John 7:53-8:11 is Scripture

Introduction

John 7:53-8:11, called the Pericope Adulterae, is an excellent example of how the determinations of textual scholars can directly impact the people of God. This passage in particular is also a perfect text to demonstrate how textual interpretation can spoil the people of God with misinformation. I was young in my faith the first time I heard that this passage was “not originally in Scripture” from a John Piper sermon. From that point on, I heard many people repeat the lines such as, “It is my favorite passage in the Bible that’s not Scripture,” and “I wouldn’t preach this text.” The arguments I considered most compelling were that the passage was a “floating tradition” and that “the earliest manuscripts do not contain this passage,” and that the “church fathers do not quote this passage.” Based on the information I was given by pastors that I trusted, I felt justified in simply skipping over the passage as I read through the Gospel of John. The note in the Reformation Study Bible reads this way:


“These verses are not present in some Greek manuscripts, and in others they appear at different locations, such as after 7:36 or elsewhere in John, or even in Luke. This diversity makes it uncertain that this incident with the adulterous woman and her accusers appeared at this or any point in John’s original document, but its presentation of Jesus is consistent with the rest of the Gospels and it may preserve an authentic tradition of an event in Jesus’ life.”

R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 1870.

When I abandoned the modern critical text and began to do my own research, I was dismayed to find that many of the claims made by pastors I previously trusted were either incorrect, or based on higher critical principles. This made me realize how deeply rooted the axioms of modern textual criticism were in the mainstream evangelical Calvinist world. In this article, I am not attempting to “prove” the authenticity of the Pericope Adulterae (7:53-8:11), but to demonstrate how easily a passage can be removed from Scripture, and how easily it is for a theory to become a fact to the people of God. Before I answer some of the claims against this passage, I’d like to survey some scholarly perspectives on the verse:


“Still, of this we can be sure: By the fourth century, two different Gospels of John were circulating, one with the pericope adulterae and one without it”

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 50. 

Some scholars even recognize the validity of it’s inclusion:



“Present in the Vulgate, preserved in the “received text of the Byzantine Church,” and incorporated in the King James Version of the Bible, this story is still widely and appropriately accepted as Scripture”

(Raymond E. Brown. Gospel according to John I-XII, AB 29. 336)

More importantly, the scholars recognize what is commonly avoided within Christian circles – that the text-critical axioms do have a meaningful impact on the church’s perspective of Scripture. The Pericope Adulterae is the perfect example of this.


“As these many editions also show, however, textual traditions can and do change, and in significant ways. Advances in textual criticism brought material changes to the text(s) printed in these various editions, altering both texts and the attitudes towards them. Even so, the older forms of text continued to circulate alongside these various textual “improvements,” and there are noticeable differences among these many critical editions, at both the textual and paratextual level.”  

Knust & Wasserman. To Cast the First Stone. 29.

“The gradual but but now “traditional” placement of the pericope adulterae in brackets, in an appendix, or in a critical apparatus – as well as the continued rejection of such editorial (mis)placements – encapsulates fundamental theological divides about the degree to which faith ought to be confirmed by science and science by faith, and does so within the material text of the New Testament.”

(Ibid., 17). 

So it seems that the modern scholars are in tune with the shifting theological perspectives that removing a passage such as John 7:53-8:11 brings. Now let’s examine some of the common claims made by pastors, study Bibles, and commentaries, and see if these claims support removing the passage from Holy Scripture. Again, this is not a “proof” for the passage, but a demonstration that sometimes popular opinions are founded on thin evidence.

Answering Common Objections Made by Pastors, Study Bibles, and Critics

The Pericope Adulterae is Not a “Floating Tradition” 

The most common claim, and possibly the most misleading, is that the Pericope Adulterae is a “floating tradition.” Though this argument is popular, it is not one that is responsibly supported by the extant manuscript data. The phenomenon of this story “floating” doesn’t occur in any of the early manuscripts that have the passage, and the manuscripts that contain the Pericope Adulterae in a different location do not occur until much later, and only in a handful of manuscripts. Until the 9th century, this passage is supported in only in one location – John 7:53-8:11. In other words, the “floating” tradition of the Pericope Adulterae is not a phenomenon that occurs in most manuscripts of John, and the tiny amount of manuscripts it does “float” in are late. So if the method of choice for authenticating Scripture is textual criticism, the evidence simply doesn’t support a “floating tradition” until the passage is well established. If one wants to continue making this claim, they should revise it to say, “This passage floats in several later manuscripts, but is overwhelmingly testified to being at John 7:53.” I hardly think this is a good reason to eject this passage from the text. 

The Manuscript Evidence Does Not Prove it Inauthentic 

The second common claim is that “the earliest manuscripts do not contain this passage.” In the first place, it does exist in Codex Bezae (400AD), which is an early manuscript. Even though the manuscript is generally thought of as not useful for creating Greek texts, its existence in the text itself is enough to demonstrate that manuscripts had it. Appealing to several early manuscripts is not a meaningful argument because a passage being excluded from these “earliest” manuscripts in no way demonstrates that the passage was not there to begin with, simply that whatever exemplar(s) were used  didn’t have the passage. The only thing the early extant manuscripts demonstrate is that the exemplar(s) didn’t have the passage, and says nothing about the originality of the verse. Further, the verdict is still out as to where the most influential of these early codices came from, especially two of the Great Uncials which are appealed to so often as authoritative.

“The fact that there are no extant Greek manuscripts with texts that are particularly close to the text of Codex Sinaiticus weighs against any theory of lasting influence. The specific context(s) of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus…cannot be established”

(Ibid 190,191).

If the whole manuscript tradition is inspected, John 7:53-8:11 is found in 1,476 manuscripts. Since we do not know where the earliest manuscripts came from that do not have the passage, they do not seem like a stable guide, if we are using them to remove passages from Scripture. The ejection of this passage from Holy Scripture hardly seems warranted if we take into consideration that early manuscripts had the passage. One could be skeptical if they wish to put a lot of weight in several early manuscripts, but that doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason to argue against the passage.  

The Early Church Was Well Aware of the Passage 

The third common claim is that “none of the ancient fathers mention this passage,” which is picked up by most people from DA Carson. If the goal is to demonstrate its existence in the early church, there are more than enough references to it to show that the early church knew about it. Take for example the Didascalia, a third century book of church order.

“In the Didascalia, church leaders are reminded to receive the repentant back into the fold in imitation of of Jesus, who did not condemn “she who had sinned” when “elders” brought her before Jesus for judgement. Jesus’ saying, “Go, neither do I condemn you” is quoted, and the circumstances of the episode (men bring a sinning woman before Jesus and ask his opinion about the matter) are identical to what is found in the later Pericope Adulterae…The Didascalia is definitely referencing the Pericope Adulterae…”   

(Ibid. 63).

Further, the early latin writers considered it authentic: 

“Latin writers like Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine understood it to be fully Johannine”  

Ibid,11.

Even in the 16th century, Erasmus concluded the same:



“Erasmus reviewed much of the same evidence known to scholars today…Even so, he decided, the story is likely to be Johannine: known to Papias, worthy of the gospel, sanctioned by the church, especially well received in Latin.”  

(Ibid. 21)

If the reason people make this claim is to show that the “church didn’t know about this passage for 1,000 years,” it falls flat on its face. I will include several more ancient references to the passage at the end of this article. Even scholars such as Chris Keith admit the passage was early, and located at John 7:53. 

“Ambrose is particularly significant for the present discussion because he is the first Christian writer to remark upon Jesus’ acts of writing in PA, the main subject of this thesis. In a letter dated between 385–387 CE, he claims that PA is located in GJohn, and also remarks that the story is, by his time, quite familiar in Christian communities. In Epistle 68 (26), he writes, ‘Numerous times the question [regarding bishops’ involvement in secular courts, specifically concerning capital punishment] has been raised, and well known, too, is the acquittal of the woman who in the Gospel according to John was brought to Christ, accused of adultery.’33 It is clear, then, that Ambrose knows PA in GJohn, and further evidence makes it probable that Ambrose read PA at John 7.53–8.11.”

Keith, Chris.  Jesus Began to Write: Literacy, the Pericope Adulterae, and the Gospel of John. PhD. University of Edinburgh. 2008. P. 119.

The fact is, that the early church knew of this passage, and knew that manuscripts were circulating with and without it. The problem is not the evidence, dear Christian.

Conclusion

So it seems that the passage in question is not a “floating tradition,” is found in one extant early manuscript, and is referenced by early church fathers. If the goal is to defend the text of Holy Scripture, why adopt an interpretive lens that tries to disprove the authenticity of variant passages? It does not seem like an appropriate perspective, in any case. This further highlights the fact that the axioms of modern textual criticism consider the Scriptures corrupt until proven pure. The point of this article is not to “prove” the Pericope Adulterae original based on evidence, but to demonstrate the importance of our own interpretive lens and heart.

An important question we should ask ourselves here is, “What reason do I have to question every passage of Scripture simply because somebody says so?” I argue that it is not our job to act as critics of the Holy Scriptures. It is not well advised to be one of the few who reject this passage, especially considering the claims against it are thinly supported and even outright misleading. If the reason you reject this passage is due to it being a “floating tradition” or because “the early church didn’t know about it,” I encourage you to reconsider your position. There is no good reason, based on the claims against this passage, to reject it.

“We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship”

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

Appendix: Early References to the Pericope Adulterae

“Why delay ye, O Novatians, to ask eye for eye, tooth for tooth, to demand life for life, to renew once more the practice of circumcision and the sabbath? Put to death the thief. Stone the petulant. Choose not to read in the Gospel that the Lord spared even the adulteress who confessed, when none had condemned her;”

Against the Treatise of the Novatians – 4th Century

“The acquittal of the woman who, in the Gospel of John, was brought to Christ accused of adultery, is very famous”

Ambrose, Epistle 26 – 4th Century

“In the Gospel according to John, there is found, in many of the Greek, as well as the Latin copies, the story of the adulteress who was accused before the Lord”

Jerome, Against the Pelagians 2:17 – 4th Century

 “Certain persons of little faith or rather enemies of the true faith fearing I suppose less their wives should be given impunity in sinning removed from their manuscripts the lord’s act of forgiveness to the adulteress. As if he who had said, “sin no more” had granted permission to sin.”

Augustine of Hippo – 4th-5th Century

Niche Textual Positions & Providence

Introduction

Many people are swept up by modern critical evaluations of the text of Holy Scripture. As a result, a handful of various textual positions have sprung up within mainstream evangelicalism. The fact is, there are other positions on the text of Holy Scripture than just the Received Text and Critical Text positions. Many people have asked why I only offer critique towards the modern critical text as it exists in the ECM or NA/UBS. The reason I do not address Tyndale House or other minority texts and viewpoints, is because these text platforms are not used by the people of God in churches. Think of it this way, if God is providentially working in time, is it the case that He is raising up a lone wolf to reconstruct the Word of God for the church? If He was doing this, wouldn’t the people of God know it? 

Here is the practical reality of providence and God working in ordinary means – if a Greek text is so niche that it hasn’t been translated for the people of God to use, or hasn’t been printed at all, then it doesn’t affect the church, who does not speak Greek. The only Christian people who speak Greek, interestingly enough, use a form of the TR. So while hobbyist textual positions seem to be fun for people to spend time on, they benefit the people of God in no meaningful way. They are simply academic exercises that do not translate to serving Christians, because the ordinary Christians who read their Bible in their mother tongue, cannot read Greek. If we look at this issue simply, it seems reasonable that positions that arise on the fringes of the church, which are adopted by essentially nobody, can be discarded.  

An Appeal to the Common Reader 

While the effort of producing Greek New Testaments may seem like a noble cause, it is a symptom of a strange phenomenon that has risen in the modern church. Namely, that the church does not have God’s Word and it needs to be found, and rogue individuals have taken up the mantle to do this. In order to justify this effort, modern scholars and other interested parties must attack the Received Text of God’s Word or even the modern critical text. They must “prove” that the Bibles people actually use are corrupt. This effort is praised and honored, mostly among Calvinistic Christians. The benefit of owning and using these niche printed Greek texts is practically an exercise of cataloguing, understanding, and advocating for the variant readings that arose in the copying process over the ages. If these readings aren’t found in a text that people actually use, they have very little impact on Christians at all. I argue that these efforts are a waste of time, because evidence-based reconstruction models cannot actually prove a reading to be original.  

What Christians should be asking is, “How does this affect me hearing God’s voice in the Scriptures?” Confessional Christians need to bring their theology back into the realm of textual criticism, and consider the practical implications of adhering to Chapters 1 and 5 of the WCF and LBCF. What good does it serve to entertain textual positions and Greek texts which have no stamp of providence on them? If these texts produced by fringe committees and lone wolves are truly God’s Word, why aren’t they being translated into the vulgar tongues of the earth? If these men are like Nehemiah, restoring the Word of God to the people, why don’t the people of God know it?

This brings me to another practical reality of the textual discussion. What good does it serve to spend hours upon hours cataloguing manuscripts, for example, which have 1 John 5:7 in them, if one does not believe that reading to be divinely inspired and authentic? What does the church gain by credentialed and non-credentialed scholars convincing the people of God passages in their Bible shouldn’t be there? How does it impact you, the person who actually reads the Bible? Practically speaking, the only thing it does is sow doubt, or perhaps causes you to just skip over a line of Scripture if it’s in your Bible. If you, like most Christians, have read John 7:53-8:11 or Mark 16:9-20 as original, and then are told that it is not original based on text-critical principles that can’t actually prove it, then you are told to question God’s Word on the authority of some scholarly or even non-scholarly opinion. The reality is, that most of these popular evangelical authorities and scholars have no say in producing Greek texts that are actually used by the people of God. That is why I advocate so heartily for the Received Text, because it is text that stands by its own weight and use. There is nothing new to say about it because there is nothing new about it. It is tried and true and received by the people of God, even to this day. My goal is simply to advocate for people to return to it who have adopted critical models of the text of Holy Scripture. 

