I have moved most of my content to my YouTube channel. I try to post once or more per week whereas before I was writing an article every week. Please join me on my YouTube for a steady stream of content!
I have moved most of my content to my YouTube channel. I try to post once or more per week whereas before I was writing an article every week. Please join me on my YouTube for a steady stream of content!
One of the biggest victories of postmodernism in the church is the demonization of objectivity. Subjectivity is celebrated and put on a pedestal so often that Christianity has all but lost its identity. This is abundantly clear if you have been following the SBC in recent years or have had a conversation with the average person about Christianity recently. There are as many forms of Christianity in 2021 as there are Bible translations. New translations and paraphrases have flooded the market with essentially no real pushback. So called “reformed” men have written textbooks endorsing the MSG.
Rather than fighting against the absurdity of having over 500 English Bible translations, “Conservatives” have labeled this an “embarrassment of riches” and encourage believers to read a smattering of translations. The problem, according to the modern church, is not that there are four different versions of the ESV, or that the MSG exists. The issue, they say, is against the people who decide to read one translation – the “Onlyists”.
It is clear that the battle that mainstream conservative wants to fight is onlyism rather than pluralism in Bible translations. This being the case, I want to examine what is being set forth by a pluralistic view on Bible translations. I have summarized it in a list below.
Unity in Bible Translation
The battle against the “Onlyists” is launched from the place that there is not one translation that is better than another, and that unity should not be had in one translation.. This points to the reality that the pluralists understand translations as a tool to access the Word of God, not the Word of God itself. This of course is stated plainly in the theological statement, “There are no perfect translations.” What this actually means is that there are no perfectly accurate translations. Every translation has errors, and therefore all must be used as a tool to understand Scripture. They claim that this is because language cannot be translated perfectly into another. In other words, translations are tools that imperfectly point to the Word of God.
Now this raises an important questions then, if translations are tools, what exactly is Scripture? What exactly are we looking at when we open up an English bible translation? Since a translation cannot be perfectly accurate, the translation itself is not “the very Word of God,” it is something that estimates or perhaps approximates the very Word of God. This must be true, seeing as the pluralists take no issue with any of the four versions of the ESV that exist. Using just one translation as an example, we can clearly see that the exact material of the translation does not matter.
That means that theologically speaking, the modern view understands the original language texts as “The Word of God,” and that translations are tools that point to it. Since there are no translations that accurately set forth the original, we must then look to what they say about the original language texts. According to them, we do not have the original in any original language texts or in any translations. In summary, not only does the original not exist today, if it did, we wouldn’t know we had it, and further, we couldn’t translate it accurately. That is to say that if you are at a church that holds to the modern doctrine of Scripture, your doctrinal statements mean absolutely nothing.
What is peculiar is that this is not seen as an issue, despite it clearly contradicting even the most simple orthodox statement of faith on Scripture which says, “The Bible is the very Word of God.” If by “the Bible” these statements mean “The Bible we use here at this church,” then the statement itself is actually contradictory because that Bible is just an imperfect approximation of texts that are not original. Despite the fact that this view voids the majority of doctrinal statements found in Church charters and doctrinal statements, the real problem is seen to be the “Onlyists.” That is the fight the modern church wants to take in the 21st century.
As much as conservatives in 2021 want to think that they have a sturdy theology of Scripture, the reality is that they do not. Recently, a pastor stated in a sermon that, “We can get back to what the autographa or original documents said via the transmitted text; it’s truly incredible.” This is quite common, even though there is not a single textual scholar who believes that or says that. If any pastor has done this, he should probably produce that original so that the textual scholars can close shop. The above quote demonstrates the disconnect between what the textual scholars are actually saying and what the average pastor thinks has been said. The problem is that these very same pastors can listen to a Dan Wallace lecture, hear him say that we do not have the original, and somehow come away from the lecture believing that we have the original.
Now the truly paradoxical thing about all this is that the very same people who advocate for this view present the discussion as though the “onlyists” are the problem. Further, the average pastor believes that we have truly found the original while appealing to men who adamantly state the opposite. I invite my reader to come to a conclusion. Does the person who upholds the pluralistic view have any ground to object to any other view of Scripture? Is the battle against the “onlyists” warranted? I will suggest, in conclusion, that the pluralists are sailing in a burning boat, shouting at a boat that is not on fire.
Many Christians believe that it is fundamental to defend the modern doctrine of Inerrancy. This would be true, if the doctrine of Inerrancy actually set forth anything meaningful. According to Mark Ward, Inerrancy means that “The Bible speaks truly in everything it affirms” (Ward. Bibliology for Beginners. 29.) Inerrancy is the doctrine that affirms the inspiration and authority of the Bible, but only in the original texts, which are no longer extant. This effectively makes it an utterly useless doctrine. Despite this fact, Ward gives four Scripture proofs to support this doctrine (I will use Ward’s translation from the book):
Ward continues his thought by saying something quite interesting.
“It is sin to doubt God’s words, and like all sin it is a slippery slope…But how do we know what we have in our hands is really the Bible?”(Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible? 33. Ellipses represent a break.)
So here Ward has to answer the most important question possible. If he does not answer this question adequately, the entirety of his book is useless. The answer to this question informs what is actually substantiated by the doctrine of Inerrancy. It is one thing to say that the Bible is inerrant, and another to be able to point to a Bible and say, “This is inerrant.” So how does Ward answer this question? Well, we know, according to Ward, based on “a work called ‘textual criticism'” (49). This is where I need my reader to pay attention. See how he finishes this thought.
“Here’s where I need to say very directly, don’t be alarmed. Yes, there are differences among Greek New Testament manuscripts. Yes, I sometimes wish they weren’t there, that we knew with precise certainty what every last syllable of the Greek New Testament was. It may even seem like that’s what Jesus promised us.”(Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible? 50.
