To my reader,
I appreciate all of your support and time spent reading my articles over the years. I wanted to give you the opportunity to submit articles, videos, or books for me to address. Fire away!
To my reader,
I appreciate all of your support and time spent reading my articles over the years. I wanted to give you the opportunity to submit articles, videos, or books for me to address. Fire away!
All quoted material references Beyond What is Written by Jan Krans unless otherwise specified.
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 “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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
*Edits have been made to this article for clarity*
In the 1611 Translators to the Readers, they wrote “to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one, not justly to be excepted against, that hath been our endeavor, that out mark”. How do you understand the translator’s expressed intent? It sounds as if they expected the new translation to become the preeminent version?The Paleofundamentalist
A common argument against the exclusive use of the King James Version is that the translation team responsible for the KJV would disagree with such a notion. The first time I personally heard this argument was on “The Dividing Line” program and since then have seen it proliferate across Facebook, Puritan Board, and other similar forums. It is often used as a sort of “appendix” argument. “And on top of that, the KJV translators wouldn’t even agree!” If you consider the quoted material above, there is support that the translators did intend for their translation to become preeminent at the time. The objection that I intend to answer in this article is whether or not pro-KJV advocates make this appeal as a reason for reading the KJV today – which is how the argument is presented by anti-KJV types.
The argument that I wish to address today is one which states that the KJV translators would disagree with primacy of the KJV among the wide range of available translations in the 21st century. It is important to note that the KJV translators would likely reject any translation that excludes Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11, so the claim that the KJV translators would reject modern translations is more supported than many might think. The problem is that the argument that I have seen appeals to the intentions of the KJV translators applied to a situation that they can never possibly address because they are no longer alive. Essentially, the argument is communicating that the intentions of the KJV translators are different than the intentions of the modern reader of the KJV. The challenge with such an argument is that it is impossible to determine how men who are no longer alive would react to a situation that is ongoing over 400 years later. What is interesting is that even though we cannot judge their intentions and apply them to a hypothetical situation, there is more evidence in favor of them hypothetically rejecting modern versions than there is to support the idea that they would be in favor the NIV, for example.
Whenever we see a critique of a position, we have to consider the claim that the critique is aimed to dispel. In this case, if the argument is saying that the KJV translators would disagree with the exclusive use of the Authorized Version today, our assumption should be that it is a response to the claim that the KJV should be used exclusively because that is what the translators intended. I do believe there is support in the writing of the translators which indicates that they did intend for their translation to become preeminent, but that is not what the anti-KJV types are saying. The argument that is made suggests that regardless of what the KJV translators thought at the time, they wouldn’t agree with its exclusive use today.
In the time that I have advocated for the broadly defined Traditional position on Scripture, I have seen many arguments that extend to the KJV, many of which support the exclusive use of the translation for personal and corporate applications. Interestingly enough, I would be hard pressed to produce an argument from memory that appeals to the intentions of the KJV translators to support modern day use of the translation from within the “big tent” Traditional position on Scripture. Appeals to the KJV translators, as I have seen them, are typically given as a response to this sort of argument to suggest that the KJV translators were actually more like minded to the modern KJV reader than the anti-KJV proponent is saying.
Since we’re in the business of not only responding to arguments, but also analyzing them, I find it important to note that appeals to the intentions of the translators are among the weaker class of arguments if we were to catalogue them. That being said, the “Translators would disagree with you” only makes sense if somebody were to propose that the reason people should read the KJV is due to some stated intention of the translators. There are times where I have seen KJV advocates respond to an anti-KJV advocate and reference the translators to rebut this claim, but never present it as a positive case for the KJV as the reason they read it. “I read the KJV exclusively because that was the intention of the translators” does not appear to be a common argument in the pro-KJV crowd. The cases where people appeal to the KJV translators are typically aimed at pointing out that the KJV translators are more like minded to the modern KJV reader than the anti-KJV crowd seems to admit. Strangely enough, the anti-KJV crowd seems to believe that the KJV translators would be happy with the current situation, which as far as I can tell, they would be horrified.
