A Scripture is a Scripture, No Matter How Small

Introduction

Many Christians have had trouble understanding what is meant by the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith when they say that the Old Testament in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek have been “kept pure in all ages” (1.8). It does not mean that the framers of the confessions did not know about textual variants, or that those in the Confessional Text camp believe that the Word of God was transmitted perfectly by one manuscript. What this means is that the doctrine of inspiration and preservation disallows for a total corruption of any one reading in the Holy Scriptures. Certain verses or words have not been “lost to time”. 

Doctrinal standards that do not affirm purity in the transmission history of the New Testament are a direct result of modern definitions of inspiration and preservation. This is a standard that is based on the opinions that scholars have of manuscripts rather than theological suppositions from the Holy Scriptures. Due to the heavy weight assigned to certain manuscripts localized to Egypt in the 3rd and 4th century, and the massive difference between those and the rest of the manuscript tradition, scholars have determined that the text has been corrupted and needs to be repaired. The Reformation era work was inaccurate because those scholars did not understand how valuable the Egyptian manuscripts are. As a result, the doctrine of preservation had to be revisited. Had the modern scholars simply consented to the opinions of Erasmus, John Owen, and Francis Turretin regarding the strange Egyptian manuscripts such as Codex Vaticanus, this shift may have never happened. 

Inspiration and Preservation

As a result of the reevaluation of Egyptian manuscripts as “earliest and best”, Christians had to separate the doctrine of inspiration from the doctrine of preservation. This is done implicitly by those who adhere to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy when they say that the text has been passed down with “great accuracy” as opposed to “pure in all ages”. Because the idiosyncratic text stream had been deemed as good as “original”, the text of the Reformation was declared unfit for duty. This is the difference between the Reformation view and the postmodern view on the doctrine of inspiration as it pertains to the transmission of the New Testament text. In the confessional view, the text of the New Testament was kept pure in every generation of copying, which is to say that the text was never fully corrupt across all of the authentic copies. There was never “two independent streams of text”. There is no doubt that people used the Egyptian manuscripts, but the use of those manuscripts seemed to be localized to one region for a brief period of time. Despite manuscripts having a multitude of copyist errors, and intentional corruption, the original text was always available and transmitted accurately by God’s “singular care and providence”. The postmodern view gave credence to the idea that the scholars of the Reformation simply got it wrong, and the Word of God fell out of use for nearly 1500 years. 

You might ask, “But what does this have to do with inspiration?” The disconnect between inspiration and preservation is a direct result in the reinterpretation of the Westminster Confession by A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield. Sure, the originals were inspired, but that does not mean that these originals were perfectly preserved, in the sense that every word is still intact. The Scriptures were transmitted with “great accuracy”, after all. Which is to say that to some arbitrary degree, the Scriptures have been mostly kept pure. Despite this attempt at redefinition, the Scriptural doctrine of inspiration disallows for this separation due to the covenant nature of the New Testament and its purpose. 

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 KJV). 

In order to maintain a Scriptural understanding of inspiration, one must accept that all Scripture was inspired, and all Scripture is profitable for all matters of faith and practice. This means that there is no such thing as an inspired Scripture that is not profitable for this covenant purpose. This being the case, this disallows for the distinction between “important doctrines” and “not important doctrines” when it comes to inspiration. This is what is being said when people say that “all the important doctrines are preserved”. If all of the important doctrines have been preserved, then the Scriptures that God inspired are again placed under the microscope of men to be deemed fit for profitability to the people of God. So as long as the editors, contributors, and proponents of the approved modern text(s) determine that doctrine is not affected, the Warfieldian standard allows for continued tinkering. The text may be inspired in its originals, but it has not been kept pure in all ages, because the original form of the New Testament has never been attained. This is not the Scriptural standard. 

I am not saying that every doctrine is as important as the next. There are certain doctrines that Christians divide over, and others that they do not divide over. These distinctions are fine to make, unless we are talking about “important doctrines” within the bounds of inspiration. The framing of inspiration in terms of “all the important doctrines” has cleverly shifted the standard of authority for the Holy Scriptures. Rather than the inspired text being the authority, the authority now rests on men and women to determine which are the important doctrines. The Scriptures are no longer self-authenticating. They are self-authenticating insofar as they represent the important doctrines, or some other arbitrary standard of accuracy. 

The modern view of inspiration has allowed Christians to essentially believe that the only people who ever had God’s Word in the original, were the people who had access to the unaltered originals. By the time the first copy was made, the first corruption took place, and the people of God would never have anything more than a Bible that is “close enough” to the original. The people of God will never have the exact wording, but they will have the doctrines. Yet this is not the doctrine put forth in the Scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the text clearly says that all Scripture is given by inspiration, and that all Scripture is profitable. The Bible does not set the bar at verses that pertain to salvation, or some other arbitrary standard. The Scriptures do not put forth the postmodern views of inspiration, where all Scripture means “All the important doctrines”. 

