A Summary of the Confessional Text Position

Introduction

In this article, I will provide a shotgun blast summary of the Confessional Text Position, as well as some further commentary which will help those trying to understand the position better. In this short article, I do not expect that I have articulated every nuance of the position perfectly, but I hope that I have communicated it clearly enough for people to understand it as a whole. My goal is the reader can at least see why I adhere to the Traditional Hebrew and Greek text and translations thereof.

In 15 Points

1. God has voluntarily condescended to man by way of speaking to man (Deus Dixit) and making covenants with him (Gen. 2:17; 3:15)

2. In the time of the people of God of old, He spoke by way of the prophets (Heb. 1:1)

3. In these last days, He has spoken to His people by His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1)

4. The way that God has spoken by Jesus Christ is in Scripture through the inspiration of Biblical writers by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible is the Word of God, and in these last days, is the way that Christians hear the voice of their Shepherd by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 10:27). The Bible does not contain the Word of God, or become the Word of God, it is the Word of God.

5. The purpose of this speaking is to make man “wise unto salvation” and “furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15;17; Rom. 1:16; 10:17)

6. Jesus promised that His Word would never fall away, as it is the means of accomplishing His covenant purpose (Mat. 5:18; 24:35)

7. Since God has promised that His words would not fall away, the words of Scripture have been kept pure in all ages, or in every generation (WCF 1.8; Mat. 5:18; 24:35) until the last day

8. Up until the 15th century with the invention of the printing press in Europe, books were hand copied. This hand copying resulted in thousands of manuscripts being circulated and used in churches for all matters of faith and practice. These manuscripts are generally uniform, except for a handful of manuscripts formerly known as the “Alexandrian Text Family”, which were not really copied or circulated. When Constantinople fell in 1453, just 14 years after the invention of the printing press in Europe, Greek Christians fled to Italy, bringing with them their Bibles and language.

9. The printing press was put to use in the creation of printed Bibles, in many different languages, specifically Greek and Latin

10. If it is true that the Bible has been kept pure, it was kept pure up to the 16th century. Thus, the manuscripts that were used in the first effort of creating printed text was the same text used by the people of God up to that point. Text-critics such as Theodore Beza would appeal to the “consent of the church” as a part of his textual methodology, which demonstrates that the reception of readings by the church were an integral part of the compilation of this text

11. The text produced over the course of a century during the Reformation period was universally accepted by the protestants, even to the point of other texts being rejected. It is historically documented that this is the “text received by all” (Received Text), which is abundantly made clear in the commentaries, confessions (see proof texts), translations, and theological works up until the 19th century.

12. This Greek text, along with the Masoretic Hebrew text, remained the main text for translation, commentary, theological works, etc. until the 19th century when Hort’s Greek text, based on Codex Vaticanus was adopted by many. At the time, many believed that Hort’s text was the true original, which caused many people to adopt readings from this text over and above the Received Text. This text was rejected by Erasmus and the Reformers, and has no surviving contemporary ancestor copies, meaning it was simply not copied or used by the church at large.

13. This Greek text was adopted based on Hort’s theory that Vaticanus was “earliest and best” and the text of modern Bibles all generally reflect this text form, even today. Due to the Papyri and the CBGM, Hort’s theory has been rejected by all in the scholarly community. Not to mention Hoskier’s devastating analysis of Codex B (Vaticanus).

14. Thus, the Confessional Text position adopts the Greek and Hebrew text, and translations thereof, that were “received by all” in the age of printed Bibles, and used universally by the orthodox for 300 years practically uncontested, except by Roman Catholics and other heretical groups (Anabaptists, Socinians, etc.).

15. The most popular of these translations, the Authorized Version (KJV), is still used by at least 55% of people who read their Bible daily as of 2014, and at least 6,200 churches. Additionally, Bibles made from these Greek and Hebrew texts into other languages remain widely popular across the world. Other English Bibles are based on this text, such as the MEV, NKJV, GNV, and KJ3, but they are relatively unused compared to the AV.

