Authorized Review – Textual Criticism and the Scholarly Guild

Introduction

This article is the first in a series of articles inspecting several important topics not covered in my Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible review. The first subject I want to cover, that I tried to avoid addressing in my 9 article series is the issue of textual criticism. In Chapter 6 of Ward’s book, he includes a section responding to the claim that modern Bibles are “Based on Inferior Greek and Hebrew Texts.” 

In this article, I will review Ward’s perspective on textual criticism. 

The Confused & Scared Christian

Ward begins this section by painting Christians who encounter variants as confused and scared, and then appealing to a Greek professor known for his sentence diagramming that is not an active scholar working in the field of textual criticism. 

“Nonetheless, these variants confuse and even frighten many Christians, and I understand that fear. So let me offer a few thoughts from someone I trust, thoughts that were edifying to me.”

Ibid., 114

Ward demonstrates either a) that he does not know much about textual criticism or b) that he isn’t willing to give his reader an accurate picture of textual criticism. In the first place, he paints the picture that manuscripts and manuscript families are the driving source for translations. This is simply not true. All modern versions are revisions of previous translations which were made based on printed Greek texts, not manuscripts. The critical printed editions are based on manuscript evidence, but nobody is doing translation work from a literal papyri or uncial. Ward makes the argument that manuscripts must not be all that different from each other, or we would see denominations preferring one over the other.

“If there were massive, theologically significant differences between Greek manuscripts, different parties would claim the texts that advanced their theological viewpoints. But that simply hasn’t happened.”

Ibid., 115

This point is actually irrelevant, and incorrect. Many denominations do prefer specific text platforms. The Catholic Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses for example use translations made from the text platform mostly based on Codex Vaticanus (NA/UBS) or the Latin Vulgate. The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) made its own “translation” loosely based on the NA27. Calvary Chapel uses the NKJV which is based on the Traditional Text with Majority Text footnotes. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists use the KJV, which is based on the Masoretic/TR platform. Many denominations and individual churches care deeply about the translation they read, and the underlying text platform. One of the many reasons people take a stand on translation is specifically due to doctrinal differences between the texts. 

Further, Ward and the professor he references employ what I like to call “The Scholarly Dance” to minimize the importance of textual criticism in this discussion.  

“Leedy observes, “My own weaknesses as a reader expose me to far more significant misunderstanding than the manuscript differences do, so by far the greatest problems that God must overcome in order to talk to me are within me, not within the transmission process.””

Ibid., 115

The Scholarly Dance goes like this: 

  1. Highlight or imply a supposed weakness in yourself 
  2. Implicate God and His desires as a part of your theological understanding 
  3. Make an important theological point based on a display of “humility” and “God’s desires”

According to Leedy and Ward, their “weakness as a reader” is the real problem. This is the problem that “God must overcome.” Therefore, the real problem isn’t with textual criticism, manuscripts, or the transmission process, it is with the Christian. The Scholarly Dance is a great rhetorical tool to say, “If you have a problem with textual criticism, it is a humility problem and a problem with what ‘God has done’, not a problem with the conclusions of textual criticism.” In other words, if you challenge the scholarly narrative, you are in sin, and need to humble yourself. 

Notice another example of the Scholarly Dance:



“I do not believe God is under any obligation to preserve every detail of Scripture for us, even though he granted us good access to the text of the New Testament…I believe God, in his grace, preserved his Word for us but also that there is no apparent external reason to believe that the textus Receptus is in some way special or set apart from the rest of the manuscript tradition…God does not perform a special miracle to protect our collective reading and understanding of his Word from error, and likewise, he has not done so for the transmission of Scripture. There are limits to our knowledge.”

Dirk Jongkind, Introduction to the Greek New Testament, 90…103 (Quotation spliced together from two pages)

And another: 

“We do indeed have ‘access’ to these words, if not with miraculous perfection, then with an extremely high level of accuracy and certainty. And God has done this. What is good enough for the Holy Spirit is good enough for me.”

Brash, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How God Preserved the Bible, 64

All of this scholarly posturing is to defend the narrative that the Bible has not actually been kept pure, it’s been kept “Quasi-Pure.” The purpose of it is to tell the reader that if they have a problem with an impure Bible, they really have a problem with God, and a pride issue. The scholarly narrative goes like this:


“The Nestle-Aland text, on the other hand, relies on older manuscripts that were discovered after the King James Version was released.”