The text of Holy Scripture does not say that inspiration applies to doctrines, it applies to the actual text. If the text is inspired, it has a use for God’s covenant people, even if not equally weighed. The weight of a doctrine does not disqualify it from being preserved. Thus, in order for 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to be true, the text that God inspired must also be kept pure, “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works”. If a Scripture has been inspired, it must be preserved as well, and not just in the ideas. 

This raises further questions regarding what exactly it means to have a “greatly accurate” Bible. Who gets to say what “great accuracy” means? What percentage of the Bible do we have? It could mean that the people of God have a 95% original Bible, or a 70% original Bible, or even worse. Using the modern text-critical standards, it is impossible to determine to what degree of accuracy a text represents the original. In order to do that, one would need to have the original as a point of comparison. As it stands, the standard of comparison is a cluster of 3rd and 4th century Egyptian manuscripts. So even stating that the Bible has been preserved to a great degree of accuracy is completely arbitrary and unverifiable using modern standards and methods. 

Conclusion

A common misunderstanding of the confessional language of “pure in all ages” is that it means that literally every manuscript has been preserved completely. This has never been the case, and was not the perspective of the framers of the confessions. They did not see the printed editions of the Greek New Testament as a mere representation of the manuscript tradition, they viewed it as the completed effort of collating the authentic copies. Which is why the framers of the confessions, and the theologians of the time, all accepted the Received Text of the Reformation period. 

It also does not mean that handwriting, text size, and document formatting has been preserved perfectly. The preservationist view set forth in the confessions is that the words have been kept pure across the authentic manuscripts. Every manuscript contains scribal errors, this does not affect the doctrinal statements of the Reformation and post-Reformation period because these errors are not so great that the original has not been available in every generation. These great men of old were not ignorant of variants, or even the readings that modernity has deemed “earliest and best”. 

Regardless of the position you take on the Text of Scripture, it should be one that comports with the testimony of Scripture itself. Do the Scriptures present a view that only the important doctrines have been preserved? Or do they say that all Scripture has been preserved? A Scripture is a Scripture, no matter how small. Rather than being swayed by the compelling evidential arguments of men, take the time to see if those arguments can withstand the weight of its own critiques. See if the methodology aligns with Scripture. Start theologically, and then examine the evidence. View the evidence in light of God’s Word, not the other way around. 

In Pursuit of the Divine Original

Introduction

What does it mean to have the original text of the Greek New Testament? There are varying definitions of this term “original”, which adds confusion to the discussion of New Testament textual criticism. I won’t go down the road of explaining every nuance in the discussion of defining terms, but I will say that not everybody agrees on what exactly it means to possess the Divine Original. In order to simplify the skewed beliefs in this topic, I will present the varying views people espouse in the form of a spectrum. The spectrum does not necessarily present any one view, the goal is to provide two extremes so that the reader can understand the discussion generally. 

On one end, there is a hyper-literal understanding of “original”. In this understanding, attaining the original would mean to have not only the words penned by the authors, but also the handwriting, the size of the text, punctuation, formatting of the document itself, and so on. This definition requires an absolute facsimile-style replica of the original text of the New Testament. Defining the original on such strict terms disallows for any meaningful pursuit of the original, and more or less rejects any view from being considered that isn’t trying to attain the level of precision required by this perspective. 

On the other end, there lies a more allegorical or historical understanding of what it means to have the original. The original simply represents a historical perspective of the communities that scribed the manuscripts, and thus it is more accurate to say that there are original(s). Each independent manuscript and its copies represents its own original, which speaks to the historical effort of transmitting the New Testament text(s). The original is not really the goal in the sense that one version of the New Testament is the “correct” version. All of the manuscripts are “correct” in their own, unique way, because they are simply representatives of the “kaleidoscopic” nature of human communities. 

In the middle of these two views are two perspectives that represent the majority of conservative Christian scholarship. On the left of center is the view that to have the original is to have the original intentions and doctrines that the authors attempted to communicate. God has preserved everything He intended to preserve, which is not necessarily every jot or tittle, just every important doctrine. On the right of center is the view that God has kept His Word “pure in all ages”, and that every word has been exposed to the people of God and received by them. 

The former view requires a continued effort to reconstruct those places of the Greek New Testament that are not certain as original, and the latter view says that the original text has been delivered to the people of God in every generation, even today. These two theological understandings of what it means to have the Divine Original are the major epistemological foundations for what view of the text of Scripture one takes. There is obviously a wealth of nuance in between and on either side of these two positions, and not everybody fits perfectly into one of these two categories, but it is important to offer basic definitions in order to properly interact with them.  