Conclusion

The greatest disconnect between people who spend their time playing with variants and the people of God who read their Bible without a text-critical lens, is that text criticism doesn’t actually matter unless those variants make their way into a text that people actually use. This is why I do not address the textual position of somebody like James Snapp, or aim my arguments at the Tyndale House Greek Text. The simple reality is that James Snapp hasn’t produced a Greek text, and the Tyndale House Greek New Testament isn’t translated. I am actually quite alright with appealing to the materials of James Snapp where we agree. I am unabashedly a Calvinist and believe that “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will” (LBCF 5:1). That means that the ordinary means of God speaking, His Word, is also guided by this providence. 

So if Christians wish to engage in textual criticism as a hobby, that’s totally fine, though I don’t exactly see the benefit of it. People would be much better served simply reading God’s Word. The tinkering of textual hobbyists doesn’t actually have a bearing on the people of God until that textual tinkering makes it into the main text and footnotes of people’s Bibles. At this point, the only real texts that have an impact on the people of God are the printed editions of the modern critical text and the ECM, and the Received Text of the Reformation. I argue that the modern critical text should not be used, because it has no stamp of providence on it, and the Received Text should be used because it does have a stamp of providence on it. These two texts disagree with one another, so it is logical to take a stand on one or the other. All other minority texts and textual positions are simply hobbies, and the only real impact that these textual positions have on the people of God is to convince them that “there are no perfect Bibles” which means that God did not preserve His Word. In all of these fringe textual positions, they all have one thing in common: that those who advocate for these texts as original, or perhaps “best,” are waiting on them to be finished so they can actually use them. I don’t see that as compatible with God’s providence, and so I focus my efforts on texts and methodologies that are used by the people who read Bibles.   

Why the Doctrine of Inerrancy Demands the Defense of the Received Text

Introduction

On this blog, I have highlighted many of the doctrinal errors underpinning the modern critical text, as well as set forth positively the historical orthodox position on the Holy Scriptures. I have been critical of the doctrine of inerrancy as articulated by modern scholars and compared it to the historical doctrine of providential preservation, demonstrating how they are different. That is not to say that the doctrine of inerrancy is completely bad, though it has a critical flaw which I highlight in the linked article above. For those that do not have the time to read the above article, the essential flaw is that it founds the “great accuracy” of the text of Holy Scripture on modern text critical methods and thus allows for a changing text. In this article, I will demonstrate why the current articulation of inerrancy undercuts any meaningful arguments against the Received Text.

Inerrancy vs. Providential Preservation

If a proponent of the modern critical text adheres to the doctrine of inerrancy, as opposed to the historical definition of providential preservation as stated in WCF 1.8, they have no grounds for attacking the Received Text. I am defining inerrancy as the doctrine which teaches that the original manuscripts of the New Testament were without error, and that those originals have been preserved in all that they teach in the extant copies. This is in opposition to providential preservation,which teaches that in every age, the Holy Scriptures have been kept pure essentially in what they teach and also preserved in the words from which those teachings are derived. If one limits the doctrine of inerrancy to only the autographs, then the defense of the Scriptures is pointless, because we don’t have the originals. So, if it is the case, as the doctrine of inerrancy teaches, that the Scriptures are without error in all that they teach while the words of the material text are changing, then it must also be said that the material text of the Scriptures can change and be inerrant, so as long as they can be said to teach the same doctrines. If no doctrine is affected between the Reformation era printed Greek texts and the modern critical printed Greek texts, then the necessary conclusion is that both are inerrant. That, or neither are inerrant. 

Since, according to the modern critical perspective, the Reformation era text teaches the same doctrines as the Critical Text, then according to the modern doctrinal formulation of inerrancy, the Reformation era text must be inerrant too.

If, then, the Reformation Era text teaches the same doctrines and is therefore inerrant, advocates of the modern critical text have no argument against it from a theological perspective. This is the logical end of the claim that “no doctrine is affected.” If no doctrine is affected between the Reformation era printed Greek texts and the modern critical printed Greek texts, then the necessary conclusion is that both are inerrant. This is an important observation, because it means that opponents of the Received Text have no theological warrant to attack the text of the Reformation, seeing as it is an inerrant text. Until they say, “There is a final text, this is it, and it teaches different doctrine,” not only is it inconsistent to attack the Received Text, it is hostile to the text of Holy Scripture, by their own doctrinal standard. It stands against reason that a modern critical text proponent would attack a text, which is, by their own admission, inerrant. 

 In order to responsibly attack the Received Text from a modern critical vantage point, one must admit and adopt several things:

  1. They must admit that doctrine is affected between texts.
  2. They must adopt a final text to have a stable point of comparison between texts. 
  3. They must assert that the Received Text is not inerrant, and thus not Scripture.

This of course, is impossible for a modern critical text advocate, since the modern critical text is changing, and will continue to change. Since, according to the modern doctrinal standard of inerrancy, the Bible is without error in all that it teaches, any Bible that is without error in all that it teaches should be considered inerrant and actually defended as such. If, at the same time, a proponent of the modern doctrine of the modern critical text and inerrancy wishes to add a component of providence to the equation, then this is especially the case. If providence is considered, there is no change to Holy Scripture, based on text critical principles, that can affect the teaching of the Scriptures. Consequently, if one were to argue that changes to the printed texts of Holy Scripture can affect doctrine, preaching, and theology, then the doctrine of inerrancy must be rejected outright, as the previous iterations of that text would have contained doctrines that were improved upon, and thus erred, prior to those changes. If a change, introduced by text critical methods, changes doctrine, then the Critical Text cannot be inerrant. This presents a theological challenge to those who continue to advocate against the Received Text and also wish to uphold the inerrancy of a changing modern critical text. There are two necessary conclusions that must be drawn from this reality:

  1. Either the Scriptures are inerrant, and text-critical changes cannot affect doctrine, and thus the Received Text is inerrant along with the modern critical text,
  2. Or the Scriptures are not inerrant, as the changes introduced by new modern text critical methods will change doctrine. 

The necessary conclusion of maintaining that the words of Scriptures have changed and will change and that they are also inerrant is that those material changes must not affect doctrine. If it is the case that these changes will affect doctrine, then the Bible is necessarily not inerrant and the conversation is now far outside the realm of even modern orthodoxy. 

Conclusion

The question we should all be asking is this: If no doctrine is affected between the Received Text and the modern critical text and the Bible is inerrant, why do modern critical text advocates attack an inerrant Bible? Is it consistent to affirm the modern doctrine of inerrancy and also attack the historical Protestant Scriptures? It seems that the answer is no, it is not consistent. One might argue that the modern critical text is “better,” but better in what way? If no doctrine is affected, how is it better? In order to make the argument for a “better” text, one has to first argue that doctrine is indeed changed in the new critical Bibles, and thus admit that the Scriptures are not inerrant. And even if one were to admit that the modern critical text is better, and admit that the Bible is not inerrant, they would need to produce a standard, stable text to defend that claim. So, until the advocates of the modern critical text are willing to admit that doctrine is changed and thus the Scriptures are not inerrant, they simply are attacking the Received Text, which by their own doctrinal standard, is inerrant. 

This article should demonstrate one of the chief inconsistencies of those who uphold inerrancy of Scripture and also attack the Received Text of the Reformation. It seems, based on the axiom that “no doctrine is affected,” there actually is no warrant to attack a version of the Scriptures that is inerrant. In order to do so, one would have to adopt the view that the Scriptures have been kept pure in both what they teach and the words that teach those doctrines, and then defend a finished text. And if it is the case that the Bible has been kept pure in all ages, and is providentially preserved, then it stands that adopting a critical text which differs from the text of the previous era of the church is not justified in the first place and incompatible with the argument.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of the modern critical text advocates joining the fight to defend the inerrant Received Text!

1 John 5:7 & Roman Catholic Provenance of Later Manuscripts

Introduction 

Recently, the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) has been of particular interest in the text-critical discussion. I initially address some of the talking points here and Dr. Jeff Riddle here. Typically, advocates of the modern critical text appeal to the lateness of the manuscripts that have the passage to demonstrate why they believe it should be taken out of the text. Occasionally, the argument is made that it is a “Roman Catholic” reading, and should therefore be rejected by Protestants from a theological perspective. In this article, I will demonstrate why this is not a valid argument. It may have certain rhetorical value for those that are unfamiliar with Reformation history, but it is not devastating by any means as it pertains to the Comma Johanneum. Dr. Riddle makes several powerful observations in Word Magazine 149 (linked above) on this point, but I wanted to add several observations that should provide additional clarity. 

Reformation history is often challenging, because it is easy as modern Protestants to conflate the Jesuit stream of Catholicism with the whole of the western church leading up to and during the Reformation. What we have to remember, firstly, is that nearly everybody was a “Roman Catholic” leading up to the Protestant Reformation, with the exception of the Hussites and the Lollards and other groups that were driven underground until the 16th century by the inquisition.  Secondly, nearly all of the Protestant Reformers were Christian humanists – including Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, and John Calvin. We have to be more careful when we hear the term “Roman Catholic Humanist,” because nearly all of the Reformers were “Roman Catholic Humanists” until they weren’t. In other words, the term “Roman Catholic Humanist” can be used to describe just about everybody worth mentioning by Protestants during the early 16th century. The humanist Renaissance is an important and necessary component of the Protestant Reformation itself, and to rebrand the term “humanist” into a pejorative based on modern definitions is simply irresponsible. 

Throwing the Baby Out With the Bathwater

The tendency of modern Protestants to reject anything and everything “Roman Catholic” from the late medieval period through the beginning of the Protestant Reformation is an unfortunate error. The humanist Reformers were not rejecting every part of the western church’s teaching, just the parts that they considered grave errors that departed from Scripture, such as the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, the Lord’s Supper, authority of the pope and councils, and so forth. In rejecting the sum total of “Roman Catholic” theologians leading up to and during the Reformation, Protestants can mistakenly hand over some of the greatest theologians in church history, like Thomas Aquinas, to the post-Trent Roman Catholic church. The fact is, and many modern scholars such as Richard Muller have argued, that it is a shame to surrender the sum total of Medieval scholastic theology, because the Reformers didn’t. Again, the Reformers were Reforming what they considered to be grave errors of the Western church, not rejecting all of the theology that developed in the Western church outright. 

That said, I want to examine an argument against the Comma Johanneum, and evaluate the claim that a “Roman Catholic” provenance should cause Protestants to reject the extant manuscripts as inauthentic as a result. In the first place, the claim that the Comma Johanneum itself has a “Roman Catholic” provenance is rather disingenuous at the start. Dr. Riddle answers the question of “Do the late manuscripts of 1 John really have Roman Catholic provenance?” in Word Magazine 149, but I want to answer the question, “Even if they do have Roman Catholic provenance, does it matter?” The short answer is, no. 

Theologically speaking, the medieval scholastic schoolmen, to this day, provided some of the most clear and concise articulations of Theology proper and the Trinity. In today’s world of social Trinitarianism and other heterodox views of the Trinity, it is actually important that Protestants understand the value that the medieval scholastic theologians provided to the formulation of the doctrine of God. While the schoolmen certainly had their pitfalls, and the humanist reformers were outspoken about these errors, this is one area of Theology that modern Protestants should not simply lump in with “Roman Catholic” Theology. In fact, if modern Protestants completely reject the sum total of medieval scholastic theology, they lose a large piece of their own heritage as Christians. It is important to remember that the Roman Catholic church did not become corrupt overnight, and there were many, many faithful men within the Western church leading up to the Reformation, despite the errors that we all know about. God didn’t abandon His people for 1,000 years, as some seem to indicate. Just like with any beloved theologian of the past, it is a valuable skill to reject what is not Biblical, and benefit from what is Biblical. The fact is, that many of the Western theologians were quite critical of the immorality of Western bishops and Popes, and there were many forerunners to the Reformation who were outspoken against the doctrines we associate with Reformation era Rome.

In other words, it is important to have the discernment to know that 1) not all “Roman Catholics” leading up to and during the Reformation represent the thought of the Jesuits and 2) that many of the theologians casually called “Roman Catholic Humanists” were actually men who contributed greatly to the cause of the Reformation, even if they didn’t make a clean break with the Protestants. Erasmus of Rotterdam is a great example of this. Erasmus was one of the most effective polemicists against the wickedness of the Roman Catholic church during his day. He is famously credited with writing works such as “Julius Excluded From Heaven,” wherein he comically depicts the Pope being denied entrance to heaven. Upon seeing some of the more questionable decisions of Martin Luther, such as his influence on German nobility during the Peasant Revolt, Erasmus thought it better to try to Reform the church from the inside instead of causing chaos in the church. It is valuable to recognize the heterodoxy of Erasmus while also recognizing his contributions to the Reformation as well. Luther actually put a bad taste in the mouths of the Roman Catholic humanists who were trying to reform the church and were actually quite sympathetic to the reformers up to a point. Ultimately, this lead to Erasmus dying in isolation, effectively ostracized. It is easy to simply use the terms “Roman Catholic Humanist” as a rhetorical device, but this does disservice to Reformation history, and the contributions of the men who were simply trying to be faithful, despite their various errors. It is actually inconsistent to admit that the term “humanist” meant something different then as it does now, and also use it as a pejorative to discredit men like Erasmus.

There are four simple takeaways that I want to leave my reader with from this article. 