Further Commentary

The adoption of the Greek Received Text and the Hebrew Masoretic text is one based on what God has done providentially in time. Many assert that the history of the New Testament can only be traced by extant manuscript copies, but those copies do not tell the whole story. The readings in the Bible are vindicated, not on the smattering of early surviving manuscripts, but rather by the people that have used those readings in history (John 10:27), which are preserved in the texts actually used by those people. Since we will never have all of the manuscripts due to war, fire, etc., it is impossible to verify genuine readings by the data available today, as there is no “Master Copy” to compare them against. That is why the current effort of text-criticism is pursuing a hypothetical Initial Text, which relies on constructing a text based on the first 1,000 years of manuscript transmission.

The product of this is called the Editio Critica Maior (ECM), and it will not be finished until 2030. The methodology used (CBGM) to construct this text has already introduced uncertainty to the editors of those making Greek texts as to whether or not they can even find the Initial Text, or if they will even find one Initial Text. That is to say, that from the time of Hort’s text in the 19th century, the modern effort of textual criticism has yet to produce a single stable text. The printed editions of the modern critical text contain a great wealth of textual data, but none of these are a stable text that will not change in the next ten years. That is to say, that translations built on these printed editions are merely a representation of what the editors think the best readings are, not necessarily what the best readings are in reality.

Rather than placing hope in the ability of scholars to prove this Initial Text to be original, Christians in the Confessional Text camp look back to the time when hand copied manuscripts were still being used in churches and circulated in the world. The first effort of “textual criticism” if you will, is unique because it is the only effort of textual criticism that took place when hand copied codices were still being used as a part of the church’s practice. That means that the quality and value of such codices could be validated by the “consent of the church”, because the church would have only adopted a text that was familiar to the one they had been using up to that point. This kind of perspective is not achievable to a modern audience. During the time of the first printed editions, the corruption of the Latin Vulgate was exposed, and the printed editions created during that time were in themselves a protest against the Vulgate and the Roman Catholic church, who had in their possession a corrupted translation of the Scriptures. It was during this time, and because of these printed texts, that Protestantism was born.

Any denomination claiming to be protestant has direct ties back to this text, and the theology built upon it. The case for the Confessional Text is really quite simple, when you think about it. God preserved His Word in every generation in hand copied manuscripts until the form of Bibles transitioned to printed texts. Then He preserved His Word in printed Greek texts based on the circulating and approved manuscripts. This method of transmission was much more efficient, cheap, and easily distributed than the former method of hand copying. This text was received, commented on, preached from, and translated for centuries, and is still used by the majority of Bible reading Christians today. The argument for this text is not one based in tradition, it is one based on simply looking back into history and seeing which text the people of God have used in time. Not simply the story that the choice manuscripts of the modern scholars tells.

Any theories on other text forms are typically based on a handful of ancient manuscripts that were not copied or used widely, and the idea that this smattering of early manuscripts represents the original text form is simply speculation. What history tells us is that the text vindicated in time is the text the people of God used, copied, printed, and translated. This does not mean that every Christian at all times has used this text, just the overwhelming testimony of the people of God as a whole. The fact is, that we know very little about the transmission and form of the text in the ancient church in comparison to what we know about the text after the ancient period. The critical text, while generally looking like the Received Text, is different than the historical text of the protestants, which is why those in the Confessional Text camp do not use them. The few Papyri we have even demonstrate that later manuscripts known as the Byzantine text family were circulating in the ancient church.

Conclusion

So why is there a discussion regarding which text is better? Up until this point in history, the alternative text, the critical text, has been thought to be much more stable and certain than it is now. Currently, the modern critical text is unfinished, and will remain that way until at least 2030 when the ECM is finished. Those in the Confessional Text position might ask two very important questions regarding this text: Does a text that represents the text form of a handful of the thousands of manuscripts, a text which is incomplete, sound like a text that is vindicated in time? Does a changing, uncertain, unfinished text speak to a text that has been preserved, or one that has yet to be found? I suppose these questions aren’t answerable until 2030 when it is complete. This alone is a powerful consideration for those investigating the issue earnestly. Most people in the Confessional Text camp do not anathematize those who read Bibles from the critical text, or break fellowship over it, but we do encourage and advocate for the use of Traditional Text Bibles, as it the historical text of the Protestant church.