An Examination of the Majority Conservative View of Preservation

The majority view of conservative Christians is that the Bible has been preserved, just not precisely. This allows for wiggle-room for textual variants and places where the original, or earliest text cannot be determined. To them, this is the simple reality of the story that the manuscripts tell. Because there are places where the original reading cannot be determined with absolute precision, God never intended for His people to be absolutely certain on every word of Scripture. That is not to say that those who adopt this position are not in pursuit of the Divine Original. In fact, there are many scholars who desire greatly, and are determined to find every original reading. This is probably worth noting, especially considering the opinion that there are “no text critics attempting to find the original”. Yet, in some regards, this opinion is true. There are few, if any, textual scholars who are trying to find the original in the sense of “every jot or tittle”. Note how the different understandings of what it means to have the Divine Original can cause a disconnect between these two camps within conservative Christianity. 

The fundamental sticking point, and the reality of this optimistic outlook, is that even the most idealistic text-critic does not believe that the original has been attained as of yet. There may be some that believe they have found the original, but when pressed on what text they should point to, I have yet to see one actually point to a text and say, “this is the original text of the New Testament in Greek”. That is because the effort of reconstructionist textual criticism is still ongoing. If there was a text to point to, the efforts of modern textual critics would be done. The reality that the work of reconstruction of the Greek New Testament is still ongoing demonstrates that even the most conservative of text-critics do not believe that there is a final text just yet. They may believe that the text can be found or reconstructed, but this still remains to be done. 

This, of course, is an optimistic perspective, and for every text-critic that believes the original can be found, there is a counterpart who does not believe it can be found. This should cause one to raise an eyebrow and ask, “why is that?” What is it about a supposedly preserved text that makes it so elusive to textual scholars? And why is there disagreement on whether or not the original can be found? In any case, all of these scholars agree that the original has not been found, which is demonstrated by the reality that the work of New Testament textual criticism is still a thriving discipline. 

An Explanation for the Ongoing Pursuit of the Divine Original

The ongoing pursuit of the Divine Original is not due to the lack of intellectual fortitude of textual scholars. In fact, some of the brightest doctors of the Christian faith have taken up this mantle. The reason that this work is still in progress is due to the weakness of empirical methodology in light of the extant data. Most Christians have woefully misunderstood the nature of the extant manuscript data, believing that the thousands of copies are all ancient or early. While many understand that the majority of New Testament manuscripts are from the early-middle period and beyond, there remains a large number of Christians who truly believe that there are thousands of early papyri witnesses that testify to the New Testament text. The reality is, that one could not collate an entire Greek New Testament from the papyri. 

This is why there has been a shift from finding the original to finding the Ausgangstext. Since all of the substantial extant data is localized to one region and mostly dates to the third and fourth century, that is as far back as many scholars are willing to go. The Ausgangstext will inevitably take on some form of the early Egyptian manuscripts because the earliest manuscripts survived due to the dry climate of Egypt. Scientifically speaking, the earliest manuscripts can only show what the New Testament text looked like in one localized region 300 years after the autographs were penned. There is no empirical methodology that can show conclusively that the Egyptian manuscripts from the third and fourth century represent the original text of the New Testament.

Scholars can spend decades trying to explain the origin of each reading and variant, but ultimately this effort is limited by the extant data, which is disjointed from the originals by several centuries. A lot of copying can happen in that amount of time. Comparing the transmission of the New Testament to the Iliad and other ancient works does not objectively address the problem at hand. It does not matter how accurate the Bible is in relation to other ancient texts. The only observation that one can conclude from comparing transmission histories is the purity of the New Testament in the light of the purity of another text. 

Scholars can compare these early Egyptian readings to later Byzantine readings and try to develop genealogical maps of how those readings are related. They can even attempt to determine which of these readings came first. But at the end of the day, the limitations of the scientific nature of reconstructionist textual criticism prevents such a determination from being final. They can only say, with varying degrees of probability and confidence that the reading is likely to be early or original. This is due to the preferences of the text-critics making these determinations. In any field of historical-empirical-scientific pursuit, the science will be guided by the biases of the scientists. The only way a scientific method could prove, without any hesitation, that one particular text is the original, would be if the originals were found. And even then, there would be no way of determining if those originals were actually original. At the end of the day, scholars are comparing a text hanging three feet in midair to other texts hanging three feet in midair. 

