Recently, Dr. Peter Gurry posted an article called “Cardinal Bellarmine, Trent’s Major Apologist, On Important Variants” on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. The article is a continued effort to conflate the TR with the Vulgate. Gurry ends the article with this conclusion:
“One last observation about Bellarmine’s discussion. I notice a similarity, mutatis mutandis, between Trent’s view of the Vulgate and some present-day Protestant defenses of the TR. Both believe that usage has a key role in confirming authority. For Trent, the Vulgate’s authority is confirmed “by the lengthened usage of so many years.” For TR proponents, the TR’s authority is confirmed by the usage of such great theologians (the Reformers). Neither view convinces me, but it remains instructive to see how Bellarmine argues for his case.Peter Gurry. Cardinal Bellarmine, Trent’s Major Apologist, On Important Variants. March 11, 2021.
In the first place, Gurry is incorrect that “present-day Protestant defenses of the TR” are confirmed by “the usage of such great theologians.” I have written over 250,000 words describing and defending the “present-day” Protestant TR position without having once argued for authority of the TR by virtue of Reformed Theologians who used it. In all of my correspondence with Dr. Jeff Riddle, Pastor Truelove, and many other defenders of the TR, I have never once heard this argument presented as it is in the article. We of course utilize Protestant theologians in our defense of the Received Text, but we appeal to the doctrines they espoused, not the authority of the Protestants themselves.
The unfortunate reality is that Gurry’s audience will continue to believe that the defense of the TR is based on what some called “Reformationolatry” or something similar as a result of this kind of argumentation. This of course is a not-so-subtle polemic which is intended to reduce the TR position to simple adherence to tradition or perhaps an appeal to the authority of the Reformed. To be fair to Dr. Gurry, his portrayal of the TR position is far less disingenuous than that of James White, but still deserves some clarification nonetheless. In this article, I will clarify the argument that is made by present-day Protestant defenders of the TR, and my reader can decide if the TR position has a mutatis mutandis with Rome.
The Argument from Providence
The argument made by the present-day Protestants in defense of the TR is that the authority of the text is vindicated by usage by the people of God. That is to say that the average person can look into history and see the text that was actually used. The argument is not, “As Reformed theologians used the TR, so do we.” When a person opened up a Bible post-Reformation, it was a TR or translation of it. The appeal to Calvin, Turretin, Ussher, or Owen is done due to the fact that these theologians represented the orthodoxy of the day. I would find it peculiar if anybody studied in Reformation and post-Reformation history would take issue describing Turretin and Owen as accurate representations of Protestant Orthodoxy. To give some context, Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology was the standard textbook at Princeton Theological Seminary until the late 19th century when it was replaced by Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. This points to the historical reality that Turretin not only represented the orthodoxy of his day, but orthodoxy well after he died.
Assuming that my reader is willing to accept simple facts of history, the argument as presented by Gurry should be recognized as a poorly articulated simplification of the actual position presented as defended by present-day Protestants. There are two important components to the argument for the authority of Scripture that I will present to my reader. The first is that the authority of the Bible as presented by the TR position is given by God. The Scriptures are self-authenticating, not authenticated by the people or theologians that have used them. The second is the argument from Providence which simply points to historical record to vindicate this theological reality. The reason this has become such a controversial topic is possibly due to the fact that some Critical Text apologists have taken up the opinion that the TR didn’t even exist during the Reformation.
The important distinction that I want to make sure my reader understands is the difference between something that gives authority to the Scriptures vs. something that vindicates the authority of the Scriptures. The average person can look into history, see that the text of the Protestants was the TR, and note the historical record vindicates the theological position presented by present day Protestant defenders of the Received Text. The TR is said to be a providential text because it was the one that was used. That is how providence works. This has been a difficult thing for Critical Text advocates to admit. For example, in an unguarded moment, James White recently asserted that The Vulgate was the text of the Protestant Reformation in a video made with Stephen Boyce.
Interestingly enough, Apologists for the Critical Text also try to make the argument from Providence about their “earliest and best” texts, so it seems that they have no issue with the form of the argument. They claim that the existence of their manuscripts proves they were used and therefore by God’s providence, their text is vindicated, not recognizing that the record of history shows that their darling manuscripts were not propagated forth in transmission. They argue that their text evolved to some degree or another, which again refutes their argument from providence even further. The average person can inspect the analysis of the textual scholars, see that the manuscripts which form the textual basis for the Critical Text do not have a singular extant common ancestor and are not copied forth unmaimed into the manuscript tradition. In other words, Providence rules against their text.
Actual Similarities between the Critical Text and the Papacy
Now what is interesting is the Critical Text advocate’s failure to see the similarities between their own position and Bellarmine’s. Bellarmine set forth clearly the doctrine of the Magisterium.