A Non-Argument is a Weak Argument
I think my audience would agree that even if this was an argument that is used, it isn’t among the major catalogue of pro TR/KJV arguments. If we consider this reality, then any argument which appeals to the intentions of the KJV translators to dismiss the use of the KJV is at best a weak proposition, or at worst irrelevant. If anything, the KJV translators did intend to create a Bible that would unify the people of God under one translation. This highlights something interesting that I noted in my last article, that some of the arguments leveled against the use of the KJV seem to be aimed more so at the audience who does not read the KJV than those that do. Since it seems to be the case that nobody reads the KJV as their primary translation because “the translators intended so,” any argument which attempts to address such a claim does so to an empty room. From what I can tell, it is merely an argument that serves as a sort of buffer so that one can claim they have yet another nail in the coffin of the KJV. It is an “add that argument to the stack of arguments” type of argument.
If we can acknowledge that this argument is a response to a claim that doesn’t seem to be made all that often as a primary reason to read the KJV, then it is not unreasonable to point out that somebody making this claim has likely misunderstood the pro-KJV argument altogether. See, if somebody genuinely believes that people read the KJV exclusively due to some articulation of “because the translators intended it such,” it is my honest assessment that the person making the argument has chosen to speak before understanding. It is easier to disagree with a caricature of an argument then to wrestle with a true representation of a position.
In short, “The translators disagree with you” argument is not responding to any claim that I have seen anybody make in my camp. If anything, it is an argument that attempts to misdirect people from the reality that the KJV translators would not be in favor of the modern text-critical effort. Nobody is saying, “I read the KJV exclusively because that’s how the translators intended.” This article might be too “nuancy”, but this is a good example of how people can take an argument, turn it into a caricature, and then dismantle it in a way that doesn’t actually represent what was said. As much as people like to accuse their intellectual opponents of using a strawman in every situation, this genuinely seems to be a case where no other explanation can be offered. Those that make this argument against the KJV have stood up a pretend version of the pro-KJV argument and then argued against it. If I were to suspend the belief that every argument comes from a place of good faith, I might suspect that this argument is responding to an assumption of the pro-KJV position rather than an actual argument that has been made. In any case, add this to the list of half-baked arguments from the anti-KJV crowd.
I’m sure you, like me, have heard or read the words, “I love the KJV but…” from somebody who is about to take a shot at the King James Version. It is difficult, if not impossible, to say anything positive after the word “but” in the English language. I have titled this article in such a way that frames the first half of many arguments I see leveled against the KJV. This framing comes in many shapes and sizes. You may hear somebody say, “I have a profound respect for the historicity and importance of the KJV in the Protestant church but,” or “I enjoy the KJV among many other translations but.” The key operating word in this framing is “but.” The “but” indicates that anything that comes after is necessarily going to contrast with the idea in the first clause. From an argument analysis perspective, we should make sure to take note of this and pay closer attention to the second clause because this is where the substance of the argument is going to be contained – judging purely from the grammatical structure.
When somebody begins a proposition with a statement that has less to do with the point they are trying to make and more to do with relating to the person they are interacting with, it is likely that the person making the argument is using the prefatory statement to appear less hostile or to be relatable. People do this all the time when issuing critiques and do not want to seem overly harsh. For example, “Helen has such a bright personality, but her laugh is too loud!” Another example might be, “Timmy is such a sweetheart, but he is not the brightest kid in the class.” It is a strategy of highlighting something good before offering something bad. We have all heard these types of critiques. As a side note, this is why the word “but” is often discouraged during conflict management because it tends to “cancel out” the first clause of a sentence. “Honey I love when you cook for the family but your chicken is so dry!” Chances are your wife is not going to remember the first part of that sentence, and you may have just started a fight. Regardless of intention, saying something nice followed by “but” and a critique often comes off patronizing and in my opinion it’s best to avoid this if possible.
When we examine examples that match the form of the “I love the KJV but…” argument such as a husband criticizing his wife’s chicken, it is easy to see that it primarily serves to soften the blow of a critique. It is a statement aimed at the audience being more receptive to an argument, not at bolstering the argument itself. In some cases, this is used because the argument itself is quite weak without an appeal to emotion. The person presenting the argument may believe that they have a better chance of changing somebody’s mind if they can relate to them on an interpersonal level rather than convince them with a persuasive argument because the argument is inherently weak. There is nothing wrong with being relatable or trying to find common ground across the aisle, just be weary of the “but” and its function in English grammar. The purpose of prefacing this article with commentary on the word “but” is to highlight that a strong argument doesn’t need prefatory material to butter up the person you’re talking to.
