From "The Answer Book" ©1989 Samuel C. Gipp. Reproduced by permission
QUESTION: Was Erasmus, the editor of the Textus
Receptus, a "good" Roman Catholic?
ANSWER: Erasmus, who edited the Greek text which was
later to be known as the Textus Receptus, was an embarrassment
to the pope and a poor example of a "good" Roman Catholic.
EXPLANATION: Desiderius Erasmus was born in 1466 and
died in 1536 at the age of seventy. This was no mean feat during
the days when the plagues, coupled with primeval medical
practices, worked together to limit the average age of a man's life
to approximately 35-40 years.
Both of his parents fell victim to that same plague while Erasmus
was just a lad. He and his brother were then placed in the care of
an uncle who promptly sent them off to a monastery just to be rid
of them. Thus Erasmus's destiny was sealed long before he could
ever have a say in the matter.
Young Erasmus became well known for his charm, urbanity and
wit, and was in possession of an obviously above average intellect.
He was later to choose to be an Augustinian on the sole attribute
that they were known to have the finest of libraries.
His behavior was somewhat bizarre by Augustinian standards.
He refused to keep vigils, never hesitated to eat meat on Fridays,
and though ordained, chose never to function as a priest. The
Roman Church had captured his body, but quite apparently his
mind and heart were still unfettered.
He is known to history as one of the most prolific writers of all
Erasmus was a constant and verbal opponent of the many
excesses of his church. He berated the papacy, the priesthood and
the over indulgences of the monks. He stated that the monks
would not touch money, but that they were not so scrupulous
concerning wine and women. He constantly attacked clerical
concubinage and the cruelty with which the Roman Catholic
Church dealt with so called "heretics." He is even credited with
saving a man from the Inquisition.
One of his many writings consisted of a tract entitled "Against
the Barbarians" which was directed against the overt wickedness
of the Roman Catholic Church.
He was a constant critic of Pope Julius and the papal monarchy.
He often compared the crusade leading Pope Julius to Julius
Caesar. He is quoted as saying, "How truly is Julius playing the
part of Julius." He also stated, "This monarchy of the Roman
pontiff is the pest of Christendom." He advised the church to "get
rid of the Roman See." When a scathing satire, in which Pope
Julius was portrayed as going to Hell, written in anonymity was
circulated, it was fairly common knowledge that its author was
He was offered a bishopric in hopes that it would silence his
criticism. He rejected the bribe flat.
Erasmus published five editions of the New Testament in
Greek. They were brought out successively in 1516, 1519, 1522,
1527 and 1535. His first two editions did not contain I John 5:7
although the reading had been found in many non-Greek texts
dating back as early as 150 A.D. Erasmus desired to include the
verse but knew the conflict that would rage if he did so without at
least one Greek manuscript for authority. Following the publication
of his second edition, which like his first consisted of both the
Greek New Testament and his own Latin translation, he said that
he would include I John 5:7 in his next edition if just one Greek
manuscript could be found which contained it. Opponents of the
reading today erringly charge that the two manuscripts found had
been specially produced just to oblige Erasmus's request, but this
charge has never been validated and was not held at the time of
The Roman Catholic Church criticized his works for his refusal
to use Jerome's Latin translation, a translation that he said was
inaccurate. He opposed Jerome's translation in two vital areas.
He detected that the Greek text had been corrupted as early as
the fourth century. He knew that Jerome's translation had been
based solely on the Alexandrian manuscript, Vaticanus, written
itself early in the fourth century.
He also differed with Jerome on the translation of certain
passages which were vital to the claimed authority of the Roman
Jerome rendered Matthew 4:17 thus: "Do penance, for the
kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
Erasmus differed with: "Be penitent for the kingdom of heaven is
Erasmus was also a staunch defender of both Mark 16:9-21
and John 8:1-12. Zeal which our modern day scholars cannot
seem to find.
Possibly Erasmus's greatest gift to mankind was his attitude
toward the common man. In the rigidly "classed" society in which
he lived, he was an indefatigable advocate of putting the Scripture
in the hands of the common man. While Jerome's Latin had been
translated at the bidding of the Roman hierarchy, Erasmus
translated his Latin with the express purpose of putting it into the
hands of the common people of his day. A practice that the
Roman Catholic Church knew could be dangerous to its plan to
control the masses.
Erasmus is quoted as saying, "Do you think that the Scriptures
are fit only for the perfumed?" "I venture to think that anyone who
reads my translation at home will profit thereby." He boldly stated
that he longed to see the Bible in the hands of "the farmer, the
tailor, the traveler and the Turk." Later, to the astonishment of his
upper classed colleagues, he added "the masons, the prostitutes
and the pimps" to that declaration.
Knowing his desire to see the Bible in the hands of God's
common people, it seems not so surprising that God was to use his
Greek text for the basis of the English Bible that was translated
with the common man in mind, the King James Bible.
It has been said that "Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched."
There is probably far more truth to this statement than can be
casually discerned. For the reformers were armed with Erasmus's
Bible, his writings and his attitude of resistance to Roman Catholic
intimidation. Of Luther he said, "I favor Luther as much as I can,
even if my cause is everywhere linked with his." He wrote several
letters on Luther's behalf, and wholeheartedly agreed with him that
salvation was entirely by grace, not works.
He refused pressure by his Roman Catholic superiors to
denounce Luther as a heretic. If Erasmus had turned the power of
his pen on Luther, it would undoubtedly have caused far more
damage than the powerless threats of the pope and his imps were
able to do. As it is, only his disagreement with Luther's doctrine of
predestination ever prompted him to criticize the Reformer with
pen and ink.
Erasmus's greatest point of dissension with the Roman Church
was over its doctrine of salvation through works and the tenets of
He taught that salvation was a personal matter between the
individual and God and was by faith alone. Of the Roman system
of salvation he complained, "Aristotle is so in vogue that there is
scarcely time in the churches to interpret the gospel." And what
was "the gospel" to which Erasmus referred? We will let him
speak for himself.
"Our hope is in the mercy of God and the merits of Christ." Of
Jesus Christ he stated, "He ... nailed our sins to the cross, sealed
our redemption with his blood. " He boldly stated that no rites of
the Church were necessary for an individual's salvation. "The way
to enter paradise," he said, "is the way of the penitent thief, say
simply, Thy will be done. The world to me is crucified and I to the
Concerning the most biblical sect of his time, the Anabaptists,
he reserved a great deal of respect. He mentioned them as early as
1523 even though he himself was often called the "only Anabaptist
of the 16th century." He stated that the Anabaptists that he was
familiar with called themselves "Baptists." (Ironically, Erasmus was
also the FIRST person to use the term "fundamental.")
So we see that when Erasmus died on July 11, 1536, he had
led a life that could hardly be construed to be an example of what
could be considered a "good Catholic."
But perhaps the greatest compliment, though veiled, that
Erasmus's independent nature ever received came in 1559,
twenty-three years after his death. That is when Pope Paul IV put
Erasmus's writings on the "Index" of books, forbidden to be read
by Roman Catholics.