The Textus Receptus & King James

Welcome to the Young, Textless, & Reformed blog. On this page you will find an introduction to the discussion. If you want to navigate to all blog posts, click the “Posts” link above. If you want to search by topic, click the “Search by Topic” link above.

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Eventually everybody finds out about textual criticism, textual variants, and the differences between Bible translations. If you spend long enough on the internet, you will find that there are a number of different beliefs about what the Bible is, which one is the best, and which ones should not be used. There are really three categories that this discussion is divided into: Theology of the Bible (Bibliology), Textual Criticism (text platforms, textual variants, etc.), and Translations.

The goal of understanding these three categories can be summarized in three questions:

  1. What do I believe about Scripture?
  2. What Hebrew and Greek text should translations be made from?
  3. What Bible translation should I read?

All three of these categories are connected, though distinct. I answer these three questions in this way:

  1. The Bible is the Word of God which he gave via verbal plenary inspiration, perfectly preserved, and available to the people of God today. When I read my Bible I am reading the very Word of God.
  2. Translations should be made from the Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Text
  3. The King James Version is the best translation of Bibles made from the Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Text, though there are other translations from these texts that people enjoy.

What is King James Onlyism?

This question is difficult to answer because very few people define it the same way. Some people believe KJVO is the belief that the King James was reinspired upon its translation and that the English KJV should be used as the final authority. This is what some call “Ruckmanite” KJVO. Others define KJVO as somebody who simply reads the King James Version. In some cases, KJVO has been defined as preferring the Majority Text position or even reading the NKJV. As far as I can tell, the term King James Onlyism really only serves as a pejorative at this point, which is why I don’t find any value in identifying with it or even arguing against it. If nobody can agree upon what it is, there is no point in using it as a meaningful category. Practically speaking, the term King James Onlyism is used to describe anybody who does not use modern Bible translations or advocates against modern Bible translations.

What is Textus Receptus Onlyism?

Similar to the term King James Onlyism, “TR Onlyism” is mostly used as a polemic device. If you believe God preserved His Word, than you believe that preserved Word exists somewhere in real life. So in reality, every Christian is some sort of “onlyist” when it comes to textual criticism. Somebody is either a “modern critical text onlyist” or a “Textus Receptus onlyist”. The use of the word “onlyist” seems to be most effective as a bludgeoning tool, it doesn’t actually provide clarity to the conversation. “TR Onlyists” believe that the text God preserved can be found in the Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received text.

The TR position goes by many names, including the Ecclesiastical Text, the Traditional Text, and the Confessional Text. There are also nuances within these categories just as there are nuances among the various Critical Text positions on Scripture. This introduction is focused mainly on the “what” of the conversation, not the “why,” so I’ll link some articles at the bottom of this page.

What Is Really Being Debated Here?

The substance of this debate is over what people believe about their Bible. This determines which original text platform and translation should be used. There are two noteworthy opinions on what God delivered to His people.

  1. God preserved and delivered the very text He inspired to the Church today
  2. God delivered all of the important parts of the text He inspired to the Church today, though some parts have fallen away or are otherwise undiscernible as to what the original is. What we have is good, but certainly not exactly what was originally penned.

Two Stories of Preservation

What this really comes down to is a difference in belief over how people believe God preserved His Word. This can be explained by comparing the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. On the Westminster side, the Bible has been kept pure in all ages has been preserved through the transmission of the text. The Bible is infallible by virtue of it never having fallen away. In every age, there was a mechanism of preservation which included the copying and comparing of authentic manuscripts, culminating during the time of the Humanist Renaissance and Protestant Reformation. On the Inerrancy side, the Bible was originally inerrant, but has been corrupted and needs to be reconstructed to its original form. The effort during the Humanist Renaissance and Protestant Reformation wasn’t successful. The Bible is mostly preserved, but there are places where the original cannot be exactly determined. To quote the scholars, “We have good access” to the text of the New Testament, but not perfect access. Those on the inerrancy side of the discussion believe that textual scholars must evaluate surviving manuscripts to determine what should and shouldn’t be in the Bibles we read.

What is the Problem with Inerrancy and Modern Textual Criticism?

There are two major problems with the modern view on Scripture. In the first place, inerrancy does not say anything certain about the inerrancy of the Bible Christians have in their hands today. It only speaks to the original manuscripts, which have been long destroyed or lost. According to the doctrine of Inerrancy, the Bible is only Inerrant insofar as it can be determined to be Inerrant by the mechanism of Textual Criticism. That means that the Bible’s authority is given to it by a mechanism outside of the Bible.

Now, this might not be practically problematic if the efforts of Modern Textual Criticism were able to determine “what Paul wrote.” According to the scholars working on the text of the Bible, “We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain” (Dan Wallace). Now, the same scholars reassure the Church that this should not give any reason for radical skepticism or alarm, but many Christians see the logical conclusion of this position and reject it.

Why This Conversation Matters

This conversation matters because it has to do with the Bible we use in our churches, devotions, and evangelism and apologetics. If we do not have exactly what was originally inspired, how much authority does the Bible have? How seriously should we take the text of Holy Scripture? Further, how seriously should the unbeliever or the enemy of the faith take the truths of Holy Scripture? On one hand Christians say, “The Bible is the Word of God and is authoritative” and on the other say, “We don’t have exactly what the Word of God originally said.”

This requires every Christian to ask the question, “Which passages, verses, and stories are original? What can we be certain of?” Practically speaking, this is the most important question that needs to be answered. At the time of writing this article, the mechanism of Modern Textual Criticism has not answered this question and according to the scholars themselves (see the quote by Dan Wallace above). This is because there is no method of verification for any text reconstructed from our surviving manuscripts. There is no original to check the work against. So all that Modern Textual Scholars have produced is a snapshot of the text as it existed in a specific location and a specific point of time. There is no way to determine if that snapshot represents the vast majority of contemporaneous manuscripts that were lost and destroyed. Dan Wallace demonstrates this to be the common understanding of Textual Scholars when he says, “Even if we did, we would not know it.”

Welcome to the Young, Textless, and Reformed Blog

I started this blog after realizing that my belief in the Modern Critical Text was not warranted. I trusted the “science” and the opinions of Textual Scholars. I read the NIV, ESV, NASB, and HCSB. I had my copy of the NA28 custom bound in goatskin and was an avid listener of the Dividing Line. As I began to study Reformed Theology more, I realized that what I was hearing from the Textual Scholars was not what I was reading in my books. The writings of Francis Turretin, John Owen, Thomas Watson, and John Brown of Haddington all seemed to disagree with what the modern scholars were saying. The Reformed and Post-Reformed not only disagreed with the modern theology of Scripture, they defended the very passages that I was taught to reject. Now the Textus Receptus position is not exclusive to being Reformed, but I definitely think it is the position of the Reformed.

This blog is dedicated to not only providing a polemic to those who adopt the Modern Critical Text and the effort of Modern Textual Criticism, but also to those who want to know more about the Textus Receptus position on Scripture.

Articles for Further Reading

  1. A Summary of the TR Position
  2. 20 Articles That Refute the Modern Critical Text Position
  3. An In-Depth Look at the Discussion
  4. The CBGM
  5. Articles Addressing Certain Textual Variants