The Necessity for a Theological Method

The ongoing and well-intentioned pursuit for the Divine Original by empirical methods is indicative of a larger theological conundrum. The very premise assumes a theological position of the text of the New Testament that is difficult to defend. The assumption is that God has preserved His Word, in so far as they represent all of the original doctrines and ideas the authors intended to convey. This standard is unfortunately too arbitrary. It is one thing to posit that all the original doctrines have been conveyed, and another to actually support that position with data. Who gets to decide which doctrines were the ones conveyed by the original authors? At this point in the history of textual criticism of the New Testament, this takes a default position of, “The doctrines that can be demonstrated to be as early as the Egyptian manuscripts”.The doctrines that God has preserved just so happen to be the doctrines that the small group of text-critical scholars have approved. 

The approved text(s) of the modern period has trimmed and updated the authorized text of the Reformation period. There is no doubt that the modern text is substantially different than the traditional text in its variant units. This being the case, rather than trying to prove empirically which text is better, the real effort must be to understand this shift theologically in light of the Scriptural doctrine of preservation. Sure, it is helpful to understand the transmission history of the New Testament text, and it is important work indeed, but the fact remains that the work of modern textual scholars has introduced a serious theological paradox. Either there are two (or more) lines of transmission that God has preserved, or one of them is correct and the other is an anomaly. 

In the case that God preserved two (or more) Bibles, then the subject of doctrine becomes a matter of preference. If there is not one Word of God, then one can adopt any reading they deem fit to justify their theological position or opinion of the evidence. There are enough variants within the manuscript tradition to do just that. Christianity becomes Christianities, and one can easily fall into the assumptions of Walter Bauer and those like him. There was not one Bible, and there is not one Christianity. This paradox of course was capitalized on by secular scholarship which has culminated in various mythicist positions, which are built on the premise of multiple Bibles, multiple Christianities. The Bible is yet another example of humans trying to find meaning.  Assuming that no conservative scholar would be comfortable allowing such a doctrine of preservation that says that multiple Bibles have been preserved, I turn now to the real paradox – that one of the two lines of transmission is errant, and the other representative of the original.

This is not a question of which text can be proved to be original or better than the other. The ongoing efforts of modern text-critics demonstrates that there are enough doctrinal differences between the modern text and the traditional text to continue the work to prove the modern text superior. If the traditional text accomplishes the goal of preserving the doctrines and intentions of the New Testament authors, the work, in theory, would be done. There would be no need to carry on, as all of the doctrines are preserved in the traditional text. The somewhat vague standard of the modern preservationist doctrine actually allows for adherence to the traditional text, given that one believes that text has all of the important doctrines. That is why the modern definition of preservation is somewhat at odds with itself. In one sense, it only requires all the basic doctrines, and on the other, it desires that the words be correct as well. This reality demonstrates that the theological position of “all the important doctrines” is in itself at odds with modern text-critical efforts. Either the traditional text contains all the important doctrines that were intended by the New Testament authors, or it is seriously flawed and should be rejected. The fact that scholars are still working demonstrates the belief in the latter.

That is why this must be approached theologically. By understanding the implications to the doctrine of preservation, one should be able to determine if the traditional text should be rejected for the approved text(s) of the scholars. In the case that the modern text is original or earliest, the majority of the manuscripts of the New Testament are largely errant and the people of God, for an egregious amount of time, received a version of God’s Word that was flawed. They read, studied, and preached from passages that were incorrect, or added to the text. They did not hear the voice of their Shepherd. And since no final product has been produced, this is still the case. The people of God are waiting for the next breakthrough in text-critical studies to tell them which passages of Scripture should, or shouldn’t be read. 

The reality of ongoing text-critical efforts betrays the theological foundations of the effort itself. That is to say, that in creating a substantially different text from the traditional text, one must admit that either God did not preserve just one stream of text, or that the church did not have the correct text for a long period of time. One can say that these two text forms are not significantly different, but if that be the case, the modern scholars and theologians and pastors should have no issue with the traditional text being used for all matters of faith and practice. 

If the form of the modern text(s) generally represent a text that was buried in the sand for over a thousand years, and that text is different from the text that was not buried in the sand, then the implications of that reality must be that either both texts are just fine, or that the people of God were without the voice of their Shepherd. In the case that the modern text-critic says that the traditional text preserves the important doctrines, then it must be admitted that by preservation it is actually meant partial preservation. And the most critical observation of this entire discussion is that this is assuming the Egyptian texts are as significant as they are made out to be. From a theological perspective, the text that was buried in the sand, that doesn’t relate to the rest of the manuscripts in the variant units, seems like more of a localized anomaly than anything else. If the goal is to find the original, as it is said, which seems to be the more significant text? Without even examining the evidence, or collating manuscripts, the theological determination must be that the Egyptian texts were a strange anomaly in the transmission history of the New Testament text, or that the differences are so minor that the work can be finished. 

