There is No Modern Doctrine of Preservation

Introduction

There is no modern doctrine of preservation, and I’m not sure people have realized it quite yet. What does preserved mean? It means that something has been kept safe from harm, uncorrupted, or maintaining the same form as it was when it was created. In this case, the New Testament corpus is the object that is said to be preserved. This means that in order for the New Testament to be preserved, it had to have stayed the same from the time it was penned and in the collection of faithful copies and collated editions going forward. That does not mean that every copy or collation is faithful to the text that God inspired or preserved, just that original was transmitted faithfully throughout the ages and even to the modern period. The words of the New Testament were not lost. The existence of different text forms and variants does not disqualify the Bible as being preserved. It simply indicates that certain lines of textual transmission were corrupted, and even within faithful manuscripts there were variants introduced into the text. There is no mistake that the manuscript tradition tells a complex story full of many scribal errors and corruptions. 

In order for a text to be preserved in light of textual variants introduced by scribal errors and corruptions, there is one process that could have resulted in the original text being transmitted faithfully into the modern period. This process would have involved correcting scribal errors and corruptions as the manuscripts were copied throughout the ages. This can be observed in surviving manuscripts by the existence of corrections by various scribes, as well as the increased uniformity of texts going into the middle period (though not perfect uniformity). In order to believe that the text of the New Testament has been preserved, one has to say that the effort of the scribes was successful in every generation of copying. If the text has been preserved, one would expect the text to become increasingly uniform over time, as the number of copyists increased along with the number of Christians.

Due to the heavy persecution of Christians in the early church alongside the fragility of stationary, the early manuscript evidence of the New Testament is sparse. All of the extant, early manuscripts generally represent a different text form than what survived later in the textual tradition, and is generally agreed to have originated in one locality. Based on empirical methods, there simply is not enough data to draw any definitive conclusions on the authenticity of surviving manuscripts from the third and fourth century. It would be more definitive if the earliest manuscripts agreed in more places, but even the early surviving witnesses to the New Testament are massively divided. The only thing that the handful of texts surviving from that period can tell us is that there was a unique stream of manuscripts with many idiosyncrasies, generally existing in one locality, that seems to have died off. That means that, if the New Testament is actually preserved, the later manuscripts provide the best insight into what the original text looked like because they are more abundant and uniform.

While this seems straightforward, there are many who disagree with this assessment and believe that the text must be reconstructed. Scholars have doubled down on the theory that the smattering of early surviving manuscripts can be collated to find the original. Secular scholarship has overwhelmingly admitted that the effort of finding the original was a farce. When this effort failed, the more faithful set out to find the hypothetical archetype that the earliest surviving manuscripts were copied from by developing genealogies of each variant. While this is a clever idea, the result will only be a hypothetical possibility. Others have adopted a Byzantine priority or a majority text position, which weighs the vast majority of manuscripts more heavily than the thinly distributed minority which seems to have existed in a bubble for a couple hundred years. In any case, these positions on the text should be viewed in light of a doctrinal position on preservation. This leads to the main focus of this article, that the modern period has no doctrine of preservation. 

Generic and Partial Preservation

Is it a fair assessment to say that there is “no modern view of preservation”? Not in a practical sense, because there are in fact many presentations of preservation offered by various people. But in the technical and formal sense, this statement holds true. This is because while many say that the Bible has been preserved, the actual articulation of the nature of that preservation violates what it means for something to be preserved. Remember the basic definition of what “preserved” means. In its application to the text of the New Testament, it means that there is one stream of text that was preserved in faithful and authentic copies and collations of copies in every generation. Which means, that if the text of the New Testament is truly preserved, the authentic text would have been the text that continued to be copied while copies were still being made up into the 16th and 17th century. 

That means that during the time of the first effort to massively distribute the Bible to people in the 16th and 17th centuries, the authentic text of the New Testament was still being copied. If the early surviving manuscripts were authentic, why weren’t those too being copied? Why do the thousands of surviving manuscripts tell a different story than the early surviving ones? The reason that the first effort of unifying the text did not use texts that looked like the earliest surviving manuscripts is because those manuscripts were not considered to be authentic by the people of God leading up to and during that period. This is further demonstrated by the fact that there are less than a handful of manuscripts copied in the middle period that represent the text form of the earliest surviving manuscripts. The manuscript tradition, along with the textual decisions during the Reformation period, tells a tale that the people of God rejected the texts that are being considered “earliest and best” today. 

So in one sense, yes, people do offer various understandings of the word “preservation” and how that applies to the New Testament text. But in a much more real sense, those presentations do not adequately explain the existence of two text streams, or the ongoing effort of modern scholars to find the original text. Something that is preserved does not need to be reconstructed or found. The Bible is not a mosquito preserved in amber waiting to be dug up by an archeologist. It is not a 1,000 piece puzzle in which we only have 900 pieces, or a 10,000 piece puzzle to which we have 10,100 pieces. It is a 5,624 piece puzzle to which we have all 5,624 pieces. The method of preservation that God used was not encasing the Bible in a cave, or a bucket, or the sand. He used human copyists, which eventually evolved into the printing press, and again with the introduction of digital storage. The Bible has always been available to the people of God, whether in manuscript form, or printed edition, or even a digital copy. 

