What’s Wrong with One Translation?

Introduction

Recently I saw a meme circulating which was quite representative of the Textual Discussion as it is represented on the Critical Text side. Please excuse the grammar of our dear author, it is a meme after all. The post went as follows:

Christians: It’s amazing that the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History

KJV-Onlyer: Well yes, but actually no

The author of the meme added commentary which said,

When you say “the KJV is the only true translation. Every other one is a perversion.” What you are really saying is “I believe Satan has done more to spread Scripture and Gods word through countless translations than God did with His one”. KJV Onlyism is idolatry.

Philldozer

This meme demonstrates the reality that the average Christian who has perhaps watched the Dividing Line or has read The King James Only Controversy knows very little regarding the Textual Discussion. This is true, or perhaps the author is employing the leftist strategy of “accusing your enemy of that which you’re guilty of yourself.” I have seen both in conversation regarding this topic. The reality is that most Christians today do not defend the statement that “the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History.” The Critical Text position and its advocates explicitly advocate against this theological premise in their literature and polemics. They often make such statements, but do not communicate any meaningful definition of “preservation.” What they advocate for is maintenance, not preservation. In order to support a claim such as, “The Lord preserved His Scripture throughout history”, the defenders of the Critical Text must make qualifying statements such as, “The Lord preserved His Scripture with great accuracy throughout history.” Which is to effectively say that the Lord did not preserve the Scriptures, He maintained them to some degree of precision. There is a huge difference between providential preservation and providential maintenance.

Providential Maintenance

What this message communicates is that the concept of “one true translation” is an idolatrous position, and those that believe such are thus idolaters. I’ll return to that momentarily, but first I want to highlight the fact that those in the Critical Text position do not believe that there are any Bibles which can be considered “true”. We read such theological positions stated by Dirk Jongkind, Mark Ward, Richard Brash, Daniel Wallace, and Andrew Naselli. According to the top scholars of the Critical Text, every translation and text has errors, and therefore none are “true” in the sense that they convey what the original said. This is why the author writes that all other texts must be Satanic, according to “KJV Onlyers.”

This is a hyper-polemic framing of the discussion. A translation can have errors and not be Satanic. We do not accuse our brethren of being “Satanic” when they make a mistake or err. What might be considered Satanic is when we confront our brothers in their sin and they persist in their sin without intention to repent. This is why the heart of the discussion is the theological root. Ultimately, the conversation is not in essence about a particular translation or text. The truly Satanic idea is that God has not spoken clearly. At the heart of this debate is the theological question, Yea, hath God said?”. It is the same line of reasoning made by the Serpent in Eden. The Serpent first misquotes God, and then Eve adds to God’s Word. When somebody articulates the position that God has not preserved His Word, He has merely maintained it, they are implying that God has not spoken clearly. If Scripture is not settled and known, then neither is God’s voice to His people. And if God’s voice is changing and unknown, so is God. And if God is mutable, He is not God. The so called “KJV Onlyer” is actually the one with any justification to call those that reject the notion of a perfect text an “Idolater,” because these people seemingly worship a god who can change. Thus we see the rhetorical strategy of “accuse your enemy of that which you’re guilty of yourself” in full swing.

Yet if we back up momentarily, there is no need for immediate accusations of idolatry. Many men in the Christian church simply believe the Critical Text paradigm in their ignorance. Conversely, some in the so called “KJV Only” crowd also have error. Do we call them all idolaters? I suggest that we avoid such blanket accusations. First, it is wise to characterize opposing opinions accurately, which unfortunately, the author of this meme has not taken care to do. There are many in the Critical Text camp who still believe that Textual Criticism is the “effort of lower criticism to use the collection of extant manuscripts to create the original as it was penned.” We know that this is not the case, as the effort is actually to “describe the transmission history of the New Testament according to the extant manuscripts.” The Textual Scholars do not claim to know what the original said, nor do they claim that their methods can ascertain such a text. In order to ensure that they are not misconstrued, they further state that even if the original were in their hands, they would not know it. There is absolutely zero doubt when it comes to the scholars’ belief that they cannot find the Divine Original, though they may desire such an end goal in their hearts, as many do.

Now I will return to the concept of a “true translation.”

A True Translation

The concept of a “true translation” should not be associated with evil, as we see here from our author. Every Christian should desire such a Bible. If our Bibles be not true, then how can we make any claims from them? In the last decade, we have seen many calls for the retirement of such a theology. Yet all of our claims as Christians rely on such a standard. If it is the case that our Bibles are not “true translations,” then what are the value of our truth claims? Christianity devolves into a sort of subjective mysticism. It is no surprise that this is more or less the actual state of the modern Christian. They are more akin to subjectivist mystics than historical, orthodox, believers. If it is the case that Christianity is the true religion, then it must be the case that this religion has some sort of claim to that authoritative truth. This is why Christians do in fact claim that “the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History.” In fact, this claim must be true in order for Christianity to be true. Yet we observed above that this is not the claim of the Critical Text. Their claim is that “The Lord has maintained His text with great accuracy throughout History.”

This in mind, I suspect my reader can understand why Christians need the theological concept of a “true translation” (or text) in order to support anything they believe. Notice that I have not made a claim regarding which translation is true? The fact stands that Christians need at least one “true translation.” This theological principle is outright rejected by the Critical Text advocate. Something that is preserved can be consumed while something that is maintained is admittedly deteriorated and is deteriorating. Once an object falls into the state of maintenance, it is only a matter of time before that thing must be decommissioned. An interesting note here is that the Critical Text paradigm places the Scriptures in the state of man – fallen, requiring salvation and maintenance. The Scriptures are said to have fallen and require reconstruction. They must be made new again. The historical orthodox position places the Scriptures in the category of God – never changing, perfect, accessible.

So is it truly idolatry to believe that there are “true translations”? The answer is clear. Not only is it not idolatry, it is actually a necessary precondition for Christianity itself. Nobody alive today saw the resurrection or witnessed the events of the Scriptures. Without the Scriptures, Christians have no progeny, no doctrine, no nothing. It is a first principle of the Christian faith. This does not mean that only one “true translation” can or does exist, it simply means that at least one must exist.

