The Academic Veil: Modern Research Methods

Introduction

This article is going to be different than my usual brand of writing, as it does not directly pertain to textual criticism, but rather research methods. Research methods is the most neglected topic of study, in my opinion. Many people are easily fooled by academics because they are unfamiliar with how to evaluate footnotes and sources. I recently had a book recommended to me called Stamped from the Beginning, which I was told was legitimate because it had “hundreds of footnotes.” When I began to read it, I noticed that many of the footnotes were simply references to the author’s peers and colleagues. When I studied The King James Only Controversy, I found many issues with the way footnotes were employed. In both cases, the authors utilized footnotes and citations to give the guise of credibility despite the footnotes not providing any value to the point that was being made.

In almost every modern controversy that I have taken the time to research, it seems to be the case that the way authors cite their sources and approach historical studies is rather vacuous. This is especially the case with popular level writers more so than scholars. This effectively means that a scholar or non-scholar can cite another work while simply imposing their own viewpoint over the historical data without regard to the citation itself. The citation does not need to be relevant, nor does the author need to represent the cited material accurately, because the chances of the reader actually checking the validity of the citations is extremely low. This creates the effect of a work being well researched, well cited, while at the same time being nothing more than assertions presented by the author. Yet, it has “hundreds of footnotes,” and is therefore “legitimate.” In this article, I’d like to detail what is called gatekeeping (probably a different application of the word than you are used to) while pointing out how various modern tactics can mislead readers under the guise of “proper scholarship.”

Research Methods: Gatekeeping

Gatekeeping is one of the most valuable skills any reader can employ as they approach a new text. Simply put, a gatekeeper is someone that stands in between two points. Gatekeeping, as it pertains to studying, is a method that stands in between the reader and the author. In the application of evaluating a work, gatekeeping allows a reader to identify the quality of a citation. It is easy to read a book with hundreds of citations, and think that it is well sourced and legitimate on those grounds alone. It gives the reader a false sense of security that the material is more trustworthy than it actually is in reality. That is why gatekeeping is so important. It protects the reader’s mind from any unlawful access.

Simply put, gatekeeping is the process of researching the research. When a reader stumbles upon a footnote, he should test the quality of that citation. Who is the author citing? What are the qualifications of the cited source material? What are the beliefs or systems set forth by the author of cited material? Does the cited material directly apply to the point the author is making within the main text? Is the cited material well sourced itself or just the same assertion being made by another author? Answering these questions will help a reader develop a mature understanding of the material.

It is not enough simply to cite a source, that source has to be meaningful to the point the author is making. It has to amplify the credibility of an assertion by adding weight. It grounds an assertion to reality. Many footnotes fail to do this, yet give the reader a false sense of security that a point is legitimate simply because the footnote or citation exists. It is often the case, especially in modern scholarship, that scholars will incestuously cite scholars within their own camp to prove a point that was no more established in the cited source material than it is in the work where the citation is employed.

Another way that gatekeeping protects the reader is by evaluating the system of the of the author of cited material. In a book recently published by a well known Reformed Baptist on Covenant Theology, the author makes repeated reference to Meredith Kline, JV Fesko, Tom Schreiner, and John Owen when making points supporting his framework of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology. It is always a red flag when an author utilizes source material to arrive at a different conclusion than the cited text. The author may not be wrong for doing so, but the reader must ask, “Why is the author using material to support a point that the cited material wasn’t making?” The reader must demand that the author justify the use of every citation, and connect that justification to the actual point being made. It is not wrong to cite sources from people who disagree, but it is important that the reader scrutinize those citations if the author does not make the purpose of using such a citation abundantly clear in his point.

Simply put, the reader must ensure that the author is accurately representing the data, or at least explain why he is using a citation to support a different system than that which was set forth in the cited material. A careful reader examines the validity of every citation. In this example, it is important to try and understand why modern Reformed Baptists are using John Owen to support a new system on Reformed Baptist covenant theology. If the claim is that “this is what Baptists believed,” why must the author travel to different systems to support it? The author may be justified in the citation, but the reader must apply a careful eye to ensure that he does not adopt an incongruent view. It is not the case that Reformed Baptist is necessarily incorrect for citing a Paedobaptist or New Covenant Theologian, but the reader must take the time to ask and answer the questions if the author doesn’t make it abundantly clear. Do not allow an author to smuggle an idea into your brain in the trojan horse of a footnote. A careful reader must demand that an author justify his citations. If the author has not done that, there is no reason to accept any assertion supported by such a citation.

Conclusion

In every discipline, whether it be political science, critical studies, Biblical studies, etc., modern academic methods have played on the reader’s ignorance in evaluating cited material to make assertions that the cited material does not support. As a reader, you must demand that an author not only cite his sources, but also justify those sources. Why is the author employing this source? Is the cited material saying the same thing as the author? Did the author of the cited material arrive at a different conclusion than the author who cited it, and did the author interact with that disagreement? Is the cited material sound in itself or is it just another scholar making the same assertion? In short, what is the value of the cited material, and how does it support the point the author is making?

Taking the time to be a gatekeeper will protect your mind from adopting vain philosophies. It will teach you to scrutinize new teachings. It will teach you to avoid adopting a new perspective on something too hastily. As a reader myself, I never adopt a position on the grounds of one author’s perspective. It is important to read a wide body of material, representing many sides of an issue, prior to settling on a topic. This is especially relevant to the discussion of textual criticism. Most people approach the conversation as an argument, seeking to prove their point while doing research into other viewpoints. If this is how a reader operates, he will most certainly arrive at the conclusion he started with in the beginning. It is the same phenomenon that occurs with low information voters. Assertions are as good as absolute truth, and nothing can change that in the minds of the undiscerning. When it comes to the issue of textual criticism, the practice of gatekeeping could not be more important when it comes to evaluating the claims of modern scholars. Hopefully this article, though off-topic for this blog, will help my reader as they approach the discussion of textual criticism.

The Practical Theology of the Two Textual Positions

Introduction

I have been a Calvinist for about as long as I have been a Christian. At that time, I did not know about Reformed Theology, nor did I call myself Reformed. When I entered the “Reformed” space on the internet via the Reformed Pub, I was introduced to a number of Theological debates. The first two years of my time as a “Reformed” Christian was spent debating various topics that internet Reformedom deems most important. This debate culture led me to believe that being Reformed was mostly an exercise of having a fully developed Theological menu. In essence, you picked out your stance on a list of ten issues, and then debated them online.

This of course is an unfortunate meme of Reformed Theology. When I began reading the English and Dutch Puritans, I realized that the way the divines of old discussed Theology was entirely different than the way modern Reformed Christians discussed Theology. In the first place, many of the pet issues of Internet Reformedom were not even a concern for the post-Reformation and Puritan divines, such as Theonomy. As I got off the internet and onto the writings of the Reformed, I realized one important emphasis that I had completely neglected – practical Theology. In this article, I will be discussing the practical Theology of the Critical Text and Traditional Text. It is important to clarify that I am not talking about the text itself, but the Theology of each text.

The Purpose of Scripture and Theology

Theology is the study of living unto God. In 2 Timothy 3:15-16, God tells His people exactly what Scripture is to be purposed for, “to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ” and to be “profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” He finishes this thought by saying that this is so “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” In other words, the study of doctrine is to have direct application in every way to practical Christianity. Every line of Theology in the brain of a Christian should also have a place in the heart.

This is the greatest difference between Internet Reformedom and actual Reformed Christianity. Internet Reformedom almost never discusses practical, experiential Christianity. It never emphasizes the practical impact and use of believing various doctrines. According to Internet Reformedom, doctrine is something to be debated and that’s it. This is the case in the discussion of textual criticism as well. Christians spend hours upon hours debating variants without considering what it means to reject a variant. The reality is that the practical application of the Critical Text dogma to the common Christian is absolutely detrimental to Christian practice.