What Typically Comes After “But…”
Now that we have discussed the nature of this type of argument, we can look at some of the common statements that follow the “but.” On one end, I have seen arguments as simple as, “I love the KJV, but I have trouble reading it.” On the other end, and more common from the academic types, is the, “I love the KJV, but it belongs in a museum and people should stop reading it, if they can even decipher it in the first place.” There is a valuable distinction to be made between the people that are saying, “I prefer to read a modern version” and “I prefer that you read a modern version.” The former statement isn’t one that is trying to start a debate, whereas the latter is as they say, “fighting words”.
It is difficult for myself and I imagine much of my audience to comprehend at times how somebody can “love” the KJV while also advocating for people to stop using it as their primary Bible. This points to the reality that many people who make these sorts of arguments see the KJV as something categorically different than those that read it. They love it in the way that you love a memory, or love an old t shirt. A more appropriate term may be “fondness”. They are fond of the KJV and the nostalgia or something similar that comes with it, but ultimately their arguments seem to indicate that they view it as a nuisance or a holdover. They prefer the KJV be used in a very specific way, and that way is in conjunction with a plethora of other translations, if it must be used at all. The only appropriate place for the KJV is alongside something more “intelligible.” The old shirt has its place, like when you’re painting or doing yardwork, but never should be worn in public! This is much different than the way that somebody who uses the KJV as their daily Bible loves it. They love it because it is the translation they read to hear God’s voice, it is the Word of God. Which is why these “I love the KJV but you should stop reading it” arguments often come off patronizing. It would be like having a sibling that says, “I love mom but I can’t wait to put her in a home.”
Regardless of how we feel about these types of arguments, it is important to realize that these are arguments of preference in almost every case. There are people that prefer to read another translation, and there are people that prefer that everybody read another translation. In the case of the academic types, they are basically saying, “You shouldn’t read the KJV because of my preference.” Let me demonstrate this by using a few common arguments.
The KJV has Archaic Words and “False Friends”.
“I love the KJV, but I prefer that you read a modern version because the KJV has archaic words. I prefer that your Bible have a modern vocabulary.”
The Modern Translations are More Scholarly
“I love the KJV, but I prefer that you read a modern translation because the KJV isn’t as scholarly. I prefer that your Bible have more scholars involved in its creation.”
The KJV Translators Didn’t Have Modern Scholarship
“I love the KJV, but I prefer that you read a modern translation because modern translations have new translation methodology and textual scholarship. I prefer that your Bible include the modern scholarship.”
When it comes to understanding the “I love the KJV but…” types of arguments, it is helpful to remember that they come in two forms and usually have to do with the difficulty of the KJV language (as opposed to the underlying text which is typically pointed at the TR/Masoretic Hebrew). The first resulting in “I prefer” and the second resulting in “I prefer that you agree with my preference.” The reason it is merely an argument of preference is because the argument isn’t, as far as I’ve seen, “I love the KJV but it’s not a faithful translation” or “it’s not the Word of God.” Until the argument evolves to that form, it will remain an argument that basically boils down to, “My preferences should be your preferences.” There is nothing wrong with these types of arguments, but it lets us know that this is not an argument over fundamentals in the way it is currently presented. It is an argument over whether we should prefer modern language and modern scholarship over the language and scholarship of the KJV. I am not saying that people do not make this an argument over fundamentals, because some people do, I am saying that the “I love the KJV but…” argument is in most cases, one of preference.
What is curious to me is that these academic types haven’t crossed the line of simply rejecting the KJV as a Bible, because their argumentation certainly points in that direction. That is why I consider arguments aimed at the language of the KJV somewhat irrelevant as they relate to the greater picture. If the KJV is the Word of God in that it faithfully translates the original languages, and people choose to take the extra steps in learning the “False Friends,” archaisms, and vocabulary, then launching a full blown ministry and writing entire books on the topic seems slightly excessive. The consensus among most anti-KJV types is that it still is a Bible, they just believe it shouldn’t be used in place of a modern translation or a number of translations.