Conclusion

If it is the case that Christianity requires a preserved, settled, available text, and it is, then it follows that the pursuit of Christians should be to get their hands on such a text and avail themselves of it. Unfortunately, the modern effort seems to be the opposite of such a pursuit. The scholars carry on about how the text does not exist, and how Christians should be happy with what is available. The text was not preserved, it was maintained, and we are lucky to have what we do have. Anybody who claims that there is a “true translation” is an idolater and implicitly accuses the brethren of Satanic influence. Despite this reality, the author of the meme does get something correct, that Christians believe “that the Lord preserved His Scripture throughout History.” All Christians advocate this position because it must be true in order to have one thing called “Christianity.” If the alternative is true, and we have a maintained text, than what we’re left with are a number of “christianities,” none more correct than the other. That is why the author believes that “Satan has done more to spread Scripture and Gods word through countless translations than God did with His one.” The necessary conclusion of the author is that all translations must be true. Such a claim is absurd. There are unfaithful translations, and there are faithful translations. There are true translations, and translations that are not true to the original. If the author wishes to extrapolate the meaning that Satan has done more to influence the world than God, that is on him. Such a meaning mitigates the power of God in history through His Word prior to the 20th century when modern versions were created. Let me remind my reader that this “textual problem” is not new to the church, but the church has not sided with Marcion or the Pope historically like we see today. This battle has always existed, though I would argue that for the first time the church has sided incorrectly. Does that make the modern church “Satanic” or “Idolaters?” I’m sure my reader can agree that much of what we see in the modern church falls into those categories, though unlike our meme author, I will not cast a blanket net over the whole of those who read modern bibles. The modern church has a plethora of serious issues, lack of belief in the Scriptures being high on that list.

I will leave my reader with a concluding thought to consider. Are Christians sinful, in error, or idolatrous for attempting to identify a bible as “The Bible?” Does the existence of a “true translation” nullify the existence of other “true translations” past and present? I suspect your answers to such questions will reveal the foolishness of the meme in question.

“Show Me Which TR!”

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Substance of the Traditional Position on Scripture

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Scholarly Scramble

Introduction

In a manner of what I hope is familiar to my reader, I intend to comment on the scholar types in the Christian church, and demonstrate that the issues of yesterday are the very same that rear their ugly head today and will yet again come out tomorrow to do more of the same work. What I have observed in my study of history and the present is that the work of the scholar, while presented as “scientific” and objective, almost never attempts to hold itself to such standards. When a layperson attempts to provide basic critiques of the conclusions of the scholar class, they are derided and set aside as “cultish” or something similar. Yet the “simpleton” knows that something of scientific nature should not be so fragile and delicate that it cannot withstand the objections of such a simple minded person. So let it be said, that if one follows a pattern of thinking which is called “scientific” that cannot withstand the critiques from the class of the unlearned, it is likely the case that whatever is being paraded around as “science” is nothing more than a superstition.

The Superstition of the Scholar-Adjacent

Recently, in an article posted on the Evangelical Text Criticism Blog, Richard Brash states that “The biblical evidence thus suggests that accurate copies of Scripture are to be distinguished from inaccurate ones.” He also states that, “…it is unwise to tether our doctrine of providential preservation to particular “approved” manuscript or manuscript tradition. The Bible does not give the church today the authority to do this.” In other words, the Bible ‘states ‘suggests’ that accurate copies of Scripture can be distinguished, but God has not given the church authority to do so. Well, that leaves the people of God in quite the predicament, does it not? The Bible is preserved, but not specifically. He concludes by stating, “In conclusion, God has preserved his written word by his singular care and providence, with great accuracy and in great purity. Despite its complexities, preservation by ordinary providence in both special and general modes seems to be the best theological account of providential preservation based on the biblical data.”

After reading Brash’s pamphlet along with this article, I am no closer to arriving at any particular truth than I was at the outset. Since God, according to the author, has not bestowed any authority on the people of God with an ability to distinguish which manuscripts (or more accurately readings) are original, it surprises me that any scholar would dare pick up any particular version of the Scriptures. See, if we do not have such authority, it would seem to be stepping over a line to give such a vote of confidence to a Bible such that we would read it and assume that the pages we read are indeed original. Such would be an exercise of pride and a demonstration of our own vanity!

Conclusion

We find ourselves yet again at the scholarly conclusion of uncertainty. What we have is “good enough” and so on. Yet, the scholar class betrays themselves by writing such articles and hosting such blogs. If what we have is something of “great accuracy and in great purity,” what exactly is the purpose of such endeavors? It appears contradictory to invest such time and effort in providing such nuanced analysis of texts that are perfectly adequate! If it is the case that the church has no authority to decide upon texts, then how can we justify our esteemed departments of textual studies at our beloved seminaries? Or does this only apply to those that disagree with our author? Forgive me, a simpleton, for asking such questions.

If I dare venture into the realm of speculation, I suspect I could conclude with great accuracy and in great purity that the cohort of authors supporting this blog do see the necessity of making conclusions on the text of Scripture. It is perhaps why they have spent so much time and effort pointing people in the other direction. If the simpletons in the pew were to conclude that that the Bible requires a stable text, well, that would be tragic to the field of textual studies and textual criticism. This is the inescapable conclusion of the whole matter, as I see it. The entire discipline in question serves to produce texts that are translated and distributed to the masses. If it were the case that the available texts were as “pure” as these authors say, it seems that they are engaged in an exercise of futility at best. Yet we do not see these scholar types behaving as men who have a greatly accurate, pure text. What can be seen with a common eye is a class of men who produce new editions and translations year after year, each differing from the previous editions. This effort is an apparent contradiction, if it is the case that a) God has not given the authority to men to do this and b) if the texts were of such quality as stated in the article and other similar places. In summary, the scholars have said nothing new.



Beza’s Method Summarized

All quoted material references Beyond What is Written by Jan Krans unless otherwise specified.

Introduction

I have written an article on Beza’s method of “text-criticism” before titled “No, Beza Was Not Doing Modern Text-Criticism“. That article is polemic, and the purpose is to contrast Beza’s methods with modern methods to demonstrate just how different they are from one another to refute James White’s erroneous claim that “Beza was doing modern text-criticism” after reading Beyond What is Written by Jan Krans. After reading the book myself, it was very apparent that Krans would not agree with White. Krans goes as far to say that Beza’s edition cannot even be called a critical edition, and rather refers to it as a “commentary” and “companion volume” to Stephanus’ 1550 edition (217-218). In fact, Krans essentially refers to Beza as a historical example of Murphy’s Law as it pertains to text-criticism saying, “It seems that almost everything that can go wrong, did go wrong” (241). In other words, it doesn’t seem Krans would be overly enthusiastic about being categorized in the same class as Beza.

Since it is the case that Krans doesn’t view Beza as doing the same thing as himself and his colleagues, it seems like a natural question to ask, “What was he doing then?” I touched on this in my previous article, but it may be helpful to my audience to hear from Krans in a less polemic article here.

