The Academic Veil: Modern Research Methods

Introduction

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

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

Research Methods: Gatekeeping

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

An Honest Admission from the Scholars

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

The Textus Receptus: A Defense Against Postmodernism in the Church

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

Introduction

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

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

Postmodernism and the Critical Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Postmodernism and the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Textus Receptus as a Salve to the Wound of Postmodernism

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

The Double Speak of Modern Criticism

Introduction

“Textual criticism is that discipline that tries to recover the original wording of a work whose original documents have now been lost. Since no original document survives for the New Testament and since the existing copies disagree with one another, textual criticism is needed for all 27 books. Since we cannot study, teach, and apply the Bible if we don’t know what it says, textual criticism—whether we know it or not—plays a foundation role in pastoral ministry.”

Gurry, Peter. https://ps.edu/busy-pastor-know-developments-nt-textual-criticism-part-1-new-editions/. 2018.

If you ask the average pastor what is the goal of textual criticism, they will tell you it is the process of finding the original, inerrant text of the Bible. That is largely due to the definitions that modern scholars assign to the discipline and what is communicated in seminaries. The scholars that contribute to the consensus will assure you that even the non-Evangelical sources admit that, “with only a few minor exceptions, we can be confident that the Gospels and the New Testament as a whole reliably report what was originally written.” What they don’t tell you is that those same scholars believe that what was originally written was “a product of developing traditions.” In other words, the definition of “original” is highly co-opted for some other definition.

This is the reason why many well-meaning pastors are still on board with the idea of “Evangelical Text Criticism.” They think, along with most Christians, that there is a group of stalwart scholars trying to find the original Bible. This, without a doubt, is the stated goal of many Evangelical textual scholars, but has no basis in the scholarly works of said scholars. In short, what the scholars desire is not synonymous with what they are actually publishing or doing. While it is true to say that said Evangelical textual scholars desire to find the original wording of the Bible, it is also true that none of them believe this is possible with the current data. The way they get around this conundrum is by asserting theological interpretations of empirical processes. They engage in doublespeak.

Two Opposite Things True at Once

The Evangelical scholars often say that they are in pursuit of the original wording of the text of the New Testament. This is true, if by “in pursuit” we mean, “is emotionally invested in finding the original.” The reality is, in order to actually substantiate this claim, they must add an additional 20 lines of nuance. What the average Christian hears when Evangelical textual scholars talk about the original is that there is a very real, vigorous process that is currently honing in on the final jots and tittles of the Bible that remain uncertain. What is actually going on is the attempt to reconstruct a hypothetical initial text that represents the earliest form of the manuscripts scholars have decided are “earliest and best.” Notice that this doesn’t have anything to do with what is ontologically original.

Since the actual effort that is taking place is not actually being done, for the most part, by the Evangelicals, nothing that they say actually matters all that much. Regardless, let’s suppose that the Evangelicals were in charge of creating the texts that the Bible the average Christian reads are translated from. Even if it were the case that these were the people making Greek Bibles, they wouldn’t be doing so from the standard assumed in the definition they provide of text criticism. In the actual methodology, they admit that they are trying to find a substantially accurate representation of the original Bible, even though there is not a single method that can validate the “substantially” part of that claim.

Assuming that the Evangelicals weren’t just glorified commentators, they wouldn’t be doing what they say that text critical efforts are doing. Objectively, the effort of text criticism is trying to scrape together an early form of a handful of manuscripts that in no way can be verified to be what was originally written. Theologically, they deal with this by saying that what is earliest should be considered original. In other words, the original assumption of “earliest and best” should be considered “as good as original.”

Conclusion

When Evangelical scholars discuss the original text of the New Testament in the context of the actual product that Bibles are translated from, they aren’t actually talking about a word-for-word representation of the original. They are talking about an early form of the text that they assume to be original. This assumption is based on no empirical grounds, and is not warranted by the methodology that created the text itself. So it is comforting for the average pastor and Christian to see that Evangelical text critics desire to find the original, that desire in no way comports with reality. After all, “there are many, many places where the text of the New Testament is uncertain” (Dan Wallace).