For More Information on Why I Prefer the Received Text, Click Here

For Interactions with Arguments Against the Received Text, Click Here

14 thoughts on “A Summary of the Confessional Text Position

  1. Hello Taylor,

    Is it safe to assume that the “Confessional” Text position has no Principles,Methodology or Praxis to help determine or guide it’s proponents in the sifting of Textual variants?

    What is your chosen base Text? Scrivener, Beza, Erasmus, Stephanus etc.? Or do you have the option to choose amongst their readings?

    Thanks!

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    1. Hi RS,

      It is not a reconstructive methodology, so there would be no reconstructive principles. The position is based on the concept that the Scriptures have not fallen away and do not need to be reconstructed. In terms of the text I use, I work from a Scrivener text and 1550 Stephanus.

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      1. Thanks for the reply.

        What about the locations where various editions of the TR have no Greek manuscript evidence backing them,–do you believe that these areas don’t need reconstruction?

        More importantly, what is the formula used to choose between TR variations when they do exist?

        -Thank You!-

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      2. Great questions:

        1. In the locations where there is not any extant manuscript support, we go with the reading that is historically received (used), and the testimony of those scholars who say they pulled the reading from a once existing manuscript (Beza in Rev. 16:5 for example)

        2. Similar to the first question, the first assumption is that the decisions on variants were decided by the use of a particular reading over another in time. The Reformed and Post-Reformation Divines seem to be more or less unified on which readings were original. Not to say that they were in complete harmony, but I have yet to find an example where such discord results in the change of meaning in a passage as a whole. In short, I have yet to find a variant within the TR tradition that has troubled me, either evidentially or internally (including Eph 3:9).

        Thanks!

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    2. In terms of “Sifting through variants,” there are really not many to sift through within the TR tradition that are meaningful in any way. When variants are considered, we consider them the same way that the framers of the Confession say they did. John Owen and Turretin provide great examples of this type of reasoning.

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  2. In terms of “Sifting through variants,” there are really not many to sift through within the TR tradition that are meaningful in any way. When variants are considered, we consider them the same way that the framers of the Confession say they did. John Owen and Turretin provide great examples of this type of reasoning.

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  3. Thank you for the reply.

    You state; “In the locations where there is not any extant manuscript support, we go with the reading that is historically received (used),”

    ***How is the “historically received” reading determined? What factors would lead you to choose one TR reading against another?***

    For example:

    You mentioned Rev.16:5, what *factors* lead you accept the reading of Beza or Scrivener over against Erasmus or Stephanus? The fact that the reading {εσομενος} is *not* found in any single extant manuscript could not have made it attractive to you, so what did/does?

    Let’s stay on this.

    The TR is split, therefore a decision must be made; either by us, or for us.

    (1.) We can choose the reading ‘εσομενος’, which is the reading of Beza and contained within Scrivener by default. This reading is also followed by the A.V. 1611 {“shalt be”}.

    Or (2.), We can choose the reading ‘οσιος’ which is the reading of Erasmus and Stephanus. This reading
    {“holy”} is followed by 1534 Tyndale, 1537 Matthew’s, 1557 & 1599 Geneva Bible’s.

    What makes Beza and the A.V. 1611 correct, and Erasmus, Stephanus, Tyndale, Matthew’s, both Geneva Bible’s and every single trace of extant Greek manuscript evidence wrong?

    …And who made this decision?

    You write;

    “the testimony of those scholars who say they pulled the reading from a once existing manuscript (Beza in Rev. 16:5 for example)”

    **Does the testimony of Beza carry more weight than the whole Greek manuscript tradition? Or is it the combination of Beza and the A.V. 1611 that tips the scales?**

    Thanks for the in-depth responses!