Beza’s Methods

Beza’s “text-critical” methodology is different enough from what is typically classified as “text-criticism” that it deserves it’s own category. Krans points out that “He does not see himself as an editor of the Greek text” (218). After reviewing Krans’ analysis of Beza, I can identify four markers of Beza’s methodology:

  1. Evidential
  2. Theological
  3. Grammatical
  4. Contextual

As it pertains to Beza’s evidential methods, modern scholars are not pleased overall with how he conducted his scholarship. He would often vaguely refer to manuscripts or simply list the number of manuscripts supporting his reading, which is far different than the meticulous numbering system scholars use today. Further, he used Stephanus’ delineation of “old” and “very old” as age descriptors of manuscripts (243). Despite the modern scholars’ disapproval of this standard, Beza had a broad spectrum of evidence he considered, including currently existing printed Greek texts (Stephanus, Erasmus, Complutension Polyglot, etc.), the annotations of the scholars who produced those texts (206-208), Henri Stephanus’ collation, approximately 15 “manuscript codices” (214), patristic sermons and works (221), ancient and contemporary translations (Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, etc.) (208), and had a broad correspondence with other scholars and theologians, including John Calvin (208). As it pertains to his evidential approach, he is far more in line with men like John Burgon than a modern textual scholar. Beza, according to Krans, “explicitly indicated that he was unwilling to change the text on the basis of conjecture only” (244).

While modern scholars take issue with Beza’s approach to using evidence, it is clear that he valued the evidence and used it as a chief principle in his work. Where Beza departs from modern scholars greatly is his use of theology, grammar, and context in his methodology. Krans critiques Beza on his willingness to support readings based on theological grounds such as the fact that “Beza tended to prefer the reading that brings the Gospel accounts closer together” (240). Krans continues to describe that Beza adopts readings based on the grammar and context of the passage (222). This demonstrates that Beza actually took the opposite paradigm as modern scholars. Where the modern philosophy states that the harsher, shorter reading be preferred, Beza adopted the opposite. This is in line with Protestant Bibliology, which states that the Bible was providentially preserved rather than irreconcilably corrupted.

An interesting point to note is the difference between Erasmus and Beza. Krans comments that Erasmus used more of a “local-genealogical principle” whereas Beza was more willing to identify the “best reading” (245). What this seems to indicate is that Erasmus would find his home more closely with the modern scholar than Beza and supports the claim I often make on this blog that Erasmus’ work is less congruent with the Traditional position on Scripture. It is no surprise that apologists for the Modern Critical Text work very hard to associate the TR with Erasmus rather than Beza. The differences between the modern effort and Beza’s methods are further supported by Krans when he notes that, “Beza clearly places all his text-critical and translational work in an ecclesiastical setting.” Krans believes that Beza’s “scholarly qualities” are “restricted, or even somewhat distorted by this setting” (318). Krans often communicates astonishment at Beza’s willingness to let his theology guide his text critical practice in such an impactful manner.

Conclusion

Beza had several fundamental principles when it came to his version of “textual scholarship.” He believed this type of work should be done in the context of the church, by believers. In the prefatory material of his fourth edition he addresses his audience as “my Christian reader.” Beza also deeply considered exegesis and theology as critical components of his effort in addition to context and grammar. He believed that the original text should be harmonious and smooth because he considered his theology of the text in his work. While it is clear that Beza was not “doing the same thing” as modern textual scholars, there is an important non-polemic take-away. Beza outlines in many ways the model that should be used in any modern text-critical effort.

The handling of the text of Scripture should be done by believers. “Text critical” methods should so consider theology, context, and grammar that it is foreign to the affairs of the academy. Our methods should clearly highlight the fact that the Bible is not just any other ancient text, it is the Word of God. Hopefully this less polemic article on the methods of Beza finds my reader well, and leaves my reader more informed.

The Simple Argument

Introduction

The topic of textual criticism which I call “The Textual Discussion” is often difficult to navigate. I know I say that all the time, but it’s true. I’m sure my reader has been involved in their fair share of confusing conversations on the subject. Most of the time, if you’re interacting with a proponent of the Modern Critical Text, you’re really just responding to various articulations of an argument made by an apologist or scholar. Most of these arguments have nothing to do with the discussion at all. For example, when people attack Erasmus and his work, they genuinely believe they are making an argument against the traditional position on Scripture, when in fact, they are not. Almost every popular level argument made by proponents of the Modern Critical Text only serves to demonstrate that they do not understand the position they are arguing against, or even their own position. An example of this is that Modern Critical Text advocates do not consider their own theology of inerrancy while attacking the Masoretic Hebrew and Received Greek.

If their argument is considered effective against the Traditional Text, then it also must be effective against the Modern Critical Text, according to the doctrine of inerrancy. The enemies of the faith know this, which is why you see Islam apologists reposting clips from debates without any commentary. This is due to the fact that the doctrine of inerrancy applies, practically speaking, to the manuscript tradition, which includes the TR. That is why you will see men like James White, Mark Ward, and Dan Wallace making the claim that there are “No major doctrines effected” between manuscripts or printed texts. The modern doctrine of Scripture advocates for preservation of ideas, not words, and since the Modern Critical Text position does not claim to have the original words, they must defend the notion of preserved ideas or doctrines. If they were to argue that the doctrines are different, they would have to do so by appealing to words, which would require “borrowing capital” from the traditional position and subverting the fundamentals of their own argument, resulting in an admission that the people of God have no Bible today.

It is for this reason that arguing against the Modern Critical Text position is simple. We start by asking the question, “How are doctrines derived from Scripture?” If we believe in Sola Scriptura, we would answer, “We derive doctrines from the words in Scripture.” And since the Modern Critical Text position does not argue for exact original words, they cannot argue for exact original doctrines. And so any description of the precision of words necessarily applies to doctrines. Those in the Traditional Text camp understand this, which is why we argue that originality of words = originality of doctrines. The doctrines are original because the words are original. Now if we were to argue that the words we have in our texts today are not original, just “good enough,” then we must argue the same for the doctrines. In order to defend the claim that “no doctrines are affected,” you would have to do so by examining the words, which the Modern Critical Text paradigm does not support. So either it is a NULL/unsupported claim, or the premise of this argument does not assume Sola Scriptura. It must appeal to tradition, councils, or other authority to prove that doctrine has not changed. This can be described as the Word-Doctrine Conundrum, and is the easiest way to demonstrate that the Modern Critical Text paradigm is incompatible with what might be considered orthodox Christian Bibliology.