Ward has used a clever use of words to obfuscate what he is actually saying, so I will translate for you. Surrounding this statement are explanations of the various kinds of scribal errors which do not amount to any serious variants. In this statement, he leads his reader to believe that these are the kinds of variants that we do not know “With precise certainty,” or that we are actually after “every last syllable.” What Ward is actually saying here is that we do not know with precise certainty what the original text said. At that point, whether we are talking about syllables or words does not matter, because there is no amount of granularity that can be determined with his standard. The entire purpose of this chapter is to lower the guard of the Christian’s that read this book. He concludes with this statement:
“The fact is that every available edition of the Greek New Testament gives the same law – and the same grace. They all teach the same Christian faith.”(Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible? 50.
The first thing my reader should notice is that if this is what Ward actually believes, he has no right to attack the TR. In fact, he has no reason to write this book at all because all bibles are basically the same. The TR falls into the category of “every available edition of the Greek New Testament.” So either Ward doesn’t actually believe what he wrote here, or a good portion of his ministry is folly, according to his own standard. Not only is it folly, it is actually sin, again, according to his standard.
Secondly, my reader should notice that Ward introduces his own standard for how you should view the Bible. This is common among the Critical Text crowd. They almost always avoid exegeting the entirely of 2 Timothy 3:15-16. The Scriptures are “able to make thee wise unto salvation” in addition to being profitable for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The Bible is not just a bare bones document that is only to be used for bringing people to Christ. It also informs the Christian’s entire life as it pertains to faith and practice. According to Ward, the “textual critics have weeded them (variants) out with a high degree of confidence” (Ibid. 58). That is to say that Ward has a low degree of uncertainty.
So let’s put this all together. According to Ward, “it is sin to doubt God’s words.” According to Ward, “every available edition of the Greek New Testament gives the same law – and the same Grace. They all teach the same Christian faith.” According to Ward, we can have “a high degree of confidence” in our Bible. So not only is Ward in sin for doubting the TR, he is also in sin for not having full confidence in his own Bible. He is further in sin for teaching people to sin by doubting God’s words. Keep in mind that this is all according to Ward’s own standard that he set in his book.
Lastly, I want my reader to note that nowhere has Ward actually answered the question, “how do we know that what we have in our hands is really the Bible?” He never identifies a particular text or translation and he never says anything other than that “we have a high degree of confidence” that what we have is a Bible. Which is to say, “we have a low degree of doubt.” Which again, according to Ward, is sin. The most important thing to recognize about this “high degree of confidence,” is that it is entirely arbitrary. There is no metric or component of the critical text methodology that actually allows for such a determination, which is apparent in the fact that Ward doesn’t actually substantiate anything he says in this book regarding his levels of confidence. This is the fatal flaw of the Critical Text, and everybody knows it. Mark Ward wrote an entire book about the Bible, and couldn’t even tell his reader what the Bible was, or that they could be fully confident in said Bible. According to Ward, that makes him “in sin.”
My reader needs to recognize that while this theology is actually foolish, but it is also a blessing. It is a blessing because men like Mark Ward very confidently state that they don’t actually believe in a Bible. They believe in a reconstructed text that bears witness to the Bible with a high degree of confidence. That is not the Protestant view, which allows people like you and me to mark and avoid teachers like Ward, Wallace, and White. It is the dividing line. It is the fight of this generation. People have stopped believing in the Bible and the authority of the Bible, and the aforementioned men are leading the charge to convince conservative Christians to do the same.
Mark Ward recently published a pamphlet in November 2020 called, Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?. I’m going to do a full analysis on my YouTube channel in the coming weeks, but I ran across something too good not to comment on here. If you’re familiar with Ward’s work, you know that above all else he values that people be “nice” when disagreeing with him and people he likes. He re-emphasizes this on pages 65 and 66 when commenting on Crossway’s “Permanent Edition.”
Mark Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?. 65-66.
“This means that when Crossway put out a Permanent Text Edition of their popular and excellent translation, the English Standard Version, promising no more revisions, Christian people should have complained on social media (nicely) and written into Crossway to object (nicely).”
Now it is comical that Mark Ward simultaneously lauds the ESV as an “excellent translation” while also stating that it is not excellent enough in its current state to be settled. I have said this often, but it’s entertaining to note that modern scholars praise their modern versions while at the same time commenting on the fact that they aren’t good enough to stay the same for more than a decade or good enough to be read in isolation. If it was such an “excellent” translation, why does it go through revisions so often or need to be supplemented with other “imperfect” translations? I imagine Crossway wouldn’t sell a lot of Bibles if they released a marketing campaign around Ward’s idea of “An imperfect Bible for an imperfect church!” Getting back to my point, we see here that Ward values the first commandment of evangelical scholarship so much he included it twice.
It is ironic that Ward very loudly and repeatedly states how much he needs people to be nice while simultaneously offering the harshest and most uncharitable critiques of people who disagree with him. He slaps people with the same hand he offers fellowship, but it’s fine as long as he does it with a soft voice and plenty silly, quirky, quips and analogies. If you don’t believe me, he literally compares the transmission of the Bible to the germs left on a cookie that one of his kids licked from top to bottom and put back in the cookie jar. In this article, I am going to demonstrate that Ward seems to have an extremely conspiratorial view of what he calls “KJV Onlyists.”
Wide Eyed Conspiracy Theories
On page 67, Ward offers the most honest definition of “KJV Onlyism” employed by Critical Text advocates.
“KJV-Onlyists insist that the KJV is the only truly trustworthy translation of Scripture. It is, they say, the best translation of the best texts.”Mark Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?. 67.
I have been saying for a long time that men like Ward and James White define “KJV Onlyists” as anybody who reads a KJV, but here he says it clearly. What my reader needs to recognize is that when people use the term “KJV Onlyist,” they are not talking about the views of people who graduated from Ward’s Alma Mater. They are talking about anybody who reads a KJV.
After defining “KJV Onlyism,” Ward continues to produce one of the most unhinged takes I have ever seen on page 68.
“It must be pointed out that most KJV-Only Christians believe that the vast majority of Christians who can read Greek and Hebrew are stupid, crazy, or evil (rather than simply wrong) – dupes, dummies, or devils involved in a plot to undermine the Bible’s teaching about Christ’s deity. KJV-Onlyism is, in other words, a conspiracy theory.”Mark Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?. 68.