This is the doublespeak of Evangelical textual scholars. They will provide a definition of textual criticism, which states the goal of the effort while simultaneously making no effort to actually achieve that goal. Not only does the methodology itself not claim to arrive at a final product, the scholars engaging in the effort are quite open in admitting that they can’t arrive at a final product. So the next time you hear an Evangelical textual scholar talk about the original, remember that the actual work they are doing is an effort to find the earliest possible text, not the original. Any assumptions about that earliest possible text being original is not warranted by the methodology itself. It is fanciful double speak.

The Message, an Unnecessary Tool

Evangelicals, for some strange reason, feel the need to defend the Message. In a recent video, a commentator on Bible translations advocates for it as a helpful tool that should be used to get Christians out of their Bible reading ruts. It is not a Bible in every place, but it is a Bible in some places, and therefore should be used. The overwhelming perspective that conservative Christians share on the Message is that it is not a Bible, and should be avoided, but there has been a recent push to crush this line of thinking.

I used to joke that the “Calvinist Starter Kit” included slamming the Message and listening to Paul Washer. Now it seems that Calvinists are welcoming the Message into the standard lineup of acceptable translations. Sadly, Calvinists seem to be leaders in accepting bad ideas into their doctrinal corpus. In every case that I have seen of people advocating that Christians use the Message, they also advocate that the King James should not be used. Such is the case for Andrew Naselli, author of the critically acclaimed textbook, How to Understand and Apply the New Testament.

The phenomenon of conservative evangelicals warming up to the Message is commentary on the doctrinal downgrade happening in the church. Rather than teach people what difficult passages mean, pastors would rather just hand them a dumbed down Bible that often times is so paraphrastic it misses the point of entire verses and passages. It demonstrates that there is a trend within conservative evangelical churches to have a low view of the Bible, and a low view of the pastorate.

More importantly it reflects a downgrade in Bibliology. Since the modern critical approach to the Bible sets forth that there is not a single representative text that can be called “the very Word of God,” all translations must be viewed as a corpus to help Christians access Scripture. We don’t have the very Word of God, so we have to use every means necessary to access what we do have. They say that not a single Greek text represents the original, and not a single translation renders those incomplete Greek texts 100% accurately into the target language (in this case, English). Since this is the modern academic orthodoxy being pushed out of the seminaries and into pulpits, it should surprise nobody that modern evangelicals have such a low view of Scripture. The modern church is fine eating scraps off the floor like a dog when Christ has offered them a meal at His table.

You might take issue with the claim that modern, Bible believing, evangelicals have a low view of Scripture, but it is true. I am not just asserting that for shock value. There used to be a standard for what Bible was acceptable in churches. Now, the only rule is that it can’t be a KJV. If Christians actually held Bible publishers accountable, there would be much less translations and paraphrases on the market. Instead, academics are actually supporting the idea that a translation can be poor, because they all have their value in some regard or another. The goal for these scholars is not, and never has been, to give the people of God something tangible to hear the voice of their shepherd.

This is the product of a low view of Scripture. Christians should expect that a Bible translation would get more and more accurate until all of the kinks are worked out and a final product can get to market. ESV tried to do this in 2016 and received such push back that they had to recant. Even a common novel like Harry Potter can be accurately translated into 80 different languages accurately. Why can’t the scholars, who allegedly have much more interest in the Holy Bible than the translators of Harry Potter have in an entertaining story, continue to produce translations that they admit aren’t 100% accurate? Instead of aiming for a 100% accurate translation, these academics say, “They all are imperfect, so read them all.”

The scholars and academics will continue pushing this on the church until it is the accepted orthodoxy. The time to push back on this lunacy is now. The church needs to stop letting the “niceness” of a scholar determine whether or not an idea is good or bad and simply evaluate what is actually being said. If you have such a low view of the Bible translation you read that you feel the need to go out and supplement it with the Message, it is probably time for you pick up another translation that is adequate in every regard.

A Tribute to Brother Robert Paul Wieland: Introduction

Robert Paul Wieland was one of the most gentle and sincere defenders of the Textus Receptus in the 21st century. His YouTube videos were a foot in the door for many newcomers to the TR scene. He faithfully and accurately took on some of the toughest questions raised by critical text defenders and was one of the first men along with Pastor Jeff Riddle that I saw take on James White head on on the topic of textual criticism. I wish that I had the chance to meet him before he went to be with our Lord.