  1. Nearly everybody we call a Reformer today was Roman Catholic until they weren’t. In fact, pretty much everybody in the Western church was a “Roman Catholic” until the Reformation.
  2. Even those that did not break clean with the Protestants still had critiques of the Roman Catholic church – not everybody was a Jesuit
  3. Nearly everybody we call a Reformer today was a Christian humanist
  4. During the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity as articulated by the schoolmen was actually a point of common ground between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic church

Conclusion

Since the support of the Received Text is a theological appeal, it would make sense that advocates of the Modern Critical Text would attempt to make a theological argument against various readings in it. It is actually the right approach, if you understand the Received Text position at all and wish to cast doubt on the historical Protestant text of Holy Scripture. The fact is, that the Protestant Orthodox remained in agreement with the Roman Catholic church on the point of the Trinity during the Reformation, and the medieval scholastic schoolmen still provide us with valuable contributions to Theology proper and can be benefited from greatly today. In other words, the so called “Roman Catholic” provenance of later manuscripts which contain 1 John 5:7 have no bearing on the textual discussion whatsoever. Especially considering the context of the time they received this reading. They, above anybody in our modern context, would have been especially in tune with sketchy provenance.

I’ll end this article with an appeal to common sense. Theological precepts are not a function of the axioms of the modern critical text. The only function a theological appeal has from a modern critical perspective is polemic, and is not productive if the goal is defending the text of Holy Scripture. It is strange that advocates of the modern critical text have decided to aim this polemic arm at the historical protestant text. It seems rather counterproductive, if the goal is to defend the Scriptures. In the case of the Comma Johanneum, the appeal to Roman Catholic provenance of later manuscripts of 1 John to advocate against the Comma are ultimately disconnected from Reformation history, and the goal of this article is to demonstrate that it is really not a meaningful argument. Again, I highly recommend Dr. Riddle’s Word Magazine 149, where he drives this point home well. Further, an appeal to provenance is rather curious, as nearly all of the preferred manuscripts of the modern critical text are without definitive provenance, and where the provenance of these manuscripts is inspected, the conclusions are that they possibly were produced by non orthodox sources. This is yet another reminder that it is not wise to throw stones in glass houses. See this quotation from Herman Hoskier as cited by Dr. Royse in Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri

“In the first place we do not believe that the scribe of B [Vaticanus] was a Christian. He seems to have been more or less a Western Unitarian.”

Jim Royse. Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri. 3. Bracketed material added.

So if those in the modern critical text camp really wish to appeal to provenance as a meaningful argument against a text, it may be wise to first take a look at the “earliest and best” extant manuscripts rather than a text that was considered orthodox by the Protestant church during the Reformation, whose provenance provides no negative context to the text at hand. This kind of appeal most importantly demonstrates the disconnect between evangelical advocates of the modern critical text and their history, if anything. For those that are discerning whether or not they wish to continue using the modern critical text or move over to the Received Text, this conversation may be enlightening for you. Note that when advocates of the modern critical text attempt to make theological arguments, it is for the purpose of proving a Scripture not authentic. The goal is to cast doubt on a reading which the historical Protestants have defended. Ironically, the arguments employed by modern critical text advocates against the Received Text are of Jesuit provenance. The purpose of which is to persuade Christians to adopt the axioms of modern textual criticism, which do not consider inspiration, preservation, or the Holy Spirit at all. Compare this with the polemics of those in the Received Text, who desire that Christians reject the notion that God has not preserved and delivered His Word. Simply looking at the outlook of each position is a great way to put the conversation in perspective. One side is arguing that Christians adopt the assumption that,

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

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

The other side is arguing that God, “In His singular care and providence, has kept His word pure in all ages.” Take a stand on Scripture, Christian, and be blessed knowing that God has not abandoned His church. The fact stands that despite the confidence in modern textual scholars, they simply cannot prove that the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) entered the manuscript tradition by way of the Latin tradition. There is nothing that prevents us from believing that God inspired this text, and preserved it in both Greek and Latin manuscripts.

The Weakness of Evidence-Based Textual Criticism & The Received Text

Introduction

If I could identify the most significant disconnect between those that advocate for modern critical methods and those that advocate for the Received Text, it’s the difference in how evidence is handled. From a modern critical perspective, it is baffling that the manuscript evidence they produce for or against a reading is rejected. From a Received Text perspective, evidence should be used to support the God given text, not used to reconstruct a new text. Despite the frustration this might cause on both sides, there are good reasons that those who advocate for the preservation of the Received Text are not swayed by the evidence-based presentations of the academy and those who follow in that tradition. Instead of simply shrugging off these reasons, I believe that it is wise to consider the perspective of evidence presented by those in the Received Text camp. The concerns raised about evidence based critical methods cannot be answered by simply talking about textual variants ad nauseum. In this article, I will present four reasons why evidence should not be considered such an authoritative source for textual criticism, and then give a positive presentation on how we can know what the Scriptures say. 

Evidence Requires Interpretation

The single most impactful cause of changes in modern bibles is reinterpretation of data. That is because modern textual criticism views evidence as the source material to reconstruct a text that has been lost. One generation, the church may deem a manuscript or reading of little value, and the next, the most valuable text available. We have seen this practically implemented by the introduction of various brackets, footnotes, and omissions in modern Greek texts and translations made from them. This is inevitable with evidence based approaches, because the shape of the text is driven by whichever theory is in vogue that is used to evaluate the evidence. While the transmission of the New Testament was guarded from such significant changes by virtue of churches using these handwritten manuscripts and lack of technology for mass distribution, the modern church is not guarded by such a mechanism. The lack of church oversight in the creation of modern texts also plays into the ability for the Bible to shift year by year at such a quick rate. If a change is made in one place of Scripture today, it can be distributed in thousands of copies, essentially overnight, without consulting a single pastor. This should concern the people of God, but this has unfortunately become standard practice, and advertised as a necessary reality. 

Within the various modern printed Greek editions, the perspective of the editors define which verses are included, omitted, bracketed, and footnoted. Since evidence based methods are always driven by the perspective of the person interpreting the data, the shape of the New Testament is intimately connected with the methodologies of the scholars themselves. Yet even the scholar’s analysis is subject to interpretation. This is clearly demonstrated when an editor prints a reading in the main text of a Greek New Testament, and the user of that text selects a reading to use from the footnote over and above the reading chosen by the editor. Even within the modern critical text community, there are even disagreements over how the agreed upon source data should be interpreted, which is evidenced by the various printed editions produced by modern text critics. 

It is often said that the cause for change in modern Bibles is “new” data, yet this doesn’t seem to be the case. The texts which modern Bibles are based off were not created in the 19th century, they were published in the 19th century. And modern Bibles are mostly the same as Westcott-Hort’s text at a macro level. At one point, the people of God had that manuscript, and their interpretation of it shaped the way that Greek manuscripts were copied going forward. The difference is that modern interpreters of that data have valued that data more heavily than they have been weighted historically, and those in the Received Text camp view that as an act of God’s providential guidance of the text as it was passed along. In short, the interpretation of the new (to us) data is really a greater factor than the data itself.

Evidence Based Methods are Weak Because Manuscripts Cannot Talk  

In modern critical methods, extant manuscripts which are dated prior to AD 1000 are considered the most valuable or relevant New Testament witnesses. Though data after this time is consulted and considered, it is not given the same weight as earlier manuscripts. This becomes problematic because most of our New Testament manuscripts are from after the data window selected by scholars. Additionally, many of these early manuscripts are without a pedigree, meaning that we do not know who made them, why, and for what. For example, Frederic Kenyon proposed that the Papyri fragments were not used in churches for reading, but actually personal texts that a Christian could carry around and read privately. That means that they were more likely to be paraphrastic, contain errors, or be used outside of the mainstream of orthodoxy. Yet this is just a theory. We simply do not know why they were made, for whom, and how they were used. Such is the case for pretty much all of our early manuscripts. Why is this problematic? 

During the time period that our earliest extant manuscripts come from, some of the most heated theological debates were going on regarding the humanity and divinity of Christ. We also have testimony during that time which testify to the tampering of manuscripts. Since we do not know anything about the source of these manuscripts, it is nearly impossible to know if a manuscript was used in an orthodox church, or an Arian church, or wasn’t used in a church at all. What is more important from a data analysis perspective then, is what we do know of the context in which those manuscripts were created. Since theological context is not considered in modern critical approaches, we could very well have a reading in our Greek text that was introduced by Maricon himself and be none the wiser. And even if we do print a reading in our modern Bibles that have been historically questioned as gnostic or Arian, this is not taken into consideration by modern methodology.

That means that while early New Testament manuscript evidence serves a powerful apologetic purpose against claims that Christianity was “invented” at some point around the fourth century, it simply does not have the same kind of weight when it comes to being used for constructing accurate Greek texts. We may reproduce the exact hypothetical archetype for Codex B, for example, and still not know who used it, when that archetype was created, or where that archetype came from. One can say that the archetype of Codex B reaches back to the first century, when in reality it may have been created a month before. We simply cannot know. I will continue to argue on my blog that this is a good thing for the church, as it takes the authority of the Scriptures out of the hands of men. By God’s singular care and providence, He has kept His Word pure, and doesn’t need to be reconstructed. 

Evidence Based Methods Are the Weakest They Have Ever Been 

In the 21st century, we are the farthest away from the time the creation of the manuscripts used to make modern Bibles than any other generation. That means that we have the least amount of perspective on the data we do have, regardless of how much we have of it. The only group of people who had clear insight to Codex Vaticanus for example, were the people that created it, used it, or had access to since lost commentary on it, if that ever existed. If we ignore the insights of the scholars and theologians during the Reformation on this text, which modern scholars typically do, we essentially know nothing about it, except from what can be ascertained from its readings. And if we do not assume any text as standard base text, it is impossible to discern anything from the readings of that text at all, other than somebody used it at some point. How can we know if a reading is orthodox or not, if there is no standard to compare against? It is difficult, even impossible, to know much about a manuscript if the theological context from the time it was created  is not considered. 

That puts us at a unique time in history, different from even the Reformation. During the 16th century, manuscripts were still being used in churches and in liturgies. In every generation of the church this was the case until the printing press. Rather than assuming “we know more,” it is wiser to assume that we actually know less. Here is a metaphor that may be helpful in understanding my point. 

Let’s just say, 1,000 years from now, somebody finds a gas powered lawn mower disassembled into hundreds of pieces in a junkyard in a pile of other disassembled equipment. The person knows its a lawnmower, but doesn’t know what kind of lawnmower or what it originally looked like. If this person wanted to reconstruct that lawn mower, he would have to know which parts go to the lawnmower. He may have another lawnmower which looks kind of like the one he wants to reconstruct, but it’s not the same make and model, and it is from a different time period. Here’s the problem: The person doesn’t know which parts go to the lawnmower he wants to repair, and even if he did, he wouldn’t know exactly how to repair it without an instruction manual because nobody has used lawn mowers in 400 years. In order to repair the mower, he needs to find somebody who knows how, or a preserved model to use as a guide. He could spend his whole life trying to reconstruct the mower, and even if he got it to work, he wouldn’t know if the parts he used were from another piece of equipment that had the same parts as the mower, another mower altogether, or the original mower. The reconstructed mower might even have parts that work, but aren’t the right parts. Only a person who knew what the lawn mower originally looked like could tell him if he reconstructed it correctly with the right parts. A person trying to reconstruct the mower while other mowers of the same kind were still in production would have no problem with the same task, and achieve more accurate results. The fact is, the person will simply never know that all the parts he used even belonged to the mower to begin with, because he doesn’t have the original mower. You wouldn’t call that lawn mower preserved, in any case, even if all the parts were in the junkyard somewhere. 

The metaphor works quite nicely with manuscript evidence. During the time a manuscript was created, the people knew what that manuscript was for, who made it, and who used it. They even would know where it departs from the rest of the manuscripts circulating at the time. These are simply insights we cannot know, unless some extant commentary on the manuscript informs us on these things. And often times when we do have this kind of commentary, it is ignored and labeled fraudulent or “out of context.” The point is, the further away from the creation of a manuscript we get, the less we can know about it based on the manuscript itself. This, I argue, is yet another function of providence. We do not need to reconstruct a text, because the Bible has been kept pure in all ages. We need to receive the text as it has been passed down, not recreate a version of the New Testament that looks like a text(B) that was produced by, according to Scrivener, “more or less a Western unitarian” (Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri, 3). 

Evidence Based Methods Are Weak Because They Give False Confidence That We Have the Right Reading 

While the scholars working in the field are vocal about not having absolute confidence in the evidence, by the time a text gets to the pew, this doubt is dissipated through popular level presentations on textual criticism. A scholar can print a reading in a Greek text and have doubts about its place in the transmission history, and a Christian will use that reading as if it is the Divine Original itself. A scholar might even have great confidence that the reading printed, or not printed, in the text is original, and be wrong. Due to the nature of genealogical methods of text criticism, a reading can be erroneously placed earlier or later in the textual transmission history, and the scholar would never know it. 

The problem of basing the form of our Bibles on extant evidence is not a problem with all evidence. It is a problem of which evidence. If scholars are wrong in their theories, the church has a Bible that is based on the wrong manuscripts, and nobody is the wiser for it. In other words, scholars, like the person who set out to reconstruct the lawn mower, do not know enough about the manuscripts they have selected to use to say that their reconstruction looks anything like the original. Sure, it’s a form of the New Testament, but is it the New Testament? Just like the reconstructed lawn mower might look like the original, the person will never know what parts of the mower he used the wrong part for. Since we do not have this meta-data on our earliest extant manuscripts, the reconstructed product does not say much other than that it looks like a version of the New Testament that existed at what point in history. That text may have existed, but can we know who used it, and why we needed to reconstruct it? What text is this that has fallen away, if God’s Word has been preserved? Reconstructionist text criticism introduces far more problems than it solves – pointing again to the reality that the Bible never needed to be reconstructed based on the evidence that was published in the 19th and 20th centuries. That yet again points to the reality that God did not desire for His people to engage in this effort, but receive the text He had already given.  