In a remarkably matter-of-fact statement made by Ward, he actually alleges that “most KJV-Only Christians” believe in a vast conspiracy propagated by “stupid, crazy, or evil” Christians. He shockingly insinuates that people who read the KJV believe that “vast majority of Christians who can read Greek and Hebrew” are “dupes, dummies, or devils involved in a plot to undermine the Bible’s teaching about Christ’s deity.” This is by far the most absurd thing I have read in a very long time. There is a difference between somebody saying, “This textual variant teaches something different about the divinity of Christ” and “There is a vast conspiracy to take Christ’s divinity out of Scripture.” Ironically, there are many people in Ward’s camp who allege that a conspiracy took place in the early church to add Christ’s divinity into the text, and that is pretty mainstream!
I will do my best to pick through Ward’s wild ideas. In the first place, the number of Christians who can read Greek and Hebrew is astonishingly small. Secondly, this statement demonstrates that the foremost recognized “KJV Scholar” hasn’t the slightest clue who actually reads the KJV. I suspect this could be due to the fact that he believes nobody can actually read the KJV. It seems that in order to make sense of why people read the KJV, Ward has concocted a world in which there is a massive group of conspiracy theorists in the church. This must be the only reason somebody would read a KJV! Instead of charitably stating that people who read the KJV simply disagree with the conclusions of modern textual scholarship, he sends his reader off the deep end into a ridiculous conspiracy theory that KJV readers are unhinged conspiracy theorists. Even though Ward states that “They say” that it is because the KJV is the best translation of the best texts, Ward posits that the true reason is a rampant conspiracy theory plaguing the church.
It’s funny how Critical Text advocates cannot write a book about their theology without talking poorly about the KJV and those who read it. In Ward’s case, it seems he got done watching CNN and realized that the “QAnon” strategy could also work in the realm of the Bible translation debate. Here’s the strategy:
There are certainly people that believe as Ward has described above, just like there were/are people who believe things on anonymous message boards. The same way that CNN paints “most conservatives” as “QAnon,” Ward paints “most KJV Onlyists” as conspiracy theorists. This is honestly embarrassing and I’m not sure who signed off on actually publishing these statements. It is such a bad take, in fact, that it is a conspiracy theory in itself. If Ward truly values being nice and charitable so much, it makes zero sense to call most of the 55% of people who read a Bible conspiracy theorists.
Overall, I found Ward’s take highly entertaining. He would rather believe that most KJV readers are conspiracy theorists than actually look at the arguments and interact with them. If anything, this should be encouraging to my readers who are TR advocates because the Critical Text guys have resorted to CNN arguments in their attempts to justify their text. When it comes down to it, Critical Text advocates have openly admitted that they have no ultimate standard by which they judge texts (James White), and that they don’t have a text today (Dan Wallace). I’ll leave my reader with four quotes, which are mostly for Mark Ward, because I know that he reads my blog.
“It is found again in the words of Jesus, who said, ‘The Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35).”Mark Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?. 30.
“Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved”Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15.
“Think about this: if we need the testimony of a professional historian to testify that the testimony of Luke the Apostle is reliable, then who’s going to testify that the professional historian is reliable?”Mark Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?. 42.
“At some point, we’re just going to have to trust someone – why not let it be God?”Mark Ward. Bibliology for Beginners: What Does the Bible Say About the Bible?. 42.
Greetings to those that follow my blog! I wanted to make a quick post letting people know that I have also been posting content on my YouTube channel which can be found here. My goal for 2021 is to continue posting articles and to also do video reviews of various blogs, comment threads, and other interactions related to the theology of textual scholarship on my YouTube channel. Here is a video I recently did reviewing the Critical Text view on preservation.
There are a number of ways the textual criticism discussion goes awry. Sometimes the conversation is hyper focused on textual variants and “textual data,” other times the topic of discussion is Erasmus or the Reformed. What is almost always ignored is what the Scriptures say. There is a reason the Critical Text advocates do not ever wish to talk about theology, and it is because the theology of the modern critical text system is completely bankrupt. It has strayed so far from Protestant orthodoxy that it shares similarities with Rome.
In this article, I will discuss why the Critical Text Advocate cannot justifiably debate variants in relation to the Divine Original.
The Methodological Gap
The Modern Critical Text methodology, which is allegedly the only “meaningful” and “consistent” apologetic, has what the scholars call a “methodological gap.”
“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.
“There still remains a gap between the form of the text from which we conclude by critical examination that the extant witnesses must be descended and the yet older forms from which that oldest recoverable text must be descended…Recognizing that there is a gap between the oldest recoverable forms of the text and the creation of the work requires us to address one final topic…The New Testament philologist’s task is not to recover the 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 of 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. Kindle Edition. 26-27).
This means that the text critical methodologies employed by modern scholars and apologists cannot speak to the authenticity of any variant in relation to the original because modern textual criticism isn’t designed to deal with the concept of the original.
The scholars and apologists are quick to brag about the “scientific” nature of textual criticism, but in doing this, they give up the ground necessary to actually defend any singular textual variant as “authentic”, or the whole of Scripture for that matter. When such a methodological gap is recognized, so too is recognized the reality that this gap prevents advocates of the Modern Critical Text from speaking to the authorial text of Scripture based on the “textual data.” The textual data does is limited by the reality that there is nothing that connects the “earliest and most reliable manuscripts” with the autographic text. There is no way to verify that the reconstructed text is the original text, hence the methodological gap.
This is where the discussion of textual variants is extremely misleading and even deceitful. When Critical Text advocates make claims about the “authenticity” of a variant reading, they have stepped away from their “consistent methodology” to argue from a totally different epistemic starting point which assumes the concept of the Divine Original. As noted above by DC Parker, even the concept of one authorial tradition is not certain because of this methodological gap.
