First I want to acknowledge and commend the irenic spirit of Dr. Mark Ward as he presented a refutation of the position which he calls “Confessional Bibliology” in his lecture posted on September 27, 2019. For those that are readers of my blog, I have referred to this position as “The Confessional Text Position”, and I believe that Confessional Bibliology is an appropriate and charitable label, over and above “Textual Traditionalism” or “KJV Onlyism”.[EDIT: Ward has decided to call this position “KJV Only” anyway. We can’t all be winners.] It is important to remember that this is an intrafaith dialogue. I hope that my handling of his lecture will rise to the same level of integrity as brother Ward. Dr. Ward’s presentation is thorough, scholarly, and is befitting of a Christian, unlike many similar presentations. This is evident in that he freely discusses Pastor Jeff Riddle and Pastor Truelove without character defamation, misrepresentation, or name calling. I do acknowledge that some have treated Dr. Ward uncharitably in various groups, and I want to point out that I have had nothing but positive interactions with him (though brief). It is clear that he is a dear brother in the Lord, despite our disagreement in this one area.
That being said, I do see some potential problems with his presentation that I would like to address. My goal is to emphasize, like Dr. Ward seems to do, that this conversation primarily finds its application pastorally, and not text-critically. This is not about being right and defeating each other, it is about giving confidence to Christians that they have God’s Word. As a pastor, my pure intention is to provide a position that can accomplish that goal. All of the text-critical work in the world is without use if our hearts are not in the first place focused on instilling men and women with confidence in their Bible, reassuring them that every word they read is “Thus saith the Lord”. The main focus of my critique is that the presentation proceeds backwards. It begins at a surface level and then stays there, brushing over the fundamental issue which divides the two camps so definitively.
Do the Minor differences between the CT and TR Give Cause for Abandoning the TR?
In Dr. Ward’s presentation, there was a major effort to highlight the differences within the printed editions of the Received Text, rather than discussing the major differences between the Received Text and Critical Text. These major differences result in the form of the two texts being entirely different. I will argue that downplaying the difference within the Received Text and the Critical Text does not frame the discussion in its proper place, and that makes it difficult to interact with the nuances of the presentation in a meaningful way. That is because the problem is not initially about the minor differences within printed texts, it is about the fact that these two texts represent entirely different Bibles and two different methodologies.
Dr. Ward’s approach neglects to highlight the implications to the doctrine of preservation by focusing on the “jot and tittle” component of the Confessional Text position, which certainly deserves to be fleshed out further down the line. He rightfully comments that the missing sections at the end of Mark and in John 8 are a “serious threat” to the critical text. This seems like an appropriate problem to tackle prior to getting into the minutiae, which Dr. Ward carefully does in his presentation. Given that we both believe God has preserved His Word, it seems imperative to answer how one can uphold a meaningful doctrine of preservation while affirming two text platforms which disagree in major ways. If both sides can cross the bridge and agree that this poses difficulties to even the most loose definitions of preservation, there may be a great opportunity for a fruitful discussion about minor variations at some point from a believing perspective.
Which is to say, that it is problematic to Dr. Ward’s critique to insist that God preserved two forms of the Bible. I argue frequently that the only reason there is so much tension in this discussion is the fact that modern critical text advocates continue to present the smattering of Alexandrian manuscripts as “earliest and best”, despite no evidence for such a claim other than they are the oldest surviving manuscripts. Even modern textual scholarship has demonstrated that original readings can indeed present themselves in later manuscripts.
If the handful of these idiosyncratic texts are viewed as tertiary within the manuscript tradition (or not properly seated within the tradition at all), this conversation becomes much more simple. The rise of modern textual scholarship has introduced this problem to the church by allowing for manuscript types which have been rejected historically to be valued so highly. It is important to acknowledge that the Received Text did not introduce this problem, modern scholarship did when they declared that the Reformation era text needed to be thrown out. A consistent application of Dr. Ward’s presentation should conclude in the Received Text and the KJV being dismissed wholesale, as it represents an entirely different text form.
