reverence; therefore, even though I was engaged in a minor task, I was as circumspect as I could be. I collated the most ancient and reliable manuscripts in both languages, and indeed no small number of them. I investigated the commentaries of ancients and moderns, both Greek and Latin. I noticed the various readings they furnished. I weighed the meaning of the passage and only then did I pronounce what I thought. No, I did not even pronounce; rather I informed the reader, leaving everyone free to make up his own mind."

— Erasmus, The Chief Points in the Arguments Answering Some Crabby and Ignorant Critics[14]: 305 


Erasmus polished the Latin, declaring, "It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin."[15]

By the last editions, Erasmus' Latin version differs from the Vulgate for about 40%[1] to 60%[16] of the text. Erasmus frequently borrowed from Lefèvre d'Étaples's and Valla's translations.[16]

In the negative judgement of one modern scholar "Erasmus' (Latin) translation is a monstrous mix of Vulgate (Western) and Byzantine elements…Only linguistically, by the standards of humanistic Latin, is it an improvement...Erasmus changed the Vulgate text (of Heb. 9, in 5th ed.) wherever this seemed to him to be necessary or desirable, but otherwise he left it as it stood."[17]


Erasmus' Latin contained several controversial renderings—different to or augmenting the Vulgate—(with philological or historical justifications in the Annotations) of words which became significant in the Reformation.

The Greek: metanoein was a notable problem: his each edition of the New Testament adopted a different rendering from the Vulgate's Latin: poenitentiam agite (do penance): variously Latin: poeniteat vos (may you repent), Latin: poenitemini (repentance) and Latin: poenitentiam agite vitae prioris (repent of the former life). However the 1519—the edition used by Martin Luther's German translation—notably adopted Papal secretary Lorenzo Valla's suggestion of Latin: resipiscere (to repent, to become wise again, to recover from insanity or senility, or to regain consciousness) with historical justification from Lactantius, and with an intellective rather than affective connotation.[n 4]

Another important translation choice was Greek logos to Latin sermo (speech, conversation) rather than verbum (word), after the first edition. This emphasized the Son as the self-disclosure of God, and dynamic or energetic rather than static. Critics worried this turned Christ into the Voice of God rather than the Mind of God.[18]: 76 

For Romans 12:2, the Greek has συσχηματίζεσθε (syschēmatizesthe) and μεταμορφοῦσθε (metamorphousthe).[19]

  • The Vulgate Latin has conformani and reformamini.[20]
  • Erasmus rendered them configuremi and transformemeni.[21]
  • English Catholic bibles (Wycliffean, Douay-Rheims, etc) have "be conformed" and "be reformed". (Knox has "fall in" and "must be an inward change".)
  • Tyndale-based bibles used "fashion" and "be changed".
  • From the King James Version onwards, Protestant bibles used "be conformed" and "be transformed."


According to scholars such as Henk Jan de Jong, "In judging the Greek text in Erasmus' editions of the New Testament, one should realize from the start that it was not intended as a textual edition in its own right, but served to give the reader of the Latin version, which was the main point, the opportunity to find out whether the translation was supported by the Greek."[n 5]

To some extent, Erasmus "synchronized" or "unified" the Greek (Byzantine) and the Latin textual traditions of the New Testament by producing an updated translation of both simultaneously. Both being part of canonical tradition, he clearly found it necessary to ensure that both were actually present in the same content. In modern terminology, he made the two traditions "compatible". This is clearly evidenced by the fact that his Greek text informs his Latin translation, but also the other way round: there are numerous instances of retroversion where he edits the Greek text to reflect his Latin version (and, perhaps, some lost Greek or patristic source from his prior research or annotation.)

In one case back-translating was necessary: the manuscript page containing the last six verses of Revelation had been lost (from Minuscule 1rK, as used for the first edition), so Erasmus translated the Vulgate's text back into Greek, noting what he had done.

