The Christian’s Handbook of Manuscript Evidence was first published in 1970, then republished in 1997. The 1997 reprint was in a new format, resulting in page numbers not matching, but the textual data was not updated. Unless otherwise noted, all references to the book in this review are to the 1997 reprint.
This review was difficult because we often found ourselves on Peter Ruckman’s side of the manuscript debate, but we found a number of arguments, tactics and opinions presented as facts which we disagreed with. Bad arguments and questionable presentation of data can cause distrust in a position, hence the need for this review to warn others.
Instead of starting off on topic, Ruckman goes off on rants in the first chapter, including making the shocking claim that there are liberal and dead orthodox churches that to bolster sagging attendance have “resorted to nudes posing in the pulpit, photographs of nudes displayed on the bulletin boards, photos of nudes interleaved with the pages of the Bible…ministers displaying their sex organs to the congregations…” Not only is this claim highly questionable, it is out of place in what is supposed to be a handbook on manuscript evidence!
Much of the arguments Ruckman presents in the book were already available at the time in books by Hoskier, Burgon, Hills, and others. So it was not a ground-breaking book as some Ruckmanites seem to want to portray it. Ruckman didn’t add much new other than a provocative tone and some extreme arguments to an issue that was already of a sensitive nature.
Ruckman’s “evidence” in the book is not so much facts and figures and charts and careful analysis of the data, but in his arguments (which naturally involves some of the data) and clever questions. Some of his arguments and questions have merit and would deserve consideration, but he frames them with such put-downs and sandwiched between fallacious arguments and absurd statements, that it is hard to take him serious. And extremely few outside of his circle gave his book any consideration. The only ones we are aware of that reviewed it who might be considered scholars were Stewart Custer and Marshall Neal, who together wrote a brief two-page review of Manuscript Evidence in 1971. Their concluding thought includes this statement: "Mr. Ruckman's book is hardly worth any detailed refutation but should be ignored as the work of a crack-pot…" (Neal, Marshall & Custer, Stewart. Biblical Viewpoint. April 1971, pp. 64-65)
The preface sets the reader up for high expectations. In it he is promised the following:
This Handbook will enable the Bible-believing student to handle any problem which may arise from those who resent, disbelieve, ignore, or ridicule the AV New Testament text. …the problems of variance between the Greek Textus Receptus are compared… (p. viii)
The fact that his book couldn’t resolve “any problem which may arise” in the areas mentioned is evident by his need to put out the book Problem Texts 10 years later. We believe that our observations will reveal that the book did not deliver on its promise. As to variances between Textus Receptus editions (printed editions, not what Ruckman sometimes calls the Receptus), the only specific case mentioned in the entire book was the addition of the Comma Johanneum (1 Jn. 5:7-8) to Erasmus’s 1522 edition of the Textus Receptus.
Confusion of terms
In the book, Ruckman makes apparent references to Byzantine manuscripts or Byzantine readings with very inconsistent terms. We have compiled a list for your convenience:
“AV Receptus” (p. 171)
“AV 1611 Greek Manuscripts” (p. 121)
“Receptus manuscripts” (p. 179)
“Receptus Greek manuscripts” (p. 99)
“Textus Receptus of Asia Minor and Antioch” (p. 75)
“Byzantine type text” (p. 77)
“Byzantine text of the AV 1611” (p. 82)
“Byzantine Textus Receptus” (p. 83)
“Byzantine Greek Receptus” (p. 86)
“Byzantine Receptus” (p. 88)
“Byzantine text of the Receptus” (p. 185)
“papyrus copies of the Receptus” (p. 92)
“one family of manuscripts—the Syrian (or Byzantine) type” (p. 95)
“Syrian text” (p. 100)
"Syrian-Byzantine manuscripts" (p. 200)
“the original Receptus from the papyri” (p. 94)
“Receptus (Syrian family) manuscripts” (p. 104)
“Receptus uncials” (p. 108)
“Traditional Text” (p. 227)
Not only are the interchangeable use of these terms confusing to those unacquainted with textual criticism (and even for some who are!), it clearly blurs the distinction between Byzantine manuscripts copied word-for-word by hand, and Textus Receptus editions, initially edited by Erasmus and published on commercial printing presses.