The practice of the Critical Text doctrine diminishes Christian experiential religion in every way imaginable. In private devotion, it teaches that Christians ought to question the text underneath what is written in their translation. It encourages its users to “go back to the Greek” to determine what the Bible “really says.” The English translation must be flawed, and it is up to the reader to find out what the translators “really should have said.” It teaches that somebody who does not know anything about the original languages of the Bible can actually correct those who do know the languages by simply using an online tool. In Theological study, it teaches Christians that textual criticism is the first step to understanding God’s Word. In order to exegete the text you have to decide what the text says first. Christians have to stand over God’s Word first in order to sit under it. This leads to every Christian having a different text, and those that are really learned to have no text at all. In Evangelism, it teaches that Christians must learn textual criticism to have an apologetic to the unbeliever rather than just preaching the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). In Ecclesiology, it teaches that every Christian should rejoice in using a different Bible than the person next to them in the pew. Churches are to dance in the chaos that is produced by the “embarrassment of riches” that is our modern Bible situation. Practically, it misdirects and distracts Christians from every aspect of practical, experiential, religion.

The Theology of the Traditional Text is much different than that of the Critical Text. It teaches believers that they can trust what is on the page of their Bible, which is what you would expect from a book that is said to be the “very Word of God.” Learning Greek and Hebrew is not a requirement for the layperson because the languages can and have been translated accurately. It encourages its readers to sit under the Word as a student rather than over it as a critic. It is not up to the person who doesn’t know Greek and Hebrew to determine what the words “really mean” because they couldn’t do it even if they tried. It assumes that a Christian does not need to learn, or pretend to know the original languages in order to access the Scriptures. It allows for churches to share a common Theological vocabulary because they all have the same text. In matters of controversy within the church, the discussion of “which Bible is correct” isn’t relevant because the church is unified on that matter. In Evangelism, there is no call to convince the mind of man that the Bible is the Word of God, because that is not the requirement of Scripture, and is impossible for the unregenerate man in the first place. In preaching the Gospel, the Gospel is preached without any other requirement, as the Scriptures say. The Word of God is accessible, easy to use, and straight forward. The point of reading it is to be taught and refined. The point of studying is not to judge the text, but to be judged by the text. In short, it teaches Christians to trust their Bible, not question it. In every single place, the Traditional Text brings harmony to a church, whereas the Critical Text brings chaos, confusion, and division.

Conclusion

The difference between the practical Theology of the Critical Text and Traditional Text could not be more dramatic. The Critical Text methodology trains skeptics and puffs up the individual while the Traditional Text encourages humility and a teachable spirit. The average Christian does not know Greek and Hebrew, and finding an online lexicon does not change that or give a Christian the ability to provide a “correct” translation. In every case I have a seen a layperson “go back to the Greek,” they are horribly mistaken as to what the Greek actually says and further, incredibly ignorant as to how language works in general. They confuse the text of the Bible rather than providing clarity.

Despite the fact that Critical Text apologists are desperately trying to reframe the modern Bible embarrassment as an “embarrassment of riches,” it constantly causes division. If you’ve ever been in a small group with somebody who reads the NASB you know exactly what I’m talking about. Christians who have actually gone out and preached the Gospel on the street know that the massive number of Bible translations is a common reason people do not trust the Bible. If you’ve ever carried a KJV into a New Calvinist church you know that you will not leave that church without being told to watch the Dividing Line and to buy an ESV. Carrying a KJV into a modern “Reformed” church is as taboo as wearing a Trump hat onto a college campus. Scholars and apologists have made textual criticism a requirement for the average Christian without actually equipping them to answer the difficult questions. They leave them with the apologetic of Dan Wallace, which is to agree with Bart Ehrman and then say, “But that’s not a good reason to be skeptical!”

When a scholar or a pastor imposes the Critical Text methodology on the layperson, they are really just peddling skepticism and chaos. When a scholar or pastor argues against the Traditional text, they are arguing against unity and putting the believer on the same ground as the unbeliever. Every flaw that Critical Text apologists offer as a critique to the Traditional Text is actually a deficiency of the Critical Text. There is no practical application to Christian life and practice within the Critical Text methodology. The scholars admit that they approach the text agnostically, without the input of their Christianity. This is how they teach Christians to approach the Bible as well. Yet, we are supposed to be unabashedly Christian in how we read our Bible. I have spent many words discussing the Theological problems with the Critical Text on this blog, but it is also important to highlight the practical problems as well. Any methodology that teaches Christians to be “scientific” about how they read their Bible has unequivocally missed the mark. As with any area of Theological study, there must be practical application. The practical application of the Critical Text and Traditional Text could not be more different. One methodology teaches Christians to be critics of the Bible, and the other teaches Christians to be students.

The Critical Text Is Never Finished: Why You Should Not Support Textual Criticism

Introduction

There are few facts that should cause Christians to be as skeptical of the critical text as the fact that it will never be finished. In a recent article written by Dr. Jan Krans, he plainly states that this is the case.

“An immediate consequence of this position is that in principle the text-critical task is never finished. Methods can be refined and fresh manuscripts finds can be made. Readers of the New Testament – just as for instance readers of Plato’s works – will have to live with a degree of uncertainty, even more so since there are cases that the available evidence does not allow for firm conclusions.”

I want to make three observations from this quote above which should cause my reader to sincerely question the validity of the effort of modern New Testament textual criticism.

Three Observations

Those in the TR camp have been called many names and have been misrepresented greatly for saying exactly what this Evangelical textual scholar has said in this article, posted October 22, 2020. I have written before that TR advocates listen to the scholars much more closely than those in the critical text camp, because if those in the critical text camp were actually listening, they might be raising the alarm along side of the TR advocates.

If you take the time to listen to the textual scholars, you will realize that they do not have the ability to scrutinize the TR because they do not believe that their methods are even capable of allowing for “firm conclusions” on the text. If their methods cannot do this for their espoused text, why would their methods be able to do so for any other text, such as the TR? The reality is, these scholars can have no more certainty in their conclusions on the readings of the TR as they have for the readings of the critical texts. And it is abundantly clear that they do not have the level of certainty in their own text as they have against the TR.

The first thing to note is that the effort of creating critical texts “will never be finished.” Dr. Krans states that this is the case because “methods can be refined and fresh manuscript finds can be made.” What this means is that the critical text is subject to change based on updated methodologies and new manuscript finds. Pastor Jeff Riddle asked this very question to James White in a recent debate, and White proceeded to insinuate that Riddle was mischaracterizing and misunderstanding the discussion entirely.

The second note is that Dr. Krans compares the work of textual criticism of the New Testament to Plato. TR advocates have been saying that the work of Evangelical text criticism is no different than text criticism of any other ancient body of work for years.

“Textual criticism of the New Testament does not fundamentally differ from that of any other text from Antiquity.”

For those of us that believe in God’s providence and sovereignty over the text of Holy Scripture, this is clearly problematic. The Bible is not the same as any ancient text, and should be treated as such. This is a clear admission that modern textual scholars are not engaging in the same effort as Beza, because Beza treated the effort of textual criticism within the bounds of his Christianity and Theology.

The third and final note is that Dr. Krans states plainly that “the evidence does not allow for firm conclusions.” Once again, those in the TR camp have been saying this for years, and have been met with ridicule and scorn. I have written on this topic at length. Similar to the first two notes, this claim made by TR advocates has been repeatedly and aggressively dismissed by critical text adherents for as long as the claim has been made. Yet here we have it being plainly stated by an Evangelical textual scholar. How many scholars need to say this before Christians wake up to the dangers of this ongoing effort? Here is Dan Wallace stating the same thing, in no uncertain terms.

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or 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.”

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

How long will conservative Christians, who claim to stand on the doctrine of inerrancy, settle for this incredibly low view of Scripture?

Conclusion

The critical text is not finished, and never will be. It is subject to the ebbs and flows of modern critical methods as well as new manuscript finds. It is created by methods that do not treat the Bible any differently than any other ancient text. The methods these scholars employ are not capable of arriving at any “firm conclusion” in any place. These facts simply cannot be disputed at this point. The question is, are you comfortable having an unfinished Bible in your hands? Does this align with your view of Scripture? What would it take for you to admit that this is an incredibly dangerous and volatile view God’s Word? Most importantly, is this what the Bible teaches about itself?