Conclusion

It may be that the theological approach to the Holy Scriptures is too meticulous, and the standard of precision too stringent. Yet if this is the case, where is the standard? What level of precision are we trying to attain? Who gets to decide what is an important doctrine, or what doctrines the authors intended to communicate? This of course culminates practically in the Bible one reads in their mother tongue. At this point, there are two major options for Christians – traditional Bibles and modern Bibles. Theologically speaking, both represent two schools of thought in conservative Christianity on preservation. On one hand, the traditional Bibles represent the scholarship of a different era, and generally take the form of the majority of the extant data (the 5,000+ manuscripts), and on the other hand the modern Bibles represent the scholarship of the modern era, which rely heavily on a cluster of Egyptian manuscripts and the theories of scholars who approve them. It is up to the Christian to determine which understanding of “original” they wish to adopt. By original, does it mean “original in doctrine”, or “original in words”? If the former is taken, then both texts seem to be fine. If the latter is taken, then there appears to be less options for translational choice, namely the Bibles of the Reformation period. No matter which road one takes, the fact remains that scholars will continue their pursuit of the Divine Original, or at least the earliest one can get back to with empirical methodologies.      

Providential Exposure as it Relates to Preservation

The Theological Method and Preservation

The Theological Method for determining the text of Scripture heavily relies upon understanding the text that has been received by Christians, which is commonly called “exposure”. The text of Scripture is that which has been exposed to the people of God throughout the ages. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (KJV). Michael Kruger, in his book Canon Revisited, says this,

“When people’s eyes are opened, they are struck by the divine qualities of Scripture – it’s beauty and efficacy – and recognize and embrace Scripture for what it is, the word of God. They realize that the voice of Scripture is the voice of the Shepherd” (101). 

This might seem like subjectivism, but this is the historic doctrine that has been recognized throughout the ages by the theologians of the faith, most notably John Calvin and Herman Bavinck. This doctrine is not to be confused with the Mormon doctrine of “burning in the bosom”, though they sound similar. Many false doctrines are based on truth, and here the Christian must recognize that God’s Word is the means that He is speaking to His people in these last days, regardless of how that doctrine has been twisted by other systems. 

What distinguishes this doctrine from its Mormon counterpart is that this reception of the Scriptures by the people of God is not purely individualistic. The text of Scripture, as it has been handed down, exists ontologically, not just subjectively. There is a concrete shape of God’s Word that exists, and the people of God have had that Word in every generation. The text of Scripture must primarily be viewed as a covenantal document given to the covenant people of God for their use in all matters of faith and practice (LBCF 1.1). That does not mean that all those professing Christianity throughout the ages have agreed upon what belongs in Scripture, or that every Christian has had access to the whole of Scripture in every generation. In fact, there are a multitude of Christians that do not have access to God’s Word, either by circumstance, or by choice. 

It is important to take note of how the Apostolic church received the text of Holy Scripture to understand the doctrine of exposure as it relates to preservation. In the New Testament, there is never a case where Scripture is said to be a gift delivered to individual people. The Scriptures were always a corporate blessing to the covenant people of God (Acts 15:14; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). In the testimony of Scripture itself, we can see that God delivers His Word to the people of God, not individual people of God. So the doctrine of exposure does not crumble due to certain individuals not having a copy of the Bible at all times. If this were the case, the fact that there are Christians who simply do not own a Bible would discredit this doctrine altogether. 

Despite the fact that the Canon is recognized in part by its corporate reception, this doctrine of providential exposure does not rest on ecclesiastical authority, as the papists might claim. There is no one single church which is responsible for giving authority to the text of Holy Scripture. In fact, no church could give authority to the Scriptures, they are authoritative in themselves (αυτοπιστος). Kruger explains this well, “The books received by the church inform our understanding of which books are canonical not because the church is infallible o because it created or constituted the canon, but because the church’s reception of these books is a natural and inevitable outworking of the self-authenticating nature of Scripture” (106).

It must be stated, that Kruger makes the distinction between the canon, and the text of the canon, which is the common thought amongst conservative scholarship. Upon examination of the theological method  however, there does not seem to be good reason to separate the two. If the doctrinal foundation of providential exposure demonstrates the “efficacy of the Shepherd’s voice to call”(106), then it follows that there must be a definitive voice that does the calling. The name of a canonical book is simply not efficacious to call sinners to repentance and faith. Simply listing off the canonical list is not the Gospel call. So the material that is providentially exposed to the people of God must also contain the substance which is effective unto life by the power of the Holy Spirit. God has not just preserved the book sleeves of the Bible, He has also preserved the words within those book sleeves. 

