The Critical Text and the Textus Receptus in 2 Thessalonians [Studies in Thessalonians]

Most Christian scholars use what is called the Critical Edition of the Greek New Testament, and almost all modern versions are based upon it. There are several camps that prefer other editions, the Textus receptus or the Majority Text. Some do so because of a belief that it better represents the original; I think they are mistaken, but respect their view. Others promote one conspiracy theory or another: The modern editors are motivated by a desire to remove Christ from the New Testament! They are in league with the Pope (or the Illuminati or the Masons) to destroy God’s Word! That the NIV New Testament strikes out the name of the Lord Jesus 178 times, and that, so goes the theory, its editors did so as a blatant attack against his person or authority or incarnation.

Does that theory hold up? As a test case we will examine the brief epistle of 2 Thessalonians. Christ is referenced some 22 times. Of these, 18 times show no difference whatever between the 1550 Elzevir version of the Textus receptus and the latest critical edition, Nestle-Aland 27th.[1]

2 Thess 1 in Codex Sinaiticus, one the oldest copy of that book

What of the four verses that do show a difference between the editions? There is hardly any noticeable plot to cut Christ out of the message of the letter:

  1. “our Lord Jesus Christ” in the TR is “our Lord Jesus” in the critical text (1:8)
  2. “our Lord Jesus Christ” is “the Lord Jesus” the first time (1:12) but stays “Lord Jesus Christ” the second time
  3. “Day of Christ” is “Day of the Lord” in 2:2
  4. “the Lord” is “the Lord Jesus” in 2:8, that is, the critical text has the additional name “Jesus”

These changes are not some random decision of the NA 27th edition, but are based on what are considered to be the older and better manuscripts of the New Testament. In addition, textual critics have become aware that over the centuries, pious scribes tended to expand the divine names as they copied manuscripts, e. g., making “Jesus Christ” into “the Lord Jesus Christ”. A good example of this is found in 1 Cor 5:4, where “our Lord Jesus Christ” is “our Lord Jesus” in earlier manuscripts.

Of the 22 examples in 2 Thessalonians, the main significant difference is from “Day of Christ” to “Day of the Lord” in the critical text. Twice “Lord Jesus Christ” becomes “Lord Jesus” but the critical text leaves in “Christ” the other 9 times! The other change actually expands the divine name from “the Lord” to “the Lord Jesus”. These sorts of data try the imagination of the conspiracy theorist, who must explain why those in the plot to take Christ out of the Bible did such slipshod work.


[1] These references are: 2 Thess 1:1; 1:2; 1:7; 1:8; 1:9; 1:12 (two references); 2:1; 2:2; 2:8; 2:14; 2:16; 3:1; 3:3; 3:4; 3:5 (two references); 3:6; 3:12; 3:16 (two references); 3:18.

Related posts:

Studies in Thessalonians series

“The Critical Text and the Textus Receptus in 2 Thessalonians [Studies in Thessalonians],” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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  1. the use of the phrase “day of Christ” as opposed tot he Day of the Lord has a very important difference in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 … if day of Christ is used/ it refers to the day of the rapture, and states that the antichrist must be revealed before that rapture day/ using the day of the Lord indicates the second coming of Jesus at the end of the tribulation…/ using other references used by Paul using day of Jesus or day of Christ always reference the rapture /…Christos /… the Textus Receptus and Morphological Greek differ in their respective use of the word …. the correct original greek work here will make the case for the doctrine of immenence …

    • Hi Bob, and thanks for writing in!

      I have to disagree, since there is no distinguishable difference between the various “Day of…” terms.

      It’s ill manners to quote oneself, but I have published a commentary on this passage with Zondervan:

      With regard to this eschatological Day, some students split words beyond what is warranted by the biblical texts. They assume that a literal exegesis must lead to the conclusion that, for example, the day of Christ is to be distinguished from the day of the Lord. In fact, Paul uses such terms as day of the Lord, day of Christ, day of the Lord Jesus Christ, or simply Day more or less interchangeably, without intending to lend fine shades of meaning to each one. His readers did not need a decoder, since all these “day” references are variations of the Hebrew “day of Yahweh.”

