This is the sixth article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”. As a disclaimer, no emotions were involved in the crafting of this article.
In the context of the textual discussion, there are many appeals to the character of the scholars which had their hand in creating the available Greek New Testaments. It’s important to note that the qualifications and character of the scholars which produce Greek texts is not necessarily a positive argument for or against one text, but this should at least be considered. The CT side is quick to point out that Erasmus was a “Roman Catholic Priest”, and the TR side is quick to point out that men like Bruce Metzger denied many fundamental doctrines of Christianity, such as the virgin birth of Christ.
There is a serious difference between the two camps in the way they make appeals to the creators of each respective text platform, which I will attempt to highlight in this article. If you wish to understand the TR position better, it is important to know how these kinds of appeals are made from both sides, and to evaluate whether or not these appeals are even factors that should be considered when discussing the text. Both sides do it. The question is, for what purpose?
Evaluating Appeals to Authority
An appeal to authority is not always bad, despite it technically falling into the category of informal fallacy. There are times where appealing to the character or qualifications of a person is actually quite important in determining if what they have to say is valuable. If I want to talk to somebody about improving my golf swing, I’m going to go find a golf trainer. There are other times where this is irrelevant and unnecessary. Somebody can have a great golf swing, despite not being a golf trainer, and give great advice on how to improve my swing. The point is that appealing to qualifications or character is helpful, but ultimately doesn’t credit or discredit the truth of something. A golf trainer can give bad swing advice. His advice isn’t true because he’s a golf trainer.
Erasmus is a great example in the context of textual criticism. He is often depicted in church history lectures as being “the smartest man alive” during the Humanist Renaissance. He wrote scathing satire and was a brilliant scholar. He also shared correspondence with Michael Servetus and never technically abandoned Rome, in part due to Martin Luther’s callous response to the peasant revolt which gave license to the nobles to slaughter thousands of rioting peasants. Disgusted with Luther’s endorsement of violence and the general lack of organization of the Reformers, Erasmus considered it better to distance himself from the Reformation and try to fix the papacy from the inside. His decision led to him being ostracized by both Rome and the Reformers, and he died alone in isolation as a result of rejecting the Reformers and also being heavily critical of the papacy.
Erasmus is a good character to study, because he is the focus of many of the critical text arguments. There is likely no other scholar from the Reformation era whose character and qualifications have come under more scrutiny than Erasmus. Those in the critical text camp say that he was a papist, and therefore his text should not be lauded by those in the TR camp. The title “papist” would be an important appeal to consider, if by papist it meant that Erasmus represented counter-reformation principles. Yet Erasmus was one of the most brutal critics of the Latin Vulgate and the papacy. Two of his most notable works are his Latin translation and the satire piece which is now credited to him called, “Julius Excluded from Heaven”. These two facts alone tell us that a) Erasmus was such a critic of the Vulgate he deemed it necessary to create a new Latin translation and b) Erasmus was so critical of the papacy he literally wrote a satire piece where he describes the pope getting rejected from heaven. In other words, calling Erasmus a papist or a Roman Catholic Priest is a sort of bait and switch which attempts to appeal to people’s Protestant sentiments.
A brief survey of Erasmus’ writings tell us that he was not in lock step with the counter Reformation, and he was also not a fan of the text of the counter Reformation. That is why genetic fallacies can be dangerous. Simply calling Erasmus a “papist” or “Roman Catholic Priest” intentionally portrays Erasmus as a loyalist to the papacy and doesn’t give an accurate picture of the role he played in the Reformation. There are other reasons to cast doubt on Erasmus’ work on the text, such as his association with known heretics, such as Michael Servetus. If Erasmus was sympathetic to anti-Trinitarian theology, this would be something to consider when evaluating his textual decisions.
This is the reason those in the CT camp desperately wish to paint Erasmus as the text-critic of the Reformation, despite not being championed as such by those in the TR camp. In fact, those in the TR camp take on Stephanus and Beza as representative scholars, and are somewhat neutral or even critical when it comes to Erasmus’ work. You can understand the importance and weight of Erasmus’ work without hailing him as the chief architect of the TR. This is one area that CT apologists are absolutely unwilling to do. They constantly paint the Reformation era scholars as ignorant and careless when it comes to the topic of the text. They will praise these scholars in the context of the Reformation, but interpret them in the most uncharitable light when it comes to their Greek bibles. This lack of objectivity and fair handling of church history is a huge reason many are turned off of the CT position. Many people do not take kindly when scholars and apologists try to reinterpret church history to prop up their position on textual criticism.
I have argued many times before that Erasmus’ text is not even representative of the TR corpus in it’s first two editions, as these two editions were widely rejected due to their exclusion of the Comma Johanneum. His correspondence with Stunica and Leigh, and his commentary on why he eventually included the Comma demonstrate why those in the TR camp reject these two editions. Erasmus himself stated that he included the Comma because the people of God simply wouldn’t have read it if it was excluded. This points to the consensus that existed on this verse at the time, but that is also conveniently ignored as a part of the historical record from the CT perspective. It is why appealing to the character of Erasmus is a very misleading and even deceptive rhetorical strategy. When people from one side of an argument constantly appeal to Erasmus, who does not represent the TR in the way that CT apologists say, it should tell everybody that CT apologists are willing to play with the details of history to push their point. This might be expected from those in the liberal schools, but not from “Evangelical” textual scholars.