If you consider yourself to have a high view of Scripture, it is time that you start listening to the Evangelical textual scholars. Scholars will continue to say that you should not be worried about the reality of modern text-criticism and that the uncertainties they have about Scripture shouldn’t concern you. What every Christian needs to realize is that their uncertainty does not need to be your uncertainty. You do not need to adopt this incredibly skeptical view of the Bible. This is clearly not a “high view” of Scripture. It is not noble. These scholars are not doing what Tyndale or Beza did. As James White often says, studying church history will protect you against a number of errors. This is probably the most clear example of our time. I will say this again, my dear reader, listen to the scholars.

An Honest Admission from the Scholars

Introduction

Every so often we are gifted with the words of a textual scholar that confirm my belief that those in the Textus Receptus camp listen to the scholars more than those in the Critical Text camp. In an article hosted on Dr. Peter Gurry’s blog, Dr. Jan Krans offers his insight into the discussion of the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text. As we would expect, Dr. Krans is not in favor of the Textus Receptus, but he does offer some valuable insight to be submitted into the marketplace of ideas. As a staunch “fundamentalist” TR advocate, I can appreciate the straightforward, scholarly, communication style of Dr. Krans.

His thesis is basically that the Textus Receptus cannot be accepted on the grounds that its production was void of any scholarly standard, and any retention of the TR is due to some form of nostalgia. While I think that this conclusion is lacking nuance and rather reductionistic, I won’t devote time in this article attempting to ‘refute’ his claims. Rather, I’d like to highlight some of his main points and offer commentary which should help my reader understand the effort of Modern Textual Scholarship better.

A Scholarly Admission That the Textus Receptus Was the Text of the Reformation

The first point that I’d like to highlight is one that has strangely been contested recently by a number of advocates for the Critical Text, James White being one of them. Dr. Krans writes when describing the TR position, “Historically speaking, the Textus Receptus was the Greek New Testament of the Reformation.” He later affirms this historical reality by saying that the TR view, “Concludes from a historical phenomenon (the Reformation) to actions that God must have taken.” Now I wouldn’t argue so strongly that this is the main argument for the Textus Receptus, but it is certainly a part of the framework. The point I want to highlight is that Dr. Krans dispels any notions that the TR wasn’t the text of the Reformation. In order for Dr. Krans to make his argument, he is not only assuming but plainly stating the historical premise that the TR was in fact the text of the Reformation. He goes on to say that it was merely a default text, but that does not dismiss the fact that it was the default text of the Reformation.

A Scholarly Admission That the Methods That Produced the TR Are Different Than That of the Critical Text

The second point I want to draw your attention to is that Dr. Krans clearly states that the scholars of the Reformation were not doing Textual Criticism in the same way as scholars do today. For those that are not familiar with Dr. Krans, he wrote what I consider to be the definitive work on the methods of Erasmus and Beza, so his input is quite valuable as it pertains to this topic. He argues what I argued in this article, which I wrote after reading his book in the New Testament Tools and Studies Brill series , that Beza in fact was not doing ‘Modern Textual Criticism’. In fact, this is his chief argument against using the TR. He writes,

“Historically speaking the Textus Receptus is undoubtedly outdated, as said, resting as it does upon far fewer sources and a far less developed method than known today. Moreover its editors did use the manuscripts available to them in a very irregular way, and did not follow consistently any method they had, whereas the demands of present-day scholarship guarantee that all evidence is taken into account and that methods are made explicit and subjected to scrutiny.”

Here we have an analysis from whom I would consider the most authoritative scholarly source on the topic, stating without ambiguity that their method was “far less developed” and even that they “did not follow consistently any method they had.” He then continues to contrast this with Modern Textual methodology, which highlights that these two methods, and the scholars who employed them, were engaging in distinct methods. Those that claim that “Beza was doing the same thing as we’re doing today,” like James White, seem to have been refuted by one of highest caliber scholars alive today. Either that, or this would be a strange admission that the Modern Critical method, like the TR, does “not follow consistently any method they” have.

Conclusion

Now it may be the case that Dr. Krans has irrefutably destroyed the TR position, though I don’t think his case is all that strong. The TR does not argue from product to evidence, it argues from Scripture to product. When TR advocates argue evidence, it is always to demonstrate that a reading has some evidential foundation, not that the evidence is the foundation. This is the same way evidence works in Apologetics as well. We all begin a Priori with something and interpret evidence through that lens.

His argument has been made by James White and everybody else before, though Dr. Krans does it much more intelligently. If you’d like to see my response to his basic argument, I can point you to this article and this article for further reading. Most importantly, Dr. Krans has definitively settled the matter on whether the TR was the text of the Reformation and whether or not Beza was doing Modern Textual Criticism. Hopefully we will see these arguments filter out of the mainstream, but I am not confident they will, as proponents of such arguments are not typically willing to correct themselves.

The Textus Receptus: A Defense Against Postmodernism in the Church

A long essay on the impact of Postmodernism in the Christian church.

Introduction

If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that the issue of the Critical Text against the Textus Receptus is far broader than just textual variants and which text platform is superior. Critical methodology, translation philosophy, Bibliology, ecclesiology, and even Bible reading philosophy are all baked within this discussion and deeply connected. The conversation of textual criticism reaches its apex in which Bible you actually read, which is the only real part of this conversation that practically matters. That is why those in the TR camp often pragmatically say, “The best Bible is the one you read every day.” You can know endless amounts of information about textual criticism and nothing about the Bible.

What the average person may not be aware of is just how expansive the methodology of the Critical Text is and how it impacts their practical religion. The practice of “going back to the Greek” and spreading your Bible reading across multiple translations are perfect examples. Further than a shift to the way we read our Bibles today, the Critical Text methodology has impacted the way we view church history and the church itself. This is the Postmodern smoking gun hiding behind the scenes, masked by deeply intellectual conversations over textual data. If you have, like me, had your ear to the ground as the modern church has taken a Postmodern bath over the last ten years, this should greatly concern you. In this essay, I will address several ways that the Critical Text invites Postmodern thinking into the church and how the Textus Receptus is an answer to it.

Postmodernism and the Critical Text

My goal here is to convince you that the discussion of textual criticism is not only Postmodern in nature, but that its impacts are far reaching well beyond which Bible you read. Starting with the Critical Text, we have to understand that the process of reconstructing a Bible is at its core a fruit of Postmodernism. It begins with the assumption that the previous structure must be torn down and replaced with empirical methodologies. The faith based systems of the past were good for their time, but the modern men of science know better. We shouldn’t be enslaved to the chains of tradition and the narrow thinking of the men of old.

In order to step into modernity, the Christian church has felt the need to adapt to the climate of empiricism and skepticism. It is not enough to know by way of faith that we have the Scriptures, we have to prove it. Yet, in the context of Postmodernism, reality is not something to be proved, it is something to be understood through various critical perspectives. In the case of Biblical criticism for example, the Scriptures are not to be understood didactically, but rather as the experiences of various communities of faith. There is not a single passage that has direct application to the people of God today, just perspectives on how religious communities experienced and understood the various contexts of the world in which they lived. In Postmodernism, the Bible is an artifact of how long dead people articulated how they viewed the world.

Keeping this in mind, we may begin to see how this perspective has left its signature all over textual scholarship. The various manuscripts do not represent a clean transmission from an architype or original, but rather different doctrinal articulations that represent how various communities were impacted by the life of a man named Jesus in the first century. The perspective that textual criticism is definitively seeking to produce an original text or hypothetical architype is idiosyncratic when the vast majority of textual scholarship is not all that concerned with that effort.

If you peruse the most recent literature coming out of the text critical scholarly community, you will find that these academics are attempting to understand not the text itself, but the scribe who copied the text. You will find that the discussion of the Pericope Adulterae is not so much about proving its originality or authenticity, but why this story was so beloved by the early church and what it meant to them from a cultural and political perspective. You will find that any real discussion over textual variants is not overly concerned with whether or not a passage or word belongs in a modern Bible, but rather what those textual variants meant to the Christians who introduced them into the text. Modern Textual Scholarship is far more interested in understanding what a textual variant meant to the community who produced it than the meaning of the text, or even if that variant belongs in the text. To these scholars, there is not one text to which a variant belongs, there are simply different communities to be understood. For example, a scholar engaged at the highest levels of Textual Scholarship is more interested in the differences in beliefs between the two communities who included and excluded Mark 16:9-20 than whether or not the text properly belongs in our Bibles today. There is no Bible, just bibles and the communities they represent.