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    1. Great question RS:

      In terms of the reading I use, I refer to the text that was used in the translation I read, as most people do. This particular reading is important, because it does represent one of the few places where the reading is truly split in the TR tradition. I believe this to be a much more reasonable task then, let’s just say, the 19 indeterminate readings in 1 and 2 Peter alone in the ECM. I personally receive Beza’s reading as that is the reading that was commented upon and used the most – and it is consistent with the theology and grammar of the passage (though I have seen people argue well for οσιος). Since both theological concepts are present in Revelation, this is truly a reading where doctrine is not changed from my perspective. Many people give lip service that doctrine is not changed no matter what the variant is, but that is not true. That being said, the reading came from a Greek manuscript according to Beza, and the reading was preserved in a printed text. The concept that a reading must be preserved in hand written ink rather than printed ink is strange, and I’ve never understood it. If the reading is original, it doesn’t matter if a pen or a press preserved it, the way I see it. There is no way to verify that the reading was or wasn’t in the originals, so while manuscript support may give us false assurance that we’ve arrived at the correct reading, simply counting noses doesn’t quite get us to the answer anyway. This is well understood in pretty much every methodology around, but is typically ignored here. So we either make a majority text appeal here, which doesn’t mean a whole lot as there aren’t really any mss of Revelation surviving, or we can make an appeal to the reading that has been used the most by the church with the reasonable assumption that the manuscript existed at some point. I side with the latter, though I know many people who go with the majority reading. In any case, I think we have to treat Revelation uniquely, as it is one of the least testified to books in the NT. There is no consistent methodology that can be applied in Revelation, and that’s just a fact. Despite common claims, each variant has to be handled uniquely, as they each have their own transmission history which is different than the transmission history of every other variant. If you look at the % agreement in the CNTTS database, the NA text basically follows mss 02 in 89% of the textually significant variants, and the closest agreement that mss has to any other mss in the CNTTS database is 77% and lower. That is to say that Revelation is a tricky book even in the critical text. Gill, in his commentary, handles εσομινος first, then οσιος separately. In any case, both readings exist within the TR tradition, so I handle this text by looking to the people that have handled it before me. Every pre-critical text commentary I have read handles the variant reading, and favors the Beza reading on the basis of internal theological grounds based on the context and the theology of the passage itself. So I adopt the reading on that basis as well, not on the basis of it simply being in the KJV or Scrivener text. That being said, I would not divide over this, and since I see it as being easily resolved on internal grounds, One final note, and possibly worth considering, is that the latest survey of extant manuscripts conducted by Jacob W. Peterson estimates that there are well over 500 manuscripts that have not been examined or “discovered,” not to mention that manuscripts made after 1000AD are being ignored by the ECM. That is to say, that even with the extant data we have catalogued, it is possible that a manuscript we have has the reading but is simply not “discovered.” Such is the gamble when we base our readings on extant data – we can’t know for certain if the reading is the most reliable, because we don’t have all the data, and even the data we do “have” isn’t all cataloged. I see the merit, from a reconstructionist model, of adopting the οσιος reading, but I simply wouldn’t be able to do so with absolute confidence that the reading is authentic due to the slim mss attestation in the whole of Revelation. Due to this reality, I receive the reading that most commentators of the time considered more theologically and grammatically consistent with the passage and the book as a whole. This way, I am not reverting to “who made this decision” but rather appealing to the passage itself and the reading that fits most comfortably in the passage.

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      1. Hi again Taylor,

        Do to the length and substance of your last post, I think it’s best to deal with your comments in sections according to content, and point by point. Your statements are located within quotation marks (” “) and mine within asterisks (** **).

        Taylor writes;

        “I believe this to be a much more reasonable task then, let’s just say, the 19 indeterminate readings in 1 and 2 Peter alone in the ECM.”

        **Background: I’ve read the KJV for 35 years (since my youth) and although I have–and–occasionally use other English translations, the KJV is the Bible that I both read and teach out of.

        That said, the above argument amounts to; Jack has gotten into trouble for breaking one of his mother’s favorite dishes, and in trying to defend himself exclaims, “but Jill has broken 19 of your best sewing needles Mom!”.**

        Taylor writes:

        “the latest survey of extant manuscripts conducted by Jacob W. Peterson estimates that there are well over 500 manuscripts that have not been examined or “discovered,” not to mention that manuscripts made after 1000AD are being ignored by the ECM. That is to say, that even with the extant data we have catalogued, it is possible that a manuscript we have has the reading but is simply not “discovered.”