The concept of an “authorial” or “original” text is something that is theological in nature. It is something that is assumed a priori from Scripture. If the Scriptures were inspired by God(2 Tim. 3:16), there is one text that was inspired, and therefore Christians argue for one inspired text. This concept is not something that can be demonstrated from the textual data and is something that has been increasingly called into question in today’s world of textual scholarship.
“Books and the texts they preserve are human products, bound in innumerable ways to the circumstances and communities that produce them. This is also true of the New Testament, despite its status as a uniquely transcendent, sacred text, held by some to be inspired by God…Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved – the purported meaning of texts also change…Paradoxically, attempts to edit and preserve these important books multiplies rather than settles the many forms in which they appear, as each generation revises both the New Testament and the Gospels in concert with its own aspirations, assumptions, theological perspectives, and available technologies.”Jennifer Knust & Tommy Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 15-16.
The Bible, according to these so called “Evangelical” textual scholars, is nothing more than a human product which reflects the communities of faith that produced it.
The methodological gap is the death of defending the Scriptures for Christians. It is an admission that any conclusion that scholars and apologists arrive to cannot be said about the authenticity or originality of any given verse or word in Scripture.
Think about this methodological gap the next time you engage with a Modern Critical Text advocate. They will vigorously debate passages such as Mark 16:9-20 and 1 John 5:7, despite the fact that they have no “consistent” reason to do so. What they actually can debate is whether or not those verses or passages should be printed in our Modern Critical Texts, but that’s it. The nature of this modern text has no credentials, no progeny. All that we know about these manuscripts is that they were created, and that a small number of them survived. We have no clue who created them or used them or if they were even a part of the manuscripts used by actual Christians. The methodological gap proves that modern critical text advocates have surrendered the ground necessary to defend any place of Scripture as authentic. It is simply inconsistent to do so, because the methodological and axiomatic foundation of the Modern Critical Text has nothing to say about the original, let alone if there ever was one original.
When a Critical Text advocate tries to argue for authenticity, they are borrowing a concept that does not exist in their system from another system, one that is theological. They borrow from a system that asserts the concept of an original from Scripture, which some would call an “a priori” assumption. This a priori assumption is one which is not consistent with the modern critical methodology. As some popular apologists point out, this is the sign of a failed argument. It proves that if the point of the discussion is the Divine Original, the Modern Critical Text advocate has no consistent reason to contribute. While the goal of some Evangelical textual scholars may be the original, there is certainly nothing in the methodology that can actually make that happen.
That is why those in the Received Text camp say that there are no modern critical textual scholars trying to find the original, because a desire to find the original doesn’t and cannot actually translate to anything tangible due to the methodological gap. Instead of rejecting the Modern Critical Text, scholars instead say, “No doctrines are affected” and hope that Christians don’t think too hard about it. It is a failed system if the goal is the Divine Original, and scholars know it. So when a Modern Critical Text advocate tries to say that a passage or verse is not original, the simple response is, “What does your system have anything to do with the original?” They cannot argue such claims from their system, and that is the brutal reality that Modern Critical Text advocates continue to ignore.
Recently, Dr. Peter Gurry posted an article called “Cardinal Bellarmine, Trent’s Major Apologist, On Important Variants” on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. The article is a continued effort to conflate the TR with the Vulgate. Gurry ends the article with this conclusion:
“One last observation about Bellarmine’s discussion. I notice a similarity, mutatis mutandis, between Trent’s view of the Vulgate and some present-day Protestant defenses of the TR. Both believe that usage has a key role in confirming authority. For Trent, the Vulgate’s authority is confirmed “by the lengthened usage of so many years.” For TR proponents, the TR’s authority is confirmed by the usage of such great theologians (the Reformers). Neither view convinces me, but it remains instructive to see how Bellarmine argues for his case.Peter Gurry. Cardinal Bellarmine, Trent’s Major Apologist, On Important Variants. March 11, 2021.
In the first place, Gurry is incorrect that “present-day Protestant defenses of the TR” are confirmed by “the usage of such great theologians.” I have written over 250,000 words describing and defending the “present-day” Protestant TR position without having once argued for authority of the TR by virtue of Reformed Theologians who used it. In all of my correspondence with Dr. Jeff Riddle, Pastor Truelove, and many other defenders of the TR, I have never once heard this argument presented as it is in the article. We of course utilize Protestant theologians in our defense of the Received Text, but we appeal to the doctrines they espoused, not the authority of the Protestants themselves.
The unfortunate reality is that Gurry’s audience will continue to believe that the defense of the TR is based on what some called “Reformationolatry” or something similar as a result of this kind of argumentation. This of course is a not-so-subtle polemic which is intended to reduce the TR position to simple adherence to tradition or perhaps an appeal to the authority of the Reformed. To be fair to Dr. Gurry, his portrayal of the TR position is far less disingenuous than that of James White, but still deserves some clarification nonetheless. In this article, I will clarify the argument that is made by present-day Protestant defenders of the TR, and my reader can decide if the TR position has a mutatis mutandis with Rome.
The Argument from Providence
The argument made by the present-day Protestants in defense of the TR is that the authority of the text is vindicated by usage by the people of God. That is to say that the average person can look into history and see the text that was actually used. The argument is not, “As Reformed theologians used the TR, so do we.” When a person opened up a Bible post-Reformation, it was a TR or translation of it. The appeal to Calvin, Turretin, Ussher, or Owen is done due to the fact that these theologians represented the orthodoxy of the day. I would find it peculiar if anybody studied in Reformation and post-Reformation history would take issue describing Turretin and Owen as accurate representations of Protestant Orthodoxy. To give some context, Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology was the standard textbook at Princeton Theological Seminary until the late 19th century when it was replaced by Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. This points to the historical reality that Turretin not only represented the orthodoxy of his day, but orthodoxy well after he died.
Assuming that my reader is willing to accept simple facts of history, the argument as presented by Gurry should be recognized as a poorly articulated simplification of the actual position presented as defended by present-day Protestants. There are two important components to the argument for the authority of Scripture that I will present to my reader. The first is that the authority of the Bible as presented by the TR position is given by God. The Scriptures are self-authenticating, not authenticated by the people or theologians that have used them. The second is the argument from Providence which simply points to historical record to vindicate this theological reality. The reason this has become such a controversial topic is possibly due to the fact that some Critical Text apologists have taken up the opinion that the TR didn’t even exist during the Reformation.
