A common misconception with the Confessional Text is that the starting point of the position is that the Received Text is the preserved Word of God. It is said that adhering to this view on the text of Holy Scripture is simply an exercise of picking a text based on tradition and defending it tooth and nail. While this may seem convincing and easier to write off, it is an unfortunate misrepresentation. It may be that those who make the argument do not fully understand the position, or perhaps have no other method of responding. Those in the Confessional Text position defend the various readings of the TR, but it is not because of blind tradition. When it comes to the text of Scripture, it is important that the conversation starts with the foundations and works up to the more surface level discussion of variants. Variants are certainly important to understand, but not even those who advocate for the Modern Eclectic or Modern Critical Text do not start with variants. If they do, they likely do not understand their own camp.
All views on the text of the Holy Scriptures ultimately begin with the theology of Scripture, specifically with inspiration and preservation. Any person who is unwilling to admit this plain fact is unfortunately blind to their tradition, or acknowledge their tradition but conflate it with the tradition of the Reformation and Post-Reformation. The difference between those who adhere to the Received Text and those that adhere to the Modern Critical Text is first and foremost a difference in the theology of Scripture. Before I get into the article, it is also important to recognize that the vast majority of Christians who read an English Bible do so based on translation methodology like Rev. Christian McShaffrey presents in this article here. While the textual issue is ultimately the foundational reason in determining which Bible one reads, it is not the only contributing factor. That being said, it is important that people recognize that no, those in the Confessional Text camp do not begin with the Received Text and then defend it. Christians need to realize that this is a cheap parlour trick of an argument that nobody who actually adheres to the position takes seriously.
The starting point for the Confessional Text position is primarily that God has spoken (Deus dixit). In the time of the Old Testament, “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21), and those holy men were “the prophets” (Heb. 1:1). God In these last days, has spoken through His Son Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1). God, in His providence, chose to do so by way of human authors in the Apostolic age of the church. He used their unique vocabulary and experiences, though the words were not so organic as to say that the words were not truly that of God. That is how Paul can say that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16), despite Paul himself being an author of many of the letters which would eventually become the New Testament. The Scriptures do not speak of themselves as being an invention of the Apostolic era writers, but a deposit that God delivered by His inspiration of men by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament in Hebrews 1:1 demonstrates the continuity between the two testaments and thus the continuity of God’s purpose. That purpose being the same one promised in Genesis 3:15 when He said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”. This promise of Grace in the form of a covenant is progressively revealed in each of the “sundry times and divers manners”, catalogued in Hebrews 11, leading up to the time when God would make a “New Covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31), which would inaugurate the “last days” (Isa. 2:2-4;1 Pet. 1:20;Acts 2;2 Tim. 3:1). The purpose of Scripture, from the time of the “people of God of old” to the people of God in the last days, is covenantal in nature and sufficient in making men “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” and is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15-16). Turretin rightly says, “They were intended to be the contract of the covenant between God and us” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1, 139).
The New Testament is part of the fulfillment of Genesis 17:7 and Ezekiel 34:24 when God says, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” and “I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it.”. Since the Scriptures are the means that God has chosen to accomplish this task through faith in Christ, the expectation of the New Testament also carried with it the expectation of new covenant documents. We know that God did indeed fulfill this promise in Jesus Christ, and since God cannot fail (Isa. 46:10), we know that not only will he succeed in saving a people unto Himself, He will succeed in speaking to those people. Hence the principle foundation is Deus dixit, not the TR.
God Continued to Speak
The promise of God to His people was not limited to the first century AD. Jesus promised that “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Mat. 28:20). How is it that God accomplishes this? Through the Holy Scriptures (Heb. 1:1) by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; 10:26). This is a perpetual promise to the people of God until Christ returns. This is how the doctrine of inspiration is joined to the doctrine of preservation. Since the covenant promise of God is true and sure until the Last Day, it is rightly said that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:18, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” apply to the means by which God prescribes for the fulfillment of all things – the Holy Scriptures. Thus the Westminster Divines rightly employ this as a proof text in the Westminster Confession of Faith when they said that “by His singular care and providence, kept [the Scriptures] pure in all ages” (1.8, bracketed material added). The Reformed doctrine of the Scriptures explicitly joins the inspiration of the initial New Covenant documents (autographs) with the continued preservation of those inspired texts in the copies (apographs). This doctrine has been unfortunately abandoned in the modern period with the severing of inspiration from preservation as demonstrated in the critically acclaimed textbook, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament by Dr. Andrew Naselli (43) and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (Article X).