Why Those In the Received Text Camp Do Not Base Their Bible Primarily on Evidence

Simply put, because it is not wise to do so, for the reasons listed above. That is why the primary function of the Received Text position is providence. According to the Scriptures, God has preserved His Word. The question for most people is, how did He do it? Those in the Received Text camp say that in every generation of copying of New Testament manuscripts, the Christians who copied and used manuscripts had the best perspective on those manuscripts. Those in the modern critical text camp typically say that we, in modernity, have the best perspective on the original languages and the extant manuscripts. Rather than assume that “we know better,” it is wise to avoid that kind of thinking, and instead, look to providence. Recognizing God’s providence is a matter of receiving the product that existed in continued use throughout the ages. Simply because a manuscript survived does not mean that it was in the category of “in continued use.” In fact, a manuscript from 1,700 years ago seemingly points in the opposite direction. I’ve worn out high quality, printed Bibles in a year. If somebody finds my Bible in tact in 1,700 years and can still read it, that would say a lot about how much I used it! Since we don’t know much about the earliest manuscripts, these are not helpful in determining such a text. If we can’t say where a manuscript came from, or how it was used, it is not wise to assume we know that information when we simply don’t. Further, the early data sample is not broad enough to know what else existed at the time that was being used. There is a reason the majority of our manuscripts do not look like those called, “Earliest and best,” and instead of assuming that the people of God got it wrong for hundreds of years, it is more reasonable to assume that the people of God had more information, and more insight on these manuscripts than we do now. 

That is why the Reformation is such a pivotal reference point for the transmission history of the New Testament text. It is a time where we, in the 21st century, have the best insight on what actually happened, and the most commentary on the manuscripts and readings that were agreed upon to be authentic by the people of God. During that time and even in the early church, the concept of an “authentic” manuscript was a driving force in identifying texts that should be used. No such function exists today in modern textual criticism. Manuscripts are weighted according to text critical principles, not evaluated by their authenticity or the way the church viewed them historically. Even with all we know of the Reformation, there is still so much we will never know about that process. If we do not even know every manuscript used in the creation of the Received Text, how much more absurd is it to try to figure out the origins of hand copied manuscripts from the fourth century and earlier? 

One of the things that needs to be recognized, is that we will never know exactly how the New Testament was transmitted, we simply know that it was. That is why textual scholars have been developing theories for the last 200 years, because there is no definitive trail through time leading back to the start that we can derive from extant data. It is important to note, that just because we do not know, does not mean that Christians throughout the ages did not know. Actually, it seems that this generation is the only generation that doesn’t seem to know. That speaks volumes to the methods of modernity. We cannot say that every New Testament in the fourth century looked like Codex B, and even from an evidenced based approach, that conclusion stands at odds with the data and reason. We can only reasonably approach the issue with what we do know: That God preserved His Word, and that by the time it was mass produced, it looked a certain way. If we want to approach the text like any other book, and say that the New Testament evolved, and was not preserved, we will spend our whole lifetime watching the text of the New Testament change form with the ebbs and flows of different theories of the academy. Often times evangelical textual scholars say, “I do not think God was obligated to give us the original. We should be grateful for what we do have.” Yet I say that that conclusion is based on theories on manuscripts that we simply do not know enough about to make such a conclusion. The conclusion first assumes that the Bible was destroyed, like the mower, and needs to be reconstructed. Yet it is clear, based on the extant evidence, that if the goal is to reproduce the original, that is an unwise errand. It seems especially off base if we are trying to maintain the doctrine of preservation in any meaningful way. 


A simple conclusion that causes people to return to the historical protestant text is often times the reality that we do not know enough about the transmission history of the New Testament up to the time of the Reformation to responsibly say that we can reconstruct it to the specifications of the original. Like the person who reconstructed the lawn mower, we will never know if we included all the parts, or even parts that came from other sources than the original. That is why the modern effort of textual criticism is more confident at saying what “isn’t” Scripture than what is Scripture. Even if those conclusions are based on evidence we really don’t know a whole lot about. What those in the Received Text camp set forth, is that it is not primarily a matter of extant evidence which gives us our New Testament, it is a matter of which evidence do we know the people of God used in time. There is no reason to assume that orthodox Christians even used our “earliest and best” manuscripts. That is assuming that modern scholars even factor in  that metric, which does not exist in the axioms of the critical methods. If our view of the transmission of the New Testament is based on the belief that God preserved His Word, it is difficult to propose that He did so by first destroying it so that it had to be reconstructed. The belief that God requires His Word to be reconstructed only came about due to the reevaluation of manuscripts which we know virtually nothing about. We do not know who created them, who used them, or even if they were used outside of a single church or area. That is not a wise foundation, from both a data perspective, and a common sense perspective. 

Conclusion

Simply because the early evidence is not uniform and has no pedigree does not mean that God did not preserve His Word. In fact, it seemingly demonstrates that God, in His providence, would make it quite difficult for Christians to responsibly place their faith in any such process that places the authority of the Scriptures in axioms of modern scholarship. When the early evidence is viewed in light of what we know about it, it’s value as a source for reconstruction fades to a dim glimmer. What it does demonstrate is that the New Testament existed as early as it says it did, and that it was transmitted all the way until today. The matter of identifying its original form was never meant to be something that men are responsible for reconstructing, but receiving. 

If we are not to reconstruct the text, but receive it as a preserved whole, then it seems providence is a much better guide than reconstruction by way of extant evidence that we have little information about. By recognizing God’s providence, we recognize that the people of God in every generation had the best insight on the manuscripts that were extant to them, used by them, and copied by them. This allows us to at least recognize the general form of the New Testament, what Theodore Letis called the “Macro Text.” In other words, the general copying process of the Text of Holy Scripture naturally corrected significant variants, either by producing another copy, or correcting that copy in the margin, according to the best manuscripts available in every age. By the time technology increased with the printing press, many manuscripts which had variants in them existed, yes. Almost every single one of the significant variants recognized today existed then. Yet, unlike this generation, the scholars and theologians of the time had better perspective on that data because it was still being used. They had more insight on the text that had been handed down as “authentic” then we ever will. 

We will never know what was contained in every manuscript that was destroyed after that time. In fact, there are hundreds of manuscripts that we know exist today that we simply do not have access to examine. Readings that we consider “minority” today could have easily been a majority reading in AD 800. There are readings considered “minority” today that could have been the majority during the time after the Reformation, and we would never know. The assumption that extant data is the best data is simply not in line with how much we know about manuscripts getting destroyed throughout time. How could it be, that for the first time in church history, that God finally allowed His church to “get it right” concerning the text of Holy Scripture? How could it be, that now, even knowing how many thousands of manuscripts that were destroyed, is the time where we have the most of them? It may be true that we have the most access to all of the manuscripts due to technological advances, but it is important to remind ourselves that we have the least amount of insight on the ones we do have. Additionally, what value is all of this data if the modern scholars are only looking at a subset of that data? The very subset that we know the least about, nonetheless!

The point of this blog is to give people confidence that the people of God in the previous era of the church had that insight, and by God’s providence, He preserved His Word. Rather than believing that we need to reconstruct the text, we should receive the text handed down to us. What we do know of the text of the Reformation is that the people of God used it, translated it, and commented on it. It was so agreed upon that people have called it the “default” text. Does that not sound providential? That the text was so agreed upon it was “default?” The reality is, we do not have the justification, based on evidence at least, to unseat this text so agreed upon. We have no reason to doubt that God has providentially preserved His Word by handing it down through the people of God that used it. We should cherish the fact that God does desire for His sheep to hear His voice, and has given us His Word to make that possible. 

The alternative, as I have seen it and demonstrated on my blog, is not such a view. It is a view which says that we don’t know exactly what God spoke by the prophets and apostles – that we need to reconstruct a lost text which has evolved over time. It is a view which says that God didn’t desire to give us all of His Word, just enough of it to get by. It is a view which says that even if God did preserve His Word, we would have no way to know that we have it. It is an honest evaluation of what the Bible is, if we assume that the early, choice evidence preferred by the academy is the only way we have to determine what God’s Word is. Yet this makes perfect sense that such scholars would come to these conclusions, if we consider the limitations of evidence based critical methods. This article hopefully demonstrates that. If anything, God’s providential work in time has shown us that it is folly to try and reconstruct a text that never fell away. It seems, that the real text that has fallen away, is the one the scholars are trying to reconstruct. 

For more on the Providentially Preserved Text: https://youngtextlessreformed.com/2019/11/06/a-summary-of-the-confessional-text-position/

1 John 5:7 and Modern Criticism

Introduction

The Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7) is a sticking point for many people when it comes to believing the claims of those who advocate for the Received Text of the Reformation, who say that the TR is the providentially preserved and vindicated text of Holy Scripture. More importantly, this variant, above all others, demonstrates the inconsistency of those who advocate against it. In the first place, there is manuscript evidence for it, three of these which match how it is printed in the Stephanus 1500 and the TBS Scrivener. That means that it has as much manuscript evidence support as let’s just say, the Gospel of Mark without 16:9-20. So it is clear that the axioms of modern textual criticism are not particularly concerned with counting noses when it comes to manuscripts, while the critics constantly appeal to this standard when attacking the authenticity of this passage, and many others. 

Typically, those who attack the authenticity of this reading appeal to the assumption that it was introduced from a Latin manuscript. This may seem compelling to some, but the Greek New Testament was translated into Latin and used in that vulgar language in the Western church leading up to the Reformation. So the great sin of a reading being found in the Latin tradition isn’t a world ending argument, since that Latin was translated from Greek. In fact, many modern versions appeal to the Latin often in the Old Testament. Since the reading is also found in Greek, it is just as reasonable to say that the reading was originally there, translated into Latin, and preserved in both Greek and Latin manuscripts. There is no doubt that variants were introduced early into 1 John, and not just chapter five, so if we consider the transmission history of 1 John as a whole, many of the arguments against 1 John 5:7 do not seem as potent. Like with any evidence based model in any discipline, the presuppositions with which evidence is approached is often more important than the evidence itself. This is the case with the passage at hand. The questions we have to ask ourselves as we approach this issue are: Which theory will we adopt to examine this variant? Will we take into account God’s providence in preserving His text, and acknowledge that the 16th century is a part of that? Or will we choose the teaching of the academy, that God did not preserve His Word because orthodox faith communities corrupted it?

An Age Old, Claim Reproduced in Modernity by Evangelicals

Now the claim of the Papists during the Reformation, and the modern scholars today, is that the Reformers/Humanists were quite fond of the Vulgate, and often “back-translated” from it into Greek. The reality is, and this should be evident to all who know their Reformation history, is that Erasmus and the humanist Reformers had no affinity for the Vulgate as it had developed in its own line of transmission. It is also helpful to note the distinction that is made between the Old Vulgate and the Vulgate as it existed during the time of the Renaissance. These men consulted the Latin tradition, but it is a strange disconnect to say that these men were fond of “back-translating” from the Latin. It is also peculiar that the claim is often made when the text of the Reformation disagrees with the preferred manuscripts of the academy.

An important piece of history is that Erasmus, along with the great orthodox divines said that the Vatican Codex (B) was influenced by Latin readings.


“Let them also be removed from the pretence, which carry their own convictions along with them that they are spurious, either,[…] Arise out of copies apparently corrupted, like that of Beza in Luke, and that in the Vatican boasted of by Huntley the Jesuit, which Lucas Brugensis affirms to have been changed by the Vulgar Latin, and which was written and corrected, as Erasmus says, about the [time of the] council of Florence, when an agreement was patched up between the Greeks and Latins; or, (10.) Are notoriously corrupted by the old heretics, as 1 John 5:7.”

(John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 16 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 366–367.)

This quote also demonstrates that the orthodox were also able to distinguish that different books of Scripture within a single manuscript had different transmission history, “Like that of Beza in Luke.” Considering that the academy takes Codex B (Vaticanus) as one of its flagship “earliest and best” manuscripts, it does not appear that manuscripts influenced by Latin readings disqualifies a reading upon that criteria alone. Common sense also tells us that a translation from the Greek had Greek support at one point. Pair this with the fact that modern scholars accept that late manuscripts can preserve older readings, and the inconsistency becomes apparent. Claims that Received Text advocates are “blind to evidence” simply means that Received Text advocates reject the analysis of the evidence by the academy. Again, evidence requires interpretation, and interpretation requires presuppositions.

That being said, can 1 John 5:7 be said to have been definitively introduced from the Latin, as though it were never found in a Greek manuscript? Can somebody produce the manuscript where this took place? Or is that simply a theory catered to the axioms of modern critical theory? Remember, the problem is not with Greek readings having Latin witnesses, the problem is if the reading was never in a Greek manuscript in the first place. I have yet to see a scholar actually produce a manuscript, or historical source from antiquity which demonstrates that this verse was added from the Latin. In fact, the sources from antiquity comment on the verse being corrupted, the academics simply write off that evidence as inauthentic. Notice that when scholars make this argument, they pad it heavily with “likely,” “supposedly,” etc. That is not exactly the most solid ground to be standing on, given that we are talking about God’s Word. This being the case, it would be rather foolish to say that this reading was absolutely introduced from the Latin, based on the evidence available. One might suppose that this was the case, but suppositions always have presuppositions.

Examining This Variant Theologically and Faithfully

It is honorable that evangelical textual scholars have managed to maintain their faith while choosing to live in the lion’s den. Unfortunately, sometimes living in the lion’s den requires you to start acting like a lion, if you don’t want to be eaten. The orthodox perspective of Scripture leaving the high orthodox period was that it had been “kept pure in all ages,” and while I believe the profession of the few textual scholars who claim to be evangelicals, their doctrinal statements often end up sounding a lot like those they claim to disagree with.