Since Dr. Ward did not suggest that, it is important to understand that textual decision making is done from a completely different perspective between the Confessional Bibliology group and modern textual scholarship. It is easily demonstrated that the base manuscripts from which the modern eclectic text and the Received Text are built on represent a different form altogether. So the difference is not in the amount of data necessarily, but in the methodology itself which accepts this data into the manuscript tradition. Much time is spent discussing whether or not the Post-Reformation Divines would have accepted this new data, and here is where Dr. Ward and I disagree fundamentally. I do not believe that the Post-Reformation Divines would have adopted the modern critical perspective, even if presented with the new data.
Francis Turretin comments on what Dr. Ward presents as a chief problem for the Confessional Text position – the problem of variants as it pertains to “every jot and tittle”.
“A corruption differs from a variant reading. We acknowledge that many variant readings occur both in the Old and New Testaments arising from a comparison of different manuscripts, but we deny corruption (at least corruption that is universal)” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol.I, 111).
So it is not chiefly a problem with variants, but the actual text form and the modern perspective that certain passages have been totally corrupted. Turretin continues.
“There is no truth in the assertion that the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament and the Greek edition of the New Testament are said to be mutilated; nor can the arguments used by our opponents prove it. Not the history of adulteress (Jn. 8:1-11), for although it is lacking in the Syriac version, it is found in all the Greek manuscripts. Not 1 Jn. 5:7, for although some formerly called it into question and heretics now do, yet all the Greek copies have it, as Sixtus Senensis acknowledges: “they have been the words of never-doubted truth, and contained in all the Greek copies from the very times of the apostles” (Bibliotheca sancta , 2:298). Not Mk. 16 which may have been wanting in several copies in the time of Jerome (as he asserts); but now it occurs in all, even in the Syriac version, and is clearly necessary to complete the history of the resurrection of Christ” (Ibid. 115).
Turretin explicitly mentions “several copies in the time of Jerome”, which happens to be the time that Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are said to have been produced. Whether he is explicitly referring to these two manuscripts or not, the unavoidable reality is that these two copies represent the form of text he is talking about – namely those missing those three variants. The minor variants discussed in Dr. Ward’s presentation are not that of a mutilating nature, but the two variants he lists as problematic certainly are. So to accept manuscripts and readings from manuscripts bearing this form is to depart methodologically in a major way. The conversation of which jots and tittles may be profitable if this can be admitted, as the amount of jots and tittles to be discussed would shrink massively.
Does Confessional Bibliology Reject Decision Making?
In short, no. Those who advocate for this position do not balk at the “Which TR?” question, because it fundamentally misses the point of the argument itself. I will acknowledge, however, the validity of the question from his perspective. While Dr. Ward provides a thorough presentation of the 11 types of variations between the printed editions of the Received Text, the conclusions of his argument do not demonstrate that the effort of modern textual scholarship is in the same category as Reformation era textual scholarship.
He is absolutely correct in saying that variations exist between printed editions of the TR, and points out that there are just as many editions of the Nestle-Aland text (with many more to come!). The most important point to interact with however, is his critique that the KJV is not its own form of the TR. Dr. Ward wrongly assumes that ultimately, when the conversation is stripped down to its bare components, the Confessional Bibliology argument is the same as the KJV Only argument (Excluding Ruckman). I will note that I do not consider this to be any sort of serious error, just a matter of nuance that I believe was overlooked. Confessional Bibliology advocates read other translations than the KJV, so it is a bit of a misrepresentation to call them KVJO. It would be the same as calling somebody who prefers the ESV and reads the ESV an ESV Onlyist, despite viewing the NASB as a fine translation of the critical text.
While there are some within the Confessional Bibliology group that believe that some form of textual criticism is still necessary, most, as Dr. Ward points out, agree that the Scrivener edition of the Received Text, which represents the textual decisions of the KJV translators, is “the” Received Text. This is due to the nature of the argument from God’s providence, as well as exposure of the text to the people of God as it happened in history. This argument does not seem as far-fetched given that it is not hedged within the context of modern critical scholarship, though I am fully aware of the critiques of this position. It’s not as though the KJV translators were moved along by the Holy Spirit, or reinspired, but that their textual decisions represented a century’s work of scholarship, dialogue, and corporate reception of certain texts within the Received Text corpus. This is made plain and evident in the vast number of commentaries and theological works which use the Received Text of the Reformation.
