Review: The King James Version Debate – Chapter 4


In the fourth chapter entitled, “Some Criteria for Making Textual Choices,” Carson provides a brief summary of some of the axioms of Modern Textual Criticism as presented by Metzger. I will highlight again Carson’s use of “most likely” in the opening paragraph.

“Before turning to the nub of the debate, I propose now to sketch in some of the criteria scholars use to determine what reading is most likely closest to the original.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 29). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In other words, this criteria is by no means a definitive standard for determining an original text.

The Criteria for Making Textual Decisions

Carson sorts the criteria into two categories: External and internal. He lists manuscript date, geographical location, and text type as the three external criteria. As far as the value that external evidence can offer, Carson clarifies that these categories are not decisive.

“None of these considerations is considered decisive; all have to be weighed.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 29,30). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

One major point that Carson makes demonstrates the age of this book. He states that “the date of the text-type is more important than the date of a particular witness.” In today’s model, the date of a witness is considered more important and the concept of text-type has been mostly retired.

Under internal evidence Carson lists the preference for the shorter reading (or perhaps the longer reading), the preference for the most difficult reading, the preference for readings with similar vocabulary choices, and the preference for the reading that best explains the other variants.

One thing that I will note here is that the assumptions of this model are not conducive with an inerrant original text, as Carson believes. If the original texts are as Carson describes, they are short and grammatically difficult. This seems to be in conflict with the doctrine of inerrancy and either the original was not perfect, or in these rules the scholars admit that the closest to the original we can get is a choppy, short, grammatically difficult version of it.

Carson ends the chapter by stating that most of the lines in the New Testament are certain.

“Nevertheless, the vast majority of the lines of the Greek New Testament may be regarded as textually certain. A number of others are certain to a high degree of probability. A relative handful constitute famous problems that are debated constantly in books and in journal literature.”

Carson, D. A.. The King James Version Debate (p. 33). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is still the argument from Modern Critical Text apologists, though I have not seen this claim substantiated anywhere. The trend, according to scholars such as Dr. Peter Gurry, is towards more uncertainty as the effort of Modern Textual Criticism progresses, not less. According to Dr. Daniel Wallace, “There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”


In Chapter 4, we again see a summarization of Metzger with some interesting commentary from Carson. He acknowledges that the criteria set forth by textual scholars are not a definitive method for finding the original, so in that sense he is still quite relevant. This chapter is probably the most dated of the book so far, as Carson leans heavily on the text-type framework for his understanding of textual criticism. This is not unusual, however, seeing as the book was first published in 1978. The real substance of this book is in the upcoming chapters, but I will review every chapter for the sake of being thorough.

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