A whole chapter was dedicated to Ruckman’s belief that the Septuaguint did not exist during or before the time of Christ. That Ruckman is not interested in any evidence from history that might contradict his belief is evident in the following statement:
But if a thousand pieces of papyrus were recovered with the Old Testament Greek written before 100 B.C., on them nothing could bolster the sagging testimony of the LXX, for the real proof that it is a fraud can be found in the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts already discovered. (p. 57. Our underlining for emphasis)
Here Ruckman is displaying an attitude that seems to say, “I don’t care what plentiful evidence you could come up with, my mind is already made up!”
For more on Ruckman's views regarding the Septuagint, see An evaluation of Ruckman’s denials of a pre-Christian Septuagint.
Bible believers by Ruckman’s definition?
Ruckman calls Burgon, Scrivener, Miller and Hills “real Bible believers,” (p. 69) but there is much they would disagree with Ruckman. None of the men were known to hold views agreeing with his most controversial positions, and the only one who was a contemporary of Ruckman actually spoke out against believing the KJV was superior to the original and inspired:
Do we believing Bible Students “worship” the King James Version? Do we regard it as inspired, just as the ancient Jewish philosopher Philo (d. 42 A.D.) and many early Christians regarded the Septuagint as inspired? Or do we claim the same supremacy for the King James Version that Roman Catholics claim for the Latin Vulgate? Do we magnify its authority above that of the Hebrew and Greek Old and New Testament Scriptures? We have often been accused of such excessive veneration for the King James Version, but these accusations are false. In regard to Bible versions we follow the example of Christ’s Apostles. We adopt the same attitude towards the King James Version that they maintained toward the Septuagint. (Hills, Edward. The King James Version Defended. 1984, p. 229)
Ruckman does not even mention Miller’s book on textual criticism, even though he includes him in his list of “real Bible believers.” Much of Ruckman’s book consisted of mocking common textual criticism teachings. However—if Miller was a real Bible believer according to Ruckman, why not rely on, quote, or at least mention Miller’s book on this very topic, A Guide To The Textual Criticism Of The New Testament (1886)?
Burgon’s perfect theory?
As previously mentioned, Ruckman included John Burgon in his list of “real Bible believers” (p. 69). We found it odd that his writings are not quoted even once in the book. Notwithstanding, in the following statement, Ruckman praises Burgon’s teachings in a way that sounds too good to be true:
There is a third theory, propounded in 1881 by Dean Burgon of Chichester (1813-1888), which evidently no one remembers. This theory, which matches all the facts of history, all the evidence of the papyri, all the evidence found in the unicals, [sic] all the evidences of soul winning and revival, and all the evidences of common sense and reason, is that the SYRIAN TEXT was FIRST and the Alexandrian scribes SUBTRACTED FROM IT (ASV, RSV) and the Roman scribes ADDED TO IT (Vulgate, Douay-Rheims). This theory, supported by Scrivener, Burgon, Miller, and Hills, tallies perfectly with everything. (p. 100)
What are the details of this theory by Burgon that is portrayed so wonderfully? Ruckman doesn’t say. He is strangely silent. At this point, he doesn’t quote the author of the theory, nor proceed to summarize it. In his footnote, Ruckman doesn’t inform readers which writings of Burgon contain this perfect theory. For a theory that “tallies perfectly with everything,” it is unthinkable for Ruckman to then change the subject and not elaborate on it at all! Much later in the book, Ruckman does take a small paragraph to recommend Burgon’s excellent book, The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark. (p. 144)
By questioning Ruckman’s labeling of Burgon’s manuscript theory as perfect, we don’t mean by this that Burgon’s views are bad. His views and analysis of manuscript data are indeed worthy of serious consideration, even though some information is outdated now that more manuscripts have come to light. Although they are not easy reading, we recommend the writings of John Burgon to those who are interested in the topic. However, as with any human work, it cannot “tally perfectly with everything,” as Ruckman alleges. Also, although Burgon seems tame compared to Ruckman, he does sometimes indulge in harsh speech.