This is the environment that Evangelical Textual Scholars are working in, which is why the premier academics working in the field often refer to them as “fundamentalists” or other pejoratives, is overwhelmingly Postmodern. The work they are doing is completely disconnected with the reality of the scope of Modern Textual Scholarship. Reconstructing an original Bible is sort of the pet project that isn’t taken all that seriously, because no serious Textual Scholar would say that this work can even be accomplished. That is why, even in the most Evangelical of contexts, scholars are more concerned with the significance of a particular manuscript or group of manuscripts as it pertains to the transmission history of the Bible rather than whether or not that text or group of texts has any relation to the original, which we don’t have.

This is the reality for those Evangelicals who wish to publish in any relevant academic series. They must provide some analysis which aligns with the current goals of Modern Textual Scholarship. That is why most published work pertaining to the CBGM is concerned with analyzing the method, rather than using the method to produce anything tangible. Since the goal of Modern Textual Scholarship is not to produce a single text, the stated goal of the Editio Critica Maior is simply to document the history of the transmission of the text. This tool is then used to create new printed editions which, according to the editors, is a close representative of how one community experienced the Bible in a certain location at a certain time.

As with all Critical Theories, the goal is not to produce a single truth, but to understand the importance of a piece of data to the story of the people who experienced that data. What is perceived as “truth” can always change depending on the perspective used to approach the data. The story can always change, because they way we understand those communities can expand and evolve as we spend more time with the artifacts. This is the Postmodern reality of the Bible in 2020, and why not a single scholar or apologist for the Critical Text will proclaim that any one verse in their text is definitively original.

Practical Postmodernism and the Bible

Now, you may acknowledge that everything I have laid out is true and still defend the notion that this has zero impact on the church. I would like to convince you now that this has reached to every corner of your practical Christianity. It is important to note, that even if there are a group of stalwart defenders of the Bible within the scholarly community, none of them are in agreement on what the Bible contains, and this is easily demonstrated not only by the ongoing effort of Textual Criticism, but also in the fact that there is not one single Critical Text. The NASB, ESV, NIV, and so on are all different texts translated differently. This reality demonstrates that there is no agreement on what the Critical Text is, or how it should be translated. If you survey your current church, it is likely that the Bible your pastor preaches from is different from the Bible(s) you read and the Bible(s) your fellow members read. The fact that a church can have seven different texts, and all of those texts can be called “The Bible” is proof that Postmodernism has impacted you directly.

When seven different texts, with different underlying textual platforms and different translational methodologies can all be called “The Bible,” we have to recognize that the label “The Bible” is not accurate. If a number of different texts can be categorized as one single thing, then the thing is not a singular object. It is a number of objects generally categorized under one heading. It is similar to how a Honda Civic and a Toyota Camry are both cars. They are not the same car, but they are both cars nonetheless. So if our definition of the Bible requires uniformity, then we are already at odds with this definition of “The Bible.” And if our definition of the Bible does not require uniformity, then we have adopted to some degree or another the Postmodern perspective of the Bible.

This perspective flows into every aspect of practical religion. When you read the Bible with this lens, the words on the page are not so much important as what the author was trying to communicate. And what the author was trying to communicate is not set in stone because what the author was trying to communicate can be interpreted differently. This of course demands that we “go back to the Greek” to discern the “actual” meaning. It demands that we consult a number of translations, which may communicate different meanings, to get a general idea of what the text is saying and not the “true” meaning of what the text is saying. It is not so much important to understand what God has communicated, but rather what we think God has communicated or perhaps how the scribe experienced what God communicated. There is no single meaning of the text, just different interpretations of how we experience the text.

This flows down into ecclesiology, Bibliology, translation philosophy, and how we approach our Bibles in private devotions and study. At an ecclesiological level, we can understand the word εκκλεσια differently, and therefore manage our churches differently. We can understand the word deacon and pastor differently. We can understand the word immerse differently. In fact, we can understand any word differently, so as long the definition that we are looking for is listed in our favorite online concordance. It doesn’t matter what God actually communicated, because what God communicated must be interpreted by the perspective of the communities who wrote them down. If our understanding of those communities change, which they often do, so does the meaning of the text. New translations will adopt this new understanding and actually translate accordingly, providing a different meaning then older translations.

Most importantly, adopting this framework impacts the way we read our Bibles personally. In order to understand the Bible, we are asked to understand “the context” and the “original Greek and Hebrew.” We are told that understanding these languages is as simple as applying a lexicon. We are told that the translators of our Bible “got it wrong” and the “word actually means this.” In this example, “context” does not mean a real, historical context, it means our understanding of the communities at the time. This being the case, “the context” is ever shifting, along with the meaning of “The Bible” and our understanding of it.

What this practically boils down to is that we should not trust our translation, Greek and Hebrew must be looked at to understand the text, and the meaning of the Bible is changing as fast as our understanding of the communities that produced it. At its core, it is the Postmodern perspective that we know better. Even though you can’t read Greek, you know it better because you have a lexicon and concordance. You can actually correct your translation despite not being able to order a glass of water in Greek. The words on the page don’t actually matter, because the words underneath the words have the “actual meaning.” And the way we determine the “actual meaning” is by looking at a language we don’t know through the lens of a lexicon that we don’t know how to use.

This is how you take the Bible away from an entire generation. You teach them that the text isn’t “the” text, that the words on the page aren’t “the” words on the page, and that “the” Bible is really just a number of bibles. This produces a context that requires an earthly authority, a “pope.” Somebody must direct the church to answer these questions. Somebody must say, “This is the text and this is what it means.” For many people this is the actual Pope, or in Calvinist circles, James White. Otherwise, you must admit that all we have today is a number of texts, with an infinite number of meanings. This is in fact perfectly acceptable by most modern Christians. Anybody who does not accept this Postmodern reality is just a traditionalist, a fundamentalist, or perhaps stupid.

The Textus Receptus as a Salve to the Wound of Postmodernism

Similar to the Modern Critical Text, the Textus Receptus has a methodology and a theology that underlies it. The Bible is a single thing that we have today, it has a specific meaning that can be discerned, and it is what God said, not an interpretation of what God said. This standard stands in stark opposition to the modern view of the Bible. It not only understands that the words we have are the words God delivered, but that those words can be translated. So as long as those words are translated correctly, there is no need to “go back to the Greek.” There is not hidden meaning under every word, just the meaning of the word.

This standard is undaunting and unfailing. It cannot be moved, because there is no way to move it. No scholar can “prove” that this is not the case in the same way the seven-day creation narrative cannot be disproved. Any opposing dissertation to this view is simply a matter of opinion, a matter of interpretation. That is the fatal flaw of Postmodernism. Since there is not a single truth to be discovered in anything, there is not a single truth to be proven in anything. The methodologies are not designed for this cause, and are poorly utilized in trying to do so.

Practically speaking, the TR methodology teaches that when you read your Bible, you are reading the Very Word of God. It allows for your whole congregation to be reading that very same Word. It dispels disputes over “the true meaning of the text” because words have value in themselves, not in the communities who used them. It recognizes that Greek is a language like any other, and not some mystical secret language that can shift meaning from person to person. Most importantly, it does not require that every Christian study Critical methodologies in order to read their Bible. They simply read it and benefit. God’s Word is recognized as powerful in itself without some external interpretive principle. It is the ultimate defense against Postmodernism because it rejects the notion that meaning is derived by lived experience. The meaning of the Bible, and the Bible itself, exists ontologically and does not change based on our understanding of historical communities of faith.