The modern understanding of preservation is vague and indecisive. It doesn’t actually put forth a meaningful definition of preservation. In a very practical sense, it accepts that the general form of the New Testament has been preserved, with wiggle room for disagreement on certain texts that may or may not be original. The Bible has been preserved in its basic form, to the degree of “great accuracy”. The Bible is partially preserved, and that is the way God designed it to be. The effort of modern textual criticism is to increase the level of “great” in “great accuracy”. The efforts of the Reformation were good, but flawed. So to some degree or another, most people with a modern understanding of preservation accept the Reformation era text as “good enough”, it’s just not the “best”. This reveals a greater issue, which should be picking at the back of your brain. 

The greater issue is that if the efforts of the Reformation era were flawed, than the idea of a preserved text, in the sense that I’ve defined it and the Reformation era theologians defined it, has not ever existed, nor can it ever be attained. The word “preserved” is a gooey, moldable, ever-shifting concept that really does not ever take a solid form. One might say that the Bible was preserved until the fourth century, but we do not know exactly what it looked like, or that the Bible is preserved today, just not precisely. In either case, the word “preservation” requires a qualifier. The Bible is either generically preserved, or it is partially preserved. In either case, the word “preserved” is simply inappropriate for what is being described. Here is a quote from Thomas Watson – a Puritan Divine – that adequately describes the historic definition of preservation:

“The Letter of Scripture hath been preserved without any Corruption in the Original Tongue, The Scriptures were not corrupted before Christ’s Time, for then Christ would never have sent the Jews to the Scriptures; but he sends them to the Scriptures, John 5.39. Search the Scriptures. Christ knew these Sacred Springs were not muddied with Human Fancies”

Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity (London: Thomas Parkhurst, 1692), 13.

Here is another description of preservation, offered by Westminster Divine Richard Capel:

“Well then, as God committed the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament to the Jewes, and did and doth move their hearts to keep it untainted to this day: So I dare lay it on the same God, that he in his providence is so with the Church of the Gentiles, that they have and do preserve the Greek Text uncorrupt, and clear: As for some scapes by Transcribers, that comes to no more, then to censure a book to be corrupt, because of some scapes in the printing, and ’tis certaine, that what mistake is in one print, is correct in another.”

Capel’s Remains pg. 79-80

The foundation of the doctrine of preservation during the time of the Reformation and post-Reformation is that in the same way that God preserved the Hebrew Scriptures, God preserved the Greek Scriptures. And by preserved, they meant “every jot and tittle” (See WCF ch.1). 

The ironic truth of the modern view of preservation is that it does not even allow for proper textual criticism. If God did not preserve every word, then what is the purpose of contemporary text-critical efforts? We have what we need, and that is all that matters. If the standard is “great accuracy”, then the work is done. There is no need to pursue greater accuracy because there is no standard for what “great accuracy” even means. There is no way to determine which words matter, and which words do not matter. Is it greatly accurate compared to other ancient texts? Is it greatly accurate based on the surviving manuscripts? Because the definition of “preserved” is so vague and arbitrary, there isn’t actually a meaningful standard to aim for. Text critics will never be able to determine when the work is done, because there is no definition of what it means to be done. Will the work be done when the true ending of Mark is found? Or will it be when we discover a new cache of early manuscripts? The efforts of modern textual criticism are planted firmly three feet in mid air because the modern method doesn’t allow for a precise definition of preservation. The fact that the work is still ongoing reveals the reality that scholars are either operating from a place of generic preservation or partial preservation. In both cases, the Bible has not been preserved in any meaningful way. 

Conclusion

There is not a modern doctrine of preservation in a very real sense. When the word is used, it either means generic preservation or partial preservation. In the case that by “preservation” it is actually meant generic preservation, then the work of textual criticism is done, because we have the Bible generically. At that point it is a matter of preference whether or not the woman caught in adultery is or is not Scripture, because the Bible contains all the correct doctrines in both instances. In the case that by “preservation” it is actually mean partial preservation, than the work of textual criticism does not matter, because the preserved Word will never be found. It is a matter of preference whether or not one accepts the ending of Mark as original because we’ll never know with 100% certainty. The former espouses the position that God did not intend to preserve every word, so that is not the goal. The latter says that God didn’t preserve His Word at all, so the goal is simply to get as close to the original as possible. Both positions betray the word preservation. 

When the word “preservation” is taken at face value, it simply means that the whole thing being preserved has not been corrupted, or harmed, or destroyed in any way. It does not mean that every single manuscript, or even one manuscript has been kept without error. It means that in every generation, the original text has survived in the approved manuscripts that the people of God have relied on for all matters of faith and practice. It means that scribal errors were corrected and that manuscripts of poor quality were retired or destroyed. This process was done by hand leading up to the 16th century when the printing press revolutionized how copying was done. That is why the Reformation era textual criticism is unique and set apart from modern textual criticism. It occurred during a time where copying was still being done, and a technological innovation was introduced to that process. The manuscripts that were being used by the people of God were still in circulation, and those manuscripts looked nothing like the modern text. 

A proper definition of preservation stands at odds with the opinion that the Bible is generically preserved, or partially preserved. If this seems like an impossibly strict standard, then it is best to say that you don’t believe that the Bible has been preserved. And if you do believe that the Bible has been preserved, the task is now to determine which text tells the story of a preserved Bible. The duty of the Christian is then to receive that preserved text as God has delivered it.