Controlling the views of others
Considering it is a book of 244 pages in which he relies heavily on the research of others, we find it odd how ill-disposed Ruckman is to quoting others verbatim. In fact, other than biblical passages, he never quotes more than one sentence in length from anyone, friend or foe in the entire book! In our count, there were only 5-6 cases of quoting one sentence or less in the book, including the footnotes.
Ruckman likes to characterize the views of others in his own words. This is unscholarly, because it keeps him in complete control of how his readers perceive the position of others, especially his opponents. When he recasts what his opponents are supposed to believe in a convenient manner or with half-truths, he can easily knock them down triumphantly with strawman fallacies. We find this to occur quite frequently on other topics in other books he has written as well.
Ruckman’s overly simplistic solution to a complex problem
The complex problem in textual criticism—in simple terms—is that the manuscripts do not agree perfectly among themselves, even among those of the Byzantine family that are the closest to the KJV (although most of the time the differences are minor, as in spelling and word order). Then there is the issue of printed Greek (Textus Receptus editions) and Hebrew (Masoretic) texts. Although they are very close, they also do not always agree among themselves or with the KJV. As if that wasn’t enough, there are small differences between KJV editions. Although everyone involved from textual critics, translators and professors would consider these matters to be a problem, it becomes an exponentially greater problem to someone such as Ruckman, who was the first to write entire books dedicated to proclaiming the KJV as absolutely infallible in every detail, and even superior to the originals.
Since Ruckman believes the KJV is infallible, his task should be to propose a convincing theory of preservation that proves conclusively, in a manner that does not contradict the Bible, the facts of history, manuscript data, or logic, that the KJV is not just reliable, but truly infallible and superior to the originals as he claims. As we shall demonstrate, Ruckman fails miserably at this. The book starts off with the priori argument fallacy that the AV 1611 is infallible, with no attempt to prove it first. Further proof that he fails miserably is in the overly-simplistic statements he makes throughout the entire book as his fall-back position, which we will reproduce as follows:
Where the Greek says one thing and the A.V. says another, throw out the Greek. (p. 151)
In exceptional cases, where the majority of Greek manuscripts stand against the A.V. 1611, put them in file 13. (p. 143)
…The A.V. 1611 “purified” the Receptus manuscripts. (p. 179)
…“coincidences” which have slipped through the AV 1611 committees, unawares to them, and which give advanced light and advanced revelation… (p. 140)
Moral: Mistakes in the AV 1611 are advanced revelation! (p. 139)
Again, the A.V. 1611 is necessary to recover the original text and straighten out the corrupt Greek. (p. 133)
Ruckman does offer more sophisticated solutions for select passages in the book, and sometimes a statement like those above would conclude an analysis of a passage. However, the fact that he keeps resorting to these simplistic arguments demonstrates that his views applied to the entire KJV are really priori assumptions.
Quite a few passages he deals with in the book have to do with translation issues, not textual issues. In other words, translation issues do not involve cases where the difference between the KJV and modern translations can be attributed to differences among manuscripts. Sometimes Ruckman made it clear that he was dealing with translation issues, but he did not consistently inform the reader.
