A Bit of Friendly Dialogue with Triablogue

Introduction

Today I was pointed to an article posted by the brother(s) who run the Triablogue site. I thought that the points represented a lot of the mainstream ideas regarding the Confessional Text position, and that responding would be helpful for all. I am grateful for this chance to interact, and I hope my response is productive. I will be going through each of the 16 points offered by author here.

16 Points

1. At one level, the significance of this issue is easily overblown. The text of the NT has enormous multiple-attestation. Even if you opt for the Byzantine text, there’s not much that can go wrong. 

Starting off my interaction, I want to offer an alternative opinion than this perspective. There is in fact, a lot that can go wrong when it comes to textual criticism of the New Testament. The post includes the “Bart Ehrman” tag at the bottom, so I imagine he falls into the category of “a lot going wrong”. Regardless of what the author thinks, this issue is very important to Christians everywhere who read their Bible, and confusion on just one variant can send believers into spiritual tumult. I have fielded many phone calls with people dealing with this issue on a personal level, so I’m not sure it’s fair to say that this issue is “easily overblown”. Most Christians do not have the time or money to invest in understanding this issue, and as a result, it can be extremely important. I am hesitant to set the bar too low when dealing with people’s confidence in their Bible.

2. At another level, it is a big issue. What’s at stake is convincing Christians to believe their faith hinges on a particular text tradition like the Byzantine or the TR. That’s the “canonical” text. This leaves them poised for a gratuitous crisis of faith if they develop doubts about the TR. In this case, their faith in the Bible becomes inseparable from faith in the TR and the KJV. That’s apostasy waiting to happen. DeSoto is going down exactly the same road as Bart Ehrman. The same all-or-nothing mentality. The same false dichotomies. 

In this second point, it seems that the author does recognize the importance of the issue, but the issue is “convincing Christians to believe their faith hangs on a particular text tradition”. I have never made this claim, nor will I ever say that people who read other Bibles cannot be saved, or that their faith “hinges” on which Bible they read. The Shepherd is not in the business of losing sheep. I will say, however, that many people do, in the real world, encounter a faith crises when they discover certain realities about the modern critical text. That is not to say that this is the experience with all Christians, but it does happen, and it happens perhaps more often than the author might think. While the author has stated that I am “going down exactly the same road as Bart Ehrman”, I can’t help but think this is simply a rehashing of James White’s claim on the matter without any evidence to actually support it. I imagine the author agrees a lot more with Bart Ehrman than he realizes. I have interacted with Bart Ehrman’s material, and have found that the Confessional Text position, from an epistemological and material standpoint, actually does offer a response to to his claims. Again, I am not making a false, “all or nothing” claim. I know many dear brothers and sisters in Christ who do just fine with the ESV and NASB. In my experience, many people are simply unaware of the process that goes into making their Bible. Christians all operate on their Bible being the inspired Word of God, and when they investigate the various text-critical theories, it often causes them to doubt that their Bible is what they think it is. This is not about being “right” or creating false dichotomies.

3. Because we have so many copies of the Greek NT, copies with many, mostly trivial variants, it’s important although not strictly necessary to produce a critical edition of the NT. That’s not unique to proponents of the eclectic text. Astute proponents of the Byzantine text also appreciate the need to produce a critical edition of the NT, using internal and external textual criteria. For instance: http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/v06/Robinson2001.html

I have no commentary on this point, but am including it for the sake of including the whole article in my response.

4. I myself subscribe to mainstream textual criticism and the eclectic text approach. I don’t have a firm opinion about CBGM. Certainly we should take advantage of computers to digitize our MSS, then compare them. Stanley Porter is a critic of CBGM.  I’d add that it isn’t necessary to choose between CBGM and traditional textual criticism. You can compare the results of both, and the reasoning behind their choices. Metzger’s textual commentary explains how traditional text critics made their choices. And there will be a textual commentary for the CBGM edition when that project is completed. 

I’m not sure what is the “mainstream textual criticism” that the author refers to here. The mainstream approach to creating Greek texts is the CBGM, as that is the method that is being used to produce the mainstream printed editions of the modern critical text as it is represented in the NA/UBS platform. The Tyndale House Greek New Testament, and various Majority Text editions are the exception, of course, but there aren’t really translations of those texts. It is important to note here that the CBGM and reasoned eclecticism are not odds with each other. The CBGM is the method being used to create the Editio Critica Maior (Not the “CBGM Edition”), and the ECM is being used to make printed Greek texts such as the NA/UBS. If by “mainstream textual criticism” the author means the pre-CBGM era of textual scholarship, it is again important to note that the axioms developed during the Hort-Metzger era of textual scholarship have been abandoned almost universally. Everything from the way scribal habits are viewed to the notion of “text-types” has moved in a different direction. Even though this is a popular level article, it may be important for the author to brush up on some of the current literature before providing a response.