The important distinction that I want to make sure my reader understands is the difference between something that gives authority to the Scriptures vs. something that vindicates the authority of the Scriptures. The average person can look into history, see that the text of the Protestants was the TR, and note the historical record vindicates the theological position presented by present day Protestant defenders of the Received Text. The TR is said to be a providential text because it was the one that was used. That is how providence works. This has been a difficult thing for Critical Text advocates to admit. For example, in an unguarded moment, James White recently asserted that The Vulgate was the text of the Protestant Reformation in a video made with Stephen Boyce.
Interestingly enough, Apologists for the Critical Text also try to make the argument from Providence about their “earliest and best” texts, so it seems that they have no issue with the form of the argument. They claim that the existence of their manuscripts proves they were used and therefore by God’s providence, their text is vindicated, not recognizing that the record of history shows that their darling manuscripts were not propagated forth in transmission. They argue that their text evolved to some degree or another, which again refutes their argument from providence even further. The average person can inspect the analysis of the textual scholars, see that the manuscripts which form the textual basis for the Critical Text do not have a singular extant common ancestor and are not copied forth unmaimed into the manuscript tradition. In other words, Providence rules against their text.
Actual Similarities between the Critical Text and the Papacy
Now what is interesting is the Critical Text advocate’s failure to see the similarities between their own position and Bellarmine’s. Bellarmine set forth clearly the doctrine of the Magisterium.
“When we say the Church cannot err, we understand this both of the entire body of the faithful and the entire body of the bishops, so that the meaning of the proposition that the Church cannot err is this: that what all the faithful hold as of faith is necessarily true and of faith; and likewise what all the bishops teach as of faith, is necessarily true and of faith.”Robert Bellarmine. De Ecclesia militante, III: 14
Both Bellarmine and the Critical Text methodology establish the authority of the Bible in the interpretation of the text. In the case of the Papists, it is the Magisterium, the interpretation of the Church. In the case of the Critical Text, doctrine cannot be affected by changes to the text and therefore the authority is not in the words of the text but rather in the interpretation of the text by the church. The difference is only in how “church” is defined. This is the necessary conclusion of the doctrine that the Bible is preserved in its doctrines and ideas and not the words. If the words themselves cannot change the meaning of the text, then the authority is not in the matter, but rather in the sense – the interpretation of those words. This is a theological necessity as a result of rejecting the doctrine of providential preservation.
For example, if a Christological doctrine is less clear in the Critical Text than the TR, such as in 1 Tim. 3:16, they say that the overall doctrine is not affected because it can be interpreted elsewhere. This is an admission that the textual variant indeed says something materially different, though they maintain that the sense remains the same by way of interpretation. The material has changed, and the meaning has not. Since the meaning is gathered by way of interpretation, the authority of the text is not in the material, but rather the interpretation of the material. The Critical Text advocate would not agree with the interpretation of this passage by the Unitarian, so therefore has bestowed the authority of the text in the Trinitarian interpretation of the passage. That is to say that the orthodox interpretation of the church is the thing that cannot err.
The Difference between Rome’s Usage Argument and the TR
Now that I have offered a comparison between the Critical Text doctrine and Rome, I will describe the difference in the “usage” argument of Rome and the Protestants. The argument from usage is quite different between Rome and the Reformed. Bellarmine’s argument for usage is based on the doctrine of the Magisterium, which is the opposite of the argument made by the Received Text position. It is important to remember the historical fact that the Council of Trent was a Counter-Reformation effort. This means that they espoused doctrines in opposition to the Protestants, not the same as the Protestants. The appeal to Protestant theologians by present-day Protestant defenders of the Received Text is an appeal to the Counter-Papacy doctrines they espoused. I want to ensure that my reader understands completely what I am saying here: The Reformation doctrine of Scripture was established in opposition to the Papist doctrine of Scripture. There seems to be a lot of confusion on this point recently, so I want to make sure that people know that the Protestants were not Papists.
The Papist doctrine proposed that the Vulgate must be authoritative because the Church has used it, and the Church cannot err. The response to the Papists by the Protestants was that the Scriptures were self-authenticating and therefore authoritative by virtue of God who inspired them. This was articulated in what we now call Sola Scriptura. In order for Scripture to be authoritative in itself, it has to be materially preserved. The text that was available to the people of God during the time of the Reformation was the text that was used by God’s providence. The Protestants recognized this very clearly and defended this very boldly. The modern day defense of the TR is an appeal to that doctrine, not the theologians themselves. Put very simply, adopting the Received Text is a position that is established on two principles: the adoption of Protestant Bibliology and the rejection of Modern Textual Criticism. It is not a modern day Protestant spin of the doctrine of the Magisterium. The argument against the Magisterium is founded on the reality that the Church can err. This was kind of the point of the Protestant Reformation.
The recent conflations with the Received Text position and the Papist doctrine of Scripture is befuddling. The doctrinal position of the Received Text is explicitly the doctrine of the Protestants’, which is why present day Protestant defenders of the TR quote Protestant theologians (gasp!). It is also likely the reason Critical Text apologists so desperately try to brand what they believe as that of the Protestants. I will provide yet another reminder to my reader that the Protestants were protesting…Rome. The argument that the defense of the TR is the same as the defense of the Vulgate completely ignores the doctrinal foundation for both, seeing as the Protestant defense of the Scriptures was actually in opposition to the Vulgate.
As I have demonstrated in this article, the argument from “usage” is different between the Papists and the Protestants. Those in the Critical Text camp may very well take issue with the Received Text position, but it does not make sense to conflate it with the position it opposes. The Received Text position is still explicitly a Reformation doctrine. It affirms against the Papacy the same today as it did in the 16th century. Ironically, it is the Critical Text position that now has no ground to stand on with Rome – though it appears the scholars of the Critical Text are more interested in comradery with the Papacy than protestation. It is difficult to understand why a position that has housed and eulogized Jesuits such as Cardinal Martini would be so bold as to compare the Received Text position with Popery.