The true objection would be if they didn’t believe it was faithfully translated from the original languages, that it prevents people from hearing God’s voice. In other words, it’s not actually a Bible. Some people do make this argument, but the majority does not and I am writing to the majority here. If this were their argument, it would make much more sense based on how much effort they have invested, in my opinion. Many of these academic types say everything except that the KJV isn’t a Bible, even making claims that The Message has better use (How to Understand and Apply the New Testament). Yet, they still, for the most part, do not cross the line. If they do take issues with translation, typically they will say a better word could have been used here or there, but they admit that the word in its historical context was accurately translated. That again, is preference over whether the reader should have to learn a word’s definition in its historical usage. It is very rare that somebody will make an argument that a word was translated incorrectly given its historical usage, though I have seen it done.
Until the time comes that the argument is that “the KJV is not a Bible”, we simply have to recognize that some people do not prefer the KJV for one reason or another, and it doesn’t seem like another person’s preferences should dictate which translation we read. It is my preference against your preference. So if we’re going to make an argument for preference, it is my opinion that there are better arguments to make in that category than the ones presented in the “I love the KJV but…” category. In fact, I think the category itself is rather weak if the goal is to appeal to people who actually read the KJV.
This is the most interesting part of this argument. The majority of people I have encountered who read the KJV do so for many other reasons that do not correspond with the arguments presented by the “KJV is hard to read and therefore you shouldn’t use it” crowd. They learn the difficult words because they have an underlying conviction which appeals to the far greater issue of what the Bible is and how it should be translated and used. The arguments against the language of the KJV aren’t relevant to, as far as I’m concerned, the majority of people who actually read it because they are actively reading it. It is difficult to convince somebody that something is too difficult to understand when they understand it daily in their devotions.
Strangely enough, these types of arguments seem to be aimed more so at people who have not read the KJV more than people who do. Anecdotally speaking, many of the people I have talked to who make some form of this argument admit they haven’t read the KJV in its entirety or have even tried to read it in part. And that is the difficulty of these types of arguments – much of the “evidence” presented is anecdotal. We often hear of these testimonials of people who “grew up reading the KJV” and switched to a modern version because of the difficulty, but that isn’t so convincing when we consider the anecdotal reading habits of people who “grew up reading the Bible” in any translation. That is why I have argued in other places that Bible literacy is a far more pressing issue than the difficulty of the KJV. I wonder if you asked 50 people who “grew up reading the NIV” to define words such as “bier,” “chrysolite,” or “offal” if they could do it. And if they could not, would it be worth writing a book and starting a ministry about how the NIV is too difficult with the purpose of convincing people that it should be retired?
I suspect that is why one of the arguments in this category involves convincing people that they can’t actually understand the words they think they understand (False Friends). People get the impression that if they wanted to read the KJV at some point, they wouldn’t be able to understand it and avoid it altogether. And even that argument is a tad silly because in order to convince somebody they don’t understand a word, you have to define the word and demonstrate its meaning in context, thus teaching them what the word means that you are claiming they don’t understand. So even if you can convince somebody they don’t understand a particular word, in order to prove it to them you actually have to teach it to them, thus giving them one less reason to switch from the KJV. In effect, it mostly serves to dissuade people from reading it in the first place, not to convince people who currently read it to stop. In any case, I find that the substance of the discussion is missed with these types of arguments, and in general they seem to boil down to personal preference more than anything else. There are many arguments in this genre that make claims further than personal preference, but the ones mentioned here do not seem to go that far at face value and therefore are not convincing to those that read the KJV.
To all who have supported this blog and to my reader,
I first wish to thank all of my readers for following my blog over the years. As you may have noticed, I took a sudden hiatus and have not been posting to my blog or my YouTube. I have been taking time to meditate on God’s Word and focus on my family. In the coming weeks, I will be starting a new series focused on addressing three common arguments against the King James Version. The common arguments are as follows:
1. The “I love the KJV but…” argument
2. The “Archaisms and such” argument
3. The “KJV translators would disagree with you” argument
I may extend this series as I begin writing. In addition to this series which is primarily a “KJV” series, I plan on writing an article that addresses some of the core reasons why the Traditional position on Scripture is important and how it can practically benefit you and your church.
I hope this update finds my audience well.
In this article, I attempt to detail the root problem facing the church today.