Erasmus also re-translated the Latin text into Greek wherever he found that the Greek text and the accompanying commentaries were mixed up, where his Greek manuscripts lacked words found in the Vulgate,[22]: 408  or where he simply preferred the Vulgate's reading to the Greek text (e.g., at Acts 9:6).[23]: 4  In Acts 9:6 the question that Paul asks at the time of his conversion on the Damascus road, Τρέμων τε καὶ θαμβὣν εἲπεν κύριε τί μέ θέλεις ποιῆσαι ("And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do?") was incorporated from the Vulgate.[24]: 145 

Erasmus was not aware that the text of the New Testament had bifurcated early (into different text types) and presumed that some Greek manuscripts had been "Latinized" from the Vulgate.[1]: 600 

In the negative judgement of a modern Dominican scholar "As an edition of the (Greek) New Testament, his work has no critical value, even by Renaissance standards. But it was the text that first revealed the fact that the Vulgate, the Holy Book of the Latin Church, was not only a second-hand document but, in places, quite erroneous."[25]

Annotations and scholia[edit]

The New Testaments included very substantial scholia: various prefaces on methodology, a list of problems in the Vulgate translation, and, most importantly, substantial annotations justifying the word choices.


One notable preface, Methodus,[26] was expanded in the second edition, then spun out as an independent work: the "System (or Method) of True Theology" (Latin: ratio seu compendium verae theologiae, RVT):[27] it promoted affective devotional reading where one inserts oneself into the Gospel situation as an observer of Christ's human actions and interactions, akin to the monastic Lectio Divina.[28] Erasmus wrote that the “signs of profit from study” of the New Testament (RVT 1) using this method are, summarized:

First, not an increased facility in argumentation but an interior change, and a willingness to engage not in “conflictatio” with others but in “collatio”– a mutual interchange; secondly, a willingness to interrupt study with prayer, both petition for insight and thanksgiving for benefits, “sicubi te senseris profecisse” (“however you feel moved”)

— Thomas Merton[29]: 138 


His preface Paraclesis promoted scriptural knowledge for devotional use by even uneducated laymen, including the vernacular. (See Plowboy trope.)

if we had Christ's footprints or tunic they would be venerated, yet would merely tell us about his bodily form: the New Testament gives us a portrait of his mind. We can see him speaking, curing the sick, dying and rising again, almost more vividly that if we had seen him with our own eyes."

— Erasmus, Paraclesis, paraphrase by M.A. Screech.[30]


First page of Preface, Annotations of the New Testament (1521), with characteristic Froben decoration

The Annotations were a major and integral part the effort, rather dry, and were thoroughly re-worked in each edition. The annotations were primarily philological, but later included more theological justifications in response to subsequent academic controversies. The annotations sometimes gave readings that were not adopted in his Latin, or were not derived from his Basel manuscripts.[31] The initial version was largely written in England and Brabant before the decision to create the Greek rescension (and perhaps, the Latin rescension too).

Much use was made of Latin and Greek church fathers (with the exception of the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzen)'[32] the book's title named Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril, Vulgarius, Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, Hilary, and Augustine, in particular. "In general he was appreciative of the early church Fathers and contemptuous of medieval commentators."[33]

The Annotations contain some readings of the Greek not found in the Basel manuscripts, but from prior research in England, etc. [34] In England before coming to Basel in 1515, Erasmus had consulted with four Greek manuscripts, as yet unidentified.[35] Erasmus also made use of Lorenzo Valla's Collatio Novi Testementi, which had been based on seven Greek and four Latin manuscripts in Italy.[1]: 59 

The annotations gave extra material that helped subsequent vernacular translators, such as Johannes Lang and Martin Luther.[31]


Erasmus had been inspired back in 1504 by his discovery of Lorenzo Valla's Adnotationis Novum Testamentum, a work comparing the Latin Vulgate against Greek manuscripts. Erasmus republished Valla's work in 1505 and wrote in his preface about the need to recover the true text of the Bible. From 1499, encouraged by John Colet of Oxford, Erasmus began an intensive study of the Greek language.