“If God preserved the original text intact, where is it? Why don’t we have it? – Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman

“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any of our translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.” – Dan Wallace

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

The questions we should be asking to the scholars is, “Why are you debating, and agreeing with Bart Ehrman? Why are we putting the Scriptures on trial?” It seems reasonable to ask, that if we are unwilling to put God on trial, why we would put His Word on trial in front of the world. That being said, the argument against 1 John 5:7 is often presented as “factual.” In this case, factual simply means, “factual according to our analysis of the evidence.” Prior to even examining evidence, however, one first has to adopt the mindset that the Scriptures need to be criticized and questioned first. Remember, that the orthodox believed the Scriptures to be “pure in all ages,” not in need of reconstruction. The shift from preserved to reconstructed is a shift in the doctrine of the church. In order to arrive at a place where one would even question the authenticity of a given passage in Scripture, there are several important assumptions that must be made: 

  1. The narrative of preservation must be deconstructed and thrown out for the narrative that orthodox faith communities tampered with the text to reinforce orthodox doctrines
  2. The authorship of this verse in John must be questioned and reimagined, because there is no way John wrote that. A different source introduced this text.
  3. An attempt must be made to understand the community who introduced this text to better understand its place in the transmission history of the New Testament 

If we are looking for evidence, there are Greek manuscripts and versional evidence to support it, many ancient fathers use the exact wording of the phrase despite not quoting the whole thing together, and the first protestant orthodox divines used printed editions which included the passage. The problem people have with this passage is not properly evidence, it’s that people do not accept the evidence there is for its authenticity. Even more concerning, is that the grounds upon which people who discredit this passage are lock step with Bart Ehrman. Received Texts advocates are often critiqued for agreeing with Bart Ehrman on his conclusions on the text of the academy, but is it not worse to agree with him in his text critical methods that got him to those conclusions? If one agrees with Erhman in his text critical axioms, but disagrees with him in his conclusions, does it not stand to reason that my argument holds – that evidence requires interpretation? I choose to disagree with Erhman here in his methods.

Further, this verse is also included in the Patriarchal text of the Eastern Orthodox church, who has no affinity for the Latin or Western church. In addition to there being external evidence for this passage, there are solid internal grounds for this passage being authentic. If the reading truly was a Latin invention, we would expect the Greek to flow more easily from verse 6 to 8 without verse 7, and verse 7 to feel forced upon the text in its Greek translated form. Yet the opposite is true. R.L. Dabney and John Calvin recognize that the passage simply does not flow without verse 7 due to the requirements of the Greek grammar rules. Matthew Henry even notes that,

“That the edition depended upon some Greek authority, and not merely, as some would have us believe, upon the authority of the vulgar Latin or of Thomas Aquinas.”

(Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. 1 John 5:7).

John Calvin notes that,

“The whole of this verse has been by some omitted. Jerome thinks that this happened through design rather than through mistake…Since however, the passage flows better when this clause is added, and I see that it is found in the best and approved copies, I am inclined to believe it as the true reading”

(John Calvin. Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles. 1 John 5:7).

What is the response to Calvin? “He was mistaken about the quality of the texts he had access to.” RL Dabney comments, 

“In 1 John 5:7,8 the Received Text presents us with two sorts or triads of witnesses, one in heaven, the other on earth, and asserts the unity of the first triad in one. In the revised Greek text underlying the modern versions all this is omitted, and all reference to a trinity is obliterated. The significant fact to which we would draw attention is that many of the variations proposed by modern scholars which have any doctrinal importance appear to undermine the doctrine of the Trinity, and particularly the doctrine of Christ’s deity. The various readings in the manuscripts and versions may be counted by hundred thousands, but the vast majority are insignificant. Among the few important various readings there are several that bear on this one doctrine–a doctrine which was keenly debated between orthodox believers and heretics just before the three most ancient existing copies were made.

The Sabellian and Arian controversies raged in the 3rd and 4th centuries and the copies now held in such high repute among scholars were written in the 4th and 5th centuries. The hostility of these documents to the Trinitarian doctrine impels the mind to the conclusion that their omissions and alterations are not merely the chance errors of transcribers, but the work of a deliberate hand. When we remember the date of the great Trinitarian contest in the Church, and compare it with the supposed date of these documents, our suspicion becomes much more pronounced. Did the party of Athanasius introduce spurious testimonies into the text to advance their Trinitarian doctrine, or did the party of Arius expunge authentic testimonies from copies of the sacred text in order to obscure the doctrine?

The so-called oldest codices agree with each other in omitting a number of striking testimonies to the divinity of Christ, and they also agree in other omissions relating to Gospel faith and practice. Was this because these ancient documents represent the views of copyists who regarded the Athanasian Trinitarians as corrupters, or can it be established that the omissions were deliberately made by the Arians to expunge the Scriptural evidence against their case?

All the critics vote against the authenticity of 1 John 5:7 but let us see whether the case is quite as clear as they would have it. The arguments in favour of its claim to genuineness carry a good degree of probability and this text is a good instance of the value of that internal evidence which recent critics profess to discard.” 

Dabney then carries on to demonstrate the grammatical necessity of the passage. 

1. The masculine article, numeral and participle HOI TREIS MARTUROUNTES, are made to agree directly with three neuters, an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. If the disputed words are allowed to remain, they agree with two masculines and one neuter noun HO PATER, HO LOGOS, KAI TO HAGION PNEUMA and, according to the rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender over a neuter connected with them. Then the occurrence of the masculines TREIS MARTUROUNTES in verse 8 agreeing with the neuters PNEUMA, HUDOR and HAIMA may be accounted for by the power of attraction, well known in Greek syntax.

2. If the disputed words are omitted, the 8th verse coming next to the 6th gives a very bald and awkward, and apparently meaningless repetition of the Spirit’s witness twice in immediate succession.

3. If the words are omitted, the concluding words at the end of verse 8 contain an unintelligible reference. The Greek words KAI HOI TREIS EIS TO HEN EISIN mean precisely–”and these three agree to that (aforesaid) One.” This rendering preserves the force of the definite article in this verse. Then what is “that One” to which “these three” are said to agree? If the 7th verse is omitted “that One” does not appear, and “that One” in verse 8, which designates One to whom the reader has already been introduced, has not antecedent presence in the passage. Let verse 7 stand, and all is clear, and the three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the Father, Word and Spirit constitute.

4. John has asserted in the previous 6 verses that faith is the bond of our spiritual life and victory over the world. This faith must have a solid warrant, and the truth of which faith must be assured is the Sonship and Divinity of Christ. See verses 5,11, 12, 20. The only faith that quickens the soul and overcomes the world is (verse 5) the belief that Jesus is God’s Son, that God has appointed Him our Life, and that this Life is true God. God’s warrant for this faith comes: FIRST in verse 6, in the words of the Holy Ghost speaking by inspired men; SECOND in verse 7, in the words of the Father, the Word and the Spirit, asserting and confirming by miracles the Sonship and unity of Christ with the Father.; THIRD in verse 8, in the work of the Holy Ghost applying the blood and water from Christ’s pierced side for our cleansing. FOURTH in verse 10, in the spiritual consciousness of the believer himself, certifying to him that he feels within a divine change.

 How harmonious is all this if we accept the 7th verse as genuine, but if we omit it the very keystone of the arch is wanting, and the crowning proof that the warrant of our faith is divine (verse 9) is struck out.

We must also consider the time and circumstances in which the passage was written. John tells his spiritual children that his object is to warn them against seducers (2.26), whose heresy was a denial of the proper Sonship and incarnation (4.2) of Jesus Christ. We know that these heretics were Corinthians and Nicolaitanes. Irenaeus and other early writers tell us that they all vitiated the doctrine of the Trinity. Cerinthus taught that Jesus was not miraculously born of a virgin, and that the Word, Christ, was not truly and eternally divine, but a sort of angelic “Aion” associated with the natural man Jesus up to his crucifixion. The Nicolaitanes denied that the “Aion” Christ had a real body, and ascribed to him only a phantasmal body and blood. It is against these errors that John is fortifying his “children” and this is the very point of the disputed 7th verse. If it stands, then the whole passage is framed to exclude both heresies. In verse 7 he refutes the Corinthian by declaring the unity of Father, Word and Spirit, and with the strictest accuracy employing the neuter HEN EISIN to fix the point which Cerinthus denied–the unity of the Three Persons in One common substance. He then refutes the Nicolaitanes by declaring the proper humanity of Jesus, and the actual shedding, and application by the Spirit, of that water and blood of which he testifies as on eyewitness in the Gospel–19.34,35.

We must also consider the time and circumstances in which the passage was written. John tells his spiritual “children” against “seducers” who taught error regarding the true divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ and regarding His incarnation and true humanity, and when we further see John precisely expose these errors in verses 7 and 8 of Chapter 5, we are constrained to acknowledge that there is a coherency in the whole passage which presents strong internal evidence for the genuineness of the ‘Received Text’.” 

The only people I have seen stand against this grammatical argument are people who self-admittedly are rusty in Greek, or those that cannot count to twenty or order a sandwich in the language. Such “authorities” should be counted as those who speak without knowledge. You wouldn’t trust somebody who couldn’t watch and understand an episode of Spongebob in English to parse Shakespeare. It is an odd phenomenon, that modern Christians trust the exegesis and theological formulations of the great divines, and yet question their ability to understand the basics of Greek.

Conclusion

The point is this – those that attack the authenticity of this passage do so first by following the footsteps of those deemed “heretics” by the Reformed, and do so again by adopting the critical principles of the academy. The passage fits grammatically, theologically, and has manuscript evidence and even patristic sources that allude to the exact wording of it. Jerome and Nazianzus comment on it, and the critiques of these comments are as you’d expect from a critic – questioning the authenticity of the source. The theological giants of the past, who knew Greek well enough to carry on a discourse in the language agree that the passage flows better with it included. 

The plain reality is that you have to be trying to find a problem with the Protestant Scriptures to even begin having this conversation. There are evidential cases on both sides that can be made, but ultimately the method of approach is what actually matters. Further, the standard of scrutiny leveled against this passage is carefully ignored when applied to other manuscripts and readings of the academy. What reason would a person have to attack the authenticity of a passage that occurs in Greek manuscripts, fits the theological context, flow, and grammar of the passage, and affirms one of the most central orthodox doctrines in Scripture? Christians have been taught to believe that it is their job to scrutinize Scripture, and that it is even honorable to do so.

Even more confusing is that the same people who are certain that this passage is not authentic cannot and will not even affirm any one manuscript, version, or printed text as being exact to the original. If the task of the church today is to reconstruct the lost text of Holy Scripture, joining the enemies of the faith in attacking passages received by the people of God for centuries is a strange way to approach the issue. Even more interesting is how often the standard for each verse is carefully shifted around according to the vogue critical theory of today. It is important to remember that the Comma Johanneum was seated at 1 John 5:7 until evangelical textual critics began deconstructing the Scriptures based on theories that haven’t succeeded in giving the people of God a stable text. It is also important to mention that the theory of Hort, which dominated the 20th century, has been utterly refuted, and the current method is under great scrutiny by the academy. The academy is divided among itself, and the leading voices such as DC Parker, Eldon Epp, and Bart Ehrman have their hand in just about everything that goes on in the text critical world. If you want somebody to blame for Bart Ehrman and others like him having such an influence on evangelical text criticism, look at the evangelicals who let them in the door.

So, the real question is: Can it be proved that the passage came in from the Latin? Can somebody pinpoint an exact date or manuscript? If not, what is the purpose for questioning the source of the verse? Can it be proved that the original autograph went from verse 6 to 8? Did an angel come down to one of these scholars and command them to strike verse 7 from the record? Does it contradict the rest of the teaching of Scripture? Does it teach something unorthodox? Did heretics defend the passage historically? Does it interrupt the thought of the apostle as he was carried along by the Spirit? Do we gain anything by removing this passage?

Or does the passage being removed align with the critical theory of the academy? That the New Testament has been lost and needs to be reconstructed; That orthodox scribes of the Christian faith communities added words, pericopes, and phrases to bolster their doctrine; That the people of God are eagerly waiting for the text-critical heroes to restore God’s Word for Him; That we will never actually know exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote; That God never intended to preserve His Word for His people? I know, it sounds absurd when you lay it out on the table like that, but these are the theories that drive the textual decisions of scholars. But I do not appeal to them, I appeal to the church, who read their Bible to hear their Shepherd’s voice. Take a step back and consider carefully the theories you have to adopt to begin removing verses from the established Protestant canon. Do you know for certain that a passage should be removed? Does the text of Holy Scripture not get the same luxury granted to a murderer in the court of law, or is it the case that the Scriptures are corrupt until proven pure?

At some point, we have to look past the well mannered academics and hit the brakes on this train. That train, dear church, is headed fast down a road that we do not want to be on. Stand fast on the text passed down from the previous era, the text that the great divines stood upon and defended, whose shoulders we stand upon. This is the Holy Scriptures we are talking about here, and we are to approach them with faith, not skepticism.

See Dr. Riddle’s response to the same topic here: Podcast || Article

The Consequences of Rejecting Material Preservation

Introduction

Since the late 20th century, the doctrine of Scripture has been reformulated to say several things, most explicitly in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The Chicago Statement articulates several things about the doctrine and nature of Scripture : 

  1. The original manuscripts (autographs) of the New Testament were without error
  2. The Scriptures as we have them now can be discerned to be original with great accuracy, but not without error
  3. The Scriptures as we have them now are without error in what they teach (sense), but not without error in the words (matter)

Within this modern formulation, there are also rules which anticipate certain critiques: 

  1. The Bible is not a witness to divine revelation
  2. The Bible does not derive its authority from church, tradition, or human source
  3. Inerrancy is not affected by lack of autographic texts

While this statement affirms many important things, it has a major flaw, which has resulted in many modern errors today. This is due to the fact that the Chicago Statement denies that the material of the New Testament has been preserved in the copies (apographs). This is a new development from the historical Protestant doctrine of Scripture, which affirms that God had providentially kept the material “pure in all ages.” The original texts in the possession of our great fathers in the faith were considered as the autographs.

“By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit”

(Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. I, 106). 