This is how God continues to speak clearly in the 21st century. Despite changes and adaptations of history, God’s Word does not change. It does not falter and it does not fail. If we accept the idea that God’s Word and meaning can change, we must admit that the Scriptures themselves have failed in their purpose. If God’s Word has changed in meaning, it has failed in its purpose. If God has failed in communicating His purpose or meaning, then He is like us and is not God.

The popular response to this point is that “all Bibles are effective at communicating the requirements for salvation to all men.” I agree that this is often the case, but it is not the standard God has communicated in Scripture. God is not only concerned with the salvation of men, He is concerned with His glory and our living unto Him. If we admit that God has failed in one aspect of His communication, we neglect His concern for His glory. If we admit that God has only communicated what is necessary for salvation and not what is required to live unto Him, we admit that God has communicated imperfectly. Both pose serious problems if we are to maintain that God Himself is perfect, providential, and powerful.

Conclusion

The conversation over Textual Criticism often reaches too shallowly into the bag of Textual Scholarship. It is not just about textual variants and deciding which is correct. It is about the methodologies that lead us to thinking that we need to act as an arbiter over the Words God has given to His people. What this thinking truly says is that Christians believe the Lord has ordained a “pope” to deliver His Word effectively to the people of God. In most cases, Christians believe that this pope is themselves. In other cases it’s the literal Roman Pope or perhaps James White or Dan Wallace. If God hasn’t communicated clearly, such that seven different bibles can be “the Bible,” then He must ordain a chief arbiter to make clear what is mysterious or His Word itself will be mysterious. Since God has not ordained such an office, men are quick to step into this role of their own authority.

Ultimately, the Postmodernism evident in Modern Textual Scholarship has translated into a Postmodern view of God that has been adopted as widely as Arianism was in the early church. Even though most Christians would reject the Postmodern view of the academy, the effects of this scholarship is evident everywhere in practice. Accepting seven different texts as one single text is an example. Needing to “go back to the Greek” is an example. Believing that there are “no perfectly accurate translations” is yet another example.

We find ourselves at the brink of yet another crisis in the Christian church. It is one that has infiltrated all of our seminaries at the deepest levels. It has infected our pulpits and our churches, and it leaves the average Christian utterly unequipped for the challenges facing the church. How are we to fight the onslaught of liberal dogma if we ourselves have adopted the very same principles? How can we possibly provide a defense of the faith if we have accepted the axioms which say that there is not “one” faith? I may not have convinced you that the Textus Receptus is the answer to these issues, but hopefully I have made you aware of the significant problems facing the church in the context of Modern Textual Scholarship and the ways these problems practically impact you on a daily basis. The point is that this is a problem, the TR and its theological axioms offer a solution, and Christians ought to take the time to investigate whether or not their Bibliology lines up with the Critical Methodologies pushed on them in seminary, small groups, and churches.

20 Articles That Refute Modern Textual Criticism

Introduction

Every time I write an article, my blog becomes increasingly difficult to navigate. I probably need to revamp how the site is organized, but until then I thought I’d put together an article that serves as a glossary to some helpful articles that respond to common claims made by Critical Text apologists.

I have heard it said that in the refutation of the Critical Text, TR advocates are being unnecessarily negative and critical without offering any solutions. This is not true, because the TR position has a rich doctrinal structure, furnished with historical and Scriptural support. If you want to read a summary of the argument in support of the TR, see this article. If you want to read a number of articles I have written on the topic, see this category here.

Common Claims Made by Critical Text Apologists Answered

  1. TR Advocates are more skeptical than Bart Ehrman
  2. Treating Text and Canon the same is a category error
  3. P75 proves that Vaticanus is early and reliable
  4. Beza was doing the same thing as modern textual critics
  5. The CBGM can get us to 125AD
  6. There is a “fatal flaw” in TR argumentation
  7. The CBGM is going to give us a Bible more accurate than before
  8. The CBGM is “God’s gift to the church”
  9. The TR position offers no meaningful apologetic to Bart Ehrman
  10. The TR position is “anachronistic”
  11. The TR position starts with the TR and is circular
  12. Adopting the critical text is consistent with presuppositional apologetics
  13. There is no doctrine affected between the TR and CT
  14. The TR position is “textual mythology”
  15. Learning textual criticism is necessary for apologetics
  16. The burden of proof is on the TR advocates
  17. The Bible does not teach providential preservation
  18. There is no difference between Critical Bibliology and Reformed Bibliology
  19. It is possible to reconstruct the original autographs with extant evidence
  20. The TR position is just fundamentalism, emotionalism, and traditionalism

The Skepticism of the TR Position

Introduction

Recently James White made the claim that he was astonished at the skepticism of the TR position, comparing it to that of Bart Ehrman. What men like James White do not seem to understand is that this skepticism is not a skepticism of the Scriptures, it is in the modern critical text, which isn’t even finished. What is actually astonishing is the lack of skepticism from people who know this system inside and out. It demonstrates a complete lack of discernment and a troubling adherence to the axioms of modern textual criticism. Now, I can see White now, reading the first four sentences of this article and talking about how wrong I am (with props and all!), but for the discerning reader, I want to present my case as to why it’s not astonishing at all to be extremely skeptical of the Modern Critical Text.

Three Reasons Christians Should Practice Discernment When Approaching the Critical Text

1 – Modern Critical Text Advocates and Bart Ehrman Agree in Almost Everything

While White loves to level the claim that TR advocates are the real skeptics by comparing them to Bart Ehrman, he fails to highlight the fact that him and Bart Ehrman essentially agree on everything. Here is a video of Bart Ehrman saying as much. The only thing that these two men disagree upon is the conclusion that God has anything to do with the Bible. So when White comments that TR advocates are skeptical like Bart Ehrman, he’s really just saying that TR advocates are better students than he is.

We listen to what the scholars have to say about the critical text, and believe them, because they created it. It should not be surprising that Reformed Christians who take church history seriously might reject something new to the church from the 20th century and on. What is really going on when White and others make this argument is that they are distracting from the reality that it is actually their system that agrees with Bart Ehrman.

Not only does the textbook that the critical text advocates use have Ehrman’s name on the front, the main academic book series that is putting out the latest scholarly writing on the topic also has his name on it! In fact, pretty much any book you want to read that represents the critical text position has Bart Ehrman’s name on it or in it. As White loves to point out, this is a clear, and intentional, confusion of categories. TR advocates are skeptical of the critical text, not the Scriptures which they have received. Even if none of this was reality, in order to make this argument consistently, critical text apologists should first retract any claims that those in the TR camp are adhering to blind faith fundamentalism. The fact is that the TR methodology is fundamentally not skeptical, which is a common critique of the position.

2 – What Is Said About the Critical Text is Often Not True of the Critical Text

This is probably the biggest grievance I have with those that advocate for the critical text – they either are ignorant of what the critical text is, or are simply misrepresenting what it is they are advocating for. The critical text is not a Bible in the way that most people think it is. It is a lot of bibles packaged together or perhaps a compendium of manuscript readings. Scholars that produce these texts do not advertise them as “the very Word of God.” These printed volumes simply represent a reconstructed snapshot of the transmitted text at a certain point in time in the transmission history of the New Testament. The readings in each of these texts are simply the editors’ opinions on which reading is the earliest. In the case of the Modern Critical Text, all versions of it represent closely one or two manuscripts from a single geographical location dated around the fourth century. There is not a single scholar or apologist for the Critical Text that would say that any Bible translation is translated from the full record of the original, inspired text. James White touched on this in his recent debate with Pastor Jeff Riddle when being questioned about the authenticity of the ending of Mark, which just confirms he lines up with Dan Wallace and the rest of the intelligentsia on the topic.

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or 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.”

Gurry & Hixson, Myths & Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii. Quote Dan Wallace.

I recognize that people have different perspectives on a wide array of theological topics, but it would be nice for the men who advocate for the Modern Critical Text to at least be straight forward about what their text actually is. TR advocates are skeptical of this text because the scholars that created it are skeptical of it. There is no wide spread conspiracy theory, because the scholars themselves believe what the TR advocates are saying.