He began studying, collecting and comparing Latin and Greek manuscripts far and wide in order to provide the world with a fresh Latin translation from the Greek.[36] By 1505 he had completed the letters of Paul, and by 1509 the Gospels, with a large collection of notes.[22]

Erasmus also "recognized the importance of biblical citations in the commentaries of the Fathers as valuable evidence for the original biblical text."[14] : 12 

Latin skills preparation[edit]

Erasmus had learned Latin at an early age, read voraciously, and for much of his life refused to write letters or speak in any language other than Latin, favouring classical syntax but embracing the expanded post-antiquity vocabulary.[37]: 148 

Over more than a decade, he assembled a large number of variants in Vulgate and patristic manuscripts, enabling him to choose those Latin readings which approached closest to the Greek texts in his judgement.[22]: 397 

A key resource used for his initial Latin rendition (1516) was his long-prepared complete works of Jerome (1516), an author Erasmus had intensively studied and the editor of the Vulgate Latin version New Testament, which was in turn largely based on older Vetus Latina translations. He had begun collecting material on specific issues from the early 1500s, in his extensive travels.

In the later versions of the New Testament and Annotations, Erasmus made use material from his Froben editions of the Western and African patristic and classical authors, notably Ambrose and Augustine.

Greek skills preparation[edit]

Erasmus had, unusually, been taught basic classical Greek at school,[38] but did not actively learn it until his mid 30s under the influence and assistance of his English circle, notable Greek experts Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn, and the writings of Lorenzo Valla, a Renaissance biblical scholar of the previous generation.

In 1506/1507 he lived and worked at the Aldine Press which supported a community of over 30 Greek scholars, many refugees, such as Marco Musuro (protégé of Janus Lascaris),[39] and which conducted most of its business in Greek.[40] In 1508 he studied in Padua with Giulio Camillo.

He honed his Greek-to-Latin translation skills by translating secular Greek authors, such as Lucian (with Thomas More), Euripides and classical Adages and Apophthegms. In the later versions of the New Testament and Annotations, Erasmus made use material from his Froben editions of the Eastern and African patristic and classical authors, notably Cyprian, Origen and John Chrysostom.

Erasmus was assisted by numerous scholars, both in Basel (such as Oecolampadius, for the first edition) and through his first-class network of correspondents (for example, he made enquiries of Papal Librarian Paulus Bombasius about Codex Vaticanus).

First edition[edit]

In his dedication to Pope Leo X, Erasmus positioned the 1516 work within the humanist ad fontes (back to the source of the stream) program:

I perceived that that teaching which is our salvation was to be had in a much purer and more lively form if sought at the fountain-head and drawn from the actual sources than from pools and runnels. And so I have revised the whole New Testament (as they call it) against the standard of the Greek original... I have added annotations of my own, in order in the first place to show the reader what changes I have made, and why; second, to disentangle and explain anything that may be complicated, ambiguous, or obscure.[41]

It was a bilingual edition; the Greek text was in a left column, the Latin in a right. The substantial annotations came from Erasmus' previous decade of manuscript and philological research throughout Western Europe.

Acknowledgement page engraved and published by Johannes Froben, 1516

The Latin translation retained much of the Vulgate.[n 6][34]: 374  The Annotations had been researched during the previous decade with recourse to many Latin and Greek sources.

Froben Press[edit]

On a visit to Basel in August 1514, he contacted Swiss-German printer Johann Froben of Basel.[43] It seems that it was decided first to make his word notes into annotations on the Greek and Vulgate Latin, and then, at a late stage, to use a new Latin translation.[34]: 373, 374 

In their own advocacy of the competing Alexandrian text-type and Critical Text against Erasmus' work, Victorian scholar S. P. Tregelles and modern critical scholar Bruce Metzger speculated that Froben might have heard about "the forthcoming Spanish Polyglot Bible," and tried to overtake the project of Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros for commercial reasons.[44]: 19 [45][43] However, not only had the Complutensian Polyglot New Testament already been printed back in January 1514, months before Erasmus met with Froben in August, but the historical record shows the Pope had issue with some translations in the Polyglot. Translator Antonio de Nebrija quit the Polyglot project when Cardinal Cisneros refused to allow him to alter the translations according to the Pope's satisfaction.[46]

In July 1515, Erasmus travelled from his Brabant base to Basel. Student Johannes Oecolampadius served as his editorial assistant and Hebrew consultant.[47]

