Niche Textual Positions & Providence

Introduction

Many people are swept up by modern critical evaluations of the text of Holy Scripture. As a result, a handful of various textual positions have sprung up within mainstream evangelicalism. The fact is, there are other positions on the text of Holy Scripture than just the Received Text and Critical Text positions. Many people have asked why I only offer critique towards the modern critical text as it exists in the ECM or NA/UBS. The reason I do not address Tyndale House or other minority texts and viewpoints, is because these text platforms are not used by the people of God in churches. Think of it this way, if God is providentially working in time, is it the case that He is raising up a lone wolf to reconstruct the Word of God for the church? If He was doing this, wouldn’t the people of God know it? 

Here is the practical reality of providence and God working in ordinary means – if a Greek text is so niche that it hasn’t been translated for the people of God to use, or hasn’t been printed at all, then it doesn’t affect the church, who does not speak Greek. The only Christian people who speak Greek, interestingly enough, use a form of the TR. So while hobbyist textual positions seem to be fun for people to spend time on, they benefit the people of God in no meaningful way. They are simply academic exercises that do not translate to serving Christians, because the ordinary Christians who read their Bible in their mother tongue, cannot read Greek. If we look at this issue simply, it seems reasonable that positions that arise on the fringes of the church, which are adopted by essentially nobody, can be discarded.  

An Appeal to the Common Reader 

While the effort of producing Greek New Testaments may seem like a noble cause, it is a symptom of a strange phenomenon that has risen in the modern church. Namely, that the church does not have God’s Word and it needs to be found, and rogue individuals have taken up the mantle to do this. In order to justify this effort, modern scholars and other interested parties must attack the Received Text of God’s Word or even the modern critical text. They must “prove” that the Bibles people actually use are corrupt. This effort is praised and honored, mostly among Calvinistic Christians. The benefit of owning and using these niche printed Greek texts is practically an exercise of cataloguing, understanding, and advocating for the variant readings that arose in the copying process over the ages. If these readings aren’t found in a text that people actually use, they have very little impact on Christians at all. I argue that these efforts are a waste of time, because evidence-based reconstruction models cannot actually prove a reading to be original.  

What Christians should be asking is, “How does this affect me hearing God’s voice in the Scriptures?” Confessional Christians need to bring their theology back into the realm of textual criticism, and consider the practical implications of adhering to Chapters 1 and 5 of the WCF and LBCF. What good does it serve to entertain textual positions and Greek texts which have no stamp of providence on them? If these texts produced by fringe committees and lone wolves are truly God’s Word, why aren’t they being translated into the vulgar tongues of the earth? If these men are like Nehemiah, restoring the Word of God to the people, why don’t the people of God know it?

This brings me to another practical reality of the textual discussion. What good does it serve to spend hours upon hours cataloguing manuscripts, for example, which have 1 John 5:7 in them, if one does not believe that reading to be divinely inspired and authentic? What does the church gain by credentialed and non-credentialed scholars convincing the people of God passages in their Bible shouldn’t be there? How does it impact you, the person who actually reads the Bible? Practically speaking, the only thing it does is sow doubt, or perhaps causes you to just skip over a line of Scripture if it’s in your Bible. If you, like most Christians, have read John 7:53-8:11 or Mark 16:9-20 as original, and then are told that it is not original based on text-critical principles that can’t actually prove it, then you are told to question God’s Word on the authority of some scholarly or even non-scholarly opinion. The reality is, that most of these popular evangelical authorities and scholars have no say in producing Greek texts that are actually used by the people of God. That is why I advocate so heartily for the Received Text, because it is text that stands by its own weight and use. There is nothing new to say about it because there is nothing new about it. It is tried and true and received by the people of God, even to this day. My goal is simply to advocate for people to return to it who have adopted critical models of the text of Holy Scripture. 

Conclusion

The greatest disconnect between people who spend their time playing with variants and the people of God who read their Bible without a text-critical lens, is that text criticism doesn’t actually matter unless those variants make their way into a text that people actually use. This is why I do not address the textual position of somebody like James Snapp, or aim my arguments at the Tyndale House Greek Text. The simple reality is that James Snapp hasn’t produced a Greek text, and the Tyndale House Greek New Testament isn’t translated. I am actually quite alright with appealing to the materials of James Snapp where we agree. I am unabashedly a Calvinist and believe that “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will” (LBCF 5:1). That means that the ordinary means of God speaking, His Word, is also guided by this providence. 

So if Christians wish to engage in textual criticism as a hobby, that’s totally fine, though I don’t exactly see the benefit of it. People would be much better served simply reading God’s Word. The tinkering of textual hobbyists doesn’t actually have a bearing on the people of God until that textual tinkering makes it into the main text and footnotes of people’s Bibles. At this point, the only real texts that have an impact on the people of God are the printed editions of the modern critical text and the ECM, and the Received Text of the Reformation. I argue that the modern critical text should not be used, because it has no stamp of providence on it, and the Received Text should be used because it does have a stamp of providence on it. These two texts disagree with one another, so it is logical to take a stand on one or the other. All other minority texts and textual positions are simply hobbies, and the only real impact that these textual positions have on the people of God is to convince them that “there are no perfect Bibles” which means that God did not preserve His Word. In all of these fringe textual positions, they all have one thing in common: that those who advocate for these texts as original, or perhaps “best,” are waiting on them to be finished so they can actually use them. I don’t see that as compatible with God’s providence, and so I focus my efforts on texts and methodologies that are used by the people who read Bibles.   

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