On this blog, I have highlighted many of the doctrinal errors underpinning the modern critical text, as well as set forth positively the historical orthodox position on the Holy Scriptures. I have been critical of the doctrine of inerrancy as articulated by modern scholars and compared it to the historical doctrine of providential preservation, demonstrating how they are different. That is not to say that the doctrine of inerrancy is completely bad, though it has a critical flaw which I highlight in the linked article above. For those that do not have the time to read the above article, the essential flaw is that it founds the “great accuracy” of the text of Holy Scripture on modern text critical methods and thus allows for a changing text. In this article, I will demonstrate why the current articulation of inerrancy undercuts any meaningful arguments against the Received Text.
Inerrancy vs. Providential Preservation
If a proponent of the modern critical text adheres to the doctrine of inerrancy, as opposed to the historical definition of providential preservation as stated in WCF 1.8, they have no grounds for attacking the Received Text. I am defining inerrancy as the doctrine which teaches that the original manuscripts of the New Testament were without error, and that those originals have been preserved in all that they teach in the extant copies. This is in opposition to providential preservation,which teaches that in every age, the Holy Scriptures have been kept pure essentially in what they teach and also preserved in the words from which those teachings are derived. If one limits the doctrine of inerrancy to only the autographs, then the defense of the Scriptures is pointless, because we don’t have the originals. So, if it is the case, as the doctrine of inerrancy teaches, that the Scriptures are without error in all that they teach while the words of the material text are changing, then it must also be said that the material text of the Scriptures can change and be inerrant, so as long as they can be said to teach the same doctrines. If no doctrine is affected between the Reformation era printed Greek texts and the modern critical printed Greek texts, then the necessary conclusion is that both are inerrant. That, or neither are inerrant.
Since, according to the modern critical perspective, the Reformation era text teaches the same doctrines as the Critical Text, then according to the modern doctrinal formulation of inerrancy, the Reformation era text must be inerrant too.
If, then, the Reformation Era text teaches the same doctrines and is therefore inerrant, advocates of the modern critical text have no argument against it from a theological perspective. This is the logical end of the claim that “no doctrine is affected.” If no doctrine is affected between the Reformation era printed Greek texts and the modern critical printed Greek texts, then the necessary conclusion is that both are inerrant. This is an important observation, because it means that opponents of the Received Text have no theological warrant to attack the text of the Reformation, seeing as it is an inerrant text. Until they say, “There is a final text, this is it, and it teaches different doctrine,” not only is it inconsistent to attack the Received Text, it is hostile to the text of Holy Scripture, by their own doctrinal standard. It stands against reason that a modern critical text proponent would attack a text, which is, by their own admission, inerrant.
In order to responsibly attack the Received Text from a modern critical vantage point, one must admit and adopt several things:
- They must admit that doctrine is affected between texts.
- They must adopt a final text to have a stable point of comparison between texts.
- They must assert that the Received Text is not inerrant, and thus not Scripture.
This of course, is impossible for a modern critical text advocate, since the modern critical text is changing, and will continue to change. Since, according to the modern doctrinal standard of inerrancy, the Bible is without error in all that it teaches, any Bible that is without error in all that it teaches should be considered inerrant and actually defended as such. If, at the same time, a proponent of the modern doctrine of the modern critical text and inerrancy wishes to add a component of providence to the equation, then they necessarily have to defend the Received Text. If providence is considered, there is no change to Holy Scripture, based on text critical principles, that can affect the teaching of the Scriptures. Consequently, if one were to argue that changes to the printed texts of Holy Scripture can affect doctrine, preaching, and theology, then the doctrine of inerrancy must be rejected outright, as the previous iterations of that text would have contained doctrines that were improved upon, and thus erred, prior to those changes. If a change, introduced by text critical methods, changes doctrine, then the Critical Text cannot be inerrant. This presents a theological challenge to those who continue to advocate against the Received Text and also wish to uphold the inerrancy of a changing modern critical text. There are two necessary conclusions that must be drawn from this reality:
- Either the Scriptures are inerrant, and text-critical changes cannot affect doctrine, and thus the Received Text is inerrant along with the modern critical text,
- Or the Scriptures are not inerrant, as the changes introduced by new modern text critical methods will change doctrine.
The necessary conclusion of maintaining that the words of Scriptures have changed and will change and that they are also inerrant is that those material changes must not affect doctrine. If it is the case that these changes will affect doctrine, then the Bible is necessarily not inerrant and the conversation is now far outside the realm of even modern orthodoxy.
The question we should all be asking is this: If no doctrine is affected between the Received Text and the modern critical text and the Bible is inerrant, why do modern critical text advocates attack an inerrant Bible? Is it consistent to affirm the modern doctrine of inerrancy and also attack the historical Protestant Scriptures? It seems that the answer is no, it is not consistent. One might argue that the modern critical text is “better,” but better in what way? If no doctrine is affected, how is it better? In order to make the argument for a “better” text, one has to first argue that doctrine is indeed changed in the new critical Bibles, and thus admit that the Scriptures are not inerrant. And even if one were to admit that the modern critical text is better, and admit that the Bible is not inerrant, they would need to produce a standard, stable text to defend that claim. So, until the advocates of the modern critical text are willing to admit that doctrine is changed and thus the Scriptures are not inerrant, they simply are attacking the Received Text, which by their own doctrinal standard, is inerrant.
This article should demonstrate one of the chief inconsistencies of those who uphold inerrancy of Scripture and also attack the Received Text of the Reformation. It seems, based on the axiom that “no doctrine is affected,” there actually is no warrant to attack a version of the Scriptures that is inerrant. In order to do so, one would have to adopt the view that the Scriptures have been kept pure in both what they teach and the words that teach those doctrines, and then defend a finished text. And if it is the case that the Bible has been kept pure in all ages, and is providentially preserved, then it stands that adopting a critical text which differs from the text of the previous era of the church is not justified in the first place and incompatible with the argument.
I’m looking forward to seeing all of the modern critical text advocates joining the fight to defend the inerrant Received Text!