One aspect of Paul’s approach that has always stuck with me was his bold reliance upon the Reformed doctrine of the witness of the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the believer with the Word of God. He was unashamed to appeal to the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. This doctrine is often avoided by Reformed believers, and incredibly controversial in the scholarly climate we exist in today. I was incredibly humbled the first time I heard him make this appeal. I have used his material and have benefited from it greatly, as have many others. We can still learn from his faithful approach to the discussion of textual criticism. I rejoice that he is with our Lord and no longer suffering from his temporal afflictions.

This blog is officially one year old as of September 4, and I thought it would be cool to share some of Wieland’s arguments and comment on them in this blog. His insights are still valuable today, and my audience would be blessed to get exposure to his ideas. I have plans to transcribe his YouTube videos into text at some point, which I am looking forward to starting soon. To my reader, be on the lookout for future articles interacting with brother Wieland’s material. Hopefully it will continue to be a blessing to the church.

Here is a link to his channel, I recommend you take advantage of his content.
https://www.youtube.com/user/RobW0071/videos

The Diversity Within the TR Camp

Introduction

Many people are introduced to the TR position through its critics. This is often unhelpful in understanding just exactly what “the” TR position is, and what those that adhere to some form of it actually believe. It may be shocking to men like James White and Mark Ward, but the TR position, while mostly uniform, has subsets of people who differ in various ways. As a point of clarity, I will not be discussing the topic of translation here. In this article, I want to highlight two major camps within “the” TR position as it pertains to the underlying Greek and Hebrew. It may be helpful for those that are new to the discussion, or perhaps to those who want to see an inside perspective that isn’t tainted with the aggressive argumentation of modern apologists.

The Two Kinds of TR Adherents

The Corpus TR View

This is a very common view within the TR community. Due to minor variations between editions of the TR and the translations thereof, those in this camp believe that the TR is the collection of readings contained within Reformation era Greek texts and translations. Some in this camp rightfully argue that Erasmus’ editions do not properly represent what has been come to be known as the TR, and others accept Erasmus with open arms. This group is more open to accepting various readings at certain places like Rev. 16:5. As with all people that fall in the TR camp, they reject the critical text and versions made from it.

The KJV as a TR View

This is also a very common view within the TR community. This camp recognizes the variations within the TR corpus, but believes that there is not sufficient evidence to make any ruling on one variant or another based on the extant evidence. This skepticism towards the authority of the available manuscript evidence in 2020 necessitates that this group validates readings by measuring the reception of a reading by the church rather then the preponderance of extant evidence for or against a reading.

The basic argument justifying this view is that, due to how many manuscripts have been lost or destroyed and the lack of documentation detailing which manuscripts were available in the 16th century, there is no way to tell with confidence which manuscripts were available throughout time. A common practice within the modern camp is to simply assume that we know everything there is to know regarding the availability of manuscripts during the 16th century, when we clearly don’t. As a result of recognizing this reality, the editorial decisions made by the KJV translation team using Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and editions effectively becomes a definitive TR, as these readings have been received and used more than any other edition in the last 400 years.

Critiques

The Corpus TR View

One of the major critiques of those in the corpus view group is that they are essentially engaging in the same kind of text criticism as the modern camp, only with a smaller subset of data. The difference is said to be in “number and not in kind”. This group is still faced with the reality that we do not have a clear perspective on the sum total of manuscripts that were available to those producing the TR corpus. Despite this critique, this position more readily recognizes some of the difficulties of the variants that exist within the TR corpus, and leaves some room for discussion as to what exactly is “the” TR.

The KJV as a TR View

The most common critique of this position is that it is no different than Ruckmanite King James Onlyism. This is often set forth by men like Mark Ward and James White. The argument is essentially that, because the basic reality is that this group only reads the KJV, it doesn’t matter how they arrived to this position, as the end result is the same. This is a rather uncharitable interpretation of the position, and unhelpful if you are actually trying to understand what is being set forth. All adherents of this position vehemently deny any association to the methodology of Ruckman or Gipp. A fair reading of this position easily reveals that this group does not view the KJV as “reinspired” or esteem an English translation more highly than the inspired original texts.

The basic objection to this critique is that the position is far more nuanced than a blind adherence to the KJV. Often times, those in this camp begin with the corpus view, and through careful study and application of a faith-based criteria, end up adopting all the readings chosen by the KJV editors. Though this is actually quite common, there are still many people within this camp who adopt the KJV as a TR due to how widely and consistently the church has used the KJV for faith and practice. It is important to remember that the reception of Scripture is a theological issue, not an issue of modern criticism.

