A Disputation on the Modern Doctrine of the Text of Holy Scripture

Introduction

There are many times where a theological position is presented, and it either has to be absolutely correct, or absolutely not correct. There are Scriptural realities that are clear, and there are other areas where external proofs drive an argument outside of the Scriptures. Where a Scriptural teaching is clear, the consequence of that teaching must necessarily conclude obedience in faith and practice.

There are a number of theological positions where the Scriptures are plainly clear, and yet Christians believe them to be unclear. A great example is the Scriptural proof from 2 Tim. 3:16 which demonstrates the foolishness of continuationist theology. If all Scripture is sufficient for instruction in subjects pertaining to faith and practice, then everything that is not Scripture is not sufficient for faith and practice. The scope of things that are not Scripture include words of knowledge, prophecies, and so on. There is a clear teaching from this Scripture that demands that Scripture and applications thereof, not ongoing revelation, be the only standard for instruction, encouragement, correction. 

The problem is that many Christians, when faced with this Scripture, will ignore it, and provide another unrelated text to justify the continuationist doctrine. This kind of rhetorical misdirect is often the source of much frustration when it comes to the arguments presented in support of the Received Text position. A proof is presented that necessitates the rejection of one position and the adoption of another, and instead of accepting the necessary consequence of that Scriptural proof, another unrelated argument will be presented in a rhetorical attempt to avoid being compelled by a clear Scriptural reality. In this article, I will present such an argument, and reveal that any meaningful defense of preservation must end in the defense or adoption of the Masoretic Hebrew, and Greek Received Text as the providentially preserved and delivered original language Scriptures. 

Framing the Discussion

God immediately inspired the text of Holy Scripture in the Old Testament in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the New testament in the Greek language. This is necessary, as the language used to write the Scriptures during the time of the people of God of old was Hebrew, and in some places Aramaic, and the language used to write the Scriptures during the time of the people of God in the church age was Greek. Translations of such languages may be considered mediately inspired insofar as they represent these original texts. 

It is often the case that modern “conservative” Christians refuse to make the distinction between immediately and mediately inspired, and the result is that many Christians believe there is no Bible available today that is perfectly inspired. They say the Bible is inspired, while also saying that there is not a text or translation that contains that text perfectly. This necessitates that a distinction must be made between “The Bible” and the printed versions Christians actually read. “The Bible” is perfect and inspired, we just don’t have it.

The modern doctrine of inspiration teaches that only the original autographs were perfectly inspired, and what is remaining of the manuscripts today are only inspired insofar as we can prove with evidence that these texts are original. Paradoxically, none of the scholars responsible for this task are trying to find the original, or believe they can find the original. They may maintain that the original may be found, but simultaneously affirm that there is no way to verify that the original has been found, even if we actually had it. This in itself is nothing new, but it is clear that most Christians have not considered that the theological foundation of the modern doctrine of inspiration, reflected in the Chicago Statement, is propped up on the assumption that the original can be found by modern textual criticism. The flaw with the modern doctrine of inspiration can be summarized in this statement:

The Bible is inspired insofar as individual texts can be proven original by textual criticism. Textual criticism is not trying to find the original nor can the methods prove that a text original, and therefore the Bible is not inspired. 

Since the mechanism of authenticating the Scriptures in the modern doctrine of inspiration is textual criticism, this must be the case. Until the axioms of modern textual criticism walk back from the language of “initial text” or rewrite the Chicago Statement, it doesn’t actually set forth a meaningful doctrinal position on inspiration. It actually demonstrates that the Bible isn’t inspired, because it cannot prove any text original. 

In order for the Scriptures to be preserved, these original texts must be preserved materially and in substance, and available to the people of God today. This concept of materially and substantially means that every word that comprises every thought is preserved. If any word has fallen away which results in the change or loss of meaning, then the Scriptures have not been preserved. The mainstream, “conservative” view is adequately represented by Daniel Wallace. 

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain”

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes, xii).

Here is the Big Lie of what is called “Evangelical Textual Criticism”: that the Bible can be inspired and preserved, while at the same time not existing in any original language text or translation. In other words, “The Bible” is inspired and preserved and perfect, we just don’t have it, and never will. This reality is very frequently avoided by employing rhetorical misdirects, ad hominem attacks on Erasmus and Beza, and reinterpretation of historical theology. The majority text and Received Text views on inspiration and preservation are absolutely irrelevant when it comes to resolving the contradictions with the modern view represented by the Chicago Statement. The fact is, the modern critical position on the text of Holy Scripture is untenable, and its logical end is that there is a “Bible,” we just don’t have it. 

