This is the first article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”.
I have been thinking a lot recently about what sort of content would be the most helpful to people at this point. There are many hard hitting content creators that engage in the public discussion surrounding Bibliology and textual issues, so I want to do something different than those that are tackling variants or participating in public discussion. This article is the first in a series that I’ve titled, “Faith Seeking Understanding.” The audience of this series is the people who genuinely wish to understand a TR position on Scripture, not those that wish to enter into the debate arena. While many of my articles are quite informal, this series will be especially casual. I hope that it will be a helpful addition to what is already available on this topic. In this introductory article, I will answer the question, “What exactly is the appeal of a TR position?”
What is the Appeal of the TR?
Many people have a misinformed answer to this question due to the well-poisoning that occurs in this discussion. You have probably heard that TR Only/KJVO people are clinging to tradition, or are exchanging truth for safety, or perhaps are simply ignorant of the available text-critical data. The inevitable outcome is that a vast swathe of people have a shallow perception of the people who use translations made from the Masoretic Hebrew and Received Greek Text.
So why do so many people still read the KJV and in some cases the other translations made from the Traditional text? If you are coming from the modern evangelical or neo-Calvinist church, you have likely heard for years that the Traditional text has added verses or is outdated for a modern context. I’m sure you have listened to John MacArthur or John Piper presenting cases against certain passages of Scripture. Many well respected men repeat the same talking points that effectively give the impression that those who still read TR translations are unlearned, unfaithful, unthinking men and women.
Rather than rehash what I have already covered in over 200,000 words on this blog so far, I will give a more human reason. At the core of conservative Christian Orthodoxy is the belief that God will speak clearly to His people until He returns. The method in which God communicates in the church age is the Holy Spirit working with Scripture in the heart of the believer. When Christians who believe the Bible want to hear God’s voice, they open their Bible and believe that God has something to offer in every line for matters of faith and practice. This is not controversial, and I would bet that those who describe themselves as Bible believing Christians would agree with this basic doctrine.
The appeal to the TR is so strong for the average, conservative, Bible believing, Christian because the scholars who produce the critical text do not offer a product that aligns with the standard, orthodox, doctrine of Scripture. The leading scholars within all corners of the text-criticism community frequently renounce the idea that the Bible is preserved, or that the bibles we have today represent the original text that was inspired in the Hebrew and Greek. So if you are perplexed as to why so many people still read Traditional Text Bibles or have ditched their ESV, perhaps take this reality into more serious consideration. This is not a blind appeal to tradition, or a naive exchange of truth for comfort. It is a reasonable response from folks who listen to what the text-critics are saying, and take them seriously. When prominent scholars, all in unison, say “The Bible we’ve given to you is not entirely original that we know of,” you should probably believe them.
It is easy to believe that the appeal to the TR is only for those not brave enough to weather the scholarly storm. This is a rather shallow reading of what those in the TR camp are actually saying, however. When scholars say very clearly that none of the bibles produced represent the original text, and that the quest for the original is all but impossible, it is quite reasonable to head another direction with your doctrine of Scripture. Many get caught up debating individual variants when, as the scholars admit, the critical methodology cannot be used to make any sort of definitive conclusion on those variants. This is one of the most interesting bits of commentary about those in the TR camp that often goes overlooked – in many cases, those in the TR camp seem to take the critical scholars far more seriously than those that claim the critical methodology for themselves.
When a high-caliber textual scholar like DC Parker argues that the text is changing and will always change, TR folks take his word for it. When well established critics like Tommy Wasserman claim that he does textual criticism as though God does not exist and that he doesn’t want to be put in the box of his white privileged perspective, TR folks take his word for it. When Dan Wallace, a champion of the critical text, claims that we don’t have the original, inerrant Scripture and that we never will have it, TR folks take his word for it. When Peter Gurry, a rising star in the text-critical world, states that the upcoming changes will affect doctrine, theology, commentary, and preaching, TR folks take his word for it.
It does not take rabid fundamentalism to want to distance from this kind of Bibliology, and if you are truly attempting to understand the TR position, you will see that. That is not to say there are not academic and historical defenses of the TR, there are plenty. What I am saying, from the perspective of the average Christian, it is not unreasonable to listen to the scholars, take what they are saying seriously, and find that what they are saying is utterly wanting. This is not fundamentalism, or traditionalism, or emotionalism. It is a perfectly logical conclusion drawn from actually listening to what the scholars are saying in very clear terms about modern bibles.