The printing began on 2 October 1515, and in very short time was finished (1 March 1516). It was produced quickly – Erasmus declared later that the first edition was "precipitated rather than published" (praecipitatum verius quam editum)[48]: 105  – with hundreds[22]: 409  of spelling and typographical errors[24]: 143  Against his usual practice, Erasmus was absent for some of the printing leaving the correction to his assistants, who introduced their own errors as well.[49]


The title page of Erasmus' 1516 New Testament from Froben

The work was titled:

Novum Instrumentum omne, diligenter ab Erasmo Rot. Recognitum et Emendatum, non solum ad Graecam veritatem verum etiam ad multorum utriusq; linguae codicum eorumq; veterum simul et emendatorum fidem, postremo ad probatissimorum autorum citationem, emendationem et interpretationem, praecipue, Origenis, Chrysostomi, Cyrilli, Vulgarij, Hieronymi, Cypriani, Ambrosij, Hilarij, Augustini, una cum Annotationibus, quae lectorem doceant, quid qua ratione mutatum sit.[n 7]

This title, especially words: Novum Instrumentum [...] Recognitum et Emendatum, means New Instrument [...] Revised and Improved.

An Latin: Instrumentum is a decision put down in writing.[22]: 396 

Direct Greek Manuscripts[edit]

To prepare the Greek text for the First Edition, Erasmus and team used several manuscripts available locally in Basel,[n 8][22] though the accompanying Annotations were based on his lengthy manuscript research throughout Western Europe.

Eight Greek manuscripts have been identified:[50] Erasmus had three Greek manuscripts of the Gospels and Acts, five manuscripts of the Pauline epistles, two manuscripts of the Catholic epistles, but only one manuscript with the Book of Revelation:

Manuscript GA Content Date
Minuscule 2e 2 Gospels (main) 12th century
Minuscule 2ap 2815 Acts and Epistles (main) 12th century
Minuscule1rK 2814 Book of Revelation, in commentary by Andreas c. 600 12th century
Minuscule 4ap 2816 Pauline epistles 15th century
Minuscule 7p 2817 Pauline epistles 12th century
Minuscule 817 817 Gospels, in commentary by Theophylact c.1100 15th century
Minuscule 1eap 1 the entire NT except Revelation 12th century
2105 Pauline Epistles in commentary by Theophylact (1 use: Gal 3:8) 14th century

It seems that Erasmus did not intend to make a critical edition of the Greek, as such. He sent Minuscules 2e and 2ap to the printers "somewhat corrected" against the other manuscripts.[22]: 404 

The last page of the Erasmian New Testament (Rev 22:8-21)

He borrowed the manuscripts from Basel Dominicans Library.[n 9] Manuscripts 1eap and 1rK Erasmus borrowed from Johannes Reuchlin. He did not use the Codex Basilensis, which was held at the Basel University Library, and was available for him.


In every book of the New Testament he compared several manuscripts, except the last book, Revelation, for which he had access to only one manuscript. That manuscript was not complete, the final leaf, which contained the last six verses of the book, having been torn off. [34]

Instead of delaying the publication on account of the search for another manuscript, he decided to translate the missing verses from the Latin Vulgate into Greek, alerting readers to thins in a note. He used an inferior Vulgate manuscript with textual variant libro vitae (book of life) instead of ligno vitae (tree of life) in Revelation 22:19.[n 10]

Even in other parts of Revelation and other books of the New Testament, Erasmus occasionally introduced self-created Greek text material taken from the Vulgate. F. H. A. Scrivener remarked that in Rev. 17:4, Erasmus created a new Greek word: ἀκαθάρτητος (instead of τὰ ἀκάθαρτα). There is no such word in the Greek language as ἀκαθάρτητος.[51] In Rev. 17:8 he used καιπερ εστιν (and yet is) instead of και παρεσται (and shall come).[24]: 145 [n 11]

Second edition[edit]

The reception of the first edition by some theologians was mixed, but the English bishops who had been Erasmus' primary sponsors and mentors on the project were enthusiastic at the result,[52] and within three years a second was made (1519). Erasmus' network of friends and correspondents, notably Cuthbert Tunstall, supplied many improvements for the Latin text.

