Are Christians Justified in Adopting the Modern Critical Text?

Introduction

In my latest series of articles, I have questioned the validity of the “revision” effort of the 1800’s, which has evolved into a full blown reconstruction effort. Since then, scholars have produced Greek text after Greek text, applied methodology after methodology, all to no avail. Those that align with the axioms of modern textual criticism are unfortunately swimming in a sea of texts, and the scholars heading up the effort have voiced their increasing levels of doubt in the text of Holy Scripture. It is no longer accurate to say that the modern critical text is “a” Bible, because it’s not. It is a dataset of variant readings, a timeline of all of the significant extant corruptions produced by scribes in the first millennia of the church. The modern critical text is the anthology of the scribes as they copied manuscripts. 

An intriguing phenomenon is how men will defend this anthology of variants as though it were “a” text, applying historical protestant language to it as if it were one defineable thing. According to the modern doctrine of preservation, the Scriptures may be preserved within the whole manuscript tradition. The thing that is preserved is somewhere in the stack of datapoints, and many scholars agree that some of those data points have been lost to time. Even more concerning is that there are many data points which we know exist, but do not have in our possession for analysis. According to some scholars, there may be as many as 525 manuscripts left to discover (Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes, 62). That means that the textual criticism being done is not only operating on a data set that has destroyed data points, it is operating on a data set that has missing data points. This is the “text” that people defend when they fight for “the” modern critical text. 

Is Using This Text Justified? 

Take a moment and put aside all that you know about how slapdash Erasmus was, and all of the driftwood that popular apologists toss into the discussion. Forget for a moment all of the scary words like “Traditionalist” and “Fundamentalist” and take a look at what the modern critical text actually is on its own merits. It is a text that was never used until 1881, and didn’t gain real popularity amongst conservatives until the end of the 20th century. It is a text that is hard to define, and the definable printed editions of it are constantly changing. The methodology being used to develop the most popular printed edition of the modern critical text will not be done until at least 2030, and that’s if they can scrounge up all of the materials needed for the job. The Bibles translated from such texts, or adapted from previous translations and amended by this text, are in flux until this is done.Any Bible that claims to use the Nestle-Aland/UBS platform as a base text is as gooey as the modern critical text itself.  

Now inspect that against what you, as a Christian, know about God’s Word. Do you believe God’s Word as enigmatic as the modern critical text? Will you stake your doctrine on a text that can be described like this? 

 “Clearly, these changes will affect not only modern Bible translations and commentaries but possibly even theology and preaching”    

(Wasserman & Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism, 6)

It is well documented that the initial “revision” team of 1881 stepped beyond their function as revisors into the role of creators. The story of the modern text is full of massive changes to the text of Holy Scripture. That might be forgivable if the process ever stopped going in that direction, but it has only gotten worse. Even the scholars have growing uncertainty about their own text,

“There has also been a slight increase in the ECM editors uncertainty about the text, an uncertainty that has been de facto adopted by the editors of the NA/UBS”

(Ibid., 6). 

The evaluation of the levels of uncertainty is slight, however, because a brief survey of the scholars working on the ECM shows that “slight” uncertainty is actually full blown skepticism held together by historical protestant sentiment. Due to this phenomenon, it is important to evaluate the text-critical conclusions made by these scholars in a separate category as the theological statements by these scholars. As text critics, the men and women producing texts have great skepticism, but that skepticism is balanced out by the theological foundations set in the previous generations. Putting aside all arguments against the Traditional Text of Holy Scripture, can you, as a Christian, justify a text that can be described in this way:

“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.”

DC Parker

Conclusion

Due to the polemic nature of this discussion, it is easy to get swaddled in arguments against a position without evaluating the merits of your own position. This is overwhelmingly the case when it comes to those who vehemently advocate for the modern critical text. As long as we can shout about how Erasmus was a humanist (so was Calvin, by the way), and how Beza was just like Bruce Metzger, and how those that retain the Traditional Text are just “snowflakes” and “traditionalists,” then everything is fine! That may work on Facebook, but when it comes down to it, those that defend the modern critical text will exchange their Bible for a new one every five years until they die, and with every exchange their Bible will look a little bit different. 

So, is it justified to adopt the modern critical text? You be the judge. Take some time and investigate the axioms of modern textual criticism and the text that those axioms produce. Were the Scriptures originally choppy, abrupt, grammatically difficult, and lacking harmony? Did the Orthodox church corrupt the Scriptures to develop the Christology, add pericopes to retain beloved stories of Christ, and amend the text to contend against heretics? Did God lose the ending of Mark? Or did the text start out harmonious, robust, and theologically complete? Did God keep His Word pure in all ages? Did the men of the Reformation have this preserved text? If they did, why continue arguing for readings they rejected? Why strip out the passages they stood on against Rome? And if they didn’t have the preserved text, what is it we have now? We certainly do not have “a” text, we have an anthology of the scribes.

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