Yes, Doctrine Is Affected

Introduction 

Many Christians have become disarmed by the claim that there are no doctrinal differences between the Reformation Era and modern era texts of the New Testament. This may sound comforting, but it does not accurately represent the reality that doctrine is affected, and will continue to be affected as changes are made in further editions of the Greek New Testament. One reason somebody can say that “doctrine is not affected” is because of the centuries of theological work that has been done. People read the modern texts through the lens of the theology of the Reformation text. Sound theology is never done in a bubble, and many fail to recognize how influenced they are by historical theology. 

In fact, it is most often that those who come up with false doctrines are the same that have not studied historical theology. Most, if not all, modern heresies are just reiterations and adaptations of a false doctrine from the past. This makes it near impossible to accurately claim that modern Greek Texts and translations do not impact doctrine, because anybody who is making this sort of determination has been influenced by the theology of the past. It would take a completely blank-slate-human to even conduct such an experiment. It is possible, however, to determine if doctrine has been changed, because of the wealth of theological works that utilized the Reformation era text. There is a point of comparison. There are two major areas that modern translations and Greek texts effect doctrine, the first being the actual doctrine of inspiration, and the second being the doctrines affected by passages that have been deemed “unoriginal” and removed.

The Doctrine of Inspiration Dismantled and Reassembled 

The doctrine of inspiration laid out by the theologians of the Reformation and post-Reformation is that the Bible has been kept pure in all ages. In accepting a modern text, which is a very different text from the text of the Reformation, one has to accept one of two realities. The first is that one must accept a Bible that has been kept in two text streams. This theory requires the belief that there were two Bibles used in the early church, and that one of them fell out of use. The one that fell out of use, of course, is the one the modern text represents and is said to be “earliest and best”. This poses a conundrum to the doctrine of preservation. The first option is that both forms of the text are equally authoritative and there are two Bibles. The second option is that the Alexandrian text is the Bible and the Word of God was corrupt for centuries, only to be recovered in the 19th century. The only way one could arrive to either of these conclusions is to shift the definition of inspiration and preservation. 

In order to hold onto the doctrine of preservation while accepting the modern text, one has to define preservation differently. Rather than God preserving every word, He preserved most of the words. Many will claim that doctrine is not affected by this, but as I stated in the introduction of this article, it is difficult to determine this. It is much easier to demonstrate that doctrine has been affected, rather than proving that is has not. That is because everybody takes their theological system into the text, whether they want to admit it or not. What can be easily demonstrated to be different is modern interpretations of the doctrines of inspiration and preservation. 

There is a difference between every word being preserved and most of the words being preserved. There is a difference between the Westminster and London Baptist Confessions of Faith and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. If the Chicago Statement affirmed the same standard of preservation, they would have utilized certain language such as “pure in all ages” as opposed to the arbitrary standard of “with great accuracy”. The former affirms preservation through time, and the latter affirms that the scope of preservation must be retroactively determined, and only to the degree of “great accuracy”. Many are fine with this reinterpretation of the doctrine of preservation, claiming that the standard of “pure in all ages” is too meticulous. Rather than accepting that these are two different doctrines, many have attempted to reinterpret the confessional language, or even try to prove that the drafters of the confession had the same view as the modern interpretation of preservation. This is demonstrably false. Garnet Howard Milne’s book Has the Bible Been Kept Pure? Handles this quite well. 

It may be the case that the doctrine of preservation as described in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is more accurate than the Confessional doctrine of preservation, but the fact remains that these are two different standards. So in a very real sense, the rise of the modern texts resulted in a fresh interpretation of the doctrine of preservation. Doctrine has changed in order to accommodate the modern texts. 

Affected Doctrines

I will not make a case for how each update and revision to the text of Scripture has tarnished doctrine. There are many theologians, scholars, and laypersons who have already done as much. Instead, I will focus on how any update to a word, phrase, or an entire passage does affect doctrine by its revision, and supply two examples demonstrating this fact. The first point to note is that doctrines cannot be developed without words. A doctrine is developed from a text. So when that text changes, the doctrine is liable to change as well. A common modern thought is that a doctrine, idea, or message can be preserved without the underlying text itself being preserved. There are many ways to say the same thing, after all. This is demonstrated in the common opinion that “all the important doctrines” are preserved, when dismissing the importance of variants between the Reformation and Modern text. 

The only reason this claim can be made is due to the fact that theological systems are extremely stable in the 21st century. That is not to say that the proponents of these systems are stable, but the systems themselves have been fleshed out extensively in the last four hundred (or more) years. As much as people dislike admitting it, the majority of exegesis done today is done primarily through a theological lens. Much of the time, when somebody says that doctrine is not affected, they are really saying that “My doctrine will not be affected by changes to the text”. This is the case because the changes between the texts should result in doctrinal change due to the significance in difference. So if the change in the text has not resulted in a change in theology, the reason for that is not that the text is saying the same thing, it is because the person is making the text say the same thing based on their theological commitments. 