I’ll leave my reader with this definition of projection from Sigmund Freud:
Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves by attributing them to others. For example, a bully may project their own feelings of vulnerability onto the target, or a person who is confused will project their own feelings of confusion and inadequacy onto other people.
This article is a part of the series called Foundations of Protestant Bibliology. In this series, I will examine the core theological foundations of the Protestant view of Scripture.
The foundation of the Protestant Reformation was Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. It was the doctrine that usurped the Papist view that the Magisterium gave the Scriptures authority in both word and interpretation. Many modern Calvinists and Reformed boldly proclaim this doctrine, yet it in this generation it has lost much of its substance. The men who give the Seminaries their doctrine on Scripture have increasingly departed from the Reformation definition of Sola Scriptura. See the following thoughts of leading evangelical scholars on the topic of Scripture:
“I am not convinced that the Bible speaks of its own preservation. That doctrine was first introduced in the Westminster Confession, but it is not something that can be found in scripture.”Dan Wallace. Interview with Dan Wallace. 2006.
“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.
“It’s true that human beings need ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matt. 4:4), but we don’t necessarily need every word all at once.”Richard Brash. A Christian’s Pocket Guide to How God Preserved the Bible. 62.
“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.
“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.
What sets apart the above thoughts from the Reformation theology of Sola Scriptura is the doctrine of Providential Preservation. It is the missing link that connects the original to what is available today. Without this doctrine, there is never a final text because there is no way to validate the texts we have today, seeing as there is no original to use as a guide. The scholars recognize this as a “methodological gap.”
“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.
This methodological gap is the fatal flaw in any view of Scripture that requires reconstructing the text from extant manuscripts. Even if the scholars can say with a high degree of certainty that a text is original or at the very least early, there is nothing axiomatically that connects the reconstructed text with the original. As noted above by Dr. Mink, the methods of textual criticism cannot speak regarding the original. This means that the textual scholar who wishes to make the connection between the reconstructed text and the original must do so, not on text-critical grounds, but on theological grounds.
The Theology of the Modern Critical Text
Many scholars and apologists for the Modern Critical Text are adamant that text-criticism is a scientific process.
“In practice New Testament textual critics today tend to be Christians themselves, but not always. It does not matter, for the quality of their work does not depend on their faith but on their adherence to academic standards.”Jan Krans. http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2020/10/why-textus-receptus-cannot-be-accepted.html. October 22, 2020.
This is stated as a net-positive, as this supposedly protects the process of creating Bibles from the bias of the scholars themselves. While it is rather foolish to believe that scientists and scholars are unbiased, in adopting such a methodology, the Protestant theology of Scripture is excluded from the modern efforts of text-criticism. This is generally viewed as a positive trait of the methodology, but it introduces a serious theological error: The goal of text-criticism, which is to reconstruct the original, is outside of the stated capabilities of the current methodology. The Church is faced with a serious conundrum as a result of this reality. The modern doctrine of Scripture is one that works from evidence to doctrine, rather than doctrine to evidence.
In doctrine, modern Christians proclaim the following:
2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms, obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises
4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. A Short Statement, 2,4.
“We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Article X.
We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.”
There are two major doctrines that support the Modern Critical Text. The first is that the Scriptures are preserved in all that they teach, and the second is that doctrines cannot be affected by the efforts of textual criticism. This sounds orthodox at first, but it exposes itself as a heterodox doctrine when examined carefully. If it is the case that “Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching” and that there isn’t “any essential element of the Christian faith [that] is affected,” then the modern theology of Scripture is severely departed from the historical Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I will examine this claim in the next section.
More importantly, this doctrine allows textual scholars to do whatever to the text of Scripture without any suspicion from the modern church because the effort is founded upon the principle that doctrines cannot be affected, even if the words change. This is the necessary formulation that must be adopted if Providential Preservation is rejected. Since the effort of the Critical Text is justified by the belief that the previous generation’s text is an erroneous development, the text that was used cannot be considered providential or preserved. In adopting the Critical Text methodology, one must necessarily reject Providential Preservation. This is demonstrated as reality by the quotes above.
Since necessary conclusion of the Critical Text requires the rejection of Providential Preservation, the modern doctrine of Scripture is forced to confront the fatal methodological flaw in its system: the lack of an authentication principle. Since the Modern Critical Text methodology has no concept of Providential Preservation and no authentication principle, the text itself is not verifiable nor can it be established as a preserved text. This is evidenced in the way that evangelical text-critics describe the text itself as one which is not the original, but grants “good access” to the original. That is to say that the Bible is not the exact Word of God, but rather is an access point to the Word of God.
This leaves the modern doctrine of Scripture in a precarious place. The former generation had the wrong Bible, but even so, that Bible is infallible in all that it teaches. The modern effort of textual criticism seeks to find the original, yet methodologically it cannot. Despite the modern text being different than the former text, it too is considered infallible in all that it teaches, or inerrant. This is the Modern Critical Conundrum. In the first place, the Bible of the Protestant Reformation has errors, but not in what it teaches. Further, the Modern Critical Text has many places of uncertainty, but not in what it teaches. Differences between the two text forms cannot affect doctrine, yet the modern text form is better to some unquantifiable degree.
The conclusion of such a doctrine is that the actual words of Scripture are not what give the authority to Scripture. The modern doctrine of Scripture does not contain any mechanism to validate the reconstructed text against the original, and the changes between editions and manuscripts cannot affect doctrine. This presents a second fatal flaw which I will pose as a question: If the words in the Bible are not the vehicle of doctrines and teachings in Scripture, what is? This is yet another methodological gap in the modern doctrine of Scripture. Since the words can change while the meaning stays the same, there is some other delivery mechanism for the doctrines. The only conclusion is that interpretation of Scripture is the authority giving mechanism. This is the substance of the Papist argument for the magisterium, and reflects the same battle between the Protestants and Rome.