As we have seen recently, those in the CT camp are willing to do this without shame. For example, saying that the Latin Vulgate was the text of the Reformation, that there simply wasn’t a TR, and that the Puritans didn’t have a unified text. In the same presentation, they will say that the Puritans were simply wrong for believing that the text they had was “pure in all ages.” So what is it? Were they wrong about the text they had, or were they critical text advocates who didn’t have a text? This screaming contradiction should give pause to every onlooker. The willingness of CT apologists and scholars to play with history and misrepresent men like Erasmus to bolster their argument is a clear indication that their argument is not all that strong.
It is true that those in the TR camp appeal to the credentials and character of those that have created and are creating critical texts. I am not saying that CT advocates are the only ones who do this. The important thing is to try and understand is how these appeals are made. In the case of CT advocates, these appeals are made in such a way that portrays the scholars of the Reformation as papists, Vulgate loyalists, and general ignoramuses – all of which are simply untrue. These are often dishonest attempts to discredit the work of the Reformation. The character attacks made today against the Reformation era textual scholars by critical text apologists are often the same exact attacks made by the counter-Reformation Jesuits in the 16th century. We can learn a lot by examining the form of an argument.
When TR advocates appeal to the character and qualifications of those that have been historically responsible for crafting critical texts, they do so to point out that many of these men were objectively not even Christian or had interests which contradict the gospel. The popularization of the critical text as it exists today involved Unitarians, Jesuits, and others who did not have the interests of the Christian church in mind. Even today, the vast majority of scholars responsible for creating bibles and contributing to the scholarly material openly reject the idea of The Bible and are deeply entrenched in critical theory and historical criticism. In my opinion, the reason CT apologists go after Erasmus so hard is to distract from the reality that the scholars that represent the CT are far more scandalous.
This is especially important because the Christian church is under the assumption that Evangelical Text Criticism is different from other forms of textual criticism, when it is in fact, no different at all. I am confident that most Christians have no idea who is making their bibles or what they believe. In the same way we analyze Erasmus, we should analyze modern textual scholars, and recognize how their character, beliefs, and qualifications may impact the textual decisions they are making.
The TR isn’t disqualified because Erasmus was a papist, but we should try to understand if Erasmus was influenced by his alignment with the Roman church. In this case, we know that he was one of the most severe critics of the Roman church and her text! If we were being objective about Erasmus, we would be talking about his sympathetic disposition towards anti-Trinitarian heretics. History tells us that Erasmus wasn’t just some loyalist to the papacy. He despised the Latin Vulgate. That is why he rejected the readings he was sent from Vaticanus, because he considered them to follow corrupt Latin readings. Erasmus is far better described as one of the top minds of the humanist renaissance and outspoken critic of the corrupt papacy, not simply a “Roman Catholic Priest”. He obviously wasn’t a Reformer, but he played an integral role in the Reformation.
In the same way, we can evaluate the background of critical text scholars and see if their beliefs, character, and qualifications might impact their ability to objectively create Greek texts. I argue, as do most TR advocates, that rejecting the notion of The Bible is something that might stand in the way of being objective when engaging in the task of reconstructing The bible, which is what they are supposedly claiming to do depending on the day. It is concerning when prominent Evangelical critical text scholars reject the notion that the Holy Spirit has anything to do with the task of delivering bibles to the church. It is alarming that the scholarship which influences whether or not a text is in your Bible takes very seriously the opinions of gender and feminist studies professors when they form their opinion on a text. It is especially concerning when the academic consensus, which these evangelical scholars appeal to, uniformly rejects the notion that the church has ever had a bible, or that the church ever will have a bible. This is the “scientific” orthodoxy of textual scholarship, and putting the word “Evangelical” in front of “textual criticism” doesn’t change that fact. Simply because a scholar considers themselves an Evangelical doesn’t mean they are engaging in the topic as an Evangelical. You may think that I’m attacking them now, but I’m not. I’m simply describing them according to their own words. This blog is full of quotes which overwhelmingly prove my point here.
So I turn to my reader to be the judge for themselves. Is it important that the textual scholars who create the bible you read believe in such a concept as The Bible? Is it important that one of the most influential textual scholars of the 20th century, upon whose scholarship is the basis of much of the modern critical text position, denied the virgin birth of Christ and other key doctrines? Do you consider it valuable to know that every bible that is produced today is done so with the assumption that it is not the Divine Original? The Evangelical textual scholars will try convince you that these are not important, but I think the average Christian would disagree.
You, my reader, have the ability to think for yourself, and you should. When it comes to understanding the TR position, it is wise to take into account the measures the critical text advocate will go to spin history to work in their favor. It is valuable to know that these scholars likely do not agree with you on the definition of what The Bible is. Instead of answering these questions head on and taking a firm stance in one direction or another, the scholars and apologists of the critical text will squirm and deflect and project. They will argue in bad faith, say that your arguments are “emotional outbursts”, and try to have you disciplined by your presbytery. Many people have come over to the TR position because they see these things as unbecoming. They do not wish to align themselves with people who capitulate to critical scholarship, twist history, and tattle on somebody’s pastor because they had the nerve to disagree. There are many simple reasons other than blind fundamentalism to adhere to the TR, and this kind of argumentation and behavior is one of them.