A perfect example of this is John 1:18. In the modern text, it says that Jesus is “the unique God” or the “only begotten God” or the “only God”. If the modern reading is taken, one must rely on their existing understanding of the trinity to properly ascertain a trinitarian doctrine from this text. The text itself declares the uniqueness of the Son, which is to say that the Son is unique in essence from the Father. This must result in tritheism or social trinitarianism or unitarianism, if a plain reading of the text is allowed. Many speculate that this is the reason for the original corruption of the text from “Only begotten Son” to “only begotten God”  by Valentinus during the second century. At best the modern reading obfuscates the clear trinitarian nature of God, and at worst it clearly articulates anti-trinitarian doctrine. Many theologians, scholars, pastors, and laypersons abuse the hermeneutical principle of letting scripture interpret scripture to justify this corruption, but that principle is only properly applied when a passage is not abundantly clear. In this case, the modern reading is as clear as it gets. In fact, it should be the interpretive lens that all other claims regarding the Son are made in the Bible if the modern reading is correct. It distinctly teaches that the Son of God is unique, not begotten of the Father. By affecting this one place, the rest of the trinitarian passages of Scripture are compromised, which was probably the intention of the person who originally corrupted the text. 

The claim that “doctrine is not affected”  might be true if the difference in variations between the Reformation era text and Modern text were just spelling errors, word order, and other scribal errors. This is not the case. There are countless places where the text is demonstrably different between the two texts in message, vocabulary, and substance (See Hoskier’s work for details). The reason so many Christians are willing to accept these corruptions is because they tend to look at variants from a modern perspective. Today, the Bible is accessible to anybody with the internet. Modern Christians in the west do not know what it is like to not have a complete Bible. So it is anachronistic to look at a variant, as if every Christian throughout the ages had access to the 75 translations and countless books and articles explaining each variant. It is easy to write off the significance of a variant when one has access to 2,000 years of textual scholarship. 

A great example of this is how readily modern Christians pass over the ending of Mark. They take for granted the fact that they have the ending of the Gospel account in Matthew, Luke, and John. If one accepts that Matthew is the first Gospel (which is the historic perspective), the early church also would not have been doctrinally rocked by the ending of Mark being lost as well. Yet, much of modern scholarship has adopted the theory that Mark is the earliest Gospel, and that Matthew and Luke expanded on Mark’s account, embellishing the story and adding in important phrases that clearly demonstrate the divinity of Christ. This culminated in the Gospel of John, which is the most clear expression of the development of Christianity and the divinity of Christ. The story of the Gospels is more aptly a story of how Jesus became God than a true narrative of Jesus’ ministry. 

If this modern theory is the case, and the Alexandrian version of Mark is the “earliest and best”, then the earliest gospel did not have an appearance account. It simply ends with two scared women and the word γαρ in Greek, which occurs nowhere else in Greek literature. If Mark ends at verse 8, than the earliest Christians did not believe in a literal resurrected Christ. The other alternative is that the ending was lost to time or Mark was a poor writer that didn’t know Greek very well (which some assert). The only fact conveyed is that the tomb was empty, and that the women were scared. 

This is the kind of variant that allows Bart Ehrman to have a wildly successful career. Because Christians are willing to throw out the ending of Mark, they give license to men like Walter Bauer and Richard Price who have spun wild tales of the invention of Christianity. Further, if the ending of Mark does not contain an appearance account, then the apostle Paul did not consider Mark to be a gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-11). And if Mark is not a proper gospel, what is it doing in our Bibles? Did the Holy Spirit make a mistake? The only reason Christians need to defend against Bart Erhman is because they opened the door and let him sit at the table. The theory of Alexandrian Priority, the underpinning of “earliest and best”, has given a robe and a ring to agnostic scholars who wish to critique God’s Word. 

Conclusion

It may be the case that I have not convinced anybody that the two texts I cited affect doctrine. It may hold true that John 1:18 and Mark 16:9-20 truly do not affect doctrine. Yet this determination can only be made while standing on the shoulders of the men of old while receiving beatings by Bart Ehrman and co. Christians are standing in the middle of a field being shelled by artillery, plugging their ears and shouting “No doctrine is affected!” Christians have been pacified for too long by these empty assertions while men like Bart Ehrman have built their entire career on the very fact that variants affect the authenticity and doctrines of the Bible. 

Even if a handful of variants do not affect the corpus of the New Testament text and the doctrines contained within, they impact the doctrines of inspiration and preservation by standing in opposition to the text that the people of God have received throughout the ages. In proposing a genuine corruption of the Biblical text (not just a scribal error, but a total corruption), one has to shift the definition of preservation. Preservation cannot be talking about words, but ideas and doctrines (Or words to the degree of “great accuracy”). So as long as the sum total of doctrines are preserved, the Bible can be considered preserved. While this may be practically true due to the wealth of theological works available, it is not true as it pertains to the actual text of the New Testament. The text of the New Testament is a relatively small corpus of literature, and when a small collection is altered, there are grave consequences to the whole ecosystem of the text. 

A single variant can indeed change the message of the Trinity that the Bible puts forth. Another can “prove” that there was no resurrected Christ. The only reason most Christians do not consider the gravity of just two variants is because they assume the system developed from theological works of the past which rely on the texts they reject. If anything, the Christian needs to realize that it does not follow to say that a doctrine can be unaffected if the words the doctrines are built on are affected. Changed words mean changed doctrines. One might be fine with this reality, but it does not bode well with a conservative doctrine of preservation. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the text of the New Testament being preserved in the words, and not just the “original message”. Without the original words, there is no original message. So when discussing variants, the conversation should not be framed in the question, “Well, does it affect doctrine?” The obvious truth is that yes, it does. The real question one should ask is, “Does this affect doctrine enough for me to say something about it?” The obvious truth is that yes, it does. 