“The question betwixt us and the Papists, now cometh to be considered, which of these editions is authentical, that is, which of it self hath credit and authority, being sufficient of it self to prove and commend itself, without the help of any other edition, because it is the first exemplar or Copy of the divine truth delivered from God by the Prophets and Apostles.”Edward Leigh. A Systeme or Body of Divinity. 78. Emphasis mine.
What the modern doctrine of Scripture should demonstrate to my reader is that it requires external validation. Since the modern doctrine of Scripture insists that “doctrine cannot be affected,” the only mechanism that allows for this to be possible is that of interpretation. In other words, the “doctrines cannot be affected” doctrine is really just, “Our interpretation cannot be affected.”
The Theology of Protestant Orthodoxy
There are a number of distinctives that are contained within the Sola Scriptura doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. The modern doctrine sounds a lot like the Protestant doctrine, but does not share the substance. The major distinctions are in authentication and preservation, which give authority to the doctrine. In the first place, the Protestant doctrine teaches that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. This is the case that the Reformed made against the Popish doctrine of the magisterium. Man cannot authenticate the Scriptures, God authenticates the Scriptures.
“It is a most dangerous adventure to examine, or regulate Divine Truths by human wisdome”Thomas Thorowgood. Moderation Justified. 8.
Second, the Scriptures are Providentially Preserved, or kept pure in all ages. This is the practical function of self-authentication as it relates to the manuscripts. Before defining this further, I will examine the modern response to this doctrine.
The Modern Critical Text view proposes that the Bible was not preserved providentially in the continuous transmission of the Scriptures, rather it was preserved in the totality of the manuscript tradition. So manuscripts that fell out of use and were not propagated forward are included in this body of extant evidence. In the case of the Modern Critical Text, these texts which were not propagated forward are considered the most valuable.
This means that all extant copies of New Testament manuscripts are considered to be preserved texts, which include texts that do not preserve the original. Despite some of these texts not preserving the original wording, the Critical Text theology states that the doctrines are still preserved in the two most different manuscripts. See this popular level explanation by James White:
“The reality is that the amount of variation between the two most extremely different New Testament manuscripts would not fundamentally alter the message of the Scriptures…The simple fact of the matter is that no textual variants in either the Old or New Testament in any way, shape, or form materially disrupt or destroy any essential doctrine of the Christian faith.”James White. The King James Only Controversy. 67.
This can be said because the determining factor for this is not the text itself, it is the interpretation of the text, as demonstrated in the previous section.
This modern doctrine stands in opposition to the historical Protestant doctrine of self-authentication and Providential Preservation. If my reader wishes to examine the Biblical merits of Providential Preservation, see this paper. Historically speaking, the Protestants affirmed the doctrine of Providential Preservation.
“Nay, not only the main Doctrine of the Scripture hath been continued, but no part of it is falsified, corrupted, or destroyed…But the Scriptures are wonderfully preserved, as the three Children in the Furnace, not an Hair was singed; not a jot or tittle of the Truth is perish or corrupted…Christ hath promised not a tittle shall fall to the ground. The Word hath been in danger of being lost, but the Miracle of Preservation is therefore greater.”Thomas Manton. A Second Volume of Sermons. 254.
“The marvelous preservation of the Scriptures. Though none in time be so ancient, no none so much oppugned: yet God hath still by his providence preserved them and every part of them”James Ussher. A Body of Divinity. 11.
“By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit”Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. I, 106.
It should be clear now that there are two definitions of original at play here. The original doctrines or the original text. There are two definitions of preservation being discussed. Preservation in the totality of extant manuscripts or preservation in the continuing propagation of manuscripts. There are even two different definitions of the Bible. The very Word of God or the means by which we access the Word of God. The Protestant doctrine of Scripture affirms that the original text was propagated forth in transmission, that God providentially kept the original text pure in the apographs, and that this original text is self-authenticating and therefore we have the exact Word of God today. This means that the text that arrived via transmission to the 14th century was as pure as that which arrived to the 16th century. Thus the Reformed held the view that the efforts of “text-criticism” during the 16th century were conducted using such authentic texts as a method of ongoing propagation, not reconstruction.
There is a reason that the Protestants held this view. They recognized that Rome must be correct about needing a magisterium if the Scriptures were not providentially preserved. In order to examine this topic more thoroughly, I will conduct a thought experiment before concluding this paper. I will begin by asking, “What must I believe if I reject Providential Preservation?”
First, I must believe that the exact original wording of Scripture is lost and cannot be recovered by any available methodology. Second, I must believe that the corrupted Protestant text contains no doctrinal differences than the reconstructed text set forth by modern scholars. Third, I must believe that despite there being no doctrinal differences between the two most different manuscripts, that the modern effort which changes my Bible is necessary. Finally, I must believe that the authority of Scripture is determined by my interpretation of it.
When examined in such a way, the proposition set forth in the modern doctrine is abjectly absurd.
The discussion of textual criticism becomes simple when examined at a doctrinal level. Without Providential Preservation, the modern doctrine of Scripture leaves the church without any discernable Bible, just a product that gives the people of God “good access” to the Bible. This is reconciled by proposing that “doctrines cannot be affected” regardless of textual variation. As a result, the method of authentication for Scripture shifts from Scripture itself to man’s interpretation of Scripture. This is clearly not the historic Protestant view, and when examined in substance, bears remarkable resemblance to that of the Papists.
There is a reason this doctrine is defined in the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith and London Baptist Confession of Faith. It is the fundamental component of Sola Scriptura that all doctrines are established upon. If the Scriptures are not Providentially Preserved, than the church is left to her interpretation of the Scriptures alone, which inevitably produces infinite variations of what Christianity even is. If one were to survey the state of the modern church, they will indeed find that this is exactly the case. The doctrine of inerrancy, in rejecting Providential Preservation of the words of Scripture, has created the semblance of an orthodox doctrine without any of the substance. It outsources the Bible’s authority to man over and above the Scriptures themselves. There is one simple conclusion that must be drawn from the theology of Scripture and also plain observation – without Providential Preservation and self-authentication, there is no discernable Bible and thus no discernable Christ and thus no discernable Christianity. Any claims to the authority of Scripture completely fall flat without these doctrines.