Since the Bible is self-authenticating, Christians cannot look to the totality or purity of its reception to determine which books or texts of the Bible should be received today. That is to say that because the majority of the Christian people do not accept one passage as authentic today, does not mean that it has not been properly received in the past, or that it is not ontologically a part of the canon. A passage of Scripture may not have been accepted as canonical by various groups throughout history, and this has indeed been the case, usually due to theological controversy. 

It is antithetical to the Theological method to say that the Scriptures are self-authenticating, but then also say that people must authenticate those Scriptures by a standard outside of the Scriptures themselves. Either the Scriptures are self-authenticating, or they are not. Which is why evidence are great tools to defend the Scriptures, but those evidences can never authenticate those Scriptures in themselves. It is problematic to say that God’s Word has been preserved, and kept pure in all ages, and then to immediately say that He has done so imperfectly, or has not fully exposed that Word to His people yet. 

The Theological method provides a framework that actually gives more weight to historical thought as opposed to modern thought. It disallows for a perspective that believes that the people of God had lost or added passages of Scripture, and that these texts need to be recovered or removed. It prevents certain theories that the text evolved, or that Christ’s divinity was developed over time. It especially rejects the idea that the original text of the New Testament was choppy, crude, and in places incoherent, and that scribes smoothed out the readings to make the text readable. In fact, it exposes those manuscripts that are choppy and missing parts to be of poor quality by assuming that the Holy Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit rather than invented by ostensibly literate first century Jews. 

There may have been localities that corrupted the text (usually intentionally), but this does not represent the providential preservation that was taking place universally. The vast majority of textual variants are due to Scribal errors, but the significant variants were certainly an effort of revision. A Scribe simply wouldn’t have removed or added 12 verses by accident. A great example is the idiosyncratic Egyptian manuscripts uncovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, which tend to disagree with the general manuscript tradition in important variant units. These manuscripts have been given tremendous weight in the modern period due to shifting views of inspiration and preservation. 

If the Scriptures truly were inspired and preserved, then one should expect that the text did not evolve, or that the closest representative of those originals would be riddled with short, abrupt readings. One would expect that in every stage of copying, Scribal errors would be purged out, and that the true readings would persevere. In fact, this phenomenon can be observed in the vast majority of the extant New Testament manuscripts, which has unfortunately been described as Scribal interference, or smoothing out the text. When the transmission of the New Testament manuscripts are viewed Theologically, an entirely different story is told by the manuscripts which largely disagrees with the modern narrative which favors those choppy manuscripts which existed in one locality of the Christian world. 

The preservation of God’s Word can be demonstrated evidentially, but not without the proper Theological lens. Evidential arguments can be a powerful tool in all disciplines, but they often are not effective in themselves to change anybody’s mind. That is why the Theology of scholars will ultimately determine the manuscripts they deem to be earliest and best. Simply counting manuscripts, or weighing manuscripts, is simply not consistent with the conservative doctrine of preservation. In both cases, these methods attempt to take an external authority, such as manuscript count, or the age of the manuscript, and use that to authenticate the Word of God. Yet both of these are at odds with the doctrinal standard that is laid forth in Scriptures themselves, that the Word of God is self-authenticating. That is why the language of “the text that has been received” is warranted in this conversation, because it recognizes God’s providential preservation and exposure of the ontological canon to the people of God in every age. 

Conclusion 

The doctrine of exposure is often misunderstood as being too similar to the Mormon doctrine of “burning of the bosom” or the papal doctrine which states that Rome has the authority to authenticate the Bible. Despite these abuses of Scripture, the fact remains that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. It is easy to fall back onto empirical approaches, because they seem to be the most logical. Yet these empirical approaches do not do what they claim they can do, and this is becoming increasingly evident with each passing year. The number of Bibles has only increased, and exponentially at that. Modern methodology has not narrowed the text of the New Testament to fewer legitimate readings, but has expanded greatly the number of readings that “could be” original or early. 

The efforts of modern textual scholarship has only increased the uncertainty of the text of the New Testament. This has culminated in the abandonment of the search for the original text of the Bible for the Ausgangstext, or the earliest text scholars can get back to (which is 3rd or 4th century). Practically speaking, this pursuit will simply result in arriving at some hypothetical form of the text that may have existed in Egypt in the third century. Since this seems to be the direction of most current New Testament text-critical scholarship, it seems that it is time to return to the old paths. The Theological method has been expressed by countless Theologians of the Christian faith, and it should not be abandoned for the sake of adopting the modern critical scientific method. The Scriptures should always be handled as self-authenticating, and a shift to this way of thinking would result in a massive change in the direction of modern New Testament scholarship. 

Partial Preservation & The Confessional Text

Introduction

To tell the history of the pericope adulterae is to tell the history of the Gospels, and vice versa. (To Cast the First Stone, Wasserman & Knust, 9).

