An articulating surgical instrument with an articulation transmission assembly for remotely articulating the end effector of the instrument includes a body with a housing mounted on the instrument, oscillating and rotating members, and an actuator rotatably mounted on the housing and secured to the rotating member. The oscillating member is seated rotationally stationary within the housing. The rotating member fits into the oscillating member, and has a drive shaft extending into the body for translating rotation from the rotating member into reciprocation of an elongated transmission rod attached to the drive shaft. First and second sets of unloading teeth are displayed on the oscillating member and actuator, respectively. First and second locking teeth are displayed on the oscillating and rotating members, respectively. The assembly provides ratcheting rotation for precisely positioning the end effector in discrete positions. In the preferred embodiment, the frictional forces between the unloading teeth are less than those between the locking teeth. The instrument may be used for endoscopic as well as conventional open surgical procedures.