The Word-Doctrine Conundrum

It is easy to get involved in discussions about textual variants, Erasmus, and manuscripts while neglecting the principia of the matter. This is why I frequently argue that you do not need to know Greek or have inspected a manuscript to participate in this discussion. Interestingly enough, these are major arguments made by proponents of the Modern Critical Text. You will often hear these types of arguments made on The Dividing Line internet program to dismiss dissenting claims. Somebody might make a valid critique of the Modern Critical Text, and it will be written off because “I bet this guy hasn’t even inspected a Greek manuscript!” What most people realize is that you don’t actually need to be a Textual Scholar to inspect a manuscript. The point is that all of these arguments distract from the Word-Doctrine Conundrum and are irrelevant because the Modern Critical Text has a fatal flaw that has not been answered. The reason it is a fatal flaw is because until it is answered, proponents of the Modern Critical Text have no basis for any claim regarding the quality of their text. In fact, what they do say about the quality of their text is enough to reject it outright. Be on the lookout for a follow up article on that later.

The Word-Doctrine Conundrum is the ultimate defeater of the Modern Critical Text position as an orthodox belief. If we accept the premise that words matter, and we can agree with James White that “I want what Paul wrote,” then the entire Modern Critical Text position is unfounded as a Christian position. I am not saying that people are not Christians by virtue of using the Modern Critical Text, just that the position itself is not in line with Scripture. This is due to what is called the “Methodological Gap.” In short, there is a period of time between the penning of the original text and the earliest surviving complete manuscript of about 200-300 years. There is no scientific or scholarly process that can cover that gap and fill in what happened during that period of time. This results in a Methodological Gap, which disallows any data based conclusion from being made on the shape and substance of the Bible for at least the first two centuries of transmission. That is why you will hear statements such as “earliest and best” rather than “original.” This modern methodology cannot reconstruct the original because of the 200 + year gap. This explains why advocates of the Modern Critical Text have adapted their doctrine of Scripture to describe preservation of doctrines, not words.

This is where the Word-Doctrine Conundrum finds its place as the fatal flaw of the Critical Text. If it is the case that modern methodology cannot prove their text original, then they cannot say that the doctrines are original by necessity. The practical impact of this is two-fold. In the first place, they cannot argue any one doctrine as being originally orthodox. Secondly, they cannot make any claims about the originality of a particular word or reading. They can only describe how early it appears in the manuscript tradition without relationship to the original. They can say that a reading appeared early in the manuscript tradition, but they cannot say that reading is original. So when a Critical Text advocate argues for a reading, they are really arguing that the reading appeared in the surviving manuscript tradition earlier than another reading. And I mentioned earlier that complete manuscripts don’t enter the surviving manuscript tradition for centuries after the original was penned. In other words, the Modern Critical Text methodology cannot make any claims about “what Paul wrote.” They can only make claims about “what scribes wrote 200 years later.”

This is why I believe so many Critical Text arguments are related to Erasmus or whether or not somebody knows Greek. They do not have any basis for speaking about the Divine Original, so they attempt to demonstrate that their text is “earliest and best.” The problem with this is that they cannot make any consistent arguments about “earliest” or “best” without appealing to the concept of the original. Without the original as an anchor point, “earliest” is simply in reference to the oldest surviving manuscripts. Without the original as an anchor point, “best” is simply an arbitrary reference to the scholars’ opinions of the surviving manuscripts. “Earliest” cannot actually mean “earliest” because we know there were earlier manuscripts, we just don’t have them. “Best” cannot actually mean “best” because we do not have the “best” manuscripts. If we had the “best” manuscripts, the scholars would be calling them “original” because the “best” manuscripts are the ones that represent “what Paul wrote.” This is the Methodological Gap. And because of the Methodological Gap, the Modern Critical Text has to face the Word-Doctrine Conundrum, wherein they arbitrarily say that the doctrines are preserved while the words are not. Yet, common sense tells us that doctrines are derived from words, and without the words, we cannot say the doctrines are preserved. In order to communicate a doctrine, we have to use words, and in order to derive a doctrine from a text, we need that text.

Conclusion

This is the simple argument against the Modern Critical Text. The Word-Doctrine Conundrum is a fatal flaw of the position. You cannot argue preservation of doctrines without preservation of the words that make up the doctrines. This brings us to an important question, “What is the Bible?” According to the Modern Critical Text position, it is a collection of surviving manuscripts. Which means that in reality, “The Bible” is a multitude of bibles. There is not one Bible, only later versions of the Bible. This is not a defensible Christian position. It undermines any absolute claims or appeals to the authority of Scripture. It is a critical flaw that leaves Christians without a defense.

Theological Activism & The “Perfect” Bible

Introduction

A major goal that I have for this blog is to cut through waste of the “Textual Discussion” and dispel what might be considered “non-arguments” to make room for meaningful, theological, conversations. The reality is that oftentimes this discussion is more about who has the better polemic or rhetorical strategy than what is Biblical or true. Critical Text advocates often broaden or even change the meaning of established terms in order to make arguments that won’t work with the established theological lexicon. For example, James White, in the first chapter of his book The King James Only Controversy, has expanded the definition of “King James Only” to apply to people who adhere to Majority Text positions, those who simply prefer the KJV, and even those that do not read the King James at all. Modern Scholars such as Dan Wallace, Dirk Jongkind, and Richard Brash have redefined the term “Providential Preservation” to mean “Partial Preservation” and go on to say that Christians have “good access to” the original but not the original itself. Even further, many scholar-types redefine “The Bible” to mean “the extant manuscript tradition” or something similar.

The effect of this is that the layperson and even a more studious onlooker of the discussion often has trouble engaging at all. One would expect to be more informed after reading the authoritative work on “King James Onlyism,” but instead, they are not even given a helpful definition of the term. I’m sure we can all agree that a Majority Text believer who reads the NKJV is not a “King James Onlyist,” and yet we find such arguments in The King James Only Controversy by James White and How to Understand and Apply the New Testament by Andrew Naselli. Both of these texts are distributed as official reading material in Christian Seminaries.

If scholars and apologists cannot provide a clear definition of what exactly they are writing about, how can their audience be well informed? How can the layperson engage with the topic in a meaningful way? The reality is, they can’t, and that is apparent in nearly every conversation you will see pertaining to the topic of “TR Onlyism,” “KJV Onlyism,” and Modern Textual Criticism. The fact that I have to put quotations around terms should inform my audience that these definitions have been muddied to the point of being useless. It should be the case that the scholar class informs the people of God, and instead they have left them with unclear definitions and have paraded their personal opinions as fact. Much of this blog would be irrelevant if the scholar class simply stuck to scholarship, but instead they have engaged in theological activism.

