Recently the Pacific Coast Presbytery (RPCNA) issued an “accusation of sin” to a minister based on an essay published in Why I Preach from the Received Text and an accompanying sermon, which were made public on the presbytery’s Facebook page. According to the clerk, “The main issue was the apparent connection of trusted English translations of the Bible to what the accused termed “Satan’s Bible”. He continues, “The presbytery gave a formal rebuke to the accused, laid out a path of repentance it wants to see, and assigned a three man committee to work with our brother.” I reached out to the minister in question for comment and the matter is still ongoing. I have decided to omit names and other information as the church deals with the matter internally. I’m sure my reader can easily track down the involved parties if they so desire, but I will not be commenting on the politics of the church. I will be commenting on this issue first from the substance of the argument and second from the implications that this has on the larger Received Text movement.
First, let’s take a look at what the author set forward in his essay. The work in question presents the reader with two Bibles, one which was produced by non-orthodox Christians which the author identifies as “Satan’s Bible”, and one which was “received and preserved”. The basic form of the argument is that there is one preserved text, and thus any divergent text must then be something else, in the case of the modern text, “Satanic.” I hope my reader can agree that the issue here is not the use of “Satanic,” but whether or not such language is appropriate in describing texts which are divergent to what the Protestant tradition has identified as “pure in all ages.” Let us consider the argument now.
If it is the case that modern texts diverge from the traditional text to such a degree that meaning is changed, it is reasonable to entertain the discussion of the progeny or origin of such divergent texts. If such corruptions were intentionally introduced to the Biblical text, we should inquire as to why. It is important to note that I am not discussing spelling mistakes or other accidental scribal errors here, but rather intentional omissions which are evident in modern texts (e.g. Mark 16:9-20; 1 John 5:7; John 7:53-8:11) typically represented by two codices (Aleph, B). The argument presented in the essay at hand is that false biblical texts were being circulated during Paul’s time, and that those texts came to be, in part or in whole, represented in the textual basis for modern texts. What might one call a text produced by false professors? The author argues that these texts are “Satanic” as they were produced by agents of Satan. “There has always been a synagogue of Satan and a synagogue of Christ, a Bible of Satan and a Bible of Christ. This can be traced throughout Scripture” (p. 162). If it is the case that enemies of the faith have meddled with the historical texts, then it follows that such texts, are at the very least in part, products of enemies of the faith. So what would my reader call a text that was produced by such parties?
If there are two competing texts or groups of texts wherein the differences between these texts are significant, are such texts ordained by God, accidents of history, or malicious interventions? In the first category we must assume that “no doctrines are affected” and that all bibles are equally the Bible. This is more or less the view of the modern critical text proponents. In the second category the assumption is that the Bible is just a natural phenomenon produced by humans which necessarily will contain errors because humans were exclusively responsible for transmitting it. This is also the view of some modern critical text proponents. The third category presents the idea that if God truly preserved His word down to every “jot and tittle,” any intentional omissions to the text may be reasonably viewed as a malicious device of enemies of the church and thus such texts would be viewed in a similar manner to other religious texts. The major difference between the modern text and other texts is that the text in question is almost the same as the historic Protestant text. This adds a layer of complexity to the conversation. If a text is not the original, inspired, text, is it the Bible? How many differences between the Divine Original and the text one has in their hand would it take to say, “This is not the Bible?” And if a text is not the Bible, what is it, exactly?
So how did the author get from, “This is not the Bible” to “This is a Satanic text?” If it is the case that these divergent texts were malicious devices of enemies of the faith, it can be argued that such texts are in fact, Satanic, regardless of how closely they resemble the traditionally accepted text. The author builds his argument on top of the theological premise that “every jot and tittle” is preserved, not that “all major doctrines are preserved.” If it were the case that these divergent texts were not mere mistakes of history, it is follows that such texts might be labeled as malicious devices. If these texts are not accidents of history, it follows that there must be some other explanation. The explanation provided in this case is malice rather than human error. I might conclude, along with my reader, that it is not beyond reason to imagine that Satan would meddle with God’s word. So we can at the very least see how the author came to such conclusions, whether my reader agrees with them or not.