3 – Modern Critical Text Advocates Pretend That A Healthy Dose of Skepticism is Outlandish

No matter how loudly somebody denies this reality, there is a good reason people are skeptical of the Modern Critical Text(s). In the first place, it’s not finished. In the second place, the goal of Modern Textual Criticism isn’t to find the autographic readings, it’s to find the earliest possible readings. In the third place, the scholars themselves admit that their text is not verifiable. If you aren’t skeptical of this, you probably should be.

If somebody was trying to sell you a car, and they told you that they weren’t sure if it had all the parts, that they had no way of knowing if it had all the parts, and that another model was coming out soon that also didn’t have all the parts, would you buy that car? Would you let your kids drive it? Probably not, I hope. You would hopefully go and buy a car that at least advertises itself as being a full car. It is time that Modern Critical Text advocates stop pretending that it is absurd for TR advocates to be skeptical of a product that quite literally describes itself as something to be skeptical about.

Conclusion

At this point in the discussion of New Testament Textual Criticism, there is more than enough information available to at least make a determination on whether or not the array of critical texts should be trusted. Shifting the argument and projecting doesn’t change the reality of what textual scholars are actually saying. As it pertains to this argument, you don’t need to know anything about the TR to know that the Critical Text(s) is not what apologists claim that it is. If the claim is that TR advocates are too skeptical, the person making the claim is either misinformed or intentionally conflating categories.

It is revealing that in one breath, a Critical Text apologist can claim that TR advocates have “The same view as Mormons” on Scripture while also asserting that they are “Skeptical like Bart Erhman.” Instead of conflating categories so irresponsibly, it’s important to recognize that when TR advocates are called skeptical, the thing they are skeptical about is the Modern Critical Text. If you aren’t skeptical of the Modern Critical Text, read what the scholars are saying about it before blindly listening to the shock and awe arguments of James White and co. Believe it or not, there are really great reasons to believe that the scholars who created the various Critical Texts are accurate in describing what they created. What the TR advocates are actually setting forth is that Christians have every reason to believe that God has preserved His Word, and that we have that very text today. We simply disagree upon which text that is.

The Incorrect Category Distinction of Text and Canon

Disclaimer: This article is pretty long. I intended for this to be a short article and it turned into an essay.

Framing the Discussion

Creating distinct categories for the text of the New Testament and the Canon of the New Testament is a theological and logical error because the substance of the Canon is defined by the text. It may be a helpful distinction to make when defining terms, but it does not make sense to handle them separately as different theological categories. It is an error that has been propagated by some of the most highly esteemed scholars within the modern Christian church. This is likely due to the fact that defending the canonical list of books is far more simple than defending the text within those books. It is probably the least controversial theological assertion within textual scholarship, and any disputes over which books belong are outright rejected by the larger Christian church.

The reason scholars must separate the text and canon into separate categories is because if they are not separate, then the current effort and defense of textual criticism is plainly foolish. The basic argument to defend this distinction is that the canon of the Scriptures arrived at an unofficial consensus in the Patristic era of the church while the text never achieved the same consensus. Those in the TR camp assert that this consensus occurred shortly after the arrival of the printing press to Europe.

It seems shocking that those who advocate for the Critical Text advocate for an open text of Scripture, but this is indeed the case. Any endorsement of the ongoing effort of textual criticism which claims to be after “the original” is an admission that the text of the New Testament is not closed. If it was the case that the Critical Text was closed, then there would be no effort of Textual Criticism of the New Testament that was endorsed by Christians.

Interacting with the Argument

The basic argument goes that while we can be certain of the originality of a high percentage of the New Testament, we cannot be absolutely certain. Dan Wallace has framed the most popular version of this argument, which James White employed in his most recent video debate with Pastor Jeff Riddle. The argument goes that while we cannot be absolutely certain of the text of the New Testament, we have no reason to be radically skeptical of the text either. He argues that there is a place somewhere between radical skepticism and absolute certainty when it comes to our Bible. There is a huge problem with this view from logical, theological, and practical perspectives.

Logical Problems with Separating Text and Canon into Separate Categories

Logically, if we say that the canon of Scripture is separate from the text of Scripture, we have to define what exactly makes up the substance of each of these categories. Category distinctions are useless unless we actually define what is in those categories.

In the context of this discussion, these two categories are typically defined as the books of the Bible (canon) and the text of the Bible (text). According to this argument, so as long as the canon is available, the Christian church has “The Bible” in her possession. “The Bible” exists despite the text not being clearly defined. This does not follow, as the substance of the Bible is not simply defined by the names of the books, it includes the text within those books. You would not say that an empty glass which formerly contained orange juice was a glass of orange juice now, simply because at one point there was orange juice in it. You would say it’s an empty glass.

The logical conclusion of this necessarily demands that if you say that we have the Bible (canon), but only have x% of the text, then we really only have x% of the Bible. The glass has some juice in it. See, the Bible is not defined only by the canon, it is defined by the text and the canon in combination. You can’t have a glass of orange juice without the glass and the liquid. That is why this category distinction is logically wrong. You cannot say you have something when the substance which defines that thing is not available.

The person demanding this category distinction is actually making the argument that “The Bible” is something that can be had without a clear definition of the substance which makes up the Bible. Simply put, the category distinction of “text” is made without actually defining what that text is. Using symbols, the argument looks like this:

T = Full Text

C = Full Canon

t = Established places in the text

x = Places of uncertainty within the Text

The TR methodology says that C = T. The canon is made up of words, and without those words, it is not the canon. We have the canon and the text within that canon, therefore we have the Bible.

The Critical Text methodology says that C = B and that T = t + x. The canon is made up of the books, and those books make up the Bible. The Bible has words in it, but we do not need all of them to have the Bible. The Bible is not necessarily defined exactly by the words contained within it.

Since we cannot find the value of t + x empirically, Critical Text apologists make the argument that C = Bible. According to this argument, since we know the names of the books which belong in the canon, we have the Bible. We can “tinker” with the words and the outcome of that tinkering does not change the substance of the Bible, because the Bible isn’t defined by the text. This is the necessary conclusion if the text of the Bible can change while saying that we still have the same Bible we had prior to those changes.

Theological Problems with Separating the Text and Canon into Separate Categories

If the text of the Bible can be “tinkered” with or changed without the Bible changing, the Bible is not fundamentally defined by the text that is within it. This means that any theological statement which affirms that the Bible is the “very Word of God” is wrong. You would have to argue that the original Word of God as it was delivered to the prophets and apostles was the very Word of God when it was penned, and that the text that was delivered then is different from the text we have today. This is essentially what the doctrine of Inerrancy teaches. The original Bible was perfect, but the Bible we have today is not to one degree or another. This is incompatible with any doctrine which adopts any form of Sola Scriptura because according to this theological framework, we do not have the substance of the Scripture which is set forth by the doctrinal statement.

Practical Problems with Separating Text and Canon into Separate Categories

If it is the case that the original manuscripts of the New Testament were perfect, but we no longer have everything those original manuscripts set forth, then practically speaking, we have zero foundation for upholding any sort of Sola Scriptura doctrine as a foundation for all matters of faith and practice. Instead, we would have to adapt this doctrine to state that the Scriptures are sufficient to things pertaining to justification. It is often said, “All Bibles contain what is necessary for somebody to be saved.” This is fundamentally different from all things pertaining to faith and practice. Practically speaking, according to this doctrine, the Christian church today has everything necessary for salvation, and some or most of what they need for practice.

The Amount of Uncertainties Has Not and Cannot Be Defined

It is especially important to press on the fact that whatever percentage of certainty we have in the text of Scripture is necessarily arbitrary if we adopt the Critical Text method. At the time of writing this article, there have been zero attempts to define which words are safely in the text and which are not. So when a proponent of the critical text throws out a number, like 99.9%, it is not backed by any empirical analysis and is by definition arbitrary. If one wanted to actually make a claim like this, he would have to actually set forth a base text in which all of the included words are certain(t), and then present the words that are uncertain(x). If t + x = 1, he would have to define t and x and further make the bold claim that the collection of extant material = 1, or the original. Most modern formulations do not even set t + x = 1, because there is no way of establishing that 1 exists within our extant materials according to the critical text methodology. In actuality, the modern scholars say that .9 < t + x < 1. The problem is this boundary cannot be drawn and cannot be defined by the modern critical methodology, so the argument for any amount of certainty is purely founded on what we might call an “educated guess.”