Theological Activism and the “Perfect Bible”

Some readers may not appreciate the term “theological activism” but I can’t think of a better way to describe it when somebody makes such a severe categorical error as calling somebody who does not read the KJV a “KJV Onlyist.” I don’t know how else to understand why a scholar would redefine the Providential Preservation to mean “Partial Preservation” (i.e. Not preserved) if not to convince somebody that their position is the orthodox position, when it is clearly different. I could give dozens of examples of these misrepresentations and contradictions that are used in the name of propping up the Modern Critical Text and its translations over and above the Traditional Bibles of the Protestant church. One case of this theological activism is the notion of “no perfect Bibles.”

Scholars such as Dan Wallace, Mark Ward, and Richard Brash, among many others, have asserted that there are “no perfect Bibles.” Immediately we should take issue with this framing. We need to consider what is even meant by “perfect.” Does “no perfect Bibles” here mean that there are no complete Bibles? Does it mean that there are no Bibles that can’t be improved upon? In the case of the scholar class, they advocate for both. Unfortunately, these scholar types do not expand on the implications of this theological position. They say that “we have good access” to the Scriptures, and conclude by saying that “it’s good enough for me.” Despite the scholar class being okay with this, if it is the case that there aren’t any complete Bibles, then the people of God do not have all of God’s word. In other words, “good access” means “partial” or “incomplete” access. This is obviously not a Biblical position, nor is it the position of the historical Protestants.

If by “Perfect” we mean “complete,” then it is absolutely necessary for the people of God to have a “perfect” Bible if we also wish to maintain the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. While I will defend the notion of a perfect Bible, I find it more helpful to expand on this concept for clarity. The people of God need a complete, preserved text that is accurately translated in order to have the Word of God in their hands. See, when we throw words around like “perfect,” we leave room for syllable catchers to debate over terminology rather than understanding the theological point. “Perfect” means that something cannot be improved upon. This is true as it pertains to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, if we believe that the Bible was Providentially Preserved. But as it pertains to translation, somebody will always be of the opinion that something can be better. They might admit that the words are translated accurately, and the meaning is accurately conveyed, but it’s not “perfect” because they like this word better than that word and so on and so forth.

The scholar class rejects Providential Preservation, as is apparent in their writings. They claim that we have “good access” and not “full access” to the Scriptures. They believe that the Bible is open to change based on further scholarship and manuscript discoveries. They openly admit that the Bible is changing, and therefore do not believe the Bible to be in a completed state. Many of these scholars, such as Dan Wallace, plainly reject the doctrine altogether. This is not a hot take, it is their words. Let’s suspend reality for a moment and suppose that these scholar types actually do believe we have a complete Bible in the original languages for one moment and discuss the issue of translation and a “perfect” Bible.

If we use the definition of “perfect” to mean, “cannot be improved,” then we can debate all day as to whether or not a “perfect” Bible translation exists. It should come to no surprise that the scholar class has chosen to use the most unclear terminology possible to frame this discussion around “perfect” translations. If we wish to be clear, what is required is not a “perfect” translation according to the definition above, but rather a translation that accurately communicates the original languages. A translation that accurately sets forth the original in a target language is for all practical purposes, “perfect.” This allows for somebody to have a preference for a different translational decision while also being able to admit that the translation they disagree with is still using an accurate word. The purpose for this theological definition is simply to communicate that what the Bible reader is reading is the Word of God, not whether the translators could have phrased something the way you would like it phrased. The question is not, “Could it have been translated the way I think it should be?” It is, “Is it translated accurately? Is the meaning accurately conveyed?” If the meaning of the original is accurately set forth, then the translation is “perfect” or “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics.” So yes, perfect translations are possible, and do exist. If you do not believe your translation is “perfect” in that sense, I’m not sure why you’re reading it. You should either read a “perfect” translation, or advocate that one be made that is “perfect” rather than complaining that none exist. If you believe the ESV isn’t “perfect”, you should either stop reading the ESV or be writing letters to Crossway every day until it is “perfect,” because “perfect” is possible, so as long as you believe we have full access to the original texts.

Therein lies the biggest problem. These scholar types, and those that adhere to their ideology, do not believe we have full access to the originals. According to them, we have “good access,” and that is sufficient for them. Even if they did believe a translation could be “perfect,” they do not believe that we have the required material to create such an object. Their problem is twofold. They do not believe God preserved His Word completely, and they do not believe that even if it were, it could be translated accurately enough to be called “perfect.” Both of these opinions result in one very dangerous reality – the people of God do not have in “all Scripture” in their hands when they open a Bible. They have “good access” to “all Scripture,” not full access.

Conclusion

Due to this two-fold problem, the scholar class has had to present their opinion as being correct over and above the “antiquated” notion that God preserved all of His Word and made it available today. Richard Brash attempts to resolve this issue by saying, “we don’t necessarily need every word all at once” (Richard Brash. A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How God Preserved the Bible. 62.) In other words, the Bible is preserved, just not available right now. He has to play with the definition of “preserved” in order to continue to defend the notion that the Bible is preserved. But who would say that a jar of pickles is preserved if we don’t know where the jar of pickles is? We may know that the jar of pickles existed at one point, and that the pickles were preserved, but we cannot say it is preserved unless we have it now. That is why the concept of availability is deeply connected with the doctrine of preservation.

This is yet another example of the contradictions and redefinitions required to maintain that the theology of the Modern Critical Text aligns with Christian Orthodoxy. Ironically, if we do not have the preserved original Bible, there would be no such thing as Christian Orthodoxy in the first place. Bart Ehrman explores this concept at great length in his book, Lost Christianities. If we do not have the full cannon, and further scholarship and manuscript discoveries can change the shape of the text, we effectively have an open canon. That is why scholars such as Michael Kruger have argued that simply having the proper list of Biblical books is enough to say that we have the canon. In order to defend the Modern Critical Text and a closed canon, one has to argue that the words in the canon have nothing to do with the preservation of the canon itself. The canon and the words in the canon are said to be preserved differently. The separation of the canon and text is yet another example of how the scholar class confuses the discussion because you cannot argue for a closed cannon and the Modern Critical Text if the words are considered. The reality is that books of the Bible are the substance of the words, not just the book covers.