Being a book on manuscript evidence, one would expect the Scriptural passages to be restricted to cases in which manuscript readings affect the translation. Even though Ruckman is formally trained in the original languages, he seems more at home with translation issues than text critical ones. This is perhaps because it is easier to ascribe evil motives to a translational decision versus textual. And when it comes to accusing translators of evil motives, Ruckman is not shy as in the following example involving 1 Tim. 6:10: “If anyone led you to believe any differently, he is after your pocketbook or your billfold.” (p. 152) But Ruckman still does not hold back when it comes to his imagination on motives behind textual issues. Observe his reasoning for the omission of Mark 16:9-20:
Unable to “rightly divide” the passage (2 Tim. 2:15), Origen, Eusebius, and Westcott and Hort, etc., finally gave it up as a bad job and decided it never should have been in the Bible in the first place. (p. 144)
Majoring on the minors
In cases in which he dedicated a paragraph or more to analyze passages in which the issue was differences in manuscripts (which were not plentiful in the book), he dedicated three to passages in which the dispute was over spelling, and one over word order. To dedicate part of his book to these when there are passages that involve the omission of entire verses (which he didn’t entirely avoid) or affect interpretation of vital doctrines seems out of balance, which we have come to expect of Ruckman.
There are statements throughout the book that if put into practice in Bibles in other languages (even translations based on the Textus Receptus) it would surely lead to absurd results. This is because Ruckman has not placed any foreign translation on the same infallible level as the KJV. As you read the following statements, keep in mind that Ruckman does not declare any foreign translation to be the final authority/infallible standard:
If you have no absolute and final authority to preach – don’t preach. (p. 16)
Without an infallible standard by which to judge spirits and “leadings,” the individual Christian is abandoned to Satan. (p. 40)
Taking Ruckman’s views to their logical conclusions, those who have to use foreign language Bibles are abandoned to Satan and shouldn’t preach! What absurdity!
An example of how these extreme views play out in real life would be the case of Ruckmanite Sam Gipp. When asked by John Ankenberg on his television show “If a guy is in Russia and he really wants to get the truth of the Word of God, would he have to learn English?” Dr. Gipp’s reply was “Yes.” (Waite, D.A. Foes of the King James Bible Refuted. The Bible for Today Press, 2003, p. 7)
Ruckman’s many footnotes in the book might look impressive and scholarly, but a close look reveals otherwise. Six of the footnotes merely consist of stating “Et al” with nothing following. On p. 127 Ruckman has a list of what supposedly “modern scholars had to do” to “rid themselves of the hated Authorized Version.” Seventh on the list is “Print AV’s with dirty pictures in them.” The footnote for this simply says “See AP releases, 1959.” Notice there is no specific date, page number, writer, place, or Bible publisher to verify the information.
When we found a statement that affirmed that manuscript copies of the Old Latin used by the Waldensians “do not contain the Apocrypha,” we tried to follow it up with the provided footnote. The footnote merely says “See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.” Why not provide the page number? Since several editions of this encyclopedia were published, why not specify the edition? Better yet, why not quote directly from the source?
There were also places where information that was not common knowledge was not documented, and a footnote with proper references should have been included. An example where a footnote should have been used was his statement on p. 83 that the Greek minuscule manuscripts (that he seems to know very little about) “bear witness (99 percent of the time) to the text of the AV 1611.” Did he collate thousands of manuscripts himself (many spread out worldwide and not available to the public) with the KJV to arrive at this percentage? Did others collate the manuscripts and Ruckman failed to provide the source? Did he make up the statistic, believing it to be a safe assumption? Considering his reputation, we are afraid the latter is the case, therefore we cannot repeat the statistic confidently until it can be shown to come from a reputable source.
The review by Neal and Custer mentioned earlier also points out frustrations with the footnotes:
Secondly, the book is very heavily footnoted, but many of these footnotes are meaningless and ridiculous. On page 55, he makes the statement that Origen was not able to interpret third-grade Greek. This statement about a man who spoke Greek as his native tongue and who wrote his works in Greek is supported by a footnote which appears on page 189. This footnote says "See footnote 41, chapter 5." The latter says: "Why wouldn't he if he thought Jesus was a Greek philosopher like Origen did." (Neal, Marshall & Custer, Stewart. Biblical Viewpoint. April 1971, p. 63)
His footnotes section is an embarrassment, even more so when it is considered that he has an earned doctorate, so he knows better.