This is not Scriptural. Any theological position that says that we do not have a Bible, is plainly, and clearly, heterodox.  

The Scriptural Case for Scripture

“GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”

(Heb. 1:1)
  1. God has spoken objectively in two ways, first through the fathers and the prophets in the Old Testament, and secondly by Jesus Christ in the last days
  2. This way of speaking was recorded in writing in the Old and New Testament

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

(2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  1. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God
  2. The Scriptures are able to make men wise unto salvation
  3. All Scriptures are profitable for all matters of faith and practice 
  4. Thus, all Scripture is given by God, and is purposed for the use of the salvation of men and for the further training of righteousness – all matters of faith and practice

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

(Mat. 5:18)
  1. All is not fulfilled yet because Christ has not returned
  2. One jot or one tittle shall not pass until all is fulfilled
  3. Therefore the mechanism of such fulfillment in the last days, the Scriptures, will not pass away until all be fulfilled (Heb. 1:1)

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

(Mat. 24:35)
  1. Christ’s words will not pass away
  2. Christ’s words are the way that God has spoken to the people of God in the last days
  3. Therefore, the manner of God speaking in the last days, Christ’s words, will not pass away

      “The words of the LORD are pure words:

      As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

      Thou shalt keep them, O LORD,

      Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”

(Ps. 12:6)
  1. The words of the Lord are kept by the Lord, and shall be preserved forever

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

(Jn. 10:27)
  1. God’s people hear his voice
  2. God has spoken in these last days through His Son, Jesus Christ 

There are two necessary conclusions that must be accepted by this argument and the supporting proofs. The first is that Christians must accept the doctrinal statement that the Scriptures are inspired, perfect, preserved, available, and identifiable. That means that any theological position which affirms that a) any part of the Scriptures has fallen away or b) that we do not know what those Scriptures are is a heretical position on the text of Holy Scripture. In the first place, to reject that the text of Scripture is not preserved is to affirm that the Scriptures are fallible, that God has lied. In the second place, to affirm that we do not know what those Scriptures are is to say that the way that God saves and sanctifies men is fallible, and God has failed in His purpose to save and preserve a people in every generation. 

The Disconnect Between the Scriptures and the Big Lie

The disconnect between this argument, the underlying Scriptural proofs, necessary conclusions, and the modern articulation of the doctrine of Scripture is that the modern doctrine affirms that a) parts of Scripture have fallen away, b) that the Scriptures are still preserved, and c) that this does not affect doctrine. Where the disconnect occurs is when both a) parts of Scripture have fallen away and b) that the Scriptures are preserved because c) this does not affect doctrine. C) cannot logically follow if a) and b) are both true. Therefore, those who adopt a), b), and c) adopt such a position in spite of the reality that c) cannot logically follow if both a) and b) are true. 

If it is true that the Word of God is inspired, perfect, and preserved, then it must follow that the preserved Scriptures are in fact available and identifiable to the people of God because the Scriptures are the means that God uses to save and sanctify men. Thus, the Scriptures are inspired, preserved, available, and identifiable. The Scriptures cannot be inspired and preserved and not available or identifiable, or they do not serve the purpose which God gives them, the salvation and sanctification of men. All of these must be true, or none are true. 

Now I will apply this argument that the Scriptures are inspired, preserved, available, and identifiable to the textual reality of manuscripts, printed original language texts, and translations of the Holy Scriptures. I will then demonstrate that the modern doctrine of Scripture is incompatible with this proof. 

The Demonstration

If a Christian believes that the Scriptures are inspired, preserved, available and identifiable, then he cannot hold to a position that affirms the modern doctrine of Scripture, which affirms that, “We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain” (Myths and Mistakes, xii). 

This doctrinal position is affirmed by all of the top scholars in Evangelical New Testament Textual Criticism including Dan Wallace, Peter Gurry, Elijah Hixson, and Tommy Wasserman, to name a few. This doctrinal position is also affirmed by other scholars in textual criticism, including Bart Ehrman, DC Parker, and Eldon J. Epp. There are no textual scholars, to my knowledge, that would not affirm this theological statement, or affirm it with some additional nuance. 

