This is the second article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”.
In the last article, I discussed the reality that those in the TR camp tend to take critical scholarship far more seriously than those in the critical text camp itself. Bible believing Christians say their Bible is preserved, and the scholars uniformly say that it is preserved enough. Reasonable Christians take that seriously. In my opinion, this basic reality is enough to definitively end the discussion over which bible is acceptable for use in public and private. If you don’t have the original, and you can’t know if you have the original, you might as well pack up the church and go home. Yet well meaning conservative Christians will state that every word in their bible is Scripture, and in doing that, contradict the scholars they claim to agree with.
Shining a Light Through the Fog
This is one of the most fundamental concepts to understand for those that are genuinely trying to get in the mind of a TR advocate. Despite the common talking point which says that TR Onlyism is a symptom of fundamentalism, emotionalism, or some other “ism”, this is simply not the case for many who read a Traditional bible. Before I continue on in this series, I have to hammer home one very important point:
If you believe that the Bible is preserved and you have it today, every single New Testament scholar fundamentally disagrees with you.
Take for example this quote by John Piper from Desiring God:
Evangelicals believe — indeed most Christians through history have believed — that since the original writings of the Bible in Greek and Hebrew have been faithfully preserved, and the translation faithfully rendered, we hold in our hands the very word of God. It is a breathtaking affirmation, and an infinitely important reality.https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-infinite-worth-of-the-word-of-god
The above quote is readily affirmed by all Bible believing Christians, yet it is incompatible with modern scholarship. This quote, rendered according to the scholarship of Evangelical text critics, might read:
Evangelicals believe – indeed most Christians through history have believed – that since we have good reason to believe that the original writings of the Bible in Greek and Hebrew have been adequately preserved, and the translations faithfully rendered, we may hold in our hands the Word of God.
This is a sore spot for those that identify as “Evangelical text critics” and apologists. I have seen reasonable discussions end in Presbyteries being contacted when this is pointed out. It is for this reason that most arguments for the critical text don’t actually answer any of the important questions. Many “defenses” of the critical texts are simply arguments against Erasmus, the people use a TR translation, or perhaps that a translation is too difficult to read. They attack the scholars of the Reformation, often times using the same arguments the papists did in the 16th century. They rarely offer a comprehensive theological defense of their own text, and when they do, it does not come out sounding like what most Christians believe.
When you actually press an honest scholar (which most scholars are honest, it’s the apologists that tend to bend the rules) or advocate of the critical text who is current on the scholarship, they will respond that their view of preservation is something along the lines of “Quasi-Preservation”. Others will simply lower the bar and state something along the lines of, “We have what we need. If what we have is good enough for the Holy Spirit, it’s good enough for me.” This response is a thinly veiled rejection of preservation. Anybody who simultaneously argues for the critical texts and also that “we have the very word of God” is likely misinformed on the current scholarship.
I would argue that the number one reason people claim the critical texts is due to simply not being informed on the current scholarship. In other cases, Christians focus so much on the rhetorical devices of critical text apologists and don’t realize that points made in a debate don’t adequately answer the important theological questions that are necessary to have a stable view of Scripture. In other words, being able to effectively communicate does not mean that what is being communicated is correct. Often times the arguments of critical text apologists do not even comport with the scholarship that they claim to be advocating for.
Most Christians want to know one thing when it comes to their Bible. They want to know that what they are reading is the original Word of God, or a translation thereof. The scholars do not affirm this without caveats and nuance. Within that nuance you will find a view that says that we do not have the whole bible, just enough of it to get by. Those in the TR camp are not satisfied with that view of Scripture, and that is typically the catalyst that leads people to explore views outside of the academic mainstream. If you find yourself perplexed as to why somebody might turn to the TR, it is vital to understand exactly what the textual scholars are actually saying about the bibles they produce. It may be beneficial for all critical text advocates to turn down the volume on the apologists, and turn up the volume on the scholars.