The story of the woman caught in adultery is beloved by many Christians, non-canonical to others, and a fascinating story of transmission of the New Testament Text to scholars. There are even some who consider the story to belong in the Gospel of John despite believing that John did not write the story himself. The current scholarship on the Pericope Adulterae reveals a bigger picture on New Testament text critical studies than twelve verses that make up the story of the woman caught in adultery. This scholarship has in some cases, uncovered the ghost of Schleiermacher, and in other cases exposed the evolutionary perspective that scholars have of the New Testament text. In either case, the perspectives of these positions are by no means historical or orthodox, despite the best intentions of those engaging in the work. 

The Well Intentioned Theology of Partial Preservation

Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His Holy Word, and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intentions (LBCF 16.1).

The best of intentions are utterly devoid of any value if the actions of those intentions are not submissive to the Word of God. It does not matter if those engaging in New Testament textual scholarship are nice or even dear brothers in the Lord, if the underlying perspective and work done is antithetical to Scriptural truths. The doctrinal statements of protestant Christianity have, until the modern period, been in agreement on the nature of the Holy Scriptures. They are self-authenticating, and God has preserved them in every age. Any theological position that allows for a total corruption of the text, such that the text of the Bible must be recovered or reconstructed, stands in opposition to the standards laid down by the great heroes of the protestant faith throughout the ages. 

There is a difference between collating the texts that have been received by the people of God in every generation and believing that the text has been lost to time and needs to be reconstructed. The textual scholars of the Reformation did not believe they were trying to find the potentially earliest form of the New Testament (which had become corrupted totally), they were collating the best manuscripts which were in use at the time. This is why it is inexcusable to say that Reformation era textual criticism is the same thing as modern textual criticism. Imagine John Calvin saying something like this:

“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…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” (15)

This perspective does not just represent the most liberal views of the New Testament text, it is abundantly present amongst conservative camps as well. This is often justified by loose understandings of Organic Inspiration. This is the Theological reality that underpins  scientific approaches to New Testament textual criticism. Now juxtapose the above statement with this quote from John Owen’s The Divine Original. 

“That the laws they made known, the doctrines they delivered, the instructions they gave, the stories they recorded, the promises of Christ, the prophecies of gospel times they gave out and revealed, were not their own, not conceived in their minds, not formed by their reasonings, not retained in their memories from what they heard, not by any means beforehand comprehended by them, (1 Pet. 1:10, 11,) but were all of them immediately from God—there being only a passive concurrence of their rational faculties in their reception, without any such active obedience as by any law they might be obliged unto”

Despite well-intentioned Christian scholars and apologists, there is not a single empirical refutation that can stand against the reality that the original text cannot be found by using scientific methods. One might be bold enough to take a stand on every variant unit in the corpus of the modern critical text, but they will be met by an overwhelming amount of scholars who reject the readings they have chosen by utilizing the same exact methodology. In fact, this is the reason many have rejected the Tyndale House Greek New Testament. Ultimately, even the most conservative Christians in the reasoned eclectic camp must pad their conclusions with “probably”, “might be”, and “could be”. 

To demonstrate this point, see these quotations from Dirk Jongkind’s An Introduction to the Greek New Testament

“I have no problems with the notion that God has preserved his Word. On the contrary, I believe he did. But 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” (90).

“To say that God inspired the words of the New Testament does not mean that God is therefore under an obligation to preserve for us each detail” (23).

Notice that in one breath, Jongkind affirms preservation, and in the next rejects that it has been preserved totally. Scripture has been preserved, just not in every place. It would be more transparent for those who hold to this position to say that “God has preserved most of His Word”. When this theology is applied to the actual text of Scripture, it just aligns with the same exact perspective as those that believe the Word of God is a human product that cannot and has not ever been preserved in its original form. This is because the places where God has not totally preserved His Word just so happen to be the same places that the secular scholarship agrees cannot be determined with absolute certainty. Despite the well meaning efforts of believing textual scholars to hold onto an orthodox view of preservation, they have had to change the meaning of preservation entirely in order to have an empirical argument. Jongkind admits as much that that is what he, and like minded Christians, are doing when they engage in textual criticism.

Therefore, Textus Receptus proponents avoid the historical question, “Is this the text backed up by the best historical evidence? By answering the following theological question in the affirmative: Is this the text given to us by God? (89)

Well-intentioned Christians have to denigrate and attack another Christian position that actually believes in a finished product of God’s Word in order to justify their theological position that the Word of God has only been preserved in parts. If they can demonstrate that there is not a single form of God’s Word that has been preserved, they can justify the work that is being done today. The modern critical position is only appealing when the other positions are mocked, shamed, or otherwise discredited. 