This modern update is an attempt to resolve the issues of higher criticism and neo-orthodoxy which were introduced after the time of the Reformers and High Orthodox. While the statement itself affirms against these errors, it does not explain how a text can retain its infallibility and inerrancy while the material has not been preserved. Perhaps at the time, the assumption that the material was preserved to the degree of “great accuracy” was enough to give the people of God great confidence in the Word of God. The error of this formulation is that the mechanism which determines such accuracy is completely authoritative in determining which of the extant material is “accurate” to the original. This seemingly contradicts the doctrinal formulation within the Chicago Statement itself, though I imagine that the reach of textual scholars into the church was not then what it is now.

Infallibility, Inerrancy, and Greatly Accurate Texts

The contradiction of the Chicago Statement is that it affirms against human mechanisms of bestowing the Scripture authority, while itself being founded entirely upon these human mechanisms. In the modern formulation of the doctrine of Scripture, it assumes that the extant material is “greatly accurate” as it relates to the lost original. This level of accuracy, according to this formulation, is enough to know that the material is without error in what it teaches. The problem with this is in how we determine that level of accuracy. Since “great accuracy” is a vague metric, it allows for the amount of material that is considered “accurate” to fluctuate with the methods that determine that level of accuracy. It assumes that any change made by this mechanism cannot possibly change what that material teaches. That means that no matter the material shape of the text, it should be considered inerrant, because changes to the material shape “do not effect doctrine.”

Yet the very mechanism entrusted with this task has no ability to determine that the material it has produced represents what the original said, so the evaluation of “great accuracy” is not only vague, it is arbitrary. There is no meaningful standard to measure the material against to even determine how accurate it is, so any descriptions produced of that level of accuracy is based purely on the assumption that the texts produced by the chosen mechanism are as accurate as advertised. That is to say that the mechanism itself has the sole power of determining accuracy and yes, the authority of such a text. When this mechanism deems a passage, or verse, as not being accurate to the original, pastors simply do not preach that text any longer, and laypeople no longer read it. There are countless examples of the people of God appealing to this mechanism as the mechanism which gives the Scriptures authority. 

This is evident whenever a textual dispute arises in the text. All it takes is one manuscript to introduce such a dispute. What happens when such a dispute occurs? Christians appeal to the authority of the mechanism. In its very axioms, the Chicago Statement forces the people of God to submit to an external authority to validate the canonicity of a passage. Since it rejects magisterial, historical critical, and neo-orthodox models (rightly so), the only model acceptable to “authorize” a text by the modern doctrine of Scripture is lower criticism (not rightly so). Now, if lower criticism is defined simply as a process of comparing manuscripts to determine the original, this is not necessarily a problem. Many manuscripts were created by comparing multiple sources. So in that sense, lower-criticism has been practiced by the Christian church since the first time a copy of the Scriptures was made using multiple exemplar manuscripts. 

The problem occurs when that lower-critical function extends beyond the simple definition. The lower-critical mechanism elected by the modern doctrine of Scripture has reached far beyond such a definition. Rather than being a function which receives the original by comparison, it is a function which assumes that it is responsible for reconstructing a lost text. Further, that same mechanism not only assumes it is responsible for reconstructing, it is responsible for determining how the material was corrupted by reconstructing the history of the text. In other words, asserting its authority over the transmission of the text itself.

According to this mechanism, the Scripture did not come down to us safely, it actually developed away from its original form. The narrative of preservation from the Reformed and High Orthodox needed to be deconstructed so that another narrative could be developed. The sources of this material needed to be re-examined because there is no way that Mark, or John, or Paul wrote what the church thought they did. The text did not come down pure, it came down both textually and from tradition, and some of those pericopes made it into the Biblical text.  Textual variants, most commonly arose from scribal errors, but sometimes speak to the story of the religious communities who were trying to defend the orthodox structure of the Christian faith as it had developed in the traditions of the church. All of these are functions of the text-critical system that determines the “great accuracy” set forth by modern doctrinal statements. It is hard to responsibly say that this is a “lower” critical function. 

Practical Implications to Doctrine

The obvious issue here is that the foundation mechanism of the modern doctrinal statements are not restrained by the doctrinal statement itself. The most clear example of this is that the methods used to determine the “great accuracy” of the extant material as it relates to the original, do not even need to assume that an original ever existed in any meaningful way. This is plainly evidenced by the textual scholar DC Parker, who is the team lead for the Gospel of John in the ECM.   

“The New Testament is a collection of books which has come into being as a result of technological developments and the new ideas which both prompted and were inspired by them”

(Parker, Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament, 3) 

 “We can all applaud when Bowers says that ‘we have no means of knowing what ideal form of a play took in Shakespeare’s mind before he wrote it down’, simply substituting gospel or epistle for play and St John or St Paul for Shakespeare”

(Ibid. 8)

 “The New Testament is – and always has been – the result of a fusion of technology of whatever kind is in vogue and its accompanying theory. The theological concept of a canon of authoritative texts comes after”

(Ibid. 12)

Even if evangelical scholars, pastors, and professors do not agree with DC Parker here in his words, they submit to his theology in practice. The texts which modern Bibles are built on are created according to various critical principles, and then the church theologizes them and calls them authoritative after the fact. Christians work with what they have, and what they have is susceptible to change based on models that do not recognize inspiration, preservation, or the Holy Spirit. Many scholars, pastors, professors, apologists, and even lay people then take that product and make individual determinations on that produced text as to its accuracy to the original. That means that the process of determining the text that is “greatly accurate” has gone through a three-form authentication before even being read. First, it is authenticated by the textual scholars and then printed using their preferred methods. Then it is authenticated by a translation committee, who makes determinations upon those determinations based on their preferred methods which may differ from the determinations of the previous committee. Then it is authenticated by the user of that text, who makes determinations based on their preferred methods, which may be different from the both of the previous two committees! 

This of course is necessary in a model which rejects material preservation and exposure of that material in its axioms. Some other mechanism must be introduced to give the text authority. This being the case, it is rather interesting that the modern articulation of the doctrine of Scripture rejects other mechanisms that bestow the text authority. What is wrong with a magisterium – that it is a function of the church? What is wrong with neo-orthodoxy? A similar process is taking place in the “lower-criticism” of the textual scholars, the simple difference is that it is approved by the people of God who use the product of that mechanism!  

Conclusion

The necessary practical conclusion of the modern articulation of the doctrine of Scripture is that Christians must place their trust in some other mechanism to give the Scriptures authority. These doctrinal statements rely upon the “great accuracy” of the text, so they necessarily rely upon the mechanisms that deem various texts “greatly accurate.” Since this modern doctrine says that God has not materially preserved His Word, a void is created that needs to be filled. There needs to be some mechanism that can determine the level of accuracy of the text that we do have left. The modern church has largely chosen “lower-criticism” as it is employed by those that create Greek texts and translations. Some have chosen neo-orthodoxy. Others have flocked to the Roman or Eastern magisterium.

The fruit of this doctrinal articulation is evident. Verses that were once considered “greatly accurate” to the original are now being called into question daily by Christians everywhere. Passages that have always enjoyed a comfy place in the English canon are ejected by whatever textual theory is in vogue. What is considered “greatly accurate” today may just as easily be considered a scribal interpolation tomorrow. Passages in John that have never been called into question may be discovered to contain “non-Johannine” vocabulary tomorrow based on the opinion of an up and coming scholar. A manuscript may be discovered that alters the form of the text in a number of places. All it takes is one early manuscript to unsettle the whole of Scripture, as we have seen with Codex B. 

Think of it this way. If you read a passage as authoritative five years ago, and no longer consider that passage as “greatly accurate” to the original, what changed? Can you point to a newly discovered manuscript that changed your mind? Was it your doctrine? Was it the opinion of a scholar or pastor or apologist you listen to? These are important questions to answer. When I went through my own textual crisis, I realized that I was the final judge over the text of Scripture. If an early manuscript emerged without John 3:16 in it, I would have thrown it out, especially if that was the opinion of my favorite scholar. I was pricked in my conscience that I had adopted such a frivolous approach to the Holy Scriptures, and it did not take long for me to seek out other doctrinal positions on the text. 

The mechanism that is most consistent, and approved by the Scriptures themselves, is God Himself. I asked myself, “what did God actually do in time to preserve His Word?” If the text did not fall away, certainly I could look around and see that to be the case. I found that there was indeed a textual position which affirmed this reality, and a text that had been vindicated in time. A text that the people of God used during the greatest Christian revival in history. The same text that was used to develop all of the doctrines I hold to. The same text which survived successfully against the Papist arguments that are not much different to the ones used today. So why would I abandon that text, and the theology of the men who used it? Adopting the critical text is not a matter of adherence to a “greatly accurate” text, it is a matter of departure from the historical text. The question of “which text should I use?” is quite simple, actually. The answer is: The text that God used in history and vindicated by His providence in time. The text that united the church, not divided it. The text that the majority of Bible readers still use today. I praise God for the Received Text, and the all of the faithful translations made from it. 

Before you ask, “What makes those readings vindicated?” Think to yourself which methods you are going to use to evaluate those readings. Do they involve deconstructing the narrative that God kept His Word pure in all ages? Do they include the belief that faith communities corrupted the text over time and introduced beloved pericopes from tradition? Do they rest upon the theory that Codex B represents the “earliest and best” text? If so, I would appeal to the Chicago Statement, which says, “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship”

Absolute Certainty, The Received Text, and Matthew 23:13-14

Introduction

Recently, Reverend Christopher Myers of Phoenix Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA) tagged me in on a Facebook post to address the topic of absolute certainty and the Received Text. Dr. Peter Gurry playfully chimed in with a test passage (Matthew 23:13-14). In this article I will be interacting with Dr. Gurry’s article. Any disagreements I have with his article do not represent what I think about him as a person. He is a brother in Christ and I no reason to think otherwise.

The question that must be answered is, “How can one have absolute certainty that the Scriptures they read are the Divine Original?” What first must be defined is the operational definition of “absolute” as it pertains to certainty. Of course I would never argue a definition of “absolute certainty” that means “omniscience.” Humans are creatures, and therefore do not know things absolutely in that sense. Yet, in a different, practical, experiential sense, Christians can be absolutely certain that God exists, that He has saved them, and that He has spoken by virtue of His own operation. So the certainty we do have as Christians is not by virtue of our self-perceived omniscience, but by virtue of God’s power in us. This is the clear testimony of Scripture.  

“The holy scriptures, which are wise to make thee wise unto salvation.”

(2 Timothy 3:15)


“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable”

(2 Timothy 3:16)

“The Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you unto all truth…He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”

(John 16:13,14)

“My sheep hear my voice”

(John 10:27)

That is to say that certainty in the Scriptures comes not from man, but from God, and therefore is not from a man. Of ourselves, we can never have certainty in the Scriptures, or any spiritual thing for that matter.


“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep”

(John 10:26)

People do not believe that the Scriptures are the Word of God because of manuscript evidence, they believe the Scriptures are the Word of God because:

“our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”

(LBCF, WCF 1.5)

It is firmly the Protestant position that men can have “full persuasion and assurance” in the Scriptures not by virtue of their own knowledge, but because of the “inward work of the Holy Spirit” which bears witness to that “infallible truth, and divine authority,” the Scriptures, in the regenerated heart of the believer. That being said, the matter of certainty is not properly a text-critical category, it is a faith category. “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” No matter which text one reads, it is definitely the case that text-critical evidence is not the reason for certainty, because God says that is Him who gives certainty. Even if every single manuscript were to read the same exact way in every single verse, this would still be true. That is why I continue to advocate that the text we receive should be derived from a method of faith, not science.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh”

(Romans 8:5)

For a moment, let’s set aside the idea that there is any warrant to believe that text-critical evidence is the reason we believe a verse to be Holy Scripture, because the Scriptures teach that this is not the case. The Scriptures give abundant cause for experiential certainty by virtue of the inner working of the Holy Spirit. 

Examining the Test Case 

Since we are talking certainty here, let us first examine the two models proposed: methodologies which evaluate textual evidence, and the inner working of the Holy Spirit of the individual and the church catholic throughout the ages. Models which evaluate textual evidence are quite fragile. For example, in the article posted for examination by Dr. Gurry, he appeals to the NA27 and the Byzantine tradition to question the passage as it is found in the KJV. He also notes that the passage also occurs differently within the TR corpus. What is interesting, is that his major point is that the passage is not a majority reading, and that’s why it allegedly should be rejected, though he doesn’t make a case either way. If it is the case that a reading should be accepted or rejected based on the criteria provided in the article, I’d love to see an NA29 without any doubt cast upon Mark 16:9-20. The article does not really make a significant point at all regarding the text itself, just that Erasmus made a textual decision using his “limited resources.” Note that Gurry doesn’t make any statement at all regarding the authenticity of the reading, or inform the reader of what he thinks of the passage. Such is the modus operandi of textual scholars. In between the lines of the article is an obvious attempt to cast doubt on the authenticity of the Traditional reading, but on what grounds does he do so? There are three identifiable grounds that I could identify:

  1. It’s not the majority reading
  2. Erasmus had limited resources
  3. We don’t know where Erasmus got the reading

I suspect that is why he didn’t make an actual conclusion in his article, because the reasons he gives aren’t exactly arguments for or against the text itself. If they are, I fail to see how. There is only one text-critical camp that takes reason one as a valid text-critical criteria, and neither myself nor Peter Gurry hold to that position. Erasmus may have had “limited” resources, but how much more “resources” were used to make the general shape of the modern critical text in 1881? Aleph, B, and a smattering of readings from several other choice manuscripts? The shape of the NA27 is not leaps and bounds different from Hort’s text, despite having access to the Papyri, more Uncials, minuscules, and lectionaries.