Erasmus described it as "a new work":[53]: 185  it used the more familiar term Testamentum instead of Instrumentum. (A Latin: Testamentum is an agreement without a written record.[22]: 396 ) Pope Leo X contributed a letter of recommendation, featured as one of the prefaces. The Latin text frequently provided alternative phrasing[48]: 107  to the Vulgate's.[34]: 374 

In the second edition Erasmus also used Minuscule 3 (Codex Corsendoucensis, or Vindobonensis Suppl. Gr. 52, entire NT except Revelation; 12th century) and an unidentified Gospel codex.[35] The Greek text was changed in about 400 places, with most—though not all—of the typographical errors corrected. Some new erroneous readings were added to the text.[44]: 25  For this edition, Erasmus re-worked his initial revision of Vulgate rescension of earlier Latin translations into a new, more elegant translation.[24]: 145  This new Latin translation had a good reception.

The Aldine press had in 1518 produced its own version of the first edition, with its own corrections from unknown Greek manuscripts in Venice. These changes were also considered by Erasmus.[16]

The second edition became the basis for Luther's German translation.[24]: 145 

After this edition, Erasmus was involved in many polemics and controversies. Particularly objectionable were the objections from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, such as over the Comma Johanneum.[24]: 1446 

Third edition[edit]

The Greek of the third edition (1522) differed in 118 places from the second.[44]: 26  It addressed many issues raised by opponents such as Lee and Stunica; though Erasmus tended to call corrections printer's errors.[1]

In this edition Erasmus, after using Codex Montfortianus, misprinted εμαις for εν αις in Apocalypse 2:13.[54]

Recent research suggests Eramus likely included more than 30 new readings from Volume V of the Complutensian Polyglot, without attributing them.[55]

Oecolampadius and Gerbelius, who had assisted Erasmus, insisted that he introduce more readings from the minuscule 1eap in the third edition. But according to Erasmus the text of this codex was altered from the Latin manuscripts, and had only secondary value.[56]

He also found several important new Latin sources with alternative Latin renderings he used, such as a commentary of the Venerable Bede.[14]: 12 

This edition was used by William Tyndale for the first English New Testament (1526), by Robert Estienne[citation needed] as a base for his editions of the Greek New Testament from 1546 and 1549, and by the translators of the Geneva Bible and King James Version. Publishers outside Basel frequently re-printed or cannibalized Erasmus' work without license: Erasmus' Latin Matthew, and his preface, were bundled with Johannes Lang's German translation in 1522.[31]

Comma Johanneum[edit]

López de Zúñiga, known as Stunica, one of the editors of Ximenes' Complutensian Polyglot, reproached Erasmus that his text lacked part of the 1 John 5:7-8 (Comma Johanneum). Erasmus replied that he had not found it in any Greek manuscript. Stunica answered that Latin manuscripts are more reliable than Greek.[24][44] In 1520 Edward Lee accused Erasmus of tendencies toward Arianism and Pelagianism, and of unorthodox sacramentology.[57] Erasmus replied that he had not found any Greek manuscript that contained these words, he answered that this was a case not of omission or removal, but simply of non-addition. He showed that even some Latin manuscripts did not contain these words.[24]: 146 [44]: 22 

Erasmus asked his friend, the Prefect of the Vatican Library, Paulus Bombasius, to check the Codex Vaticanus. Bombasius sent two extracts from this manuscript containing the beginnings of 1 John 4 and 5,[44] which has three dots in the margin but not the text of the Comma.[58]

Comma Johanneum in Codex Montfortianus

With the third edition of Erasmus's Greek text the Comma Johanneum was included. A single 16th-century Greek manuscript subsequently had been found to contain it. (Codex Montfortianus)

  • Erasmus included it, though he expressed doubt as to the authenticity of the passage in his Annotations.[24]: 146 [59]
  • This manuscript had allegedly been produced to order in 1520,[24] back-translated from the Vulgate, by Francis Frowick, Provincial of the Observant Franciscans in England and a friend of Erasmus,[60]: 91  however Frowick retired or died in 1518.
  • An often repeated story is that Erasmus included it, because he felt bound by a promise to include it if a manuscript was found that contained it. Henk Jan de Jonge, a specialist in Erasmian studies, stated that there is no explicit evidence that supports this frequently-made assertion concerning a specific promise made by Erasmus: so the real reason to include the Comma by Erasmus, has been speculated as care for his good name and for the success of his Novum Testamentum.[61][24]

Fourth edition[edit]


The fourth edition (1527) was printed in a new format of three parallel columns, they contain the updated Greek, Erasmus' own Latin version, and a standard Vulgate.[62] Except in the Revelation, the Greek of the fourth edition differed only in about 20 places from the third[44]: 27 (though according to Mill it is only about 10 places).