In this post I am going to give an overview of the goals and accomplishments of this blog, as well as provide an outline for what I will be working on in 2021.
The original goal for this blog was twofold. The first objective was to present and defend the historic Protestant view of the doctrine of Scripture. The second was to present a polemic towards the Critical Text using the source material as published by scholars working in the field of New Testament textual scholarship. I have generally avoided writing articles on textual variants unless I can use them to comment on the theological implications of the textual discussion. I see this as the niche I can add most value to and will continue staying in the lane of historic Protestant theology as it applies to this discussion.
While I can’t speak to how successful I was at achieving my goal, this blog has definitely drawn the attention of many Critical Text apologists, including James White and Mark Ward. I have written 143 posts totaling 249,889 words and has received over 37,000 views since the end of 2019 when I started the site. I never expected this much traffic, which is very humbling, especially for a topic that is so specialized.
Goals Going Forward
This year, I want to make this blog more accessible by organizing the posts into helpful categories and cover any aspects of the conversation that I have not covered yet. The question I have for my audience is whether I should continue writing at a popular level or offer a more technical look at the discussion. I have intentionally avoided being overly technical so that the concepts are accessible by all, but I see the value in writing some articles that can be used as a better resource outside of popular polemics.
User Input & Conclusion
Since I started this blog, I have been overwhelmed by the great feedback and interactions of my audience. I want to continue being accessible to my audience and writing articles “on the fly” as they are requested. Now, to you, my reader. What would you like to see from this blog in 2021? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated in the comments. Thanks again to my reader, I look forward to what this year has to offer.
Occasionally a conspiracy theory comes along that is so compelling that it actually becomes mainstream “science.” This is actually quite common in the scientific community. In just my lifetime, the world was supposed to end at least three times due to apocalyptic climate events. I can recall at least two blockbuster Hollywood movies from my childhood that detailed the impending demise of the Earth. Seeing that I am writing this article now, that clearly never happened. In my relatively short time on Earth, I have learned that scientists have a tendency to do more storytelling than actual science. This especially applies to the scholars and “Scientists” of the Critical Text.
A Conspiracy Theory That Makes the Flat Earthers Blush
According to the Critical Text scholars, the Bible was originally penned according to God (possibly), but quickly became corrupted due to the fact that Christians haphazardly and carelessly copied the text. Due to persecution, wars, and the fact that these manuscripts were scribed on highly sensitive papyri, we do not have any direct extant manuscript evidence that the entire New Testament existed until around the fourth century. Only lists of canonical books and extant quotations, often paraphrased, let us know that the Bible wasn’t a fourth century invention. So while it is commonly accepted that a Christian text existed, the exact form of the original is unknown. Shortly after the fourth century, which is the first time in history that we have evidence for a complete New Testament, Christians engaged in a massive, multi-regional conspiracy to amend the text to solidify orthodoxy.
They added stories and passages, smoothed out grammar, and amplified Christ’s divinity. As a result of this conspiracy, the majority of New Testament manuscripts are largely uniform and do not represent the original form of the text. This obviously could not have been God’s work. Fortunately for the church, God was watching and acted. Not wanting His people to permanently corrupt the text, He providentially stashed the Scriptures away in barrels, caves, trash heaps, the Vatican, and a monastery lined with skulls, knowing that Christians would not find them. Nearly 1800 years later, God appointed it time that the true text of Holy Scripture should be found by more reasonable men, only not in totality. Despite God’s best efforts, some portions of the text were permanently corrupted by Christians in their attempt to solidify orthodoxy and harmonize the text to fix contradictions that were present in the original. The original may exist in the totality of the manuscript tradition, though, as some scholars say, we wouldn’t know it even if that were the case.
A Grand Conspiracy
Like all conspiracy theories, the Critical Text proposes that a wide spread network conspired to deceive and manipulate a population of people. In this case, the Christians changed the Bible, and were successful in deceiving the people of God for over 1,000 years. One way to scrutinize such theories is to call into question the technological sophistication and coordination of such an effort. How could the United States have faked a moon landing under the nose of the American people? The amount of coordination and precision to execute such a conspiracy without evidence would have had to be breathtaking. In the same way, such a grand recension of the Biblical text would have been stunningly secret, as we have no evidence that anything like that ever happened. If the Christian church did indeed fix the Biblical text, it would be the most well organized conspiracy in the history of the world.
There are two main stories that are told when it comes to explaining the manuscript tradition of the New Testament text. The first is detailed above. The second is that these early manuscripts are anomalous survivors that don’t represent the original as well as the majority of manuscripts. Rather than proposing a grand conspiracy, the lack of pure majority text manuscripts in the first four hundred years of the church can be justified using the same explanation the Critical Text scholars use to explain why there is no uniform “text-type” at all in the first 500 years of the church – wars, persecution, and fragile manuscripts. Both stories share the same common thread, only one of them requires a grand conspiracy to fill in the gaps. It should not shock anybody that the papyrus which the New Testament was written on, which has a maximum shelf life of 500 years, didn’t survive in any substantial way into the 21st century.
There is a reason Occam’s Razor is such a popular principle. The simplest of two explanations that accounts for all the facts is more likely to be correct. So what is more simple, that a few manuscripts were severely corrupted during a time of persecution and doctrinal dispute, or that the majority of manuscripts were corrupted in a grand conspiracy to change the text of Scripture? The lack of manuscripts in the early church is easily explained by what is known by everybody who has studied that time period – war, persecution, fires, and manuscript decay. The uniformity of later manuscripts is most easily explained as simply being the continuation of the same tradition that previously existed. All factors are accounted for with the second scenario, and the variation in the majority tradition is explained in the same way variation is accounted for in the minority tradition. There is no need to imagine a grand conspiracy theory to explain something that has a rather simple explanation.