Received vs. Reconstructed

Introduction

Those that are new to the discussion of Bible translation, Greek text, and textual criticism might often feel overwhelmed by the amount of specialized terminology. I thought it might be helpful to write an article discussing some of that terminology, and what the difference is between receiving the text of Scripture and reconstructing the text of Scripture. These two epistemological positions represent two views of the Bible, the reconstructionist view being far more popular. Those in the reconstructionist camp consider modern Bibles such as the ESV, NASB, and NIV to have a better base Greek and Hebrew text and translation methodology than the Reformation era Bibles such as the Geneva Bible and King James Bible. On the other side, those in the Received Text camp consider the base Greek and Hebrew text and translation methodology of the Reformation period to be superior to the modern text. There are also many Christians who read the Bible without having an opinion at all on the discussion, and mostly pick the translation they have picked due to preference. 

Terminology Matters

It can be difficult to keep track of all the names and titles floating around for various views of the text of Scripture. Often times the names that stick are the most unhelpful and least descriptive, such as “TR Onlyist” or “Textual Traditionalist”. Those that prefer translations made from the Received Text of the Reformation, which is the Hebrew Masoretic text and Greek Received Text (TR), have used many titles such as Confessional Text, Canonical Text, Ecclesiastical Text, and Traditional Text. I prefer the title Confessional Text, because the Received Text of the Reformation is the text used by the framers of the Puritan era confessions and represents the doctrinal position of chapter one, paragraph eight of the both the Westminster and London Baptist confessions. This was the text that theologians used to develop the wealth of theological works that modern Reformed believers look to today, regardless of textual preference. Additionally, the confessions cite passages and verses that are not in the modern text. People can debate that point all they want but the fact remains that the text of the Confessional era is the Received Text of the Reformation. 

Regardless of which title is used, they all convey the same epistemological position of the Text of Scripture. This position is generically summarized in 6 points:

  1. The Text of Scripture is self authenticating, and thus unbiblical standards of critique and revision are not appropriate for the text of Scripture (such as expansion of piety, taking the less harmonious reading, total Scribal corruption, etc.)
  2. The Text of the New Testament has been, in every age, been available to the people of God (though not every Christian has had a Bible throughout the ages)
  3. The Bible is not just preserved in the original manuscripts (which no longer exist), but was also preserved in the manuscript copies of the New Testament, which includes printed texts (though some manuscripts are better than others, and no one manuscript is perfect)
  4. The text-critical work done during the Reformation period resulted in the successful collation of manuscripts which represents the original text of the New Testament in Greek 
  5. The printed texts of the Reformation do not represent, in any one edition, the original text of the New Testament in Greek (There is not one printed “TR” that represents the Received Text perfectly, but the Scrivener Greek New Testament published by TBS is the closest representative)
  6. All translations should be made from the masoretic Hebrew Old Testament, and the Received Greek New Testament

This is the general outline of the views adhered to by those who claim the title Confessional Text, Canonical Text, Ecclesiastical Text, or Traditional Text. In essence, they all mean the same thing. Certain unhelpful titles have been employed polemically such as “TR Onlyist”, “Textual Traditionalist”, or “KJV Onlyist”, but none of these are accurate and often are used to mischaracterize those who believe the Reformation Era Greek text is the text God preserved.

9th Commandment Violations 

The first title, “TR Onlyist”, does not accurately represent the position because it neglects the fact that the Hebrew masoretic text is also a building block of the  position. Modern Bibles utilize texts outside of the Hebrew text to translate, which violates the doctrinal standard set forth in 1.8 of the confessions. In addition to this, Christians within the Confessional Text camp believe the Bible should be translated into every tongue. In order to be a “TR Onlyist”, one would have to only accept one version of the Greek TR, and reject the Hebrew Old Testament as well as any translation. 

The second title, “Textual Traditionalist” doesn’t say much about the position at all. Everybody who has an opinion in this discussion is a “Textual Traditionalist” because they have a tradition which shapes their view of the Text of Scripture. Those who accept only modern editions of the Greek New Testament also are “Textual Traditionalists”, so it only serves to divide and polarize. 

The third title, “KJV Onlyist”, is an actual position on the text, namely that the KJV is the only Bible. Though many Confessional Text proponents read the KJV, many of them read the NKJV, the Geneva Bible, MEV, and so on. At its core, the Confessional Text position isn’t purely about translation methodology, it’s about a particular doctrinal view of inspiration, preservation, and transmission. There are many people that only read the ESV, and that doesn’t make them an “ESV Onlyist”. In any case, Christians should avoid using terminology that mischaracterizes their brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Clearing Up Points of Confusion

The first point of confusion that results in Christians talking past each other in this conversation is the difference between a received text and a reconstructed text. This is a fundamental doctrinal difference between the two camps that will ultimately lead to the translation one reads or which Greek text one prefers. The difference is that those in the Received text camp do not believe any further “tinkering” with the text is necessary. The textual work of the Reformation era scholars and theologians was successful in producing a text, which resulted in the vast majority of the world having the Bible in their mother tongue. Those in the Reconstructionist Text camp do not believe that the work of the Reformation era was successful, and that believers for hundreds of years (or more) did not have an accurate Bible. The work of reconstructing the Bible is still an ongoing effort, and the original text of the New Testament has never been found as of yet. The Bible has been preserved with “great accuracy”, but not totally or perfectly. 