Unexpected for a handbook
Ruckman does not even provide a grand total of extant New Testament manuscript in the book, even though he calls it a “manual” of manuscript evidence. One could of course manually add up manuscript totals for the different manuscripts mentioned in his “Materials Available” chapter. A Bibliography was not included, nor an index. And this is supposed to be a handbook?
An injustice to the Byzantine manuscripts
One of the worst injustices of the book was what little Ruckman wrote about the actual manuscripts that are the closest to the KJV. He did not describe, analyze, compare or elaborate on a single manuscript that he labeled as being fully Byzantine! He only spoke of them in generalities. For a book on manuscript evidence, this is inexcusable! In the “Materials Available” chapter, for example, this is all he had to say under the heading “The Greek Cursives”:
These are manuscripts using lower case letters which make up the texts; they are referred to as “minuscule” in distinction from “majuscules” (uncials). These number about 2,429 manuscripts dating from the ninth to the sixteenth century. In Nestle’s critical apparatus they are listed by thin, slanting numbers. They make up the vast majority of New Testament manuscripts and bear witness (99 percent of the time) to the text of the AV 1611. The cursive style is the style adopted by all of the critical Greek editions (Nestle, 1898; Alford, 1849; Westcott and Hort, 1881; Tischendorf, 1869; Tregelles, 1857, etc.), and it is the style found in the Greek textbooks used to teach Greek grammar.
The Greek minuscules (cursives) which are usually cited are cited only if they differ from the Byzantine text; they are outnumbered three to one by the minuscules which agree with the Byzantine Textus Receptus. (p. 83)
For the Lectionaries, which tend to be overwhelmingly Byzantine, he had even less to say in the same chapter. The following is all he wrote under the heading “The Lectionaries”:
There are about 1,678 of them available for use which contain extracts from the New Testament. They are indicated in the critical apparatus of Nestle’s as “lect.” (p. 83)
No individual Byzantine manuscript was analyzed for its content, text or background. When Byzantine manuscripts are even mentioned, they appear in a list or in passing such as “The reading is found in the majority of uncials and cursives…” (p. 122). We are not experts on manuscripts, but it seems Ruckman may have mentioned only one Byzantine manuscript by name in the entire 244-page book! This would be minuscule 61, briefly mentioned when dealing with the Johannine Comma (p. 141). Minuscule 629 was mentioned in the same context, but we are not counting it as it contains a mixed text, and is therefore not purely Byzantine (Aland, Kurt. The Text of the New Testament. Eerdmans, 1989, p. 133)
When he actually deals with manuscripts, Ruckman’s focus in the book is on uncial and papyrus manuscripts, which are predominantly Alexandrian. Sometimes there are portions within an Alexandrian manuscript that have Byzantine readings, and Ruckman rightfully points those out in passages that are in dispute.
The fact that Ruckman seems to care very little about the Greek manuscripts that are closest to the KJV (evident by ignoring specifics in a book dedicated to manuscript evidence) is very revealing. It reveals he is hardly interested in what they have to say and he seems to resent any serious authority associated with them. If he can use manuscripts or his knowledge of Greek to win an argument or prove someone wrong in some area of KJV defense he won’t hesitate to do that, but as far as authority associated with any set of manuscripts, observe what his views truly are:
If the AV text is the Final Authority, that means it is superior to any set of Greek manuscripts, including the so called “originals.” That is what we teach and believe, and we have definite reasons why we believe that. (Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers’ Bulletin. Feb. 2008, p. 1)
For the reader who is interested in reading more modern books on manuscript evidence that favors the Byzantine line, he would be better served by other works such as Wilbur Pickering (The Identity of the New Testament Text), Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont (The New Testament in the Original Text) Jacob Van Bruggen (The Ancient Text of the New Testament). The manner in which they present evidence is like a breath of fresh air compared to Ruckman’s writings.
If you really want to learn about manuscript evidence, avoid Ruckman’s book!