There are many orthodox statements that are controversial in today’s Christian environment. Many of these now controversial statements have to do with believing in the miracles detailed in Scripture. If I say that God created the world out of nothing in 6 days or that Moses parted the Red Sea there would be scholars and Christians who contest whether those things literally happened in the way they are written in Scripture. It is less controversial to say that Jesus physically rose from the dead, though even that is contested by some who call themselves Christian. Strangely enough, one of the most controversial statements today is that God perfectly and providentially preserved and delivered His Word. If you’re a long time reader of this blog you know that the truism of that statement is not as clear as what people mean by it. The meaning of the above statement is quite unclear, depending on who is saying it.
The way that modern theology is nuanced demands discernment. Every syllable in a theological statement has a purpose, and changing even one or two words can alter the fundamental meaning of a doctrine. Is Jesus God, or is Jesus part of God? Simply adding two words, “part of,” departs from historical Christian orthodoxy. If two words can alter the very core of Christianity, then we must recognize that two words can change doctrine. Now consider what can be affected when an entire passage is altered or re-imagined. As long as I’ve been a Christian I’ve heard professors of the faith interpret Biblical miracles in such a manner that they are no longer miracles by any definition of the word. I have seen every magnificent work of God explained by way of mythology or metaphor. People inject secular paradigms into the pages of the Bible according to the trends of popular opinion or the niche interpretation of a favored scholar. Doctrines that were called “heresy” by all ten years ago have gained enough traction to be a widely held belief in the Church. I can list examples of nearly every doctrine that has been affected by this. An example of this is the widespread belief that the Adam of Scripture was purely metaphorical. According to those who believe in “theistic evolution”, “Adam” represents a people, not a person.
While some naively believe that this does not change the Christian religion, in every case that Scripture is de-spiritualized, some core doctrine is effected, and the Christian religion is changed. See, if there was no literal Adam, then the entire sequence of the fall is purely myth, including the promise of salvation in Genesis 3:15. In short, without a literal Adam, there is no promise or need of a literal Christ . The Federal theology of Christian orthodoxy is laid to waste. The entire structure of redemptive history is altered into some mythical-sociological explanation for how ancient people viewed the world. Despite this fact, I have seen countless men who might be considered modern “giants of the faith” call these re-interpretations a “tertiary issue.” According to them, you can believe in sociological adaptations of Scripture and still have a sound understanding of the Gospel. The reality is that you cannot. So we see that two words or the re-imagining of a passage can alter the core doctrines of the Christian faith.
A simple examination of these interpretations and the widespread acceptance of such demonstrates that many modern Christians are willing to compromise the fundamentals of the Christian religion and call just about anything an “open handed issue.” The evidence this problem can be found by simply reviewing the textbooks in the curriculum of most seminaries or the doctrinal statements found on a church’s website. The average layperson does not know the grave theological error of saying that “Jesus is a part of God.” Anecdotally, my first experience of Christianity was the Young Life, Campus Crusade for Christ, mainstream evangelical version of the religion. In these circles, there was very little that wasn’t considered an “open hand issue.” Theistic evolution was okay, social Trinitarianism and subordinationism were just fine, female pastors were applauded, and the list goes on. I found that the things which were considered closed hand issues were getting caught smoking cigarettes or being too certain about any one theological issue. In other words, things that were socially frowned upon were far more condemning than that which Scripture actually condemns.
It is more controversial in these mainstream evangelical communities to violate a social norm than it is to have serious theological errors. The great success of the book and movie adaptation of the heretical work called “The Shack” is an example of this. The Bible is treated as a sort of crystal ball rather than the governing authority for the Christian. The people I met in my evangelical circles were more likely to get their theology from Christian fiction than the Scriptures. The ever-shrinking “Christianity” section at Barnes and Noble which has turned into more of a spiritual self-help section than a place to find rich theological literature is a market response to a real phenomenon that can be quantified easily by a supply chain department. The point is that the standard in modern Christianity is compromise, not a stalwart defense of the truth. If the Church was healthy, “The Shack” would have been an utter failure. The extent to which fundamental Christian doctrines are tossed aside for the sake of “unity” or “charity” is massive and cannot be understated. Despite this obvious reality, every day another “solid” pastor makes excuses for the foxes in the vineyard. Wolves devour congregations while the shepherds are off herding goats. The root problem is textual atheism, and it has infected every square inch of the Church in 2021.