This directly applies to manuscripts, printed original texts, and translations because it demonstrates the reality that modern evangelical scholars do not believe that the text of Holy Scripture is available or identifiable. If the Scriptures are not available or identifiable, they are not preserved. And if the Scriptures are not preserved, then they are necessarily not inspired, as the argument and proofs above demonstrate. Therefore, the modern doctrine of Scripture, as articulated by the evangelical textual scholars and associated apologists, is incompatible with Scripture. This being the case, it is clear that the text that these scholars and apologists argue as “best”, is necessarily not inspired, preserved, available, or identifiable. Thus, any Christian who adheres to such a doctrine and text must a) adopt the reality that “The Bible” is not preserved or b) argue that it is preserved despite the underlying theological position that it is not preserved. 

This is how this theological position is justified. In the modern doctrine of Scripture, “The Bible” is simply the pile of extant manuscripts, not one particular text. Since the differences between the manuscripts “do not affect doctrine,” this must be the case. 

The necessary conclusion of this position is that not only is a) the modern critical text(s) inspired and preserved, but b) that the Received Text is inspired and preserved. If the text of Holy Scripture is preserved but not totally available, and the texts that are available “Do not affect doctrine” between the two most different manuscripts, then one cannot both affirm that a) the text of Holy Scripture is inspired and b) the Received Text is not inspired. Theologically, Christians adhering to this position must defend the TR as inspired if they wish to defend the critical text as inspired. Since the entire critical text position is founded in the Received Text being fallible, those in the critical text camp cannot logically affirm both a) the critical text is inspired and b) the Received Text is inspired, or they have fundamentally undermined their own position and must admit that the Bible is not inspired, preserved, available, or identifiable.  

The major dilemma then, is that those in the critical text camp must paradoxically contend against a text that they must theologically affirm as inspired. Ironically, by affirming against the Received Text, critical text advocates are actually rejecting the inspiration of their own text. By continuing to argue against the Received Text while advocating for the critical text, one must admit that doctrine is changed, or the case for the critical text falls apart. The entire substance of the critical text argument is that the underlying manuscripts of the critical text are better. If these manuscripts are better, they must be better in material and substance. They must be better in meaning, or they are not better. The act of arguing for the supremacy of the critical text is an open admission that doctrine has been changed and that the Bible is not inspired, preserved, available, or identifiable.

If the critical text is based off of better manuscripts, a better doctrinal foundation, it must follow that the doctrine of inspiration and preservation must be rejected. The text of the church was flawed, now it’s better. In other words, God failed formerly, but is in the process of fixing His mistake over the last 200 years, and is not finished yet. 

Conclusion

The Scriptural and logical realities of adopting the Critical Text are severe for the modern church. It means that a great multitude of Christians have rejected inspiration by necessity of adopting the critical text while also rejecting the Received Text. Most Christians have done this simply because they trust the word of their favorite critical scholar or apologist. The reality of this modern doctrine is that one cannot Scripturally adhere to inspiration while also rejecting the Received Text. In other words, to reject the TR is to reject inspiration. In order to logically adopt inspiration and the critical text, one must also adopt the Received Text as equal to the critical text, or admit that doctrine has been changed, and thus admitting that the Bible is not inspired or preserved. Some side step this argument by saying, “The Received Text is inspired where it can be proven to be original”. This is not a logical response because the method of authentication that is being appealed to is not capable of identifying the original, nor does it claim to.

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain”

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes, xii).

The practical reality is that there is no justification for this doctrine, nor is there a justification to attack the Received Text. In fact, when critical text advocates attack the Received Text, they are attacking their own doctrinal foundation for the text of Scripture. Critical text advocates can attack Erasmus, they can use the term “fundamentalist” and “KJV Onlyist” pejoratively, but these are not cogent arguments, they are rhetorical devices. Current articulations of the critical position on the text of Scripture cannot justify using the terms “original”, “inspired”, or “preserved” without redefining those words. 

This being the reality, modern scholars, apologists, and advocates will continue using the words “original”, “inspired”, and “preserved”, despite not having a theological framework that actually supports the use of such terms. This is the fundamental problem that needs to be solved. The problem with the critical text is not Erasmus, nor is it “fundamentalists”, nor is it “KJV Onlyists”. The problem is with the critical text theology itself.

2 thoughts on “A Disputation on the Modern Doctrine of the Text of Holy Scripture

  1. Hey Taylor,

    I’ve enjoyed reading this blog during this type of social distancing and isolation.

    I find your arguments and perspectives to be extremely fair in terms of how you present the information. I appreciate the humble spirit that you have when dealing with such weighty matters.

    I have tended to stay fairly “up to date” on textual matters, but have still learned a number of interesting points that you bring up throughout your posts.

    Thanks for doing this blog.

    Like

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