Conclusion

While both the Corpus view and the KJV as a TR view are practically the same, there are careful nuances within the two camps that deserve recognition. The TR camp should not be swept into one monolithic tribe, as there are differing opinions that may change how one person approaches the debate compared to the next. For example, somebody in the corpus view may be more willing to discuss manuscript evidence in certain places, whereas somebody in the KJV as a TR group might not due to skepticism about the progeny of the manuscripts being discussed.

In both cases, those within the TR camp recognize the absurdity of making hard claims regarding the early surviving manuscripts, often called “Alexandrian”, which make up the critical text. The TR camp finds unity in understanding that we simply do not know enough about the transmission history of the text until we see relative uniformity in the manuscripts leading up to the Reformation period. In the end, both groups agree that the best text is a TR type, as it is the text that God has providentially and unquestionably used most powerfully since the time Bibles began being mass produced via the printing press.

“KJV Onlyism” is a Christian Virtue

Introduction

There is a common line of thinking that says that the KJV is a fine translation, but it should not be read in exclusivity. Those that do are foolish or ignorant, according to many. Such has become the default layperson’s opinion within what might be considered “conservative” evangelicalism. The scholars who contribute to this discussion are typically more extreme, often times advocating that the KJV should not be read by anybody (See Andrew Naselli). Such opinions are extremely uncharitable, and quite frankly, ignorant. The two common threads that run through those in the critical text crowd is that they refuse to hear any legitimate critiques of their own position on the text, and they refuse to see the virtues of the positions that are in conflict with their own. Instead, they focus only on the critiques of “KJV Onlyism”, which is defined as anybody who simply reads the KJV. As a former critical text die hard, I tried to see the virtues in the critical text, and found none.

“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him”

Proverbs 18:13

The KJV Only Boogeyman

When people talk about KJV Onlyism as a “heresy” or “foolishness”, one might think they are referring to Ruckman or Gipp and those who follow in that school. While this would be charitable to assume, this is almost never the case. When people use the phrase “KJV Onlyism”, they are referring to people who do not choose to make use of the modern critical translations of the Bible. The reasons do not matter. This is not only the case at a popular level, but also the case within available academic literature (See Naselli). That is to say, that if you as a 21st century Christian do not read a 21st century Bible, you are a “fool” or in Naselli’s words, “ignorant”.

What many people who advocate against “KJV Onlyism” fail to see is the growing list of criticisms of their own position that have caused many, many people to return to the King James Bible. Since most “defenses” of the critical text involve attacking the TR, it’s near impossible to find an actual presentation as to why one should read a modern critical bible other than “You don’t want to be a kooky KJVO”. In fact, when critical scholars attempt to defend their bibles, they end up advocating against historical protestant orthodoxy. The best that modern scholars can do at this point is to say, “We know we don’t have every word that was originally written, but what we have is good enough for me”. I have yet to see a single argument at the scholarly or popular level that can explain how the Bible can be pure, and also be changing and uncertain without abandoning the historic protestant view of the Scriptures.

In order to justify the use of critical bibles, critical apologists must reinterpret historical theology to say, “They were actually saying what we’re saying”. Most Christians who use this line have no idea what it is that modern scholars are actually saying, unfortunately. You would think that somebody who is calling other Christians “ignorant”, “foolish”, and “cult-like”would know a little bit about the position they are saying is the better position, but most of the time they have no idea. Nine times out of ten they are woefully ignorant on the state of modern textual criticism. So let’s take a look at what the modern scholars all agree upon from the mouth of Dan Wallace.

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

Gurry & Hixson, Myths & Mistakes, xii. Quote Dan Wallace.

Now, if the average Christian were to just evaluate this quote, which represents the doctrinal core of the modern critical text, they likely would not find themselves in full agreement. In fact, it might even cause them to question their undying support of the bibles that are produced with this theological core in mind. Yet, the mind of modern Christian is seldom convinced of a new position, because the modern Christian is trained to believe their favorite authority. Even if their favorite authority is dead wrong.