The reality is, once the distinction between canon and text is made, one must necessarily argue for the preservation of each category on different grounds. The canon is said to be providentially preserved, but the text is not. Since “The Bible” is being defined primarily as the canon, proponents of this argument can claim that “The Bible” has been preserved, despite the substance that makes up the Bible having “many many places” where it is uncertain or unclear. This category distinction is made simply to affirm the doctrine of preservation at face value while really denying the substance of it. At best, this doctrine states that what we have is a partially preserved text, or a quasi-preserved text.

If you have made it this far, I will conclude by summarizing my argument in the simplest possible form. The distinction between text and canon is illogical because the substance of the canon is a necessary part of the definition of the canon itself. Just like an empty glass that formerly had orange juice in it isn’t a glass of orange juice, the books of Scripture that formerly had a completed text in it is not a Bible. The apologists for the critical text say that the glass of orange juice is 99.9% full, but also say that they have no way of telling how full the glass is. In other words, the glass is painted black and an unknown portion of the top of the glass has been sawed off. They have no way of telling how tall the original glass was or how much liquid the glass originally had, just that it has some amount of liquid in it now. They make the assumption that the liquid currently in the glass is at least 90% of the liquid that was originally there, but have no way of actually testing or supporting that hypothesis. They can say that we have a Bible because they can see the glass, but they cannot say what that Bible is because they cannot measure the liquid or even know how much liquid the glass originally held.

In opposition to this view, the traditional view of Scripture is that the canon contains the text, and God has preserved and delivered both to His church, even today.

Three Practical Ways to Teach Your Children to Read the KJV

Introduction

I recently wrote an article called, “A Low View of Parents and Pastors” and a reader of my blog commented and asked for some practical ways to help children learn the Bible. I am by no means an expert, but I was raised by educators and I might be able to offer some insights based on my personal experience. I’m sure some teachers can add more in the comments.

The basic argument that I have set forth is that if a child is raised reading a translation, they will know the vocabulary of that translation by the time they reach adulthood and even earlier. Since Ward has not produced any real data related to the actual literacy of KJV readers, I am stuck responding to an anecdotal argument with my own anecdotes. Carm.org, a site that has some valuable apologetic resources but is dogmatically modern critical text only, lists 171 archaic words in the KJV and their modern equivalents. Often times words considered “archaic” like “untoward” or “visage” are not actually archaic, just outside of the commonly used English vernacular. Pro-KJV sites like AV1611.com list many more, and most KJV’s have King’s English glossaries in the back which might include up to 700 words (many of which you probably know).

It is difficult to say exactly how many words in the KJV might be considered above the average reading level or archaic, but the number varies depending on whether or not geographical locations are listed or difficult words are included as archaic and how exactly one might define “difficult” or “archaic”. It is important to remember that many of these words are still in use today, especially in fiction and even video games. Part of the reason the KJV was easy for me to pick up, interestingly enough, was due to my video game hobby growing up.

The real issue is not necessarily “archaic” words, it is words that might be considered false cognates, or “false friends” as Mark Ward likes to call them. Normally, this concept is used in the realm of learning foreign languages so it’s application to the KJV is quite suspect. Despite what Ward says, the KJV is written in English. The only real challenge to reading the KJV for most people are words that have shifted in meaning, but these can be learned, and are still English. Unfortunately men like Mark Ward make the case that the smattering of “false friends” make the KJV altogether unintelligible, which is downright false and bordering on dishonest. The vast majority of words in the KJV are not “false friends.” In this article, I will examine several ways to help children and people of all ages learn how to recognize and understand these difficult words.

Practical Pedagogy

As I have stated before on this blog, the problem with not understanding the KJV is not one of textual criticism, it is one of language learning and vocabulary. In order to fluently read a language, most polyglots/language scholars say that you must recognize about 94% of the words on a page. This is important, because for some unknown reason, men like Mark Ward make it seem like 100% literacy is required for something to be intelligible.

While I think that Ward’s perspective demonstrates how little he actually understands about language learning and the English language overall, it is important to note that 100% literacy is never required in any language. Most seminary Greek professors can hardly get through one page of their Greek New Testament without stopping to check a dictionary and they still claim to know Greek. In Kostenberger’s advanced Greek textbook, he recommends an astonishingly low goal of 10 verses a day to maintain “proficiency”. Most native English speakers are at about a B2 fluency in English, which is levels beyond the average seminary Greek professor in Greek. The point is that many of these scholars have a strange understanding of language proficiency and learning and we should really take what they have to say with a huge grain of salt. Regardless, I want to present three practical ways to teach children the “historical” English of the KJV. Keep in mind this is catered to the average child, which means I am not taking into consideration the special needs of those with learning disabilities or other conditions that might hinder the educational process.

1. Teach Children How to Fish

As parents and Christians, we should know our Bibles well. That does not mean we know every single word. Nobody knows every definition of every word in their Bible, no matter what translation is used. A common tactic used by anti-KJV types is to take a vocab word out of its context and to quiz people on it. They gather lists of difficult words and ask people to define them, knowing that the average KJV reader will score 20% on their test. They then use this to say that KJV readers cannot understand the KJV.

If I asked the average person what dappled, portent, retinue, or satraps meant, I could make a solid case using Ward’s logic that the NIV is unintelligible to the modern English speaker. The simple solution to Ward’s perplexing non-issue is to teach children how to look up words they don’t know. This is a skill we all should have, but it is not a skill we know out of the box. Rather than teaching our kids that reading is impossibly difficult, we should give them the tools to learn new words. This follows the logic of the old proverb of teaching men to fish, rather than just giving them a fish.

2. Read to Your Kids, A Lot

The number one indicator for literacy is not how well children scored on their vocab tests. The average person is capable of memorizing ten words a week and writing the definitions down on paper. A better indicator of adult literacy is how often they were read to as a child. Even if you think your child cannot understand what you are reading to them, read to them anyway. Now apply this to Bible reading. Read the Bible to your kids daily. Take the time to define words that we do not use in our daily vernacular like “thee” and “ye.” My parents read to me until I was 9 years old, even when I already knew how to read. They only stopped when I complained that I “was too old” for them to read to me (and I probably was, but it is times like those I look back on fondly). If you are an adult and struggle reading your Bible, read your Bible more. This is also great advice for those that are learning other languages, like Greek. You will never attain proficiency in a language by rote memorization. You have to speak it, hear it, and read it.

3. Teach Your Children to Annotate Their Books

One of the best strategies for retaining information we read in books is annotating the margins or note cards and marking words or concepts we don’t understand. I personally also use sticky notes or color coded tabs to indicate places in books that I want to return to for review. One of the greatest mistakes we can make as teachers is simplifying literacy to vocab memorization. We need to be invested in learning how to learn, and teaching our children how to learn. One exercise that I used to do was mark words with a pencil that I did not understand, put a sticky note on the page, and then review the words with my mom after I had spent some time in the dictionary. This is a helpful exercise that can be applied to Bible reading and provide a great opportunity to be involved with your child’s education if you do not home school. A simple axiom to apply to this point is to be more involved in your child’s education. Behind every great adult reader is a parent that spent time with them as a child.

Conclusion

The solution to Mark Ward’s problem with the KJV is one that can be resolved by simply teaching children how to learn and being involved with their Bible education. On a somewhat related note, it is also imperative that we do not teach our children to be critics, but students. It is not our job to critique the Scriptures, but to learn from them. The critical schools have poisoned our brains to believe that we are to approach all texts as scholars and academics, including the Bible. We are taught to question the validity of a passage before reading it and to craft our own translation of a passage using a lexicon, even if we do not know the original languages. We are taught that “we know better” and that there is nothing valuable in the realm of language to be learned from the men of old. If you survey the modern landscape of scholarly theological works, they are filled with new translations and Greek word games. Whether you want to admit it or not, this is a fruit from the postmodern tree. This is a devastating perspective, and we are seeing the fruit of it now in our seminaries and churches.