Thus the difference between adhering to the Confessional Text position or Reconstructionist Text position is a matter of how one defines the doctrines of inspiration and preservation, not by examining manuscript evidence. This is the second point of confusion that often hinders productive conversation. Those in the Reconstructionist Text camp demand that every reading of the New Testament be supported by extant manuscript evidence, and often fails to recognize printed texts as containing preserved readings. There is an artificial standard set up by many Reconstructionist Text advocates which says that only hand-copied manuscripts can contain authoritative readings of the New Testament. That is to say, that there is somehow something more authentic about a pen than a printing press. Many, if not most of the extant Greek manuscripts do not have a surviving exemplar they were copied from. The only difference is that after the 1600’s, the form of copying transitioned from hand-copying to printed-copying.

The final point of confusion is that those in the Reconstructionist Text camp believe that the later a manuscript was produced, the less likely it is that the readings in those manuscripts are original. As a result, these people will demand “early” manuscript evidence for every single reading in the New Testament. If there is no “early” evidence, than the reading cannot be original. This is problematic for several reasons. First, it assumes that later manuscripts could not have been produced from an ancient exemplar. In fact, many modern scholars will admit that later manuscripts can preserve extremely early, if not original readings. Second, due to the fact that all of the “earliest and best” manuscripts are from third and fourth century Egypt, it assumes that a reading must be present in Egyptian manuscripts from the third and fourth century to be valid. There is no way to prove that those surviving Egyptian manuscripts even represented the rest of the manuscripts in Egypt, let alone the rest of the manuscripts total. In fact, there is evidence to indicate that the copyists of the extant Egyptian manuscripts knew of readings and passages of Scripture that they did not include in their copies (Such as the longer ending of Mark). There was certainly more than two complete Bibles in Egypt in the third and fourth century, and there is no way of determining that the two we have even looked like the rest of the Bibles that have been lost to time. So to set the standard of proof at the Egyptian manuscripts from the third and fourth century is wildly arbitrary. Thirdly, it assumes a standard that is completely unreasonable and doesn’t account for much of the evidence available. It neglects quotations and commentary on Biblical texts throughout time, lectionary practices, and versional (translational) evidence from the time period. It assumes that the only valid evidence is surviving, hand-copied, manuscript evidence (especially those manuscripts from Egypt). This allows those in the Reconstructionist Text camp to discredit all of the patristic citations and other evidences of New Testament verses that they have deemed unoriginal. 

Received vs. Reconstructed

At its core, the difference between the two camps is a difference in theological perspective. Those in the Confessional Text camp believe that the text-critical effort of the Reformation was not the effort of men who believed the Bible had been lost to time. The work of Erasmus isn’t the only work done in the 16th century, so attacking Erasmus really doesn’t accomplish anything. There were many scholars who worked on the text. They were objectively not doing the same thing that modern text-critics are doing, despite the efforts of modern text-critics of making it seem that way (Jan Krans for example). It is true that they were collating manuscripts into printed editions, but the scope and goal of that work was completely different. The simple fact that the product is so vastly different should be evidence enough to demonstrate that the scholars of the past were not doing the same thing modern scholars are doing today. Simply asserting that Reformation era scholars didn’t have the same data doesn’t negate the fact that they were aware of, and commented on, all of the major variants that are rejected today.

Modern text-critics accept manuscripts and readings that Reformation era scholars rejected (like Codex Vaticanus and other manuscripts sharing the same qualities. See Erasmus and John Owen). They operate from the epistemological starting point that the original text of the New Testament has yet to be found, and that the text of the Scriptures that was received by the people of God for centuries was corrupt. They do not believe that the text of the New Testament was received by the people of God, but needs to be analyzed and decided upon by a select group of elite scholars (who may or may not believe the Bible is God’s Word). 

The Confessional Text position does not suppose that the Bible needs to be reconstructed by the efforts of text-critics, placing the authority of Biblical texts in the hands of men. The text is not shifting with each new piece of evidence or methodology. This has resulted in the Approved Text(s) of the modern period, which is what most Bibles are translated from today. The texts that are translated from are the texts approved by scholars. If a Biblical text is not supported by third and fourth century Egyptian manuscripts, then the text often does not get approved. It disallows for any position that would say the work of finding the original text of the New Testament has been completed because the completed work of the Reformation period does not agree with the modern evaluation of Egyptian manuscripts. 

Conclusion

At the very outset of most conversations between the two positions, those in the Reconstructionist Text camp immediately begin by assuming their own premise, that a reading must be validated by modern text-critical methods. These modern methods almost always lead back to the standard of third and fourth century Egyptian manuscripts. This may be changing in certain corners of the world of textual criticism, but the fact remains that almost  every modern Bible has been revised from Greek Texts that follow the Egyptian manuscripts. I have been in countless conversations where I will point to the thousands of manuscripts that contain a reading, and ultimately, the evidence means nothing to Reconstructist Text advocates, because the texts aren’t Egyptian. This demonstrates that the proponents are not truly interested in having an evidential view of the text. They have a theory, and they use that theory to prove their desired Bible. It is equally as traditional as they claim the Confessional Text position to be. 

The major difference is that the source of the tradition comes by way of 19th and 20th century textual scholars and not the doctrinal statements of the post-Reformation period. This is why I have chosen to use the term “Approved Text(s)”, because modern Bibles rely on texts that are approved by modern scholarship to be “earliest and best”. At the end of the day, it comes down to two different views of inspiration and preservation, not which readings can be proven by evidence. Every single reading of the TR can be backed up with evidence, the Reconstructionist Text camp simply does not accept or approve of the evidence. So the real discussion comes down to theological foundations and perspective. Discussing various readings ad nauseum will accomplish nothing, because the presuppositions of each side are different.