In short, the Scrivener text is not the best representation of the Received Text by virtue of the King James Translation team, but rather by virtue of the reception of those readings by the people of God. Were it the case that those readings were rejected, like readings Erasmus examined from the Vatican codex, we might be right in following the argumentation of Dr. Ward. The fact stands, that not only did Erasmus reject those readings, but all of the Reformed textual scholars and theologians who came after him did so as well, even commenting on manuscripts missing the ending of Mark. Jan Krans notes the fundamental difference between modern textual scholarship and the method of Beza in his work, Beyond What is Written.
“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 point is this – it is not that the Confessional Bibliology group rejects textual decision making, they reject textual decision making in the context of modern textual scholarship. Within the Confessional Bibliology camp, there are vibrant and healthy discussions on this matter which has resulted in the mass adoption of the Scrivener text. The problem occurs when this is conflated with Reconstructionist Textual Scholarship, which, when applied to a text, results in its complete deconstruction and devaluation. The conversation simply cannot happen in a healthy way in a context that takes 15 miles when given an inch.
This is chiefly exemplified in the fact that a decision made on a variant that does not affect meaning is compared to removing 11 verses from Scripture. Categorically, those are not the same thing. I appreciate Dr. Ward’s care in presenting the minor variations, but those are not the problem at a fundamental level (Unless one chooses to make it a problem unnecessarily). That is also assuming that a decision cannot be made, or has not been made on the handful of significant variations that exist within the editions of the Received Text. Had the KJV translators made a printed edition of the textual decisions they chose, this conversation likely would not be happening. The claim that the text as it is represented by the 1881 Scrivener text is an “English Greek New Testament” would not be taken seriously. This was the conclusion of Dr. Hills as well, that the textual decisions of the KJV can be rightfully considered its own “TR”, which Dr. Ward acknowledges, but seems to disagree with.
I appreciate that Dr. Ward has seated the conversation within the context of the believing church. This is a huge upgrade from the vast majority of the discussion which exists in the world of secular scholarship. The goal of this article is not to slam Dr. Ward or say that I have refuted him necessarily, but rather to point out that there is a major stumbling block standing in the way of bridge-crossing. I will argue that a simple critique of Dr. Ward’s argument is that it fails to recognize the two distinct text forms held by each respective position. If we were dealing with one text form, with minor variations, we might be able to readily understand Turretin and Owen’s commentary on the text better, and Dr. Ward’s presentation might be more applicable to those who subscribe to Confessional Bibliology. But since during that era, the church rejected manuscripts like Vaticanus, and in the modern era the Bibles are all built on top of Vaticanus, the effort of bridge-crossing may be more tedious. Until the people of God seriously consider the direction of modern textual scholarship and its wholesale abandonment of the Original Text for the Initial Text, it may be difficult to find the kind of agreement Dr. Ward desires in his presentation.
At the end of this analysis, I hope that all can see that while there is a fundamental disagreement that may stand in the way of bridge-crossing, it is not so great that we cannot treat each other with brotherly kindness and respect which is fitting for those who claim Christ. The fact stands that not all Bibles are created equal, and despite modern Bibles generically looking like Bibles made from the Received Text, they depart in major places which do indeed effect doctrine, like John 1:18 and Mark 16:9-20. It would also be a different conversation if both forms of the text were stable, but the modern text is not. The direction of the modern text-critical effort is only speeding up in the direction of uncertainty as the ECM is implemented (see 2 Peter 3:10 and the number of diamonds in the Catholic Epistles of the NA28). I’ll end with this quote by textual scholar DC Parker, which I find to accurately assess the nature of the modern critical text.
“The text is changing. Every time that I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form but, paradoxically, we are creating a new one. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there’s been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text.”
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