“None of the popular hand-editions of the Greek NT takes us beyond Westcott-Hort in any substantive way as far as textual character is concerned”

Eldon J. Epp, The Twentieth Century Interlude in New Testament Textual Criticism. 1974. Aland cites 558 variants between the 1881 Westcott-Hort text and the 25th edition of the Nestle-Aland Text (NA25, 1963). The text of the NA27 is not significantly different from that of the NA25.

The sheer volume of additional data is not anything to be astounded by, because what actually matters is how that data has influenced the text. It doesn’t matter if we enter in 10,000 new manuscripts into evidence today, if that evidence introduces no new readings, and only supports the readings we have proportionately. Further, it especially doesn’t matter how much data we have if we only look at a small subset of that data.

Point three doesn’t actually matter because the reading ended up in his edition, and there are manuscripts that have that reading, which were available in the time of Erasmus. Dr. Gurry even lists them in his article. So unless we want to say that Erasmus made up the readings and those readings happened to match a Greek manuscript, I fail to see what the point is here. 

The interesting thing that this article has shown, is that the standard Dr. Gurry sets forth to evaluate the TR is a standard that he probably wouldn’t try against his NA27. There are many minority readings within that text. Further, do we know where the readings of Aleph and B came from? If we take Erasmus’ opinion of Codex B, he alleges the same thing about it that Gurry does Erasmus’ text – that parts of it were following the Latin. It is quite strange that Erasmus, having such a strong opinion against the Vulgate, would follow Latin readings so often! The difference between Gurry’s claim and Erasmus, is that Erasmus’ text is supported by Greek witnesses, and many, many readings from Codex B are supported by virtually no other Greek manuscript.

This brings me to my final question – what sort of grounds does one stand on to evaluate a text from a modern critical perspective? The modern critical methodology cannot say much about the original text of Scripture with any kind of authority. It is a text that is based on a localized smattering of idiosyncratic manuscripts that have no pedigree and that disappear from the history of textual transmission. I understand why a majority text appeal is made, but a majority text appeal from a modern critical text perspective is more confusing than anything, because there are many majority readings that those in the modern critical text camp reject. It is an interesting article, but the article mostly just demonstrates that modern critical text advocates like going after Erasmus as if that defeats the validity of the Greek Received Text.

Now to the Question of Certainty at Matthew 23:13-14

Now that we have seen that Dr. Gurry didn’t actually make an argument against the reading at Matthew 23:13-14 within the TR tradition, I think it will be helpful to explain why Christians should have certainty that the underlying Greek text of the KJV is the original reading. 

  1. It is the reading that was used, commented on, translated, and received by the people of God in the age of the printing press
  2. It fits in the passage and is theologically correct
  3. It exists in Greek manuscripts (even Byzantine ones)
  4. It was translated into ancient versions
  5. John Chrysostom preached it (Homily LXXIII)
  6. Calvin commented on it (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelist, Matthew 23:13-15; Mark 12:40; Luke 11:42, 20:47)
  7. It does not contradict other Biblical accounts

I have absolutely no reason to doubt that this verse should be there. The only reason I would have for questioning its authenticity is if I was trying to find errors with God’s Word. A reading being omitted by, as Metzger puts it in his textual commentary, “earliest and best authorities,” is not exactly a strange occurrence. If I recall, these “earliest and best authorities” are known for such qualities. What is more likely, that a scribe made a mistake in a verse that starts exactly the same as the verse above and below it, or that somebody intentionally harmonized the text with another gospel before the time of Chrysostom (4th century)?

“Scribes typically copy their sources with fidelity so that ancestors and descendants are closely related”

A New Approach to Textual Criticism, Wasserman & Gurry, 98

If we’re after the simplest solution, what is stopping us from believing a scribe made a common slip-of-the-eye error, and many faithful scribes followed in his steps? Are we going to believe in the meddling scribes theory or the faithful scribes theory? At what point are we going to admit that we are more interested in scrutinizing the text rather than believing it? 

Yet, despite all of the good evidential reasons to believe that the TR reading at Matthew 23:13-14 is the original reading, that is not why I believe it to be God’s Word. I believe it to be God’s Word because the Holy Spirit bears witness to it in my heart. I know, not very text critical of me. 

Conclusion

Matthew 23:13-14 is a great test case to examine the various doctrines of Scripture available in today’s conservative church. On one hand, there is the critical camp, which rejects that we can be certain in the text of Holy Scripture, that relies upon critical analysis of evidence to derive varying levels of confidence. On the other hand, there is the Received Text camp, who recognizes God’s providence as a meaningful metric for recognizing the text of Scripture. Instead of assuming that we have lost the text of Holy Scripture, Christians should believe that he has preserved it, and receive the text he preserved. We shouldn’t be looking for reasons to prove the text of the Protestant Reformation wrong. If the final textual product of the Protestant Reformation is woefully corrupt, then it doesn’t seem that providence had anything to do with the transmission of the text of the New Testament. Further, if the text of the Reformation is corrupt, then we do not have now, and have never had, a stable text of Holy Scripture.

Christians can have certainty in the text of the Holy Scriptures, because God says He provides that certainty. Certainty isn’t derived from our acquisition of knowledge, but rather the internal witness of the Holy Spirit with the Word of God. No amount of text-critical analysis can offer certainty in God’s Word, because there is nothing particular about text-critical methods that can offer certainty in God’s Word. Take, for example, DC Parker, an authority in the discipline, and the team lead for the Gospel of John in the ECM:

“The text is changing. Every time that 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. Every translation is different, every reading is different, and although there’s been a tradition in parts of Protestant Christianity to say there is a definitive single form of the text, the fact is you can never find it. There is never ever a final form of the text.”

Certainty is a category of faith, not knowledge. If we examine the fruit of the modern critical text machine on the doctrine of Scripture, this is plainly the case. Text critical methods have only produced doubt. So we can talk about Erasmus all we want, but that’s not going to make the New Testament autographs appear. Christians must hold fast to the Scriptures, and derive their certainty from the only infallible hope, our God and Savior Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is an objective standard Christians can look at to prove this, God’s providential preservation in time.


“We do not have now – in our critical Greek texts or any of translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it.” – Dan Wallace

(Gurry & Hixson, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, xii)

Six Reasons Why I Do Not Want a Revised KJV

Introduction

I am in the camp of Christians who believe that Bibles should be translated into every vulgar tongue from the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Text of the Reformation. I have not always been so particular over which Hebrew and Greek texts I prefer my Bibles to be translated from, however. Over the years I have made it through the NIV, NKJV, ESV, NKJV, and the HCSB (CSB now). I have been reading the King James Bible now for almost a year, and have found it to be my favorite translation, regardless of the issue of textual criticism. I have spent the time in the past year becoming familiar with the KJV, so I may have some valuable insight to this discussion. I’m a person who hasn’t been reading the KJV for long, and I am also a person who thinks the archaic words are not a good reason for a revision.

Since I wasn’t raised on the King James, or any Bible for that matter, I fall into the category of people who have to learn some new words every now and then as I read my Bible. This process isn’t unfamiliar to me, because it is the same thing I had to do when I read all of my other Bibles for the first time as well. It should come to no surprise to anybody when I say this, but the Bible contains words, in every translation, that do not occur often, if at all, in our daily vernacular. There are many reasons that make the effort of learning archaic words worthwhile. The King James Bible is not going to change like other Bible versions, because it is based on a stable text platform, and no publishing houses own the copyright, so nobody can profit on making light revisions every five years. It is a standardized English text that congregations can memorize together throughout their whole life. It is the text of the Protestant church from which much of our theological grammar is based on. It is the text many historical commentaries and theological works worth reading are built on. Before I really cared about textual criticism, and which Bible I read, I was actually encouraged to read the KJV at least once by my Co-Pastor Dane Johannsson, because it is the language of the Puritans, and I wanted to read the Puritans. There is a wealth of reasons to read the KJV, regardless of where you fall on the discussion of textual criticism.  

So as somebody that is open to other translations into English from the Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Received Text, why am I not gung-ho about a revision to the KJV? In this article, I will provide six reasons why a revision is not a great idea, and then I will end the article with ten reasons why somebody might want a revision right now. 

1.A Revision of the KJV Will Just Add Another Translation to the Pile

In the first place, there is a multitude of English Bible translations already available, including Bibles that use the same base text as the King James Version, such as the MEV and NKJV. Most of these Bibles were not created because the KJV was too hard to read, and some of them were made exclusively because somebody didn’t want to pay money for the rights to another publishing house. The amount of Bibles available to the English speaking Christian world has split the Biblical language of the people of God in English similar to the people at the tower of Babel. In fact, it is not only common, but likely, that you have Scripture memorized in different translations, and no two Christians sound exactly the same when quoting Scripture in this day and age as a result of our modern problem. English speaking Christians are divided at the most fundamental level due to the fact that there are at least five different Bible versions that are acceptable among the conservative Christian church. This is the first reason I do not think a revision of the KJV, or perhaps a fresh translation employing the same principles is a good idea. It splits the theological language of the people of God. Further, Christians who have been reading and memorizing the KJV their whole lives will now have to make a decision whether they are going to adopt this new Bible. It is likely, if not inevitable, that this revision would simply cause further division among churches that otherwise agree on the doctrine of Scripture, introducing problems where there weren’t before. This problem already exists in churches that adopt modern Bibles, and introducing it to churches that use one text is definitely not a good change.

2.A Revision of the King James Creates More Problems Than Solutions

Even if a great revision of the KJV was accomplished, it would not be adopted immediately. Those that are familiar with their Bible will want to test it, and ensure that no liberties have been taken in translation. This is the chief problem that many people have with the NKJV and MEV. They are fine with the underlying original text, it is the translation methodology that they find problematic. Even among the modern critical text translations, not all Bibles are created equal. It is concerning that some people cannot understand this because it seems that they simply don’t read a Bible enough to know that translation methodology is important. There is a reason that people prefer the ESV over the NIV or the NASB. People are perfectly warranted in taking issue with translation methodology, even if they are okay with the text that it is translated from. It is the Bible we are talking about here, not the Iliad. It should surprise nobody that people who read their Bible daily actually care about how it was translated.

Further, let’s just say the translation was the best it could possibly be, it would take at least a generation for the change to take within churches that currently use the KJV. That is a generation of time in which churches will struggle internally over adopting this new text. The pastoral benefits of having a congregation on the same translation are immense, and surrendering unity in translation is naturally a difficult sell. In short, introducing a new translation into the marketplace will initially introduce problems that weren’t there before, and that tension of transition is something that could take years. It introduces the same problem that many churches have resolved by moving to the KJV in the first place. 

3. A Revision of the King James is Unnecessary Because of the Cost/Benefit

The only translation society suited for this task would be the Trinitarian Bible Society. They are the only organization dedicated to the “Confessional Bibliology” position as well as the conservative translation methodology of the King James. Undergoing a revision effort is completely unnecessary because there are people who still do not have a decent Bible in their mother tongue. Rather than being spoiled Americans demanding a new English Bible, it is better to support such an organization in doing the work of actually getting the Bible into every vulgar tongue. The cost of labor and time simply does not justify the alleged benefits of the effort. There are more important things to accomplish, especially since KJV readers aren’t exactly asking for an update.

4.A Revision of the King James is Unnecessary, Because The King James is Still in the Vulgar Tongue

This is probably the greatest disconnect among people that do not actually read the KJV. Since they haven’t read it cover to cover, or have only looked up word lists of difficult words, they are easily convinced that the KJV is simply unintelligible. If the only exposure to the KJV one has is through an article highlighting all of the difficult words, it is an easy conclusion to make. If the person who says they can’t read the KJV has a doctorate, that’s frankly quite embarrassing. I have heard that the academy is on the decline, but I didn’t realize how bad it had become. Even when I became convinced of the Received Text position of Scripture, I initially switched to the NKJV because I thought the KJV would be too hard to read. When I actually opened up the KJV, I was actually surprised to find how easy it was for me to comprehend. The Bible I read daily has alternative translations in the margin for archaic words and “false friends,” so there has yet to be a time where I’ve gotten “stuck” reading my Bible. Most of the time I do not need to use those marginal helps because the context makes the word clear anyway. This is how we read all books in English. It’s how they teach you to read in grade school. I’m forever grateful to my mom and teachers who taught me how to use “context clues,” even outside my Bible reading. 

Additionally, it’s not like there are archaic words and “false friends” in every verse. Most of the really difficult words you encounter in the text occur once or twice. If you browse many of the articles berating the archaic nature of the KJV, they often capitalize on such words to make the KJV seem harder to read than it really is. Not only is the KJV easier to read than most people might think, especially with the marginal aids, it is still modern English. Try reading Chaucer and this becomes quite clear. Even Shakespeare is more difficult than the KJV by a large margin. 

At this point, I really have to question how people are defining “unintelligible.” Until the KJV becomes as unintelligible to us as middle english, it will remain intelligible to the modern reader. You first have to read it to know that, though. There are also difficult words in every other English translation. One might even say that the difficulties between the KJV and modern versions are that of degree, not of kind.

That brings up another point, that it is unlikely the English language will evolve any time soon. Due to the fact that English is largely standardized in education curriculum and literature, modern English remains standardized in the texts that people use to learn English in school. Textbooks, chapter books, and pretty much any published work all employ the same language. As long as reading is still required in school curriculum, our language will stay mostly the same. Colloquial English and regional vernacular differences will continue as they always have, but the English we learn and read does not bend as easily as spoken language. Since the current trend of English is to devolve to the form that we see on social media (Facebook, text, Twitter, etc.), I’m not sure we’d want a Bible that reads like the average tweet anyway. Since we owe a great debt to the KJV for the formation of modern English, it is more likely that removing the KJV could even cause such a devolution which would require a retranslation in the first place! For those that still believe the KJV is simply too unintelligible to read, try reading it first. 