Conclusion

What many Christians who vehemently defend modern bibles fail to recognize is that there is nothing tangible that they are actually defending when they take up the cause of modern bibles. There is no “modern critical text”. There is no “modern bible”. There are only modern critical texts, and modern critical bibles. If you listen carefully to the scholars, notice how they will not ever defend the notion of a single bible. All bibles are good in their own way, and they all should be read and used, even if they disagree in text and translation – and they do. This is because modern Bibliology does not believe there is a single bible. If you don’t believe me, ask a scholar or proponent of critical bibles to identify one.

So when a defender of the modern critical text calls “KJV Onlyism” “foolish” and “ignorant”, they are actually saying that it is foolish and ignorant to believe that there could possibly be one text of the New Testament. In other words, it is foolish to believe that God kept His Word pure in all ages. You may believe that Erasmus was a papist idiot, or that Beza copied from the Vulgate, but at the end of the day, “KJV Onlyists” believe that God preserved His Word, and that it’s available today. This is doctrinally accurate and virtuous, not “foolish”. Before you scoff at the conclusion of the “KJV Onlyists”, think of what you have to affirm to do so. You have to affirm that there is no bible, and that God did not preserve and deliver His Word in the 21st century. Even if He did accomplish such a feat, you wouldn’t know it. What we have is “good enough” and you just need to deal with it. So before you go calling your brother in Christ a fool for reading the KJV, realize that many who read the KJV have adequate reasons for doing so. It may be wise to hear them out, and attempt to understand why men like Joel Beeke are among those who you call a “KJV Onlyist” and a “fool”.

The Big Lie of Critical Bibliology

The United States, and many other countries, are seeing the fruit of critical scholarship. Statues are coming down, cities are being vandalized and burnt, and people are being assaulted and even killed in what the media is reporting as “mostly peaceful protests”. Many of us are wise to what’s actually going on – the Frankfurt school had children and those children are living out their revolutionary fantasies. What we are seeing right now is the epitome of what critical theories are designed to do, deconstruct and rebuild.

Critical theories begin with the premise that there is something inherently wrong with whatever was formerly considered “traditional”. Scholars then come along assuming this premise and attempt to deconstruct the traditional perspective and reform the narrative in a way that aligns with whatever the academic orthodoxy is at the time. This deconstructing/reconstructing dynamic is done by assuming that all things must be described through psychological, cultural, and social constructs. It is axiomatically and necessarily godless. The world cannot be explained by what can be learned from divine revelation, it must be explained by way of the experience of individuals and communities.

All forms of critical scholarship share these fundamentals. It is deeply dogmatic, and ironically, a form of fundamentalism. Scripture describes the first principle of critical theories in 2 Timothy 3:

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of truth”

2 Timothy 3:6

Conservative Christians are seeing the fruit of critical ideology in its extreme form right now, yet many are reluctant to admit that critical textual scholarship does the same exact thing as the ideology that invented “White Fragility”. Students, professors, and pastors have weaponized terms like “fundamentalist” towards “textual traditionalists” just like they weaponized the term against those that believed in inspiration and inerrancy in the 20th century. These same people engage in what can only be called “the big lie” of Bibliology.

The Big Lie of Bibliology is that Higher and Lower criticism are agnostic towards each other. Yet, as we have so plainly seen, the higher and lower critics have been engaged in a ritual dance for decades. Behind every discussion of textual data is a story of how that textual data came to be. A textual variant “came into the text” by way of a sentimental, well meaning scribe, or something like that. Stories and passages were omitted or added depending on the perspective of the communities that copied manuscripts. The history of the text is described not by way of divine revelation, but rather in a manner that adopts the axiomatic foundation of every other critical school.

Big Lies are fundamental to critical ideologies, because they challenge the narrative that has always been told. These ideologies are necessarily destructive, and if you don’t believe me, turn on the news. The traditional narrative must be usurped or critical methodologies die. So what can we learn from what we are seeing on the news right now? Look at the streets of Seattle, Portland, and New York, and look at your modern Bible. They are the same picture, produced by the same kind of ideology.

In the 21st century, Christians must reject critical theories and methodologies of all kinds. They are godless and destructive no matter which discipline they touch.

The Theology of The Text: Why Not the Modern Critical Text?

This article is the eighth in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles. 

The Theology of The Text: Why Not the Modern Critical Text?