Ibid., 116

If you have followed this blog, you know that the above statement is misleading, and even incorrect. Codex Vaticanus was discovered prior to the creation of the KJV and parts of it were even referenced in the making of Erasmus’ Greek text. He considered this manuscript to be a failed attempt to join the Greek with the Latin. Vaticanus was published to a modern audience in the 19th century, but it was not first discovered in the 19th century. People knew of the Vatican Codex for a long time.

Further, the NA text is based on the earliest extant manuscripts. There is absolutely no warrant for calling these manuscripts “earliest” overall, just the earliest that have survived 2000 years after the fact. The first Greek New Testament was not made in the 4th century, and there is no way to determine if the manuscripts surviving from the 4th century in any way represent the original text. 

Ward continues by saying that if you are not an expert in Greek or textual criticism, you should not have an opinion of your own. Christians should simply trust the scholars!

“Textual criticism is complicated. I think scholars should continue to debate their viewpoints, but I don’t think it’s wise for non-specialists to have strong opinions about the topic (Prov 18:13). At the very least, Christians who cannot read Greek should humbly acknowledge that their opinions about textual criticism are formed second- or even fifth-hand—that they are based ultimately on authority. It’s impossible to reach resolution in a debate when the participants think it’s about the relative merits of ancient Greek manuscripts but it’s actually about which authorities to trust.”

Ibid., 116

This is called gatekeeping, and Ward and the evangelical textual scholars engage in it all the time. If you are not in the “guild,” you cannot have your own opinion. You are not allowed to survey and study all of the subject matter on your own and form an opinion, because you are not a specialist. This is the same form of argument that is made when people  say, “You’re not a woman, you can’t have an opinion on abortion,” or “You’re not a pharmacist, you cannot have an opinion on medication.” You are not allowed to question the scholarly narrative because you are not a scholar.

Ward presents the case that the reason to abandon the KJV is due to it not being in our “vernacular” English while completely diminishing the very real concerns people have regarding the conclusions of textual scholars. If you disagree, you are in violation of Proverbs 18:13. Again, Ward makes disagreeing with him and his peers a sin issue, while at the same time presenting the information in a misleading and deceptive way. 

Conclusion

The problems of textual criticism as they pertain to Bible translation are much more important than Ward would have his reader believe. His main argument is, “There are no denominational differences between text platforms, therefore there are no doctrinal differences!” Not only is this argument irrelevant, it is simply not true. The IFB is a perfect example of a denomination that has a text platform and translation as a doctrinal distinctive. In fact, Ward and many of his colleagues have in their doctrinal distinctives that a translation (KJV) and the underlying text (MT/TR) should not be used for preaching and memorization. While Ward focuses his attention on this argument, he seems to be utterly oblivious to why people actually have concerns over text platforms and textual criticism, writing them off as “confusion” and “fear.” 

Rather than simply trusting the opinions of haughty scholars, I encourage my reader to take Scripture as the final authority. 

“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 Timothy 3:16-17

Every Christian has the tools to evaluate spiritual matters, and the Bible is a spiritual matter. When somebody says that the Bible has not been preserved, or that changes in the words of the Bible “do not affect doctrine,” you absolutely have the right to challenge this position. God has given His people His Word, and if Ward actually believed that, he wouldn’t be telling Christians to sit down and be quiet. You do not need a degree from Cambridge to know that this theological statement is not Biblical:

“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 & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii (Dan Wallace)

You do not need to know all of the nuances about the CBGM to know that this statement regarding its effect on the text is not Biblical:

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

Peter Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism, 6

You do not need to have a thorough understanding of manuscripts or Greek to know that this statement regarding the Bible by a textual scholar is not Biblical:

“Books and the texts they preserve are human products, bound in innumerable ways to the circumstances and communities that produce them. This is also true of the New Testament…Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved.”

Knust & Wasserman, To Cast the First Stone, 15

Christian, you absolutely have the right to question what these scholars are saying, and in fact, you should. 

Edit: I have changed “Scholarly Handshake” to “Scholarly Dance“. The Scholarly Handshake is the introduction ritual that includes praising your opponent prior to doing the Scholarly Dance.

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