5. Opting for the Byzantine tradition would be more defensible than opting for the T.R. That’s not my own position,  but there’s a respectable argument for that alternative. 

I agree, from a critical, evidence-based approach, the majority text or byzantine platform is far more defensible than the modern critical text, as it represents the text that was most copied, and has a wide harmony of agreement in its witnesses. If you’re looking for a well developed, though not widely adopted critical position on the text, James Snapp has done extensive work with his Equitable Eclecticism.

6. From what I can tell, all the Reformed proponents of the TR and the KJV are dabblers and dilettantes. They have no formal expertise in textual criticism. In fairness, they might say the same thing about me. But that proves my point. I admit that I’m an amateur when it comes to OT/NT criticism. And I don’t object to amateurs having opinions about range of specialized issues. I don’t think we should abode unconditional confidence in the judgment of experts.  But it’s because I’m an amateur that I don’t need to get my information from another amateur. If I want an amateur opinion about textual criticism, I can just consult my own opinion! By the same token, I don’t get my information about biology and physics from amateurs. Rather, I study what the professionals have to say. I might still dissent on philosophical or theological grounds. Or I might dissent if I think their discipline has become politicized, which skews their assessment.   This also goes beyond formal training. Some scholars like Bruce Metzger, Peter Williams, and Emanuel Tov have an exceptional skill set and natural aptitude that many scholars lack. Reformed proponents of the TR might also say that since mainstream NT criticism is so compromised, it’s a good thing that they lack formal training in that discipline. But that begs the question. 

I admit, I am no textual scholar. I have only done a bit of reading and writing on the matter. There are textual scholars that one might look to for a more scholarly handling of this position, including Dr. Jeff Riddle, Edward F. Hills, Theodore Letis, and Dean Burgon. It is interesting that the author simultaneously discredits the popular level proponents of the Confessional Text position, such as myself, while also admittedly being less than well-read on the topic and writing a popular level article. Again, Dr. Gurry’s book is very helpful and accessible and may offer some helpful new vocabulary and concepts to the reader. In terms of where I am getting my information from, I frequently cite my sources on my blog. These sources include H.C. Hoskier, Bart Ehrman, D.C. Parker, Eldon J. Epp, Jim Royse, Jan Krans, Peter Gurry, Tommy Wasserman, Jennifer Knust, Edward F. Hills, Dirk Jongkind, and so on. I even have, sitting on my desk next to me, Dr. Gurry and Dr. Hixson’s latest book on Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. That may be a helpful place to start for the author of this article.

7. A basic problem with canonizing the KJV is that most Christians aren’t English-speakers, most Christians were never English-speakers, and within the foreseeable future, most Christians won’t be English-speakers. So it’s absurdly ethnocentric. 

This point seems rather disconnected from the actual discussion. I personally have not advocated for the “canonization of the KJV”, and I’m not sure of any in my camp who do. There are a wealth of translations made from the Traditional Greek and Hebrew texts that have been used for hundreds of years, and hundreds more being made by the Trinitarian Bible Society into every vulgar tongue. There are also other English translations from the Traditional Text that are not the KJV that many in the Confessional Text camp read. Preference for the KJV is usually based on a preference for the actual translation methodology and the fact that it is most widely used. Again, this point seems to indicate that the author is not familiar with the position other than perhaps Dr. Peter Ruckman’s strange opinion that the King James Translation was somehow re inspired. Even the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, who often proudly tote the title “KJVO” do not believe in the same vain as Ruckman or Gipp.

8. Another problem is that we have a better understanding of Greek and Hebrew than the KJV translators. We have a wider sampling of ancient Hebrew than they had. And we have a wider sampling of ancient Greek than they had. For instance, Greek papyri give us access to non-literary Greek. That gives us access to Greek slang or Greek words with slang meanings. In addition, computers enable us to make exhaustive comparisons in vocabulary and grammatical constructions. 

I recommend the author to look up just one of the KJV translators, Lancelot Andrews, and see if he still believes this claim. Andrews was one among many who knew the languages so fluently he could fluently converse in them. I wonder if the author, or perhaps most seminary professors, could have a conversation casually in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, etc without skipping a beat. The King James translators certainly could. But again, I’m still struggling to see how translation of texts has anything to do with the text itself. If somebody wanted to come along and try to make a better version from the Traditional Text, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Interestingly enough, the King James Translators didn’t need a computer to know the languages. I’m sure the author would agree with me when I say that if somebody needed a computer to construct a sentence in English, they probably don’t know English all that well. I wonder how well Google translate would do making a Bible?

9. It’s true that earlier MSS aren’t necessarily better than later MSS. Obviously an 8C MS isn’t automatically better than a 9C MS. But when we’re talking about the NT papyri, I do think there’s a presumption that earlier is better because they are so chronologically close to the Urtext.  