For example, when somebody says, “There is no early evidence for x reading”, all that really means is “the Alexandrian manuscripts don’t have that reading”. The only thing proved is that one tiny subset of the extant manuscript data does not contain the reading in question. The only thing evaluating the Alexandrian manuscripts highly does is demonstrate that there is no Bible, only bibles. If the Egyptian texts are “earliest and best”, then there are multiple valid bibles, and the discussion of preservation doesn’t really matter anymore. It ultimately becomes a matter of arbitrary preference, which is exactly what you see in the scholarly community. Two scholars will approach the same text and come to entirely different conclusions. Ultimately the individual believer needs to determine whether or not the modern methodologies are the most faithful according to Scripture.  

Evaluating the Modern Claim of Better Data

Introduction

It is often said that modern textual scholars know more than any other scholar in history because of new data and fresh methodologies. This is somewhat perplexing, because one would expect that the New Testament manuscript data available today would actually be less abundant due to the fact that hand copying ceased somewhere around the 1600’s. In fact, a number of manuscripts have been destroyed since they were first catalogued at the turn of the 20th century due to fires, poor storage, and other negligent causes. Additionally, this assumption of “new” data often fails to recognize that there is nothing new about these manuscripts. These manuscripts are certainly new to modern scholarship, but at one point in history, they were available to the people of God for consumption and use. 

Which raises the question, “Why did these manuscripts fall out of use?” Why do the manuscript discoveries of the 19th and 20th century vary so heavily from the massive amount of manuscripts that were being copied all throughout history? One theory is that the abandonment of these manuscripts allowed for the proper preservation of these texts. That God, knowing the foolishness and general illiteracy of scribes, providentially tucked away His Word in the sands of Egypt to protect His Word from corruption. This aligns well with the 20th century theory that scribes smoothed out the readings of the New Testament, developed the Christology, added in beloved pericopes, and generally altered the text to better defend the orthodoxy that developed after the Ancient period. If these texts, hidden away in caves and monasteries, represent the original, then scholars should be able to explain how each of the massive amount of variations developed over time. 

The Alleged Kaleidoscopic Nature of the Text

Theologically speaking, this is an atrocious theory. This idea essentially says that the original text was available only to the Egyptian Christians for a couple hundred years, and that the rest of the copying done was simply in error. Even within this time period, the copying of these manuscripts was so varied that these manuscripts have trouble agreeing with each other in a wealth of places. The majority of the extant data available lives on in less-ancient manuscripts. Due to the high evaluation of these Egyptian texts, the rest of the manuscript tradition is typically evaluated to be in error in one way or another. 

Sure, the later copyists may have retained the general idea of every verse, but if the Egyptian texts are truly original, then the majority of the 5000+ extant manuscripts are the product of revision gone wild. It is to say that scribes had no respect for accurate copying, or that they knew they were even supposed to be copying at all. Copying the exact text had to have been more of a suggestion than a rule. What about those Egyptian texts were so special, that essentially nobody copied them going into the early middle period? Well, one theory is that these manuscripts were so exquisite, that God decided to hide them from His church, so that when a chosen generation of scholars arose in the 1800’s, they could find them, and restore His Word to His people once and for all. 

Obviously this theory is problematic. Why would the closest form of the text to the original be found in a region where there were no apostolic missions, where the people did not speak Greek? Does it stand to reason that scribes, who did not know Greek, would do the best copying of the Greek language? Some have actually made the assertion that not knowing the language helped them copy accurately! If you’ve ever copied something in a language you don’t know, you know this is patently absurd. It actually makes sense that the most corrupt manuscripts might arise in an area that was constantly battling for orthodoxy, far from the center of apostolic Christianity. It may truly be that the Alexandrian scribes were the most careful, but the data seems to point in the opposite direction. In fact, if one were to take the majority of manuscripts, which continued to be copied outside of Egypt, and compare the Egyptian manuscripts against those, it seems reasonable to assume that something was awry in Alexandria at the time of the production of the beloved early manuscripts. 

I can speculate for days as to what might have influenced the unique text form of the Egyptian manuscripts, but that is not the point of this article. What most people forget to consider in data analysis, are events that might skew the data in one direction or another. In the case of early, extant New Testament manuscripts, many scholars and non-scholars alike fall into the trap of thinking that because something is extant, it must be more valuable, or the only representative data point from that time period. In this case, hyper-empiricism has influenced modern textual scholarship for the worst. If we don’t have the manuscript, we cannot verify that it ever existed. 

The Impossibility of Original Egyptian Texts

Yet it is impossible that manuscripts earlier than the Egyptian papyri and uncials simply did not exist at one point or another. And since the only New Testament author to make it to Egypt was Mark at the end of his life, it stands to reason that the Egyptian manuscripts were copied from imported texts. Which means that the Alexandrian text was more likely shortened than the majority text expanded. The importation of texts explains why there were two versions of the Gospel of Mark circulating in Egypt early on – one with the ending, and one without. Yet while all this is going on, the rest of the people of God continued copying the New Testament, outside of the petri dish that is Alexandria. Much of that data has been lost to persecution, fires, and other natural causes, but the fact stands, that the data existed at one point in time. What did those manuscripts look like, I wonder? Were they short, choppy, abrupt, and filled with large empty interruptions? I suspect not. 

