The Critical Text is a Greek text of the New Testament that draws from a group of ancient Greek manuscripts and their variants in an attempt to preserve the most accurate wording possible. Other Greek texts besides the Critical Text used for producing English Bibles are the Majority Text and the Textus Receptus.
Until the late 1800s, the Textus Receptus, or the “received text,” was the foremost Greek text from which the New Testament was derived. (The King James Version and New King James Version are based on the Textus Receptus.) In 1881 two prominent scholars, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort, printed their New Testament in Greek, later known as the Critical Text. Dismissing the Textus Receptus as an inferior text rife with errors, Westcott and Hort compiled a new Greek text, with special focus on two fourth-century manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus.
As a result of Westcott and Hort’s work, their Critical Text became the standard Greek text used for modern interpretation and translation for nearly two generations. The Critical Text was the one chiefly used for the English Revised Version and the later American Standard Version. Today, the updated and revised Critical Text is the Greek manuscript basis for the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, the English Standard Version, and virtually every other modern English translation of the Bible.
Though the Critical Text was not without its faults, it has been accepted, on the whole, as being the most accurate in duplicating the original text of the New Testament. Modern biblical scholars have adjusted and adapted Westcott and Hort’s theories of translation, which can be summarized by nine critical rules of biblical interpretation, including the following:
• The reading is less likely to be original if it shows a disposition to smooth away difficulties.
• Readings are approved or rejected by reason of the quality, and not the number of supporting witnesses.
• The preferred reading best explains the existence of other readings.
• The preferred reading makes the best sense; that is, it best conforms to the grammar and is most congruous with the purport of the rest of the sentence and of the larger context.
With the discovery of new manuscript evidence, the Critical Text has been revised many times. Currently, the Nestle-Aland text (now in its twenty-eighth edition) is the critical text in common use, along with the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies (UBS).
In summary, the Critical Text is an effort to discover the wording of the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament by comparing/contrasting all of the existing manuscripts and using logic and reason to determine the most likely original readings. While no human effort will ever produce an absolutely perfect copy of the original Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, the Critical Text is very likely extremely close to what the New Testament authors wrote.