I’m glad the author recognizes that newer manuscripts can preserve older readings. This much is fact. In terms of the Papyri, I’m not sure what that has to do with the conversation. There are less than 150 published Papyri (most of them scraps), and there aren’t enough of them to make a whole New Testament. Not to mention that there are Byzantine readings in the Papyri. Eldon J Epp calls the 20th century the “period of the papyri” and an “interlude” in the scheme of Textual Scholarship, because what came before and after is more significant. Perhaps the author could provide some examples of how the Papyri have changed the grand scheme of textual criticism.

10. Reformed TR proponents operate with an arbitrary notion of divine providence regarding the preservation of the text. They act like special providence singles out the TR rather than the Byzantine text or the NT papyri or the DDS or Codex Vaticanus. But why would providence only extend to the preservation of the text in the TR?  Likewise, the reason OT textual critics sometimes prefer the LXX to the MT is because the LXX translators had an earlier text than the Massoretes. So they had a text that might well preserve the original reading in some cases where the MT lost it.  

I’m not sure I would say it’s “arbitrary”. The Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Texts are the texts that were used almost exclusively among the protestants for translation, commentary, and theological works from the Reformation into the modern period. Chances are, if you have any works of the Puritans and the Post-Reformation Divines, they are using this text. If you adhere to a confession, they used the “arbitrary” text. Most theological works and commentaries into the 20th century use the AV and underlying texts. Some might argue that this is simply because they did not have the modern critical text, but isn’t that the point? God works in time, and in time, the church had the Traditional Text. Further, the argument against the Masoretic Text is curious, because there aren’t really any other Hebrew Texts to point to. The Reformed Confessions set the standard at the Greek and Hebrew texts being immediately inspired. If we don’t have those texts, what do we have? If the argument is that the LXX preserves original readings, is that not the argument you have problems with as it pertains to King James Onlyists? If a translation can preserve authentic readings, what exactly is the problem you have with your view of KJVO? Translations can give valuable insight in supporting readings with slim manuscript support, but supplying a reading from a translation is exactly the kind of argument Ruckman and Gipp make when they suppose the KJV should correct the Greek and Hebrew. There is an important nuance between supplying a reading from a translation that does not agree with the original texts and supporting a slimly attested reading in the original languages by way of versional evidence.

11. I’m no expert (something I share in common with Reformed TR proponents), but it seems to be that appeal to the Majority text is a statistical fallacy. If more MSS were produced by a particular locality, and more of those survive, that just means our extant MSS oversample a local textual tradition. Their numerical preponderance in itself creates no presumption that it’s more representative. Rather, that may simply be a geographical and historical accident. So the larger sample is an arbitrary sample. The fact that we have a larger sample of that textual tradition is random in the sense that it’s a coincidence of geography and the ravages of time. The Majority text may well be unrepresentative because a local textual tradition is overrepresented. 

I agree that I am no expert, with that I take no issue. I would challenge the author of this article to turn that argument on the formerly titled “Alexandrian Text Family”, which has very slim manuscript support. The author appeals to “other textual traditions”, but there aren’t really any others. There is no Alexandrian Text Family, or Western, or Cesarean. The pregeneaological coherence component of the CBGM demonstrates this overwhelmingly. In the same way, and more likely, the smallest smattering of manuscripts, which are geologically local to one area, are in fact the anomaly. This is especially easy to understand when those manuscripts weren’t copied, and the ancestor(s) of those manuscripts is lost. The text that the author is advocating for is a blip on the outskirts of the map of the manuscript data. The author is right when it comes to the manuscript data, however, it is almost impossible to prove the significance of any one manuscript because we simply do not know enough about them other than how the people of God used and copied them.

12. It’s often said that despite all the textual variants, the true reading is contained somewhere in our “5000” extant Greek MSS. But that bare statement can be misleading. This isn’t like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s not like our MSS are riddled with indetectable mistakes. 

i) Words are parts of sentences. If a scribe uses the wrong word, that usually makes the sentence nonsense. And it’s easy to spot which word is messing up the sentence. Moreover, it’s usually easy to figure out what the right word was, even if you only have that MS to go by.
We do this all the time. Email and text messages frequently contained recognizable typos, but we can usually figure out the intended word. 
ii) But suppose we can’t figure out what the original word was. So we consult other MS. The right word isn’t indetectable. If another MSS has the same sentence, but with a different word, and the sentence makes sense, then that’s probably the authentic reading. 
ii) Suppose I have two independent editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both editions contain typos. But they contain different typos. Suppose one edition contains a sentence with a typo, and I can’t figure out the original word. So I consult the other edition, where the parallel sentence makes sense. So that probably preserves the original word. 