We have to see past the rhetoric of men like Mark Ward and remember that God made us to be language learners. It is something that is truly remarkable about our brains. We often glance past the reality that children go from not understanding any language to being practically fluent by the grade school. The human brain is designed to learn language out of the box, and we need to apply that to learning the language of our Bible. To my reader, do not be discouraged by anti-KJV rhetoric, treat each new word as a way to expand your vocabulary and learn something new about what God is speaking to you in the Scriptures.

A Low View of Pastors & Parents

Introduction

One of the common arguments against the King James Version is that it is too difficult to read. The archaic words are said to be, at least to one degree or another, impossible to learn. I am going to use Mark Ward as an example here, because he is the architect of many versions of this argument. He often makes the case that even if you think you understand what a passage is saying, you likely don’t. He then will give a handful of anecdotes explaining how he didn’t understand the KJV growing up, or how he still can’t understand the KJV. I personally don’t believe that a man who sounds like a thesaurus has trouble understanding what the word “meat” means in the KJV, but that’s another conversation. This is one of the foundations for advocating for something like the Message or the New Living Translation. According to modern Bibliology, the Bible ought to be readable at every place, no matter your reading comprehension level. If you can’t understand every passage in one version, you are to adopt or consult another version rather than learning the word you don’t understand.

Now let’s set aside the fact that this is an absurd practice. The Bible is going to have words you need to learn, no matter the translation. We should be encouraging Christians to simply learn new words, rather than abandoning a translation every time they encounter a word that is too difficult. That being said, since the argument is often framed around the difficulty children have at learning difficult words in their Bible translation, we have to talk about what the real issue is here: parents and pastors. What is almost always left out of the discussion is the role that parents and pastors have in teaching both children and adults the Bible.

Like a Children’s Cartoon, the Parents Are Nowhere to Be Found

If you’ve ever watched a lot of children’s cartoons with your young kids, you may notice that many of them rarely give screen time to parents. In Disney movies and shows meant for young kids, a lot of the time it’s the kids figuring things out on their own without a parent to be seen. Instead of seeking help from their parents to solve a basic problem, these characters go on grand adventures and put themselves in great peril to figure things out on their own. Almost every argument I have seen leveled against the intelligibility of the KJV is the same way. These arguments seem to exclude the most important component of the discussion, which is how people learn to understand their Bible.

In this case, there should be two category distinctions that are almost never made: people raised in the church and people not raised in the church. In the case of Mark Ward, he was raised in the church, yet his arguments never seem to include stories about how he learned to understand his Bible. In fact, the only stories he does include are how pastors were too inept to understand relatively easy words in the KJV (For more, see my series on Authorized). He paints this picture that out of all of the people he knew growing up, none of them really understood what the KJV was saying. It is quite a condemnation on the community Ward grew up in. I often find myself feeling bad for the faithful men and women who Ward grew up with, because he often only highlights how inept they were. Clearly these people deserve more credit than Ward gives them, because he grew up to be somewhat of a leading scholar in understanding the KJV.

Perhaps it is true that the people in Ward’s community had remarkably low reading comprehension or that the parents in his community really didn’t invest in teaching their kids to read the KJV, but it seems very unlikely. If that is truly the case, his book must have been a harsh and necessary rebuke to all of the people he grew up with. In a recent video called, “A Pastor Asks: What if I Prefer the KJV Because it Gives My Kids a Broad Vocabulary?”, Ward really demonstrates his lack of understanding of the average parent. It also demonstrates how committed Ward is to steering people away from the KJV at all costs.

Ward makes the case against learning “historical” English because “the Bible values intelligibility more.” I have commented on this rhetoric before as being extremely condescending and disconnected. Despite Ward constantly asserting that the KJV is unintelligible, there are many, many Christians who can understand it. It also speaks to Ward’s lack of understanding of how English is taught and learned. I was brought up in the public school system, where as a foundation I was taught basic Latin root words as well as Shakespeare prior to getting to 9th grade. I imagine Ward had a similar experience, since he was educated in America. As Christians, we should never set the bar lower than secular institutions when it comes to our education. If you want to get a reality check on just how low the Christian standard for education is in 2020, spend ten bucks on this book that William Sprague wrote to his teenage daughter.

That point aside, Ward’s argument speaks especially to the fact that he sees pastors and parents as essentially irrelevant to the discussion of learning how to read the Bible. The only real way Ward has set forth to understanding difficult words is by having access to his preferred dictionary. In the real world, parents and pastors are the dictionary. I am currently watching my 2 1/2 year old learn English right now, and I am quite literally her dictionary. She asks, “What does that [word] mean?” and “What is this thing?” and “What does that do?” and “What is this color?” and so on.

As parents, we should be involved in the formation of our children’s vocabulary. When they do not understand a word, we teach them. If we do not know the definition of a word, we find out, and then teach our children. Our pastors do the same thing when it comes to our Biblical vocabulary. Yes, there is such a thing as “Biblical vocabulary.” I can’t count the times I’ve heard pastors take a moment to explain what the word “propitiation” means, because it is a word that we don’t normally encounter in our vernacular English.

In KJV churches, pastors do this all the time when they encounter an archaic word. If you’ve ever listened to KJV preaching, pastors pause briefly throughout the sermon to provide a definition for a word that is not a part of our normal vernacular English. If you are a KJV pastor that doesn’t do this, I highly recommend doing it. In the context of the Christian church, parents and pastors are the primary means that people learn new words that are outside of their daily vernacular.

Conclusion

The basic argument that the KJV is unintelligible speaks to a low view of parents, pastors, and the English language altogether. If you told my sister, a high school English teacher, that we should only be teaching kids contemporary vocabulary, she would laugh at you. If you told my mom, who runs a schoolhouse, that teaching middle schoolers Latin and Greek roots was unnecessary because it’s not “intelligible” to an English speaker, she’d write you off immediately.

If you listen to a conversation of what “contemporary vernacular English” sounds like, you would especially be exposed as disconnected. The irony of it all, is that Ward constantly uses flowery language that the average person has to google to understand. He sounds like a thesaurus that has the flu. Understanding “historical” English is a part of our toolkit for learning new words and understanding literature that is technically higher than our current reading level. Latin, German, and Greek are all a part of “historical” English, and we learn root words in these languages all the time to help us understand “contemporary” English. Even the secular system recognizes the importance of this.

The standard educational route of American children is adequate to read at least 95% of the KJV. Most passages in the KJV are written at a fourth grade reading level, with some pushing up to a 12th grade reading level. The same can basically be said for the ESV. The problem with continuing to paint the KJV as “unintelligible” is that it is actually not. Further, with the help of parents and pastors, most people can easily bridge the small gap of archaic words to fully understand the KJV without a dictionary or footnotes or commentary or internet search.

If you throw these tools into the mix, it is quite absurd to even make the argument that the KJV cannot be understood. You basically have to admit that you’ve never tried to read the KJV all the way through. The strategy of highlighting 20 difficult passages can be applied to literally any Bible translation. Most people are not so willing to insult their own intelligence, or the intelligence of the people in their church. Think about how ridiculous this argument is in a context where nearly everybody has access to a smart phone. In order to actually accept or make this argument, you not only have to believe that the average Christian is quite stupid, but you also have to believe that you are quite stupid.

Now it is true that many Christians pretend to understand things they don’t actually understand. It is true that there are KJV readers out there who think they understand every word but don’t. That is why we are a part of churches. That is why we have pastors and friends to help us. If your pastor preaches verse by verse through Scripture, you will learn difficult words organically through sermons and sermon discussions. If you read your Bible daily, this is especially true. If you grow up in a faithful house that does family worship as the confession prescribes, you will be equipped to read any translation you want, even the KJV.

The point is that the discussion of Bible intelligibility is primarily a discussion about education. When somebody makes the case that the KJV cannot be understood, it is really a condemnation of pastors and parents who did not bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We have to stop setting the bar so low for Christians and be reminded that Christians have always valued learning, not scoffed at it. Christians should be offended by Ward’s argument, because at its core, all it really is saying is, “You are too stupid to learn new words.”