5.The People Who Want to Update it Right Now Are Not the People That Should Be Left Alone Near Bibles

In the recent conversations that I have seen, those that are actually arguing for a revised KJV are the same people that think the longer ending of Mark isn’t Scripture. They disagree fundamentally with the principles that make the KJV the most read Bible in the English speaking world. In fact, the person that has been most persistent in advocating this cause doesn’t think the KJV should be used at all, except for perhaps privately where nobody can see you doing it.  This alone is really the best and only reason I needed to give in this article. If somebody is going to update the KJV, it certainly shouldn’t be the crowd of scholars who advocate for different textual principles. 

6.A Revision of the KJV Does Not Profit Those That Actually Read It  

Finally, a good question to ask is, “what would be the benefit of a proper retranslation of the KJV?” As TBS has pointed out time and time again, there already exist helps in most printed editions of the KJV for the archaic words. I myself have found such aids perfectly adequate in helping me “stay in the text” as I read. I’ve actually enjoyed learning new words and connecting with the heritage of the language I still speak. It seems that the greatest advocates of such an effort are those who don’t actually have any interest in reading it. I have yet to meet somebody who has chosen to read the King James Version who also wants it revised right now. Typically, those that don’t want to deal with the early modern English simply read the NKJV or the MEV, and are fine doing so. It is because of this phenomenon that I am inclined to believe that those advocating for a revision are possibly not actually advocating in the best interest of those who read the KJV. If those that read the KJV are fine with it, and those that are not simply read another version, what could possibly be the motivation for pushing so hard for a revision? 

The List of Reasons Somebody Might Advocate for a Revision of the KJV

I’ll end this article by providing a list of reasons that might motivate somebody to push for such a revision, and even make other people believe that KJV readers want such a revision (we don’t): 

  1. They don’t want it to be the most read Bible version anymore
  2. They don’t think it’s God’s Word, or that it has errors that newer Bibles don’t have
  3. They are upset that their Bible is changing (misery loves company)
  4. They think that KJV readers are automatically fundamentalists due to the unfortunate antics of online apologists 
  5. They are frustrated that they were able to attain a doctorate and still can’t read the KJV
  6. They have never talked to somebody who has opted into reading the KJV over a modern version
  7. There isn’t a lot of money to be made from a Bible without a copyright
  8. They think that apologetics cannot be done with it (see point 2 and point 4)
  9. They genuinely like the idea of reading the KJV, but have trouble reading it
  10. They are bored or lonely, and need something to talk about

Conclusion

Common sense should tell the average person that in a world with hundreds of Bible translations, there is a reason for people still retaining the KJV, and it’s not because they think it’s going to be updated. If somebody wants a Bible that will be updated as often as the apps on their phone, there are dozens of Bible versions that fit that bill. The KJV is a standardized, stable,text. It does not bend with the trends on modern textual criticism. It does not sway to the culture. The benefits of reading the KJV far outweigh the task of learning some archaic words, or simply buying a Bible that translates the archaic words in the margin. Retranslating, or revising the KJV actually creates far more problems than it solves. In fact, it pretty much introduces a problem that would make the KJV have the same issues as all the other Bibles – it would be a changing text. 

The KJV may need a revision when modern English evolves again, though I think that time is much farther away than people realize. Until then, there are two simple solutions: Learn some vocab, or pick another translation. The problem that creates the need for a retranslation or revision actually has two easily attainable solutions that can be employed immediately by any person who is interested. If you’re in the small camp of people who want to read the KJV, but find it too difficult and therefore want a revision, I highly recommend a Bible with marginal aids. The effort of revision introduces many of the problems that are solved by switching to the KJV in the first place. 

Providential Preservation and the Modern Critical Texts

Introduction

There are many cases that I have seen where somebody who advocates for the modern critical text uses the theological language, “Providential Preservation.” This is typically due to the person not understanding the current state of modern textual criticism. There have been many developments that have been adopted in the mainstream of textual scholarship that disallow this language from being used responsibly. This problem demonstrates a major fork in the road for those in the confessionally Reformed camp because the confession teaches that the Word of God has been “kept pure in all ages” by God’s “singular care and providence.” This is problematic because the axioms of modern textual criticism do not recognize providence, inspiration, or the Holy Spirit. In fact, the axioms of modern textual criticism assume that the manuscript evidence is no different than any other work of antiquity. Evangelical textual scholars may personally believe that the text has been preserved, but there is nothing in the axioms of their method that even come close to incorporating these truths about Scripture. That means that the modern critical texts have readings that stand against the theological reality that God has preserved His Word providentially. In other words, the modern critical texts have readings that are unique to a smattering of manuscripts, often times just one or two manuscripts, that were rejected by the church through the ages. These readings were rejected by way of fixing them as the manuscripts were copied en masse, excluded from printed editions after the printing press, or directly condemned as corruptions in theological commentary on these readings. 

This is due to the modern critical texts being derived from various textual theories that do not assume a supernatural preservation process, or consider the Holy Spirit speaking to His church in time. The readings used for hundreds of years by the people of God can be wrong, because the axioms of modern textual criticism do not consider the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, or inspiration, or infallibility, or even inerrancy for that matter. These readings are now adopted, not because of providence, but because of textual theories and mythology that overvalue certain manuscripts of suspect origin and low quality. What Christians need to understand, is that these textual theories in some cases have been utterly refuted (like Hort’s theory on Vaticanus), and others (like genealogical models and the initial text), are unproven at best and a fool’s errand at worst. The reality is, if a textual methodology is based on the assumption that the extant manuscripts formerly called the “Alexandrian Family” are standing in any sort of mainstream textual tradition of the church, that textual methodology is flawed and not based on providence. Further, any textual methodology that assumes a reconstruction of the text needs to be done is not based on providence. 

Controversy Surrounding the Continued Use of the Term “Providence”

The Reformed church cannot escape the doctrine of Scripture as set forth in the Puritan era confessions. The language used was written carefully and precisely. This makes reinterpretations of the confessions difficult, though in the case of the modern doctrine of Scripture, this has been done. Fortunately, the authors of the 17th century Puritan confessions were so precise, that this sort of reinterpretation is near impossible without adding new terms and definitions, like inerrancy. What the church needs to know is that the text-critical context of Warfield is much different than the text critical context of today. What Warfield said about Scripture in the 19th and 20th century is out of its scope now, and can no longer be responsibly applied to the current state of affairs in modern textual criticism. The conversation has clearly evolved, and in Warfield’s day, terms like “the original” meant something completely different than they do today. Even doctrinal statements like the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy is outdated due to the introduction of new terms and evolution of old terms. That means that theologians, scholars, and pastors can employ terms like providence, inerrancy, and infallibility while operating on stale definitions and be none the wiser. The problem with this is that somebody can make the same statement regarding Scripture as Warfield or even R.C. Sproul, and that statement will mean something entirely different than it did in their context.

During Warfield’s time, the term “original” was clear. It meant the autographic text. This definition continued to be employed in this way until very recently within the bounds of textual scholarship. The effort of modern textual criticism was geared towards reconstructing this original, and so while the same problems still existed within modern critical methods, it was still based on clear, definite terms. Due to the introduction of the “Initial Text,” the doctrinal formulations of the 20th century are plainly outdated. The reason for this is due to the fact that the Initial Text is not the same, by definition, as the original text or autographs. If we define this conservatively, it is the earliest text within the extant manuscript tradition. If we define this less conservatively, it is a hypothetical text that represents no extant manuscripts from which all manuscripts are derived. The latter definition of the Initial Text is often equated with the “original” text by optimistic scholars, but this is clearly on overreach. The axioms which are producing the Initial Text simply cannot speak to whether it is equitous with the original or autographic text. In short, the effort to find the original text as it has been defined historically has been abandoned. The modern critical methods simply cannot reach back farther than the evidence allows. 

This article is not about the efficacy of genealogical text-critical methods, however, it is about providence. The very use of the term “Initial Text” demonstrates that the modern critical methodologies are not compatible with providence. The need for scholars to shift the goal post from “original” to “initial” demonstrates the vacuous nature of modern text-critical methods. They have not produced the original with text-critical methods because they cannot produce the original with text-critical methods. Since the only way to say that modern textual criticism can produce an original is to first introduce new terms which redefine what “original” means, it should abundantly clear that we are standing on different theological grounds than Warfield and even R.C. Sproul. If they were alive today, they may have agreed with the introduction of such terms, but the fact is, they are not around to reevaluate their doctrinal statements according to these developments. What this practically means is that the doctrinal statements developed in the 20th century are inadequate to speak to the texts that are being produced by modern critical methods as they have developed in the last 10 years. They are stale. This being the case, it is irresponsible to continue using historical protestant language which were formulated upon different definitions. In the light of new developments, these doctrinal statements simply do not mean the same thing any longer. There is a need for those in the modern critical text camp to draft new doctrinal statements, because the old simply do not apply to the developments of their discipline. Interestingly enough, the doctrinal statements that have been produced in the recent literature simply articulate that “God didn’t desire us to have the whole thing.”  

The Modern Critical Text is Not a Providential Text and is Not Justified for Use by the Church

The WCF and LBCF both appeal to God’s providence and apply it to the original texts of Holy Scripture in Greek and Hebrew, stating that they have been “kept pure in all ages.” If a text has been kept pure, it has been kept in such a state that it does not need to be reconstructed. This was the belief of the majority of the Protestant church until the end of the 19th century and even into the 20th century by many. So in order to appeal to providence while talking about the Holy Scriptures, one has to believe that the text has been “kept pure” by providence. That does not mean that one manuscript came down pure through the line of textual transmission. It means that the original text of Holy Scripture came down and was used in faithful churches “in all ages.” In order to recognize providence in this process, one must recognize that this preservation took place in time, by people who used these manuscripts.  

In order to recognize providence as a function of preservation, one has to first believe that despite corruptions entering into manuscripts early on in transmission, the original text maintained its purity through the whole of the textual transmission process. That means that no local corruption could contaminate the transmission process as a whole “in all ages.” We should not be so ignorant to believe that there were no corrupt manuscripts created during this process. The quotations of Augustine and Jerome and other theologians of the church prove as much. If God truly preserved His Word, then all transmission narratives must be within the walls of God’s providential hand guiding the process, and the corruptions of “unfaithful men” should be recognized as corruptions, not adopted into the history of textual transmission.

Secondly, in order to recognize God’s providence in transmission, one has to believe that historical events are a function of that providence. Just like God did not use evolution to create man, he did not use an evolutionary process to create His Word. The text did not develop, it was “kept.” Just like mutations arise in creatures over time, mutations arose in the Biblical manuscripts. Just because mutations occur in humans, that does not mean that those mutations arise in all humans. That means that by the time the printing press was introduced into Europe, the textual tradition was still being “kept pure” by God’s providence, and by God’s providence, that technological innovation allowed the church to collect, compare, and print texts which by God’s providence, had been “kept pure.” A survey of commentary on this Reformation effort reveals a lively discussion about the various printed texts during this time, and the readings they did and did not contain. It was not an effort of one man in a closet, despite what some would have you believe. 

That does not mean that the first editions printed represented that text which had been “kept pure.” It was a process, and by God’s providence, it was a process that occurred in a place where the height of language learning was taking also happening. The humanist renaissance sparked a revival of language learning and a return to studying the original Biblical texts and ancient fathers of the church. Many of the Reformers were humanists, such as Luther, Melanchton, Zwingli, and Calvin. Erasmus, “the smartest man alive,” though not theologically in line with the Reformers, was one of the chief satirists and polemicists against the papacy and one of the most brilliant language scholars alive. There has never been, even to this day, a time where so many scholars, with such an in depth knowledge of Biblical  languages, were in the same place at the same time. Never was there a time in history where the church was so united in pursuing the same cause. Never was there a time in history where the effort of creating an edited Greek text was so pure and theologically united. Never will there be another time in history where the church had the perspective on the manuscripts available, because those manuscripts were still being used in churches. If that is not providential, I dare say that nothing is providential. 

Conclusion

The point is this – if one wants to argue that a text is providential, they must argue for the text that was produced providentially, and completed and used in time. The modern critical text is produced with axioms that scorn God’s providence. These axioms say that the only thing God has providentially done in time is let the Scriptures evolve from their original form, and then let the people of God believe that those evolved Scriptures were the true Biblical text. These axioms are the same that say with confidence that the Reformation text is wrong, but also cannot produce the original text, even with all of the “new and better” data. In fact, these axioms are so ineffective that a new term had to be derived, the “Initial Text,” because these axioms say that the original is so far from being providentially preserved that we simply will never have it. According to the axioms of modern textual criticism, “we simply do not have now what the prophets and apostles wrote, and even if we did, we would not know it.” The question for those that still wish to maintain the doctrine of providential preservation is this: Why are we trusting scholars when they say the Reformation text is not original, when they can’t even determine if their own text is original? Would you trust a mechanic who had never fixed a car? Would you trust a surgeon who had never successfully done surgery? Why are we trusting scholars who say that we cannot know what the New Testament originally said to produce Bibles for the church? 

It is time that Christians stop giving lip service to providential preservation, and actually consider what those words mean together. Providential preservation does not mean that “the Bible has been preserved, it’s just been lost.” The text of the church was not preserved in a barrel or a questionable monastery or the Vatican or the sand – it was preserved by churches that actually used that text “in all ages.” It does not mean that God has ordained a wild goose chase for the last 150 years to recover a lost text. The continued effort of reconstructing the Bible is simply not warranted, if we want to continue using the words “providential” and “preservation” together. Those two words, when put together, mean that God actually preserved the text in time. It is attainable, and we have it. Modern critical textual methods do not consider what God has done in time, because they reject the text that was actually used by the people of God in time. In fact, the axioms of modern textual criticism say the opposite, that the text used in time by the people of God is in error. In other words, they reject providence altogether because they say that all providence has produced is an evolved text. We have to go back and find the original Bible because it has been providentially corrupted. The modern critical text is not justified for use among the people of God for this reason. It is a text foreign to the church in time, and it is produced by axioms that say that “we do not have, and never will have, the text.”