I find no issue with this point. The first problem is, in the pre-CBGM era of textual scholarship, axioms such as “prefer the less harmonious reading” and “prefer the shorter reading” sort of gunk up point i) in the above list. Regardless, in the current edition of the NA28, there are readings which are “split”. Which means the editors of the text cannot determine which came first in the manuscript tradition. So when the author makes the claim, ” It’s not like our MSS are riddled with indetectable mistakes,” that is totally possible. Dr. Gurry comments on this in his book when he says that a later reading can be mistakenly supplied into the text over an earlier reading – undetected. Since the texts deemed earliest are basically alone in the manuscript tradition, unless you compare the readings to the thousands the author seems to reject, they are indeed alone. The author’s scenario of Tom Sawyer is not exactly relevant, because we know what the source material of Tom Sawyer said. There is a master copy to compare to. This idea of correcting the text by comparison of a few manuscripts, is however, the view of the Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines when it came to the text they had in hand, the Traditional Text. They believed that this sort of decision making could be done. That is what I believe can be done, and has been done. The editors of the modern critical text do not share in that opinion necessarily, as evidenced by the minefield of diamonds in the apparatus of the NA28. The fact is, that the current work being done is far more complex than the example given in the original article.

13. Opponents of the eclectic text allege that editors are “creating” the text. But that’s deceptive. It doesn’t mean they are inventing sentences. It just means they use more than one witness to the text. Since we know for a fact that scribes introduces changes into the text (usually inadvertently), we can’t rely on a single MS as it stands. It’s necessary to make corrections. And we do that by reference to other MSS. 

To this point I’ll simply respond with somebody has actually created Greek texts, and is listed as the team lead for the ECM in the Gospel of John, D.C. Parker.

“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.”

I agree that we cannot rely on one manuscript, I don’t think anybody would disagree. Nobody believes that the Bible came down through one single copy of the original. The Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines did not believe that, and neither do I. A more important conversation to have is whether or not the manuscripts we have now represent the historically transmitted text in time. God never promised to preserve His Word in hand written copies of the original texts. It seems we can draw from good and necessary consequence that those preserved texts must be in the original languages, but not necessarily in handwritten form. The fact is, original readings in the original languages can be, and have been, preserved with printed ink, not just handwritten ink. The author does not seem to have a problem with a reading being preserved in a translation (LXX), so I’m not sure what point is being made here.

14. In general, biblical teaching is redundant. It doesn’t hinge on one particular passage. Major doctrines are multiply-attested. The life of Christ is multiple-attested (four Gospels). 

I don’t disagree that many Biblical doctrines are not dependent on one proof text. I do not agree that all doctrines can be demonstrated equally with multiple proofs. I would be curious to see how the author handles the hapax legomena that our doctrine of inspiration comes from – θεοπνευστας. There are quite a few places where doctrine isn’t established on multiple verses totally. The Reformed were constantly building doctrine on one passage of Scripture. This is evidenced in the scripture proof texts of the Westminster Confession. Further, we do not demand this kind of thinking from preachers when they work expositionally through the text. We trust that each word is valuable for preaching and doctrine from the pulpit, despite the fact that those verses can be built out by passages in other places. It is not that we do not let Scripture interpret Scripture, but that we let Scripture interpret Scripture while also trusting and believing in every word that “proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

15. The way Reformed TR advocates cling to the Long Ending of Mark is hypocritical. If they truly believe that’s the original ending, then they ought to belong to charismatic, snake-handling churches. 

I wonder if Calvin, Matthew Henry, Gill, etc. would agree? They all seemed to get by just fine with the historical interpretation of it. Perhaps the author could investigate a commentary to see how the church has interpreted this passage before it was hucked out of the Bible on the bases of just two manuscripts.

16. What does God require of us? To be faithful to the best text we have at our disposal. Surely he doesn’t require us to be faithful to an unattainable word-perfect text. Even in the 1C, Christians copied originals. The originals were inerrant but the copies were not. 

This is a modern view by way of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield. Turretin and Van Mastricht certainly don’t agree with this statement. If the Bible isn’t perfect, what exactly is it does the author think he’s reading when he opens a Bible? Is it not the inspired Word of God? Or is it just partially inspired, where it can be proven to be so by text-critical practice? How do we determine which passages are apart of the attainable Word of God, and which parts are the unattainable? I’d be curious to see if the author would be willing to provide a methodology for determining this. John Brown of Haddington thought that kind of distinction was unwise, and I think we should too.

Conclusion

I hope my interaction with the article is not perceived as hostile. Hopefully my response causes those who read it to go and pick up some of the literature being published on the modern critical methods. We can always learn more, including myself. If the author wants to provide another response, I may be able to interact if I have the time. In the meantime, I hope the reader picks up a Bible and reads it, regardless of where they stand on the textual issue.

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