The purpose of this article was to highlight the contradictions in the argumentation of those that advocate for the Modern Critical Text focusing on the claim that there “are no perfect bibles.” When we examine such claims, we can always find that terminology is being used too broadly or in such a way that actually changes the definition of that terminology. Such practices contribute to the confusion in this discussion are massively unhelpful. If it is the case that the Bibles we read are not “perfect,” or “having all the required or desirable elements,” what exactly is it that we are reading?

The Most Important Issue Facing the Church?

Introduction

In my time writing this blog, I have had the blessing of personally corresponding with people in my audience. I often hear many of the same stories. Their church will have a speaker come in and teach on the preservation of Scripture and the speaker inevitably talk about what is commonly referred to as Modern Textual Criticism. Either the speaker will defend the theological notion that “major doctrines” have been preserved or present the case that the majority of variants are those related to scribal errors and that there aren’t any “major variants”. In other words, they are presenting a version of Dan Wallace or James White’s argument. In the interest of believing that these pastors are doing their best with the material they are familiar with, it seems that in most cases this is a situation where men have simply not acquainted themselves with the full breadth of material available on the topic.

I am not of the opinion that somebody needs to know Greek or Hebrew to get a grasp on what the modern scholars are saying, one simply needs to read the scholarship. I say that because when the scope of available resources produced by Modern Critical Text (MCT) scholars is considered, one does not get the impression that MCT is a sufficient mechanism to defend or support the preservation of Scripture. You do not need to know Greek or Hebrew to come to this conclusion. Many people use the premise of Dan Wallace’s argument to claim that the modern effort of Textual Criticism actually supports the doctrine of preservation. Yet Dan Wallace, in his argument, admits that we don’t have a Bible and cannot know if we did, even if we had it in our hands.

“We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”

Elijah Hixson & Peter Gurry. Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii. Quote by Dan Wallace.

Dan Wallace is often heralded as one of the most powerful defenders of the text of Scripture, yet here he is outright denying that we can even know what Scripture is. When I talk to people in my audience who have had this experience, they often report that these guest speakers appeal to Dan Wallace, James White, and Richard Brash. Yet, White, Wallace, and Brash are not alone in their evaluation of Scripture. Here is a sampling of quotations from mainstream MCT scholars to demonstrate my point.

“I do not believe that God is under any obligation to preserve every detail of Scripture for us, even though he granted us good access to the text of the New Testament.”

Dirk Jongkind. An Introduction to the Greek New Testament. 90.

“I do not think the method is of any value for establishing the text of the New Testament”

Bengt Alexanderson. Problems in the New Testament: Old Manuscripts and Papyri, the New Coherence-Based-Genealogical Method (CBGM) and the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). 117.

“The reason is that there is a methodological gap between the start of the textual tradition as we have it and the text of the autograph itself. Any developments between these two points are outside the remit of textual criticism proper. Where there is “no trace [of the original text] in the manuscript tradition” the text critic must, on Mink’s terms, remain silent.” 

Peter Gurry. A Critical Examination of the Coherence based Genealogical Method. 93.

“The New Testament philologist’s task is not to recover an original authorial text, not only because we cannot at present know on philological grounds what the original text might have been, nor even because there may have been several forms to the tradition, but because philology is not able to make a pronouncement as to whether or not there was such an authorial text”

DC Parker. Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament. 27.

“We are trying to piece together a puzzle with only some of the pieces.”

Peter Gurry. A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence Based Genealogical Method. 112.

The opinion of the scholar class points to the reality that MCT does not aim to unearth or confirm “exactly what Paul said,” only to “grant access” to an early text to varying degrees of certainty. The case they are making is that while we do not have the originals, what we do have is good enough. See Richard Brash’s optimistic perspective on the evidence,

“We do indeed have ‘access’ to these words, if not with miraculous perfection, then with an extremely high level of accuracy and certainty. And God has done this. What is good enough for the Holy Spirit is good enough for me.”

Richard Brash. A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How God Preserved the Bible. 64.

In Brash’s writing, we see what appears to be a major identity crisis taking place between his theology of Scripture and his adherence to the theology of Modern Textual Criticism. As we see in the quoted material above, Brash attempts to connect his belief that we do not have the original to his doctrine of Scripture which by necessity must claim that we have the original. This results in the claim that what is available is good enough and must be good enough. Rather than arriving at Ehrman’s conclusion, which is that God did not preserve His Word, Christian scholars take the same data and scholarship and arrive at the opposite conclusion – that what we have must be what God preserved. And what we have isn’t perfect, so therefore God must not have intended to give His people perfect access. Rather than conclude that the Bible is not preserved like Ehrman, they simply say it is preserved in an incomplete state. Brash wrestles with this reality in the pages of this book.

“God preserves Scripture for us, by his ordinary providence. A miracle would be so much ‘neater,’ but what we find is more like a muddle than a miracle.”

Ibid. 43.

So is the Bible preserved with “Miraculous perfection” or is it “More like a muddle?” It seems that the MCT scholar types believe both simultaneously. They believe that the Bible is a muddle of manuscripts and that the muddle is necessarily “perfect” in its own special kind of way. Yet in order to arrive at this conclusion, we have to suspend our definition of “miracle,” “perfect,” and “preservation.” The difference between these scholars and Bart Ehrman is that they have adjusted what it means for the Bible to be “preserved.” To an outsider who doesn’t agree with the scholar class on this issue, Brash’s commentary appears to be conflicted and inconclusive. It is unfinished, like the Modern Critical Text.

So How Important is This?

After all of the conversations I have had with my audience, a common response they get is that this is a “secondary issue.” I disagree with this notion, though I can appreciate why conservative Christians have this opinion. The church is plagued with different brands of Critical Theory, Postmodernism, Liberalism, Intersectional Feminism, Secular Gender Ideology, Side-B Theology, Legalism, Antinomianism, and New Age Word of Faith movements (to name just a few). What I do not want to do is minimize the danger of these ideas in the church or the importance of battling them. What I do want to do is make the case that these issues will continue to multiply until the church can unite around the topic of Bibliology. How can Christians respond authoritatively if they have no definitive, unchanging, source of authority? Christians need to be unified in where the authority of their arguments come from.

I have watched debates surrounding all of the above issues, and the major through line in all of them is that opponents of Christian orthodoxy have no respect for the authority of Scripture. I think the conservative proponents of both sides of the Bibliology debate can agree there. Conservative Christians often point this out, but often stop before they ask the question, “why?” Could it be the case that all of these people use Scripture to support their arguments? The reality is, they usually do use Scripture. Everybody in my audience can likely agree to the fact that these people are twisting Scripture, but how can we make that case with Modern Critical Text theology? If what constitutes Scripture is ever shifting, and it can be changed by any new discovery or scholarly opinion, what is wrong with playing outside the lines? Let me point you to another passage in Richard Brash’s pamphlet to demonstrate my point.