      If each of these phrases were taken in this same uber-literal manner, thus distinct one from another – and this seems highly improbable – then we would have to imagine that there were SIX eschatological events with their own timing and definition: See “the day of the Lord” (outside of 1 – 2 Thess in 1 Cor 5:5), “day of [the] Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8); “the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6); “the day of Christ” (Phil 1:10; 2:16); “the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5 some mss; 2 Cor 1:14); or simply the “Day” (1 Cor 3:13; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:3; 2 Tim 1:12, 18; 4:8).

      I’d be interested, Bob, to know which of the readings do you think is the original in 2 Thess 2:2 and by what criteria? The Textus receptus has “Day of Christ” but with very slim evidence, as even most pre-trib scholars grant. We can’t decide which text is preferable based on whether it supports our theological stance, we have to establish the text first and then decide what it means.

      In my opinion the doctrine of “imminence” as defined by pretribulationists has no basis in the Bible. It is based on a redefinition of the term to make it mean “it can happen at any moment.” This is not what the word means. Look up any dictionary and it does not mean “COULD happen soon” but rather “WILL happen soon.” No-one knows the time of the Second Coming or Rapture, therefore no-one can claim that the it is imminent.

      You might enjoy my article on the eschatology of 2 Thess 2 here – https://openoureyeslord.com/2011/06/30/what-comes-before-the-day-of-the-lord-the-final-apostasy-or-the-departure-of-the-church/

      • Gary… thanks so much for your prompt reply … I am not so much interested in how ill mannered your response is, but how true it is … I am mainly looking for the true meaning how 2 Thess ch2 specifically applies to the rapture timing…I think we can agree that the rapture of the church and the second coming of Jesus with the saints are 2 different events / they will occur at different times and mean different things for different people.To say that there are 2 different “day” words to describe these events is not a stretch.. Since Paul is talking about the rapture in ch 2 / I have always been uneasy about the pre-tribulatiion folks using this passage to prove that the rapture can happen at any time, and that the rapture has to occur before the revealing of the antichrist…. always using the moniker “I am looking for Jesus Christ not the antichrist … even if we agree that the day of the Lord and day of Christ mean exactly the same thing/( even though it appears different Greek words are used} the second chapter says to me that 2 things must occur before the rapture ….1 the falling away/2 the man of sin revealed….if this is true than the rapture cannot occur at any time … I am not as interested in words, but interested in what they mean …. I guess your next reply may depend on your particular theory of the rapture ….. I have always wondered why born again believers can come up with so many explanations for a doctrine .. if the Holy Spirit teaches all things regarding Christ , than why do we disagree?..peace brother/ bob

        • Hi Bob, thanks for your note.

          In my opinion, Matthew 24-25, 1 Thess 3:13, 1 Thess 4:13-17, 2 Thess 1:5-10, 2 Thess 2:1-12, taken together with Revelation and so on, all indicate that there is only a singular and indivisible Second Coming of Christ, that is, as Matt 24:31 says, that the Son of Man will send his angels to gather his elect from the earth at the time that he comes at the end of the tribulation. The Greek text uses parousia for all these aspects of his coming, thus, I hold that there is one parousia, and no more.

          Blessings, Gary

  2. […] The Critical Text and the Textus Receptus in 2 Thessalonians [Studies in Thessalonians] […]

  3. Also, it is worth noting that the reading “the day of the Lord” is better connects Jesus to Yahweh (the original “Lord” in that phrase) and is therefore more and not less pious (if that is the concern).

    • This could be a telling point, since “the Lord” in the Thessalonian epistles consistently refers to the Lord Jesus. I’ll make a separate blog on this.


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