This is the eighth and final article in the series, “Faith Seeking Understanding”.
In the last installation of this series, I’d like to highlight possibly the number one reason people seek answers outside of the critical text, which inevitably leads people to either the Majority Text or the Traditional Text. What is likely the number one reason people abandon the critical text is the fact that it is incomplete, and has no function built into it that sets parameters on the scope of the work. In other words, it is not finished, and never will be. This is a challenging reality if you take into consideration even the standard view of Scripture held to by the majority of Bible believing Christians, let alone the Reformed view found in 1.8 of the Westminster and London Baptist confessions of faith.
When a pastor encourages his congregation that they have in their hands the very Word of God, it is objectively a false statement according to the critical text methodology. In the first place, textual scholars wouldn’t have a job if that were true. Secondly, the same scholars wouldn’t be working on new editions of the Greek New Testament if it were true that the church has in the critical text some sort of final product. In fact, the 2016 ESV was marketed initially as the “Permanent Text Edition”, which Crossway rolled back shortly after its release. While this reality is actually exciting for those that work in the field, this is the last thing that the majority of Christians want to hear. Most Christians don’t even know this about the modern critical texts. The changing nature of the modern critical texts can be broken into the categories of text and translation, which I will discuss in the final article of this series.
Text & Translation
There are very few realities other than this that should raise red flags to Christians when it comes to the modern critical texts. The general assumption made by most Christians is that we have over 5,000 manuscript copies of the Bible and those manuscripts give us enough information to know exactly what the Bible contains. This is probably due to the fact that most defenses of the Bible begin with, “We have 5,400 manuscripts!” Anybody who knows anything about textual criticism knows that this argument simply proves that a bible was written, not what that bible actually said. To many secular scholars, the manuscript tradition simply proves that there were multiple bibles that represent multiple Christianities that developed over time. The argument is completely bankrupt and should really not be used – especially to a textual scholar.
That point aside, the most problematic thing about the modern critical texts is that they are not finished and ever changing. Not a single scholar that I am aware of, Evangelical or not, will say that any edition currently available represents the original as it was penned, or that the versions we do have will not be revised in upcoming editions. In fact, the Evangelical scholars say the opposite! Here are several quotes just to give you a general idea of what I am talking about:
“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. Quote Dan Wallace.
“The text is changing. Every time that I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form but, paradoxically, we are creating a new one. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there’s been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text”DC Parker, BBC Radio Program “The Oldest Bible”. Editor of the Gospel of John in the ECM.
“Clearly, these changes will affect not only modern Bible translations and commentaries but possibly even theology and preaching”Gurry, Peter, A New Approach to Textual Criticism, 6. Discussing the changes that will be made by the CBGM.
It is easily established that the scholarly guild believes that the modern text is not finished, and is expected to change. As I stated in previous articles, TR advocates take these words very seriously. That is the first component of the discussion. The second is that modern translations are also changing.
Not only are the underlying texts from which bibles are translated changing, the translation methodology itself is adapting with the culture of the American church. There is a reason MacArthur has endeavored to adapt the NASB into the Legacy Standard Bible to avoid politically correct translation methodology being applied to his favorite translation. This has been a long standing critique of modern bibles that even the most staunch advocate can recognize is a problem. Most bible believing Christians do not want a their translation to go “woke”. Further, the bible industrial complex is a real thing. There is a lot of money in bible sales. Changing up a few words every few years is good for business. Groups that want to create a study bible do this all the time to avoid paying loyalties to an existing publishing house. The changing nature of the critical text is actually quite good for the companies that make money selling bibles.
The fact that modern bibles are constantly in flux is a major draw to the TR for most people. You don’t need to be a fundamentalist to want to read one translation your whole life. As somebody who has gone from the NIV to the NKJV to the HCSB to the NASB to the ESV to the KJV, I have Scripture memorized in all of these translations and it’s obnoxious. I wish I would have just had one translation from the start. It is especially concerning when three different editions of the same translation differ from each other, like the ESV. You don’t need to know anything about textual criticism to be turned off by this reality.
If you add to this problem the issue of the actual underlying Greek changing every few years, you begin to see how the average Christian might take issue. So this is the final reason I will give in this series why somebody might be drawn to the TR for reasons other than Fundamentalism, Textual Traditionalism, or Emotionalism. A changing and incomplete bible is no bible at all, and most Christians recognize that. The problem is, the vast majority of Christians don’t even know that this is the reality of modern textual criticism, in large part due to irresponsible apologists who give Christians false comfort with poor argumentation.