        **This is an argument from silence, which as it were, is based upon a guess. How many of these “estimated” manuscripts contain the 16th chapter of the book of Revelation? –And how many do you suppose read ‘εσομενος’?**

        Taylor writes:

        “In terms of the reading I use, I refer to the text that was used in the translation I read,…I personally receive Beza’s reading as that is the reading that was commented upon and used the most …So we either make a majority text appeal here, which doesn’t mean a whole lot as there aren’t really any mss of Revelation surviving, or we can make an appeal to the reading that has been used the most by the church with the reasonable assumption that the manuscript existed at some point. I side with the latter,…Gill, in his commentary, handles εσομινος first, then οσιος separately. In any case, both readings exist within the TR tradition, so I handle this text by looking to the people that have handled it before me. Every pre-critical text commentary I have read handles the variant reading, and favors the Beza reading on the basis of internal theological grounds based on the context and the theology of the passage itself. So I adopt the reading on that basis as well, not on the basis of it simply being in the KJV or Scrivener text…Due to this reality, I receive the reading that most commentators of the time considered more theologically and grammatically consistent with the passage and the book as a whole. This way, I am not reverting to “who made this decision” but rather appealing to the passage itself and the reading that fits most comfortably in the passage.”

        **So your authority is Beza, the KJV and the majority of your favorite Biblical commentators:–And therefore the testimony and preservation of the *total* transmission history of the New Testament Text, i.e. All of “Catholic Antiquity” has to bow in submission to these 16th and 17th century witnesses. I take it that Dr. Hort’s often blind admiration of Cod. B, or Tischendorf’s equally unwarranted homage of Cod. א, doesn’t strike you as unreasonable and biased?**

        Taylor writes:

        “That being said, the reading came from a Greek manuscript according to Beza, and the reading was preserved in a printed text.”

        **The first part of your statement is up for debate. Even so, is it possible for me to state that I once saw something in an ancient manuscript and then emmend the Text accordingly, even when said singular ms. is nowhere to be found? Or, does this only carry enough authority to overthrow all extant evidence if my name is Beza, or I lived in the 16th or 17th century? This question is posed to envoke thought, not hard feelings.**

        Taylor writes:

        “The concept that a reading must be preserved in hand written ink rather than printed ink is strange, and I’ve never understood it. If the reading is original, it doesn’t matter if a pen or a press preserved it, the way I see it.”

        **There’s too much to unpack here. Yet I will say this, you have opened the flood gates to the Redaction Critics and the practice of Conjectural Emmendation for the sake of retaining a reading that has the support of *no* Greek manuscript!**

        Taylor writes:

        “There is no consistent methodology that can be applied in Revelation, and that’s just a fact.”

        ** That is in fact your opinion. The methodology of Burgon and others can hold up just fine in Revelation.**

        Taylor writes:

        “That is to say that Revelation is a tricky book even in the critical text.”

        **Agreed!! Probably the trickiest.**

        Taylor writes:

        “I see it as being easily resolved on internal grounds, ”

        **How can the insertion of a reading which has absolutely no external evidence behind it be “easily resolved” on any grounds?**

        Taylor writes:

        “Such is the gamble when we base our readings on extant data–we can’t know for certain if the reading is the most reliable, because we don’t have all the data, and even the data we do “have” isn’t all cataloged. I see the merit, from a reconstructionist model, of adopting the οσιος reading, but I simply wouldn’t be able to do so with absolute confidence that the reading is authentic due to the slim mss attestation in the whole of Revelation. ”

        **Would it not be more of a gamble to base our readings on *no* extant data? So your position is that we should follow the least attested readings because we don’t know what every manuscript read throughout the history of the Text (again an argument from silence)?**

        **It may help to know that I am *not* an advocate for the Modern Academic Critical Text. Nor have I ever been.**

        -Thank you very much for your explanations and interaction!-

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      2. Probably the most uncharitable way you could have interpreted my response.

        1. The reading existed in a manuscript at one point
        2. It fits the theology
        3. It was used in translation and commentary for centuries uninterrupted

        ^^ That’s my reason. Please do not comment again.

        Like

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