The crux of this issue almost always comes down to one’s theology of Scripture. It is understandable that many have recoiled at having their bible called “satanic”. If it is the case that material differences to various texts do not change meaning, the term “satanic” is indeed shocking. Yet, if it is the case that such material changes do indeed change the meaning and form of the Bible, it should be within the Christian’s prerogative to ask, “What then are these divergent texts?” At the center of this controversy is the claim that such divergent texts are not accidents of history, but intentional corruptions introduced to deceive well intentioned, God fearing Christians. This seems to be a major contention on this topic. Are the multitude of differences between the modern text and historic text accidents of history and human error, or are they malicious devices intended to deceive the people of God? And if such changes are indeed the product of malicious meddling, what do we conclude about the product of such meddling?
There is something that seems to have been missed in this whole argument. The author is not motivated by the intention to smear fellow Christians, but rather to warn them away from deception. Just like any well meaning rebuke, the intent is to restore and build up. The problem is that most Christians who view this claim will perceive this as an attack on their faith, not as a warning to bring them away from malicious devices and towards the truth, which is the author’s intention. If the author is correct, he has an obligation to sound the alarm.
Proponents of multiple modern bibles make such arguments frequently as it pertains to so called “KJV Onlyists.” Prominent authors, pastors, and apologists in recent history have labeled “KJV Onlyists” and “TR Onlyists” as being a part of a cult. Is it too far a stretch to say that cults are satanic, or are their good, decent, well meaning Christian cults? I dare say that it would be somewhat naïve to assume that the implications of this discussion are not apparent to all. The modern bible advocates say that “no doctrines are affected” and that “we do not have the original”, and the Received Text advocates say, “we have the Bible, and it’s this one”. Let’s not pretend that there aren’t significant implications to both claims to the core of Evangelical and Protestant theology and praxis. Many people wish to say that this issue is secondary, or not important, while at the same time arguing that we do not have the original Bible in any of our texts or translations. The point is, if we put aside personalities and denominations and examine the actual claims made by each perspective, the necessary conclusion is that one is correct, and the other is not. It is my opinion that the church must graduate from the notion that this is a purely academic contention when it clearly is theological.
Regardless of where my reader lands on the controversy, I believe it reasonable to believe the best of the author, who as far as I can tell, made this claim without malice, with the intention to pull people away from danger. My goal with this article was to analyze the claim and walk my reader through the argument. Now that I have discussed the argument at some length, it is important to recognize that this controversy may have wider implications on the use of the Received Text in modern Reformed churches. We have already seen pastor(s) from the PCA pile on to the controversy, and it will be interesting to see if contributors to the anthology, some of which are members of the OPC, Confessional Baptist churches, and other denominations react to these events. Will representatives of these other organizations be subjected to similar criticism and discipline because of their participation in this work? Will the OPC or PCA bring charges to pastors for participating in the anthology? This may be a defining moment in the modern church’s development of the doctrine of Scripture.
3 thoughts on “Essay from Received Text Anthology Under Fire”
Thanks for addressing this issue. I understand the use of “Satanic” to be a much needed warning by our brother. We must remember, it was Satan who first attempted to pervert the words of God in the garden of Eden in a small, subtle way, but which changes the meaning of God’s revelation to man. The changes that have been made to God’s words by the advent of modern textual criticism has indeed changed the meaning of God’s revelation to man, so we must question the source and intent of those changes—to not do so is irresponsible.
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There is a battle going on. No doubt about it.
They no doubt took offence at the label ‘Satanic’, never bothering to enquire whether it might actually be true or not. That is the problem. Emotions get in the way of clear thinking. They are simply offended by the use of the term, ‘Satanic’, but never exert themselves to consider whether it may actually be correct. What have our feelings got to do with anything?
A church that has become a ‘synagogue of Satan’ will hardly ever realise that fact. But all churches these days seem to think well of themselves. Just natural to corrupt human nature. But where is the self examination, the mourning and repentance in sackcloth and ashes? We are very far from the kingdom of God.