In a previous article I had mentioned how one of the failures of the TR camp in the last two years was acquiescing to the “Which TR?” objection. That’s what it is, an objection. It is not a genuine question because it assumes that the TR position requires one, distinct, printed text to be consistent. It imposes a premise upon our argument. Therefore, in responding to this question, we assume this false premise and give the argument over to the Critical Text advocate who is arguing in bad faith. Many TR advocates, including myself, will answer this question with the Scrivener TR. We do so, not because of the Scrivener TR, but because we claim it represents a text form that is original. So what the Critical Text advocate is looking for is for the TR advocate to identify a text so that they can “prove” that it is not the Bible. This is very revealing, that a so called “Christian” would engage in such behavior as “disproving” the Bible, but I digress. In order to even get to the discussion of “Which TR?” we must first agree that the Bible exists today.
What the TR position advocates for is that God inspired His Word, and that Word was providentially preserved in all ages such that we have that very original available to us today. This is the necessary criteria for Christians today to make the claim that “The Bible is the inspired Word of God.” Without the doctrine of providential preservation, we have no Bible. The conclusion then is that the Christian church does not have any authority for the doctrines she espouses, if not for providential preservation. If Dan Wallace & Co. are correct, that we do not have the original today, and that we wouldn’t know it if we did, then there is not a single doctrine that can be said to be original. The Muslims know this, which is why they keep debating James White. They love to see Christians slander their own text. The “Which TR?” question has its place among believers that actually believe The Bible exists, but not outside of that.
Which TR? Which Christianity?
In order to answer the “Which TR?” question, one first has to adopt the premise that God preserved his word in a printed Greek text. This is what the question is trying to do. It corners one into a false premise. This is not the premise of the TR position. It is a premise that Critical Text advocates have imposed upon the argument in order to win debates, and people that defend the historic protestant position on Scripture have given up ground in the discussion by entertaining this question to people that do not believe an original text exists. That is why they will ask questions like, “Did the Bible exist before the TR?” They have a fundamental misunderstanding of the position. We know this is a loaded question because TR advocates argue that the Bible existed prior to the printing press, “in all ages.”
This is why providential preservation is the crux of the TR position. A proper understanding of the Theology of the text is critical to actually understanding this discussion. The Critical Text position boasts that it is “not theological,” and thus do not attempt to understand the discussion outside of their paradigm. The missing component to this discussion is that printed texts are representative. They point to a text. That is why it is nonsensical to ask the question, “Do you think the Bible existed before the TR?” It assumes that the TR position believes that the Bible came into existence over a thousand years after it was penned, which we do not. I will use Kruger’s terminology here when I say that the “ontological” text existed the second the canon was closed. The Bible existed in its entirety when John finished his last stroke scribing Revelation.
This is the difference between the Critical Text position and the TR position. The Critical Text position does not claim that any existing text is representative of the original. They will only state that printed texts are “greatly accurate,” or “good enough” – whatever that means. They will not define what exactly “greatly accurate” means, but they will posit that every text, every translation, and every manuscript is not representative of the original. This is shocking, yet Christians defend this theological statement as orthodox. It is not.
So there are two opposing worldviews in the textual discussion. One states that the Bible was inspired, preserved, and is available now. So if both sides of the discussion can agree that the Bible is available, “Which one?” is appropriate because it is a genuine question of inquiry. The other says that the Bible was inspired but not preserved, and we do not have that original now. Further, they claim that even if one of our texts or translations were original, we would not have the ability to know it due to gaps in their methodology. This is the crux of the discussion. One side believes we have The Bible, the other believes that we have many bibles which essentially say the same thing as each other (even though they do not). My point is that there is no value in discussing the question, “Which Bible?” with somebody that does not believe “The Bible” exists today.
My question is this: why do we entertain the loaded questions from people who do not believe that The Bible exists? Even more, why do we let them force false premises upon us? Should we not, like the forefathers of our faith, be on the offense towards men that reject the Scriptures, rather than be defensive? I do not say that the Critical Text advocates “reject Scripture” as an insult. They quite literally argue that the original Bible, the Scriptures, do not exist today. This is their entire premise and justification for the continued effort of textual scholarship. These men do not have any true authority, because they reject the premise that an absolute authority exists today, only parts of it. And they will not, to my knowledge, identify which parts of Scripture are authoritative. They will only say that “The important parts” are preserved. But what parts of Scripture are important, and which are not? The Scriptures say that “all Scripture” is authoritative, not “just the parts pertaining to salvation.”
The TR position does not claim that the Bible must be a single, authoritative, printed text. If this was the premise, then we would then have to say that the Bible did not exist until the printing press. Yet we do not make this claim, therefore to answer this question without clarification of theology would require that we adopt a false premise. What the TR position does claim is that the original text exists because God has preserved it. In this age, we argue that this text is represented by the TR. The ontological text has always existed in every age, first in manuscripts, then in printed texts. We have that text reflected in the TR. There may be some room for nuance once we accept this theological premise, but not before. If one does not accept that the Bible has been preserved, there is no room for nuance, and that is what the TR camp has failed to understand. When somebody makes the claim that Jesus existed, but somebody then argues that the picture we have of him is not accurate, we do not then entertain the nuances of that conversation. We evangelically proclaim that Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to save sinners. There is no room for nuance there, or Jesus quickly becomes “a wise teacher, a prophet, but not God”. This is effectively the claim of the Critical Text. “The Bible is good and sufficient, but not perfect. It’s good for what it’s good for, but should not be exalted as perfect.” To do so has been called “Bibliolotry” by those in the Critical Text camp.
We must first demand that our Critical Text opponents demonstrate their orthodoxy before engaging in a nuanced conversation. Otherwise the conversation is not about “Which Bible?”, it is a debate over whether The Bible exists at all. There is indeed a nuanced conversation to be had among those that actually believe the Bible exists today and can be held in our hands. Until we agree on that point, we must be evangelical, not academic. This may be considered a “hot take,” but it is true. If somebody does not believe the Bible is the Word of God (original), that is where we have to start. The reason we must do this is because we will never gain any ground with somebody who does not believe the Bible has been preserved, just like we will never gain any ground with somebody who does not believe Jesus is perfect. In the last two years I have seen the TR camp lose ground because we are not willing to push back on the claim that the Bible does not exist. Instead we entertain “irenic” discussions with people who do not believe we have the Bible as though that is not a severe error. Of course we maintain our Christian character and composure in these discussions, but we do not surrender ground to those that deny a pillar of the faith we proclaim. Without a preserved, original, Bible, we do not have any grounds for authoritative truth claims, which is the foundational premise for our evangelism, preaching, and ministry. We claim to have absolute truth, and therefore the authority from which we get our truth must be absolute. If the Bible is only “greatly accurate,” then Christianity is only “greatly accurate.” There is not one Bible, there is not one Christianity, there are just lost scriptures and lost gospels.