Atheism in the Church
Textual atheism can be simply defined as a lack of belief that God has preserved and delivered His Word to His people. Within this belief, one can say that “the Bible has been preserved” or that “the Bible is inspired,” but effectively neither of those statements are true to the textual atheist because of how they define, “The Bible.” To the textual atheist, “The Bible” isn’t one text, it is a number of texts which they say “are not doctrinally different.” Even though the words and even passages are different between these texts, they call all of them “The Bible” while saying that not a single one of them is distinctly the Bible. “The Bible” can change in its wording because of the arbitrary claim that “no doctrines are affected.” This results in a potentially infinite number of texts which can be considered “The Bible” while none of them are specifically the correct text. This belief is at the center of what is called “The Critical Text” which is the foundation for modern bibles such as the ESV, NASB, CSB, NIV, and NLT.
The theological disease of textual atheism has festered in the Church for decades and we are now seeing a full outbreak of contagion among the people of God. The unfortunate majority of people who subscribe to this cannot know what the Scriptures say because there is not a text that they can identify as “The Scriptures.” That is why it is Textual Atheism. The Atheist says, “God may exist, but I have no evidence to demonstrate that.” Likewise, they say, “The original Bible may exist, but I have no evidence to demonstrate that.” Instead, they state that “We have good access to the Scriptures.” This belief that I have described demonstrates that the modern advocates of this system have no discernment or theological aptitude, because it is clearly a heterodox belief. The Biblical illiteracy of the modern pastor and person in the pew has left the Church defenseless against the enemy and the world. This Theological illiteracy has led to churches being overrun before they even realize they are being assaulted. The apologetics industry has given Christians a false assurance because the apologists aren’t actually addressing the real problem. The text that these apologists call “The Word of God” isn’t really “The Word of God,” it is just another text that contains the bible. That is why the Muslims love to debate our apologists and put those spectacles on display for the world to see. Search “Muslim by Choice” if you want evidence of this.
If I wrote this article five years ago, I may have needed to make a more compelling case that the conservative church is sick, but today the fruit is evident. Nearly every conservative denomination is fighting for its life right now on issues of intersectional feminism, critical “analytical tools,” theological liberalism and progressivism. Those that are not fighting have already lost. What’s worse is that many of the churches who are making valiant stands against these issues are not addressing the root problem. All of these issues can be easily traced back to textual atheism. Every theological error can be approximately explained by the fact that people either don’t believe in what Scripture says, or that they don’t hold it as authoritative, or that they don’t even know what Scripture is. The issue today is no different from the issue in the beginning. It is always a matter of, “Yea, hath God said?” Even the most conservative churches leave the door wide open for these errors to return if they do not address the theological atheism that caused the problem in the first place.
The primary concern for my reader should be that these theological errors put people in eternal danger. Practically, the concern is that Christians do not seem to care, even pastors. Even in the most sound churches, elders are given a pass for poor discernment and shoddy theology because they have the right credential or because they are well meaning. Christians, especially pastors, have somehow fallen into the trap of thinking that because some authority teaches something, that it must be true and orthodox. This isn’t helped by the rampant “celebrity culture” in modern conservative evangelicalism. We see this with men like Dan Wallace all the time. Even though Wallace has outright rejected the doctrine of Providential Preservation and stated plainly that the church does not have the Bible, Christians defend him and invite him to their seminaries and pulpits. Pastors and laypeople alike shout “slander!” at those who have discernment and an ounce of courage to say something about his false doctrine.
This even happens at the local level. I once confronted a confessional (LBCF) pastor for using Ugaritic (Baal worshipping pagans) literature to alter the text and meaning of Scripture in the Old Testament. Despite this clearly violating the confessional standard of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, I was called manipulative and abusive and told that I “didn’t have the education” to make a judgement on the topic. It didn’t matter to him that I had sent him a full analysis of the passage, including exegesis in Hebrew. In his mind the secular authority he had chosen was more valid than the very confession he subscribed to. That is why I no longer deal with individual variants, because it does not matter to these people. As it goes with Atheists, evidence means nothing to the Textual Atheist.