Many Christians in today’s context have never been introduced to the text-criticism discussion beyond what John Piper or John MacArthur say about it. They are told adamantly by their pastors that they have the very Word of God, regardless of which translation they read. They are then told that a countless number of verses were “not originally in Scripture,” and should not be read as original. This is problematic because the scholars who determine which verses were “not originally in Scripture” do not believe that the modern text is the “very Word of God.” 

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

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

“It’s true that human beings need ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’, but we don’t necessarily need every word all at once…but preservation doesn’t imply constant availability, just as translation doesn’t imply perfection.” 

Richard Brash, How God Preserved the Bible, 62,63

“I do not believe that God is under any obligation to preserve every detail of Scripture for us” 

Dirk Jongkind, An Introduction to the Greek New Testament, 90. 

The evangelicals who advocate for the modern critical text all say that they believe God has preserved His Word somewhere, but that the church doesn’t have all of it today. Even if it was available, they say that there would be no way to determine that what is in the printed Greek texts is original, because the originals are not extant. How is this reconciled with the doctrine of preservation? God must not desire to give His people all of His Word, so what the scholars determine the church has access to must be the very text that God desired the people of God to have today. It is a theology and a text that is conveniently shaped according to the opinions of 20th and 21st century scholars. 

The problem with this is that Christians who read these texts often do not know that this is the nature of the text produced by modern criticism. The scholars not only say that the modern Bibles have many, many uncertain places, but also that there are passages that God simply hasn’t given to the church, even though they were originally there. These uncertainties inevitably make their way into the text and footnotes of modern translations which introduces an unnecessary problem to the modern church. So the scholars that are informing the pastors which verses are “not originally Scripture,” do not believe that God has fully preserved His Word, and have no way of proving their claims about which Scriptures Christians should not read. In short, these scholars have abandoned the Scriptural doctrine of preservation based on the early manuscripts that have survived today, which we know essentially nothing about, and as result are left with a doctrine that says, “What we have is good enough.” Christians can continue teaching that they have the “very Word of God” in their modern Greek texts and translations, but none of the scholars producing these texts and commenting on these texts would affirm this in any meaningful way. They say that what is available is “greatly accurate,” but how is this even determined? Greatly accurate in what way? Which passages are greatly accurate, and which are not? Is accuracy now synonymous with “original”?

In addition to rejecting the Scriptural doctrine of preservation, the scholars which produce these texts utilize axioms which also contradict what Scripture says about itself. Critical opinions cause the scholars to place readings which do not comport with inspiration in the main text of modern Bibles. The shorter, grammatically hard reading is to be preferred. Certain passages which harmonize with the rest of Scripture should be considered as additions to the text. Longer readings which affirm the Deity of Christ are to be viewed as scribal tampering. The most concerning of all, is that the handful of manuscripts which serve as a base text which these Bibles are based on disagree heavily with each other, and even more so with the thousands of manuscripts that have survived.  Finally, it needs to be noted that this modern critical text is changing with new methods such as the CBGM. It is not a stable text.

“Clearly, these changes will affect not only modern Bible translations and commentaries but possibly even theology and preaching”

Peter Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism, 6.

Conclusion

Christians should not use the modern critical text because it does not align with what Scripture says about itself. Further, none of the scholars credentialed in the discipline believe it to be the original text which the prophets and apostles wrote by inspiration. The axioms used to produce such Bibles do not consider inspiration, providence, or the Holy Spirit, and are actually formulated in such a way that assumes the earliest extant text must have been choppy, abrupt, and grammatically difficult. Even if the Bible needed to be reconstructed, which it doesn’t, this is not how it should be done. The methods are designed to produce a text which does not assume that the original was perfect, and therefore the final product of such methods will inevitably represent the quality of the text that is trying to be produced.

God can use such translations, because not every line is incorrect, but it should be apparent that the Scriptures do not teach that the Bible is just “good enough.” Christians should not desire a “good enough” Bible, because God doesn’t say His word is “just okay.” The Bible says that “All Scripture” is profitable, not “some of Scripture” is profitable. It is great that such scholars affirm that God has preserved His Word, but preservation is the most useless doctrine in all of Christianity if Christians do not have access to that preserved Word.  An important question to ask, if it is the case that none of the critical Greek texts and translations have exactly what the prophets and apostles wrote, what exactly are Christians reading when they open their Bible? This theological position, and the texts that it produces, literally takes the Word of God away from Christians, transforming it into some ethereal concept that will never actualize into anything the people of God can actually put their hands on.