One of the questions I’ve been asked is to explain how my understanding of the Protestant confessions on the text of the Scriptures squares with the critical work of Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza.
First of all, the views of Erasmus, even his Bibliology, were not compatible with the Reformed confessions. Efforts to demonstrate that they were are futile and unnecessary because the acceptance of his edition of the Greek New Testament by the Protestant Orthodox had little to do with his Bibliology nor his critical methodology.
Indeed, in all of the Protestant writings of the 16th and 17th centuries defending their “common text”*, I’ve not come across one treatise defending the text based upon the methodology of Erasmus. As I’ve said in a number of places, the defense of the text was foremost upon dogmatic grounds (and with good reason).
As for Stephanus and Beza, to summarize here I will address them together. Both men were very reluctant to modify the “common text”. This is easily demonstrated by stability of the text between the various printed editions. There are less than 40 differences between the first edition of Stephanus and the final edition of Beza and the majority of those are very minor.
There was already, by the time of Stephanus, a Protestant doctrine of Scripture that would not tolerate frequent and substantial alterations to the text. It is for this reason that the critical work of Stephanus and Beza is not seen in their modifications to the “common text”, but in their annotations.
The tension therefore between the Protestant doctrine of Scripture as was later confessed in the 17th century confessions (though already well established in the 16th century) and the critical work found in the annotations of Stephanus and Beza must be seen as just that…tensions. The fact that these men did the majority of their critical work in their notes and not in the text itself demonstrates that they were aware of the tension.
This tension between the work of sacred criticism regarding the text of Scripture and the dogmatic commitments to the text had very little impact on the “common text” of Protestant Reformation which was regarded as canonical. The pendulum would not swing in the other direction until the late 19th century.