Shortly after the publication of his third edition, Erasmus had seen the Complutensian Polyglot, and used its Greek text for improvement of his own text. In the Book of Revelation he altered his fourth edition in about 90 passages on the basis of the Complutensian text.[24]: 148  Unfortunately Erasmus may have forgotten what places of the Apocalypse he translated from Latin and he did not correct all of them.

In November 1533, before the appearance of the fifth edition, Sepúlveda sent Erasmus a description of an ancient Vatican manuscript, informing him that it differed from the fourth edition text in favour of the Vulgate in 365 places.[44]: 108  Nothing is known about these 365 readings except for one. Erasmus in Adnotationes to Acts 27:16 wrote that according to the Codex from the Library Pontifici (i.e. Codex Vaticanus) name of the island is καυδα (Cauda), not κλαυδα (Clauda) as in his Novum Testamentum (Tamet si quidam admonent in codice Graeco pontificiae bibliothecae scriptum haberi, καυδα, id est, cauda).[63][n 12] In another letter sent to Erasmus in 1534 Sepúlveda informed him, that Greek manuscripts had been influenced by the Vulgate.[64]

Final edition[edit]

The fifth edition of Erasmus, published in 1535, the year before his death, discarded the Vulgate again[65] and omitted the well-known Paraclesis and the list of solecisms of the Vulgate. Otherwise it was a minor revision: according to Mill the Greek of the fifth edition differed only in four places from the fourth.[44]: 28 

The fifth edition was the basis of Robert Estienne's 1550 New Testament, which was the first variorum critical edition of the Greek, showing variants from the Complutensian Polyglot.[66] Estienne's edition was used as the basis of Theodore Beza's versions, the Elzevier's 1633 textus receptus editions, and the base text of John Mill's 1707 critical edition.[66]

Popular demand for Greek New Testaments led to a flurry of further authorized and unauthorized editions in the early sixteenth century; almost all of which were based on Erasmus's work and incorporated his particular readings, although typically also making a number of minor changes of their own. Tregelles gives Acts 13:33 as an example of the places in which commonly received text did not follow Erasmian text (εν τω ψαλμω τω πρωτω → εν τω ψαλμω τω δευτερω).[44]: 29 

Subsequent Developments[edit]

For Protestants, Erasmus' Latin New Testament was sidelined by vernacular translations and interest in the Greek and Hebrew original languages. Erasmus' editions started what became known as the textus receptus ("received text") Greek family which was the basis for most Western non-Catholic vernacular translations for the subsequent 350 years, until the new recensions of Westcott and Hort (1881 and after) and Eberhard Nestle (1898 and after.) His annotations continued to be respected and used.

For Catholics, Erasmus' Latin New Testament was sidelined from liturgical use and scholastic disputation following the Council of Trent, which decreed that "the old and Vulgate edition...(should) be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; no one is to date or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever."[67]: 71–72  This decree established that the Latin (based by Jerome on the Western text-type Vetus Latina, adjusted in phraseology to be more like the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-types[68]) was a distinct and authentic text tradition (similar to the Greek traditions, the Syriac, etc.) that must not be rejected as inauthentic. However Protestant polemicists have made stronger interpretations: for example Jean Calvin claimed the Trent decrees are "condemning all translations except the Vulgate" including the Greek and Hebrew.[69]