It is from this theological starting point that the Reformed proceed. It is likely that the redefinition of Reformed Theology to only include TULIP has resulted in this departure, in part at least. The historical Calvinists were fundamentally covenantal. Thus Reformed Theology must include this rich, covenant structure which supplies a robust understanding of the Holy Scriptures.
But Can You Produce a Text?
The very request to “produce a methodology to create a text” stands in opposition to not only the Reformed doctrine of Scripture, but the Biblical doctrine of Scripture. This is made plain in the fact that the Westminster Divines employed the language “kept pure in all ages”, clearly demonstrating that they believed it was by God’s providence which prevented the Holy Scriptures from falling into such disarray that total corruption was possible and a reconstruction effort necessary. It is only when one disconnects the theology of the Reformation from the textual scholarship of the Reformation that one can say, “Beza and Erasmus were doing the same thing as modern textual scholars!”
This claim is drawn from the conclusions made by Jan Krans in his work Beyond What is Written, which is a part of the Brill series New Testament Tools and Studies edited by Bart Ehrman and Eldon J. Epp. Yet it does not seem that Krans would necessarily agree with such statements made about his work. Krans makes a case for this regarding Erasmus in a certain sense, but even then his conclusions are not so broad and absolute. This is a major flaw in anybody who says this regarding Krans’ work. I will be releasing a full review at some point in the near future, cataloging where his conclusions may be a bit ambitious regarding Erasmus. In any case, he provides one valuable insight which directly refutes the claim that the textual scholars of the Reformation were doing the “same thing” as modern textual scholars in one quotation.
“In Beza’s view of the text, the Holy Spirit speaks through the biblical authors. He even regards the same Spirit’s speaking through the mouth of the prophets and the evangelist as a guarantee of the agreement between both…If the Spirit speaks in and through the Bible, the translator and critic works within the Church. Beza clearly places all his text critical and translational work in an ecclesiastical setting. When he proposes the conjecture ” (‘wild pears’) for (‘locusts’) in Matt 3:4, he invokes “the kind permission of the Church” (328,329).
The last time I checked, the CBGM does not include any mention of the Holy Spirit, a doctrine of inspiration, or the church in its methodology. So while Krans certainly does draw parallels between Reformation era scholarship and modern scholarship, it does not appear he would agree with such broad conclusions. Since that has been dealt with, I will now turn to explain why those in the Confessional Text camp are not phased by the accusation of “not doing textual criticism”.
The Received Text
The Reformed doctrine of inspiration and preservation, as laid out above, is the starting point for determining the text that God has spoken in. Due to God’s covenantal promise, there is no need to “reconstruct” a text from the Reformed perspective. To admit as much is to admit that God has failed in His covenantal purpose. A total corruption of certain texts does not comport with the reality that God has preserved His Word. So the fact that the modern critical text contains a multitude of uncertain readings should cause the Reformed believer to pause. Those in the Confessional Text camp do not see a need to “construct” a text, but rather to receive a text. God has not failed, and thus His Word readily available. It is not the task for the Christian to “produce” or “reconstruct” a text, but to determine which text reflects a story of God succeeding in His task.
On one hand, there is a text that represents generally a handful of 3rd and fourth century manuscripts which only gained popularity in the modern period. On the other, there is a text that represents generally the vast majority of extant manuscripts and the text which the vast majority of the commentaries, translations, and theological works employed after the printing press was invented. The Confessional Text position accounts for differences between the Majority Text by taking into consideration the use of such texts by the people of God throughout time.
It should be clear to all that the Confessional Text position does not start with the TR as its foundation. It begins with the reality that God has spoken. It then builds on the covenantal reality that God has spoken in His Scriptures in these last days. It then applies the unfailing purpose of God to have a people unto himself and His promise to be with His people until the Last Day. These building blocks form the doctrines of inspiration and preservation, which were affirmed by the Post-Reformation Divines and codified in the confessional standards of the 16th and 17th centuries. Finally, a text is received which most aligns with the doctrines laid out in Scripture. The plain reality is that the ever-changing and recently adopted modern critical text does not comport with historical and Scriptural reality.
So yes, it is true that those in the Confessional Text camp defend the Masoretic Hebrew Text and the Greek Received Text. It is also true that many disagree with the textual decisions of these texts. The goal of this article is to demonstrate that this is not a blind tradition, it is one built on a sturdy doctrine of Scripture. The adoption of the specific Greek and Hebrew texts of the Reformation is simply the result of looking into history and seeing which text is more consistent with the Biblical doctrines of inspiration and preservation.
7 thoughts on “Does the Confessional Text Position Start with the TR?”
This article is an excellent introduction to the discussion. Thank you for doing this work!
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