“I must admit that there are some difficult, unresolved questions about certain verses in the New Testament, like the end of Mark’s Gospel, or the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). These verses are often printed in a different font in modern Bible translations, or included in brackets, because it’s doubtful whether they were part of the original book. It’s hard to give a definitive answer to these questions now, but that doesn’t mean that further scholarship or manuscript discoveries won’t reveal an answer to us in the future.

Ibid. 59. Emphasis mine.

This argument gives free license to anybody who wants to twist Scripture for their own devices. Those that have built entire heterodox ideologies on Scripture do so with the knowledge that most modern conservatives do not have a stable text, and worse, that they are further from having a stable text than they have ever been. Yes, I do believe that the enemies of the faith are well aware of Christianity’s Bible problem and they are happy to take advantage. But the MCT theology does not stop at the uncertainty of the text.

Advocates of the MCT like Richard Brash and Mark Ward go on to say that there are no perfect translations and openly advocate that people with zero knowledge of the original languages decode the Bible with lexicons. While I don’t think that somebody needs to know Greek to understand the MCT position, it does seem reasonable to know Greek if you are attempting to read and translate Greek words. If you’ve ever used a lexicon, you know that you can do whatever you want to the meaning of the text by removing a word, playing with its definition as it appears in different contexts, and inserting it back into the text. This results in a total change of meaning of the passage. People do this to change doctrine to support every single heterodoxy facing the church I listed above. The Passion Translation is essentially an entire translation made using this methodology. Ironically, D.A. Carson, who would not agree with me on my Bibliology, details the danger of Word Studies in his book, Exegetical Fallacies. One point I have tried to communicate over the years is that the MTC methodology extends far beyond the actual methods of textual criticism. The scholar class of the Modern Critical Text presents a theology of translation, Bible reading strategy, and exegesis. It forms a complete pipeline from creating the text in its original languages to how the layperson actually reads and experiences the Bible.

Rather than trying to debate which issue is most important, I will simply say they are all important. Intersectionality and various Critical Theories aren’t any less dangerous because the debate over Bibliology exists. That also does not mean that the issue of Textual Criticism isn’t important. All of the errors I listed above violate the truth that is set forth in God’s Word, and any assault on God’s truth in Scripture is a battle worth fighting. The reason I disagree with the notion that any one of these is “more important” than the issue of Modern Textual Criticism or that MCT is a “secondary issue” is because Scripture is the foundation for our answer to every errant doctrine. And if we do not know what Scripture says, we have no response to those wishing to attack the Christian faith. It is my perspective that the people of God have to be unified on this issue in order to give a unified response.

Conclusion

Rather than arguing that Bibliology is the most important issue facing the church, I want to make the case that all of the extremely important issues will continue multiplying until the people of God are united on this point. It is clear that the enemies of orthodoxy are not just disagreeing with the authority of Scripture, they are using the authority of Scripture and twisting it. It is true that enemies of the faith would do this anyway because they always have, but with Modern Textual Criticism and its accompanying theology, they have been given powerful tools to do their work. They use whichever translation or word study favors their ideology. They use the methods presented by the scholar class to bolster their arguments against orthodoxy. The Modern Critical Text and its underlying methodology is the anti-apologetic for the Christian faith. We saw a visual demonstration of this during James White and Jeff Durbin’s debate with an atheist, where the atheist mockingly held up a number of different texts and threw them in the trash, indicating that Christians have no idea what their own text says. White and Durbin seemed to miss the point completely, but it was powerful to those that saw what he was doing. And that is the reality, that proponents of the Modern Critical Text have a difficult time recognizing that their methodology is an anti-apologetic. In fact, they frequently claim that it is the only apologetic while the enemies of the faith state that their Bible uncertainty problem invalidates all of their claims.

One major idea that I wish to communicate in this article is that the current theology of Modern Textual Criticism is not an apologetic for the authority or preservation of Scripture. I presented a variety of material from well respected scholars in the field to demonstrate that the scholar class does not believe that the original Bible exists today. What we have is “good access” though what we have access to may change with the scholarship. The reality is that it has changed with the scholarship, and continues to change, and not in a more confident direction. According to Dr. Peter Gurry, the current direction of scholarship has caused more uncertainty in the text of Scripture.

“In all, there were in the Catholic Letters thirty-two uses of brackets compared to forty-three uses of the diamond and in Acts seventy-eight cases of brackets compared to 155 diamonds. This means that there has been an increase in both the number of places marked as uncertain and an increase in the level of uncertainty being marked. Overall, then, this reflects a slightly greater uncertainty about the earliest text on the part of the editors.”   

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence Based Genealogical Method. 7.

As we see from the above quote, the scholars are clearly articulating that the definition of Scripture is unclear and becoming more so with every new articulation of the Modern Critical Text. That is to say that this problem will not resolve itself, and will not be resolved by the current effort of MTC. Dan Wallace and James White do not have an answer for Bart Ehrman. And so I propose that this is one of the most pressing issues facing the Christian church, because the Christian church only has doctrinal authority insofar as the Bible has doctrinal authority. And if the Bible is changing, it is not authoritative. Any claim, argument, response, or apologetic that the Christian gives is void of authority under the MCT paradigm. I have a hard time believing that anybody could consider the quoted material in this article and arrive at any other conclusion. Christians need to have an unchanging Bible that is defined and available, or our claims are void of authority. That is why I argue that this issue is far more than a “secondary issue.” That is why I continue to write on my blog, because I believe with more information, Christians will change their mind in their support for the Critical Text and return to the historical Protestant position on the definition, purpose, and use of the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but history tells us a return to the Word of God results in great revival.