Both examples are evidence that point to deep, spiritual rot in the conservative church. It proliferates across all departments in seminaries. Some are quick to triage the symptoms of this rot (like Critical Race Theory) while failing to address the textual atheism that is the root cause. In many cases, pastors and laymen do not know their Bible or they do and simply do not believe it in the way it was written. Even if these men and women do believe in the authority of Scripture, if they subscribe to the Critical Text, what their Bible says isn’t definitive, authoritative, or permanent. This is because the mainstream doctrine of Scripture teaches that we do not have the original Bible, only “good access” to it. The text that a Critical Text pastor teaches from as God’s Word is changing with every new edition of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). It changes every time a new translation of the ESV is made.
This is how a conservative pastor can use a hermeneutic principle taken from Baal worshipping pagans and still have a pulpit in a confessional church – the Bible is said to be changing, and the way pastors treat it in the quiet of their study shows it. This lack of discernment has led to the destruction of meaning in the words “confessional” and “conservative” and “Biblical.” It is not conservative for a pastor or layperson to literally change the words that are on the page of the Bible like that, and yet it is common practice. Every pastor who has taken a Greek exegesis class is taught to produce their own translation, their own text, and their own meaning. There is no common understanding of what the Bible is, what it says, or what it teaches. The theological liberals know this and have been exploiting the good faith of faithful men and women of God for decades.
The victims of this toxic ideology are the Christians who sit under the teaching in these churches. They look down at the words on the page of their Bible and see that their pastor is changing the words on the fly as he preaches, sometimes changing the meaning of the whole passage. They are led to believe that they are getting the best instruction, all the while their pastor subscribes to the doctrine that the Bible isn’t even translated from the inspired original. Perhaps the pastor does believe in Providential Preservation, and that the words are inspired, but every time that pastor changes the text on the fly he undermines the text he’s preaching from. The person in the pew has no more ability to understand what is going on than the pastor understands what he is doing when he changes the text on the fly. The modern critical text pastor is far worse than Karl Barth in this regard. At least Karl Barth was self aware when he preached from Calvin’s pulpit in Geneva. Barth at least felt a duty to teach historical orthodoxy, even if he himself didn’t believe it. The people in the pew were harmed far less from Barth’s pulpit than they are today from the pulpit of a Critical Text pastor.
This textual atheism is the mainstream conservative position, supported by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy along with the writings of modern textual scholars and apologists. The belief that “God did not intend to preserve His Word perfectly” is standard fare among the intellectual class who produce and advocate for the Critical Text. This is not disputed, and the fact that this statement is passed along as “orthodox” should prove to my reader that there is a sickness in the Church. This has been allowed to fester due to the general Biblical illiteracy among the people of God today. The people in Christian churches do not have the ability to hear theological error when it comes from the pulpit or conference table. You may find yourself offended at the broad statements I’ve made in this article, but if you are, I encourage you to answer the following questions:
If you answered no to any of these questions, you are a textual atheist. You do not believe that God was capable of preserving His Word. You believe that God failed in His promise to be with His people and communicate with them in Scripture. You cannot prove that Scripture has been corrupted in any one place because you do not have the original to compare it against, and therefore your position is based on a Kantian leap of faith. The only way you can get from “The Bible has been corrupted” to “The Bible is inerrant” is one of blind, unthinking, undiscerning, faith. It is a position that puts trust in the scholars and not God. It is the position that would rather trust the interpretation and text of Baal worshipping Ugarites over and above what God says in His Word. It is, plain and simple, a form of functional atheism.
The simple truth is that this textual atheism cannot hold onto the orthodox doctrine of Scripture without a severe contradiction that invalidates it all entirely. Either the Bible is the very Word of God, or “We do not have now – in any 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” (Dan Wallace). The advocates of the Critical Text have not accounted for this contradiction, though they have tried by simply saying that the corruptions do not matter. But we must ask, “How can they know the corruptions do not matter when they do not know what the original said?” They state that the Bible is the Word of God all while believing that we do not have the Bible. No, according to them, we have bibles, and all of them are the Word of God. This is nonsensical and contradictory, unless of course you change the orthodox doctrine of Scripture. The Christian faith teaches that God is powerful and able to do that which he pleases. So the question is not about manuscript evidence, as that is useless to the task at hand. The question is, “Do you believe God preserved all of His word?”