“When we say the Church cannot err, we understand this both of the entire body of the faithful and the entire body of the bishops, so that the meaning of the proposition that the Church cannot err is this: that what all the faithful hold as of faith is necessarily true and of faith; and likewise what all the bishops teach as of faith, is necessarily true and of faith.”Robert Bellarmine. De Ecclesia militante, III: 14
Both Bellarmine and the Critical Text methodology establish the authority of the Bible in the interpretation of the text. In the case of the Papists, it is the Magisterium, the interpretation of the Church. In the case of the Critical Text, doctrine cannot be affected by changes to the text and therefore the authority is not in the words of the text but rather in the interpretation of the text by the church. The difference is only in how “church” is defined. This is the necessary conclusion of the doctrine that the Bible is preserved in its doctrines and ideas and not the words. If the words themselves cannot change the meaning of the text, then the authority is not in the matter, but rather in the sense – the interpretation of those words. This is a theological necessity as a result of rejecting the doctrine of providential preservation.
For example, if a Christological doctrine is less clear in the Critical Text than the TR, such as in 1 Tim. 3:16, they say that the overall doctrine is not affected because it can be interpreted elsewhere. This is an admission that the textual variant indeed says something materially different, though they maintain that the sense remains the same by way of interpretation. The material has changed, and the meaning has not. Since the meaning is gathered by way of interpretation, the authority of the text is not in the material, but rather the interpretation of the material. The Critical Text advocate would not agree with the interpretation of this passage by the Unitarian, so therefore has bestowed the authority of the text in the Trinitarian interpretation of the passage. That is to say that the orthodox interpretation of the church is the thing that cannot err.
The Difference between Rome’s Usage Argument and the TR
Now that I have offered a comparison between the Critical Text doctrine and Rome, I will describe the difference in the “usage” argument of Rome and the Protestants. The argument from usage is quite different between Rome and the Reformed. Bellarmine’s argument for usage is based on the doctrine of the Magisterium, which is the opposite of the argument made by the Received Text position. It is important to remember the historical fact that the Council of Trent was a Counter-Reformation effort. This means that they espoused doctrines in opposition to the Protestants, not the same as the Protestants. The appeal to Protestant theologians by present-day Protestant defenders of the Received Text is an appeal to the Counter-Papacy doctrines they espoused. I want to ensure that my reader understands completely what I am saying here: The Reformation doctrine of Scripture was established in opposition to the Papist doctrine of Scripture. There seems to be a lot of confusion on this point recently, so I want to make sure that people know that the Protestants were not Papists.
The Papist doctrine proposed that the Vulgate must be authoritative because the Church has used it, and the Church cannot err. The response to the Papists by the Protestants was that the Scriptures were self-authenticating and therefore authoritative by virtue of God who inspired them. This was articulated in what we now call Sola Scriptura. In order for Scripture to be authoritative in itself, it has to be materially preserved. The text that was available to the people of God during the time of the Reformation was the text that was used by God’s providence. The Protestants recognized this very clearly and defended this very boldly. The modern day defense of the TR is an appeal to that doctrine, not the theologians themselves. Put very simply, adopting the Received Text is a position that is established on two principles: the adoption of Protestant Bibliology and the rejection of Modern Textual Criticism. It is not a modern day Protestant spin of the doctrine of the Magisterium. The argument against the Magisterium is founded on the reality that the Church can err. This was kind of the point of the Protestant Reformation.
The recent conflations with the Received Text position and the Papist doctrine of Scripture is befuddling. The doctrinal position of the Received Text is explicitly the doctrine of the Protestants’, which is why present day Protestant defenders of the TR quote Protestant theologians (gasp!). It is also likely the reason Critical Text apologists so desperately try to brand what they believe as that of the Protestants. I will provide yet another reminder to my reader that the Protestants were protesting…Rome. The argument that the defense of the TR is the same as the defense of the Vulgate completely ignores the doctrinal foundation for both, seeing as the Protestant defense of the Scriptures was actually in opposition to the Vulgate.
As I have demonstrated in this article, the argument from “usage” is different between the Papists and the Protestants. Those in the Critical Text camp may very well take issue with the Received Text position, but it does not make sense to conflate it with the position it opposes. The Received Text position is still explicitly a Reformation doctrine. It affirms against the Papacy the same today as it did in the 16th century. Ironically, it is the Critical Text position that now has no ground to stand on with Rome – though it appears the scholars of the Critical Text are more interested in comradery with the Papacy than protestation. It is difficult to understand why a position that has housed and eulogized Jesuits such as Cardinal Martini would be so bold as to compare the Received Text position with Popery.
I’ll leave my reader with this definition of projection from Sigmund Freud:
Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves by attributing them to others. For example, a bully may project their own feelings of vulnerability onto the target, or a person who is confused will project their own feelings of confusion and inadequacy onto other people.