Since the original text of the New Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit, these other manuscripts were probably of remarkable quality, despite scribal errors and mishaps. In terms of the actual content, a consistent doctrine of inspiration would point to the reality that the original texts were not a crude human invention. The point is this, that the Egyptian manuscripts are not the oldest manuscripts. They are simply the oldest surviving manuscripts. They do not, and cannot, speak for the larger textual tradition which existed outside of Alexandria. The majority of the extant New Testament manuscripts had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was certainly not Alexandria. So how do we explain this textual anomaly? Well you have probably heard the common theory which is filled with stories about scribal revision and smoothing, but that does not work with a conservative doctrine of preservation. If the majority of extant manuscripts are a lofty revision of the original, they must be rejected in total. The amount of revision that can be done in a thousand years would prevent the original from ever being found. And if these manuscripts are rejected, the only other option is a smattering of Alexandrian manuscripts that stopped being copied sometime after the fourth or fifth century for the most part, hidden away by God until the time came when the chosen scholars of the 19th century would rescue the blunder-filled efforts of scribes throughout church history. 

An unfortunate reality exists, if this is the case. The first being that God decided to preserve His Word by way of hide-and-seek. The second being that the corpus of early manuscripts is not deep enough to provide a meaningful text. And when I say meaningful text, I mean a printed text that scholars can point to and say, “this is the one!” And before somebody says “that is unreasonable!” Remember, that the scholars are allegedly attempting to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament. Either they will arrive at a product, or they won’t, but the fact stands that they should be trying. To balk at the idea of one text is to admit that the original cannot be found. The fact remains that there is not a single, agreed upon text in the majority of modern scholarship. 

The reason for that is because the Alexandrian manuscripts do not agree with each other enough to even demonstrate that they are directly related to each other. At best they are cousins. Which is why, when the Egyptian manuscripts are taken as a base text, a wealth of verses are left to speculation and uncertainty. There is simply not enough data in the Egyptian manuscript corpus to come to a conclusion on what text is the earliest and best in every case. One might consider himself to have found the text with “great accuracy”, but not without many places of uncertainty. The most complete copies of the New Testament from this locality and time period disagree with each other so greatly that they cannot even be properly called a manuscript family. If it were possible to arrive at a text that is original to Alexandria, it would have been completed a long time ago. 

That brings us back to the discussion of data, and how in the modern period, it is highly unlikely that our data is more valuable than the data that has been historically available. This is due to the fact that most of the ancient data has been destroyed. It is possible that it is equally valuable, but certainly not better. Considering the unfortunate reality that people tend to treat manuscripts in such a way that tends to their loss and destruction, it is a common fact of history that the number of manuscripts available today is a drop in a bucket of manuscripts that have been lost or destroyed. If one takes the number of manuscripts that have been lost or destroyed in the modern period, and applies that same logic to every generation in history, it is safe to say that a great number of manuscripts were lost and destroyed. It is possible that not a single manuscript has been erased from history, but that is highly unlikely, and even demonstrably false.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is to call into question the assumption that modern scholars have better data than those of the past. Regardless of how one views the Egyptian manuscripts against the majority of manuscripts, the fact stands that the high evaluation of the minority of manuscripts is highly suspect. This conclusion can be arrived at without looking at all of the scholars of the Reformation period, who consistently reference “ancient approved copies” that support readings tossed out by modern scholars. As a result of this hyper-empiricist epistemology, the constant conversation of textual criticism is centered around, “How did this reading get added?” or “How did that reading develop?” 

This seems to be a confused effort from a theological perspective that says that God has preserved His Word. The word preservation itself means to be kept safe from evolution, change, and development. Yet the assumption of modern methods is that the general testimony of the thousands of manuscripts is one that has developed from some unknown original text. This is why these modern methods need a fresh understanding of what it means for something to be preserved in order to justify the effort.  And in the case that preservation simply means all the ideas are there, there really is no need for protest from the modern camp when a Christian wants to adhere to the traditional text of the Bible. It has all the right ideas and doctrines, and is therefore preserved. Such is the conundrum of the effort of modern textual criticism on the text of the New Testament. 

A Scripture is a Scripture, No Matter How Small

Introduction

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

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

Inspiration and Preservation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

In Pursuit of the Divine Original

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

An Examination of the Majority Conservative View of Preservation

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

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

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

An Explanation for the Ongoing Pursuit of the Divine Original

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

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

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

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

The Necessity for a Theological Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Providential Exposure as it Relates to Preservation

The Theological Method and Preservation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion 

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

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

Partial Preservation & The Confessional Text

Introduction

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

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

The Well Intentioned Theology of Partial Preservation

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

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

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

“Books and the texts they preserve are human products, bound in innumerable ways to the circumstances and communities that produce them. This is also true of the New Testament…Even if the text of the Gospels could be fixed – and, when viewed at the level of object and material artifact, this goal has never been achieved” (15)

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

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

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

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

“I have no problems with the notion that God has preserved his Word. On the contrary, I believe he did. But I do not believe that God is under any obligation to preserve every detail of Scripture for us, even though he granted us good access to the text of the New Testament” (90).

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

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

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

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

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

Preservation

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

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

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

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

The Young, Textless, and Reformed

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

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

 

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

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

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