“The KJV is Too Difficult”

Introduction

In my experience talking to people about the KJV, the most common comment I hear is that it is too difficult to read. This was also my impression for the first ten years I was a Christian. It was the reason that I adopted the NKJV initially upon switching to the Traditional position on Scripture. From the time that I converted to Christianity I had heard that the KJV was a “beautiful translation” but that it wasn’t worth using over other translations because it was “too hard to read.” I was explaining this to my friend, who had been telling me to read the KJV for years for its value in understanding the Puritans better, and he asked me an important question, “Have you tried reading it?” I hadn’t. I was simply going off the opinions of all the people that had told me it was difficult. At the time I was doing a reading plan where I was reading 10 chapters from the Old Testament, 5 chapters from the New Testament, a Psalm, and a Proverb every day. I decided to do my next day’s daily reading in the KJV to test if it was too difficult to read. I figured that my daily reading offered a balanced sampling of the text and I’d be able to determine for myself if what I had heard was true. What I found was that it was surprisingly easy to read. It wasn’t much more difficult than any translation I had read before. Here is a sampling from the KJV to demonstrate my point.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)

“Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: But he that hateth reproof is brutish. A good man obtaineth favour of the Lord: But a man of wicked devices will he condemn.” (Proverbs 12:1-2)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-3)

If I were to listen to Mark Ward, or any one of the number of people that told me the KJV was too difficult to read, I would have never found out that the KJV is quite easy to read in most places. The above sampling is demonstrative of the average syntax and vocabulary you will find in the KJV. If I had simply used John 1:1-3 as an example, my reader might not have even known I was quoting the KJV. That is not to say that there are not difficult passages, or that one will pick up a KJV and read it without having to look up any words. What I am saying is that the KJV is not as hard as many people describe. In this article, I am not going to focus on how easy or difficult the KJV is, however. I am going to make a case that the reading comprehension level of a translation should not be a primary deciding factor in whether or not a translation is “good.”

Reading Comprehension Levels and Translation

I have advocated before that the primary criteria for choosing a translation should be theological. Most people know that the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, but often times do not understand how that relates to translation. I was watching a video the other day, and the creator of the video stated that, “The original Bible translation was in Hebrew and Greek.” This statement is incorrect, because the Hebrew and Greek texts are not translations. When it comes to the Bible, a translation is something that takes the Hebrew and Greek original text, and converts it into a target language, like English or Spanish. Theologically speaking, that translation is the Bible insofar as it translates the original accurately. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about this part of the discussion. Many people believe that translations are simply tools and not the Word of God. Others believe that a translation cannot be completely accurate. Even more believe that meaning is lost in translation to such a degree that the original message of the text cannot be communicated into a target language. That is why you will often see people chained to an online lexicon as they try to decipher the “true meaning” of every word. The reality is that Hebrew and Greek can be translated, and have been translated for hundreds of years.

These opinions on Scripture form the theological basis for a reality in which there isn’t a single translation of the Hebrew and Greek that can be called “perfect,” or more precisely, “accurate.” See, if a translation cannot adequately communicate the original to a target language, then learning Greek and Hebrew is absolutely necessary to read the Bible so that the “true meaning” can be ascertained. This is also why modern scholars advocate for reading multiple translations, because according to them, no one translation gets it right. This is an argument made by Mark Ward in his book, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Version. The situation is far worse in reality, according to the scholars. See this quote by Dan Wallace,

“We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”

Elijah Hixson & Peter Gurry. Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism. xii.

We see here that the scholarly opinion is that the modern church does not have “exactly what the authors wrote” in any Greek text or translation. So the problem is twofold – the originals cannot be ascertained, nor can they be accurately translated. According to these scholar types, the modern reader must stitch together a number of translations, but for what purpose? If “exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote” aka “What Paul said” cannot be determined, what value does reading any translation carry for the Christian?

One of the critiques I have had of the “KJV is too difficult” approach is that it isn’t the real issue for the modern critical text types and from a Traditional perspective, it is extraordinarily low on the list of things that should be discussed first. The scholars are first saying that we do not know what the Greek and Hebrew originals contain. They are then saying that that text cannot be perfectly or adequately communicated by way of translation. What is the importance of a translation being too difficult if one believes the theological principles of the Modern Critical Text exemplified by Dan Wallace in the quote above? At that point, the text could be written in Latin or Twitter vernacular and it wouldn’t actually matter because the reader would be just as uncertain of the text no matter how easy or hard it is to read.

As much as I’d like to suspend reality and have a discussion over the translational choices of the KJV, it is impossible to avoid the theological core that undergirds many critiques of the Authorized Version. Those that critique it, for the most part, do not even believe the Bible as it was originally written exists today. To people who believe the modern critical text paradigm, the conversation over translations is actually irrelevant, because they do not believe any translations set forth the original accurately. They will usually add a major caveat that this “does not effect any major doctrine,” but how would they even know that? If they do not know what the original said, they have no basis for making such a claim. There is a fundamental disagreement that cannot be resolved by discussing issues of translation methodology. In order to have that debate, everybody must agree at the very least on what the Bible is, and whether or not we have it. You have to have a translatable text to discuss translations of that text. This being the case, it does not make sense to establish reading comprehension level as our primary reason to select a translation. There are two criteria from a theological standpoint that serve as the basis for such a decision: 1) The translation made from the Hebrew and Greek originals and 2) the translation accurately sets forth those original texts. The Modern Critical text paradigm does not believe either of these criteria is true for any translation, and so it does not follow that they would make a claim regarding the accuracy or quality of any available translation.

Conclusion

The Modern Critical Text paradigm does not make the case that any original language texts available today are the original text penned by the writers of the New and Old Testament, nor does it make the case that any translations perfectly translate the available original language texts. This being the case, any discussion with somebody who believes the Modern Critical Text paradigm regarding the quality of such texts is nonsensical. We first have to establish what the Bible is and whether we have it for that conversation to mean something. That is why I have made the case that discussing whether a translation should have “thee” and “thou” is irrelevant if one believes that the original Word of God is not set forth in any available text or translation.

It is only fruitful to have a conversation about “which translation is best” if the premise is that the translations in question accurately set forth the original. But that is not the case currently. The scholarly opinion at the moment is as Dan Wallace describes it – that there is nothing available that qualifies in that category. In other words, there is not a Bible today, only later, incomplete, representations of different bibles. This is not the position of those who advocate for a Traditional position on Scripture. The Bible has not fallen away, it has been preserved. And that preserved text can be and has been translated accurately. It is possible to have a Bible translation that is the inspired Word of God. Though there are a variety of opinions on which translation meets this criteria the best within the traditional camp, most would agree that the KJV qualifies as an accurate representation of the original texts in English. This being the case, it is not burdensome to learn some new vocabulary to read the Word of God, which every Christian does regardless of the translation they read. The very same scholars who say that the KJV is too difficult to read also advocate for learning Hebrew and Greek to read the Bible. This, in my opinion, is a contradiction that refutes the “KJV is too difficult” argument. If learning thousands of new vocabulary words and entirely new systems of grammar is not too cumbersome to read the Scriptures, then becoming acquainted with the archaisms of the KJV certainly is not.