The problem with statements like these, which seem scientific and logical, is that they do not carry the weight that they seem to carry. In the question, “Is the text backed up by the best historical evidence?” there is a monumental assumption that the modern text is backed up by historical evidence. Yet even the evidence that is produced for the various forms of the modern text, the very same scholars who belittle the Textus Receptus admit that their science is not certain or verifiable. This is not a controversial opinion, there is even a symbol in the NA28 apparatus which literally designates when a verse cannot be determined to be original by empirical methods. And in every case where an empirical stand is taken on a textual variant, there is never absolute agreement. At the end of this pursuit, the only thing that has been produced is not a Bible, but bibles. Modern New Testament text critical scholars have not succeeded at the goal of producing a text. 

Preservation

The historical, orthodox understanding of the doctrine of preservation does not allow for partial preservation, or multiple forms of the New Testament text. The word preservation itself means that something remains in its original state, or has been kept safe from harm or corruption. This word has not shifted in meaning over the years – it means the same thing now as it did when it came into English from the latin. If one is to employ the word “preservation” in discussing the Scriptures, than it means to believe that the Scriptures have been retained in their original form since penned in the first century. That is not to say that every manuscript has, or that one manuscript has, just that upon collation of manuscripts, the original form has been retained. In order to say that the Bible has not been preserved in every detail, than the term “partial preservation” or “substantial preservation” should be employed. It is not transparent to claim to espouse a preservationist doctrine of Scripture while also affirming that the Bible has not been preserved. 

The simple doctrine of preservation is that God preserved His Word, and has kept it pure in all ages. This requires affirming that a final product has been available to the people of God in all ages (though there were times where not every Christian had access to a Bible, this is still the case in many countries). If this is the case, the goal of the Christian should be to see which text has been given to the people of God. At this juncture, there are a handful of options – the modern critical texts, the majority texts, and the Received Text. Within the modern critical texts, there are hundreds of Bibles to choose from. Within the majority texts, there are but a few. And within the Received Text camp, there are a dozen or so, most notably the KJV. In any case, the Christian, especially in America, has the luxury to choose which Bible they read in any format imaginable. Choose a translation that is based off of the most faithful methodology, not one that is the most empirically “consistent”. Remember the words of the famous empiricist text critic, D.C. Parker:

“The text is changing. Every time I make an edition of the Greek New Testament, or anybody does, we change the wording. We are maybe trying to get back to the oldest possible form, but paradoxically we are creating a new one…There is never a final form of the text.”

The views of D.C. Parker are not aberrant from the rest of modern textual criticism. He represents the majority view, either explicitly or implicitly. The theology of partial preservation and a changing text has become the orthodoxy of New Testament text-critical scholarship. This theological foundation is being taught as the only methodology in seminaries and from pulpits. My only hope is that Christians will take the time to consider the implications this has on the doctrines of inspiration and preservation. If the goal is to give Christians confidence that they are reading God’s Word, this modern methodology cannot do that. 

The Young, Textless, and Reformed

“The Young, Textless, and Reformed” is a clever title crafted by Dr. Jeff Riddle, pastor of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Louisa, Virginia. The title describes a young generation of Calvinists that were brought up in the environment of modern textual criticism, myself included. This generation is one of the first who did not grow up believing the woman caught in adultery is Scripture, and only know the dogmas of the modern critical text position. They are one of the first generations with a heavily changing text of the Bible.

This era of new Calvinists found their way to Reformed Theology by way of John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Dever, RC Sproul and many more. These are teachers that have sparked a younger generation to travel down the old paths, back to the Puritans and confessional Christianity. Many of these young Calvinists have become disenchanted with the uncertainty of modern translations. Many of them have realized, and are realizing that a changing text is no text at all. 

 

Despite the fluid nature of modern textual criticism, Christians are told that they can have confidence in their Bible, knowing that the scientists and scholars working on it will change it every five years. The best text that scholars have to offer is a text that is undecided and bipolar. This is allegedly the most faithful and defensible position on the text of Scripture. 

Many Christians have already asked important questions that need to be answered regarding the modern critical text. If the Bible is liable to change, what does that mean for the doctrine of preservation? If Christians knew that the scholars crafting the New Testament didn’t believe they could find the original, would that change their mind on what they think of modern textual criticism? With this kind of information, the discerning Christian might come to the conclusion that an amorphous Bible is no Bible at all.  

In this blog, I will examine the modern standards for textual criticism that are responsible for the footnotes, brackets, and new Bibles every five years, in contrast to the method that has been used since the Reformation by faithful theologians and scholars to receive what God has preserved as His Word.  The posts will be polemic with the aim of showing people that the modern methodologies are not the answer.