Erasmus' main thrust (that the Vulgate's Latin text had suffered a millenium of scribal variations and should be revised, including in light of old texts in the original languages and patristic usage) was accepted, even if his Latin version was not favoured: Trent called for a new standardized "Vulgate" edition corrected with contemporary scholarship: "The council decrees and determines that hereafter the sacred scriptures, particularly in this ancient Vulgate edition, shall be printed after a thorough revision."[67] Erasmus' Latin translation choices and annotations were considered during the preparation of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate (1592), and Vulgate itself was replaced for official use by the Nova Vulgata (1979), a version that gave greater weight to the Greek and Hebrew.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Epistle 694" in Collected Works of Erasmus Volume 5, 167. It was precipitated rather than edited: the Latin is prœcipitatum fuit verius quam editum.
  2. ^ "Erasmian hermeneutics are notoriously difficult to describe clearly because Erasmus is always looking in two directions at once - both toward the ideal, perfectly expressive Word and toward the multitude of imperfect, human words caught in the tumult of history and transmission."[12] : 542 
  3. ^ "Thus the multiple levels of meaning present in Scripture should be understood as a function of its immeasurable fecundity rather than a token of any ambiguity.…Erasmus treats the semiotic vagueness of a discourse caught up in history and contingency as a kind of linguistic felix culpa at the generative heart of communication …making more versions (and more mediations) possible."[12]: 542, 546 
  4. ^ Cook suggests that Latin: resipiscere was a particularly inflammatory choice as it suggested self-correction not only "with the sins, but with the errors, the madness, and the moral confusion of his own age." Latin: resipiscite is the ultimate word in The Complaint of Peace. Cook, Brendan (December 2007). "The Uses of Resipiscere in the Latin of Erasmus: In the Gospels and Beyond". Canadian Journal of History. 42 (3): 397–410. doi:10.3138/cjh.42.3.397.
  5. ^ "The quality of the Greek edition made little difference, as long as it could justify the choice of wording and phraseology of the Latin translation." … "Ultimately, compared to the literary and linguistic quality of the Latin translation, the textual accuracy of the Greek edition was a matter of little moment to him. … Real influence could only be exercised by a Latin text."de Jong, Henk Jan (1984). "Novum Testamentum a nobis versum: the Essence of Erasmus' Edition of the New Testament". The Journal of Theological Studies. 32 (2).
  6. ^ "The revisions to the Vulgate in the first edition of 1516 were limited and conservative."[42]: 145 
  7. ^ In English: All New (Latin) Instrument, diligently reexamined and improved by Erasmus of Rotterdam: not only from the original Greek, but also from many others, from codices in each language, of the ancient faith with corrections, finally from the citation, emendation and interpretation of the most approved authors, especially Origen, Chrysostom, Cyril, Vulgarius, Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, Hilary, Augustine. Together with annotations, which teach the reader what has been changed for what reason.
  8. ^ For a detailed description of the manuscripts, which also mentions the use of a commentary on Paul's epistles by Theophylact, see Andrist, Patrick (1 January 2016). "Structure and History of the biblical manuscripts used by Erasmus for his 1516 edition". Wallraff Martin, Seidel Menchi Silvana, Greyerz Kaspar (Ed.), Basel 1516. Erasmus' Edition of the New Testament, Spätmittelalter, Humanismus, Reformation 91, Tübingen 2016, p. 81-124.
  9. ^ Most of these Greek manuscripts came from the collection that had been bequeathed in 1443 to the Dominican monastery at Basel by John of Ragusa, who had brought them in 1437 from Constantinople for the Council of Basel which in small part resolved the Eastern schism; see Bo Reicke, Erasmus und die neutestamentliche Textgeschichte, Theologische Zeitschrift, XXII (1966), pp. 254-265.
  10. ^ Textual scholar Hoskier argued that Erasmus did not use the Vulgate. Instead, he suggested that Erasmus used other Greek manuscripts such as Minuscule 2049. See: H. C. Hoskier, Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse, vol. 2 (London: Bernard Quaritch, Ltd., 1929), p. 644.
  11. ^ Hills concluded that Erasmus was divinely guided when he introduced Latin Vulgate readings into his Greek text. See Edward F. Hills, King James Version Defended!, pp. 199-200.
  12. ^ Andrew Birch was the first, who identified this note with 365 readings of Sepulveda.


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  2. ^ Faludy, George (1970). Erasmus. New York: Stein & Day. pp. 165–166.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]