I have written in the past that I believe that focusing on textual variations, “which TR?”, and manuscripts misses the point of the Textual Discussion. My basic argument is based on the premise that the position who affirms the Critical Text fundamentally rejects any methodology which would make such discussions meaningful. The methodological gap, which points to a 200 + year gap in the manuscript data prevents any certain conclusions on a genealogical text such as the CBGM. There is no direct evidential pathway back to a complete original text, which explains the uncertainty of the scholars as it pertains to the Divine Original. The reason textual scholars do not make conclusions regarding the text is due to the fact that it would be inconsistent and unscientific to do so. This results in the academic consensus being something akin to, “What we have is accurate enough.”
What my reader needs to understand is that the Biblical standard is not “accurate enough,” it is “every jot and title” (Mat. 5:18). When we engage with Critical Text advocates, understand that we are talking about two distinct things. The scholars are referring to a general text that dates back to the 3rd or 4th century, not the Divine Original. The scope of Textual Scholarship is limited by its methodology to the history of transmission, not ascertaining what was delivered from the authorial pen. It is important here to point out that the limitation is one of methodological nature, not scholarly intent. There are many textual scholars who desire to obtain the original. This desire is in conflict with the actual methodology. Despite a scholar’s good intentions, these religious feelings can never overcome the evidential limitations of the methodology itself.
This being the case, the methodology of the Critical Text cannot make claims regarding textual variations or manuscripts that have anything to do with the Divine Original. So if the claim made by Critical Text advocates is that their method is able to determine the original, and it cannot do that, it has no value to the Christian church. It is a mere scholarly exercise. This is why the substance of the Traditional apologetic for Scripture is distinctly theological. We must reason from Scripture outwards and apply Biblical truths. The critical flaw in the Critical Text is that it reasons from evidence and applies its conclusions to the Scriptures. This method of thinking is notably a secular pattern, not a Christian one.
The Largest Flaw in the TR Position is Recognizing Secular Thinking as Valid
The largest flaw in the TR position right now is that TR advocates validate the methodologies of the Critical Text by recognizing the methods, questions, and conclusions as logical or founded. I have seen TR advocates entertain debates over textual variants with people who do not believe a conclusion can be made one way or the other. Instead of pointing to the logical contradiction of their opponent, they allow the Critical Text advocate to debate evidence as if they believe that evidence says anything about the original. “1 John 5:7 is not original” is a claim that cannot be substantiated by any evidential reasoning because of the methodological gap. TR advocates allow their opponents to apply their standards to the debate, despite their standards not having anything meaningful to say about the original text. This is exemplified in the “Which TR?” question, which is a loaded question that only demonstrates one’s misunderstanding of the position entirely. In answering such questions, or debating such topics as textual variants, the TR advocate surrenders ground to the Critical Text advocate and recognizes their thinking as valid, which it is not.
We must be willing to reject the very premises of the questions offered by the Critical Text advocate. They have nothing to say about the original, so we need to focus on that. We need to reason from Scripture outward and demonstrate that these scholars and laymen do not believe that Scripture exists today. They only believe that parts of Scripture likely exist today, and what we have might be Scripture. The only thing they do claim with certainty is that the core message of the Bible has been preserved, yet they do so without any grounds. If any one part of Scripture can be said to have fallen away, there is zero guarantee that any part of it is original. This is demonstrated by the claims of the scholars themselves and the continued changes to their own text. They do not believe the Critical Text or translations made from it are original. At the core of their belief is the notion that the meaning of the text cannot change, despite material changes to the text itself. This is a suspension of reality and logic. Critical Text scholars make the claim that a high percentage of textual variants are due to a slip of the pen, spelling errors, or copyist errors, but the debate is not over whether or not these kinds of errors exist or if they are meaningful. Everybody recognizes these insignificant errors. The debate is over the large number of material changes that do make a difference. Even if the scholars were to claim that the Bible is 95% accurate, 5% of 500,000+ textual variants is substantial and significant.
That is why I want my reader to understand what “greatly accurate” or “good enough” actually means. If the Bible is 95% accurate, there are still a huge number of places that are inaccurate. If the scholars say that they can guarantee the text to a 95% degree of accuracy (which they don’t), there are still hundreds, if not thousands of places that are not simple slip of the pen errors, which are undetermined. Do not let the scholars use this kind of language to downplay the severity of their methodological gap. When we recognize their claims, we recognize their methods, and we validate their position. We must demonstrate the foolishness of the whole machine by focusing on the fact that they cannot make the claims they do. There is no way to uphold that the Bible is reliable while also claiming it to be “greatly accurate,” because “greatly accurate” still means that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of significant indeterminate variations or missing portions of the text.
The state of Textual Criticism is the same as it has been for decades. There is nothing substantial that has been discovered. There are no new methodologies that have radically changed the game. No, not even the CBGM. The only thing that has changed is how comfortable scholars are with denying the historical, orthodox position on Scripture and the church’s willingness to believe their claims. I would challenge any Critical Text pastor to follow up the Scripture reading every Sunday with this going forward, “This is the Bible, which is greatly accurate, but not original.” Bring your academic exercise into the pulpit and see how it goes for you. And to my TR readers, we must resist letting Critical Text advocates get away with calling the Word of God incomplete. We cannot entertain foolish questions and claims. We must reason from the Scriptures out, and lay God’s Word on our opponents, and pray that the Lord changes their hearts and minds.